Author Archives: Râu Cao

About Râu Cao

Traveling the world full-time since 2010. Hacking on the beach every January.

Hacker Beach #3 is a go!

According to good old Hacker Beach tradition, the first person just booked a flight, making our next destination official. Having been to South-East Asia and East Africa so far, this year’s region of choice is the Carribbean. Pack both your swimming gear and hiking shoes, everybody, because we’re going to !

Not to be mixed up with the Dominican Republic, this little island nation in the middle of the has only 73000 people living in an area of 750km2, mostly taken up by phentermine rainforest-covered mountains of volcanic nature. Known as “The Nature Island of the Caribbean”, its spectacular flora and fauna is among the most well-preserved in the region.

In contrast to Hacker Beach #2, but in the spirit of the original Hacker Beach, everybody will be on their own again for all organization and bookings, including accommodation. Forming small groups for sharing rooms, apartments or houses is recommended, and of course we’ll coordinate enough to stay in the same area of the island.

We’ll be updating the blog with more infos soon. In any case, hang out in #hackerbeach on Freenode, if you’re interested in joining in the next episode of Hacker Beach in January 2015!

Hacker Beach is International

Welcome to the first blog entry published from Lamu island! It took a while, but we’ll post some more during the next days. Enjoy!

In order to understand Hacker Beach a little better, let me share some fun stats with you. Hacker Beach brings together people from different countries and continents on a tropical island every year in January.

This year we had people from 3 continents and 12 countries join the party:

Kenya 4
Zimbabwe 1
Israel 1
Canada 1
Netherlands 2
France 2
Germany 3
Austria 1
Romania 1
Greece 1
UK 2
USA 3

(Hint: some people haven’t lived in their home countries for quite a while, so if we counted all countries involved we’d end up with a couple more.)

So this sets the bar for next Hacker Beach pretty high. Will we break the record next year?

Update: Turns out our visitors are as international as the participants. In the first 30 minutes since posting this, we’ve had

Hacker Beach #2 (Jan 2014): FAQ & Status Update

There was a lot of interest in joining us at the upcoming Hacker Beach lately. But, so far, we didn’t really publish a lot of information that would help newcomers know exactly what’s happening. Especially answers to vital questions like if it’s actually happening, if you can still attend, what it will cost, etc.

So here’s a last pre-beach blog post, hopefully containing everything you might want to know. And if something’s missing, just ask via comment, of course! Let’s dive right into it:

What is this all about?

Hacker Beach is a spontaneous gathering of hackers and like-minded people on a tropical island, taking place every year in January. The upcoming one is only the second episode of Hacker Beach ever, after we had an incredible time on Phu Quoc in Vietnam last winter.

There’s no central organization taking place, except for a special accommodation deal (first time this year, more on that later) and some people blogging and tweeting some updates here and there. Every participant is invited to help with anything. Hacker Beach is not a conference or a sponsored event. It’s merely a lot of nice people hanging out on the same island at roughly the same time in order to flee the Northern winter, work in an nice atmosphere, and enjoy the company of friends and acquaintances, both old and new.

During Hacker Beach, we’ll have spontaneous mini events like talks, community sessions, user groups, and so on, all contributed by the participants. Whoever wants to discuss, present, teach, or learn something is invited to contribute one, or ask for one.

Other than these (optional) mini events, you do whatever you want: work on your normal job, or on open source or side projects with others. Or don’t work on a computer at all, and build a float instead. Your choice.

Who will I meet?

Mostly Web and open source folks. For example Mozillians, W3C people, core people of projects like remoteStorage, Sockethub, and many others, as well as entrepreneurs and startup folks. And let me add: all disciplines are welcome, not only software developers or sysadmins!

I can’t/don’t want to attend during ALL of January. What’s up with that?

The official dates just indicate the general time frame, meaning you likely won’t be alone on the island during that time. You can come anytime and for however long (or short) you want. In fact, some Nairobians will drop by for only a weekend or a couple of days, while others arrive in Kenya in December and leave in February.

Accommodation

Last year, most of us just booked rooms at the same guest house ourselves, but this year we have a bit of a different arrangement, so if you plan to come please contact us on the mailing list or on IRC in #hackerbeach on Freenode.

You can also just book your own accommodation anywhere on Lamu, of course.

How do I get there?

It’s a bit tricky, yet not terribly complicated.

  • First, if you’re not living in Kenya, you book an international flight to Nairobi. Choose a date, time, and route that fits best for you. International flights from Europe usually arrive in the morning, so if you don’t want to check out Nairobi for a day or two, you can continue to Lamu on the same day:
  • Second, book a separate flight to Lamu with one of the local airlines or get a bus ticket there. You need to do that directly on the local airline’s website, and you won’t find these flights anywhere else. Here is our blog post about getting to Lamu!

Visa requirements

For most (if not all) countries you will be able to get a Visa on arrival. Be sure to take some cash with you! It will cost 30 GBP, 40 EUR, or 50 USD. Your choice.

Medical issues

  • A Yellow fever vaccination is recommended, but not required. It holds for life, so getting one is never a bad idea.
  • Malaria pills are not necessary. Obviously, don’t sue us on that one, just note that none of the people writing this text will take them for a month. That said, it’s never a bad idea to have some as standby, because in the unlikely case you’re infected, it’ll help with the treatment to take them as soon as possible.

Internet

On Lamu, like in most regions in Kenya, there’s only 3G available. But according to people who even spent their company retreats there, it’s good enough quality. You can buy Safaricom SIM cards at the airport in Nairobi, and they offer Internet packages from a few MB up to 100GB. We’ll also buy some backup SIMs for a central router, that we’re setting up in the fort.

So, you’ll need to live a while without streaming HD video all day. And we’ll also have some fun setting up local mirrors for things we need often, like NPM or Rubygems. But Internet access in general is there, and it shouldn’t be a deal breaker for people who need to get serious work done.

LGBT issues

Someone asked about how safe it is for LGBT people to come to Hacker Beach, due to Kenya being known for having conservative views and laws regarding sexuality and gender identity. Frankly, I haven’t researched it thoroughly yet, but in my experience people are just keeping it private there. When traveling the world, it’s always important to respect local laws and traditions, of course, no matter how foolish they are. Let me add that Lamu is a very small island with a lot of international visitors, and it is very secluded, which should make these issues basically disappear entirely. If you have serious concerns, though, please get in touch with us, so we can connect you with LGBT people in Kenya, who can tell you all about it.

Current status

Hacker Beach #2 is a go! We’re all set and everything is ready for action. If the idea appeals to you, and you have time and a budget for this in January, you should go ahead and book your flights to Nairobi now! Don’t worry about the details, as long as you get flights to Nairobi and back, we can sort out the rest with you, if you need any help. Don’t hesitate to ask us anytime, and we’ll help you with anything you’re not sure about!

On a related note: some hackers are staying in Nairobi over New Year’s. If you want to come early as well, you can join us at the Wildebeest Camp.

Flights to Lamu

As most of us will face the question of how to get to Lamu exactly, here’s a short update on that.

All of us, who booked their flights already, will go there from Nairobi, which is the easiest destination for international flights to Kenya. You will usually arrive at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO), but most direct flights to Lamu depart from the smaller, regional Wilson Airport (WIL).

There are (at least) 3 airlines offering daily direct flights to Lamu. However, you will have to forgo your favorite booking service and buy your ticket directly on the airline sites. Here are the ones I found so far:

These flights all cost around 200 USD.

Alternatively, you can take buses from Mombasa and other cities, which is obviously much cheaper. Be prepared for a long, bumpy ride! It might be an experience some of you would prefer to boring old air travel, though. If you choose the bus option, we’re confident that you’re enough of an explorer to find out about schedules and tickets yourself.

Some of us will arrive in Nairobi shortly after Christmas, so get in touch on IRC or Twitter, if you’d like to share an apartment or go hacking or spend New Year’s with us (or all of the aforementioned).

Any more questions? Leave a comment!

Updates on accommodation

Hi everyone,

We have some news for you regarding accommodation plans. As promised, we’re trying to figure out something cheap and easy for everybody who’s interested in not booking their own, and thanks to the enthusiastic help of the folks over at sleepout.com, we have a first special offer available for early takers.

l

The house – or should I say castle – is about 10 minutes walk from Shela village. You can read all about it here. It fits up to 22 people, but in all rooms, 2 people would have to share single beds (which are said to be larger than king-size).

So here’s the deal: @bkero set up an Etherpad, where you can “reserve” your room there. First come, first serve. If you want to join the Fort hackers, go there and enter your name:

http://etherpad.bke.ro/p/hackerbeach

Update Jan 8, 2014: Please contact us directly in #hackerbeach on Freenode or tweet us.

(If we get the castle, it’ll probably be one of the hot spots for all of us during Hacker Beach, so if you don’t like that kind of thing as accommodation, you could still go there for hacking and socializing whenever you want, of course.)

The other recommendation so far is the Pwani Guest House, where at least some of us will most likely stay before Jan 6. Hopefully that one is more flexible and could accommodate last-minute hackers for example.

Also, an accommodation provider in Lamu posted a comment on this site, and, in their own words, they “would love to have some hackers come and stay”. Maybe someone can check it out and get more details and maybe even a second special deal? You do know that everybody is both participant and organizer of Hacker Beach, right? 😉

On a last note, some of us will stay in Nairobi for a couple of days until Jan 1. More news on that soon. (Or join the IRC and ask about it.)

So, let’s go and fill up a castle, folks!

Hacker Beach #2 is a go!

It’s going to take place in January 2014 on Lamu island in Kenya – a quiet and beautiful retreat in East Africa.

Apart from this blog, we use Lanyrd for the attendee list, Twitter for short announcements, and a (yet to be approved) mailing list for the details for participants.

We’re also hanging out on IRC in #hackerbeach on Freenode.

As always, everybody is invited. Join us for a month of relaxed hacking on an island paradise!

Barbecue Party on Tuesday, Jan 8

We’ll have a barbecue party tomorrow night at Oyster Club, a windsurfing place and bar, down in the South.

The fun starts at 6pm, but it’s also a nice place to be in general, so you can go there in the afternoon already, if you like. You should notice, that there’s no wi-fi there, though. (But some hackers bought mobile data plans with Gigs of traffic included today. Just ask @bkero.)

We can now add venues to sessions on Lanyrd, by the way. So if you added something already, edit the session details to include your planned location.

See you all there!

Phu Quoc 101

As promised yesterday, here’s a short 101 for your stay at Hacker Beach. If you have additional questions, just add them as a comment, and we’ll answer them and/or amend the post.

Cash

If you’re flying directly to Phu Quoc, be sure to get some Dong at your arrival airport on the mainland. The new international airport on Phu Quoc is only open for 2 weeks, and doesn’t have an ATM yet, and the taxi drivers don’t accept USD.

At the ATMs on the island, you can get up to 2,000,000 VND in a single transaction (~ 70 EUR or 95 USD). If you need more, e.g. to pay for your room, just do multiple transactions.

There are 3 ATMs close to Thai Tan Tien (the guesthouse, where the first hackers are staying), all located on the opposite side of the street around John’s Tours.

Getting around

There are loads of licensed taxis on Phu Quoc, colored in light golden and green/white, and sporting a license paper in the front window. They are completely safe to use, not too expensive, and they will rigorously obey their taxi meter. Easy going.

The most convenient way to get around by yourself over a longer span of time is renting a motorbike, of course. As typical for SE-Asia, motorbikes are the default means of transportation on Phu Quoc. Pretty much every place around you will rent them out for about 100-150 K a day. It’s much recommended to purchase gas from a proper gas station in Duong Dong instead of the street-side vendors. A full tank will set you back around 100K. We’ll have another journal entry on traffic on Phu Quoc, but for now just note: there are hardly any traffic rules, so keep to the right hand side of the street, and constantly look out for any moving obstacles.

You can also rent bicycles. One hacker already fell off one, riding downhill with the brakes not working properly, though. So be careful on those as well!

Mosquitos

Apart from a low risk of acquiring Malaria from one of them, they’re mostly annoying as hell. But they will only come out in the early evening and morning, so you don’t need to use repellent during the day. Just don’t forget putting it on at about 5pm, and you should be rather safe. Also watch out for the tons of insects in the air, when riding a bike between 5 and 7pm.

Food

Pretty much every guesthouse and resort along the beach has a beach-front restaurant with decent Vietnamese food. You can’t do much wrong there. When you need a change, try one of the many French places, or e.g. German food at German B (check out the map for recommendations and add your own). In the evening, some places on the beach have barbeques with fresh seafood and some chicken and meat. The most extensive seafood menus are offered at the restaurants on the night market in town.

Power

Power outages are a very common occurrence on Phu Quoc (we’ll also have another entry on that topic). Basically the government will shut off different parts of the island every other day for a few hours roughly between 12 and 5pm. A lot of places run generators during the outages, but don’t count on that being the case every time or during the whole outage. John’s Tours on the main street always has a generator running immediately, so that’s a good place to stay online.

Workplaces

Apart from working in your room or on the patio, we can mostly recommend German B to get stuff done. They have fast, reliable wi-fi, power outlets everywhere, and large tables, where you can comfortably hack with a group of people. As already said, when the power is off, John’s Tours is a safe bet to stay online. When you find more good places for groups of hackers, put them on the map!

SIM cards (Update)

All carriers in Vietnam offer some kind of pay-as-you-go plan with 3G access. The easiest way to get one is buying a TouriSIM e.g. at John’s Tours. It comes with English instructions and an English-speaking helpline, that doubles as a mobile tourist info. It’s 200K (~ 7 EUR / 10 USD), and includes a data flat rate.

Viettel (there are rumors it has better 3G) is a bit tougher as there is no English website. Buy a SIM card for 65K VND, add some more money (instructions on the voucher) and get a data package. For 200k VND you get about 3.5 gig traffic a month. SMS exactly “3G ON” to ‘161’. After you’ve loaded up your dong, SMS ‘MI 200’ to ‘191’.

Questions?

We hope this was helpful to some of you. If you think we’ve omitted an important point, let us know in the comments, so we can amend this entry. And now:

Hack the island!