Cruisin’ Amed

Amed, the exact opposite of Kuta. There couldn’t be a bigger compliment. I look around and all I see is beautiful black sand beach, stretching the coast for 10km. There are no shirtless, gym junkies with tribal tramp stamps fist pumping up and down the street. No flashing laser lights and smoke machines pouring into the sidewalks as you walk to dinner. This is relaxation.

I finally arrived in the Bali I wanted to see. For my first adventure, I rented a motorbike! I know, it doesn’t sound that adventurous, but it was my first time! It was exhilarating! For my first ride I couldn’t have been on a more scenic road. I was surrounded by pure beauty. Wind blown emerald seas on the hills, surrounded by palm trees and paddy shacks. The emerald green rice fields weren’t the only thing dancing in the wind, my new beard pressed against my cheeks like never before, swaying with every turn. Amazing. Why didn’t I grow one of these earlier?

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The sun kissed my skin as I wound around the coastline, black sand and crystal blue water contrasted beautifully on one side, while the vibrant greens of the tropics took over the other. I cruised through villages, slapping hands with fishermen as I sped by.

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My friends and I stopped at the Tirta Gangga palace, which literally translates to Water From the Ganges. It was built in the 1940’s by Gusti Gede Djelantik, the former heir to the Kingdom of Karangasem. The palace is gorgeous. Full of stepping stones in carp filled water, looking like a cross between Jumanji and MXC. Hindu influenced statues lined the landscape, good and evil spirits everywhere.

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We kept on cruising, and no matter where we went, we were surrounded by water. Flooded rice fields replaced crashing ocean waves from time to time. Whether ocean or temple, flooded paddy or palace, the free flow of life entrenched us. Like the philosopher Thales said, “Water is Life.” Amed is water. So… Amed… is life?? I think Socrates would agree!

 

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Borneo’s Second Fiddle – Climbing Mt. Trus Madi

Usually the highest mountain range achieves this lofty state just because it is the lead, and as such draws the most traffic. The second-highest just doesn’t get the attention, and often then is the better wilderness experience.” — Richard Bangs

Three Americans and a Brit, on America’s birthday, were going for a trek…



Borneo is often regarded for the difficult, yet tourist riddled climb of Mt Kinabalu, its tallest peak. For this weekend, we decided to gear up, climb the lesser known, relatively deserted, Mt Trus Madi, and let freedom ring.

This was my first real mountain climb. Searching the Internet for some more information, I came to the conclusion that this climb was nothing but steep slopes and physically trying. I try not to take much of this into consideration; there is no need to build up any sort of anxiety before ever trying it myself. Better off just getting stoked on the possibilities and forgetting about the negatives!

After a four-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu to Keningau, with stops for durian and terap on the way, we met Dennis, our organizer for the climb. An adamant birder who can mimic different calls with ease, showed us a slide show of the previous group, and then our A frame stretcher hammock abode. After some salted fish and rice, we hit the hay, preparing for a 7 am departure. 

Dennis had told us a fast climb to Camp 2 would take roughly 5-6 hours. Always up for the challenge, we began to charge it. The first two kilometers were reasonably civil, walking along the river and crossing small sections of it as we wound our way towards the uphill. We spotted a Borneo Brown Pit Viper drowning head deep into a large snail shell, unsure who was actually winning the battle. We placed them to the side, letting them finish this unusual death match away from the main trail. 

Onwards we climbed, myself maybe too persistent on keeping pace with our ninja like guide, we silently hiked. One stop at the fresh stream to refill our water bottles with the delicious taste of iodine, which no lie, I was beginning to enjoy. We pushed on, stopping to spot beautiful Golden Naped Barbets and Ashy Drongos filling the air with noises other than the thumping of my heart.

The climb up to Camp 2 was pretty focused, cruising up the old logging road until we came across the beginnings of the enchanting ultramafic forest. For the last hour or so we leapt across springboards of moss-covered roots, slowing our pace to take in the beauty until we arrived at our destination for the day.

Camp 2 took us only four and half hours to get to, so we were officially the fastest guests Dennis and his guides have had. This was an ego booster, but then a realization in how unnecessary the quickness was when we were left baking in the sun for half of a day. The rest of the day was spent eating rice and canned pork, bird watching, and collecting awesome sun burns on our backs in preparation for the 2 am climb to the summit.

Looking out at Camp 2  © Charles Ryan

Looking out at Camp 2
© Charles Ryan

1:19 am and we hear “Charles! Charles are you ready?” – Our guide speaking to my friend Charlie. 

“What the f—“ I hear mumbled in the stretcher hammock next to me. “It’s 1 in the morning and it’s raining, I’m not getting up.” He said.

Well…something along those lines anyway. In all honesty it was foggy at that hour, but I remember grumblings of a possible mountainous manslaughter if he tried to make us get up an hour early.

Thoroughly pleased with the civil conversation that went down, we all fell back asleep until the rain stopped and it was 2 am.

Waking up around an hour later, we were pleased to hear the rain had subsided for our ascent, so we mixed up some 3 in 1 Nescafe coffee, dropped some iodine in our collected river water, turned on the torch and hit the trail.

I forgot to mention, my brand new torch had stopped working around 12 hours after purchasing it, but that’s a rant for another time, and a lesson learned about the Chinese black market of outdoor gear. Thankfully I was able to borrow another, and march ahead.

The night was black, the little lights we had clouded by the fresh layer of post rain haze. Again, our guide was ninja like, this time with the cover of the night sky to hide him ahead. And again, I felt the need to follow in his footsteps, like Ricky Bobby about to make the slingshot move.

We had heard about the steep ascent to the peak of Mt Trus Madi, and that its comparisons in difficulty to Mt Kinabalu lie within it. It’s funny, because normally in the jungle we are so cautious with our every step and especially our hand placement. But when its pitch black and you’re on a Freedom expression mission, you throw all that away and grab whatever the hell will help you up that 80-degree slope.

Flashlight in mouth, we trekked on, climbing natural ladders formed from the moist, moss covered root systems of the ultramafic forest. Pulling ourselves up ropes like we were in 5th grade gym class, the slopes seemed to extend into the night, nothing to gauge as a finish line yet in sight. We followed the light of our guide, who at times seemed to be directly over us.

You forget how cold it is outside when you are sweating like crazy, but then your backpack happens to hit an ice bucket of a pitcher plant, and it pours down your back. Consider that my ALS Ice Bucket challenge that’s sweeping the nation. This happened time and time again, from unsuspecting pitcher plants hanging by the thousands above us.

Three and a half hours later, we summit. For myself personally, it was a great accomplishment. For my first mountain summit, I felt ecstatic, amazed, and exhausted. So we got in our warm, dry clothes, hunched over and took a nap. Don’t worry though, the sun had ATLEAST another 45 minutes to rise, and it was so cloudy we weren’t going to see it anyways. Unfortunate, yes, but the feeling of accomplishment did not dwindle because of it.

After the nap, we made our way out of the mist and into the most spectacular forest I’ve seen. The sun illuminated the dark path we’d walked for hours, shining light on the thousands of pitcher plants above us, to our right, and to our left, brightening the dew covered reddish green moss that laid at our feet. Highlighting every little root cavern we climbed through and around to get to our peak.

Mt. Trus Madi summit  © Charles Ryan

Mt. Trus Madi summit
© Charles Ryan

I felt the need to charge to the top, but on the way down, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in Fern Gully or something. I can’t even remember that movie, but the title seems appropriate. The forest was stunning, and felt mystical.

© Charles Ryan

© Charles Ryan

© Charles Ryan

© Charles Ryan

We made our way down to the first peak, taking in the sights of Sabah we couldn’t at the top, and continued on our 12 km trek to the bottom.

The home stretch was supposedly just 1km, but this was easily the longest kilometer of my life. Toes beaten and bruised, legs wobbly and ready for that long car ride, mind exhausted and filled with joy all at the same time, Mt. Trus Madi provided gorgeous forests, and exciting trekking without the crowd, and most importantly for the occasion… The feeling of true freedom.

As is Tradition

As is tradition, my brothers, nephew, and dad are driving to little ol’ Larchwood, Iowa from Caifornia this month. I usually am there, taking the graveyard shift driving, and drinking excessive amounts of “EXTREME CAFFIENE” gas station coffee. Only the finest for yours truly.

But this year I am in Malaysia, and I like to think this stems from the value my dad always thought came from actually seeing the country, instead of flying over it.  Ever since he was a young kid, his dad would drive the family to visit the other half of the Hevern/Tracy clan in Iowa.  And we as a family have been doing it for the last five years or so. Road trips have been a Hevern tradition ever since we could purchase cars! 

I remember being a little kid and going to Las Vegas with the family. We could have flown no problem, but my dad insisted on driving the nine hours so we could really see Death Valley, and get a true feel for it. I was hooked. Of course I had to wait many years later to get a driver’s license, but once I did I became a full on road tripper.

The trip to Larchwood is our Man trip. Just us guys, stinking up the car while we drive straight through to Iowa, hot seating the whole way. Taking a week to get home, changing the route every year to see different sites, cities, and people.

I’m missing the man’s meal in Elko, and the Johnnie Walker Black on the rocks with a twist from the cute-in-a-redneck-cowgirl-type-of-way bartendress. The basque style dinner leaves you defeated before you even sniff your entre coming out from the kitchen. 

I’m missing watching the sunrise in Wyoming and hearing my dad’s final snore, signaling the end to my graveyard drive shift.  We watch the plains come alive with gazelle like deer and rabbits hopping around the man made wind barriers lining the highway.

The endless domino tournaments at every stop. One day we will prove who is the best of the bunch, but I’m not sure any of us will concede any time soon (We all secretly know it’s my dad, but don’t tell him I said that).

The annual semi-pro Larchwood baseball team competing for the state championship. We pull out the lawnchairs, pop open the cooler, order about four of the tastiest, simplest burgers each and cheer for our team away from home.

The non-stop bullshitting with our cousins in Larchwood. Country boys vs city boys. But don’t look twice, these city boys can match whiskey for whiskey all night and hop on the last tractor home.

All these amazing times have been opened up to us because of the family tradition of driving across the country, soaking up the land.  I’m missing out this year, and am sad about it, but I know that my itch to get out and see the world, stemmed from my dad’s drive to drive, and his dad’s before that. I’m just taking it a step further this year, and know that when I come back we’ll be on the road once again.

Oh, and if we hear you calling us a “Hollander,” just know, them fightin’ words.

I SPOTTED THE CLOUDED LEOPARD!!

Roaming through the dense jungle

A clouded beast hunts on the ground

Near extinction, he takes the hunters crown

Borneo’s top cat

The few remain just that

 

Roaming through the dense jungle

Always on the search for the elusive cat

This guy is rare, so rare that those that live here

Have only seen him once

No more than twice

 

Roaming through the dense jungle

Looking in all directions, Listening in even more

Something begins to move in the tree next to me

Tail thick, black

Spots all over his back

I SPOTTED THE CLOUDED LEOPARD!!

No wait… it was just a Malay Civet Cat.

Searching for the Whale Sharks

Besides my flight in, and flight out three weeks later, I had nothing planned for my trip to the Philippines. I was free to roam and left to go whichever way felt right. One item I wished to check off my bucket list was to swim side by side the massive whale sharks known to cruise through the seas off The Philippines. I was told while in the mountains of Northern Luzon that Donsol Bay would give me a good shot of fulfilling this daydreamed event.

I spent a few nights with a family from Irosin before I made my way further south to the underwater giants. My time in Irosin really showed me how hospitable one family can really be, for being a stranger I have never felt so welcomed and cared for.  

So after saying my goodbyes I hopped on a bus towards Donsol Bay. The journey to the bay would take just about three or four hours, the majority by bus and the last hour stretch in a jeepney. We got to the junction, where the jeepney would transfer us, and after riding in these cramped, sweaty, metal jeeps for the better part of two weeks I decided to sit on the roof. Amazing! No lie, this is the only way to travel outside of the cities in the Philippines. I wasn’t alone in this, as up top I was joined with the Oklahoma City Thunder playing trio and friends. Kevin, Russel and James, all young basketball fans, were telling me all about their hometown on the water as we watch the sky light up with pinks and oranges while the sun sets over the perfectly conic shaped Mayon volcano. My new friends tell me this was once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and as I pass I’m wondering why it fell off the list. I’m a sucker for beautiful sunsets, and the scenery coupled with the cooling breeze engulfing my body as I sail by puts this in my top five (of my incredibly fluid list). 

The beauty helps me forget the increasing numbing feeling taking over my ass from sitting on metal racks for over an hour, and as the sun settles in for the night, we arrive in Donsol Bay.  I meet a tricycle driver named Randall, who hooks me up with a ride to my hostel after dropping off James. He offers up his phone number to be my on call trike driver in town, seeing as I am at least a 20 minute ride from the main town I happily accept. Oh man, little did I know how hungover I’d get due to this move.

At the hostel, which is definitely a beach side resort with a separate dorm accommodation, I start getting anxious for the morning. I’m feeling so close to finally swimming with these giants of the sea.  But hey, the night is young, so I go down and grab a bite to eat, and take advantage of the free rum shot that comes with each beer. Looking around its just myself and a solo traveling German girl. I happily take every opportunity to practice my Deutsch, so I sit with her and enjoy a salad. The salad was a nice break from the pork diet of the Philippines, but not a great base for the insane amount of Red Horse I’d find accompanying us…

We decided to get out and walk around the town, and quickly found out that the real partiers of Donsol Bay are the geriatric. We passed a super cute dance party for the older generation in the town square. After stopping to study the forgotten fox trot and two steps, we kept moving towards a house that had a shop window with the local legend Red Horse. We chatted with the family for a bit, then I get a text from Randall… “Want to come to concert right now?”

Yea for sure! We didn’t know what to expect, but Randall picked us up in his tricycle and scooted us to the town’s high school. As we are pulling up there is this live band playing what should be deemed the Philippine’s National Anthem, but I’m pretty sure its just called “Let Me Take a Selfie.” Quickly we realize this is not so much a concert than a high school reunion. A 40-year high school reunion. Bring on the Red Horse.

We were greeted by the kids still in high school who helped organize the whole party, and were treated like guests of honor. I think I was only halfway through the first beer before an eclectic veteran of the school pulled me up on to the dance floor. It was time to show off my moves to the whole 50 year old plus Donsol Bay community. What made it even better was we were dancing traditional dances, similar to salsa in the way we posed every time the music stopped. So as the Red Horse beers increased, so did the dancing, and we had a long, unbelievably fun night with the old women and men of Donsol Bay.

8:00 am. We are getting up at 8:00 am to go find these whale sharks. No matter what.

10:00 am, we wake up and make it to the launching point. No headache is going to suppress the stoke I have for the day, just delay the start time.  We purchase the boat ride, which fills up quickly (only 6 people), rent the snorkel gear, and head out.  For 4 hours we motor through the crystal blue sea, searching for our whales. I fell asleep a couple of times, quick power naps to conserve the energy for when we finally spot one. But as the hours pile up, and our boat guides take turns napping as well, frustration starts to set in.  We had one moment of hope, but only because every single boat on the water started b lining it towards a single location. Sure enough, a false sighting. I’m not sure it helps if 10 boats are racing to the same spot, and I’m not sure the experience would have been that amazing if I had to share it with 30 plus people.

We failed to spot any sort of sea life, which ultimately left me pretty upset. Easily the most money I had spent on my three week stay in the Philippines was this one night and day activity, but it wasn’t a problem because I was so excited to cross this off the list. I hopped on a bus and made my way back to Legaspi, to catch a flight to the next location.

On the bus ride I started thinking about my time in Donsol, and I honestly couldn’t stay upset for longer than a few minutes. The night before engrained memories of dancing, drinking, and feeling a part of the community. There is no way I can look back at my time there and not smile at the experience I had dancing with the old ladies for the 4 generations of local high schoolers to laugh at.

So I didn’t get to swim with whale sharks in the famed location for them. I’m okay with that, because I still get to search for the moment that for this time eluded me. Just one of many excuses to return to the Philippines in the near future. 

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El Nido Sunset

A little bit of Richie Spice to take you through the sunset in El Nido, Philippines. 

El Nido Sunset

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Duck embryos, chicken and pig intestines, chicken heads fully equipped with eyes and brains, pig liver and pig blood was on the menu tonight. 

It all tasted really good, except for maybe the pigs blood, which was more tasteless than anything. 

The famous Balot was quite the experience, 17 and 18 day old duck embryos does not sound (or look) all that appetizing, but picture the taste of chicken broth and a hard boiled egg, because that’s exactly how it tastes. Even with the feathers and beak. You first crack open a hole in the top, where you slurp out the juice, whatever that juice may be…Then you proceed to peel away the rest of the shell, finding a white, yellow, vein covered duck embryo to munch on. 

Good old Manila street food. The best dinner I had here. 

The Thrilla in Manila

I can finally check “referee a foxy boxing match” off of my bucket list. It’s about time!

I’m going to try to recap my first night in Manila, but I’m still in a haze, my mind fogged over from Boracay rum and 10 cent beers. 

The Pink Manila hostel in Makati is the jump off point. A hostel with an essence of Scarface, a full bar, and full of young travelers that like to party. But this is a rather boring part of the night…The usual meet and greet travel questions, “Where are you from,” “Where have you been,” etc. over some large beers we bought from the larger man in the gym downstairs.

Lets move to Ringside. A strip club? Maybe a boxing arena? Maybe both. I’m not sure what to classify this place as. All I know is that there is a boxing ring in the middle of the room, surrounded by private tables occupied by older white men and younger scantily clad local girls, and mostly unused stripper poles shining in their oily glory. 

We grab some beers, and stand ringside, waiting for the next match to happen. While we wait, there are three girls in the ring, I guess they are supposed to entertain in between matches, but they more or less sway like zombies to the music. I’m losing interest pretty fast, wondering what good could possibly come from being in a place like this for too long….when all of the sudden the fighters emerge from the back room! These pint sized badasses were ready to go! Snarling and playing it up like they finally got called up to the WWE big leagues, they slid in the ring and squared up. 

Call me crazy, but little person boxing made me forget those feelings of wanting to leave. 

They were fierce, dodging and ducking, diving and dodging. Oh wait, wrong sport. They were going at it for two rounds, and if I had to call it the dude in blue won, but really, we all won. 

Up next were the ladies. But there was an issue….we needed a referee in order to ensure a fair match! Well, I thought, I’m keen on fairness in sports, so I decided to offer my services purely in the name of honesty and decency. 

I don’t know if these girls thought there would be breaks during the fight. Not while I was in charge! No rest for the weary, or whatever that saying is. Two rounds of rock em sock em foxy boxing, and it was epic. I was the one dodging every punch thrown, bodies flailing towards me, all the while holding my beer and trying not to spill. These girls weren’t tactful in their approach, clearly more training is needed.

After this bar we split up, and I was later ditched by another hostel goer after some rum shots, which was fine, but I didn’t know where the hell I was. I found myself being poked quite often by begging children, asking for handouts the whole night. Something I am used to in Malaysia, but after all the drinks I had I guess I felt the need to let this little girl know something — That she can use her brain, and get educated and find her way out of this situation. I had good intentions, and had a lady translate for me to her, but I was drunk and am not sure it was the movie moment I thought was happening.

I did win over some admirers however, even if they were unwanted. A working girl happened to hear what I said, and offered her services free of charge. I declined, but she kept following me, walking by my side telling me how good of a man I was and all that. I kept trying to shake her off, but then two police officers rolled up to us. Not sure if this was a scam these girls run all the time, or just cops looking for a bribe, but I booked it. I didn’t say a word, just realized my opportunity to get away from the girl, so I ran around the corner to my other admirer. The lady selling roses, who translated for me earlier was still there. She was my ticket back to the hostel, seeing as no taxi driver knows where it is. She got in the cab with me and gave the guy directions from where we were. I got there, paid the cab, gave the rose vendor some pesos for her help, and stumbled upstairs. 

That’s what I remember. First night of a long weekend ahead in Manila! 

Danum Valley Experience!

Proper shower, check. A clean shave, check. Curry Laksa for lunch?? Definitely checked that. Alright, I’m officially out of the jungle.

Three weeks in Danum Valley is something most might get a little tiresome of. Hiking at least 10k a day under the hot and humid rainforest canopy can be exhausting. But I love it, and I love meeting the different people, some good, some French. (Just joking, had to get back at the Frenchman who said “Nobody’s perfect” in response to me being American — I feel better now.) 

I’m not even sure what I wanted to write about, because it’s so hard to capture the beauty of the rainforest here. I would hike the same trails every other day, and you wouldn’t know it because of the ever changing landscape that comes with the midnights downpour. The animals come out when the rain subsides, but without the rain they stay in and hide. (Boom) 

Unfortunately my quest to spot the Pygmy Elephants, and the Clouded Leopard are still in progress. Although I came dangerously close to the elephants on a night hike, not where you want to see them…

I had a few encounters with an aggressive, super burly Pig Tailed Macaque, who thought I wanted his monkey women. I had only been there for two weeks, definitely not on the radar yet. But this guy wouldn’t let me by him and his troop. One morning we had the ultimate stand off. 6:30am – I’m trying to walk to breakfast when all of the sudden this beast jumps out from the bushes about 20 ft in front of me. Raising his eyebrows and showing his teeth, I wasn’t impressed, so I march forward. Unfortunately he marched forward way faster than I, so I pick up a rock and chucked it by his head. He backs off maybe 10 feet. I take a few more steps towards him. He’s not having this, so he runs and leaps towards me! Still enough distance between us, I throw another rock. And another. I’m fucking hungry. He is too though. Hungry for my Orang Puti blood. He takes one final run and leap at me, and I decide…He is way more hungry than I am. So I go back, read my book, and wait. He wins. It’s OK though, I didn’t cry or anything… 

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Off to the jungle!! Stoked to head back into Danum Valley for 2 weeks tomorrow. Stepping into this rainforest is like stepping into Jurassic Park, I’m convinced I’ll have a stand off with a velociraptor at one point…I’ll keep you posted.  

But really, the wildlife there is incredible. Pygmy Elephants, Orangutans, all eight species of Hornbill, and thousands more fauna and flora species. 

Im hopping onto a plane tomorrow, will be internet free for 2 weeks while I trek day and night, climb tree platforms, illegally climb radio towers because its that much higher, and soak up one of the most pristine parts of the oldest rainforest in the world. 

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The local fish market here in Kota Kinabalu (KK) is awesome. Every night, from 4pm to sometime way later, fresh fish is served up from about 40 or so stands. I’m a seafood junkie, so come nightfall you can find me cruising the streets by the waterfront, scoping out all sorts of exotic fish I never see sold  back home in the Bay Area. 

Parrot Fish….I grew up looking at them navigate through the reefs, now I’m seeing them as a potential dinner option. If you don’t mind a little fishy water spray hitting your legs and feet, engulfing yourself in the local energy that is the fish market is well worth it. 

Where We’ll Start

I’ve spent the majority of my life in one place. Albeit gorgeous, vibrant and full of life, my life was feeling stagnant. I needed change, and the driving force behind that change was the opportunity to meet so many amazing young men and women from all corners of the globe. My work with World Merit and helping orchestrate the Your Big Year competition in San Francisco put me in touch with millenials who wanted to change the world, who will change the world. 

I’ve done some traveling, mostly in Europe and around the US, but meeting these people from places like Iraq, Liberia, Brazil, made me want so bad to break the bubble and get out of my comfort zone. So here I am, in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, working as the Director of Marketing for Sticky Rice Travel, exploring Southeast Asia and meeting incredible people wherever I go. 

That is what its all about for me, soaking up the culture, the environment, listening to the elders of the villages tell stories, trying to communicate in anyway possible, gaining knowledge and perspective you can only attain in travel. I’m not sure where I will end up, and that is the most exciting part. 

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