I can’t believe we’ve been in Spain for a month already! With the help of very patient locals and the iPhone app, Duolingo, I’ve gone from being able to ask for a glass of wine to being able to talk about the pros and cons of NYC public schools, GMOs, and how to make cookies entirely in Spanish. Granted, I can only speak in the present tense and say things like “I much like it very.”
Our time in Spain has been split between cities that make my heart sing and rural towns where we have been climbing or working. We spent a long weekend in Barcelona, a few weeks climbing in central Spain, then up to San Sebastian in the Basque country where we ate everything in sight, and have spent the past two weeks on a farm outside of Segovia. Work, play, eat. Work, play, eat. In our opinion, that is the most satisfying way to travel.
Wow, there are a lot of rocks to climb in Hampi. After our first day bouldering there I wrote a feverish email to my climbing buddies back home in the USA, telling them to get on the next flight to Bangalore. Yeah, there are a lot of fantastic climbing destinations in the USA and other, more accessible places around the world, but nowhere else can you live like a king for under $10 a day within walking distance of world-class granite. Oh, and if you’ve always wanted your name in a guidebook there are thousands of first ascents available in the surrounding 300 square kilometers of boulders and cracks.
Recently made a Unesco World Heritage Site, Hampi is a burgeoning tourist destination in southern India for temple-gazing as well as climbing. Split into two main areas by the Tungabhadra River, the Hampi Bazaar side caters to more of the short-term tourists, while the pot-smoking and didgeridoo-playing happens on Hampi Island. Shocker, Hampi Island is also home to most of the developed bouldering. If you’re there for climbing, stay in Hampi Island and watch out for flying dreadlocks.
Everything in Hampi Island is designed for the lazy climber tourist. A dozen small guesthouses are within ten minutes walk of multiple boulder areas, and the heat of the day is spent flopping on cushions around low tables, drinking chai and playing chess or falling off a slackline. It’s common to stumble on a drum circle at sunset among the boulders or catch a Tarantino flick over thali at the restaurant next door.
Fly to Bangalore or Goa from NYC for around $1200 round trip, and hop on an overnight sleeper bus for Rs 800 (about $12) to Hospet or Hampi. No matter your preferred flavor, you can easily append a sleepy beach holiday or hardcore party schedule in Goa to your trip.
When to Go
The coolest weather is in December and January, but most of November and February are just fine for climbing in the morning and evening, and you’ll get better rates on rooms. Don’t think of coming in March and April, when temperatures soar into the 40s celsius. The rainy season is June to September and the area will be deserted. In October most guesthouses will just be opening up for the season, but you could get lucky with the weather and a place to stay.
Places to Flop
We set up camp at Gopi Guesthouse for the duration of our month in Hampi. The staff are wonderful and the rooms are cheap. Bamboo bungalows start at Rs 100 ($1.50) per night, and deluxe rooms with a daybed in the garden run a very reasonable Rs 350 ($5) while we were there in November, though rates increase in December and January. The real highlight here is the food, which is the best in town and comes in massive, shareable portions.
Mowgli Guesthouse is a slightly more comfortable option on the strip in Hampi Island. It’s a professionally run operation where you can count on management to fulfill promises, which is sometimes a rare occurrence in India.
If you’re looking for a very quiet, reflective time and hard bouldering steps from your door, check out Baba’s Cafe Guesthouse. Small and well away from the beaten path on the other side of the main climbing area, you’ll feel more like you’re staying in an Indian village than a tourist town. It’s run by a charming Spanish expat named Hugo, who is more than happy to show you around his side of town and the areas he is developing.
No, You Don’t Need to Take Your Boulder Mat on the Plane
A couple of enterprising young local climbers named Tom & Jerry rent boulder mats, guidebooks, and a few tired pairs of shoes for Rs 80 ($1.50) per day. Cheap as chips, as they say. During busy times they’ve been known to run out of mats, but Thimma at Shiva Guesthouse and a few other spots also have some available. On the other hand, if all the mats are rented out you can be pretty sure there will be some nice folks you can tag along with.
A new guidebook came out the day we left so we didn’t get much time with it, but several copies were floating around town. It was far broader than the previous edition, reaching several kilometers into the surrounding hills with clear topographical maps and lots of pretty color pictures. Strangely, it had both English and German text. It would be hard to survive in India if you only speak German.
Rest Day Activities
Hampi is littered with temples and ruins, but I’d be lying if I said we spent much time sightseeing. This is not your source for that information. There’s a massive reservoir 4km from Hampi Island where you can laze away the afternoon and indulge in a Kingfisher or three, which are selectively prohibited in the more devout areas of Hampi. Or hop on a motorbike (Rs 150/day plus petrol) and buzz through the local villages; they are about as authentic as it gets.
Stuff Your Dad Would Ask About
- Don’t expect to practice your new Hindi here. English is commonly spoken and often preferred by locals. Most of the guesthouses are run by Nepali seasonal workers, so a few words of their native tongue go pretty far.
- There’s no ATM in Hampi Island, so plan your cash carefully. Rent a motorbike and go to Anegundi to visit the ATM. Be aware of daily power cuts that knock out service.
- The Indian visa can be a headache if you’re already outside your home country. The buzz among travelers is Bangkok, Kathmandu, and possibly Columbo, Sri Lanka are your best bets. Of course if you plan ahead and get a visa from the Indian embassy in your home country you don’t have to worry about this. Six month, single entry visas are typical, but unlike other countries they begin on the date of issue, not the date you enter the country. Five and ten year multi-entry visas are available for US citizens, rules change frequently so beware of all published information. This is probably out of date already.
- If you plan to stay for a while, an Indian SIM card will be helpful. After recent terrorist attacks the government has made it more difficult for foreigners to get a SIM, but its not impossible. You’ll need a reference (a hotel will work), a few passport photos, and a sympathetic retailer to get one.
If I had it to do over, I’d only plan to stay longer in Hampi. A month flew by and I was sad to leave. Count on getting knocked out with gut issues for at least a few days, so build some extra time into your schedule. This isn’t a place to squeeze in. Relax, enjoy it, and prepare your fingers to be shredded by small holds and sharp granite.
We didn’t know it while we were traipsing around Rajasthan, seeing the sights, but the little town of Hampi is what we have been craving since we arrived in India.
With so much history and so many really big, really beautiful historic sites, we couldn’t resist checking out the Golden Triangle. We saw the forts and tombs, palaces and temples, and our favorite, Jantar Mantar. We got tired, rested, saw some more sights, got tired again, rested again, went to a new city and did it again. For two weeks, we were full on tourists in cities where people make their money from tourism. For two weeks, I didn’t leave the guest house without telling ten rickshaw drivers “no,” or trying to avoid begging children. We were a wallet, an opportunity.
“Hey my friend! Where you from?
“Obamaland, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan! Nice country.”
“Yeah, pretty good, but we are enjoying yours as well”
“You come to see my shop? Very nice, you come.”
“No thank you.”
“Yes, you coming. Shopping. Very nice.”
And so it went until the next person came by and started from the top. “Obamaland, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan!” It was endearing the first time, but got old very quickly.
We were doing the things that you do when you’re in India. It was really cool being in the presence of structures from empires ago and learning about the history of India, but it was exhausting and felt a bit like going through the motions. Is this what traveling in India is like? Is this what people do for six months? For a moment there, we forgot that long term travel is a balance of new cultures and new activities while also maintaining some routine and indulging in things you know you like.
So when Robyn and Stephen, our former room mates from New Zealand sent us a message saying, “We are in India! Smashed it out last night all the way from Bangkok to Chennai then Bangalore to Hampi! Hampi is amazing. Actually so good I cant believe I missed it on previous trips…Climbing, friends, bicycles, a risk board…,” we scrapped our plans for further sight seeing and booked three back to back night buses to go see them in Hampi.
Hampi is quiet and comfortable. We climb the famed Hampi boulders in the early mornings and cool evenings and avoid the heat of the day by flopping around the open air restaurant at our guest house, eating thalis and drinking tea. As Stephen said over breakfast the other day, “Not everything you see here is going to be enjoyable while you’re here. That’s not why you’re here. You’re here to see what it’s like in India. Well that, and to see 50,000 camels competing in a beauty pageant.”
View Bring a Snack.com in a larger map
Check out the new map feature that Zach whipped up! Its permanent home is up top next to the the About Us tab and should help to keep track of where we are when we start moving around again. We plan to stay in Wanaka through the end of the season, but will be on the road again toward the end of March.
One of the main reasons we decided to stick around Wanaka is because it is so close to epic hiking and climbing. None of our adventures have taken more than an hour to get to, some of them being only 10 minutes away. I can’t wait to share it with some of our friends and family. My parents are coming in January, our friend Matt is coming in February and Zach’s dad and his girlfriend are visiting in April. As we are out and about, we often talk about “Your dad would love this…” or “This reminds me of a hike I did when I was little…” Being here is amazing, but sharing in person it is going to be even better. The pictures in the gallery below are from our days climbing at the Mt. Iron and Riverside crags with our friends Zach and Courtney from Denver, the Diamond Lake track, a short hike overlooking Lake Wanaka, and the Rob Roy track in Mt. Aspiring National Park.
The gate was unlocked, but it still felt like we were breaking the rules.
“There aren’t any signs saying ‘Private Property’, so I guess we can just let ourselves in?” I said to Christina.
“This is the right spot?”
“I think so.”
It turned out that we were indeed in the right spot, the right spot in many ways. We’d just entered Stony Batter Historic Preserve on Waiheke Island, a short ferry ride from Auckland, New Zealand. We felt so privileged to go bouldering in one of the most beautiful places we’d ever seen, it seemed illegal.
Boulders dotted the green pasture as if they had rained down from the heavens that afternoon. There were panoramic views to the sea, with waves crashing on rock outcroppings and peninsulas hundreds of feet below. Clouds rolled over jagged volcanic islands in the distance while tiny sailboats bobbed miles away as they drifted from island to island. It was enough to bring even the hairiest of men to tears.
I’ll be honest – the climbing was good, not great. But it didn’t matter. Anyone complaining about sending average problems in this kind of setting needs to reexamine their priorities. That’s not to say the climbing was bad – several problems on the Thumb Boulder and in the Zoo Area were great fun. But they were the exception rather than the norm. Check out this guide for in-depth directions and problem descriptions. Many thanks to the authors of that document.
Access of this kind shouldn’t be taken for granted. In another part of Waiheke Island, what’s said to be the most romantic beach in New Zealand has been shuttered from public overland access. Reasoning depends on who you ask, but some say that a native tree species that had been introduced to the property surrounding the beach was threatened. Stony Batter, where we’re climbing in a field populated by sheep and cows on a site rich with World War II history, could easily suffer a similar fate. And would it be wrong?
If indeed those trees were being threatened then it was right to limit damage. Humans make enough of an impact on the natural world. If we see an opportunity to curb the damage, we should seize it.
The same story can be told at any climbing area. Sections of the Gunks are perpetually closed due to nesting birds. Rumney State Park is home to a rare type of fern, limiting access to a main sport climbing wall. And this is exactly how it should be.
It takes buy-in on every level for access to remain open. City officials must see the benefit, property owners must take pity, and climbers must follow the rules. Oh, and it helps to put your money where your mouth is by donating to the Access Fund.