Pyranees Backpacking Day 2

August 14, 2017

At night I dreamt some sci-fi weird shit, like I was trying to keep these gooey soft green stress balls out of the tent. They were alive! And we were in outer space, floating around in the pop-up Quechua tent. Sounds funny, but it was pretty terrifying in the moment. Though I slept not very much, I was in a happy mood when K came by to make sure we were awake. We were half awake, and quickly grew to fully awake with a large smile as I had the first peep out of our tent.

First LightIt revealed a stunning wall of sharp rock over 800m in height, its top spires illuminated by the first rays of sun. I was re-living a slice of the life I had when attending University in Toulouse. It is a place where we shared experiences, our food, water, and lives with each other in the true fullness and honesty, with a sprinkle of sarcastic humor, and lots of human empathy. I realized this is what I and probably any other Europeans miss the most after moving to the USA, as I stared around the rest of the camp gearing up – ropes, helmets, various belay devices and harnesses worn by people of all ages, backgrounds, cultures. Petting the loud donkeyQuickly, we packed our gear into D’s bag and sat with T and K, reflecting on the poor quality of sleep we all had for different reasons: the moon’s brightness, the resident donkey’s panting cries in the dead of the night, which in turn induced various dreams and nightmares. Glad it was behind us, we looked forward to the crux of our trip: to climb the Pic Midi d’Ossau, an 800m ascent on partial vertical terrain. Then to come back down and head into the next valley to camp one more night. The weather forecasted to be sunny – a pretty rare occurrence in these Southern mountain range – we headed out over the initial boulder field towards the saddle.

The wind howling through my hair, I lead a brisk pace till the saddle, sweating profusely in the already baking sun. A quick snack and water break later, we paused before the rock – there was already a line of French people heading up the first crack. We decided to venture on the right which turned out to be a good idea. We passed two rope teams traveling much slower. We brought a 50m rope, borrowed from Lolo’s husband Paul, but was only planning on using it to rappel down. The way up became more and more breathtaking.

Rappel Down

Of course it was due to the view but also from the stair-like climbing which seemed to go on forever.The slope was 60 degrees or more at times where we were literally panting for breath every 15 minutes. Mainly, it was a ladder type climb with solid hand holds and spots for our feet. By the time we reached the top, I was genuinely exhausted, my legs trembling from the quick pace set by the Slovaks.

The view past the peak and all around was like from one of those red bull rock climbing video series with Alex Honnold – rock tops jutting out of the Earth all around us. Intermingled were series of lakes and huts, paths meandering all over the valley, spotted by white and brown farm animals grazing below. They were merely the size of pins from this distance. I was glad to have brought my puffy and mid layers. At 2880m, it was not summer-like heat, the windchill washing away the cozy warmth of the sun with powerful gusts. Rope Teams Coming back down, we met people on their way up, hearing more and more spanish “hola’s” instead of the french “bonjour” as greetings when passing each other. I mused over this as a curious difference in culture – the spanish start their day later. I was joking with the group: I bet the Germans were already back down by the time we even got going, clinking their beer as a salute to a successful sunrise finish.

Much of the rest of the way down was a blur between my aching thighs, tired knees and setting up rappels in three different sections. While waiting for other groups, I had the chance to chat with some real southern french men, probably in their 50s who have been doing this stuff for 40+ years, and reminisced about their youths: visiting and climbing El Cap and in Joshua tree. Their accented voices rose and lowered in the most charming tangy-slow and manner. It was music to my ears to hear this kind of dialect again. Back down by the refuge and lake, we sat to eat a snack and peel back the layer of sweaty sock caked in powdered dust from the climb. Refilling our water bottles and packing the tent & sleeping supplies, we headed SSW around the peak to another saddle called col Peyregret and to the Lac au dessus where I took the most restful nap in a long while. The three boys watched Marmots galavanting around, the furry animals completely ignoring all the humans around them.

It was already a long day and the sun was on its way down. Tomas asked me if I wanted to keep going or stay here. I was very tired, but felt I would be even more sore tomorrow, so made my opinion clear that I would like to continue the proposed 2.8km to the valley below where we would hopefully find more water. We were running quite low and I was definitely dehydrated in an attempt to conserve it. The amount of water I have to drink normally is at least 2-3x what I was feeding myself now. The bonus side effect was the lack of need to pee all the time.Sheep StampedeWatering Hole Narrowly avoiding a sheep stampede we finally got into the valley finding a canyoneering-type river that went from canyon to shallow waters. This is where I waded all the way into the water up to my neck after dropping my pack. I reveled in the feeling of frigid water cooling my inflamed joints and muscles. Quickly it became chilly and we settled in for the night. Close to falling asleep, suddenly a storm rolled in, faster than anyone could imagine, which is when we turned the 2 person tent into tight quarters for three as K, spooked buy the lightning and drizzle + wind, asked to join us. We welcomed him in, wondering what T would do. It got very hot quickly (just 5 mins before I was shivering) and between stretches of sleeping sandwiched between two dudes, the sky became starry, cloudy, shook with thunder, illuminated by flashed of light. Despite the angry weather, I felt very safe and unconcerned as I heard deep breathing on both sides. Knowing at least the two men were in deep slumber, at least while I was en guard.

Pyranees Backpacking Day 1

Day after Lolo’s surprise wedding. Castet, France.

Woke up “relatively” early to a beautiful day in the Pyrenees: mountains all around. Today, after the picnic at noon in Port de Castet, we were headed out towards GR-10 trail close to the border of Spain, en-route to Pic Midi D’Ossau. It will be just T, K, D and I. Getting excited, we were gearing up, going to the grocery story where we bought too much food (as always), and some gifts to take home. While we’ve been in France, D and I have completely broken our diets, eating bread and cheese almost every day. I still refrain from eggs for the most part. So far we have experienced little to no side effects, having regular bowel movements. D’s even been eating pork.

Lolo was so welcoming, allowing us to use her new car when we needed one and we also borrowed sleeping bags, a tent and pads from her. Plus her most favorite 49L backpack since I didn’t have one big enough. The brunch was left over food from yesterday, enjoyed on a wide plateau 5km east of her castle-like house in Castet. As the four of us drove up in her tiny white Dacia, we had more and more expansive views of the opposing mountains.

PicnicFrench FoodAt the top, we were treated by a loud eew-haw from the next door donkey and grazing horses with cowbells chiming across the field of soft green grass – the type you would want to roll around in – except for the minefield of fresh and sun-dried cow pies. Paul had driven his yellow camping van to the middle of this open pasture, and dished out the boeuf-roti, ham, fromage de brebis, carottes-rapés, haricots vests, among many other delicacies of the region.

We found the beer tap in the basement, next to the “dungeon” dormitory we slept in that night, and brought over a bottle to everyone’s delight. The mood was very relaxed, a lazy dimanche après-midi in South France.

SiesteAfter a large plate of food, a glass of juice/beer/wine, we lazed around in the sun, the chilly breeze whipping up light goosebumps on my skin. In the distance, colts rolled about in the dirt, hooves kicking the air. A bit closer, dogs licked the remainder of plates to their owners’ nonchalance, and babies hummed softly as they learned the art of the afternoon “sieste”.

Packing up, the drive to the Pic began – first in a wide valley, then detoured through a village where we got stuck behind a tractor and some herders herding two cows (which decided to take a nice shit right in front of the car, our wheels squishing through the moist manure seconds later). Finally back on the main road, it narrowed between a deeper canyon on the right, and steepening walls on the left.

Pic Midi D'OssauNoses pressed to the passenger glass window, we arched our necks up to see the tippity-tops of rocky peaks peeking out left and right. Parking the car at a lake we were originally going to hike to (we weren’t sure if the roads were open), I was really jumping up and down in excitement watching other people mull around with packs, hiking poles, and climbing gear. It was so great to be out here, the Pyranees where I had spent my 23rd year of life, six years ago.

Our team of hikersThis time it was with my life partner and two of my favorite people in the world. We even brought a rope, as we expect the peak to be a series of easier 5.3- 5.4 climbs – which we will do tomorrow. Six and seven-tenth km, rolling hills, many sheep, cows, and horses in the shadow of high-jutting peaks later, we reached the refuge de Pombie at 2032m.

Nearby was a lake and farther, awe inspiring views to mountains in the east turning orange, red, then purple in the reflection of the quickly approaching sunset. Tent set next to a stream of water, we finished 1.5 L of wine and nearly a full bar of hazelnut chocolate before retiring to bed.

Bicycle Charged Cellphone ChargerPS: there was a bike to recharge non-iphone mobiles (Pedal to create electricity) and T & K found the coolest camp spot under a 45degree angle boulder. They called it their “living room 🙂

Birth of Changi, the cute elephant

I was supposed to go to dinner with my friends after climbing at Planet Granite. It was around 9pm on the 23rd of August, my 28th birthday. All afternoon I had been checking my phone at every moment I got, for S called me earlier that day saying “It looks like A’s going to give birth either today or tomorrow!” And I was supposed to take pictures of the event. No one was expecting it this early; she was actually due in mid-September.

In the brief minutes that I was distracted from checking my phone, Szilard had texted me again: “Come now! She’s giving birth!” The unread text sat on the screen of my iphone 6, as I was climbing a very tricky yellow-handhold 11B in the corner of the gym. The distraction continued in the form of friends crowding me in a circle, singing happy birthday in the gym during probably the most crowded time of day, as I pretended that I was also singing for someone while turning bright red. Of course they yelled my name really loud, just as A was probably screaming in effort to push a new life into this world.

My friends presented the “cake” aka a bunch of cut fruit in a cake tin, as the nurses placed an equally if not more sweet baby girl into A’s arms. My present had all sorts of fun things in it: figs cut in half, spears of pineapple, bright red strawberries, soft melon, and strips of dried coconut topped with unlit candles. In the same moment, S was gaping with awe at the soft-cheeked baby Changi with a bright red face, struggling to open her brand new eyes to this new world she rushed into. Was it really a good idea she must be thinking to herself? Unsure, she wails as she is placed on her mother’s bosom.

Mostly through my “slice” of the fruit-cake, I casually check my phone, and nearly choke on a piece of coconut. “Guys, I have to go, dinner is cancelled, my niece was just born!” After that, everything happened so fast: I throw my climbing stuff into my bag, jump into D’s car and we race to the curtly instructed location: West Pavilion, Purple Elevator. D drops me off, and I rush in the entrance, past the security guard. Having no idea where I’m going, I just feel my way through the hospital, looking for signs: purple elevator… purple elevator. As if I was being led, the elevator revealed itself in a corner; anyone watching me would probably have thought I knew exactly where I was going. Come on come on… open faster – I thought willing the sliding doors to open already.

Reaching the floor, everything looked calm, but I was anything but that. The lady at the front desk was my last obstacle. “I’m here to photograph the new child, last name is Suto,” I tell her. “Sorry, I can’t hear you, can you come closer?” Ahhhhhhh! But I put on a placid face. “The mother’s name is Arty.. I mean Tatawan Suto.” I say more clearly. The lady bobs her head, pulling out a sharpie as I’m tapping my foot impatiently and slowly writes on a sticker already marked with the date Aug 23: Suite 324. She points to a double doors, hands me the sticker-badge, and I’m on my way through the labyrinth of hallways and adjoining rooms, the 3 by 5 foot white poster board I brought floating like a sail in my right hand. I wanted to be prepped with a light reflector in case the lighting was awful.

I finally reach the door and knock. For a split second I thought I had the wrong door, as a low-pitched lady voice mumbles, “what?..” Then I hear my cousin S’s masculine voice as the nurse opens the door. He pushes past her and grabs the door wide open, with an even wider grin. I have never seen him happier, and I have known this guy for 25 years.

Let these pictures tell the rest of the story…

A set of meaningful quotes from the first two hours after Changi’s traumatic entrance into our world:

S: “I’m in love” [while holding a sleeping Changi in his arms]
A: “Nothing on my calendar matters anymore…”

The most rewarding computer shortcut

This morning, we get a message from Damir: There is a puddle next to my bed; I woke up to dripping water, so I’m moving. Soon, he comes down, saying he got upgraded to the executive suite as consolation.

“The bathroom is so big, the whole Wandzil team could dance the Macarena in the shower,” he grinned, “…Seriously.” Must be nice… in my room, I have to sit on the toilet sideways so my knees don’t hit the wall.

It had rained all night; all the canals that were previously dry were now filled with runoff. But the rain was a blessing, relieving us of the intense heat, but as soon as I pull out my camera, the lens fogged up! I didn’t know it could be more humid. Pretty soon we might be able to swim through the air, or at least the puddle in front of the Sto. Niño school.

“During breaks, the students use it as a playground, skin boarding,” the teachers laughed, pointing at the lake-sized puddle.

giant puddle in front of school

Today, our pupils were an assortment of teachers and parents.

To combat the gray sleepy weather, Lucille and Aziz introduced the chicken dance. ” Yay! » One of them shouted in glee. The rest of the class laughed pointing to her *preschool teacher*, she must dance this with her class all the time.

The rest of the group caught on, and soon enough the room looked like a flock of clucking chickens.

Dancing the Chicken Dance

Later once we put away our feathers and pulled out the laptops, I walked around the class, passing by Elena. She stared incredulously at the computer, then laughed as I kneeled down next to her.

“I can’t operate this thing,” she pointed at the screen.

Filipino Teacher

“Don’t worry, you can learn!” I encouraged her. Lucille had just showed them the shortcuts Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V to copy and paste text. Elena and her lab partner bit their lips as they concentrated on the task, finally making the magic happen. Their eyes lit up in joy, clapping their hands like a child who had just ripped the wrapper off their Christmas present.

“The key difference between the adults and the children,” Lucille pointed out “…is that the children click everywhere – they learn by making many mistakes. But the adults are afraid of messing up, so they don’t like clicking.”

Aziz Teaching

By the end of the day, it seemed like we made a good dent in their tech-fail-phobia: there were more and more keys being pressed, claps of success, smiles, and hi-fives.

clapping with joy

Only the second best thing to the computer shortcuts they learned, the ladies proudly held their certificates from behalf of the IESC program.

teachers with certificates

The Wandzillas!

This is how Filipinos greet strangers

I travel a lot. Everyone who knows me knows that. But ever time I embark on a new trip, I forget how exhilarating it is to finally land at my destination. In the last couple seconds of flight, I couldn’t help but grin, I’m here! I’m in Manila!

My plan originally was to find the shuttle to my hotel, but I did exactly what anyone would tell you not to do: hop into a car with a stranger. Mom and Dad, I know you’re probably freaking out right now, so let me explain…

During my flight, I was sitting next to a Filipino lady who invited me to dinner with her friends after arriving. I have yet to regret any impulse plan I’ve made, so here I go.

After dropping my bags at the hotel, we sat into the car and started driving. I knew not where, but looking around, I was astounded to witness the craziness of traffic: motorcyclists passing inches away from the side of the car and in between trucks with only a couple of feet between them. The surprise vehicle of the day was a truck full of sleepy-looking chickens.

sleepy chickens

Construction even at 9pm on a Friday night made the roads even more unpredictable, with lanes shut down, traffic going every which way, cars and Jeepnis* stuffed with breathing bodies, with some more hanging on the roof. As the cherry on top, we were forced to avoid the not so occasional pedestrian popping out of nowhere.

Jeepni

Regardless of the kind of situation that would drive any American up the wall, everywhere I looked, the Filipinos were smiling, even laughing: no sign of any road rage! Perhaps it has just become the status quo. I have much respect for them.

My new friends and I arrived at our destination after about one hour: it was a Filipino restaurant attached to a meat/fish, or “wet” market as they call it. This was the first time I had witnessed this sort of arrangement. We went over to the market, picked out crabs (they were still moving!!), shrimp, and fish to be cooked to order for us.

Wet Market

The live music started as we sat down, and had a round of mango shakes. Wow. I can never go back to US mangoes. These shakes, made exclusively of ice and mangoes were the best pick me up: flavorful and sweet, perfect as jet lag was kicking in.

Mango shakes

By the end of the night, I felt humbled by the incredible hospitality of these ladies, especially when I told them I came to help out the community in Tacloban as part of the post-typhoon efforts. They thanked me for helping out their people, paid for my part of the food, and even drove me home afterwards. With a large smile, I hit the bed like a log and slept until awoken in a confused daze by housekeeping knocking on my door. (It was 11am).

*Jeepnis are the method of public transport in the Philippines. They are like a Jeep from the 1990s, but extended in the back like a bus with no windows, and usually fit from one to 20 people, or more if the roof is used.

Introducing team Wandzil. Raring to go!

On our last team call, we had a big problem: Lucille had received a bunch more Intel paraphernalia: speakers, keyboards, and more! It was basically enough to fill a whole other suitcase. “How am I going to fit all these things,” she sighed. #firstworldproblems. In the end, she did what she could and is the first one of the team who is on her way while the rest of us frantically pack and check things off our list…
Bug spray, Intel sunglasses, Hydration tablets, check, check, check. When it seems like we’ve thought of everything there’s always one more thing we forget to pack.
Like any other trip, I’ll probably forget something, but hopefully it’ll be: “I forgot a hair tie,” not “I forgot my passport!”
Shoot… did I pack enough underwear? Maybe one more, just in case…
At some point you just have to stop and look up, make sure you’ve got your wallet and passport. The rest is replaceable.
Like me, most of my team members have been packing in the past week, running around to stores to buy that last item for our IESC (Intel Education Service Corps) trip to the Philippines.
We’ve gotten our vaccines, rounded up equipment, gear, made lesson plans, and asked for tips from the past two teams who have gone before us. We’re 100% ready, confident (right?), and excited to go. But also a little nervous, mostly about the little things. But what if my bag weighs 50.5 pounds, I hope I don’t have to pay extra!
Over the next two and a half weeks, I will be covering the IESC project where six Intel employees including myself will be traveling to the Philippines to educate in digital literacy and inspire children whose whole world was literally uprooted 2.5 years ago by Typhoon Haiyan. Since then, Intel has sponsored to rebuild their school building in Tacloban, and we’re the third group going back to give them technological immersion and digital training.
Lately, Intel has received a lot of negative media with the layoffs affecting employees worldwide, but the company still finds it important to support this type of high social impact project. My team and I are ecstatic about being able to participate. While we’re on the ground, I will be publishing stories, pictures, and media via the following outlets:
Tumblr: http://iescphilippines.tumblr.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ihtoth
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ihtoth
Blog: http://www.ildikototh.com/index.php/category/iesc/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ihtoth/

Here are team Wandzil’s members:

Wilbert Go (Montana, USA): Technical expert
Aziz Bandeli (California, USA): Project Manager
Nora Moolenkamp (Oregon, USA): “Onboarding Project Manager” who will not be able to travel with us, but all her contributions to our project are very much appreciated by the team
Damir Bajramovic (California, USA): Technical expert
Zipporah Stephen (Swindon, United Kingdom): Trainer
Ildiko Toth (Oregon, USA): Social media expert and blogger
Lucille Held (Arizona, USA): Trainer

Why Wandzil?

Wandzil is a derivative of the word “Wand”, a word this team coined in their first meeting, and is an accurate description of the team’s chemistry, enthusiasm, passion and their commitment to make a difference to the global community.

Can you guess which set of gear belongs to which person?

AGear1

BGear 2

CGear 3

 

Answers: A – Wilbert, B – Lucille, C – Ildikó

The last three coming soon before they take off!

Past the Azores, racing towards the British Isles

About two weeks had gone by since my dad left the safe haven of St. John’s Island. I had been checking his progress every couple days, and this particular morning I hadn’t looked yet, nor did I know that you could click on one of the blue dots on his path (on the previously shared website) and get more stats. I was sipping some scalding mint tea (Seriously I never learn my lesson), when I get an email in my intel inbox from a family friend. I swallow a bit too quickly, slightly burning my throat in the process. *Ouch*. He sent it to a couple people, including me, but it’s a bit odd because this is a bunch of my dad’s friends.

[translated from Hungarian]
Csaba: “Well he’s paddling around in the Hayes Fracture-Zone, why are you surprised,” is the first line of text I see. (?!?) What are they talking about!? I read further…

Gyuri: “I don’t know if you guys have been following Jozsef’s path, but it has varied between 1 and 74 ft in height. That’s quite rough!”
Hmm?? How do they know that

I figure it out quickly enough, and hurriedly click through all the blue dots trying to find what they are talking about. Whew, looks like an anomaly. At that point he was back to around 35ft avg.

The guy who owns the boat, “Hanse Sailor” as he is called continues to write his blog, and it must have been around this time where he mentioned that there wasn’t much wind. I guess they survived the variable elevation, but I did for a moment imagine this:

shipInWaves
Octopus Tearing ship apart

But in his blog, Hanse writes: “Jo is on dinner roster tonight and look,s as though he is trying to beat everyone else’s past dinners . starting 4 hours before dinner time.” That is my dad alright!

So it’s more like this:

Let tha boi cook

And now, this crazy sailor is past the Azores and only a couple hundred miles from the the British Isles. Go Dad!
Dad in the Atlantic