More Mammoth Action

Hmmm… that title could really be misinterpreted ;-). As I mentioned in my last post, I got to spend some time up in Mammoth Lakes, CA. I’m fortunate that my parents own a condo there and graciously allowed me to use it for a bit this summer. Now, Mammoth is primarily a ski town. In fact, I used to come up here every winter with my family for exactly that before I went off to college. There’s also stuff to do in the summer, but only really if you’re into the whole outdoorsy-mountainy thing (fishing, horse-back riding, mountain biking, camping, hiking, etc.).

For those of you that have never heard of Mammoth , rest-assured, you’re in the majority. Despite being a really, really nice place to ski, due to a quirk of geography, during the winter the place is really only accessible by car to people from Southern California (Mammoth is located on the eastern side of Sierra Nevada mountains, so Northern Californians can‘t cross over the most direct routes, as they‘re closed in the winter, and the one available route goes through Lake Tahoe, so they just all stop at the ski resorts there. Southern Californians can just drive around the southern end of the Sierras and go up the eastern side from the get go, no snowed over mountain passes involved). So Southern Californians are all up in that piece (year-round), while no one else really knows about it, or if they do know about it, it’s still too hard to get to so they won’t go. And I’d even go so far to say that the majority of those Southern Californians are actually from San Diego (as opposed to LA/OC/Inland Empire).

The above fact alone makes Mammoth an interesting place just to people watch, its like a mini-San Diego in the mountains… the clothes people wear, the way people talk, the cars they drive, etc… the whole feel screams San Diego (for those of you that live, have lived, or have visited San Diego for any length of time, you know what I’m talking about). It was just fun to sit back an observe, because even though I’m from there, I don’t think I really share too many of those traits anymore (aside from ultra-laid-backness… other than that at least I don‘t think I do too many other stereotypical SD things… and you can correct me if you think otherwise).

Anyhow, my impeccable timing kicked in for the positive as one of the weekends I was there coincided with the Mammoth Festival of Beers and Bluesapalooza (which is exactly what it sounds like). Two old friends of mine (one of which I’ve know since elementary school) came out for the party. I wish it was solely because they just really wanted to see me after a long time out on the road, but I’m sure the free place to stay for the festival didn’t hurt. And the festival provided the perfect excuse to do what old friends do when they get together… get drunk. The general flow to the whole thing was that there’s a large area with stages where bands play (stay with me here) the blues, while craft breweries from all over set up tents and you walk around sampling their beers. Your entrance ticket includes a (small) cup and the beer is free (save for standing in line). Now, another little known fact, San Diego has one of the largest craft beer brewing scenes in the country, so most of the breweries slinging beer were from San Diego. That, plus 80% of the people there being from San Diego, exemplified the whole mini-San Diego in the mountains/forest feeling I was talking about earlier. Of course there were people from all over, but I kid you not that 80% of the people I spoke with were from SD.

Of course it turned out to be a great weekend (kinda hard to mess things up with that kind of combination). In addition to the festival, we even managed to get some hiking in the night before everything kicked into gear. We might even come back again next year as my friend’s band was invited to play… we shall see. Yes, that’s it… no crazy stories (that I can tell here anyhow), no broader point, just reporting on a good weekend out in the mountains. Oh, and some photos of course:

Hiking near Mammoth...

Hiking near Mammoth…

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Devil's Postpile National Monument...

Devil’s Postpile National Monument…

Scene of a forest fire in the 90's...

Scene of a forest fire in the 90’s…

Our destination...

Our destination…

Looks smaller from above (that's my friend Shaun standing next to the bottom of the falls)...

Looks smaller from above (that’s my friend Shaun standing next to the bottom of the falls)…

Yours truly swimming under the falls (very, very cold and very, very fun)...

Yours truly swimming under the falls (very, very cold and very, very fun)…

One trail starts near the ski resorts parking lot (you may have noticed the Mammoth)...

One trail starts near the ski resorts parking lot (you may have noticed the Mammoth)…

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General ambiance of the festival…

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Shaun starting in a Drunk Level 2: Feeling Good (DL1 being Just Chillin’).

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What fun is a festival without costumes…

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More costumery (and a good brewery)…

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Shaun, Ryan and I reaching DL 3: Feeling Great.

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Everyone at DL 4: Acting Foolish, later that night (yes, I had face paint on as well. no, I don’t have a picture of it. Where did we get face paint anyway?)

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Ryan reaching DL 5: Done For The night.

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One of the passes that gets closed in the winter (on my drive out of Mammoth to San Francisco), and why very few Northern Californians get out to Mammoth.

 

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California’s Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

Whoa… no posts for quite a bit of time. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time floating around California… spending time with family and friends mostly. I have managed to get myself out and about a bit, although maybe not as much as I would have liked. One place I did manage to spend quite a bit of time in was Mammoth Lakes, CA; a small mountain/ski town in the Eastern Sierras. As it’s summer, there’s no skiing, but plenty of outdoor summer activities (fishing, mountain biking, hiking, etc.) if you like that sort of thing (I think you know that I do… well, at least hiking anyhow).

On the drive up from San Diego I saw a sign touting the “Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest” and thought it might be worth checking out. A week or so later, after some intrawebz investigating, I found myself driving back down from Mammoth for a solid afternoon of exploring. Now, the attraction here is that forest contains the oldest living tree on the planet (named Methuselah, the tree is an amazing 4,484 years old as of 2013… smartly, but also sadly, the actual tree is unmarked for fear of vandalism). That, plus, as you will see below, these trees look amazing. As you might expect, the forest itself is pretty remote (this whole region of California is pretty remote and sparsely populated) so it took sometime to wind my way up into the mountains get there, but it was well worth the effort. I’ll bore you with some of the details I found interesting before getting to the pictures. There’s two main groups/groves of trees, one you can get two via a paved road. The other is 12-miles away on a dirt and gravel road (it took me 45 minutes to go 12 miles one way). Both groves are up pretty high elevation-wise, but the one at the end of the dirt road is above 11,000 feet (3,350 meters for you metric thinkers). Each grove has some small hikes, but the lower one has a nice 5-mile loop that will also take you by an abandoned mine. I went to both areas and did the big loop as the sun was setting, which made for some really nice views (given the light) and ensured I had the place almost all to myself (only one other car in the parking lot when I left). It’s hard to explain how majestic the place felt…maybe the photos can convey some of it. All in all, a very good way to spend a day.

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Abandoned mine building…

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Abandoned mine shaft… note, that it looked entirely possible to worm oneself around that grate.

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These trees seem to grow right out of solid rock…

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Who’s national forest you in? I’m inyo national forest… sorry, could not resist.

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Back to the USA

Somewhere in Nepal, I decided that I needed to go back to the US. It’s hard to describe why, but something just clicked inside and I knew it was time to start on my next phase/adventure/whatever-you-want-to-call-it (plus, after spending so much quality time with Ben, I wanted to see my family and friends again). I wasn’t exactly going to be flying back the very next day, but I did begin to turn my thoughts toward moving in that direction.

When I set out on this little jaunt (I left my then home in San Francisco on May 1st of 2012 and drove to my hometown of San Diego) I had the following vague goals: 1) Stay out of the US for at least one year, and 2) I must see and experience Ibiza, Ethiopia and Nepal. Otherwise, I was just going to put up a sail and see where the wind sent me. After Nepal, I didn’t have any more “must dos”. It was like that point late in the evening of a great party… everything has been spectacular, you’re still having a good time, but you just know that it’s over. You’ll linger for a bit longer, but you know you’re going home soon. That’s exactly what happened; I just knew that this trip was over and it was time to go. Now, here I am… back in the US.

FAQ

I’ll spare you more some more boring introspection. For the curious out there, I’ll give you my answers to the 5 questions I’ve been asked the most about this trip since I got back:

1) What was your favorite place? Way too hard to answer as there are too many great places to pick just one. However, I will say that my favorite single experience was walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The magic of undertaking and completing such an epic journey, the metaphor of the camino for life itself (it’s the journey not the destination) and getting to share the whole experience with one particularly wonderful person (as well as the other characters you meet along the way) made the camino a very special experience for me.

2) Did you come back because you ran out of money? No, I came back because I wanted to come back (see above).

3) What was your favorite food? Indian… by far and away. The spices, the different regional styles, the breads, the yogurt, eating with your hands, free refills (sometimes), the tea, the coffee, the lassis, the prices (India was the cheapest place I traveled… yes, it’s cheaper than sub-Saharan Africa), the lime sodas… I liked Indian food so much that I sought it out in Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong (all places which are known for great food).

4) Did you get sick? Yes, several times (all food poisoning). However, often it was my own fault, forgetting to wash my hands, or eating something I knew I shouldn’t (generally so as not offend people you’re with), or thinking I’m invincible (in general, I have a pretty iron stomach, but some places will put that thought to the test). Ironically, out of all the developing countries I visited, the place I got the sickest was Spain. Conveniently, in most countries one can buy antibiotics over the counter at any pharmacy (because the locals get sick sometimes as well, and the prices are a lot lower than in the US). However, in Spain, for antibiotics, I needed to get a prescription. So it took me much longer to get over it than it did anywhere else. Also, I generally tried to avoid antibiotics unless I knew it was going to be bad, so once or twice I had some low-grade lingering issues for weeks at a time. But I also didn’t necessarily take the greatest care of myself during these times either (late nights, partying, etc.).

5) Did you ever feel unsafe? Rarely. Now, it helps that I am a bigger than average male, but, honestly, the vast majority of places one would travel to are as safe as can be (you’ll often feel more comfortable walking around in many places in the world than you will in many places in the US… sad, but true). Here’s an interesting article, focus on numbers 6 and 7 for the purposes of this question as I found the answers to be spot on. Now, I did get robbed in Goa, but it was a room break-in where I was away from my room (an inside job I thought), and I did get sucker-punched in a bar in Addis Ababa (crazy dude who promptly got the shyte beat out of him by the bouncers before I even got up off the floor), but those are the only two “incidents” that happened. Occasionally, I would get the hair standing up on the back of my neck feeling, but that was mostly me putting myself in a dumb situation (taxi ride alone through a kidnapping prone region of the Sinai, having to walk a mile or so along a pitch dark beach in Goa at 4 AM, or walking around certain crappy parts of Cairo and Addis alone at night), things that could have honestly been avoided. But again, these feelings happened very, very rarely.

By The Numbers

Some tabulating for the future version of myself. Here’s a timeline breakdown of this adventure, which I’ll count as being book-ended by me being in San Diego:

New York: 5/10/12 – 5/16: 7 days
London: 5/17 – 5/20: 4 days
Spain/Portugal: 5/21 – 8/29: 102 days
Amman, Jordan (transit): 8/30: 1 day
Egypt: 8/31 – 9/16: 17 days
Ethiopia: 9/17 – 11/15: 60 days
Kenya: 11/16 – 11/20: 5 days
Tanzania: 11/21 – 12/10: 20 days
India (1st time round): 12/11/12 – 2/7/13: 58 days
Thailand: 2/8 – 3/2: 23 days (spent night in Colombo airport in transit to India).
India (2nd time around): 3/3 – 4/6: 35 days
Nepal: 4/7 – 6/4: 59 days (had dinner in Kuala Lumpur in transit to Taiwan).
Taiwan: 6/5 – 6-24: 20 days
Hong Kong: 6/25: 1 day
Tokyo (transit): 6/26: 1 day
New York: 6/26 – 7/13 (re-lived the 26th due to the international dateline): 18 days
Total Time Gone: 431 days

I also added up/estimated about how far (distance-wise) I ended up going (not counting intra-city transit or anything I forgot of course):

Flights: 39,481 miles.
Driving (myself): 1,563 miles.
Bus: 1,252 miles.
Car/Taxi: 2,510 miles.
Train: 3,281 miles.
Walking: 948 miles.
India Overland: 4,880 miles (don’t worry, no double counting with the above).
Total: 53,915 miles. For the record, the earth is 24,901 around. So adding up my total mileage means I could have circumnavigated the globe twice.

Even though I’m back, I still will have some more posts coming out, so don’t go away just yet. 

In Case of Emergency…

In this post I mentioned the set of emergency instructions I noticed on a Taiwanese train, which were as follows:

1) Press Button to sound the alarm and alert the authorities (actually, the first step of every set of emergency instructions anywhere in Taiwan is “Press Button”, which I found very funny).
2) If an object is blocking the train tracks, passengers should get out of the train and help clear the tracks.
3) Passengers outside of the train should take great care to not get hit by another train.

And I made some comments about how nothing like these instructions would ever, ever appear in America (primarily because the assumption of competence and responsibility in the adult train passengers is implicit in the instructions). In a semi-related note, I just came across this article:

http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/494007/20130724/japanese-commuters-unite-tilting-train-rescue-trapped.htm#.Ufq40NI3v4Q

The summary, in Tokyo a woman somehow fell onto the train tracks and became trapped under a train car. The station agent (someone, clearly, must have pressed the emergency button.. always step #1) held the train while the passengers collectively rocked the train car over to the side to make a space large enough to allow the woman to be rescued. The train then left the platform only having been delayed 8 minutes. Granted, this is Japan and not Taiwan, but they must have the same set of emergency instructions as shown above.

Now… could the above have happened in America? I’m actually confident that yes, it actually could have happened. However, I’m also cynically confident that post-incident, the lady that fell would sue somebody over platform gaps, slick surfaces, inadequate warning sings, improper safety procedures, psychological trauma resulting from the incident, etc. Also, it’s likely inevitable that one of the passengers who helped move the train would also sue somebody for causing, or re-aggravating, a back/wrist injury. The end result of which would be some kind of monetary settlement, a forced re-examination of the train safety regulations and emergency instructions, and the posting of the new “revised” emergency instructions exhorting everybody to do absolutely nothing in case of an emergency (except, of course, for waiting for the authorities to come to the rescue). Sad yes..? But you all know that’s what would happen. Feel free to insert your own mental commentary on the situation and what it all might mean.

Now, I had a 10-hour, overnight layover in Tokyo in June. I decided, rather than just sit in the airport all night, to take the train into town for dinner. I then caught the last train (circa midnight) back to the airport and slept on an airport bench for a bit before my morning flight (the train schedule was such that my original plan of staying out all night and taking the first train back was unfeasible because I couldn’t get to the airport in time for my flight). The one thing I noticed was drunk businessmen. They were everywhere, literally… and this was a Tuesday night (the only place I’ve ever seen something similar was London). On the train on the way back to the airport (filled with drunken businessmen), at one stop, the door opened to reveal this sign:

JapanApparently, other people have noticed this phenomenon as well… so much so that they need a warning sign in the train stations to exhort people to look out for drunken businessmen that might get hit by a train. Again, I’ll leave it up to you to make any possible connections about how the same society can simultaneously produce the above story and need the above warning sign.

Yankee Game

I’m a baseball fan, and just like every other baseball fan that doesn’t root for the Yankees, I pretty much hate them.  But, am I going to go to watch a game in Yankee Stadium if the chance comes up… Hell Yes.  Some photos:

The new Yankee Stadium…built across the street from the old one.

There’s a strip of bars and souvenir shops across the street from the stadium…for some reason they are all named Stan’s.

Inside the stadium just past the ticket takers.

The field itself. The Yankees were playing the Rays.

Sage forgets what to do after 3.

The subway platform after the game.

Electronic Music

I like electronic music.  Unlike most things in my life, I can actually pinpoint the exact moment when it happened… and that moment was in 2011 while driving to a river rafting/camping trip with this guy (my friend Gavin):

Now Gavin is one of those guys who I would say is really into music.  He is also the type of guy who can install a bangin’ car audio system by himself.  So combine some very good (and loud) speakers, a long car ride and Gavin’s ipod, and I’m going to hear a lot of music I’ve never really heard before.  These two songs in particular came on several times:

Whatever it was about those songs that drew me in I can’t really put my finger on, but I was hooked.  Further musical exploration, plus going to Burning Man later that year, really sealed the deal.  So, why I am I talking about this in a blog about my travels?  Because I found out while staying in New York that my friend Bob just started listening to electronic music three weeks before I arrived (literally).  We quickly agreed that we should go to a show if anyone good was playing in NYC that weekend.  And of course, it being New York City, several good acts were in town.  Given our plans already, the only one that worked out was Rusko, who was playing Sunday night.  The show was great… very energizing (in fact it took about an hour of watching TV back at Bob’s place to wind down in order to go to sleep).  It was also done by midnight (since it was on Sunday) so Bob didn’t have to suffer too much at work the next day (I, of course, got to sleep in).  From that night… the sound quality is the video is pretty bad (the bass overwhelms my camera’s mike, so it just sounds like static…use your imagination and note that every bass hit from the speakers would make you shake a bit):

Just in case you’re interested, here’s a couple more Rusko songs:

New York City

My first stop, after a lovely visit with my parents, was the exotic locale of New York City.  I’ve actually been here quite a few times so I wasn’t planning on doing anything touristy… just seeing my friends, enjoying not working and continuing to do some of the items necessary to travel around the world for an indefinite period of time.  My friend Bob was nice enough to put me up in his apartment for a week and a half, which was pretty nice considering this is the view from his place:

The only downsides were that the air conditioning in his apartment was broken (it was just starting to get hot and humid) and I was sleeping on a leather couch… I’m sure you can imagine the sounds made every time I tried to roll over in the middle of the night.

Although I’ve been here several times before, every time I visit I remember a couple of reasons why I really enjoy New York.  One is the subway.  It’s not the cheapest, but it goes everywhere, trains run all night and Bob manages to conveniently live (not an accident) within walking distance of one of the several lines that run to JFK.  As an added bonus for a visitor, you get to experience the guys that beg for money on the trains like it was the first time you’ve been panhandled.  I’m sure it would get old with time, as it happened to me basically every third time I rode the train, but hey, that’s the difference between living there and just visiting… the daily annoyances of any place are loveable quirks for visitors.  The only real memorable sales pitch came from a guy “selling” candy… because he made it a point to note that he had Snickers for the white people and peanut M&Ms for the “people of color”.  Please, poll your friends.  Besides the bums, there’s also generally some pretty solid subway entertainers, case in point:

Another thing way up on the list of things I like about New York is Jewish delis.  Bagels with cream cheese and lox are one of my favorite breakfast items.  This place was conveniently located within walking distance of Bob’s place:

My impeccable timing managed to conjure up perfect (hot, but not too hot) weekend weather, which brought out another one of my favorite things… women in sundresses.  I realize that women in sundresses are not particular to New York, but, as always, timing is everything, and it was quite nice that the timing of my visit coincided perfectly with so many decisions in favor of wearing sundresses.  Please except my apologies for the absence of pictures here.