Saturday, September 25, 2010

Suchitoto, El Salvador Lele Kawa

While diving last week I overheard the Emer, the dive master, mention she was planing to do a waterfall jumping tour on Friday. I immediately said I'm going.

Friday morning I meet up with Emer and two other people, whom I had not meet before then. The person that knew where we were going had to cancel, so we were left to find the restaurant where the tour operated from on our own. This proved to be pretty easy, as it was in a town center, and the street signs were effective.

La Lupila del portal, where the tour is operated from in Suchitoto town center

We meet up with our guide and then jumped into his truck to drive to the trail head. A short walk down the road took us to the first and largest waterfall of the tour. This waterfall was about 25 meters tall. After a quick stop at the top for photos, we made our way to the pool at the bottom. The cool water of the pool was refreshing. With a little work you were able to wedge your body under the falls for a hydro-massage.

The first falls. Hydro-massage is on the left

After our quick dip, we made our way down stream along the river to the next falls. This falls was about 12 meters. The guide pointed out where to jump from and the rocks you need to clear at the bottom. Then wasting no time, I took the plunge, and repeated it three times. Rather than take the trail the long way back up, I climbed up the rocks to the side of the falls. The first time I was climbing up, near the top I slipped and almost fell. Luckily I escaped with only a few scratches on my side. Emer chickened out.

View from the bottom of the second falls

A short way down the river lead us to the third and smallest of the falls on the tour. It is about 7 meters tall, and it had a rope swing at the top. Again I was the first to jump, or rather swing. It took me longer to do this than the first jump. Rope swings are harder to judge than just jumping. The guide insisted it was safe, so I trusted him. All went well. Emer tried to follow me, but didn't let go of the rope. They pulled her onto the ledge on her back swing. After that she decided it was easier to just jump and Andrew followed her. While they were jumping, I explored the little pool at the top of the falls. It was about 10 feet across and five feet deep where there weren't rocks. I decided to jump off the six-foot ledge into this little pool. Emily joined me.

Rope swing at the third falls

Before we headed back to the truck, I wanted to jump from a different ledge at the third falls. The guide said the spot was ok. I made the jump, only to check the landing afterwards and find that there as a shallow shelf about three feet deep that extended out about ten feet out from the wall. Luckily I cleared this shelf but I told Emer not to follow me.

Coordinates +13.893286,-89.045327

Monday, August 30, 2010

La Puerta del Diablo 2

This weekend I returned to the Gate of the Devil's. Being the weekend, it was much more crowded. There were many locals walking around and all the little restaurants surrounding the parking lot were full. The weather was still very foggy, but still at least twice as clear as the first time.

We again climbed the tourist rock. Which was very crowded? At the top we even managed to get a peak at the surrounding cliffs during a short break in the clouds. After more pictures than were necessary, we descended and ate some pupusas.

After the lunch of pupusas, we looked for the other trails. The first one we found led to a large cave on the back side (side opposite the road) of one of the rocks. This is also when I started to discover some of the climbing routes. To my surprise, despite being in a constant fog, the routes were mostly dry and the rock grippy. This was in stark contrast to the routes I found last time that were covered in a wet slime.
Standing in the cave

Pro on one of the slimy the routes

After finding the end of that trail, we headed back to the parking lot, where I found another trail. This one led to more of the rock climbing routes, and the top of the larger rock. There weren't any other people on this trail, which was kind of nice. When the lack of people was combined with the fog, you really got a sense that you were alone. The climbing routes on this rock were all dry and looked very good, but difficult. Now I just need to find somebody to climb with.

Most of the climbing routes

Monday, August 23, 2010

SCUBA Diving Lago de Ilopango, El Salvador

One more thing I quickly knocked off my list of stuff to do in El Salvador, SCUBA diving. I have been missing the water for the last few year. Going from a landlocked country to the desert. When I heard there was diving to be had in El Salvador, I was excited. One more good way to spend my weekends.

My first Sunday here I joined one of my coworkers on a dive trip to Lago de Ilopango. Before going, all I knew is it was near the city and a fresh water volcanic lake. I was warned the visibility would be low. Having done most my diving in the ocean, low to me is 20 feet. Here between the dark water and a foggy mask, my visibility was limited to about 4 feet for most of the dives. At times, like when we tried to go deep, it was much less.

It was still a fun day of diving once I worked the kinks out of my gear and new dive buddies. The first site we went to had tons of small fish and crabs. There were also some soft sponges. When my gear gets here I will try to take my camera and get some pictures.

I was told that the coolest site is the volcanic vents, called the Devils Cauldron. We did not do that site, but it just gives me a reason to go back.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

La Puerta del Diablo

The Gate of the Devil.

The group of us found out about this place through different avenues. Some by word of mouth and others with the Internet.

The Gate was of interest to me, because it the the main rock climbing sight in El Salvador. The day we ended up going, the fog was so thick that it was almost impossible to see more than 20 feet. While this made the scouting rock climbing routes a lost cause, it did create an interesting view.

At the top of the Gate, you were completely enveloped in a cloud. In one direction there was a tree, nothing else was visible through the cloud/fog.

I did spot some climbing bolts near the parking lot, and one bolt at the top of the climb. I will have to return to see what the rocks hold. has most of the route rated as pretty hard. I hope that I can get at least one of the other guys to come out and climb with me. When the the dry season hits, it should be possible to climb here almost every day. list 62 different routes.

I almost forgot. The coolest part of this trip was the flock of parrots. When we were standing at the top you could here some birds below us. Due to the fog we couldn't see where they were just here them as they flew around the peak below us. Then suddenly they flew strait up the side of the hill right towards us. There were about 20 parrots. They made a quick circle around us, close enough to see them through the fog before disappearing again.

Here is the video I took from the top.

Zip Line or Canopy tours

My first weekend here in San Salvador, we set up a last minute zip line trip. We headed to the nearby El Boqueron Canopy Tour, located on the San Salvador volcano.

I brought my camera, but was afraid to bring it on the zip line because I was not sure what to expect. As it turned out, I most likely would have been fine. The zip lines were pretty tame. It was still a good time.

This was my first time on a commercial zip line. My only other experiances involved rope in my backyard or in the yard of the Jarnots.

The last 4 of the 9 lines were worth the money. They travel high over a valley, maybe 200 feet.

I will likely go back while I am here, likely when some other new people arrive. It is a good easy trip to put together, because it is so close.

These are the only pictures I have.

The Truck that drive you to the top

A map showing the nine zip lines

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Graffiti Rock

The most significant historical place I have visited in Riyadh is Graffiti Rock. It is little more than a large piece of stone in the middle of the desert with what are more or less cave drawing on it. These drawings are a few thousand years old.
The rock was easily climbed. One member of our group spotted a desert fox on the top, but it ran away before anyone else could see it. Next to the rock, there is a ancient tomb, however we were unable to locate it. While searching for it I saw a desert Owl, but failed to get any pictures. Just before we left I was climbing down a hill and dropped a large stone onto my ankle. Luckily my ankle won that contest and broke the stone into a few pieces, without breaking. It did get pretty swollen and some cuts, but other than that it was fine.

Graffiti on the rocks

The pile of rocks with Graffiti

The coordinates are +24° 18' 58.23", +45° 38' 25.84"

Camel Riding

Today I decided I have been in Saudi Arabia long enough without having ridden a camel. So after work I grabbed a few of the guys and headed down to the camel souk. It isn't much of a tourist place, and there really isn't a place to go and just get on a camel, it is more a place for the sale of camels. Some costing over 1million USD. (The ones in the background of this picture)

There was a guy riding his camel somewhere. So we stopped him and asked if we could ride it and get some pictures. It was a good quick trip.

Mission accomplished.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cat Wall Revisited

Went climbing with AJ again today. For a change we had a third with us, a Ausie named Jason. This was nice because it gave us the chance to get some pictures, as you can see below. We also did some bolting of our new route. The new drill didn't work as well as the one we used last time but we managed to get two new bolts in.

We also did the Trad route today. It is a pretty easy climb but it is fun to mix it up.

This was the first time I made it clean up the route. The first picture below is me finally making the move that has given me so much trouble.

Sticking the move

Belay for Jason (new Fisheye lens)

Setting new bolts

You can find "Cat wall" at these corrdinates +24° 40' 5.52", +46° 36' 38.88". There is also good info here

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sand Boarding

There is little opportunity to snowboard in the desert, so lately I have had to turn to the next best thing, Sand board. Unfortunately I didn't pick up this past time until March, when the temperatures were already starting to climb. I brought the board out one while ATVing but I had no wax and it was the wrong type of sand. The next time I went out, I couldn't find anybody else to go out with me. Also I was lacking in a off road vehicle. This resulted in a lot of walking, and being close to the road. A Saudi man did arrive in a four wheel drive truck, and he offered to drive me around, but he seemed sketchy. Also this was an exploratory journey, the main purpose was testing equipment.
The first time out

The next few times out I managed to pull one of my coworkers along. The one time we tried renting ATVs. Unfortunately the only ones available were 100cc. These were very slow and could only make it up the least steep hills. Also the hills we were trying to board down too steep for the sand to be packed right. After a few feet the boards would bury in the sand and stop.

Another time we went out first thing in the morning after a night rain storm. The same steep hills from the time with the ATVs were ride-able because the wet sand formed a crust.

Now its June and the sun rises too early to head out at first light. A few days ago we decided to try sunset instead. To our surprise the sand was relatively cool. This was the first time we tried the sand sleds. I managed to convince 5 other people to join me on this trip. They all had a good time despite many falls. I hope to get back at least one more time before I take off from Riyadh next month.

Riding as the sun sets

Sand Sled

The coordinates are 24.366019, 46.287289

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Desert Caves

Today right after getting off work at 6 in the morning, headed out to the desert to do come caving. Gave me a chance to use some of my gear. The open part of the cave goes down about 200 meters, then it closes up and heads down another 100 meters before the water starts.
As soon as we arrived we were lucky enough to spot two desert owls flying near the opening to the cave. The roof of the cave was covered in quartz crystals making it sparkle whenever out lights hit it.
I'm a little disappointed in myself for not getting in the water, which I'm told goes down another 30 meters or so. The top of the water was covered in dust and didn't look very inviting. I still have a few weeks to go back and redeem myself, and get some more pictures.
Just above the water there is a crack that runs horizontally for a few 100 meters. We only traveled past the first small crawl through. This area was surrounded by many sharp rocks and flakes of the quartz.
Overall it was a fun way to spend the morning, even if it meant skipping sleep for the day.

Here are the coordinates for anyone interested in going
N24° 29' 7.50", E46° 59' 48.78"

View of the open part to the cave from near the top.

Update went back to the cave yesterday morning to do some swimming and more exploring. The water is cool and about 40 meters deep as far as I could tell. Also there was graffiti about 20 feet under the water, suggesting it was a lot lower at one point in the recent past. Also the horizontal cave continued about twice as far as we traveled the first time before becoming very hard to pass.

Swimming underground

Group Shot

Friday, April 30, 2010

Rock Climbing "Cat Wall" in Riyadh

There are three adventures that I'll include about "Cat Wall".

It all started at the Sweet Heart Ball, at the American Embassy. The table I was at was only half full, so once the place started to fill up, two American guys asked if they could join us. Travis and AJ were about my age worked for the Red Crescent (the Red Cross of the Middle East). They told me they had only been in Saudi Arabia for about two weeks. After a short time I learned that these guys, like me, were all about getting out there and seeing what there was to do around here. One of the things that came up was rock climbing.

After a quick search of the internet, I discovered there was a climbable rock wall quite near the embassy, but that after the attacks in 2001-2004 the police would chase you away, as it is on the wall to the diplomatic quarter. A few weeks later AJ and I went out to find this wall. There was a police officer parked in the parking lot, after a few waves and smiles as we unloaded our climbing gear, it seemed like he wouldn't chase us away. From the parking lot to the wall was about a 700 meter walk. The wall proved better than expected, with two established sport routes and a few trad routes. A few hours of climbing showed me how out of shape I had become, as my arms were dead.

Part 2:

The next few times we went were much like the first. Wave and smile to the cop, who always seemed to be parked in the corner of the parking lot nearest the climbing wall. One day however, there was no cop when we showed up. While we were setting up our gear, one arrived. They got out of their vehicle and started walking around ours. We assumes this was a bad sign, but kept setting up our gear. A short time later three more police cars showed up, and two police started the 700 meter walk towards us. As they got closer it became obvious they were carrying MP5 sub Machine guns. We took this as a clue to slowly make our way to meet them with our hands in plain sight. Being that I speak no Arabic and the police spoke almost as much English, AJ did the talking in his limited Arabic. The conversation basically went as follows; "What are you doing", "We're climbing, we have no weapons", "Our Capitan wants to talk to you, stay here". So we wait a little while, making small talk with the guards until the Captain and one other officer arrive. The Captain speaks pretty good English and we make small talk with him for a while. After about 15 minutes of talking he tells us to have a good day and leaves. Then we start climbing.

Part 3:

With some borrowed equipment and a YouTube education, it is time to start bolting our own route. It is an exciting moment when you first load a bolt that you have put in yourself. It makes you realize the faith you are putting in those who have put in the other bolts you are using. It makes you hope they didn't just learn how to do it one day based on some YouTube videos. Our first bolts held strong. Phase two will start soon, cleaning the wall. There is no shortage of flake that will need to be removed.

You can find "Cat wall" at these corrdinates +24° 40' 5.52", +46° 36' 38.88".

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Desert ATV

Yet another thing I have been wanting to do since I arrived out here, but up until recently didn't have the opportunity, 4 wheeling. A large group of of all decided to go one Thursday morning, but as is expected here when the time to leave rolled around, about half the group dropped out.

The 8 of us headed out at about 10am out to the sand dunes, where there were a line of tents with guys renting ATVs. After a bit of haggling (their set price is 300 SAR/hour), we jumped on some 400 cc ATVs, got a quick lesson and heading out into the desert. Only 3 of the 8 of us had ever ridden ATVs before, so we started out slow as the rest of the group was regularly stalling and getting stuck in the sand. By the second hour everyone was pretty comfortable and we were able to cover some real ground.

We all tried to stay together, which was hard. If you traveled two dunes away from the group you got the sense that you were alone. If you went further than this it would often take a few minutes to find anyone else. Most of us had some small wrecks, but luckily nobody was injured.

The coordinates are +25° 4' 42.26", +46° 42' 31.90"