Thursday, March 7, 2013

Off to Mexico...

Those were 2.5 busy weeks in Austin!

I came back from China with a list of desired improvements to my caving gear and other preparations necessary for my upcoming trip to Mexico. Besides the usual things on my to-do list that I thought would be easy to knock off without having a day job.

One thing that had bothered me multiple times on the last expedition was my photo setup. So I decided to invest 150 bucks to buy a new off-camera flash and sync cable -- the previous generation was a manual flash that always caused over-exposed photos in small cave passage, and a cable with a short in it. Tests of the new setup left me quite pleased so far. Another investment of several hundred dollars was a bunch of Petzl gear, including some replacement spares and a kit to set SPIT bolts, a specialized type of self-drilling caving bolts for (non-permanent) expedition rigging. I had wanted that kind of gear (a hand driver for the bolts, a number of hangers, and obviously bolts) for a while, but the upcoming expedition in Puebla finally gave me an excuse to actually buy it.

My current cave-photo setup: A Lumix LX5 with a Panasonic flash and sync chord to get the flash off the camera and prevent reflections from water and dust in the pictures. Not quite as nice as dragging an SLR around, but certainly more compact. There are more interesting flashes out there that work with my camera, but this one here actually fits into my little waterproof box and seems to work just fine.

I also managed to finish another long-term project that I had spent an hour on every now and then for the past two years: improving the subtitles that I had found online for my favorite German movie, 23 -- the story of the German KGB computer hackers from the 80s. I'll put them online when I get back to Texas.

In between, I spent some time digging in south Austin caves, and providing training in SRT (single rope technique - vertical caving) to half a dozen folks. Good times!

Right now I'm in Laredo, Texas, at the border to Mexico. Tomorrow I'm planning on heading to San Luis Potosí, and then on to Puebla the next day. The plan is to go caving in the state of Puebla for a month, spend a week in Oaxaca surveying caves, and then take up a friend on his invitation to spend some time with his family in San Luis Potosí to work on my Spanish and explore their caves.

I'm excited to finally take the truck back into Mexico, the last time was in May 2010, before things sort of deteriorated in terms of safety in northern Mexico. Recent reports from cavers driving to southern parts of Mexico across the border sounded like they did not have any trouble, and with driving only during the day and on toll roads I decided it's an acceptable risk for me to take the Tacoma instead of flying and/or taking buses.