*** UPDATE Oktober 2015 ***
Camp II is ready for you!
THE STORY OF GREEN CLIMBERS HOME
*** UPDATE April 2013 ***
It is still hard for us to comprehend and it appears so unreal what happened. All our energy, the uncountable hours of work, and all our belongings we had invested since a bit more than two years went off in flames within minutes. We also have to regret the loss of income for all the Lao families of the employees that were working with us. We were indeed very proud of the fact that The Green Climbers Home became exemplary for the kind of eco-tourism project one needs to support in Laos. The GCH already brought tangible increase of incomes to poor families in villages around the site, either by direct employment in the resort, but also through the provision of raw materials for construction and operation, as well as agricultural produce for food. The combination of the passion for Climbing and community based development was a dream come true for us.
The highly sympathetic feedback of our guests, the many offers for help from friends and climbers from all over the world and, last but not least, the great support of our partner Green Discovery strongly encouraged us to turn our eyes to the future again. We are now wondering energetically how we can do the best to achieve the reconstruction. Our will is hardly on the wane and we’re getting more determined than ever!
However, financially we are not in the position to carry on alone. Our only chance is to hope for the kind support of our friends and climbers, ..., everyone who is willing to assist the resurrection of the Green Climbers Home. Each contribution will be a great help to reconstruct our eco-camp.
Many of you kindly offered to help the project through donations so that we can start rebuilt as soon as possible.
Thank you so much!
Many greetings and lots of love from
Tanja and Uli
2010 – How it all began
It should have been just an ordinary global travel tour:
3 months of Southeast Asia, 3 months of Central America, interrupted by a 10 day side-trip to California. Every country we wanted to visit, was carefully examined in advance with regard to its climbing opportunities. Countries which did not offer nice rocks to climb, were pitiless dismissed. At last we were happily looking forward to a period of 6 months of unpaid climbing vacation. Once more we want to show our appreciation for this opportunity, made possible by the generosity of our bosses. This dream was within reach to us after two years of saving money, planning and preparation. Finally we were looking forward to a 6 months escape from every.day stress and turbulence – how great! Yet, it turned out differently in many ways.
OCTOBER 2010, THAILAND
It was October 4th, 2010, when we started off. Pure vacation feelings, warm weather, tremendouos landscape, awesome scenery, rocks to climb, ample of time!
No wonder that the desire of emigrating was haunting us. Again and again we were on the lookout for new climbing areas, where we could possibly establish “something” in the field of climbing activities – sooner or later.
NOVEMBER 2010, LAOS
Arriving in Vang Vieng, our second stop in Laos, we directed our thinking with increasing intensity into this direction - the landscape was just too tremendous and the rocks too fantastic not to be deeply impressed by this place. From “possibly someday” our mind changed to “Why not soon”, perhaps within the next one or two years.
We barely arrived in Thakek, these thoughts became an obsession; indeed, we were bothered by them. Straight away we took off to the climbing area. Even the moped ride to get there was breathtaking. Surrounded by picturesque Karst Mountains, embedded in a comfortably cool breeze as a gift of the morning sun and caught by the quietness of the spot we felt like at home. We passed small bamboo huts, pigs, chicken and goats animated the scenery. Then the entry into the climbing rocks, only 20 m above ground – just how lazy sports climbers prefer it - what else would you ask for! After having climbed the first routes, we looked at each other, thinking “this is the place to let it come true”, and very soon!
And these were our ideas. We imagined a climber’s camp, directly adjacent to the rocks; small and pretty bungalows, a restaurant to chill out. A place were climbers, whether beginners or advanced , from all over the world can gather and spend a couple of relaxed and, at the same time, of challenging days. Besides, we could spend the summer months, i.e the Laotian rain period, in Germany – nothing could be done here anyways, while heavy rain harassed the country. What a great idea – but, how to begin and how to proceed? We felt dizzy while thinking of the bunch of consequences. During the next two weeks, we often sat opposite to each other, grinning and not saying a word.
What we already knew is that the Thakhek climbing area had been explored by Volker and Isabelle Schöffl, assisted by a group of 17 people, which included, amongst others, Kurt Albert as a developer. Therefore, we contacted Volker in order to find out if there was a chance to realize, what we had in mind. He advised us, to meet the people from Green Discovery, an adventure company, which is big in the trekking-, rafting-, and kayaking business in Laos. In the meantime, the woman, who runs the guesthouse where we stayed, told us the name of the owner of the piece of land, we were interested in renting for our projekt. Talking to him means sitting for hours in tailor’s seat in a simply equipped bamboo hut, drinking warm beer on ice. As a translator, we hired the guy who runs a moped rent shop nearby and who speaks English rudimentarily. He informed us, that the landowner in principle will not refuse to rent out the place to us. On basis of this information, we looked up three different town offices in Thakhek, respectively with and without our translator. At least plenty of tea was offered to us.
Our highlight happened at the “Office for Planning and Investment”, where we tried to present and explain what our intentions were with our hands and feet. Imagine: You perform climbing moves in the air until exhaustion and what you get in response is a glance into inquiringly looking eyes – no idea, whether the official got the point or not. However, he was quite friendly, while he was alternately smiling to us and seeking assistence from his colleagues. After all, we found out through this “office-hopping” that the government is not supposed to turn down our project, but – on the opposite encourages climbing activities; more tourists – more money!
In between we bought a note pad, pencil and eraser, so we could plan the bungalows and design the main building, which should include a restaurant and our own place to live. In order to be sure, that the proportions of the buildings were alright, we scratched the lines 1:1 directly into the ground on a nearby field, using rope-loops and a measuring tape. Dialogue: “This is the wall between kitchen and restaurant” - “it fits!” Our drawings also served as kind of a “business plan”, destined to be presented to the landowner.
We took him to the climbing area, and showed him the area of the field we favoured most, in order to put up “our” climbers’ camp. He brought his wife with him and the two of them marked the place, using a 5 m measuring tape. Crooked and distorted as it was – we applauded and agreed happily! This time Mr. Keo’s nephew functioned as an interpreter, but he spoke just about three words of English. Yet, conservation was somehow tenacious. The next day Mr. Keo was supposed to make us an offer, forwarded to us by an e-mail from his nephew. We were anxious, really we were!
The contact with ‘Green Discovery’ was set up quickly. For some time already, the company had intended to support and promote the Thakhek area. Back in Vientiane, we met with Vianney, the CEO of ‘Green Discovery’. From the beginning on he was quite enthusiastic and recommed to us to start as soon as possible with preparations and planning. His objective was, not to waste any time and open the facility already close to the beginning of the next climbing season. Supposedly, ‘Green Discovery’, owned by a Laotian businessman – Inthy by name – would then be our partner, with whom we would have to share our earned income and our expenditures. Formally, we would be employees of this company. Hence, it would not cause any problem for us, to obtain visa and labor permits.
What followed was a sleepless night. We had to come to a decision very rapidly, since on the next day already we were supposed to travel to Vietnam. Should we accept the deal and start as fast as possible? Doesn’t this mean a dramatic change of our travelling plans, in order to be able to work on the climber’s home project during the next three months? Or, shoud we decline and let the chances offered to us go by? Although, deep in our heart we had made up our mind long ago, we just needed a few hours, to become mentally acquainted with this basic decision. In the meantime, the offer of Mr. Keo reached us: ”6000$ per year”, 5-times as much as we had anticipated. Our short return e-mail was: “1200 $ per year”. His answer came prompty: “ok”. This was easy!
On the next day, we got to Vianney again and spoke to him loudly and clearly “yes, we will do it!!” When this was said, we felt relieved from a heavy burden! From now on, all we could do was to wait for the approval from Inthy and thereafter to wait for Inthy and Vianney to come to Thakhek, obtain an in situ impression of what our plans are and get the local bureaucracy moving. In the meantime, Tanja managed to get ahold of a Laotian audio language program, plunging into this wandrous language is quite an experience - and a powerful sleeping pill as well.
DECEMBER 2010, VIETNAM
There was nothing that we could do right now for our project! Therefore, we continued our voyage according to our travel plan and flew to Vietnam. We took every chance to check our e-mails. Every morning and evening we went to an internet cafe, hoping for news from Vianney. He really tantalized us! In Mui Ne, each of us took the time to write down our curriculum vitae. This is a ‘must’ if you intend to work in Laos.
Before getting started, the question was: “what does an English CV look like”? The next step was, to take passport pictures. So, we took portraits of each other in front of the current bamboo bungalow, cut them to size, employing our laptop-picture program, converted them into pdf-files and, finally, sent them to Vianney. Furtheron, we designed exposés for a menu for the restaurant, for our internet homepage, for our business cards and our flyer. All our ideas were put down on scraps of paper.
In Hoi A we created our logo, the design resembles Uli’s tattoo. Since ‘Adobe Photoshop’ was not available in the internet cafes, we had to improvise with ‘Word’ and ‘Paint’. After printing the brand new ‘Climbers Home’ logo, we rushed off to the next tailor (Ho An is famous for its many tailor’s shops). We ordered a hoody and a t-shirt for Uli and two tops for Tanja. Both, the logo and ‘our’ internet address (the domain was not even ours by then) were to be embroidered on the clothing.
In Hue we booked a room equipped with a computer, so we could check our mail the all night through. It didn’t help though, waiting continued on and on. At least we bought a file for our scraps of paper. As Germans say:” Ordnung ist das halbe Leben”.
On Cat Ba Island we were among climbers again, which gave us the good feeling that we were doing the right thing. We talked about our idea to everybody – finally it had to get out! We collected as many email addresses as we could get to be included later on into our email distribution list. Further on, we met two friends from Cologne; so we could ultimately inform someone of our own clique what we were planning to do. It felt really good to have an extended and inspiring chat with Leif and Daniel; thanks a lot – you were a big help!
And still no email from Vianney, so we called him up. He told us that their trip to Thakhek had to be postponed, but that he would go there the next day. Isn’t that great – just for nothing we checked our email every day for weeks! It was finally agreed that we call him again the day after tomorrow. As a result: There was another extended negotiation, “garnished” with plenty of Lao Lao (Laotian Whiskey) not ending before everybody was drunk and satisfied with the outcome. Yet, still missing was the permission from the government to reclassify the piece of land, we were interested in, from ‘farming land’ to ‘building land’. Supposedly, this would take several weeks, ergo: waiting once more.
Hence, for now, we could continue our tour. This did not become certain until two days before the takeoff to the USA.
JANUARY 2011 (FIRST PART), USA
Now, we were on a short side trip to California. For sure, we had strange feelings because we were on our way to depart so far from “our business”. However, there was nothing we could have possibly done in Laos right now. In Los Angeles we decided to buy a notebook, since a rate of $4 per hour for an internet cafe use was not funny! Yet, L.A. seemed to have run out of notebooks altogether; only at the fourth dealer we were successful, but the cheapest ones, were sold out there, too. So, we had to pay $329 for the computer, $20 for the adapter and $50 for programming the notebook – cheers!
Now, we were able to buy the domain, we wanted: . What is ours is ours! Within two days, we convinced ourselves that after 10 days of California we just had to get back to Asia – here we felt somehow helpless with hands tied. Consequently we cancelled two flights and ordered two new ones: L.A – Bangkok and Bangkok – Krabi. At that place, in the Tonsai climbing area (the largest one in Southeast Asia) we could at least do some advertising amongst the numerous climbers romping around. This meant to us: “We must create a poster”.
Let’s go to Las Vegas, San Diego and back to L.A. now! It’s just crazy with the WiFi! Nowhere yet it has been as difficult as in the USA, to get connected to the internet. Alright then, again we were left alone without a program for picture processing and even without ‘Word’ (of course ‘Office’ was not installed on our new notebook; only ‘WordPad’ was at our disposal). With these poor tools we had to prepare our poster; and then another difficulty arose. The storage chip with the pictures from Thakhek was infected by a virus – and we really needed these pictures.
So, the only pictures we had access to, were those from our blog (weidner-worldwide.blogspot.com) - if there just hadn’t been the problem with internet access!
By car, we travelled to Las Vegas, to Death Valley and to Joshua Tree National Park and along the Pacific Coast Highway No. 1. While driving the notebook was busy on our lap all the time, in order to produce various texts and the poster; no doubt, our nerves were quite tense then! Nevertheless, our short “side trip” to America was a really good thing; not to forget: In Joshua Tree National Park we bought two skyhooks, stuff to drill climbing routes. Goodbye Panama, Costa Rica and Cuba, you will have to get along without us!
JANUARY 2011 (SECOND PART), THAILAND
Our flight back to Thailand included a 12 hours interruption at Bangkok Airport, before we could proceed to Tonsai (Krabi). This gave us the time to finally tell our parents about our plans and let them know, what our plans are. Until then, they hadn’t known that we were back in Thailand – oh dear!
Tonsai, the utmost climber’s stronghold in Thailand (500 – 1000) climbers on a pile), was a real advertising paradise. So, let’s pretty damn quickly print some flyers and posters in a much too expensive internet shop, bring them by boat to Ao Nang and have the posters laminated there! Now, the directive was to jump on our potential customers, distribute our advertising material and inform the climbing community about the ‘Green Climbers Home’, coming soon. At each climbing site, we handed out flyers to everybody. Of course, we did some climbing ourselves as well. Accidentally, we met Mascha and Micha from Cologne in Tonsai; with them we spent a couple of wonderful days. Again, hours and hours of effort, to set up our website, were in vain, even though Micha could help us a little bit. Nevertheless we were unsuccessful to go online.
JANUARY 2011 (END OF THE MONTH)
After one week of advertising and of climbing, the night train took us to Vientiane within two days, to meet with Green Discovery (GD) again. We were informed that the governmental permission was still not given. Yet, we agreed that in the meantime we should go ahead and establish a couple of new climbing routes in Thakhek. Isn’t that fantastic: planning and drilling our own routes! We used the three days of useless waiting in Vientiane to get on Martin’s (Uli’s brother) nerves with the problems to go online with our website. Further on, we asked him for assistance to finally debug our picture storage chip. Last but not least some time was spent to absorb some Laotian words and also, to order some drilling equipment. All of the three day we spent in the shadow of one and the same palm tree.
FINALLY “BACK HOME”!
For the next two months our base was the Travel Lodge in Thakhek. We invested heavily in our future and bought a second hand moped from Mr. Ku, who runs the Moped rental shop close by: a blazing-red Honda! Thirsty for action, we went on a shopping tour and bought all the stuff, needed for drilling climbing routes. On one day, all morning long we visited every one of the small retail shops in Thakhek, and bargained heavily for every small item. It seemed that people didn’t really know what to think about us: A half meter of small plastic tubes isn’t anything, tourists would usually buy – but it is perfect to use it as a blowpipe for cleaning freshly drilled holes. Our acquisitions were: hammer, wrench, wire brush, the said tubule, machete, whetstone, saw, drill and a tooth brush (children size) also used to clean drilled holes.
Despite all of the things we got, our equipment was still a bit poor, for instance we didn’t have ’friends’, (i.e. safety devices for self-securing), we had only two skyhooks and just a few ordinary chocks (?). Nevertheless we started off to drill our first route: “weidnerworldwide 6c”. Between 3 hours (Uli) and 7 hours (Tanja) are necessary to conclude one route.
What else were we doing?
• Search all over for potential rocks to climb
• Complement the architectural drawings
• Visit all the tourist highlight of the area
• Examine the market in Thakhek
• Take pictures, write texts and make drawings for the Laos climbing guide
• Think about the contents of the projected website
• Inspect the youngest attraction installed by ‘Green Discovery’ (Ziplines in Paksong – very recommendable) -› Info about Paksong
• Give a radio interview
• Trace suitable climbing guides
• Get acquainted with the neighbourhood (in Laotian)
• Do some climbing ourselves
For quite some time the building-permit did not arrive, but on March 08th, 2011 it came. Finally we had the official document, stating that we were allowed to build “Green climbers Home”.
Let’s switch on the computer and launch an advertising campaign! All the email addresses, we had collected within the last weeks, were activated and everybody available got the good message as fast as possible. In order to gather new friends, a facebook account was installed. Google was sucked dry: ‘Googelmail’, ‘Googleanalytics’, ‘Googleplaces’. A call upon everybody was launched: We need climbing shoes, belts, ropes, and chocks, just everything. Resonance was tremendous,; the news spread like a wildfire.
On March 14th, 2011 we signed the lease; the contract covers a period of 20 years. Since it is a document completely written in Laotian and validated by the signatures of Green ‘Discovery’ and of Mr. Keo, we can only hope that everything is correct.
At the end of March 2011 in Laos and Cologne
At the end of March we had to go back home. All of our stuff which we had collected in the last 2 months in Thakhek (tools, scooter, helmets, spare parts, etc.) was stored at Lenoy’s place from Green Discovery.
It took us 2 days to get back home, which was good, because this way our souls had the chance to catch up with us: first we took the ferry, then the night bus, stayed the night in Bangkok, flew to Frankfurt, had a big welcome ceremony in Frankfurt. Back at our apartment we had to make ourselves “at home” again, register our car and phone, request new passwords and pins since we had forgotten our old ones. We had a big hello from friends, family and colleagues – suddenly we were in the center of attention. And before you know it you are back in your everyday life.
Now we have 5 months left to prepare our great move to Laos: cancel out jobs, apartment, phones, clubs, and find a new tenant. This farewell is happening step by step. We have to find new owners for our belongings on ebay and flea markets (every Euro earned counts!), collect climbing equipment (shoes for beginner classes, used ropes to develop routes…), find sponsors and an affordable conveyance. Finish our climbing guide, transfer all of our savings to Laos – weird! Work in our regular jobs “along the way”. Our heads are spinning every now and then. Meanwhile bungalows are being built in Laos.
At the end of August we will return to Thakhek. Everything still seems kind of absurd, since our plans so far are only realized in our minds. Oh shit – we are so excited!