Friday, 21 February 2014

Achicalada in Mehico

The approach to Los Animas in the morning fog
To be brutally honest I have failed to upkeep the blog. The details of the days past have far been lost in the dark corners of my culpably complacent mind. Colin has come and gone. The lack of wifi could be blamed, but I much rather throw the blame to the fact that being on vacation here far outweighs the urge to sit in front of a computer screen and blast away at the keyboard. No disrespect to the written word at all, but in order to write something interesting, you must first do something interesting.
Joe lowering off Bunga Bunga after another burn
I am currently sitting on a less than comfortable chair, sunbathing on our porch taking pleasure in relaxing on this rest day. The distant sounds of rouge roosters, other exotic birds and “honkeys” fill the air when some Mexican music isn’t blaring out of the speakers of a nearby truck passing through. My plan this evening is to write one blog recapping everything I can remember since I left off last.
James at the top of Hijo de Puta 12b

As I recall it was the end of our first rest day. The following day was spent like any other day inscribed in previous blogs. Wake up, drink matcha, eat eggs, warm up in the sun, read game of thrones , hike to the cliff, climb, and come home. The day of climbing was dedicated to our projects, perfecting and memorizing the moves of the dance up the wall. Our good friend James was coming tonight to join us on our little Mexican adventure. His flight was delayed, as was ours, and so he showed up a little later than expected. Being the amazing people we are, Joe and I left a plate of dinner in the microwave for James, which he quickly gobbled up as we wasted the night away telling stories of what to expect in the days to come.
Joe poking his way through the tufa maze
The sun rose and the birds chirped.  Nine eggs sizzled away in the pan as James and I slowly rolled out of bed, and Joe bounced off the walls in his morning spurt of energy. We decided to spend the day at Los Animas, showing James the gem crag of el Salto. Little did I know that today would be one of my best climbing days to date. To wrap it up quick I had three flashes, all at grades I was not use to flashing, let alone three in one day. 11d, 12a, 11d. James quickly found his endurance and flashed the first 11d, but very unfortunately fell on the last move of the 12a. Joe was able to get back on his 13d/14a project Bunga Bunga Christmas and work out the clipping stances, which would ultimately lead to his success. James spent the day working the 12a but to no prevail. At the end of the day we made a quick pit stop at La Boka where I gave my 12b project a couple burns. I made it look really fluid and enticing to James, who decided to start working it with me. It was nice to have someone climbing at my level and working the route with me.
Working one of many cruxes on Tufaluna
We were expecting Colin to drive in tonight, but once again due to plane delay, he was later arriving than expected. We thought he got lost, as he chose to rent a car and drive himself. He’s loco. Just like for James we had dinner ready for him in the microwave. The 5 days Colin spent with us went quick. We did a day of climbing at the Boka where James and I worked the project while Colin flashed it and started to work a bouldery 13a to the left called Lounge Puppy. The next day Joe and I were due for a rest day again while James and Colin went to explore the climbs the Cave had to offer. We spent the day in the sun, exploring the town and just taking it as easy as possible. We have ongoing beef with the chickens and often chase them around cars. At this rate I feel like the conflict will not be resolved. They continue to wake us up at 5am, well before sunrise. The following day it was back to the Boka for the morning and finally the 12b succumbed on the first try of the day, for both James and I. After a couple pitches we left with the sun at its zenith and moved on to Los Animas. With one project in the bag, I quickly found a new one. A 13a called Tufa Luna which suited my style of climbing perfectly. Burly, powerful and short. I went up it bolt to bolt to learn the beta and came down so confident that it would surely be freed this trip. Colin used what little time he had with us and jumped on everything that seemed appealing. James started working the 13a with me, and we were able to share our thoughts on the sequence. In the next couple of days Joe sent his mighty 14a project with only a few attempts invested into it. Quite a feat considering how chubby he is. Throgh out Colin’s trip he finished off most of the climbs at both crags that were below 12d, including two 13a’s and felt satisfied by the end.
Stealing the wifi outside
The last climbing day of Colins trip we used his Ford Focus rental car and drove down the hill to town. When you’re in a reliable car and not riding in an ancient broken down transport bus, the mountain road down to town doesn’t seem so scary. We used the time in town to grocery shop, and found a new market with better prices, but not as much selection. An hour of paid Internet afterwards summed up our trip. James left the net café early to stand in some sunlight. When we left, he was missing for almost 20mins. We had no idea where he had gone, and the jokes of kidnapping a rare Asian for Mexican drug sweatshops started. He had only left in search of authentic tacos. We made incredible time driving back up the mountain, and made it to the crag for an afternoon climbing sesh. James and I worked on the 13a and Joe spent the day flashing un-attempted routes with Colin.
Colin left this morning early on. The rest of us attempted to sleep in, but with paper thin walls, the annoying sounds of roosters and Mexican music made this impossible. Kika’s was closed this morning so we were unable to obtain freshly laid eggs for breakfast. Instead I whipped up some guacamole and salsa hot sauce for sandwiches. This would be adequate. Our dinner will be yet again Mexican Gumbo. A term Colin coined before leaving. Rice, Onion, ground beef, black beans, chic peas, tomato, garlic, green pepper, green onion and corn made this meal a heavy one, but one that left you drooling for more. It would never get old.
The el salto crew with our plates of Mexican Gumbo
 The tiny grains of sand in the great hourglass of time slowly fall as our subtle arts of obsession and determination carry us through the days. The fake sound of progress is ringing in our ears as we fight to send our projects before time runs out. All in due time.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Rest Day

The power of rice compels you!
The all to familiar sound of eggs sizzling, onions and garlic being sautéed and Joe’s untrained voice struggling to rap to the music blaring through his headphones. Ah the sweet sounds of vacation. The sun is gleaming through our windows, energizing myself to get up and out of bed to greet the brand new day. Our bus to town leaves at 9am sharp out front Kika’s which we have to be on. We are in such a remote location that only 2 buses come a day. 9am and 2:30pm going down the mountain, and the only one coming up the mountain leaves town at 3pm. As it takes about an hour to get down the mountain on the sketchy at best switchback roads, the 2:30pm bus would be you’re spending the night in town. Luckily we were up early enough and done our daybreak tasks that we were able to wave down the 9am bus without breaking a sweat.
Cloudy Day
 Our standards of safety back home make their standards here non-existent. I’m starting to doubt they even have any. As we stepped on the bus we were propitious enough to find a seat. The ride we were in for beats any rollercoaster I’ve been on. Keep in mind we drove up the mountain to get here under night skies, shielding our views from the valley below and the sheer height at which we are. Along the way the bus continued to pick up random locals who waved the bus down and dropped off a few who needed to go no further. The doors are the bus were your typical bus doors, collapsing in the middle to be pushed to the side. These doors remained opened for much of the trip down. Unless you were female or child, your pick up/drop off was drive-by style. The bus would drive close to the edge, only slowing down slightly and the men would jump on grabbing what ever they could on the inside. It was quite entertaining to watch.
The drive down the mountain, as mentioned before took about an hour, reaching our destination around 10am. For any future travelers to this area, it is the last stop the bus makes, and the one the majority of people get off at. We have left our sunshine, blue-sky village to come down into the pollution-covered city where no sun could penetrate the thick layers of chemicals floating around. The temperature was unknowingly much colder down here and of course with our luck we had not dressed near appropriate. We had 5 hours to spend, decided to waste the first 2 at and internet café around the corner from the Super Desponsa (grocery store). This is where I uploaded the first 2 blog posts which you may or may not have read. It took about an hour each. We touched base with home for the first time since we arrived and were able to catch up on social life as well.
iSpy Joe
It was now 12:30 when we left the café, still 3 hours to kill until the bus home arrived. We decided to walk around an have a look around town, looking for a coffee shop or something of the like. The “Internet café” only sold internet no coffee. The cold of the weather soon infiltrated our clothing and sent chills through our bones. It was time to go indoors and grocery shop. As you can probably imagine, this did not kill 3 hours and we soon found ourselves standing out in the harshness of the weather.
Milking the Rest on Tufa Luna
With no destination in mind, we started exploring the town a little more, only to stumble upon a taco bar, which looked warm and inviting. We bought some authentic food and sat down at a table to eat and read. Little did we know, most of the shops like this shut down at 2:30 due to a holiday. This both benefited us and left us stranded outside against the elements once more. It benefited us because the owner of the taco bar had nothing to do with his leftover food, but throw it out or feed it to us. Our gringo smiles quickly won his affection and we were brought course after course after course. It’s safe to say we were more than full by the end.
We left the indoors once again for the treacherous outdoor weather and had another hour to kill before the bus. We decided just to stand outside the bus stop and wait. We were told there was a chance the bus could arrive at 3:00. To pass the time a non-English speaking hobo came and tried to communicate with us, and did no give up for at least half an hour. With Joe’s very broken Spanish understanding, we had some kind of clue of what he was saying. But boy did he sure love to tell stories.
Joe on the beginning of Tufa Luna 5.13a
The bus finally came at 3:30 and we were on our way back up the hill. The bus ethics were much the same as the way down with drive by pickups and drop offs. After the hour long scary bus ride up the hill we made it back home and spent the rest of the night relaxing, reading and watching movies.

Feel, Starbucks, Spaghetti and Blog

Sun set on the walk home
After failing to find the cave the day before, we were now armed with new directions that would surely not fail us. We did the hike into Los Animas with sandals this time for the water sections, and proceeded downriver to the cave. Fairly soon after the waterfall there is a road that leads to a trail cutting off and going up the mountain through thick layers of jungle. How could we have missed this? A machete would have been nice as we hiked up the steep switchback trails to get to this infamous cave.
Trying to figure out which routes are which
            Twenty minutes uphill and we make it. What we walked up to definitely did not meet my expectations. I personally was thinking of a cave as grand and deep as the granda grotta in Greece. This was no contender. To make up for my instant grief, we found that in total there were three smaller caves components to “the cave.” And the routes…the routes running through the cave looked better than ever. Our warm up must have been the best route to date, climbing up never ending flowstone and tufa’s into the heart of the cave. This was a textbook definition of 3D climbing. Holds to your left, right, above and behind. The scary falls added to the thrill of this classic climb. Merlin’s Culo was an unforgettable experience.
Joe Lacing up for H-bomb!
            Next on the list was Felicidad, and 11d that started in the bottom of the smaller cave and worked it way out to the daylight. An onsight by Joe and a flash by me, we were quickly looking for our next victim. The projecting bug soon came to haunt our minds and we both looked for a climb beyond our onsight/flash strength. Joe picked the ultra classic H-Bomb (5.14a) which legend has it was onsighted by Dani Andrada while he wore crocs. An un-human-like feat. Joe figured out all the moves fairly quickly and actually went on a redpoint burn the second time around. I picked a climb called La Violencia which is a one move wonder 13a/b. The one move being a giant backwards dyno off two decent crimps to a big tufa. With a couple tries I managed to touch the tufa with a single hand. So in other words I was nowhere close. I’ll be back on it again.
Need as many blankets as possible
            By the time we walk back to Los Animas there was a line up jeeps waiting to get up the hill, slowed down by atv’s getting stuck on the way up and other automobiles on their way down. Monterrey is Mexico’s richest city, and the vast majority of these wealthy Mexicans have cottages in Cienega de Gonzalez (our village) and the surrounding area. They all come up here on the weekend, and this place turns into a giant party. The locals sell their homemade cocktail mixes on their front lawns as early the sun rises, Kika’s recipe being a rum Caesar. These millionaires pack up their 4x4s with cases of beer and perhaps a rum Caesar for the ride there…including the driver. They drink all day long at the waterfall, racing up and down the hill that los Animas is located on. Some are idiots and try to fly by you; others stop and watch you on the wall, even offering some beers to share.
It’s funny because here they don’t care how good their ride looks, but more so the size of the sound system attached. Everyone is blasting their own Spanish music, in competition with their amigos for the greatest decibel hit. Anyways, by the time we hit los Animas on our hike up, one of the jeeps offered us a ride up. Without thinking twice we threw our bags in the back and jumped on the sides. The adults were too drunk so they left the off-road driving to their 13-year-old son, who, despite his age, handled the 4x4 like a pro. They drove us all the way up the hill and through most of the water crossings. We considered ourselves lucky.
            After they dropped us off we were saying our thanks, when they kept wanting us to meet more of their amigos. As this process went on, the Mexicans in the background were taking pictures of us as if they had never seen a pair of gringos before. Our moment of fame on this trip.
Hijo de Puta, 5.12B first curx at La Boka
            Later that night, as we tucked ourselves into bed, Joe offered to let me know what time it was. As he clicked the button to open his shiny pocket watch, the top flew open with a picture of Melissa taped on the inside. I soon realized that he didn’t care what time it was, and was only looking for an excuse to open the pocket watch. Our sleep was spent much the same as the other nights, waking up multiple times because of the cold. Constantly hoping the sun would rise soon, only to be woken up once again by that damn retarded rooster.
            It is now our 4th day on of climbing, which is something we normally wouldn’t do, but today was Sunday and the buses didn’t run down to the village. Our rest day would have to be on Monday when we could get down the mountain to town for grocery shopping, and Internet café time. As a result we took the day fairly easy, climbing at the Boka, trying some of Ulric’s newly bolted lines and finding a couple mini projects. Joes was an unnamed 13a and mine was a 12b called Hijo de Puta.  Joe sent his second try and mine is still currently a project….unfortunately.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Los Animas and Lost Climbers

Our hike in...Lord of the Rings
the famous waterfall of el salto
            With the suns rays beaming through our bedroom window, our cabin felt like a freezer. So quick to cool down, but never seems to warm back up, despite the days intolerable warmth. The sizzling of eggs on our propane stove and Joe’s chopping of vegetables on the cutting board keep me from falling back asleep. Nevertheless I still try my best. Joe calls up informing me that matcha tea and breakfast are finished and on the table. I roll out of bed as Joe watches a Mexican cowboy walk by on his Honkey (“one/third horse, one/third donkey, one/third Mexican”).
Joe not psyched on getting lost
            After breakfast was made and ate we decided to spend the day sitting in the sun, read our books and soaking in the warmth. Much like reptiles do. We were headed to a new crag today called Los Animas. It was a bit longer of a hike (20-30mins) but was the main attraction when coming to el Salto for climbing. Ulric had warned us that there were some creeks and rivers that needed to be crossed. Joe and I being the naive lazy people we are decided to suss it out for ourselves and wear hiking shoes in. We made it to the first creek. A couple bigger rocks stretched out across the way, but maybe only 1/5 of the way out. We come to the clever decision to find more large stones and build a bridge across. “Why hasn’t anyone done this before….lazy Mexicans,” we would tell ourselves. 20 mins go by and we aren’t even halfway yet, when I set a stone down, involving my hand dipping in the water. “The waters actually quite warm Joe!” With this we untie our shoe and cross the creek barefoot. A very uncomfortable ordeal. But hey, we made it across. We showed you Ulric!
One of the many crossings
            We soon learnt to our dismay that there were at least seven more crossings to be done before we made it to the crag. Ulric: 1 Team Joe/Tyler: 0. This undoubtedly made the hike in much longer than the 20mins….more like an hour. But we are finally at the crag looking at our 5 piece of paper guidebook and trying to locate which route is which. We make our way down the cliff side to the far left where there’s a climb named All Along The Watchtower. This climb was super exposed to the valley floor a long ways down. I tried going first, but putting myself in unsafe fall positions over and over again, bolt after bolt, completely messed with my head and I decided to opt out, quit and come down. I’ve never done this before and was quite disappointed in myself, as I pride myself on having a good lead and being able to keep the danger out of my head. The disappointment led to depression and I decided not to climb that day. Climbing out of anger just isn’t as fun as climbing for joy. Instead I stuck around and belayed Joe, enjoyed the views, the sun and nature.
The crossing in front of the waterfall
            After Joe finished All Along The Watchtower, which he agreed was scary as hell, he onsighted one more 11d in the sun before we decided to take an exploring break. The wall was in the sun, and it’s not worth risking heat stroke while climbing. If you follow the road down to the valley, there’s actually a gigantic waterfall, which many travel to come ogle at. During the weekends it’s packed with Mexican campers and off roaders…but more on that later. We went to check out the waterfall and a beauty it was. We remember that the infamous Cave that climbers wonder too, is a 20min hike downriver. “Lets go check that out, while we’re here,” declares Joe. Well to make a long story short, it fell together much like our hike in to los Animas. The 20mins away turned out to be a 1.5hr hike downriver with many more river crossings, and the worst part is we never found the cave! The next day we are told we hiked right by the trail up to it. Whoops. 1.5 hours downriver took us another hour to hike back up to where our gear was. Joe climbed two more routes before we packed up. I wont go into much detail because they are his climbs and I’m the one writing the blog. We’ll leave it at: at this point in the trip Joe has yet to fall on a climb.
Joe resting before climb

Blog Numero Uno

And we're off!
“With a heart attack on your plate, you were looking back on your days, how you spent them all in a blur.”
The view coming back from the mountains

Beep beep! Beeeeeeep! Beep Beep. Our hippy van fully equipped with a queen size bed, table and more climbing stickers than one could count raced along the traffic filled street weaving in and out of cars like we were escaping an apocalypse. Ulric and his Chihuahua had thankfully waited till our plane arrived at Monterrey Airport to drive us to our destination. It may have been saver trying our luck with a bus, but that argument is up for debate. Nevertheless we are sitting at the kitchen table, beer in hand food in stomach, fire roaring and most importantly alive.
We keep ourselves occupied
 Let me rewind a bit. It Tuesday night, and the tequila shots are being poured left right and center. “Its boom boom time!” It’s the night before I left for 3 weeks. What? Expect us not to celebrate a bit? By the time Joe and his legendary father Karol pick me up at 2:30am there was booze oozing out of every single pore in my body. I was wasted. The hour-long drive to the airport in Toronto went by with the snap of a finger. Going through the whole routine at the airport wasn’t too bad, till I decided not to read the computer screen and selected that “yes” I am carrying more than $10,000 cash on me and a number of other “yes” answers that would raise some eyebrows and further questioning. Other then this honest mistake, the rest of it went fairly smoothly. Our irresistible charm got us out of paying for our over weight luggage, even after my partner in climb had to pinch me twice not to blow spoiling it. As a result of drinking all night long, the second I hit the seat of our first plane, I was out. Gone. Besides a barely conscious drink of orange juice mid way through the flight, and giving Joe the evil eyes for trying to take my blanket, I was passed out for take off, landing, and the flight. Impressive.
departure time vs actual departure time
            Tyler!!! Wake up!!! We here brother!!!! My eyelids slowly open to the sight of Joe standing in the aisle of the plane hitting my shoulder to wake up. We had a limited amount of time to make our flight from Chicago to Monterrey…or so we thought. Turns out our flight got delayed due to a missing plane…. How do you lose a plane? It first started out as a 2 hour delay which then turned into a 3 hour delay, which then only after a gate change to the other end of the airport finally turned into a 4.5 hour delay until we were boarded. Our delay time however was used effectively for sleeping, eating and more sleeping with a few games of iSpy in between. We boarded our last flight only to be told the door of the plane was of course broken and doesn’t shut properly. Yet another delay while they wait for the mechanic to come. After the door was finally fixed we proceeded to the take off. 20 mins of driving later, we were on the runway ready to take off. Joe and I honestly thought we were driving the airplane to Mexico. Oh boy.
            The flight was fairly uneventful. Time went by so slow! We did our best to sleep, but with the seats being so close together it was uncomfortable at best. We finally began the decent into the valley, mountains to either side of us, as far back as the pollution allowed you to see.
            There were no cell phones or pictures allowed in Mexican customs, so we’ll skip this part of the story. Let it just be said that the border guards are not like the ones in Canada or US. They were super super joyful and didn’t give you any reason to be nervous or scared to walk up and confront them. When we mentioned this to the guards, they replied its because the Canadian border guards are cold. HAHA great joke. Ulric later told us it was because it wouldn’t make any sense to smuggle drugs into Mexico, due to their ridiculously cheap prices. Makes sense.
The view from our porch
            We were incredible grateful that our baggage made it, and that Ulric had waited the 4 hours for us while United Airlines found the “lost plane”. He drove us to a super market where we picked up enough food for the week, and than stopped off at Sierra Madre, a local microbrewery. You can pick up a liter of beer there for 77 pesos, which is roughly just under 6$. If you buy 3 of these you receive a 4th one free. Once you place your order, they go to the back where the beers are stored in their giant urns and freshly pour the liters of beer you order. The freshest beer you’ll taste.
            The hippy van puttered up the old mountain road through curtains of darkness as Ulric gave us the 411 on the area. By the time we reached our cabin Joe and I were beyond starving and even more tired from the long day of travelling. We cook up a quick meal, started a fire and hit the hay. Now being in Mexico one would think the nights are some what warm. Not here. We sleep fully clothed including long johns with our down jackets and toques on. Despite our best efforts to stay warm, we woke up numerous times because of the cold and once because of a retarded rooster who kept “cocka cocka doooo’ling” even though the sun wasn’t close to rising.
Joe in the kitchen where he belongs
            The sun rose sooner than we would have liked, and the whole morning was spent cuddled up in blankets drinking hot tea and eating warm porridge. By 10 we were ready to start our first climbing day and Ulric showed us the way to the Boka, which is a newly developed area but with some classic routes. We warm up on an 11d which Joe onsighted and I nearly flashed but couldn’t figure out what to grab the crux. Bummer. By now the sun had reached the wall and we were starting to feel the warmth of the Mexican sun. Another classic 11d resulting in an onsight and flash got us feeling quite good about this area. Joe picked the next route, which was a 12a, and turned out to be super technical and slabby. I decided to pass and pick yet another 11d climbing up this arête which had only seen one ascent so far by Ulric. I got my ass kicked on it. Could barely make it bolt to bolt, due to the different style of climbing it involved. I still believe it is harder than what graded, but that could be because of my lack of experience on routes like this. A couple more routes summed up our first day of climbing.
Ulric giving us the lowdown at The Boka
            On our hike back we bought some freshly laid eggs from Kika’s for our breakfast in the morning and proceed to cook dinner. Our evening consisted of a movie, guidebook research and reading. The night was spent freezing once again, waking up to frost on our porch. Today is a new day.