Tag Archives: camping

How I drowned my phone

After Phong Nha I went to the Cat Ba archipelago to see the famous Ha Long Bay (or rather the neighboring Lan Ha Bay, to be precise). The bay itself was quite spectacular, but the trip turned out very expensive.

I came up with a seemingly cool idea: rent a kayak for two days and paddle in the labyrinth of the bay until I find a beach to camp. And the first part really was pretty neat.

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Unfortunately, finding a camp spot was really hard. The vegetation was to weak to support me in my hammock and the rocks had edges too sharp for me to feel comfortable hanging from them. As I was getting more and more desperate in my search I paddled to the outskirts of the bay. And that’s when I realized I didn’t know how to get in or out of my kayak and remain dry when there are waves. So my phone got a soak. Good thing I had my main backpack wrapped in a tarp. Here’s an expensive lesson: when kayaking, assume that everything is going to fall into the water.

After some few more hours of unsuccessful search for a spot to camp, I returned to civilisation and started looking for electronic repair shops. I visited countless, to no avail (I wonder whether there are still any components left in my  phone that avoided getting stolen in those places).

But getting a replacement wasn’t my only problem. I also had to contact my family and a close friend. Mostly to save them worries, but also to avoid an expensive search and rescue operation, which my friend was supposed to initiate if I don’t contact her till one day after my expected return.

I didn’t exactly remember her email address, but knew its pattern, so I generated a few possible addresses (including some typos) and sent a message saying I was OK and to confirm to my normal email.

However, with my phone broken, I  was about to find myself locked out of my email account, since I use a password manager. As a backup, I had brought with me a Linux Live USB containing my password wallet and software to decrypt it. Unfortunately, I hadn’t expected the computers in Vietnam would be too ancient to boot from USB. Lesson learned: in addition to Live USB, bring also a Live CD. I had a phone number to my family noted down, but not to my friend (another lesson: if there is someone you need or might need to contact, always have a paper backup of their phone number).

Anyway, I created a temporary Gmail account, again generated addresses to my friend and also my family as best as I could recall. I got a confirmation from my family, yay! But my friend remained silent. After a hectic unsuccessful search for an Internet Cafe, I called my embassy emergency number and told the officer to expect a call from my friend, ignore it and inform her I was OK and would contact her soon.

The next day I got a new phone, logged into my account and saw a confirmation from my friend, dating a couple days back. Turns out I had managed to recall her address on my first try, but not on the second one, because it contained a peculiar typo.

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Camping in Vietnam

I finally found the spot and courage to camp on my own in the jungle. The latter was not easy after I had met a cobra on my first hike. I went to the Bach Ma National Park.

I was disappointed by the main path which turned out to be a paved road.

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The only advantage: I could enjoy unobscured view for the entire hike.

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And when the paved road ended 19 kilometers later and 1400 meters higher, I found a hidden treasure along the trail leading to the peak: war tunnels, unaltered and to this day not marketed. It was really cool/creepy to explore them as they were left by the soldiers, while dozens of freaked out bats were flying right next to my face in panic.

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Definitely a highlight of the trip. And not far there was a cool pagoda almost at the peak.

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Next came the five lakes trail, along which I started to look for a camp spot since I wanted plenty of time to experiment with the setup.

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The spot on that shelf would have been perfect if it wasn’t for the widow-maker leaning from the left bank. The search would have been much faster if I wasn’t avoiding blocking the trail. This was probably unnecessary since some parts of it were covered in thick spider webs and I hadn’t seen any other tourists earlier that day.

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Eventually I found a spot to hang my hammock.

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The view from my spot looking upstream…

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and looking downstream:

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I’m happy to say that my new experimental method for keeping distance between mosquito net and the hammock worked great: not a single mosquito bite.

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I hadn’t brought with me any insulation for the hammock, so I got uncomfortably cold as expected, but still managed to get a few hours of sleep. Actually, I’m quite surprised how easy it was too fall asleep despite this new environment and all the jungle noises.

On my way back I continued along the five lakes trail and took a little detour to visit the 300 m high Rhododendron Waterfall.

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And BTW here’s a picture of my ride from Hue to Dong Hoi, titled How to squeeze 22 people into (what would in other countries be) a 10-person minibus:

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A bit of Balkans, part 2

The second part of my trip was no less exciting. Other than spending another night with a heavy thunderstorm in an abandoned building, I had some exciting encounters with pickpockets, muggers, scammers and corrupt law enforcement.

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A bit of Balkans

Few weeks ago I went with my friends to the Balkans. First we visited Belgrade – nothing interesting except for lot of homeless people and dogs, trash and zoophilic statues:

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Then, after a long and only partially successful struggle to find a hiking map, we went hiking, first from Niksic to Ostrog, then in the Lovcen NP, until we arrived at Kotor. Again, nothing terribly exciting, except for a couple cool camping spots. The first one was next to some mysterious abandoned construction:

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that contained nothing but rocks

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The other cool spot was next to some abandoned dwellings, few hours hike from the nearest village:

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And there we didn’t need to worry about the firewood

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Anyway, after a week spent together we decided to split and the excitement level rose significantly.  I got molested, worried about tides soaking me and my gear wet, was refused a threesome that I didn’t ask for and camped in a hell of a thunderstorm. All that within few hours. Here is the story:

I hitchhiked to Jaz near Budva, very touristy place, famous for its beaches. Kept walking until I got away from the tourists. Soon I arrived at a nude beach – sweet! Nothing like swimming in the warm Adriatic Sea and lying an a beach, free of the textile oppression. On top of that, next to me there was an abandoned bar that I could sleep in:

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Everything seemed great except that the beach turned out to be frequented by desperate creeps, hoping to find a young male or female to have a quickie with. I soon learned not to smile or show any friendliness towards others. Instead, I set up my camp

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and a new problem appeared. The tide started rising and I wasn’t sure how high it would get. When I tried to ask a local couple about it, the girl firmly said ‘No!’ Guess she thought I was one of the many creeps on the beach.

Luckily, in the evening the water started getting lower and I could enjoy great view without any fears. What could be better than lying in a hammock, by the Adriatic Sea, at night, in an abandoned bar, with no people in sight? Maybe doing all that in a heavy thunderstorm, watching lightnings strike the sea, listening to heavy waves crashing just couple meters away from you? Yep, it was as cool as it sounds :-)

tbc

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Unexpected camping

Yesterday I was trying to hitchhike from Warsaw to Gdynia (approx. 350 km distance). After over 6 hours in a heavy rain I found myself only 90 km from the starting point. Guess that’s the price a guy pays for having a beard. Anyway, I couldn’t stop shivering and it was starting to get dark, so I decided to spend the night in a forest by the road. Especially that there were some nice birch trees and I was hoping to find some tall dead trees leaning on others that could’ve stayed dry that way. I wasn’t disappointed.

Good thing I had recently skimmed through the Mors Kochanski’s book and noticed a trick to break such trees into smaller pieces (if you don’t know it, look it up – very neat and useful).

Another trick I remembered was stacking several logs to build a heat-reflecting wall. So I put it on one side of the fire and gathered some branches with leafs on the opposite side to sleep on.

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Later on I realized that putting that wall of dry wood right next to a fire was not one of my brightest ideas. I’m going to blame it on exhaustion from cold and not on my stupidity. Anyway, I moved the wall to the other side, so that it could reflect the heat onto my back. Since it was hardly higher than me laying on my side, and thus not very effective, later into the night it served as a fuel.

It turns out that every year I find myself camping without any gear and then promise myself not to ever do that again. This time it wasn’t too bad – at least I was warm. But I didn’t sleep fearing the fire might get out of control. Guess I need more experience to gain confidence.

I’m really happy that I managed to start a fire in this damp forest. And I realized there are several items I should be carrying whenever going for a day hike or longer. For my own reference, here’s the list:
Headlamp
Pocket knife
Fire steel
Lighter
First aid kit
Tarp (or an emergency blanket)
Thin ropes to hang it
Rain jacket
Hat

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New hammock setup (+ mosquito net)

I’m finally done with the primitive, heavy and inconvenient single rope system. My new hang consists of:

  • A dogbone at each end (approx. 35 cm long).
  • A whoopie sling at each end (50 – 240 cm), fixed eye larksheaded through said dogbone.
  • Nylon straps to wrap around the trees (300 cm)
  • Another whoopie sling (225 – 275 cm), serving as an adjustable structural ridge line
  • A soft shackle (5 cm when closed) to attach the adjustable loop of the ridge line

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The dogbones and whoopie slings were spliced from 2.5 mm dyneema rope. The soft shackle and ridge line are made of 1.5 mm dyneema. The entire splicing took one afternoon. Considering that it was my first time, I’m quite happy. Actually, when I spliced the first dogbone and figured out some tricks, it all went pretty smoothly.

The mosquito net

Ah, I’m a real mosquitophobe and so I was looking forward to having a total protection from those pesky insects. And since I like to switch between sleeping on the ground and in a hammock (and soon also in SE Asian hostels), I wanted my net to be usable in all those conditions, i.e., to have an opening in the bottom wide enough to fit an entire bed or at least a sleeping pad.

Luckily, no suitable product could be found so I got an opportunity for another DIY project. To my surprise, I couldn’t even find suitable fabric, so eventually I decided to buy a Dutch military surplus cot mosquito net just to scavenge the mesh.

Sewing the mosquito net was much more time consuming, for several reasons:

  • it was my first time ever using a sewing machine
  • there was no user manual for the machine and I pretty much had to figure it out on my own (it went much better once I realized you need to lower the presser foot)
  • my first two designs turned out to be bad ideas and I had to test the prototypes in a forest and then start all over again in few iterations.
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My work station

Finally, after two days of work I arrived at my final design:

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  • A two-layered rectangle. 300 cm long, 160 cm high
  • At the bottom edge there is a zipper running for the entire length, with two opposing sliders.
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  • Each of the upper corners has a small hole for the hammock hanging ropes.
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  • Along the upper edge there are three small rings sewn in, in case I want to hang it without the hammock and its ridge line.

Final result

The bag that came with the original net now holds the entire set, except for the straps which are stored separately in case they get dirty from resin and such.

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During test hangs in a nearby forest it seemed  to work great.IMG_20140716_103601

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How it would perform in the field remained to be seen as I was about to start my trip to Balkans in just few days (spoiler alert; it worked great).

Cost

  • The hammock: 20 CAD
  • Nylon straps: 20 PLN
  • Dyneema ropes ( 11m x 2.5mm + 4m x 1.5 mm): 31 PLN + 19 PLN shipping
  • Original mosquito net: 50 PLN + 15 PLN shipping
  • Tarp (not discussed in this post; 3m x 3m): 20 PLN
  • Ropes for the tarp (also not disussed): 20 PLN

In total, my entire system cost 232 PLN or 74 USD, plus three days worth of work.

Weight

  • Hammock with mosquito net and hanging ropes: 650g
  • The straps: 100g
  • The tarp and its ropes: 600g

In total: 1.35kg.

Quite a lot. I guess that’s what I pay for mosquito net versatility and the tarp more comfortable (bigger) than the required minimum (which in my case would be 2m x 3m).


Broken tent in the backcountry

So my friend and I went recently for a hike in the Bieszczady mountains. It didn’t last long as one of the tent poles broke when setting up for the first night. Trying to fix it made it even worse. Luckily I had my tarp with me. Here’s our camp:

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The broken pole was still quite useful: it secured one of the tarp corners in place.

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And it was replaced with a couple strings.

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Worked really well. Despite rainy night we had a good, dry and mosquito-free sleep :-)

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