Sometimes we don’t have to travel so far from home to get out of our comfort zone. Wave riding in Oregon is every bit as adventurous as Sri Lanka or Thailand and I was recently inspired to write a piece for The Inertia about being “full on Oregon and shit”. True story. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Read below or enjoy on The Inertia.
While traveling in Baja not too long ago, we met a San Diego surfer that was describing a remote spot somewhere in the wilds of Mexico. He ended his story by saying that the only other guys that were there were these hardcore body boarders that were, “totally full on Oregon and shit. You know, big beards, flannel shirts, Carhartts.”
I pictured some classic Pacific Northwest timber loggers pulling up in their rusty pickup trucks, carrying chainsaws under one arm, boards under the other. Being from Oregon, I was so flattered, I couldn’t even say anything. “Full on Oregon and shit” is a serious compliment and one not taken lightly.
Oregon is cold, dark, green, wild and epic. There are no private beaches, no full parking lots and no parking fees. Not a single beach has the proverbial list of all the things you can’t do – like drink beer from a buried keg, run your dog, smoke a cigarette (hand rolled, of course), play loud music, or sleep overnight on the sand. Oregon beaches are an extension our Pacific Northwest culture – we pride ourselves on undeveloped open space. We have 363 miles of public coastline and a handful of decent surf spots, from chilled out long board waves to thumping barrels. Points, beach breaks, jetties, river mouths, rock reefs, we’ve got it.
At most spots, there are rarely more than ten people in the water. With quiet nods or friendly banter in the line-up, we are cordial, mellow, and respectful of our fellow neoprene clad watermen. We have the friendliness of the Midwest, but I suspect we drink a lot more designer coffee and craft micro-brews.
Make no assumption that it is a complete cold water paradise. It’s not. It’s more like an endless quest to conquer the less than ideal surfing conditions. We rack the boards on the car in the garage; only because it’s snowing outside and we have to drive through a blizzard to get to the coast. We wait for weeks on end for the swell to drop enough to be surfable, and there is always a high probability of getting completely skunked. We once drove 225 miles in one day looking for surf.
Sunshine is a dubious prospect. Coastal rainfall averages at 70 inches a year, seven times the amount of rain in San Diego. On a “warm day”, the water is 56 degrees and we are very rarely without a hood and gloves, those dreaded gloves. The ocean is teeming with life; the kind most of us don’t want to see, like big whiteys. They are out there in the murky water. I just know it.
Riding waves in Oregon is an adventure and not for everyone. But for us bearded, flannel wearing, coffee drinking, chainsaw toting sadists, it is the space between heaven and earth. Hawaii can claim the Spirit of Aloha, California can have Rincon, Huntington Beach and Trestles, but only here can you be Full On Oregon and Shit.
Where to begin? Or end? Jet lag still haunts us. Chris had “minor” surgery on his hand two days ago. We are temporarily homeless and jobless. Our tanned skin is rapidly fading. But after 12 months of travel, we are home. Sure, we are frustrated with some things (like all the rules we have here), we miss surfing every day and we have complete sticker shock when purchasing anything (like a $12 salad). But, overall, we are feeling pretty good about our return. Caveats: We are still in the celebrity stage where our friends and family really want to hang out with us AND the weather is ridiculously pleasant right now. These two things are helping. We haven't had much time to reflect and think about our experiences, but we have figured out what we spent and put together a “best of” list.
What did it take for us to have a year off work and twelve months of surfing? $26,089
This figure includes: our daily expenses both in Mexico and in Asia, our travel health insurance, truck insurance for Mexico, the remainder of our mortgage that we had to cover that our renters were not paying, our flights within Asia, Dozer's expenses in Mexico (mostly kibble), things we bought on the road in Asia (new surfboard, new camera, clothes, etc), and medical expenses while traveling. Basically any money that left our hands from the day we left Oregon to the day we returned is included.
This figure DOES NOT include: our flights to and from Asia (we used Alaska Air miles to get us there and back), truck camper costs, new surfboards, other gear and clothing purchases, medical costs before the trip (vaccinations, prescriptions, etc.), and basically any costs that we incurred to prepare for the trip.
We found we could spend very little money in Mexico and the bulk of our expenses were diesel and food. Because we cooked most of our meals in the camper, daily food expenses were very cheap. Obviously since we were camping, accomodation cost very little, typically between $0 and $12 a night. Our daily expenses were roughly $36 day in Mexico, for a total of $6606 for six months. Wow! That is cheap, even for us dirtbags!
Planning for the Asia leg of the trip was harder and we didn't really know what we would spend. Daily costs such as meals and accomodation are very, very cheap in Asia, but add on extra purchases and tours and sightseeing, and the cost comes up a bit. We also purchased all of our flights within Asia, eight total, as we went, so those costs are included in the numbers. Our daily expenses in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia for five months cost us $85 day, for a total of $12,750 for five months. That includes everything!
We candidly share this information because we aren't independently wealthy and we had to work really hard to do this. We did our best to plan and budget. We spent money as thoughtfully as we could while still having a trip of a lifetime. We are still amazed that we pulled it off; we now know that we can do anything if we put our minds to it.
Hottest We've Ever Been In Our Entire Lives:
Top Five Medical Emergencies:
Best Wildlife Encounters
Best “Locals Only” Activities:
In a few days, we'll be back in the US, basking in the Pacific Northwest in our wool socks and puffy coats. As our Kiwi friend Tom said, “New Zealand is cold, quiet, green and epic”. We nodded in sync as our thoughts shifted to coming home to Oregon, which is also “cold, quiet, green and epic”. It's time to leave our quaint wood and cardboard shack on the beach, the mischievous resident puppy Rennie, the daily dahl, sambol and rotti meals and the warm waves.
Every day is an adventure, but here are a few highlights from the last two weeks:
We had one of our most amazing sessions one morning as we teamed up with our South African neighbor, now friend, Charl, and drove to a nearby point. For an hour, it was the three of us in the water, watching the sunrise, taking long, perfect shoulder to head high waves, and trying to pull into mini barrels. We caught so many waves that hour, that none of us were in the line up at the same time. Sure it's not Indo, it wasn't an epic swell by any means, blah, blah, blah. But it was magic and we still talk about it.
True to form, Chris is coming home broken, his right hand anyway. The story… We were surfing a nice morning session catching some mellow waves, just the two of us. Throughout the morning, the crowd was building, with many surfers with awful etiquette and poor skills. A bad combo, and we should have gotten out of the water like we usually do then. But no, with a week left we kept going. Chris was run over by another surfer and the end result was a broken metatarsal for Chris and a cracked and dented surfboard for the other guy. A trip to the local and very dodgy government hospital 45 minutes away confirmed in X-rays that it is a significant fracture. They “decided” not to cast it for some reason and we'll be coming home to help a Bend orthopedist send his kids to college. So we made it 11 months and 3 weeks, which is not too bad for a guy with a long history of breaking himself.
As we spend the next three days traveling home, we begin to reflect upon the last year. It's overwhelming and emotional. And mostly we are still shocked at times that we actually pulled it off! While we planned and worked hard and saved, there was always the fear that things would go completely sideways either before we could go or during our travels. Now we face the fears of the “after” – how to go back to living and working in the States, and NOT SURFING everyday. Of course we always have lots of ideas for future surf travel. Regardless, we are filled with gratitude for all that we have seen and done, people we have met, food we have eaten, animals we've encountered, and most importantly, waves we have surfed.
We did it!
Sri Lanka is nothing short of fascinating and magical. It is a land where following wild elephant footprints to the surf break is oh so common. Where in a single bus ride, we pass colorful circus-like Hindu temples, pristine white Buddhist dagobas, loudspeaker blaring mosques, and Catholic churches, all on the same highway. Men ride old, clunky bicycles, tucking their lungi (a sarong-like skirt) up underneath them. Pick up cricket matches occupy the beach and roadside clearings. Locals whisper “the monkeys are coming” and hurry to close up their kitchens so they don't get ravaged by the critters.
We took a slow route through the center of the country, stopping in some of the higher altitude places amongst miles and miles of tea plantations. We came very, very close to going on a mountain bike ride, but nasty weather prevented us from pulling it off. Let's just say that Chris was frothing over the mountain bike potential. After spending a few more nights in the chilly hill country (yes, we were wearing long pants, and the worst part, shoes), we took more trains, busses and tuk-tuks to reach our surfing destination, at Arugam Bay, on the east coast of the island. Our last leg of the bus provided great views of elephants roaming in the wild. Katy let out a little yelp, stared wide eyed out the window, the locals stared at her, and everyone was happy.
It's easy livin' in Arugam Bay. A Sri Lankan surfers haven, it is packed with good eateries, cheap accommodation, a tuk tuk waiting on every corner – and lots of surfers. Lots and lots. It's the most crowded place we've ever surfed (that includes places in California, like Trestles and Huntington Beach), so, for better or worse, we are honing in our people skills! We're surrounded by Europeans, Australians, Kiwis, and Israelis on holiday. I digress… To date, in almost three months of travel in Asia, we have met five…only five…Americans amongst hundreds of South Africans, Australians, Kiwis, Israelis, Austrians, Swiss, Germans, Irish, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, British, Japanese, Canadians, even a guy from Reunion Island. Do you know where Reunion Island is? I didn't, until now, so load Google Maps and look it up. We routinely have people asking why it is that Americans don't travel, and we spit out some weird answer while we look at our feet and mumble “it's a lot of things – fear, money, the fact that travel is not a strongly supported value in the US, and well, we just don't have a good answer.” All we can say is do yourself a favor and buy a plane ticket to somewhere, anywhere and see the world.
Back to Arugam Bay, and our two favorite pastimes, surfing and tuk tuk driving. The surfing here, albeit crowded, is a downright kick in the pants. The east coast is teeming with a bunch of known and not so well known right hand, sandy bottom point breaks. Cruiser rides, low fear factor, warm blue water, and absolutely incredible pristine beaches make for very good times. The air so hot, the clouds so low …oh wait, those are song lyrics. But it is hot and dry here during the day, but the evenings are perfect with a light breeze. Our second most enjoyable hobby is exploring the area in our own dirt cheap personal tuk-tuk that we are sharing with our new friend, Kiwi Tom. This is good for two reasons: 1) we can go wherever we want, whenever we want. 2) we get to drive a tuk-tuk, which is a completely functional yet hilarious vehicle. Three tiny wheels, handlebar steering, manual drive, complete with customizable horn sounds, fringe and stuffed animal accoutrements. Yep, its pretty fun. It does pavement, dirt, even a little sand. Unlike at home where we have “singletrack” or “doubletrack”, here we have “tripletrack”. We are working on the sound system, and perhaps installing a black light, to better pimp our ride, yo.
We are very close to the border of one of the many national parks in Sri Lanka, Yala East National Park, so the area is rich with animals and birds. We took a half day jeep safari one afternoon and saw incredible amounts of wildlife, including elephants, wild boar, wild buffalo, jackals, deer, mongoose, tortoise, many very large crocodiles, and tons of exotic birds. We feel incredibly lucky to see some of these animals in the wild before they are gone, as they are quickly losing habitat to development. Fortunately Sri Lankans seem to have great pride in their historical, cultural and natural resources and it appears to be a developing country that, despite years of brutal civil war and a devastating tsunami, has it together in many ways. We are quite impressed.
While we toil away our days in A Bay, we are planning the next leg of our trip, which makes us really feel like we have big WPP – White People's Problems. What should we do? Where should we go? Ideas?
Until next time…
Sunset cricket match. We are starting to learn the rules.
Lots of old clunkers like this.
Solitude while searching for waves.
As is often the case, we have a rough plan of what we want to do, then at the last minute, we divert to something else. This is the beauty of long term travel, and this is teaching us self described “master planners” how to better go with the flow. After flying into Jakarta, we were going to head straight to the beach, but decided instead to take the longer route through the high country. Of course, the “longer route” was partially due to some transit shenanigans (see last post), but we truly did want to see some different countryside, so we spent two nights in the Puncak Pass area, home to Gede Pangrango National Park and the volcanically active Gunung Gede.
After eating breakfast at our hotel, we grab a bemo to take us up to the park so we can go for a jungle hike. Stop. If you know Chris Kratsch, you probably thought I meant to write “bike”, not “hike”. But, clearly the tropical air must be getting to him because we head out on foot with a few goals: a waterfall, wildlife (a leopard would be cool, but monkeys will suffice), and no leeches. I am not real terrified of most critters, but I am deathly afraid of leeches, and the leeches here are sneaky leeches. They stand on end on the ground, and as you walk by, they sneak on to you, into your socks and attach on to you and suck your blood. This is something I am just not cool with.
Although we were at over 5,000 feet of elevation, it was still a jungle hike, so it was hot and sticky. But quiet, eerily quiet for Indonesia. Even the school groups of 30 students that pass us were quiet. The trail leads us straight up and soon enough, we hear a bunch of rustling above. Our dreams have come true and we are in the middle of a bunch of monkeys. What do you call a bunch of monkeys anyway? A herd? Flock? Troupe sounds best. As we stand and try to get fleeting pictures, the Indonesians walk by us and laugh. Clearly, the monkeys are entertainment for us, we are entertainment for the Indonesians. When an older woman walked by us, whispering a cryptic “careful mister, careful mister”, we decided to heed her warnings and move along. The rest of the hike was lovely, ending at a waterfall on the flanks of a large volcano. I guess we have both volcanoes and waterfalls in our backyard in Oregon… But we certainly don’t have monkeys.
Our next surf destination was the Cimaja area in West Java, so we took yet another series of busses (we are getting very good at this) for a few hours and found ourselves at the beach again. Cimaja was a fun, mellow wave (by Indo standards, meaning it only barrels occasionally, breaks on a cobble rock point instead of razor sharp reef, and is less than double overhead in size), so we enjoyed surfing at the local point in town as well as a nearby beach break. The “local” surf scene was strong there, but these Indonesians are so damn nice and when they snake a wave from you, it’s always with a big smile! Sometimes if I was in the right position, they would yell, “go missus, go!”, then cheer me on as I was surfing. Since surfboards are a luxury here, there aren’t that many of them and the ones that they do have are completely beat up. So, they share. A bunch of guys sit at the beach and heckle their buddies while they are surfing. Then a guy comes in, gives the board to another guy, and off he goes and proceeds to shred out there. The peanut gallery continues to laugh and heckle while watching their friends. Oh, to be a 17 year old Indonesian boy! This is how they appear to spend the majority of their time. Surfing and laughing.
We found a great place to stay with air conditioning (deluxe!) which turned out to be very critical maneuver since we both, after eight months of international travel, had our first real bout with stomach illness. We knew this day would come, but you are never truly prepared to be sick in a foreign country. I (Katy) had the worst of it. Sparing the details, it was long, arduous and ugly and definitely had that “I wish I was dead, rather than be this sick” element. I call it the “Hello Mister, Special Indo Weight Loss Program”. It only cost us several thousand dollars, but at least it’s in a tropical locale!
I could write a book about ground transportation in Indo. I swear we’ve had our most challenging, yet amusing times moving around these relatively small islands. We are learning new things. Such as, when you ask an Indonesian, “Is there room in that ________(insert car/bemo/bus) for us and our stuff?” they will always answer, with a smile, “Yes, yes, of course”. DO NOT believe these very nice people. We have been crammed into the most ridiculous positions in vehicles, and it’s one thing for me, at five feet tall, to sit in a car with my knees wedged up to my chin for 10 hours. It’s another thing for six foot tall Chris. Add in the completely chaotic driving, and it makes for a wild ride. Nonetheless, it’s all good and we always manage to get where we want to be.
We hustled a 10 hour car ride with three Austrian women and are now in Batu Karas, which is thus far, very lovely. It is a small cove with a rocky headland, literally at “the end of the road”. It’s the most mellow place we’ve been so far, with a few nice accommodations, some tiny restaurants, two tiny surf shops, a little store, and a low motorbike count. We love our homestay here, a little room above a restaurant on the beach with a small balcony, including breakfast and coffee, for a mere $15 a night. However, this is a big weekend spot for city people, so we will likely see bus loads of locals over the weekend. We are hoping to score some surf here in our last two weeks in Indonesia!
Some surf shots from Cimaja: