Golden State’s City by the Bay

Well, yes, after almost three weeks we unfortunately needed to say Mahalo Hawaii (and hopefully see you again one day?). But instead of flying right away back to Germany, since a stopover in SFO was necessary anyway, we deciced to take the opportunity and spent three remarkably laid-back days in San Francisco. The City is such an agreeable mixture of decent multicultural townships (e.g. Chinatown or Little Italy) that we absolutely never felt foreign or alien there. Despite having so many famous tourist attractions of reknown, San Francisco still appears to be a great place for living. Okay, probably not directly at Lombard Street, the number one photo spot for Japanese visitors. But SF has many more beautiful avenues with nice houses and huge parks or green areas nearby…

We were soon to realize that indeed there are lots of steep hills as well, which thanks to the typical US street grid pattern you cannot avoid but have to climb straight ahead. The worldwide known cable cars surely would have been a picturesque and charming possibility to overcome those climbs. Yet we preferred discovering the city more freely and had a most enjoyable time during a long cycling day trip (bikes provided by Bicycle Rental San Francisco) under California’s warm late summer sun. Continue reading

Heaven next to Jurassic Park

Given that Hawaii is so far away from Europe and that after his incredible performance at the Ironman Felix surely deserved some agreeable days of rest and vacation, we decided to take the opportunity and hop the ocean to Maui. This volcano island is much older than Big Island and it gets clear directly during the first impressions: it has less lava fields and almost all are now overgrown by jungle or rainforest. The natural beauties and the high diversity of various landscapes on such little place are even more stunning, as well as the ever changing weather conditions…

We were soon to realize this while driving the West Maui Circuit on our first trip. We followed the mountain road along the coastline and stopped at a few hotspots like Dragon Teeth’s awkward formations, powerful Nakalele Blowhole, marvelous Olivine Pools and Iao Valley State Park. West Maui’s beaches are at least equally exceptional, they offer nice snorkel areas and you have good chances of encounters with big turtles or dolphins. Among others, the beaches Kahekili, Napili-Kapalua, DT Fleming Beach Park and Honolua Bay are real gems. Besides, you also have great surfing spots especially for beginners there, where although being first-timers we eventually managed to ride onto a couple of waves without always falling from the board! Since it was quite a lot of fun, maybe we should reconsider our main sports activity?

Notwithstanding, I would still say the perfect beaches are rather to be found on South Maui, all carrying beautiful names such as Kihei, Wailea or Makena. Without any rocks but everlasting fine sand, it soon feels like an idyllic paradise… so watch out for occasional giant waves that literally knock you down when boogie boarding! A couple of miles offshore lies partially submerged Molokini volcanic crater, a seabird and marine sanctuary. Thanks to Boss Frog’s Molokini cruise we spent hours exploring thousands of multicolored creatures living in the coral reef – perhaps the most memorable snorkel adventure of our whole holiday. Continue reading

An Ironman Swimming with Dolphins

More than one year is over since my last trip to Central Asia and still no new extraordinary destination or crazy adventure in sight? Of course not! Now that my personal triathlon season is over, I have the pleasure to accompany my good friend and training partner Felix to the legendary Ironman World Championship on Hawaii. Together with his family we will give our best to support him during the last week of preparation and especially on race day, but we will as well take the opportunity to make some tourism and explore Big Island while Felix is riding his bike countless hours through the infamous lava fields… Compared to my previous journeys, we won’t travel “on a shoestring” like the classic backpacker’s style who just uses public transport, hostels or couchsurfing (I don’t know whether this is possible in Kailua-Kona anyway), but we’ll take the liberty of living in a nice holiday home and most notably renting a car. I believe the latter to be almost inevitable if you want to be able visiting Hawaii appropriately, the only alternative left would be to book excursions from local tour operators – definitely not a cheaper option besides loosing most of your flexibility. So certainly this trip will be more expensive than my previous ones (whereas the high price level in general plays yet the most important role), but retrospectively I can say that I pretty much enjoyed the extra freedom of driving where you like to when you like to and the small luxury of having a house for our own. In some kind this can also be seen as “travelling independently” ;-)

To be honest, at the beginning I did not know exactly what to expect from this whole journey. Even if I had heard of many experiences and read a few reports from people who had been there in the past, I was not sure if this competition is still a very special one or if Hawaii indeed offers such incredibly varied nature and landscapes. In short, I was not at all to be disappointed. Concerning the Ironman you can really feel the Myth behind this event. The almost reverent atmosphere is omnipresent and each local person seems to be somehow involved in the trappings throughout the weeks and days preceding the cannon shot announcing the start to world’s most famous triathlon. Particularly during race week the number of IM participants increases everyday, in the morning the pros and who-is-who from the triathletes’ scene show up at the pier for an early swim workout, cyclists overrun Queen K Highway while their relatives try to cadge any gadgets or free gifts at the merchandising village, and the whole hubbub overcrowds every café along Alii Drive, watching athletes running back and forth up into the night (of course topless and not slower than 4 min/km).

On a personal level, despite that obviously I was not a participant at the world championship, and although I can hardly imagine the actual pain and challenges you have to endure in order to reach the finish line, I am glad to have experienced a small glimpse at what the IM Hawaii is all about. I suffered from heat and humidity while running in notorious natural energy lab area (and the sun was not even shining), I participated at the prominent underpants run and we watched the entertaining parade of nations. But the morning swimming session in Kailua-Kona Bay on the official course was definitely what I enjoyed most. The nice underwater views with coral and colorful fish make you almost forget that you are not inside an aquarium but actually training. Occasionally quite a huge amount of dolphin families swam next to us which gave us some great company. They never seemed to be frightened of you, on the contrary we heard them whistling under the surface and watched them doing crazy jumps or spins out of the water. Once we even had an encounter with a reefshark, which apparently was neither dangerous nor interested in us but looked pretty scary though – yet I preferred the dolphins by far.

To conclude with the sporty side of this report, Felix eventually achieved an unbelievable performance: he became third in his age-group (48th overall) and his finish time was 9:12:48 hours :-) Continue reading

Tinta fresca: Carta a mí mismo cuando tenía 20 años

“Perdete sin miedo. Hablá con desconocidos, escuchá todas las historias, hacé todas las preguntas. Viajá lejos y viajá cerca. Viajá con tu gente más querida, viajá solo; viajá soltero.”

No voy a preguntar cómo estás, porque lo recuerdo. Estás bien, y los años que vienen vas a estar bien. No tengo mucho tiempo (no lo vas a tener, pues) ni mucho espacio. Apenas 2.500 caracteres para decirte algo importante desde el futuro. Así que elijo esto: ¡Viajá más, huevón!

Si te vas a empeñar en algo, empeñate en irte. Cada vez que podás, y cada vez por más tiempo. Seguí los mismos sueños, hacé los mismos planes, emprendé los mismos proyectos y repetí los mismos errores si querés. Pero viajá más.

En los próximos años, te van a distraer ideas, sentimientos y personas. Aferrate al plan, que yo sé lo que te digo. Invertí en viajar, que es invertir en vivir. Usá lo que te ganés para alejarte de vez en cuando, que no puede haber perspectiva sin distancia. Andate y volvé, y andate. Creéme que nada te va a dar momentos de mayor felicidad.

Viajá joven, las circunstancias no harán más que complicarse luego. Viajá lejos y viajá cerca. Viajá con tu gente más querida, viajá solo; viajá soltero.

Sólo después viajá en pareja. Nada pone a prueba el amor como viajar juntos, decía Mark Twain, viajero incansable y astuto que encontró el amor, viajando.

Caminá, caminá, caminá. Gastate los pies recorriendo calles nuevas. Perdete sin miedo. Hablá con desconocidos, escuchá todas las historias, hacé todas las preguntas. Comé solo, comé en pelota, comé sin prisa, comé de camino. Comé allá lo que nunca vas a comer acá. Lo caro y lo barato, lo verde y lo rojo, lo duro y lo espeso.

Exprimí cada día y cada noche. Emborrachate al menos una vez en cada ciudad. Probá todo lo que no te mate. Hacé el ridículo. Enamorate por un par de días. Amá en otro idioma. Hablá en lenguas. Tocá la gloria.

Viajá con humildad, que es lo que garantiza la capacidad de asombro. Asombrate de lo épico y de lo simple, de lo extraordinario y de lo mundano. Asombrate de los olores, de los colores, de la naturaleza y de lo que la gente hace con la naturaleza. Asombrate del arte, del caos, del futuro y del pasado, de lo exquisito y lo repugnante. Aprendé sin soberbia y dejate arrollar una y otra vez por el asombro, que es lo que hidrata al alma y el cerebro. Que “viajar es fatal para los prejuicios, la intolerancia y la estrechez de mente”, escribió Twain en sus crónicas. “Nadie adquiere una visión amplia, saludable y generosa si se queda en una esquina de la Tierra toda su vida”, remataba.

Vas a ver que el mundo se va a hacer más pequeño. El obstáculo entonces será tu voluntad, o la falta de ella. Me habría gustado entenderlo más temprano. Que no te pase.

Por cierto: en el título digo “carta” por decir cualquier cosa. En el futuro nadie escribe cartas. Ni siquiera cuando está de viaje.

Publicado por Cristian Cambronero en La Nación

At the Gateway to Hell

As previously told, Turkmenistan’s wealth is mainly based on its rich oil and gas reserves, and already the Russians had come to the idea of looking for those natural resources. Although no one seems to know what really happened 40 years ago, the results of their failed search are very impressive, even if actually made and set on fire by humans: the huge Darvaza Craters, filled with water, mud or most famous with burning gas. We arrived to the area with the help of a friendly and very competent travel agency (Owadan Tourism Operator), who organized the transfer through and the camping in the Karakum Desert (which by the way also was a great experience). Words cannot describe the heat, flames and power that comes from the burning crater, nor can the photos probably capture the effect of the scenery neither. Even I simply stood there – speechless – again contemplating something completely distinct from what I had ever seen before. You almost have the sensation that this place must be the entry to Lucifer’s underworld and you definitely would not want to fall into this big hole. Continue reading