The “explosive” surprise of the trip : Guatemala. First country on the list of Central America, this country had instant immersive power, without transition. And to set the tone, it is on the Mayan site of Uaxactún that we spend our first night. Isolated by an unpaved road and eclipsed by its great rival : Tikal, only a few kilometers below, the site is deserted by tourists. Yet, the place is of mystical beauty, lost in a devouring jungle and in an ocean of sounds
Here is a recording, which we made, leaving a “sound trap” all night, near to our camp:
But beyond the magic of the site, we have woven links with 4 girls from the village, a particular and unexpected moment that stretched over 2 days. We opened our truck and cooked together, had lunch, sung, listened to the sounds and talked about the spirit of the forest. Then, at an improvised ceremony, they surrounded us by lianas and remarried forever. At the time of the goodbyes, our truck was dotted with floral arrangements, each small creation made with method and taste. We left the heart heavy, with the feeling that Guatemala will offer us something big.
The suite was exponential, in color, tradition and warmth. Adventures that we had the chance to share with family.
Here are some small audio snippets of Guatemalan markets:
This vibrant experience ended with an experience we will not forget, sleeping close to the Fuego, a very active volcano. We were going to miss out in our crazy race, we can never thank enough Gwendoline and Jérémy, met on the roads of Guatemala, to have put the idea in our heads.
The day before, we choose all four to spend the evening at the home of our guide, Catalino, in his family. Instant pub for Asoava, two times cheaper than the agencies in Antigua. To see the phenomenon, you have to walk on the dusty slopes of the nearby volcano, the Acatanango, to the base camp at 3500 m. Tents, duvets and meals will be worn by our guides, but the 4 liters of water per person, multiple layers for the night close to zero and the sound gear was for us. According to Catalino, the volcano is very active in this moment, so we will take all the recording equipment : recorder, Double M/S, Ambeo ambisonic microphone, telinga parabola, 3 microphone stand, battery for 2 days of recording.
I could describe the ascent, but I only have the memory of being attracted like a magnet to the top, guided by the sounds : stronger and stronger. End despite the steep and stony slope, altitude and dust, the march was only a detail compare to the Fuego.
Arrived at the end of the afternoon, it is at sunset that we observe it. Every 10 minutes, a thick smoke explosion occurs. Then 8 seconds later, the sound reaches our ears and makes them vibrate.
Here is a recording of the explosion of the Fuego :
Once night falls, the smoke gives way to a glowing lava, in intense explosions. Beyond the beauty of the show, breathtaking, the sound is unique. Sometimes deep roar come from the bowels of the earth or dry detonation, the expulsion of the volcano produces an intense vibration into the body, a low frequency harsh frequency. Adrenaline at its peak, it was a sleepless night at the top.
The climb of the last 500m started at night to reach the summit of Acatanango before dawn. Under the stars, with the moon and the still glowing volcano of its night, the fantastic power of the moment exceeds us but still resonates in our bodies.
Without planning it, we spent most of our USA time in Utah, a state where 80% of the population lives in Salt Lake City; the rest is desert and canyon, all singular, all beautiful.
In his book “Desert Solitaire”, Edward Abbey explains how these rough, arid and fragile landscapes have become over the years protected national parks, accessible to the public via roads. And the border remains thin between preservation and universalization of places. Some parks now look like great tours of point of view, drive-in photography, selfie paradise.
Without sulking the infrastructures set up, it was necessary to find a balance between tourist attractions and solitary exploration, to capture, with our microphones, the silent beauty of the desert.
The off road: in the margins of these busy roads, 4×4 vehicle tracks crisscross the parks and remain less crowded. Sometimes dizzying, dangerous, these off-road transform any person into an explorer, give back sensations of adventure and allow to discover quasi-desert areas. The ideal environment for our sound recordings. We gravitated a long way around the Canyonlands Park, whose tracks turn heads: the “Shafer Road” took us straight into the scene of the final scene of Thelma and Louise, the “Potash Road” made us lose a car’s plastic protection, another made us give up. All gave us the thrill and sensation of total immersion, loss of landmark in the immensity of the desert.
The nights : Far from the official campsites within the parks which display “no vacancy” even out of season, we could establish our evening camps in all freedom. Spot like in “Mad Max” movie with crazy machines desert or alone at the edge of a canyon, the moods are unique.
We took advantage of these lost bivouacs to leave the microphones on certain nights. These s”ound traps” are ideal to surprise animal activity from sunset to sunrise, it is here that everything happened.
The hikes: The hike is the best way for total immersion in the parks. Just a few kilometers, even on the popular trails, to find yourself (almost) alone and trying recording some sound. Little marked, the trails naturally follow the curves of the terrain, without bypassing obstacles, and give this sensation of intuitive exploration. Devil’s Garden Trail in Arches, Elephant Hill in Canyonlands, Peek-A-Boo Loop in Bryce Canyon, Angels Landing and the Narrows in Zion.
Alternatives : Because of lack of time or money, we missed somes parks. This is the case for Antelope Canyon, very popular for these famous slots canyons, narrow and glowing. By exchanging tips between travelers, we have found alternatives that are worth seeing. This is the case of the Red Canyon at Kanab. Twelve kilometers of walking in the sand, to have the canyon for oneself, to make some shots of sound and a beautiful phonography.
After our immersion in the the northern Alaska via the Dalton highway, we naturally turned to the Pacific coast and especially the Kenai peninsula, known for its famous glaciers.
Alaska has more than 600 glaciers, mostly inaccessible. But since nothing resists to human, this precious and fragile treasure is fuels polluted and is becoming noisy with it luxuary tourism, for anyone in a hurry: cruise, boat, helicopter tour, everything is planned to see a max in a minimum time. Our luxury is to have time and hiking shoes to reach accessible glaciers at a modest price and some effort.
A short hike from Whittier makes it easy to see the front, which remains very distant, as it is declining from year to year.
An extra walk along the lake, an icy knee-high river crossing and a bit of climbing offered us a tense head-to-head with the high glacier.
Unstructured, broken, compressed forms build cathedrals with translucent and vibrant walls
Below, it’s a whole network of caverns, invisible, but audible: it creaks, drips, breaks, and falls.
We advance towards the front of the glacier, overlooking it. The blocks are detached from time to time and drift along the lake.
We spend the day here, alone, listening and recording this living glacier.
It is accessible from Seward, a small fishing town, for which we had a crush (blue sky, heat and northern lights as a bonus)
This glacier is also declining, but continuously, since 2006, winter and summer. The approach walk to observe the front is more and more longer and retraces 195 years of decline. The trail has experienced several extensions, but there will be no other, the glacial tongue being surrounded by a terrain considered too abrupt now. We opted for the harding field trail, an all-round hike of 12 km, to admire the ice field on the heights of the Exit glacier. After crossing a forest of dense poplars, grasslands with marmots, we finaly arrive in front of the immensity of the ice field. It can be said that this was a highlight of the trip, which is self-explanatory.
During this long contemplation, where we made a few recordings, out of nowhere, we see a runner in the distance, shirtless in shorts … We total hallucinate!
This glacier is located in Hyder, ghost town of former miner, end of the world border with the British Colombia. On the way, we discover Fish Creek, a salmon river and observation platform for Bears.
The road to the glacier is really bad, but it’s worth it. The icy tongue glacier was a perfect spectacle, admirable until the extinction of our fire.
It is located 50km from Anchorage, near the portage lake. We lingered on its ice cavities, to capture this particular sound and make a 360 phonography:
We decided that the most northern point of our trip would be symbolically located at the Arctic Circle in Alaska. To reach it, it was necessary to take 115 miles of the Dalton Highway, starting north, from Fairbanks (Livengood) and finishing on the Arctic Ocean at Prudoe Bay.
For the record, Dalton was built in 1974 to supply the Trans-Canada pipeline. 666 km of track, along the pipeline, 3 villages and 50 inhabitants. Ultra isolated, traversing remote and wild landscapes, it is nonetheless traveled daily by 250 trucks supplying the Prudoe bay drilling station.
MILES 0: LIVENGOOD
The road is at a smashed dirt road, like impacted by a shower of small meteorites. The pipeline appears, the colors change, the vegetation is more shorter and leaves the field open to great prospects.
In these vast open plains, we can see a Grizzly and his young, looking for the last berries, emotional sequence.
MILES 115 : ARCTIC CIRCLE
The goal is reached, we land for the night in the only campground in this area. At this season, we do not see anybody … The temptation to explore beyond this point is strong, we did not come for the photo (but we take it anyway huh) .
So we push to Coldfoot, one of the 3 villages of the Dalton highway. The visitor center is a small pearl and its rangers convinced us to continue, to discover yet another face, probably the most fascinating. This end of the track takes us to the heart of the Brooks range, a mountain range stretching over 1000 km. No other path crosses it, no hiking trail exists. The colors shoot bright orange and the mountains rise up. We climb on a carpet of large pebbles the Atigun pass, then a serious slope. Arrival at Galbraith Lake for the night, a cold polar envelops us.
MILES 275: GALBRAITH LAKE
The awakening is done under the snow. Twice we were advised not to go to the end of the road and even if the symbolism is beautiful, we will find only oil fields with no access to the Arctic Ocean (or with a guide from the oil company). After crossing these wild landscapes, the contrast would have been brutal. This path is as spectacular but it exists only for its purpose : oil.
On the way back, it’s a new atmosphere, more wintery but more intense and contrasting. The 3 phonography that we did a few hours apart, show these radical changes :
We take a warm break in Coldfoot in a typical road restaurant where workers, hunters and some curious.
In the end, we will have traveled 275 miles from the Dalton Highway, an atypical road, difficult but so intense. The van, covered with mud, will carry for a long time its new color two-tone, like a proud returning from the end of the world.
It was time to make a break inside the truck routine, stop swallowing bitumen and get into the Bear country for a few days. Going deeper into wilderness, would surely make recordings more isolated from human activity.
For this first attempt, we set our sights on the Kluane National Park in Yukon. The road to get there appetites us and we choose to go hiking 4 days, with this goal : a breathtaking view of the Kaskawulsh glacier. You have to go to the visitor center for registration, nobody escape from the complete prevention about risks of this hike : Bears, crossing creeks, hypothermia, all vital subjects are reviewed with small interrogation by the ranger. She’s looking satisfied about our speach, and let us leave with a bearproof container (to put food, garbage, any fragrant product).
It is with sound equipment, tent, food and other useless things, that we engulf ourselves on the trail. 22.5 km to reach the base camp, a good entry in itself. Still uncomfortable about the presence of the Grizzlies, we join forces with a companion, Roger. Make noise, speak loudly, this is the first weapon to avoid surprising the animal. Here is his territory and if you do not cross it, his presence is palpable.
We hike between wet tundra and rocky mountain with scattered cairns. The last kilometers give us a beautiful climb, we finish and close these 8 hours of hiking.
Some tents, but nobody at the camp; we’ll understand the next day why we have to wait until 7 pm to start seeing silhouettes far away.
The second day will be the ascent to the glacier. A small round trip of 20 km with many surprises. Initially, the multiple creek to cross. Glacial but shallow, we will find them with a much higher level on our return … Then, it is an ultra climb, 1200 m elevation over 4 km, on a hilly and vertiginous trail, which raises us, painfully to the mountain peak. The sound equipment has made the trip with us, we get rid of time for a Phonography :
The scene is obviously spectacular, but I was already thinking about the return, the steep slope, the ridges without guardrails, the river that was gaining power. To summarize the descent, I would say that I cried a thousand times … the physical was not at the rendezvous and the mind had left me for a while… Having no choice but to go down, I gathered my mind and remained focused at every step. Once down, the river held its promise, it had changed shape and tempo. We choose a place where it split and loses a little power. One throws himself, facing the current, stick straight ahead. Some creeks are deeper, and the bubbling water dazes me. The ranger had said, “never look at the water”. We cross the last creek that definitely freeze our feet. We arrive at the camp at 7 pm, a day of 10 hours of walking.
“You will be happy to have a day-off before leaving”. We were told that too and that’s exactly what we had to do on this third day … and some sound recordings too.
The last day could have been simple and without pitfalls. But too tired, we decide to “ziber” to save time. A very bad idea, especially during rainy weather. Do not think, go straight ahead, make continuous noise and run to get out of this uninspiring place. We find the trail back (thank you GPS), trembling, muddy, but so happy to see the end of the hike (I spare you the episode of the man, hyper freaked out, who saw the man, who saw the Grizzly, adding a layer of adrenaline).
At each end of the hike (I practice the thing regularly.), I always feel this feeling of satisfaction after having drooled. We must not lie, we did not have the level on that one. With a little less weight in the bag and more training, maybe. For the record, a group that we saw leaving the morning during our day off, returned very late. One of the girls was carried away by the current on 200 m, with its bag (from where the importance to detach it). In shock, on the edge of hypothermia, scratched everywhere, his story puts us all in our place, very inexperienced in this wilderness.
The desire to capture a cleaner sound, isolated from human activity has made us take offroad tracks.
Go to the northernmost road of Quebec : Saint James Bay’s road, home to the Crees, first nation people.
From Chibougamau to Chisasibi, the northern route will be long. No networks, no water, no food and no gas station
hundreds of miles around. It’s up to you to take your precautions, it’s the deal to get to the end.
No paved road on more than half of the way, 800km in total, only stones, leaving a trail of dust behind you.
But the road is more beautifull than the destination. The forest unfolded like an endless carpet, passing from mystic,
to burnt by the lightning, or delirious and colored with its sphagnum fluo.
800km to arrive at the end of the road north of Quebec : “longue pointe”, and to find a sign with written “Dead End”!
A dead end, which stops and leaves you there, facing James Bay, alone. Not really, there were two houses and a teepee.
A corner of paradise lost, adjacent to the Nunavut region, but without a road link (sea and air only).
Sunset and moonrise are the reward of this journey.
But strangely, little sound and sign of animal life. 3 ducks and 2 seagulls, that’s basically all we’ve heard.
We multiply the day and night recordings, but the animals are not there to make the show, despite a very remote place, which was very hard to access. As a good opportunist, we still record this moment, a silence tinged with winds and waves.
In the morning, some activities resume. A biker coming from Montreal arrives. We have tea together, we discuss the road, the Quebec, the animals he met while camping alone in the middle of the forest, the most beautiful moose he saw, close to here. Then a motorboat with people from Nunavut is coming to get food for their village.
A last sound recording for the (long and stony) road. At the exit of longue pointe, we saw it : a giant Moose. Of an unreal size as a legend, he makes a brief but remarkable appearance.
On the way back, we go through Radisson. “There is nothing to do there,” we were told several times. Place of convergence of the exploitation of the resources (wood / minerals / water with its dams), the village has indeed little tourist and aesthetic interest. A good pretext however to push the way as far as possible and to touch the mythical Hudson’s bay.