High season on Pico

It has already been over two weeks since my last post and these weeks have been crazy! Loads and loads of people were coming over to dive with us – which is a good thing of course! Days from 08:00 until 21:00 are normal and being out on the ocean for 6 hours a day as well. Becoming the manager of the center was a great choice, but not for my free time… Since I’m here, I’ve only had four days off. For sure I’ll compensate this once September comes ūüôā

So far, I haven’t had any second of regret about leaving my ‘normal’ life as Process Engineer in Amsterdam behind me – even with these long days and almost no spare time, it has been a fantastic experience and I want more of it! Doing what you love, not wasting time on doing something that isn’t your passion, is the most important thing I’ve discovered. I had it all, a beautiful house, a good job, lots of nice things to do, but something was missing. And even though it can be tough at times, I wouldn’t change back!

Tanks, tanks, tanks…

At the peak, we were using over 60(!!) tanks a day, and it’s a whole lot of work to get that ready for the next day! Luckily the compressor we have does 1000 litres per minute, making it take about 20 minutes to take 9 tanks back to 220 bar.

In the beginning of the season, we were having about 40 steel tanks, but then delivery of brand new 80 cuft aluminum tanks arrived – in Horta. Taking Reefcat, our Powercatamaran, we went to pick them up. 95 tanks in total, some double-12’s, SPG’s, wings and other small stuff. 2 huge boxes on a pallet and a small one. Loading this on the boat was the first challenge, as the seat on the back of the boat was exactly big enough not to allow the pallets on the boat. We moved the seat and managed to fit the pallets – but then Duarte, the most talkative skipper of Pico, wanted to have it arranged differently. Having moved it around 3 times he was satisfied and we could head back to Madalena.

And then came the people

From half July, it’s time for the big group bookings. On one side this makes everything quite easy, especially when the whole group has the same package, but it makes for a hell of a load of planning work with all the separate booked divers and walk-ins around. This year, we’ve been very low on staff ever since the beginning and that doesn’t make it easier in these weeks. I can tell you, managing the centre and doing two dives in the morning and two in the afternoon don’t go hand-in-hand. Luckily the first group, 18 Danish, were very lucky with the weather which allowed us to plan however we wanted everything.

Just when we were almost finishing the first group, my staff planning became a hell of a lot more difficult with me spraining my ankle badly, taking me out of the diving roster even until now. I was forced to stay home for two days and still I’m walking like an old man. Slowly it’s getting better, but pff, I can’t wait to get back in the water. The good thing is I can fully focus on planning and managing, but I want to meet my great love again – the sharks. The coming week I’ll try getting in the water again because I cannot take it any longer!!

Festa time!

High season also means there are party’s all around. Truly work hard, play hard. A couple of days here, a couple of days there… And not the party you’d expect on such a remote location as the Azores. It’s huge! People seem to appear out of nowhere as all the parkings, campgrounds and B&B’s are full. Food, beers, cocktails, DJ’s, live music, you name it, it’s there. In June there’s a couple of small local one or two day festa’s, but July is something else. The one in Madalena goes on for 5 days, then it moves to Sao Roque a week later and in the beginning of August everybody goes towards Horta to enjoy the festa.

It’s incredible, the amount of partying these Portugese can have – I have the feeling they’re saving themselves the whole year for these couple of weeks. In Madalena I ended up going twice, both making starting the next day at 08:00 a huge challenge. This week, Frank was kind to have Reefcat going to Horta at 21:00 and coming back at 03:00 – making it a doable endeavour. Some of my coworkers were brave enough to go two days earlier and take the first ferry in the morning. I wouldn’t have survived this at the moment. It seems that passing the 30 makes your party-going and no-sleep skills to dissipate into thin air. Nevertheless, it was great fun! If you’re planning to come to Pico or Faial in the next years, make sure you don’t miss out on the Festa season!

Writing this story, I just realised I still haven’t told anything about our liveaboard boat Narobla, Princess Alice and my future plans… As it’s already getting late, I’ll keep that for the next post. What would you like to hear about first? ūüôā


One month in!

First of all, my apologies for being absent for such a long while. It’s been quite hectic in this first month. Today it’s been one month since I’ve arrived on this fantastic island and that’s reason enough to make time to write something!

My first dives this year on Pico were quite interesting ones. The day of my arrival Pico Sport was called by a Dutch sailing vessel, the Chronos, that was cruising around the central islands of the Azores. The day before, they had lost one of their anchors and we were asked if we could help them out with this. They had GPS co√∂rdinates for us and they said it’d be somewhere around 30-40 metres. We went out on the Maisha, one of the RHIB’s and on the way to the site we crossed paths with the Chronos and we told them we were going for their anchor. Since they had additional diving gear on board and could tell us more exactly than their shared GPS location where it’d be, they joined for the search. As we were approaching the GPS co√∂rdinates, they seemed to be dropping anchor hundreds of metres from us! We went over and asked what co√∂rdinates were right, but apparently we’d been given wrong ones – we didn’t stand a chance with the ones we had…

Pascal, Luke and I got ready for the dive and followed their anchor line to the bottom. Luckily for our search efforts the depth was only 25m, which gave us a lot more time to check the surroundings. Within minutes we located the anchor and attached a buoy to it. After a short dive while they were preparing a proper lifting line topside, we came up and were given the lifting line. Descending into the Atlantic Ocean once again, we followed the line that we attached. But we ended up at 35m with a loose end and the ocean floor was nowhere to be seen yet! The wind had picked up quite a bit and we had been drifting, causing this thin line to break due to the forces. We decided to give it another go, but then letting the Chronos drop anchor again. This time, they were right on target, with their lost anchor just several metres away and we could directly attach the lifting line. Success!

In the following days more staff arrived and we got news that one instructor couple had cancelled less than a week before arriving. As they were candidates to take over the dive center manager’s position, this position now had no-one that was in for it. This was a huge opportunity for me, perfectly timed with my career change! I had some talks with different people around and spoke with Frank, the owner of Pico Sport. We agreed that I’d show him what I was capable of and then we’d make it official. As dive center manager, I would be responsible for hiring staff, managing them and making sure all the dives are scheduled, the equipment stays in working order, some backoffice work is done and everyone is happy. ¬†Because of the cancellation of the instructors, I started immediately looking for extra staff for the season, as we only had a couple of weeks left to sort this out. And of course making sure everyone in the staff gets to know all the goings at Pico Sport and all is ready for the high season. The first customers already started coming in and the operation was starting to run, showing where it still needs some optimisation.

Welcome to the dive center!

Besides being promoted to manager, June also held another challenge for me. This whole month I’m safety diver for a underwater film crew for a documentary – sorry, I can’t tell anymore details yet to prevent scooping! – which takes up a l√≥t of my time. Everyday that the weather allows, we leave port between 05:30 and 06:30, come back for a short lunchbreak around 13:00 and go out again from 17:00 until 21:00. It’s a really great experience I’m getting with this, as I’m getting to see all that is involved in underwater cinematography and I am really learning from the pro’s this way, which is awesome! The long days are easily worth it. On the afternoon breaks and bad weather days I try to get in some extra sleep and work on managing the divecenter. The latter is quite challenging as I’m away most of the time so I don’t get to talk with the staff a lot. With regards to this, I can’t wait to be back in the normal job again, but still, I love getting this opportunity.

The diving here is amazing. Even the ‘easy’ dive sites are wonderful. Having done several shore and boat dives and also two night dives, I can say it’s full of life and the scenery is amazingly diverse. I’ll write some more about this later but now already make you want more with these photos! We did try getting the sharks in with chum for the first shark dive of the season, but unfortunately they didn’t bite (hah!) yet. It was just staring in the blue…

My first month on the island, I have been able to go out and explore the surroundings of Madalena by bike twice. In short: it’s fascinatingly beautiful. The scenery changes every kilometer, the clouds around the mountain look entirely different when you away for a minute and the roads are quite good quality for being such a remote place. There’s one big challenge in cycling here though. With my 53/39 chainrings and 11-28 cogs the steep slopes can be quite painful at times! Well, for the cyclists, it’s rule #5: Harden the f*ck up!

As this safety diver job is nearing the end, I hope I’ll be able to free up some more time to write stories and keep this blog active and actual!

Hello Pico!

Two days ago I arrived on the beautiful island of Pico in the Azores! After first having explored Lisbon for two and a half days (it’s short, but doable) I have finally arrived! So far, so good – it’s great here!¬†(except for the weather today…)

On Thursday afternoon I left Amsterdam, not knowing when I’ll get back there or even The Netherlands for that matter. Quite a strange feeling, to leave all that¬†you know as home behind. But the adventure was here – I was really doing it. After quitting my job it was all getting quite real, but it was still far away. After checking all my bags and going through security, the time had really come. At first it seemed so far away, but the last two weeks passed as if it were a couple of days.

My last days in The Netherlands, my last days working at ICL and almost my last days on the Mainland of Europe for quite some time.

I left on adventure. I left to follow my heart, to follow my dream.

My plane was at the best possible gate

The flight to Lisbon went by quickly. Since I had to transfer with a layover of at least half a day for these dates, I decided to stay in Lisbon for a few days when booking the tickets. This way I could also discover this beautiful city, but more on that in another post! In short, Lisbon is amazing,¬†it’s beautiful, cheap and has great food and wine – what else would anybody need on¬†a citytrip?!

After the days in Lisbon, I got back to the airport and got the first challenge – getting all my stuff checked for the flight. I already expected some challenges in this, as I had quite some stuff to take:

  • Bike bag: 23kg
  • Diving bag: 25kg
  • Backpack: 23kg
  • Carry-on¬†bag: 15kg
  • Carry-on backpack: 10kg
The bags waiting in Lisbon

Resulting in an excess weight¬†(thank you lady at the desk for not weighting my carry-on!) of 21kg. Since this time I already expected this, it was easy – I just had to pay this. Making a thing out of it (the bike bag was only allowed to be 10kg, how unrealistic?) would probably have taken me half an hour extra and perhaps my carry-on would’ve also been weighted as Transavia did in Amsterdam… Luckily they were helpful with the carry-on and I could convince them that someone of Transavia told me that with the photo gear I could take 2 pieces of carry-on if necessary. Again, thanks lady at the desk! ūüôā

There I went, leaving the mainland! Portugese style of course, leaving half an hour late. Out to the middle of the Atlantic, flying to Horta and then taking the ferry to Pico. This half an hour delay gave me the opportunity to explore Horta a bit as I missed the ferry by 5 minutes and had to wait 2,5 hours for the next one… But well, I had the time!

Getting on the ferry to the other side, the weather started to turn for the worse. Pico had disappeared in the clouds and fog and Horta was also getting out of sight. And more and more rain was coming down from the clouds. After half an hour, I arrived in Madalena on Pico. Luckily, Pico Sport is just in front of the ferry terminal, making it easy¬†to get¬†all my stuff there. I met Frank and Pascal who were waiting for me and was brought to my temporary room. Getting to meet all the staff that’s already here brings a new challenge – remembering all the names… It’s not really my strong suit!

I’m already starting to feel more and more at home in this place. It’s still very¬†quiet with no diving guests yet, but that gives me the time to get to know all the dive spots around the island and the goings at Pico Sport. And of course, getting everything in organised for the season that is to come. Stay tuned for more!

Pico Sport
The new office – Pico Sport!

Macro & Manta’s: A throwback to Bali’s underwater world

It’s Thursday so it’s time for another throwback! This post will take us all the way back to September/October 2013 when I traveled to Indonesia with Sandra. We first went on a ‘dry’ tour across Java to try and see most of the highlights of that part of the country before going on to Bali. Here we first stayed at Pemuteran on the North before going to Nusa Lembongan in the South.

This was going to be my first experience diving, and traveling, in Asia so I was stoked to finally visit and dive at such beautiful places!

Menjangan РPristine coral reefs

Menjangan Island is a small island on the Northeast side of Bali. Being located in the Bali Barat National park it has a protected status allowing it to remain in pristine condition. Pulau Menjangan is home to many species and if you want to immerse yourself in an abundance of marine life this is the place to go!

Pulau Menjangan
Menjangan dive sites

We visited four different dive sites, Eel Garden, POS, Temple point and Anchor wreck. Each had its own uniqueness and luckily they were all far away from the snorkeling crowd and glass bottomed boats which stayed closer to the shore. We had arranged our diving via our homestay (Double U Homestay in Pemuteran – highly recommended!) so we didn’t have anything to worry about except for getting breakfast on time and heading to the¬†car that picked us up.¬†We got on a small wooden boat,¬†of which there were plenty. It was quite a streamlined operation for many operators using similar boats.

Now it was time to get in the water. We started of at POS II, where we would be doing a sort-of wall dive. I had been diving in the Mediterranean sea before, but this really was something completely different. Sure, the¬†climate and water temperature is a huge difference, but the abundance of life¬†-Wow! I had never seen this before except for on TV. Talking about the guide’s knowledge of the location: just a few minutes after submerging he went to some coral and pointed out a Pygmee seahorse! I did my best capturing it, you’ll see below… I really need a macro lens and I also didn’t have a strobe back then.¬†After the first dive we had a lunch on the boat before going into the water before, this time at Temple Point. As the name suggests, it’s in front of the temple on the eastern part of the island. Again we followed the reef on the wall and came across enormous corals and countless¬†fish. This was the dream!

The second day we went diving on Eel Garden and Anchor wreck. First came Eel Garden. There was a slight current making the dive very enjoyable and easy, until we got to a point where we had to fight the current to get somewhat shallower.¬†A group in front of us had seen a couple of reef sharks, but we weren’t as fortunate as¬†them. Seeing a shark was my dream, I hadn’t before and knowing they were there made me even more excited! Eel Garden, as the name suggests, had one fantastic trait – the ‘garden’ with eels. A large number of eels rising up from the sea floor. It was amazing, how they moved, how they just made the whole scene out of this world. I had never seen something like this. Here we could also hide a bit from the current as it was on a sandy plain between the reefs, making it easier to make some good shots.

Before the¬†dive in the afternoon at Anchor Wreck the guide told us that he knew a frogfish’s location. These fish normally don’t move around a lot as they don’t really have a good¬†capability to swim. Having found a good spot, it’ll stay there for a couple of days before walking along the sea floor or drifting in the current to a new spot. So chances were good on seeing it! Having never seen one, again the excitement rose and we entered the water. Submerging ourselves in the tropical waters just wearing a shorty (that was a big change from the drysuit) we found ourselves following the guide, leading us exactly to where the frogfish was. Such an incredibly strange fish.

Conclusion of these two days: diving in these waters is amazing!

Nusa Lembongan – Wild and adventurous

After some traveling across Bali, going into the mountainous central area and climbing the second largest peak of the island, the Batukaru, we ended up at Two Fish divers on Nusa Lembongan. A lovely resort with a pool, bar and dining table surrounded by the apartments. Immediately after arriving it felt like home thanks to the great ambiance and the people like our guide Theresia taking good care of us.

Nusa Lembongan dive sites

Nusa Lembongan, Cenigan and Penida were going to give us a whole new diving experience in Asia as the islands are in de middle of the strait between Bali and Lombok which makes for colder water and more currents. It had even happened that people diving at the Gili’s drifted away all the way to Nusa Lembongan overnight after losing sight of their boat. Colder water also has one major advantage – it is richer in nutrients, making for a higher chance of encountering big marine life like manta rays and sharks and we were in the right season to have a chance to meet Mola Mola, better known as the ocean sunfish!

Since the water was a lot colder (around 20 degrees instead of 30), we had to get¬†into 5mm full wetsuits. As the dives were more advanced, there also were more experienced divers here than beginners which was great for the true diving experience. Nusa Lembongan features many sites, under which the infamous Blue Corner. Conditions have to align to be able to dive there and usually it’s an ‘all or nothing’-site. You can have sharks, Mola Mola, turtles and¬†stingrays all at the same time, or see nothing. Besides this unique spot, on the south of Penida there’s Manta point where the manta’s come to feed and visit the cleaning station and on the north there are many dive sites which are usually a bit more forgiving regarding currents and visibility.

The first days we were diving at the sites on the northern shore, SD, PED, Topakayeh, and we also visited Crystal bay. During one dive a group in front of us started moving frantically, they were seeing something special! I raced with all my power, but was too late. Being at about 25 meters, I got to experience a CO2-induced feeling of panic. Quite scary to feel, but I knew it was because of my exertion and the pressure so I managed to stay calm and let it settle by just breathing slowly. At least it’s something I can always tell my students what it’s like now. After coming back on the boat, it appeared they had seen a Mola Mola. And I just missed it. Another day, diving at¬†the northern sites we experienced quite a strong downcurrent. Theresia had warned us this might happen as the currents on Nusa are quite unpredictable. Being under the surface it was something you could sort of see coming – there was a sudden change of ‘atmosphere’ in how the fish behaved. Then came cold water from the surface, moving down on us and we all moved close to the reef looking for a stone to grab hold of or putting a pointer in the sand. It’s quite something different to experience from just drifting! And after the downcurrent had come and gone, the intensity and direction of the current that was before it was totally different! This place is amazing!

The thing I was most excited about was the chance to finally get to see sharks and manta’s! We went to both Manta Point’s on the south of Penida where the visibility was a bit less, but nothing we weren’t used to.¬†I always find it so funny that the guides apologize for the ‘bad visibility’ when it’s less than 20 meters as in The Netherlands I start saying to my students ‘It’s amazing down there now with up to 5 meters of vis!’. So well, this was great visibility for me!¬†I was so excited to get in the water and have a chance to see these majestic manta’s just cruising around. The first site we visited was a cleaning station. There’s a route the manta’s take to get to the station, so we were just waiting along the route when the first manta I’ve ever seen came flying by. Words cannot describe, it’s just pure beauty. So graceful, so elegant, so gentle though so large. There were about 5 manta’s on this site at the moment we were under. It was amazing being there with them.¬†A bit sad to leave the beauty of the underwater world and return to the surface to have some lunch and change the tanks, we were told that we were going to a small bay where the manta’s usually come to feed and that we could have an opportunity to get in the water snorkeling with them. There were three of them, circling us and making us swim quite hard to keep up with them and intercept their paths. But it was definitely worth it!

Two days later¬†we were asked ‘where do you want to go diving?’. Well that’s easy, Manta Point! The weather wasn’t as friendly as the other day and snorkeling during lunch would certainly not belong to the options. The wind had picked up and caused big waves, reaching higher than our small boat. And underwater, the waves were causing a powerful¬†surge, throwing us forward a couple of meters, before taking it all back in a strong pull again. A couple of times I was almost crashed into the rocks that were on the bottom, so fumbling around with the camera¬†and making photo’s was getting me challenged.

On our last day we had some easier dives on the North shore before going home, back to the cold Dutch weather and¬†saying goodbye to the wonderful marine life around Bali.¬†I’m definitely coming back to Asia for some more diving!

Have you already been diving in Asia? If the answer is no, go and book your tickets! If yes, where do I have to go?

Pico, here I come!

So today I finally did it, I booked the tickets to Pico! Ok, the flight is to Faial, the neighboring island, but¬†that’s just a short distance from Pico! I’ll be arriving in The Azores on May 21, just 41 days from now. It’s really becoming more and more real! I love it! In this post I’ll try to explain what got me to the point of making this huge change of course in my life.

Life changing moments

“Live! The best thing in life is to go ahead with all your plans and your dreams, to embrace life and to live everyday with passion, to lose and still keep the faith and to win while being grateful. All of this because the world belongs to those who dare to go after what they want. And because life is really too short to be insignificant.” – Charlie Chaplin

You all know Spotify’s Discover Weekly? It features some great undiscovered treasures but I would’ve never expected this song to arrive in it, especially at this timing… The lyrics of Burgs by Mt. Wolf really struck me when I listened closely:

“It doesn’t actually take very much to make the deepest part of us incredibly happy.

Just to be here, just to appreciate being here,
to feel that you’re alive
and to be in touch with your heart.

That’s it.

The invitation is not to show how inventive and imaginative you are,
but how much you can notice what you’re already part of.”

Riding into the clouds

When my life really struck a crossroads with my long-term relationship ending, I quickly realized I should do something to really be in touch with my heart. To really do what I want and follow my dream. Do what makes me happy.

I quickly realized that the one place I feel really disconnected from everything, really enjoying life at the fullest, is in diving. The calm and weightlessness of being underwater, the beauty of nature, really being ín it. Not as an observer from a distance, but up close and personal. Feeling that some animals seek interaction, look at you with a sense of wonder.

Especially after the first time I had been in the water with a shark in Egypt I felt this. I fell in love. In love with the underwater world, in love with the unknown nature of it. I never could have even imagined how special that moment would be. How it would change how I feel. I could’ve stayed down there with her forever. Thinking back, that¬†was the moment that really changed it all. I wanted to do something for sharks, to show people they are not just¬†mindless killers but wonderful animals. Realizing that we are decimating the shark population breaks my heart. I want to make a difference.

But not only sharks made me make this choice…¬†Every time I was on a diving holiday, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to live that life. But I ‘couldn’t’. I had my normal life to head back to, to go back to make money to pay for these kind of holidays. Right after finishing my studies I got a job straight away, so there wasn’t, at least at that time in my mind, no space for following the dream yet. That will come later, when I have some more money and can really do it properly. But isn’t NOW¬†the moment to do it? Because you never know what will happen tomorrow.

So there I go, off to adventure. Following my dream, my one true passion. Hoping I will be able to make an impact not only on my own life, but also on the lives of others. I want to share my passion and show people the beauty of the underwater world.

What is your passion and dream and when are you going to follow it?

The lifechanger

So, where do I start… It has been a while since the last post and a lot of things in my life have changed. As a consequence, this blog also changed. No longer are we (Sandra & me)¬†in this together and this blog will now follow me on following my dream – starting now!

Riding into the clouds

I found myself in a crossroads in life these past few months and I found myself in a position that I got to think ‘What do I really want in this life?’. And the things that was always at the top of my mind, was how much I loved diving and sharks. Ever since I started diving in 2007 I was hooked but the past few years I didn’t make as much time for it as I wish I would have. The busy life… you know it. Work, sports, household, friends, living in Amsterdam, etc…

This is always an ‘easy’ excuse. Busy. With what?
Does it really make me happy? Wouldn’t I be better of on some sort of paradise where I could just walk into the water, enjoy the weightlessness and the beauty of the underwater world? Where I could just be there, with nature in its purest form? Sure, life was pretty great for me. A nice place to live, lots of things to do, many great friends in the area…

But life just showed me I should rethink where I was headed.

The only thing that still kept me from really doing it and leaving this life was my job. I must say I really do like my job as a process engineer at ICL as it gives me lots of challenges and great career perspective. At first¬†I tried to arrange some sort of ¬†6 months sabbatical but this was not possible. So I had a choice to make… Quit my job and all the certainty that it brings but being able to follow my dream, or just stay in this safe place.

Sure, not having a safe return option is scary, but it¬īs even more scary to pass on this beautiful dream.¬†So there I go, I quit my job in the last hours of March and open this door!¬†Not as an April fools day joke – I did publish it April 1st – but for real.

Of course it was not without any preparation on making the adventure real;¬†I’ve been contacting quite some people I know in the diving branch and thanks to Sander Evering I contacted Pico Sport on the Azores. I sent my sort-of job application and¬†they got back to me with an offer to come and work from May until at least September. I visited Pico on the Azores once before in 2016, so I already had seen a bit of the island and figured I could very well be living there… Especially since my most favorite animals, sharks, are also in these waters and there’s whales, dolphins and also colorful underwater life!

And the good thing – I don’t just get to be teaching open water classes in the sand and on the shallow reefs but will really be having a far more diverse job! Nice¬†dive sites with colorful fishes, sharks, mobulas, whales, dolphins and as far as I’ve heard and experienced so far there’s¬†a great team of superenthousiastic people. And ocean awareness and shark conservation is high on their priorities so that’s something I want to dive into!

I’ll be back soon with the next post but for now:¬†from May 21st I’ll be on this beautiful island I’ll call home from then! Follow me on my preparations and adventure by following this blog, the Instagram and my personal Instagram!


Bikepacking through Thailand – On our way to paradise

BreakfastWaking up in Mae Chan, I didn’t feel as good as I hoped for – stomach ache and feeling weak, well that was probably just from the tough day before in the scorching heat. I figured some breakfast and tea would do me good. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and I was confronted with severe TD afterwards. I won’t elaborate on this bit (or, should I say shit…) – but I can assure you it took several hours before we could try and get back on the road again.

After I had taken Imodium to last a couple of hours, we headed out towards the South. This ride, my heart rate averaged at 87bpm – I’ve never seen it being this low while cycling. Arriving in Chiang Rai, we wanted to check out some temples and have the ultimate local specialty, Khao Soi Gai, at the restaurant Phor Jai – as recommended by Bangkok Airways’ magazine. I didn’t feel too great so we skipped the temples for after lunch. Khao Soi Gai is a local dish, essentially a coconut-curry chicken soup with cut rice noodles. It was really great, though my stomach wasn’t quite ready for this so Sandra got to enjoy 1,5 portions. I wish I could go back there and get it again and finish it myself.

After lunch, it was clear. We were only about 30K into our 90K ride and this wasn’t going to be any fun at all for me. Again, we had to cheat, taking a taxi. We tried to negotiate a good price. The guy wanted to take us but then found out our bikes should also come – that made it 400 baht more. Figuring we were lucky enough to have found a taxi that could fit us and the bikes within a couple of minutes we decided to take it. Arriving at the resort, it seemed we were the only ones staying here. The room was nice – for me that day, nice meant it had a good toilet – and there was a huge swimming pool. During dinner, we sat in a semi-open room with place for about 100 persons – and we were the only ones having dinner. It was as if we had entered into Jurassic Park, beautifully in the jungle but no other people around.

The enormous pool at our private Jurassic Park resort
Departing the next morning, I was luckily feeling quite OK after breakfast – at least good enough to ride 110K

As we experienced in the preceding days, the elevation profile of Strava Routes wasn’t too reliable and there were a lot of 12%+ surprises on the smaller roads. So we decided change our route a bit and stay on the larger roads to avoid these steep gradients. The majority of the route was awesome, going through the jungle and coming across several temples and hot springs. And the best thing – I could even get some power on the pedals again! The ride went quite smooth and after two Coca Cola stops we arrived at our destination of the day, the Mai Siam resort. We were welcomed with a fresh juice at this great place to spend the rest day!

That evening we had a fantastic dinner (sorry, I didn’t take any pics!) and went to bed early to get on the scooter the next day and discover the paradise we arrived at.

Bikepacking through Thailand – surprises along the way

So there we were in the Marisa Resort in Chiang Dao. We set the alarm quite early, wanting to beat the heat of mid-day. It was going to be quite a tough day, the route being 106KM long with a lot of altimeters to cover in the last 20KM, up the Doi Angkhang. With several kilometers with gradients of over 13%, we tried setting up a pickup for Sandra and my bags to the restort at the start of the climb and myself taking on the challenge.

Following the main road would be a little bit boring in our mind, so we planned to follow the smaller and more scenic 1346.

During the night, we already noticed quite some thunder whenever we would wake up. We figured it couldn¬īt be that bad, just a storm during the night. That, however, was not true. We woke up at 07:00 and we could hear the drops. It poured.

rainy-dayOptimistic as we were, we went out to go for breakfast and¬†postponed our departure time a bit. Come on, it was the tail of the rainy season, of course there would be some rain. But leaving the chalet we quickly realized this wasn’t just some rain. It had been coming down throughout the night and was still raining and there were enormous pools on the roads in the resort. Luckily we had an umbrella in the chalet!

But it seemed there was no way¬†it was going to get better. Looking up the weather on the internet didn’t make it any better unfortunately – it showed the storm would be worse going North. After we had breakfast, we went to the reception to inform about the weather and the forecast. They told us it wasn’t going to get better today. It was a hard call to make, but we had to take a taxi. It would be too risky with probably some flooded roads and all the muck in the streets.¬†The taxi¬†driver even said he couldn¬īt give an estimation on¬†how long it would take with his 4×4 Toyota Hilux, it was going to be anywhere between 2 to 4 hours…

On the road in the Hilux we stopped at several amazing viewpoints Рat least we could still enjoy the scenery in another way! Along the way we could accept our choice for the taxi, going through multiple half meter deep pools, a lot of rubbish washed on the road and small rivers racing across the roads.

It took us over 2 hours to drive just 80KM. Looking at the map afterwards, we drove along the 1178 and 1340 to the North through quite dense jungle Рit was beautiful! Arriving at the Doi Angkhang Nature resort we found ourselves at one of the best resorts of this trip! A fantastic location, with a huge bed Рyou could fit a whole family in it Рgreat food and a seemingly famous Agricultural Center at walking distance. The first thing we did after putting our stuff away, was get some proper Thai lunch! They had a lot of North Thai specialties such as spiced minced pork, grilled pork skin, locally grown fruits and veggies and much more.

Following lunch, we went for a walk (we didn’t do any sports that day, so we had to!) through the small town and up to the agricultural center. The surroundings there are so beautiful, with a great viewpoint around each corner!

At least it wasn’t raining anymore and the forecast was looking better and better for the coming days – luckily! But I do have to come back for this epic climb of the Doi Angkhang. The next morning, we woke up to a beautiful view, had an early breakfast as planned and set out to go North, through the Agricultural Center park and continue along the border, passing small villages and some steep inclines before we would descent towards the East.

As we rode through the park along our planned route and went through the villages we noticed the Burmese border on our left but well, Google Maps showed us the road would stay Thai. Well… That wasn’t the case. All of a sudden, a gatehouse appeared with closed barriers on the road – you could walk and ride underneath them, but the dogs that came running and barking towards us from the gatehouse suggested this was not really allowed. As the military gatekeeper came collecting his dogs, I cautiously asked if we could continue our path, but the answer was no. There went our plan for the day –¬†we just rode an hour across roads with gradients sometimes exceeding 15%. There we were, getting scared away by the dogs and the unexpected border. We turned around, figured a new route that would be the quickest to pick up a decent route and that would be the descent of the Doi Angkhang from where we were planning to come up. This added about 30K to our ride – resulting that we would be climbing in the scorching heat later that day.

As we rode into Fang, we came back onto our planned route – Garmin updated the KM’s to our destination… 85! And we were already approaching the 50K mark. Then it really landed that this day wasn’t going to be easy. It might’ve been quite a good thing that we had a rest day the day before. Riding along our route, crossing several rivers and passing magnificent Buddha statues and impressive temples while the heat was continuously increasing the scenery kept our minds distracted to just keep pedaling on. The Garmin elevation chart still showed one challenge to overcome near the 100K mark – a climb of just under 10K’s showing an elevation increase that suggested 5/6% average.¬†Nothing too difficult you would say, but after being on the road for over 6 hours under the blazing sun, we desperately needed some coolness and a Coca Cola. After this quick break, we took on the climb. By now we already had an idea that averages don’t mean anything here in Thailand and that was exactly what this climb turned out to be. With parts around 13% and 1,5KM at almost 11% it was not as easy as we hoped it would be – especially with all the stuff we had in our bags. 34×28 is normally quite OK for 12%, but by now we wished we had MTB gearing.

So after this grueling climb, we were ‘almost’ there. Only about 30K’s to go… and most of it downhill – luckily! It was quite silent in this last bit of the day – both being hammered by the long day of tough cycling. We could not wait to lie down on a bed with a cold beer in our hands, have dinner and go to bed early. What a day – but we made it!

Bikepacking through Thailand – preparations and the first day

Last September we went on quite a big adventure – flying to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and cycling a loop of over 600KM, from resort to resort, through the most beautiful sceneries I’ve ever seen.

2016-09-19-11-01-03This will be the first post in the bikepacking series of 6 posts, starting off with the preparations and the first day.

Last September we went on quite a big adventure – flying to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and cycling a loop of over 600KM, from¬†resort to resort, through the most beautiful sceneries I’ve ever seen.

It all started quite small, with the idea to just do a quick trip to Thailand and relax. Up to the point that we figured out that the one thing we are bad at, is sitting down for longer than a couple of hours. So the plan was to see something of Northern Thailand and dive on one of the Islands (more about that in another post!).

A couple of friends did some bikepacking through Europe before and that sounded like the perfect way to see a lot, avoid touristic hubs, while still traveling quite some distance – we ordered the necessary bikepacking bags (Apidura saddle packs– highly recommended!) and started to look for road bike rental options, weather, resorts, etcetera.

Then came the¬†route. We knew Spiceroads did some organised tours and we could see some parts of the route but wanted to create our own adventure. Using Strava heatmaps and segments, Google Maps and Streetview we managed to get quite a decent route – I thought at least. Well, I had to think again when we went looking for places to stay… The route forced us to a 300+KM ride between locations, no way this was an option. So, back to the drawing board, now simultaneously looking up hotels/resorts with ¬Ī100KM between them and drawing the route while still checking the road on Streetview, ensuring it’s at least rideable by road bike. After a long evening with two bottles of wine, ¬†it resulted in a¬†quite ambitious 855KM route with a lot of altimeters.

We had 9 cycling days, so just under 100KM a day and a rest day in the middle- shouldn’t be a problem, right?

The route from Chiang Mai, clockwise to the North and in the last days taking on Doi Inthanon – Thailand’s highest mountain

So I came backBeers-in-Bangkok from a business trip in China and
Sandra already arrived in Bangkok in the morning, providing a warm welcome at the resort with a Chang beer after the flight and long taxi drive. We relaxed a bit and walked around the area of the hotel. We probably were quite lucky being outside of the real touristic season and having relatively few tourists in the area! Our flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was scheduled for departure at 08:05 the next morning, so we went to bed quite early after having a delicious Pad Thai, another beer and repacking of our bags in a way that we could get on the bike as quickly as possible!

The trip was really smooth, getting us at Spiceroads in Chiang Mai around 11:00. We prepared the bikes, all our gear that we had to take, changed our outfits and left almost everything locked up at the office there. Certainly for Sandra, picking only one set of clothing (for 10 days!), was quite a challenge ūüôā

Ready to go! (don’t worry, there was a second bike!)
On the road

We were on the road around noon, set to ride about 80KM that day to arrive well before sunset at our first resort. The climate was something we really had to get used to – fortunately, the first day was a flat ride like we Dutch know very well ūüėČ After leaving Chiang Mai behind us, we were instantly surrounded by beautiful scenery and even some jungle.¬†Moreover, when arriving at the resort we were overwhelmed by the beauty. I even got so overwhelmed that while riding from the reception to our cottage I had to brake for a small bump in the road… the bike being top-heavy with the bag, the road slippery green and, as I experienced, quite hard to fall on. Luckily it were just some scratches and bruises but this was not going to be the last fall this trip.