China… and the Chinese ! (2)

Bus, city shuttle, high-speed train, city shuttle, bus, mini-bus. Another marathon gets us from Yangshuo to Getu He – out of breath. It takes energy and expertise to go from one place to another in China and find your way between the different means of transport : first, you must fight through a crowd of taxi drivers, street merchants, commission takers, on-the-spot city guides – all those people who know better what you’re doing and where you’re going – or simply the curious ones ; then, you try to ask locals for directions, but the vast majority of Chinese don’t speak a word of English and the rest of them are worst – since they’d hate to answer “no” to one of your questions they prefer to pretend they know what you’re talking about and give you a totally random response or direction.

On our way to Getu, we go through Guiyang, the capital of the Guizhou province of China. This mega city mesmerizes and frightens us. Fascinating, huge, compact, polluted and ugly. It looks like one of those futuristic towns in an agonizing end-of-times kind of world – and, watching through the windows of the public bus, I’m swallowing my bag of caramelized peanuts like popcorns in front of a science fiction movie. Big 30-stories apartment buildings one after the other as far as the eye can see. A sea of human habitats. Life in the most compact form. One architecture and one design for a whole block of 20, maybe 50, identical apartment towers. Then another design and 30 more ! This city seem to have been planned and designed in one week, built the next and stuffed with working ants on the morning of the third week.

Getu was the site of the Petzl Rock Trip in 2011 (watch the video on Youtube !) and has been equipped with amazing routes and splendid multi-pitches by some of the best climbers in the world. The area is simply unreal. Limestone cliffs are cut in the surrounding mountains like butter with a jagged knife. Then of course there are the Great Arches, that gave birth to a National Park : one huge arch swallows a large river that winds between 15-meters high bamboos, a second one rips the mountain open higher up to the left and lets the sun rays flood the valley every month of October. After the usual negotiations to get the best prices for room and food, we settle in a comfy two-persons bedroom with private bathroom and, unbelievable, HOT SHOWER ! Of course we are still the only white folks around but that’s fine, we got used to it.

Then, we tackle the climbing. Intense, hard, exposed, amazing ! We concentrate on multi-pitch routes and man ! every day is a new adventure ; every day we learn something new about techniques, gear, ourselves ; every day we drag our sorry carcasses back to the village and devoured from our bowls of rice under the startled look on our guest’s face. We send project after project and get into our first 7b’s multipitch. Never thought we could do this ! Alex almost “on sight” his very first 7b on our last day on the 6th pitch of “Captain Hook”, a good 150 meters off the ground – bad luck with a loose hold – and I lead my first 7a ; hectic first climb in a white-out and descent in pitch-black darkness on “No Name” ; memorable get away after “The Brazilian Fuse” in the Great Arch, when we have to go through a labyrinth of caves, suspended bridges and climb the fences of the National Park because we got down from our climb too late and on the wrong side of the river, with no more taxi boat to get us across.

So yes, China kept us busy with its amazing climbs and intriguing people. It’s a bit of a mess, a bit of a piggery, often I couldn’t comprehend it, but unmistakably I want to go back !

China… and the Chinese !

Alex and I met in Bangkok on November 14th 2015, after two years of not seeing each other and a couple failed attempts to reconnect in Northern America. We were hosted like kings at a friend’s flat (thanks Mali) – in a building full of expats from Belgium, France, Germany, etc. that soon became the basecamp of our meandering in South-East Asia – and tackled the planning of our future adventures. It was quickly decided we would do a little bit of rock climbing before getting in anything too serious together … Just a few months ^^ First we would try to get a Chinese visa and climb in Southern China for a month – Yangshuo and Getu were bright bulbs for the free-roaming flies we have become and we simply HAD TO check it out. After some costly misunderstanding with the Chinese embassy – the first of many communication misfortunes (Chinese brain simply isn’t operating the same way ours is, you have to understand and accept that in order to enjoy China and it’s people, seriously) – we were told we’d get the visa by the end of the month.

A marathon of poor nights (one of which we spent at the police station in Chiang Mai, after failing to spend the night in Buddhist temples, both very cheap options for those of you that have a tight budget), cattle-like train (le fameux “train du chien”), plane and futuristic high-speed train got us to Yangshuo in the Guangxi province of China, on November 29th. The surroundings are impressive : the winding Yu Long river meanders between thousands of karstic peaks that pop up from the farmed land like mushrooms in ever-lasting mist-ery. Lots of climbing to be done here. Let’s roll baby !

Life is good, cheap and simple. We have an off-the-gird room in a family house in a little village South of Yangshuo ; an indecent motorbike (ou “la bouse”) that fails, breaks down, rapidly falls apart and rattles like an archaic vapor train, but gets us everywhere ; a close-by local market where we buy our fruits, vegetables, biscuits and tofu (after watching the documentaries Cowspiracy and Earthlings – strongly advised ! – we sort of tried ourselves at eating vegan) ; and the traditional restaurant where we dine every night. I say ‘dine’ but really I should say ‘stuff as much food – an insane quantity of rice every night – in our mouths as fast as we can with our chopsticks’ – we got pretty good at it –, because, climbing hard and eating only fruits, vegetables and biscuits during the day, we are quite literally starving by diner time. But we enjoy that daily hot meal : the food is tasty, healthy, simple and cheap. And for once we know what we’re actually being served – no dodgy-looking strips of flesh whose taste is covered by spices and chili.

The weather is cold and rather humid, and we aren’t prepared. Our room stays unheated except for an electrical resistance stuck in what looks like a tiny chicken cage. We are forced to buy hats, gloves and puffy jackets. It is low season too, so there’s really just ourselves. BUT we’re doing great, climbing hard, and these two weeks give us time to get used to each other’s company, appreciate our reunion and think about future plans. At some point, two days of steady rain flood the bridge to the village and see us stuck to our room for 48 hours – this allows us to rest (for once), work on our CV’s and do some research for job opportunities abroad – it also forces us to cross the river bare-footed in order to eat at night, something that brought us the sympathy of the villagers …

The climbing is awesome and our progress tangible. Alex plays in a 7c for the first time. As for me I do my first 6c on sight and a tricky 6c+ “project”. First experiences of long routes for me – Alex is a great teacher ! We climb almost every day for two weeks. Next destination : Getu, for a week of climbing awesomeness !

Fun facts

Fun fact 1 : after flooding the motor of our motorbike, the latter scarcely works and we often have to run behind and push it in the middle of the traffic (mmmh pâté !).

Fun fact 2 : after some time, the Chinese family that owns the restaurant where we eat every night starts inviting us for diners – there’s the grandmother, the two sisters and their husbands and kids. Great moments shared in their company. The food is delicious and the brazier under the table makes wonders ! Google Translate on our phones allows us to communicate and the exchange is fun, sometimes weird. They are startled at the length of our beards, despite our young age, and attribute this to an “excess of masculine hormones”. The grandmother also offers to find me a girlfriend … Finally their rave about Alex’s “rough hands” and “deformed fingers” (pauvre Alex qui s’est fait mordre le petit doigt par un cheval à 5 ans n’y peut strictement rien ^^).

Gilles.

Getting high !

So there we go, I finally left Canada as my working visa expired. Really good time and a damn interesting experience. If you’re one of these wondering if doing a Working Holiday Visa is the thing to do or not, well don’t, and take it ! You may not especially learn or improve your skills in your field, some may say you’ll loose a « professional » year, but I can assure you you’ll get much more than that. Life is not only about work, believe it or not 🙂

So after finally having fixed the motorcycle and praying every single day for it not to break down, it looks like it ended up doing pretty well cause it’s still running like a charm after more than 8000 km !

This time, I focused on one thing : doing my first big wall ever ! After having discovered the trad’ climbing (climbing where you place yourself your protection system during the ascents) last summer and after having played in Squamish almost every single weekend for a year, I wanted to take it to the next step. For the one who don’t know, a big wall is a multi-day climb where you usually sleep on the wall. Meeeeh no it’s not terrifying … it’s fun ! 😀 (supposed to)

The downside is that sleeping on the wall mean more gear … MUCH more gear. I didn’t weight it but that’s probably the part of the trip where the motorcycle was the most ridiculously loaded.

The Loaded Baby

First pit-stop next to Smith Rock, Oregon. Cannot not go to that one, there is so much to see. Plus I randomly met Nate at a gas station, a buddy I climbed with last year in Yosemite.

Second stop in Eugene, at my friend Aaron’s house, who kindly let me borrowed his big wall gear.

And then, direction Yosemite !

At that time, Gilles was supposed to meet me in California after his trip in Yukon. It’s been a while we planned that trip and were really excited to get to go big wall together. Unfortunately, the fact he extended his tourist visa in Canada up to 9 months made the customs quite suspicious and they denied his access to the USA. Even worse, after that deny, Canada kinda supposed US had a reason to refuse him and they refused his access back to Canada as well. Stuck in the no-man’s-land, Gilles has been forced to go back to Europe and I was on my own again. That’s too bad not to be able to share all this with him, but travelling alone is still freaking awesome and I can’t wait to go sleep up there !

I met pretty sweet people at the Camp 4 willing to learn how to big wall just as me and our skills complete each others quite well. That’s therefore with Sam from California and Morgane from France that we’ll experience our first big wall attempts and do all the mistakes we could ever do (the best way to learn ! Not the fastest though)

Yosemite

We’ll spend in total 3 nights on the wall, but more camping than really big-walling. Simple reason : we were 3 (not the most efficient number), 3 newbies, had to bring 2 portaledges (that thing we sleep on) and it was, even for September, reeeeeally hot still. The 3 of us were just looking to dial the big wall techniques, learn, and mostly, have fun ! So we directly gave up the idea of topping out.

After Yosemite, direction Vegas !

I’m meeting there Nate, Pepa (a good friend met during my year in Vancouver) and Lea that I met few months earlier in Squamish as well.

We went climbing in Red Rock first, a beautiful national park just next to Vegas. It’s now the desert and in the desert, the rock is pretty particular ! This kind of rock is called Sandstone. That beautiful and so attractive red rock. Downsides though : it’s definitely not as solid as granite, so doing traditional climbing in there is kinda more scary cause it’s not rare to see holds breaking during a fall, your protection falling with you. Also, it dries pretty slowly and is very fragile after rain, so you have to wait at least 2 sunny days after a solid shower.

After that preview of Sandstone, Pepa goes back to Chile and Nate keeps his way up to Oregon. Lea and me are now heading to the main goal : Zion.

Incredible national park, but also incredible climbing area and big walls way less crowded than Yosemite, this place is magical.

That’s the first big wall for Lea (and I’m not so far from that as well), so we practice few days and finally are heading for the classic « Moonlight Buttress », an amazing big wall in the canyon. We plan to do it in 3 days to really have no time pressure and enjoy a maximum. Unfortunately, on the second day, some people climbing pass us and tell us that the weather is getting worse, and a storm isn’t impossible.

In the water, as I said, the Sandstone is getting really fragile, so do the bolts. So unlike the Granite where you can install your portaledge and wait for the storm to end, here, you don’t want to be hanging on these 🙂

So we finally choose to let the portaledge at the first night spot, play around the bivy on the climbing routes above, keeping an eye on the weather and being ready to bail, to finally sleep there a second night and go down in the morning.

Zion National Park

The storm finally hit a bit after we got down, so we could have done the whole thing if we didn’t met there guys, but the way we choose was probably the safest. Another reason to come back !

It’s now time to go back to Vegas cause Lea flies back in a few days. A massive storm hits all Utah on our last day, causing flash floods a bit everywhere. It’s pretty intense and impressive, but we end up just being wet on the last hour and weirdly thinking it’s actually quite fun (2 on that overloaded motorcycle under a massive rain storm causing the highway to close .. I’m not sure I get these people !)

Lea is flying back home and it’s time for me to move. I’m riding back to Oregon to give the gear back to Aaron, have a few talks with Gilles and we agreed on meeting each others in Thailand.

So I’m now in the plane, ready for a new adventure ! First time in Asia, quite excited. Unfortunately, I had to let the motorcycle in US for many reasons, but actually I can’t wait to travel light and in another way than with a 600 pounds motorcycle ! (It’s still there waiting for the next walls though hehe)

Aaaaand that’s it I guess !

Hope it wasn’t too long to read, but I got pretty lazy doing various articles and choose to keep the Facebook page a bit more alive and just summarise each country on the website.

Few things you should check out if you still don’t want to get back to work 😀

My friend Daisy’s project

Daisy’s Travelling Kitchen

The brand new NGO of a sweet couple I met in Bend, having project in Nepal at the moment, helping rebuilding schools destroyed by the earthquake

People Helping People International

It’s coming !

Hi there !

Long time no talk but now it’s coming, and I need your help !

So the coming next leg of the travel approaches, only one month left on the visa and I’ll take the road again for a year !

map2016

The new and last plans in my mind are to meet Gilles in US, go climb there about two months (hopefully get on big walls in Yosemite !) and then ship the motorcycle to Russia, travel down to Asia via Mongolia and China, and … mhmm well, too far to predict anything over there, let’s see what happens 😉

But for this next part, despite hard work during a year, these motorcycle shipments and that new big wall climbing gear make my budget pretty tight. I did a new partnership file to promote the travel photography I’m doing, and I’m asking you to share it to whoever you think would be interested in supporting me. That would be AWESOME 🙂

Here’s the link : PartnerShipFile2016

Thanks you soooo much folks !
News and pictures coming soon
See you on the road, hopefully !

Vancouver

Half-Time

Waouw, déjà 6 mois que je suis ici … Mi-temps de mon Working Visa et je me suis finalement décidé à poster une petite mise à jour !

Pour plusieurs raisons. L’une d’elles étant que la prochaine aventure arrive a grand pas. Je replonge dans les dossiers de sponsoring, les google maps et les blogs de voyage. Et puis surtout, j’ai fais la rencontre d’un voyageur plus qu’inspirant, et nous allons peut-être mixer nos projets pendant l’été qui arrive pour combiner un « super-projet » qui pourrait s’avérer plutôt intéressant (et pas évi-évident !). Mais je vous expliquerai ça dans le prochain épisode, car pour l’instant rien n’est moins sûr !

Et puis aussi, j’ai refais tous le site du voyage, y compris traduit tout en anglais pour la suite car si ce projet se met en place, on va devoir toucher un maximum de gens, et j’ai beau adorer notre langue, l’ami Shakespeare parle à nettement plus de monde. Ça sera donc probablement le dernier épisode en français. Et puis autant pour vous que pour moi, ça sera un bon exercice 😉

Un bref résumé de l’épisode canadien ? Allez, mais bref alors ! Car ce n’est plus vraiment du voyage et cela perdrait de son sens de s’attarder là-dessus 🙂

Je vous avais déjà raconté mon premier mois « bonus » de vacances à Squamish.

Je suis ensuite donc retourné à Vancouver à cette colloc’ que je pensais parfaite pour moi. Seulement la maison avait beau être une oeuvre d’art à elle toute seule, l’ambiance conviviale recherchée n’y était pas du tout. Je ne suis donc resté qu’un mois et ai ensuite bougé dans une autre colloc’ avec Danny et Romain, un canadien que j’avais rencontré à Squamish et un belge que je ne connais pas. On a même un bonus : Roscoe ! (le chien de Danny).

Le côté nomade du voyage se répercute bien dans mon début de vie « professionnelle » et je change constamment de job, intéressé par tout ce que je ne connais pas. Café, travaux manuels en ville, construction, web design. Un job par mois environ ! Heureusement, on sort chaque week-end de la ville et profitons au mieux de cette magnifique Colombie Britannique.

La famille est également venu faire un petit coucou, malheureusement durant l’une des périodes les plus pluvieuses que l’on aura de tout l’hiver. Pas de bol !

Finalement, j’ai une offre plus qu’attirante d’aller travailler en tant que photographe pour des tours de motos-neige et de quads dans la montagne, à Whistler. Je n’hésite pas une seconde, surtout que l’univers n’aurait pas pu m’envoyer plus de signes : Le job commence illico mais j’ai encore un job à Vancouver ainsi que la colloc’ qui sont délicat de quitter du jour au lendemain. Mais Pepa, une chilienne rencontrée à Squamish, cherche logement et travail ; pratique, elle prend ma vie à Vancouver ! Ensuite me faut un logement du jour au lendemain près du boulôt (car Whistler est à 2h de route de Vancouver). Je parle alors à Dylan que j’avais déjà rencontré en Oregon, qui est maintenant installé à Squamish et qui n’utilise plus son van’ tout équipé de voyage. L’accord est conclu : je paie l’assurance, et le van est à moi pour les quelques mois qui viennent. En 24h, l’affaire est bouclée !

Seulement bon, au début, c’est un peu froid ! Mais j’ai toujours voulu tester la vie en van’, donc toute bonne occasion. On est en fait pas loin d’une petite dizaine à vivre comme ça à Squamish. J’ai même un pote qui vit sur son voilier au port. Assez commun ici ^^. On se retrouve donc souvent à faire une session de musique dans un quelconque parking. Bonne ambiance !

Malgré un début de Janvier assez froid et de bonnes chutes de neige, depuis plus d’un mois, cela se réchauffe et ne fait que fondre. On se retrouve alors faire des tours en quad au lieu des motos-neige ! On se croirait en été dans le bas de la vallée, et le temps d’arriver en haut, on se retrouve sur d’impressionnants pics au milieu de nulle part. Premier boulot de ma vie ou durant un mois entier je n’ai pas eu une seconde pour m’ennuyer et regarder sur ma montre combien d’heures à encore tirer pour la journée.

Et voilà, en gros, c’est ça ! J’espère que ça vous convaincra de venir ici 😀

Prochain épisode avec plus de détails sur le projet qui arrive !