On the trail again …

although it is unclear for how much longer. Still plenty of doubts ahead, but we’ll get there soon enough. First let me get you up-to-date how the last couple of weeks have been.

After my two failed attempts to restart my hike in the first weeks of August, I have hitchhiked down the West Coast to continue my adventure. After going through Bend and Oregon; I went into Humboldt County, a beautiful coastal stretch in the very North of California. I had some amazing times: sleeping on the beach at College Cove and a transformed school bus in Orick, walking through giants in Redwoods National Park, people watching in the university town of Arcata, …

Around the 20th of August I made it back to San Francisco where I could count on the amazing hospitality of my friend Tom and his housemates. After a couple of days of preparation met up some old friends from Mexico City and headed out to Burning Man. For the third time in four years I was going home.

It turned out to be a very intense experience, more emotional than my previous two visits. I was strongly doubting about what I would be doing after the festival and what my future would look like. There were some old friends I’ve run into and memories to be relived.

After a short time back in San Francisco I decided to head out for the Pacific Crest Trail. Doubts where raging through my head. Most of all I was afraid to go out there and have my body fail on me once again. To start hiking and realize that the pain would just be too much. At the very last moment I headed out with Ila (Tom’s girlfriend) for a practice hike in San Francisco. Hiking with a full backpack through SFO seemed like a bit odd, but the feeling in my legs was good so I decided to go out for it.

Some amazing trees along the way


A busride took me out to Truckee and from there I made my way to the trail. I had a 66 mile (106 km) stretch ahead of me, all the way to Lake Tahoe.

The first two days were going very smooth. It felt great to be back on the track, as if I had found a purpose again. Walking on the trail felt like coming home to me. You can hear me talking about this in the following fragment.

However in the following two days, the pain in my shins returned and with it returned the doubts that were going through my head.

I made it all the way to Lake Tahoe and although my shins feel painful, I can manage. The feeling is still bearable. So for the moment I will continue on this trip that takes me further in to the Sierra Nevada. Step by step, day by day. Living in the moment.

Aloha Lakes

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And the man, it burned…

Hi everybody,

A bit of time passed since my last post. No worries, it pretty much feels like I have never been more alive and kicking. Your beloved traveler is reporting straight from a stormy, freezing and rainy Auckland. Yep, perfect timing for an early morning breakfast writing session.

Colombian Closure

The last days in Colombia were spent as relaxed as possible when we headed towards Parque Nacional Tayrona. The second most visited park in Colombia is famous for its diverse scenery: sandy beaches, rainforest, cacti,… you name it! In the meanwhile, Roy was still by my side spending his final moments in paradise. We got to the park and settled down in a hammock at the wonderful beach of Cabo San Juan de Guía.

Parque Nacional Tayrona

On our way there, we bumped into the perfect advertisement for our prefered Colombian beer “Club Colombia”:

Club Colombia - "Paarden weten waarom"

After Tayrona, we stranded in Cartagena. A day later, Roy returned to Belgian reality. I moved on towards what would be one of the most surreal and inspiring weeks in my entire trip.

Burning Ma(d)n(ess)

In San Francisco, David and I met up again and went out for our Burning Man shopping. We got all our gear, and crashed with fellow “burners” (Burning Man slang for people that visit the festival) Kerry, Tam and Xi. They were so kind to offer us a ride in their rented and super reliable “A-team van”. Company that supplied the vehicle: “Rent-a-Wreck”. It was not that much of a surprise we nearly crashed facing a blowout of one of the front tires when driving back to San Francisco after Burning Man. Luckily, Tam’s nerves of steel got us safely on the side of the road where we successfully used our spare wheel to get things sorted again.

View over Black Rock City

As pointed out in David’s post a bit earlier, it is difficult to describe the madness of Black Rock City if you haven’t been there yourself. Anyways, allow me to give it a try while summing up various things -not all, my mother is reading this!- that alter your state of mind:

Desert Conditions

Basically you are in the middle of the desert for the whole week. This means exposure to conditions that can be called quite harsh. Daytime temperature fluctuates around 30 degrees, at night it gets freeeeezing cold. Getting back from another crazy party, finally going for some well deserved rest you usually wake up 2 hours later completely covered in sweat.

Kerry Playing Beethoving in the Middle of a Sandstorm

Artworks

The unique concept of Burning Man is that the burners theirselves construct artworks the whole year preceding the festival. Consequently, during the week you witness the most incredible craftsmanship. A huge temple made out of wood and the magnificent dancing lady sculpture are just a few examples.

The Dancing Lady Sculpture

Craziness of all Sorts

Well, don’t know what to write first in this section. Anyways, I do not get my ass whipped daily at a bar called Spanky’s wine bar. It rarely happens I encounter a panda bear in speedo. Seldomly I am wearing a lovely pink dress, sipping Guinness in an Irish pub located in the Nevada desert and usually the parties I attend do not have 4 enormous flamethrowers next to the dj-boot.

Pandabear in Speedo

The Man Burning

One would wonder how the festival gets its name. Well, that’s a difficult one. They burn a gigantic wooden man. Once again, no attempt to describe the whole process. Nevertheless, the picture might give a tiny and slight impression of this “sacred moment” in the whole Burning Man philosophy.

And the Man, it Burns!

Licence to Try Everything twice

Licence to Try Everything Twice!

Back in San Francisco

After having spent a relaxing evening and night in the Gran Sierra resort in Reno, we got back to San Francisco for a final night with the assembled A-team (David, Jan, Kerry, Tam and Xi). As almost everything is organic and healthy in San Fran we had dinner in a vegan restaurant followed by some karaoke. To my surprise I got on stage screaming out loud the desire to be taken to the next whiskey bar. Quite a challenge following my “like a virgin”-karaoke trauma.

A bit sad and lost I wandered around in “the city” the next morning. On my own again, lonely and melancholic after having said farewell to the whole crew. Luckily I got a very warm welcome at both May Jean’s and Graces places. I met May Jean while hiking in Colombia. Grace and I had a brief encounter in the Couchsurfing camp at Burning Man. I want to thank both for taking me around town and showing me the best the city has to offer!

wine and dine

May Jean drove me to the huge wine region north of the city. After having tasted several wines I could not really mark the difference between red and white anymore. A bit later I probably couldn’t identify a hot chocolate in between the Zinfandel, Syrah and Pinot Noir. However, the wines are very tasty, the weather sunny and the surroundings incredibly beautiful.

Tasting Wine in California

The whole city is packed with restaurants serving every single type of cuisine imaginable. I tasted Japanese, Chinese, Afghan and Ethiopian food. It does not happen a lot I think about heading back to Belgium. Of course, I miss family and friends -hey, common guys, I really do. One thing I have been desiring for in particular is Belgian beer. Problem solved when Grace took me to a marvelous pub that serves a nice selection of Belgium’s finest! As Grace pointed out my nationality, people instantly started asking my advice on the type of beer that would suit their taste and mood the best. Ever since, I am considering to redirect my career in the direction of “beer consulting”. Nothing like that on the corporate websites of the big-4, a shame!

Grace Tasting a Delicious Tripel Karmeliet

Back to the future

Monday at 5 pm I jumped in the plane towards Auckland. Arrival time: Wednesday 5 am… Crossing the dateline made me lose a full day! No worries, I am doing my best to catch up again.

I gathered all my courage and checked my bank statements. Immediately I started adjusting my cv, got online and began checking several job sites as the States turned out to be the opposite of budget-friendly. At the same time, I dived into all other formalities (opening bank account, requesting my tax number, cellphone,…). Horror!

To my own surprise I booked my first success on Saturday. I got my test at a Brazilian Churrascaria called Wild fire. When they asked if I had been a waiter before I did exaggerate my experience level a bit -common, who does not use a white lie applying for a job?- The managers reply: “good, you’ll need it, we expect 300 people this evening, Saturday is very busy here”. With trembling legs I started working at 5 pm. 7 hours later I got back home, exhausted and with pain in every single muscle. Nevertheless, it all went pretty smooth. The staff mainly consists of Latin American people. When they heard me speaking Spanish (“No eres Aleman??”) I conquered their hearts. Yep, lucky me again.

My plan for the coming months: working as hard and long as possible. In November I will meet up with Kerry to travel around the south island here in New Zealand. A great perspective… It’s all good!

All the best to everyone!

Tom

Day 177: Welcome home!

“Welcome home”, those were the words with which we were welcomed when we finally drove into Black Rock City. It was four o’clock in the morning and we had been driving for 20 hours to get at our destination: Burning Man Festival 2010. A mythical arts festival in the desert of Nevada where the 10 core values are: radical inclusion – gifting – decommodification – radical self-reliance – communal effort – civic responsibility – leaving no trace – participation – immediacy.

Burning Man was first held in 1986 on the beach in San Francisco and moved to the desert in Nevada in 1990. During most of the year this is an inhabitable nature preserve, but from August on a big group of volunteers starts bringing in the basic infrastructure to support a community. In a next phase an even bigger group of volunteers takes up the available space and starts building theme camps and villages on the circular grid that is provided. On the last Sunday of August the inhabitants of this city slowly start to move in, they mainly come from all over the States and every year a bigger group of international people is joining them.

I met up with Tom in the airport of San Francisco on Friday night. After finding out about this festival long before we started this trip, I convinced Tom this would be a great activity to add to our trip. However in the last couple of weeks I had slightly started to worry about how harsh the conditions would be for us. We would spend 8 days in the desert where during the day we would be confronted with an excruciating heat and blinding snow storms, while at night temperatures would drop to the freezing point. On top of this the festival shuns almost all commercial activity, which means that only ice and coffee are available on the playa, all the rest you have to bring along (camping gear, outfits, food, water, …). Most people spend months preparing for this trip and arrive in pimped out Rv’s, after reading the infamous survival guide I wished we had as well.

Preparations in San Francisco

We spent Saturday in San Francisco doing most of our shopping. We went down to lovely Haight Street where we scrambled through the thrift stores looking for a great outfit, hit the local hardware store to get all the necessary camping gear and bulked up our food supply. In between we enjoyed some of the amazing food SF has to offer.

On Sunday we ticked off the last objects on our shopping list and met up with Kerri, Tamara and Xi. This international threesome met up in Thailand and had offered us a ride from San Francisco to Black Rock City the following day. We picked up two more passengers along the way and bought some more supplies in Walmart before arriving in Gerlach, this is the last little town before entering BM. From here on we spend most of the night queuing to enter and to get our tickets. Eventually sunrise was already showing when we were putting up our tent and rolled in for a short bit of sleep.

What followed were eight days of overwhelming impressions. The scene is out of this world, being located in the middle of a giant desert. The cultural agenda is so overloaded that it’s hard to pick between all the offered options. The people on the playa are incredibly sociable, helpful and generous. The parties that last till sunrise and beyond are just amazing.

Some of my favourite activities on the playa were the following:

– visiting the temple: a big wooden dune-like construction where everybody can write down a message about a loss, problem or issue they encountered in the last year and want to leave behind

– hanging around in our camp and meeting tons of  interesting couchsurfers

– biking off on to the playa and looking at some amazing art, my favourite was Bliss Dance

Bliss dance

– taking pictures with my new Lomo fisheye camera, of which you can see the results in this post

Central camp

– getting body painted

– starting of a night of great partying at Spanky’s wine bar, before heading over to Root Society or Opulent temple till the sun slowly rises over the desert

Ready for a night out

– going to one of the costume shops to pick up a new outfit for the day

– taking a steam bath in the middle of the desert

– riding one of the art cars across the playa

Nightly ride on one of the art cars

– running behind the water cars to get a “fresh shower”

– seeing the burning of Metropolis, the Man and the temple on consecutive nights

– ….

After eight intense days, we dreaded going back to the other world. We felt like we had come home and it was hard to leave. We said goodbye to new friends and made promises to come back for a following event. From now on we were burners!