Madagascar: The Climbing Baobab

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Thinking of all the adventures I’ve experienced while traveling, such as relaxing in a volcanic mud, cliff climbing and rock climbing, it was time to try a more unique adventure… Baobab climbing.

We were in the spiny forest of Reniala Private Reserve which contrasted the odd shape of the baobab trees with spiky cactus like trees.  The reserve was a short zebu cart rideIMG_2085 from the beach where we were staying in Ifaty and the plan was to have an early morning walk around the Reserve mainly to see it’s flora and fauna.  We saw many Baobab trees.  One that was over 1000 years old, and another that was just a baby at 20 years old.  One that resembled a rasta with its’ long leaves.  Others that took on feminine qualities while others were bunched together like a family.  We learned about the water carrying qualities of the trees and how the people sometimes cut into the trees to get water and yet the trees still survive and even continue to grow with new sprouts.

Then we met the tree that I will always remember.  The climbing Baobab.

This Baobab had indents in it that lined up in such a way that you could climb the tree.  In some of the grooves, sticks had been secured to provide easier holds for climbing.  Our guide scampered up to show us how you climb the Baobab.  From the top of his perch, he proclaimed that this was a tree for men to climb, not for women.  How to get a woman to climb a Baobab?  Say sexist remarks.  I placed the camera in the camera bag because you know I had to get photos from the top, tightened the strap around me and headed up the tree.  The grooves were actually quite nice hand holds so even with my long finger nails, I could hold on.  It was an easy climb up and then I got to the top, he directed me onto the branch and  then I started tIMG_2181o panic.  As a child, I wasn’t a tree climber.  As a climber, I’ve always been attached to a safety harness.  Suddenly, reality set in and I realized that I was up in a Baobab tree, with no safety equipment and unsure of my movements within a tree.  I pressed my back into the trunk of the tree and straddled the branch and tried not to look down.  My travel partner yelled at me to take photos.  I said no.  She said c’mon.  So I tentatively took the camera out of the bag while trying to keep my movements as minimal as possible.  Without turning my head and trunk, I took a photo in front of me.  Then she told me to take a photo of her.  I said no.  She said c’mon (please note that she stayed on the ground). I don’t even think I turned my head, but moved the camera in her direction and clicked.   Camera quickly back in the bag and it was time to go down…But how?

Again, I’ve climbed walls that were higher, rock surfaces that were higher, but I’ve never climbed down.  You abseil down.  After he pried the camera off of me so that he could carry it down, he climbed down and saw that I was still in the tree with my back pressed against the trunk, straddling the branch.  I didn’t feel safe to turn myself around and had visions of me falling to the ground.  He climbed back up and was going to stay just below me to guide me down but first he had to get me turned around.  He instructed me to put my foot on one of the holes and thought I was slipping off of the branch.  So he told me to put my other foot on one of the sticks and push myself back onto the branch.  When I pushed myself back, my foot snapped the stick and it went flying to the ground.  Uh Oh. Even he had a momentary look of panic cross his face.  He regained his composure and tried giving me instructions and I just wasn’t feeling sure footed with where he was telling me to place my feet. Finally, I placed my foot where in my mind it made better sense and was able to turn myself around and start the descent. I wish I could say it was a cinch from this point on, but it really is hard to climb down when you don’t know where to place your feet. So it was great that he was just below me, guiding my feet.  The other challenge compared to going up was that when you climb up and the next hand hold is just out of your reach, it is easier to stretch your arm and stand on your toe or even slightly jump to get it, then to do the opposite going down- hang from your arm while you try to get a secure footing with just your big toe.  But one notch at a time, we made it back to the ground all in one piece.  I will admit, I was shaken.  Putting myself through that all because of a sexist remark.  And I still didn’t earn his respect as the remarks didn’t stop.  He then brought us to a baobab that had been cut at hip height and had resprouted.  He jumped up and said this is a tree for women to climb. So I got absolutely no respect from him for climbing the Baobab tree for men because I couldn’t climb down.

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Back on The Road in Sri Lanka

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I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I returned back from my adventures back to the daily grind of life.  It initially was difficult to come back and start working after not needing to pay attention to a calendar.  But you easily get back into the routine and can’t believe how the refreshed feeling easily gets replaced by the daily stresses.  Not surprisingly, it took me a while to save up and get back out there to travel.  Unfortunately, this next trip was just a short one, but a much needed one.   My friend and I headed to Sri Lanka to escape the cold dreariness of the UK during winter.  We decided to take in some culture, some wildlife, some hill country and some beaches.  Sri Lanka is known for having some beautiful beaches and while the popular ones are getting developed, you can find miles of coast that are untouched.  It was here, on one of these beaches, that we were able to take part in some fishing with locals as they went about their normal daily lives.

We found ourselves on the beach of Tangalle which was an interesting beach town.  Despite the fact that there were guesthouses lining the coast, more foreigners were to be found in the town than on the actual beach.  Maybe because it was a dumping beach, which I love, the people came to just relax but stayed out of the water.

Playing tug of war with the sea

Playing tug of war with the sea

On our first morning in Tangalle, on our way to explore the coast and grab some breakfast, we were called over to help by some fisherman.  Of course, these men call out to all the tourists who walk past them; and some continue walking while others help for a few minutes. My friend and I helped for 30 minutes.  These fisherman who were doing their days work, had cast a large net in the sea by boat and on the beach had 2 lines of men pulling a never ending line of fishing net.  For 30 minutes we kept on pulling on this net and pulling and pulling thinking that we’d never see the end.  On each side, one was man was the anchor for the net and the rest of the people pulled on the rope like we were playing tug of war with the sea.

The catch is in!

The catch is in!

When the actual net finally surfaced on the beach, we were more happy than the fisherman.  We may not have been benefiting from the catch but we were finally finished and about to see the fruits of our effort.  The net was substantive in size and within it was fish of all different varieties; mainly small little fishes, but there were squid, jelly fishes, tuna, and medium sized fish, but we didn’t have any large catches that day.

 

 

IMG_0876Once the net made it to the sand, we stood back and gave way to the fisherman to do their job.  They went about collecting and sorting fish.  Half of the catch would be sold, we were told, while the other half would be split amongst the men who had worked to take home.  It was interesting to see how they distributed the fish amongst themselves.  Everyone helped to collect the fish into one communal bag and then an elder handed out the fish equally to the fisherman.  While this was happening, some the guesthouse and restaurant owners started to congregate so that they could purchase some of the fresh catch.  This included our guesthouse owner.  One of the younger fisherman, took some time to show us the different fish in the net and decided to collect for us some squid.  He handed them off to our guesthouse owner.  That night we were able to eat the squid that we worked so hard to catch 🙂

Sharing the day's catch

Sharing the day’s catch

 

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The Stone Forest of Shilin

Now I’m in China and had a major shock to the system when I left the humidity of Thailand and arrived in the cold winter of Shanghai.  I could only last 2 days in Shanghai before heading to the south westerly province of Yunnan in hopes of some sun and warmer weather so that I could continue to work on my tan.  My friend from South Africa joined me for my time here which has been nice.  She had read up on the Stone Forest which is in Shilin, Yunnan one hour away from the capital, Kunming.  We went there for a day trip.  The stone forest is a natually occuring forest of karsts (I just recently learned this word).  I had already seen different types of karsts in Halong Bay, Vietnam- jutting out of the water; and in Vang Vieng, Loas- jutting out of the land.  These karsts were much smaller with no vegetation and closely packed together so that you could walk through them, like a forest.  We went out there and joined a German couple to explore this forest.  To be honest, I just thought we were going to walk around and look at stones all day long, but not exactly.  As we entered the forest, a labyrinth of paths had been created that climbed to the tops of the karsts and then steeply descended into valleys.  Some paths were quite narrow and you had to squeeze yourself between rocks.  At first when we started, we noted that there were SOS phones along the path which we found amusing and some maps to sort of orient youself to where the next interesting rock formation was.  Somehow we found ourselves exiting the forest at one of its exits.  At this point, we were still in eager to explore so we turned right around and entered back in to take different paths.  But after 2.5 hours, we wanted to get out of the forest.  Everything started to look the same.  We couldn’t find our way out.  We couldn’t find a map to give us an indication as to where the exits were.  We couldn’t even find one of the amusing SOS phones.  Everytime that the path split, we used one principle to decide which way to go: take the path that was going down.  We were exhausted from the steep climbs up to the tops of the karsts, and we rationalized that to exit the forest we would have to be at ground level anyways, so it made more sense to go down than up.  However, this didn’t always work, because after a few hundred metres the path would start to go up again.  We were tired, we were hot and most of all we were scared that we wouldn’t find our way out of the stone forest.  But after an hour of taking all the wrong turns, we found ourselves on a path that seemed familiar, but you could never be too sure, it was all grey rocks.  Finally, we found civilization and exited the stone forest.  Now that was just one of 5 different forests in the area.  So we rested a bit before going to get lost in the next one…. just joking! 🙂