Monday, 12 September 2016

Trip out to Lake Tahoe and hiking Mount Tallac

So it was the labor day weekend and I was in California. I'd just seen an Instagram photograph of one of the rock climbers I follow and it had an amazing view of Lake Tahoe from Mount Tallac. Thus the seed was born that I might just give it a shot! I'd originally planned to do it as a day trip. Wake up super early before sunrise and drive direct to the trailhead. On a whim though, I decided that I didn't really want to do a 3 hour drive before a hike and maybe I should just go up the night before and at least I would be able to start early without worrying about waking up on time and the drive to reach before the sun got really hot. So I went over to South Lake Tahoe with the idea of finding cheap accommodation just for the night before the hike. One thing I didn't consider was that on the drive up North, there was a whole hour worth of driving where there was no radio reception. Normally I don't really pay attention to what is playing, but an hour of static can be really tedious! I was continuously pressing the scan button hoping that I was moving into the range of a station! Having made the trip on the spur of the moment without actually bring additional stuff meant all my power banks (4 of them) were not with me and I wanted to conserve my battery life for navigation use rather than playing tunes!

One thing I definitely did not consider was that being the long weekend, EVERYBODY WAS OUT TOO! Looking through told me there wasn't really any hostels I could stay in and the cheapest place was going to be at least 150usd and that was at a neighbouring town instead of near the trailhead!! Well being the epic cheapskate I was, I decided to just sleep in the back of the car. How bad could it be after all. So I went to a Starbucks to charge my devices and searched for a suitable place where I could park overnight. I ended up deciding to just park at the open air carpark of Harrahs casino. It was lighted and there was no parking fee either. I guess to cater to all the gamblers who might not be staying in the hotel but just there to play. Accomodation settled! Sort of anyway. Owards to the next matter, actual information on what I would be hiking.

A quick browse of the different reviews on the trail, one of the things that stood out to me was the number of people talking about having enough water. I frequently saw 3-4 L coming up as the recommended amount. As such I dropped by a supermarket on the way and picked up a gallon(3.8L) jug of water, a quart (950ml) of isotonic drink and some snacks to munch on. Ended up with a pack that weighs about 7 kilos.

Before actually going, I had actually mentioned my upcoming trip to a Bestbuy employee. He had helped me when I was purchasing a camera to replace my stolen one( Lost my canon EOSM with 17-40mm F4 :'( while in Tulum, Mexico). He mentioned that there was a place called Bonsai Rock at the lake which had great photos during sunrise and sunset.  As such I made a brief stop there to as it did not really require any serious hiking, just a short bit of scrambling, though the path down was pretty steep! Shoes and long pants recommended.
Bonsai Rock
Even with the harsh mid day sun, the views were amazing. I should have stayed around to catch the sunset but I figured I'd hang out at South Lake Tahoe instead which was closer to the Mt. Tallac trailhead.

Anyway, at about 11pm, I figured it was a good time to catch some Zzzzs. I wanted to catch the sunrise too before starting my hike. Well 3 hours into my nap at about 3am, I was reminded just how different weather can be in the US compared to Singapore. I hadn't really brought any extra layers, figuring it would be about the same as central California at most dropping to 10-15 degrees Celcius at night. Boy was I wrong! A quick look at google told me it was 3 degrees outside with a "feels like 1 degree celcius" note... No wonder I kept waking up feeling cold. All I'd brought along was a light jacket to block the wind.

It really was cold!!! NBCCB freezing.
By 3.30am, I couldn't take it anymore and decided I'd just hang out in the casino instead. At least it would be warmer inside. Fortunately they also had a restaurant which was serving a late night menu. I guess all that gambling means you get people turning up hungry at all hours of the day or night! They also had a cool breakfast special! Only $4.95 for 2 eggs any style, bacon or sausage and toast. So I had brekkie at 4am in the morning and waited for time to pass.
Beach just beside Boathouse on the Pier on Lake Tahoe

Anyway, after making a short stop by the lake to see the sunrise, it was still freezing so i didn't linger, I headed over to the trailhead to begin my hike!! Everyone seemed to be carrying a lot less than me though. I was beginnig to think i had over prepared as most of them had only a bit more than a litre of water whereas I had a monstrous supply! But I have to say there were very many amazing views throughout the hike to the summit! Many a times I would think I had made it just on the spectacular views only to realise it was still a ways more!

All in, it took me 3.5 hours to reach the peak and another 2.5 hours to descend. I ended up only consuming a 1.5L of water. Turns out all those reviews were for water consumption during the summer months and at the cusp of winter, you really don't need that much especially if you're also starting early before the sun is out. Definitely worth the effort though!

After all of the driving and lack of sleep, I also crashed for 14hrs straight the following night... After a hot shower of course!

Friday, 9 September 2016

Saving costs while travelling.

Well most of you already know these tips but I'll just state some of the tricks I've used to keep going as some people have asked how come i haven't run out of money yet.

1) Night transport.
This is a no brainer be it a night bus train or red eye flight. Especially when the journey to the next location is going to take more than 6-8 hours. You save a nights accomodation, sleep and when you wake up, voila, you're where you wanted to be. This helps much especially when you're on a tight time line as you don't lose a whole day travelling  and can hit the ground running. or even if you're not. It helps if you can sleep through anything though as generally you're in even closer proximity to others than in a hostel. Depending on the country you are travelling in, the costs can also be substantial. An example would be NYC. A night in a hostel would be at least USD50 a night and that is in a pretty crappy place which would be far out. If you spent the day travelling to the next destination, you would effectively have to pay for 2 extra nights as well as meals for that day. So if you were in the united states, you could be saving over a hundred dollars.

Even for night buses, there are generally different classes of buses and you could be paying half the price taking a second class bus versus a first class. Again, this really depends on how much you value your sleep and if you're even affected. I almost never took a first class bus while travelling in the night in Mexico if I had the option. Of course the first class buses had more luxurious seats which could incline further bank and were wider or they might have USB ports for you to charge your electronic devices. So I guess you just have to weigh how much you're willing to sacrifice. I sleep the equally well whether i was in a first class or second class bus so if it took the same time and was half to a third the price, it was a no brainer for me.

2) Looking for other travellers with the same itinerary.
Sharing the same itinerary means you are part of a larger group. Numbers means more bargaining power. For example a short Tuktuk ride could be 30pesos for a single person. If you squeezed in 3 or even 4 pax into the tuk tuk, you could negotiate a lower price for example 50 or 60 pesos. If you had 4 pax, each person saves 15pesos (approximately 1usd). If you get to do this 4-5x a day with the group, that'd be a meal and a half assuming you were in Mexico. If you're only travelling for a week or 2 then the savings aren't really that substantial. However for someone on the road for a substantially longer time, all those small bits can add up to a whole lot more. The 20-30 usd you saved in a week could be used later down the road for a room upgrade or maybe the entrance fee to some major attraction.
In the parts of the US where I had already rented a car, and attended Couchsurfing meetings, I would try to find other travellers who also were planning to visit the same places but had yet to secure their transport. If they were agreeable, I would split the cost of the car rental for the time period we travelled together as well as the gas consumed. Since I had already commited to renting that vehicle, and I would be doing the same drive alone anyway, every little bit contributed helped.

3) Staying in Hostels/ couchsurfing hosts
If you're going to be staying in the Ritz Carlton, you're going to be going through a few thousand every month just on accomodation. Definitely not sustainable if you're talking about travelling for months unless you're already a multimillionaire, then by all means carry on! As a single male traveller, I found that couchsurfing was not as useful to me. In 3.5 months in the USA despite sending out countless requests, I only had one night accepted. I personally found going for the CS meetups more useful as I would be able to meet more travellers and hopefully reduce my costs by travelling in a group. Generally if you're looking for people to see the tourist attractions in a new place, hostel are a great way to meet new people too. Plus the cost of a dorm bed is a fraction of a hotel room. In parts of Latin America and Asia, you'd be looking at less than 10usd a night. I've seen an average of 5-7 usd in many places. whereas a hotel room would normally be at least 60usd a night. Even a private room in a hostel is cheaper than that. For me I am normally out of the accommodation all day, only returning to sleep so I don't really see the need to pay for all the additional facilities. Some hotels don't even provide free WiFi, a most important feature in todays world!

4) Cooking
I've to admit, I haven't been cooking all that much due to the short span of time I spend in many places. Whenever I do extend my stay however, I try to cook or prepare my own meals. It can cut down costs quite a bit and even though you can find really cheap food along the streets, most of the time they aren't very healthy options!

5) Sleeping in your car ( assuming you rented one)
I've done this a couple of times before, mainly in the USA as sometimes it is cheaper to rent a car than to take a tour. In certain places, you could be looking at over a hundred a night especially in some of the more touristy places. So i occasionally just choose to sleep in the car. Definitely do check weather conditions though. I have been in the back of a car when it was 3 degrees celcius outside with nothing more than a light jacket and tropical hiking equipment. Needless to say i did not get very much sleep that night.

Some additional tips in the US. Certain states frown upon one sleeping in the car as it is interpreted as vagrancy. You don't really want someone (cops/security) knocking on your car while you are there. You could consider the parking lots at the big supermarkets like walmart though. I have also slept in the carpark of a casino. You'd want it to be a more secure location with lights and cameras so that there is more security Yet not stand out like a sore thumb.

6) Volunteering
You could also try volunteering in city you're in. I've done so in hostels in Mexico especially when you're staying a long time. True, I did not get any pay but I had no need to pay for accomodation either. One could use Workaway or Wwoofing to source for work too.

Well back to travelling!