Sunday, May 27, 2012

Rafting Trip: Off the Grid

I had the opportunity to go to the Kings River for a school trip. It consisted of a 323 mile 6+ hour bus ride up the state. We drove up to Fresno and took a right toward the mountains. The highway turns into a road and it was one of the windiest roads ever. The last hour and a half is all winding roads around the Pine Flat Lake and follows the Kings River.
That was the worst part of the trip. So 5 teachers and 70 graduating seniors did this trip on two buses. We left campus around 11:45am. On the bus I was on we watched "Rush Hour" and "Mean Girls" on the trip up. We stopped for a quick break just before Bakersfield. We arrived at the campsite around dinner time. We had all of the students set up their tents before the sun went down because there was absolutely no light at all and having all of those people put up tents in the dark would've been a disaster. The camp/rafting people were not prepared to feed us dinner and thought that we had eaten before we arrived. Eventually they set up sandwiches and we all made our own. It was standard lunch food. They have an outdoor kitchen and picnic tables under a tarp for the eating area. Other than that, there wasn't much else to the campsite besides the 4 individual trailer portapotties. This is what the campsite looks like.
It's basically right along the river and the tents are set up on the white sand. There is also a firepit that we huddled around and told stories once the sun went down. Since we were in a canyon it became fairly cold once it became dark. It was fun having all of us around the fire. Everyone had flashlights since there was no light at all. They did have little solar lights that show the path to the bathrooms. Around 10:30p or so everyone was going to sleep. Breakfast was going to be served at 8:00am. The sound of the river rushing by was quite relaxing even though I had a hard time falling asleep. I have a hard time sleeping anywhere different the first night, so I expected not to get much sleep.

The morning came quickly and I was awake once the sun started coming out around 6:00am. I woke up and realized that it was really cold. I bundled up and left my tent. To my surprise people were already awake and sitting by the fire. It felt great to sit next to that warmth. For breakfast, they served fruit, muffins, bacon, eggs, and pancakes. Thankfully the coffee was good, otherwise it was going to be a very long day. After a few cups and some food, they made the announcement that we would leave the camp on the buses up the river around 9:15am. We had to pick up wetsuits too and everyone was getting dressed with their wetsuits and sunscreen. The camp has two old school buses to get people up the river. They have a truck full of life jackets that they passed out before we got on the buses. We went about 10 miles up the river and it took about 45 minutes on a very bumpy dirt road. At one point there is a turn that the bus makes that requires everyone to get on the left side of the bus. Crazy. Once we arrived at the launch area the rest of the guides and rafts were waiting for us along the riverside. We had about 9 or 10 boats in total. Each had 7 or 8 people in it along with the guide. It took some time for everyone to decide on a boat since there were lots of groups of friends. I was in a boat with the lead guide, Katie, so we went first just about the entire time. We spent a good 20 minutes going through safety checks and training. There were lots of different commands that we had to master in order to get on the river. So once all the boats were ready we all hit the river. We looked like a river caravan with all the boats going down the river. The water was very cold and thankfully we had the wetsuits.

After almost 2 hours traversing rapids, whirlpools, water fights, and rocks we stopped to have some lunch. It was just a clearing on the riverbank where the rafting company brought lunch meats and sandwich fixings. Since I was in the lead boat, I was one of the first people onto the shore. I had to pee so I took a nature walk until I found a suitable bush. When I got back to the shore where the rest of the boats were coming in, one of the guides found a baby rattlesnake where they were going to set up lunch. One of the guides took the snake down the road and they turned over two boats to make them "tables" for the lunch food. We probably stopped for about an hour and we all had our fill of sandwiches, chips, fruit, and cookies. There was no shortage of food. Many of the students took the time to warm up by laying on the rocks along the shore. Even though it was warm the wind was blowing and made it a little chilly especially since we were all wearing wetsuits. Once everything was cleaned up and many nature walks later, we all got back in the boats and headed down the river. The second half of the river was a little calmer, but it had a bunch of rapid in quick succession. There was a swimmer's rapid where many of the kids got out of the boats and into the river to swim down a rapid. There was no way I was going to do that but many kids and some teachers did. It looked scary, but many of the them said they enjoyed it even though it felt like they were drowning. Around 3:00pm we arrived back at the campsite and helped deflate the boats and got everything back in the trucks for the next day. Everyone changed out of their wet clothes and many of us took to the picnic tables to play card games and dominoes. All afternoon there was chatter among some of the students who wanted to prank Pof, but no concrete plans were made that I was aware of. They set out some snacks and drinks for us around 4:00p and dinner was around 7:00pm. They served us a great meal of Mexican food and I don't know if it was because of the location or the burning of large amounts of calories throughout the day, but every meal tasted great. When it was completely dark, they set up a generator with a computer and projector for a slide show. They showed a ton of pictures from the day on the river and it was hilarious. Our kids are such hams. We finished another night around the fire, but many people turned in early probably because they were so tired from being in the sun and on the river all day long.

I was in bed by 11:00p and it turned out that some of the students actually did prank Pof by tying the zippers together on his tent so he couldn't get out. The only problem was that they tied together ones that moved in the same direction, so he wasn't even aware of it until the next morning when the kids were asking if he got out of his tent ok. Nice try. He said that he heard rustling near his tent and even got out to hide and catch anyone trying to prank him, but nothing ever happened. It sounded like they tied his zippers together before that. Breakfast was at 7:00am the next day so that we could get an early start on the river without stopping. Then we'd have lunch back at the campsite. Friday was really windy and cold. About 16 kids and two of the teachers didn't raft that day, so we had 2 less boats on the river. I was in a boat of all boys that day and we had two guides, one who was training and learning the river. Because of the wind and other factors, the conditions on the river were much different from the day before. The water was a little lower but the water was rougher. There weren't as many water fights because it was so cold, so many of the boats resorted to stealing/kidnapping people from other rafts. Many times along the river we bump into each other or row near each other and if you aren't paying attention another raft can come right next to you and grab the lapels on your lifejacket and steal you over to their boat. It's actually quite easy to do this because you sit on the edge of the raft. We had one person stollen from our raft and there were several attempts on me. Many of the boats were getting stuck on rocks and a couple of the kids were sitting on the bows of their boats. Eventually they all ended up falling into the river and the best wipeout of the day was the very last rapid that was probably 100 yards from the campsite. The boat after mine had three boys knocked into the river. One of them just stayed in the river and swam/rode the current down to the campsite. It was a quick day along the exact same stretch of river, but it felt like a completely different river. Our guide said that every day is different on the river because the levels change depending on the weather and snowmelt.

After we arrived at the campsite we all changed clothes and began to pack up tents. Lunch was served about an hour later around 1:00pm. They served burgers, chips, and cookies along with some candy that we stocked up on for the road. Once we finished eating, packing, and bringing everything up to the buses, we were on our way by 2:00pm. I was expecting everyone to be cranky and tired, but most everyone was just tired. It was a much quieter bus ride home than the ride up. On my bus we watched "Wedding Crashers" but they didn't start it until about 2 hours into the trip. We weren't finished with it by the time we stopped for dinner at the same stop just before the grapevine. We gave the students about 35 minutes to eat and I went to Chipotle for my dinner along with about 25 other students.

When we got back to the bus, our driver was extremely upset and was apparently quite rude to the students. I was the last person to get to the bus so I missed the drama. However, the problem was that someone took a dump in the bathroom on the bus. Apparently he called it a "urinal" even though there was no sign that gave it such a designation. It was definitely a toilet so I don't know what that guy's problem was. We finished "Wedding Crashers" and didn't hit any traffic going through LA. We arrived back at campus around 8:30pm and everyone was happy to be home. Many parents were there to meet the bus and within minutes the buses were empty and all bags, equipment, and students were gone. When I finally got home, never have I enjoyed a hot shower like I did that night. The only time I've gone that long without taking a shower, I was on an airplane for 20+ hours. I had an awesome time camping and rafting and spending time with the students in a completely new way.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Travel Day: The Endless Journey

My meeting ended about 1.5 hours early around 1:30p, but my flight wasn't until 6:15pm. I checked to see if there was an earlier flight and there was one at 5:00pm. So I had the Ramada call a cab to the airport so that I could get there by 4:00p. They sent a car service and I was so glad they did because I did not want to sit in a sketchy taxi. The best part was that they are a flat rate and only ended up being $5 more than the cab from the airport the previous day. Totally worth the price. Traffic was bad so the driver took side streets the entire way. When I arrived at SJC I used the kiosk to get on the standby list for the earlier flight and my bags were tagged and I was set to go. I waited by the earlier flight's gate but I was never called. It turns out that my original flight was about 20 minutes delayed. So my wait was even longer.

My flight was packed to the gills and the flight was really short. I think it was only about 50 minutes. The weird thing about this flight was that our plane kept climbing and climbing and we leveled-off for only about 5 minutes before starting the descent. I thought it was odd because the plane kept increasing power and I could feel that we were ascending. Even looking out the window it felt unusually high. The captain said we were at 39,000. I think most intra-California flights are less than or around 30,000ft. Also, we didn't fly down the coast like most flights I have been on from Oakland and San Francisco. It's been over a year since I have flown in or out of San Jose, so I have no idea if that was unusual or not. It's a much shorter flight when they don't fly down the coastline.

Anyway, the drama didn't start until I landed. My bag made the earlier flight so I didn't need to wait at all. I just went to the Southwest baggage office and there was my bag. Since I left for only 1 day, I parked in the new lot adjacent to the terminal. They have this parking ticket kiosk thing that you have to pay before you go to your car and I put in my ticket in, paid with my credit card, then the ticket didn't come out. I could hear a grinding sound like it was spitting the ticket out, but it wasn't coming out. The screen said to take the ticket. Soon after, the screen went from "take the ticket" to "cancel" to "closed". Now I was screwed because I couldn't leave the parking structure without my ticket and without paying. So I pressed the little phone button on the machine and explained my situation. They first sent 2 women up who didn't have the correct key to open the machine. Then they called the supervisor and he didn't have it either. He leaves and then comes back without the key again. He tells me to just go get my car and go down to the cashier booth. So I leave hoping that they would sort it out by the time I reach the exit in my car. Well they hadn't. When I got to the cashier booth they were still trying to figure it out. The same two women were on the phone with some man. One woman kept going on about how I couldn't have paid, "There is no way you paid," she said and I told her that I put my card in and everything, otherwise the machine would not have been giving me back the ticket. Not the brightest. So they had to track my credit card number to see that I actually paid in order to let me out. I told them that I needed a receipt so I needed the proof too. Eventually the figured it out all the while they had to divert traffic away from my lane because of my situation. By the time I left the parking structure, it was about 45 minutes after I had landed and none of that time was devoted to waiting for my bags. What a crazy day.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Travel Day: Do you know the way to San Jose?

But then why would one want to go there? I had a meeting to attend at a hotel/motel in Sunnyvale, which is like 5 miles from the San Jose airport.

Anyway, my Southwest flight from SNA to SJC was uneventful except for the takeoff from John Wayne airport. If you haven't flown out of this airport, you must at some point in your life. They have a noise abatement regulation that requires the jets to rev up and hold the brakes. Then they let go and the jet barrels down the runway, then when the plane hits 1000ft they pull back on the throttle and the plane levels out a bit. It's quite a rush.

So on today's flight we did the requisite rev-up and hold, then once we started our takeoff roll we must have only taken about 10 seconds before we were airborne. It was awesome. The takeoff was super strong and we were pushed into our seats. Thankfully, the flight was not full and no one sat next to me. One of the female flight attendants wore the strongest perfume and it was really flowery. Exactly 60 minutes later we landed at SJC. A funny coincidence was that our departure gate at SNA was 18 and we arrived at gate 18 in SJC. After a stop in the restroom and Starbucks it was time to find transportation to the hotel in Sunnyvale. Of course, I picked a sketchy-looking cab, which might be redundant, but 5 miles and $25+ tip later I was there. Ugh. I think this is where they filmed "My Name is Earl."

From the outside, it looks like a place that you might rent rooms by the hour. The inside is actually not that bad. At least the bedspread isn't an awful floral polyester disease-ridden death shroud.

There is an apartment complex next door and next to that is a liquor store, a Vietnamese Pho restaurant, and a 7/11. I walked down to the 7/11 to get myself some antibacterial wipes and some bottled water.

Now it's just a 24 hour trip, but most of it consists of sitting along a table with 11 students and 8 other advisors all night and day.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Visual Vietnam

This is a collection of photos and videos from my trip to Vietnam in 2010. These are all taken from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and the wonderfully quaint and relaxing island of Phu Quoc. A group from my school is going to Vietnam in two weeks and I wrote this post to share some photos and videos with them to give them an idea of what they will see on the trip.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Singapore: The Lion City - Part 3 - My Favorites

This is post 3 of 3 on Singapore. I am including mostly pictures because you can read all about Singapore in books and on the web. But I want to give you my scoop on places/things to see whilst there. 

This is the view from the Conrad. It looks down on the harbor and Merlion Park. 
This is another view from the Conrad. It is of the City Hall area. There is a huge field right in the middle as seen in this photo.
This is the merlion at Merlion Park. It's quite a touristy area, but it's free. You will see all kinds of merlion souvenirs in the shops and the airport as the merlion is the "mascot" of Singapore.
The Fullerton Hotel is an old-looking hotel, but it's not that old. I believe it was once the post office. I'm sure the views from the rooms are wonderful, but they don't come cheap.
This is Clarke Quay and you can take a very relaxing river cruise up and down it. You get a different view and it is interesting because they give you a lot of the history of the buildings and surrounding area. I love the colorful buildings. It is mostly restaurants and club-esque places.
This one highlights the marriage of old and new that is ubiquitous in Singapore.

I love this picture because it looks like the city is on fire. This is the view from the pool area of the Mandarin Oriental.
There is a Buddhist temple called the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. It is quite new and it is located in Chinatown. It's a huge temple and you can walk all throughout it. It's also right down the street from a huge Hindu Temple. 
I love orchids and I think I get that from my grandma. The National Botanical Gardens, which is free, has a section tucked in the back of the park that is an orchid garden. They quite literally have thousands of different varieties. The tropical climate is perfect for growing them. It is a beautiful garden and well worth the extra price of admission. 

This is the Esplanade Theatres. It is a performing arts space and it looks like two giant durians, which are the really smelly fruit found throughout that part of the world. 
The Singapore Art Museum is really interesting and it's mostly modern art from the region. It is located in a very old former Catholic boys school.
The colors of Clarke Quay.
Chinatown is a must in Singapore and in every city around the world for that matter. Chinatown has great shopping and wonderful pedestrian streets where you can get really cheap souvenirs or whatever you want. There are also a ton of food places along the streets.
This is the Hindu Temple right in the heart of Chinatown and a few blocks from the large Buddhist temple.
I love all the red lanterns in Chinatown and every time I have been to Singapore it is usually the first place I go.