Posted by: fiddlehead | September 17, 2018

Northern Sumatra: After the trek, on to Lake Toba

The jungle trek out of Bukit Lawang and all the orangutan sightings was my main reason for coming to Sumatra.  But I knew that if I had the time, I would also love to drive the rented motorbike down to Lake Toba and see the much talked about beautiful lake.

I headed out in the morning, back to the bad roads and stopping often to check my GPS as the roads are not very big and the way is not always obvious.

Things were going well,  and I was able to get some more cash out of the ATM machine in a good sized town I went through.    I had read that ATM’s were non-existent once you got out of Medan, but I didn’t find this to be the case.   Most all decent sized tons had at least one ATM.

Washing the trucks on Sunday morning.

I was probably 3/4 of the way between Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba when I arrived at a place in the middle of nowhere with many people hanging out.  I had just passed a church letting out.  as it was Sunday morning, and there seemed to be many people turning back.    

A man spoke decent English and told me the road was closed ahead and I couldn’t get through.   He then pointed to a man and said, but if you pay him 200,0000 rupiah  (about $12), he can take your motorbike through.   I tried to ask him why couldn’t I then take my motorbike through, but he wouldn’t answer.
Then another man, who spoke much better English told me that it was impossible to get through and I’d have to go around and we got out our phones to look for the route and he told me to just follow him.
After a km or so, he stopped and told me that that man had been trying to steal my bike!  Also, that we’d be going right past his in-law’s house and I was welcome to join them for lunch……………… I followed.

He stopped at a nice house with a family inside and everyone was so friendly.    Food was brought out as well as drinks and we talked about the route I would have to take and where I was from and all the standard questions: Where are you from? What brings you to Sumatra?  etc.

The food was strange and when I asked what it was, he told me it was meat.    I asked if it was beef, he said no. I asked if it was pork, he said no.  He then told me it was a traditional Sumatra food and was actually dog meat.   I had only tasted a small piece and knew it was something strange.   I didn’t eat anymore.     After pictures, it was time to move on and he told me to make sure I stop at  Berastagi, a town that was a favorite of his and his family.   Turned out traffic was really bad as everyone was heading back to Medan on this Sunday evening and it was getting near sunset when I got to this town.

Way too cold to swim, but the pool looked nice.

I was cold as it was raining slightly and the town is high elevation.  So I headed for the best hotel in town, the Grand Mutiara Berastagi, and got the best room for $40.  (600,000 rupiah).
The staff was so friendly as were all the people that I met.   I checked in and took a long, hot shower as it was the only way to get warm as the room’s were a bit cold and had no heat.     I had a decent meal in the restaurant and I went to bed.

In the morning, after the buffet breakfast of mostly all Asian food (although they did make me 2 fried eggs and had toast), I walked outside and checked out the vast garden area.  Beautiful.    I was really impressed.  Everything looked perfect and I told the gardener I saw.

Continuing south on the bike, I drove through a lot of agriculture and a few small towns.  Once again, the people were so friendly.  If I stopped somewhere, there would always be someone who wanted their picture taken with me. 

It started raining again and I was trying to go around Lake Toba but changed my mind after I stopped for gas and talked to a shop owner there.  This man sold gas, groceries and butchered and de-feathered chickens among other things and was quite friendly.  He had an interesting machine that took off all the feathers in about 30 seconds!

     

I did have a few views of the lake from some of the scenic restaurants along the road.

I turned around and headed to the town of Parapat, on the eastern side of Lake Toba.

I passed many interesting scenic lookout places along the way, on the northern side of the lake. All trying to outdo each other with the different art and platforms along the way.

Finally arriving at Parapat, and went up the hill to a nice hotel with a view.    It was a great one and they even had live music at night.

My room

View from just outside my door

Went out shopping for gifts for my family that night and the shopkeepers drove a hard bargain, but always smiled and asked for the picture after all was said and done and paid for.
Headed back to Medan on a big road the next day and my last full day in Sumatra.   Where did the time go?  Too much of it on the motorbike as I lost a day because of that road closing and too much rain made me change plans.

Kids riding school buses, interesting homes, and stopping to wash my dirty motorbike before returning.

  

Many people use Grab app to book rides and I found it to be very useful when returning the bike and getting to the train station in Medan the next (my last) day.      I must recommend “Transkumedan Terrain Bike Rental” in northwestern Medan.   The owner was great, the bike too, and I had no problems at all with this rental.   It cost about $30 for the week!

In conclusion, I would say Sumatra is 3rd world.  Poor, but happy and very friendly people.
Some things so cheap for us westerners.
But dangerous roads for driving and you never know when one gets closed.
I felt safe walking around Medan at night although I think I was in a decent neigborhood at the Batik hotel.

Thanks for listening.  Do yourself a favor and go to Sumatra. (but maybe don’t rent a motorbike)

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Posted by: fiddlehead | September 15, 2018

Bukit Lawang, Northern Sumatra. Orangutan trekking and more.

Living in Thailand has it’s advantages.  Oftentimes the budget airlines have incredible deals and if you catch them at the right time, you have so many choices for traveling to exotic places.
This time it was Malaysian air with a 45% off sale until the end of August (booking period, not travel period)

For $200, I could fly to KL and then on to Medan, Northern Sumatra and return!     Not bad at all, so I booked my flights as I’ve  never been to Sumatra and understood they have some of the last remaining orangutans there and organized treks to see them in the jungle.

Booked my flights, made arrangements with a company in Medan to rent a motorbike for a week and packed my bags.

When I’m trekking, I normally prefer to go without a guide.  But more and more places in the world are making it mandatory to take one.  I know this helps the local economy and you can learn more about where you are trekking by taking a guide.    But they can be expensive, can rip you off, and you are often with other trekkers who are slow, or not always easy compatible.   I prefer flexible trekking.

I chose to go to Bukit Lawang in Northern Sumatra to start my week long trip and this is one of those places where a guide is mandatory.   Bukit  Lawang is a small village on the eastern edge of Gunung Leuser National Park, and they make the rules.

Northern half of the town of Bukit Lawang, seen from my hotel’s restaurant on the waterfront 

My Hotel in Bukit Lawang @ $9 a night.

When I arrived in town, a met a man (tout I would call him), who told me he has a trekking company and I could pick any one of 12 guesthouses or hotels and the night’s stay would be included in the 1,300,000 rupiah (about $90 USD) for the total trek, which included: accomodation, English speaking guide, all permit fees and registration  all food, including snacks, lunch, dinner for 2 days and camping and the raft trip back to town.
Sounded good to me as this was the aprox price I had found on the internet.

Dedi assured me there would be 2 English speaking guides and that I would join a group the next morning already consisting of 2 Canadians and 2 Germans.

That night in the restaurant, there was a bunch of locals playing guitar and singing many classic hits and quite a repertoire of music.  

In the morning, Dedi came to my room with a young boy (so it seemed, he told me later he was 31 years old, which I find hard to believe)   and told me plans had changed and I would go alone with the new guide, named Indra and sorry but he is just learning English.    I pretty much can go with the flow but the feeling started in me that maybe I was getting ripped off a little.   I said fine and thought we would set off but he said, no, he’ll be back for you at 9 AM.     I went and had breakfast and finished packing and was ready at 9.   He showed up at 10.
OK, local time.  I can understand, living in Thailand, this is how it works sometimes.    The breakfast was great.

And then we set off.

     Although Indra couldn’t speak much English, he seemed a happy camper with smiling and singing along the way.      We passed some other trekkers who also were starting late and soon learned that the jugle was full of groups.   I hadn’t seen many westerners in town but now saw they were here in the jungle.

The path was good.  In fact there were many paths.  I later learned that the whole place was a maze of trails.  Most likely caused by trekkers who had orangutan or other wildlife sightings and moved off in all directions to get closer for their pictures.        And it wasn’t long before we heard some commotion and saw our first group of them.

Wow, I was impressed with their size and how they didn’t seem to care that there were 20 tourists sneaking up close to get their picture.    Didn’t take too long to realize that these weren’t exactly wild animals, but almost seemed to enjoy the picture taking.      I was glad I had my big camera along with it’s great zoom capabilities as I wasn’t happy about getting too close to them.   They were BIG!    Much bigger than I had expected.

We moved on and a short while later, followed another group who had sighted a few Thomas Leaf monkeys.
Now these guys (3 of them) seemed a bit more wild and stayed at a distance.   Now the zoom lens was particularly useful.

   

Throughout the next 2 hours or so, we saw quite a few orangutans.   About 15 in all I’d say and the best was a mother with her baby that seemed to like watermelon rinds.    We stayed in that area and I got lots of good video as well as stills.

This was amazing!    They didn’t seem very afraid of us at all and actually kept coming closer.  We would move back and they were in control of the situation.  Certainly not us!

We said good bye after about 40 minutes of watching each other.  

And a short while later we came across a giant peakcock.   Now I had seen peacocks before but never anything this big.   He (or she?) must have been 10′ long (3 meters) from tip of tail to head, and again, didn’t seem very afraid of us at all.      

We stopped for lunch at a spot with a great view of the river far below.   I didn’t realize at the time that we would soon be descending down steeply to that river.
Once we started our steep descent, holding onto roots and going down backwards for safety, we heard some commotion and the guides were excited as we saw another group of orangutans and this time, one of them was quite young at only about 3 feet tall (one meter).  The guides got excited and said the young ones can be very aggressive.     Sure enough, it started approaching us, maybe looking for food, maybe just to see what we’d do.
Well we tried to get out of there, but there were about  7 of us and the trail was so steep here.   We went down as fast as we could but everytime I looked back, he was closer and then, this guy curled up into a wheel and started rolling down the trail!    That’s when i knew he was just playing with us and it was all fun and games to him, but scary for us.    

Descending as quick as we could, near the bottom, we came to a stream and then a beautiful swimming hole.
I stripped right down and jumped in for a great refreshing cooling off.

Not long after my swim and a few waterfalls on this stream, we came to a camp where the guides were cooking up some dinner.  Indra said we would sleep here tonight………. But:   Lo and behold, who shows up but Dedi!     I couldn’t believe it, but I did believe the next thing out of his mouth:  “There’s been another change in plans and you will have to cross the river and sleep at a camp just on the other side”
I asked if he was to join us and he said, no, I have to go fishing.   And he left.
Indra just smiled and we started our trip up river and our ford.    Well, our ford turned into 8 fords of this river and the river crossings were tough.   Groin deep, slippery rocks, and I tried to do it in my flip flops.  I should have worn my shoes but Indra insisted on carrying them (although he was barefoot and actually slipped once and submerged my shoes anyway!   I laughed.
We kept passing camps and finally got to the last one.   Where they were not expecting us and started yelling at Indra.  I felt bad for him but didn’t know what was going on.  Finally I asked another guide there who did speak English and he told me this was not Dedi’s camp, but we would have to stay there and they would take care of me and feed me but it was not cool because Dedi didn’t pay them to do this.
I felt bad for everyone (except Dedi of course) but must say, these guides are great and do everything to make your trek as enjoyable as possible. 

Indra set us up in one of the plastic coated bamboo huts there and we had a great meal with along with a Danish couple and great conversation about different world travels we each had done.         

Right at dusk, it started to rain.   We went to our tent and got ready for sleeping.  It was then that I noticed Indra had nothing to keep him warm or to sleep in at night.      I had my sleeping pad, sleeping bag, plastic sheet, and long underwear.  I loaned him the long underwear and plastic sheet and he curled up in it and seemed perfectly happy.
One of the guides did show up to give us 2 foam mattresses to go along with the one I always carry, and the tent didn’t leak too bad.

In the morning, the skies had cleared, it was a beautiful day and we had a good breakfast of local Sumatra coffee, banana pancakes and omelettes.      The Danish couple prepared for their raft trip back to town.    

But we decided to go on another trek on the other side of the river where the guides said the animals were much more wild   So I opted to do some more trekking and we set off.   This time, Indra only wore his underwear and no shoes, no shirt.   So, I thought it was going to be easy.   Wrong!      Very steep trail after our ford once again of the big river.   This time I wore my hiking shoes.

We ascended a very steep trail, I couldn’t believe Indra was barefoot.  But everytime I looked, he was smiling and laughing.  One happy guide, that’s for sure.    Once we heard what may have been a tiger.   I don’t know if the guide was joking or not, but the smile vanished from Indra for once.      Then they pointed out an amazing bug on a tree.

  I found out later it is called an orange tipped lantern fly and is found in a few different countries in SE Asia including Thailand although I’ve never seen one before.

Fascinating colors.    it was a stenous hike and my shoulders are still sore from the descent where we had to go down backwards and grab roots to hold on.

Finally back at camp, they were getting the raft rig ready for our one hour long float (with rapids) back to town.

It started to rain a bit on the way down but the guides were very good at steering this rig through rapids with their long poles, although the guy in the front broke his.   Indra gladly gave up his as he was on a single tube behind us.
All is all, the trek was great.   I really can’t complain and I got to experience what I came for: Some adventure and hopefully a picture of an orangutan  (which I got more than I had ever hoped for)
I wish I could remember the name of the hotel and restaurant that I stayed at in town, on the river because their food was so good and they were all so friendly.        Next:  I continued the trip to Lake Toba by motorbike and that is another story, so………….stay tuned!    Story and travels continued here. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: fiddlehead | August 19, 2018

Wuling Sixiu Mountain trekking trip

 

I’ve wanted to visit Taiwan ever since one of my good friends told me that it was her favorite place in Asia.
And I like new and exciting places to hike.
So, after some research, I planned to hike the Sixiu (4 mountains) of Wuling farm fame.
Wuling farm is a jump off point with lots of options for staying the first night.

I have a good friend from Tiawan and although she is not a hiker, I found out her brother is.
When I contacted him about a possible hiking trip in late July, her replied that he and his 4 friends were indeed going to hike the very same area.    Luckily for me, he invited me to join them.

So I booked my flights for a 10 day trip and got my pack in order.   Arriving in Taipei on July 30th, I was a bit shocked at how hot it was.  38 deg C. That’s hot!      And I had already marked on my Google map about a hiking trail just outside of the city limits, to the north, in Yangmingshen National Park and it’s high peak. Mt Qixing at 1120 meters.
I thought: well that should be a little cooler up there so, on my first day, I trekked up there.
The first thing I noticed was how many people were also on the hike, even though it was a weekday.  And then, how friendly they all were.    Most everyone spoke some English, which was great as I only knew 3 or 4 words in Chinese.  But of course had my Google translate ready.
Hiked up most of the way with some guys who were the same age as me, and found out they do this weekly and are in great shape.   Because it was hard!     I was beginning to get a little worried about the main trek I came here for, which was 3 times higher than this lung buster.     

Near the top, the flora changed from the coniferous trees we’d been hiking through, to a grasslike, head high, bamboo that made it an “above tree line” feel.    Reading the signs I learned that this plant, which is related to the bamboo species, is normally at a much higher elevation, but because of the frequent typhoons that Taipei experiences, it grows here.     

   At the top of Mt. Qixing, things were definitely a lot cooler with a nice breeze blowing.   Good place to be, and there were quite a few others up here at the same time.
After eating my lunch, I decided to go down the back way (north) to see the thermal activity that was mentioned at the visitors center.     The sulfur smell gave it away and sure enough, I was reminded of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and there was smoke coming out of the ground in many places.

Took the shuttle bus back to where I started and got the city bus back to Main Station in central Taipei.   On the way, I saw a backpacking store were I bought fuel for the big hike, that would start in 2 days.
After all the training and hiking I do, I was surprised to be a little sore the next day, so, glad I gave myself a cushion day.

The big day finally arrived and I met up with Dennis, Frankie and Sophia at the agreed MRT station exit.   They all spoke some English but Sophie had studied at Pitt University in Pennsylvania (my home state) so, she understood everything I asked about and explained things so well.

On the map, Shei Pa National Park (Wuling farm) is only 50 kms from Taipei Main Station.   It took us 5 hours to drive there!    Between the heavy traffic, (it was a Friday) and the very windy roads, it was a much longer than expected drive.   And we stopped to eat and shop for last minute food supplies for the hike (2 or 3 times LOL)     It was a bit of a standing joke that this would be the last stop.

This was dessert at one of our food stops.

For our first night, we checked in at the campground and booked the provided tent setup.   Picnic table and water source (and all night streetlight) were conveniently located right in front of our 3 tents.

With a view of the mountains we would climb visible to the north.

In the morning, we met 2 more of our party who arrived late at night.

After a big breakfast and one more trip to the store (again: “Last stop for supplies”), we were finally ready to hike.

The hike starts where you cross a bridge and follows the big, concrete trail/road that goes to Taoshan falls.  But after about 30 minutes, we veered off on a real hiking trail.   It was a bit rugged right from the start although I didn’t know it at the time, it would get a lot more rugged later on.   And that’s the way I like it!

The start

The first hour of the trek is to follow the well used, wide concrete road towards Taoshan falls.   Lots of day hikers and kids on here and very easy.    But then, as soon as you branch off to the west, on trail, you quickly find out that it is going to be more of what you expected: rugged, little maintained trail through mostly conifer forests.     The trail soon got steeper, and rockier.          Luckily, one of our group was a farmer and knew a lot about botany and plant life.  Having been a logger myself, back in the old days (’70’s), I knew a bit about the trees.  Enough to know that the firs and hemlocks and pines looked a lot like the ones back in the USA.

Here’s one that our botanist told us was 600 years old.   

And the famous one in pictures, that is approximately 1000 years old.

   Of course we stopped for a while and took tons of pictures with this one.

We were getting close to our destination for the night:  Xinda Hut, we were told it was full and even the tent sites were taken, so we looked for, and found a nice grassy area about 300 meters before the hut.   We did have to go up to the hut for water and saw all the people there.  (maybe 60?).

   

Although they had a much better view than us, I was happy to camp with our group and getting to know each of them much better.   They brought out the cooking gear and food bags, and man, it was a lot.  They even had a cooking tent (tarp really, but wow, they carry a lot).     

We had heavy dew the next morning and our tents were soaked.   So, we decided to go climb Pintian shan or peak and then come back to packup.    I said: “seems to me from what I read, this is the hardest of the 4 peaks” .   “Yes” they said and I was excited to try these tricky ledges and steep rocks.

So off we went for our first (and hardest) peak of the Sixiu.

 

Looking back towards camp and the mountain range to the south.

Sure enough, it was getting pretty scary.  Especially the ropes that others had tied in to make it easier.   But………

   

Well, some of the ropes were very handy.  Others?   Should I trust the ropes?  Or the rocks?      

Having done some rock climbing in Thailand, I often chose the rocks.

Looking ahead, we saw some people coming down from the peak.   

But, finally we made it.   And WOW! It was great.   Great views, we had the summit to ourselves and there were lots of photo ops.

 

The awesome group I was with carried a can of coke up the peaks to celebrate.   I really have to give them a lot of credit as this trail was tough.  One slip could mean……….well, let’s just say I was glad for my lightweight and small pack.  There’s wasn’t.    But they never stopped smiling and enjoying it as much as I was.

Back down the mountain (just as hard on this terrain as going up, and finally lunch in the same spot as breakfast.  We packed up our now dry tents and continued on to the next peak: Chiyoushan

We were told there were 2 ways to go up this peak, a hard way and an easy way.   We told the volunteer ranger that we would take the easy way, but when we figured out the hard way was more direct, and we already had Pintian under our belt, we headed up the direct steep route.   Too bad it was raining at this point and our views were only of ourselves doing the coke and summit pictures again.

   But the trail wasn’t getting any easier.  More ropes, more steep, and slippery trail, and now were were racing the clock to get to the next shelter or hut before dark.    But there were at least a dozen places where we had to use the ropes and it was really treacherous.   For one thing, it was raining, then we had just climbed 2 of the 4 peaks, and now the trail was getting harder and harder as it was going almost straight up a knife edge ridge.

  

Finally we made it.  The last km had signs every 100 meters although they didn’t seem that close.   And there was only a few people in the hut.     But first, it was just about time for sunset and the Taoshan peak was only another 200 meters (so the sign said) so, the guys all hurried up there to catch the sunset.  The girls stayed at the hut and I must say, their pictures were just as good as ours.   But we all got some good ones.

 

Back to camp and a late dinner and good sleep as THAT was a good day trekking.

In the morning, we headed back up for sunrise although I was a little late because I slept in a bit.
Then breakfast, and THEN back up again, as our trail would take us over Taoshan mountain to go down.

So, more pictures each time of course.

    

Now, for our last steep and long downhill.  A 1400 meter descent    (4500′)  But a beautiful one, as we were above the fluffy white clouds.    Wildflowers were in abundance and the trail was great although we still had a few spots where ropes were installed to help.

 

We had good views of Wuling Farm in the valley below from time to time.       

   

Thanks so much to a great group of new hiking friends for me: Sophia, Frankie, Dennis, Strong (and he is) and JayCee

In closing, I have to add one more thing: On the way home, we stopped at an amazing hotpot restaurant and had a really BIG meal.   I couldn’t have eaten it without the fork they graciously found for me in the kitchen as I was having a bit of trouble keeping up with the chopsticks!

 

(and that’s only my portion!)

Plus AYCE ice cream too!

 

 

 

 

Posted by: fiddlehead | July 29, 2018

Hill Tribe Homestay trek, Sapa Vietnam

When you first start researching Sapa, a touristy town in the hills of northern Vietnam, most of the people who travel there are backpackers who do the “Homestay’ trek with the Hill tribe people.
There are 4 or 5 different hill tribes in the area.

I have been fascinated with the Hmong people ever since I read a book called “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman.
Reading this book, I learned that the Hmong people were originally nomads, mostly around southern China, Laos, and the rest of Indochina.   They have no written language but a strong culture.
I highly recommend reading this book if you want to learn more about them.

So, out of all the hill tribes there, I knew if I was going to do one of these “Homestay treks”, I would try to do it with one of them.
My real goal was climbing Fanispan and when I booked my guide, coming out of the office, a woman, dressed in hill tribe attire, approached me about a trek.
I said, maybe when I finish the climb up the highest mountain in Indochina (Fanispan).   She said “take my phone number for when you get back”    You can read the story about my climb here.  (it rained a lot!)

After I got back, I did call Ze and said I’d like to do a trek to her village the next day.
We agreed to meet at 10 AM at the big church next to the village square (well it’s round, but in the center of town and where the buses drop you off)

She showed up right on town and we headed right out.    First 15 minutes was walking through town through a section I hadn’t been to before.    Past some people making boards with a chain saw and then she stopped to explain to me, and show me a family soaking material (found out later it was hemp) in barrels full of water and leaves.     The plant was indigo and it is what gave them the color of their clothes.            

After the 2 days of pouring down rain that we just had, we quickly found out that the trail through the terraced rice paddies was very muddy and the running shoes that did me so well on the wet rocks of the big mountain, well, they were useless here as they slipped on this mud so bad that I could barely stand up!

Not 10 minutes into the traverse through some paddies, and falling too many times, we spotted some kids who had bamboo sticks for support.   She interpreted for me and we waited while the biggest kid (10 years old?), went out with his machete and cut me two poles.   I paid him a little over a dollar for both of them and now, I had crutches.   Badly needed crutches too.     

A few others had passed us while we waited and it didn’t take long to see which people had knobby soles and which had ones like mine.     Many people were falling and being helped down the mud track.

But the terraced rice paddies and indigo and corn fields were everywhere and very well maintained.  (much better than the path, 

Up and down the path went and we struggled and laughed and cleaned our shoes in mud puddles and got to know a few of the other trekkers.   All were guided by women, mostly Hmong women, and all of them were in their traditional hemp, indigo clothes.   

Eventually after about 3 hours, we reached a village at the lowest elevation of the trek, along a big river.  There were many restaurants to choose from and kids and women always trying to sell you their handmade purses, belts, hats, etc.          She chose the one and I ordered from the menu: spring rolls, stir fried tofu,salad, some cabbage soup and of course: rice.  Lots of rice.    They only eat with chopsticks, even the soup,, so it took me a while to eat. 

We continued on and there were waterfalls now coming down the mountain and draining in the big river.  These waterfalls were crossing the (now) concrete road every few hundred meters and some seemed dangerous as it was a steep cliff on the other side.   

Eventually, we got to her village, and she stopped to buy some bananas at her local shop (found out later, it was her sister’s shop) and we climbed up some steep steps, through small alleys between houses perched on the hill, until finally she said: “We’re home, this is my house”   
She introduced me to her husband and son and then told me a story about her daughter who had a breakdown and couldn’t talk and had to be spoon fed.  It reminded me so much of the girl in the book I mentioned who was an epileptic.      The girl did come out and smile but went back to bed.
The house was big, very clean and she showed me where I would be sleeping in the loft.

I had about an hour or two before dinner so walked around the small village a bit.
Almost every house had a pig or two.  Some had water buffaloes,  All had chickens and a few plants.    
I ran into some other trekkers who were staying in the house next door and we discussed how we were amazed that these people seemed so happy with nothing but basic needs:  A fire pit in the kitchen where the smoke just rises into and through the ceiling.  I had seen this many times in Nepal and Indonesia, but never this clean.
I helped cook a bit as I brought out my backpacking stove to make some tea.  Figured I’d be helping them save some firewood but actually, they had a system that was so efficient and the water was put on the fire whenever they could.    Real pros at cooking over a fire for sure!    

That evening, when it was time to eat, her sister came over and sat down to have some tea and talk.  All the time she was sitting there she was fastening strands of flattened hemp together and winding it around her hand.
I had seen many of the steps in the hemp fabric making at Cat Cat village tourist center a few days before, but, here was the real thing going on.

We talked about many things relating to their culture that I remembered from the book and asked about. Good conversation with intelligent people, living a simple life.   Even though they had electricity, they only seemed to use it for lights and charges for their phones.   I didn’t even see a rice cooker!

The next day, after a good night’s sleep in the loft and a big breakfast of eggs and rice and s  
And I saw a few more of the steps in turning of the hemp into their traditional clothes.

On a woman’s back porch, I saw her doing the flattening stage of the stalks where they roll a log over them with a board on top, not unlike a see saw.

And then an older woman, again in her backyard, converting 4 balls of the tied thread onto spools for the loom with a rocking motion on a strange contraption.   

So much of their time and work to make the clothes they wore, all my hand.  No electricity used, no machines, except ancient ones made out of wood and bamboo.

I enjoyed this trek, probably more so even than my climbing of Fansipan a few days before, even though the high peak was my goal on this trip.
I had a thought of bringing my family with me next time and so, did a video chat with my wife when we walked past a grocery store selling fresh veggies etc.   She said: Oh yeah, I could eat that.    So……….maybe I’ll be back next year with my wife and son.

ps.  And the road construction signs can be funny:    

Posted by: fiddlehead | June 30, 2018

Trekking to the “Roof of Indochina”: Mt. Fansipan

At 3,143 metres (10,312 ft), Fansipan peak is the highest point in Indochina.   That means Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

I don’t know why, but figured this would be an easy hike for me to get my climbing muscles back in shape for an upcoming hike in Taiwan.    Well, now I’m worried because this hike to Fansipan peak was anything but Easy!

Of course, the 2 day downpour we had while on the trek didn’t help.

So, flights are cheap in Asia and the 1 1/2 hour flight from Bangkok to Hanoi was only a little over $100.

Arrived in the morning and took the airport bus to the middle of the “Old Quarter”.   Following our route on my Google maps, I was able to be dropped off 2 blocks from the hotel I had picked.

The Kangaroo hostel is really a hotel and it was only $15.   I had a front room, street view and OK room.  Staff was totally friendly and helpful and I enjoyed my stay there.  Although I must say, Hanoi is not my favorite town.
I’m a walker and the Vietnamese use the sidewalks to park their motorbikes and run their little tea shops and restaurants.
So, you walk in the streets, where everyone loves to use their horns to let you know they are there.   Loud and dangerous.  And hot.

While in the capitol city of Hanoi, I did go to two tourist sites that had been recommended: The Military museum and Ho Chi Minh’s resting place, or mausoleum.    Now, back in the early ’90’s, when I travel led through Russia and China, I saw both Lenin and Mao Tse Tung’s bodies, lying in their deteriorating states in their perspective capitols.   I was expecting to see the same of Ho Chi Minh here, but no!    You are not even allowed near the door here and the guards are right on you if you venture across a particular yellow line.  

An American plane that was shot down.

 

The war museum was a little cooler and I checked it out, expecting to see it all about the “American War” in which I had many friends who fought in it. (the Vietnam war of course to us).  Yes, the Vietnamese call it the American War.     But the museum also has some ancient weapons and is slightly interesting if war is your thing.

Ancient bow that shoots 5 arrows at once.

It was wicked hot while I was there and after a day, I booked the night, sleeper train (through the great hotel staff) to Lao Cai and the touristy, hill tribe town of Sapa.

I hadn’t been on a sleeper train in a long time and reviews said it was a bumpy ride.  4 people to a compartment in 2 bunks.  I had chose the upper bunk to see more of the countryside while it was still light out. This was a mistake.  First of all, it was not light out except for about 40 minutes in the early morning before our arrival.   And the window was too short to see from the top.     
Luckily the guy below me allowed me to sit on his bed once we were all awake in the morning.
The other bunk was occupied by 2 girls from Harvard, seeing the world on their break from school.

I must say the berth was clean and they strive to make it appear luxurious.

You arrive in the town of Lao Cai around 6 AM and then must take a bus or mini-van up to Sapa. The road is very steep, and winding.   I got in with an almost full mini-bus in the back seat with a 4 person Vietnamese family.   The little girl got car sick about half way up the road but they were prepared and had a bag for her to throw up in     I actually felt a little queasy myself as the road was so full of turns as we climbed up to Sapa.

Arriving in the town square around 8 am, I knew it was too early to look for a hotel, so I immediately started trekking.  Using a map and Google maps, I just started walking down a steep street and road towards a place called “Cat Cat Village”

It was a fairly steep concrete road down, I hit a muddy patch and fell right down on my butt.   OK, it’s slippery. Near the bottom of the descent was a booth where they collect a fee ( a few dollars) for the eco-village.

 

After this the road turned into a path where 2 older men were busking.  One with a 2 string violin and one with a flute.  Years ago, I bought one of these 2 string Chinese violins but had difficulty playing it.  So i sat down next to him and asked him if I could try.   He handed it to me and then corrected me on my technique.   Not an easy instrument to play.

 

Continuing down, I reached the river at the bottom where there was a lot going on.  Flower gardens, reconstructed bamboo buildings displaying the hill tribes art, apparel, wind-chimes, etc.

In the river were a few bamboo ferris wheels which turned out to be water wheels and they were building another.

I was quite fascinated with the construction, so sat down with a cup of their herbal tea (not so good taste wise) and watched for a while.  Obviously these guys had done this before and the building of the bamboo waterwheel was interesting.

I then went over to the waterfall viewing point and then the music hall.

  

Where traditional hill tribe dance was going on.   Very interesting.

I made my way back out of the village and started walking up the steep hill when a swarm of motorcycle taxi guys started gathering to take me back up.   I said, no I’ll OK to walk back up.   Well, they thought this unheard of and one was persistent and followed me about 1/3 of the way back when finally (started to rain again) I obliged and paid him the $2 to take me back up to Sapa.
Since it was now mid-afternoon, I looked for a room and the first one I went into was $15 and had a great view and seemed brand new with modern conveniences.    The Hotel Mimosa.    I took it.

View from my room

Soon it was time to eat, so I went in search of food and found this great little restaurant that I ended up using 4 or 5 times in the next few days.   They specialized in shish ke-bobs  of many different types and you just pointed and said how many sticks you want and they barbecued them up on their charcoal grill.     The menu was interesting though and I took a picture of the one page that fascinated me a bit as I traveled a lot in Croatia and Bosnia and Montenegro last summer and saw many people raising horses but never saw them being used for anything.   So I wondered………………..

    A woman sitting at the next table recommended the steamed or raw but warned me to stay away from the Hot Pot.   I passed and took the pork shish kebob instead.

My preferred method of trekking is to go by myself, or with friends WITHOUT a guide.
However, this is not legal in this area and you must use a licenced guide when climbing Mt. Fanispan.

So, after inquiring at the Tourist Information center, I found Viet Discovery Travel and went to their office.

They explained things to me and that food and shelter would be provided and set me up with a guide for the following morning at 8 AM at the office.   So the next day, I met my 2 hiking companions: Tom and Long from Hai Phong city as well as our guide, De.  (means “goat” in English)   All were 26 years old and looked quite fit and strong.   I was glad the group was small and that there were no old or fat people involved.   (except me being by far the oldest at 67!)

A taxi was waiting for us outside and after getting our gloves and water bottles (4 litres!  Ouch, that’s heavy, I took one and drank one there)

The ride to the ranger station and start of the hike was about 45 minutes.   It rained all the way there.

 

After checking in with the ranger our guide said: let’s go, and so we set off, into the storm and the trail started with a downhill!     Elevation was 1953 meters or 6400 feet at the start.    The top was supposedly 3143 meters or 10,311 feet, so I knew we had a tough uphill as 4,000 feet is a tough climb.  1,000 feet gets my attention!

The rain didn’t let up as we crossed bridges and climbed up metal steps and well built trail with huge rocks.                

By lunch time, I was draggin butt.  Trying to keep up with the youngsters was taxing me and I knew better.
I needed to slow down.  The boys were kind enough to wait as long as I wanted, whenever I wanted, but I tried to keep breaks short and the rain was still falling too hard to really take a sit down break.
Until about noon when we got to the 1st shelter, where we went inside while our guide went in another building to cook lunch.   Very nice inside these A-frame buildings with clean, wooden floors.

       Brunch turned out to be quite the meal with hard boiled eggs, chicken and (always) rice.

Sticky rice in 3 different colors.

For utensils, only chopsticks of course as that’s all they eat with.    I had brought a spoon along but didn’t break it out (yet) as I could do this.

The rain didn’t let up and I don’t have any pictures of the rest of that climb that 1st day because my phone wouldn’t open with my wet fingers.       But, we climbed and climbed, and the rain got harder and harder.
Finally about 4 pm, we got to our destination for the day and a group of more of these huge huts.   These were not A-frames, but more conventional roof styles that all seemed to leak pretty bad in the heavy rain.   Inside was a hill tribe woman who was the cook and apparently care-taker of these buildings but the place was wet and leaking water everywhere.  So, she sort of gave up on the maintenance.   There were plastic bags tied in the ceilings to catch the leaky rainwater, but they couldn’t keep up either.
Luckily we were the first group there as there was one room that was fairly dry>   We took it!

An hour or so later, a group of 7 came in. They were quite loud and probably complaining about the wetness as they had to end up taking a room that was soaked.  I felt bad for them and knew they’d have a rough night if the rain didn’t stop.  (it didn’t)

The guide threw us 2 sleeping bags each, but they were damp, thin, well used camouflaged sleeping bags that i ended up using for a mattress and a pillow as I had brought my own (my pack was definitely the biggest in the group and now, I was finally glad for that)

I slept pretty good considering the heavy downpour on the tin roof. It was loud. It poured all night long.
Our alarms went off at 4:30 AM as we were expecting a 5 AM start (first light)

But De,  our guide,  came in and said we must wait as there was too much water in the trail.   We waited until almost 6 and then set off in the rain.
Within 5 minutes, we were crossing what normally is a small creek, but now a roaring one, right above a 30′ waterfall!    This was a bit scary and I think our guide was perhaps testing our will there to see if we hesitated.  We did NOT!.   We were game for this ascent and we ended up going up many steep places where the water was pouring down from the sky AND from the trail above.   I called it: “At one with the Waterfalls”

Sure enough, it didn’t let up.  But finally we reached an area where we could see huge statues in the fog and even some motionless cable cars above (they didn’t start operation until around 9 AM)

Unfortunately, my phone wasn’t working for pictures in this heavy rain, so I can’ show you but we finally got to the last 100 meters which was built with huge, wide marble steps going up to the top.

  

It was amazing what they had built up here.  Statues, pagodas, marble steps and shelters and a huge building that housed a restaurant and the top of the cable car area.      We hung around enjoying the non-rainy area a few minutes but, even inside it was cold standing around in our wet clothes.   So, we headed back into the rain and started the descent.        There were a few amazing scenes on the way down when the fog would clear slightly and we would be rewarded with sights of many many waterfalls coming out of every mountain around us.     I had to try the camera again although it was risky exposing it to the heavy rain.

The rain continued but our hiking (running) shoes did well on the bare rock and no one fell although the quads were burning as we made it down by about 3 PM.

Our guide called a taxi from about 30 minutes out and he was waiting for us.
But first we needed the picture in the ranger station in front of the “Official” Sign:

Glenn, Tom, Long and De.

In retrospect, I didn’t mind the rain as it kept us cool.   I learned to hike and enjoy it many years ago in rain.
Unfortunately, the bad part of it was the lack of great views.   We did see a few but mostly it was foggy.
I learned a bit about staying dry.  When it’s THAT wet, the plastic ponchos that you see all over Asia are what probably works best.
They don’t breathe, but they keep out the rain.
And we had lots of it.
Thanks to De, our guide and it was a pleasure meeting and hiking with  both Tom and Long, my hiking partners.

 

Stay tuned for the next trek I did out of Sapa as I will write about my Black Hmong Homestay trek that I started the following day.

Posted by: fiddlehead | April 27, 2018

Hiking in Tasmania: Walls of Jerusalem National Park

View from Mount Jerusalem

Friends of ours moved to Tasmania about 2 years ago and invited my family to come for a visit.
I was always fascinated with “Tassie” and it has been on my bucket list for some time.  So I immediately started research hiking in Tasmania and was at first drawn to the southern coast and the Western Arthur Way traverse.
But it is quite extreme and definitely not recommended alone, so I asked my buddy Ray (who I did the trek last summer in Eastern Europe) if he was interested.
Turns out he already had plans for that time, so I was on my own.

Next best trek, looked like Cradle Mountain and the Overland track.    But after some time on Google, I find that permits are needed and it is limited to 40 per day.   I emailed the park headquarters to find out that the month of April is quite popular and it was close to full but a few openings were left.
That trek is a hut system with 40-50 people capacity huts with bunks.
40-50 people per day fits my style of hiking and waiting for those in front of you on a hike is not my thing.  I know in this day and age, as hiking becomes more popular, it is happening more and more, but there are still trails out there that are more remote, and they are more my style.

So I looked further and found the Walls of Jerusalem hike.   The whole  National Park is in a wilderness area and there is not one road in the park.   Only trails and off-track hiking.   Perfect!

So, I ordered the maps, made arrangements with my friends in Port Sorell to drop me off and take care of my son while I went hiking for a few days, and started packing.

Peter and my son, Simon, dropped me off after a nice meal in a little mining town called “Mole Creek” where we ate lamb pies.  They were so good, we had seconds.        .

It was a cool little town and about what I had expected most of Tasmania to be like.   The bar was even complete with 3 or 4 old timers drinking beer in the early afternoon.    

But time to hike and it was going to get dark in about 4 more hours so, we moved out and another 45 minute drive with the roads getting worse and worse until we feared for the undercarriage of their little car.    Just as we were about to back down and I walk the last km, we saw some cars ahead and sure enough, the end of the road and car park.        

We said our goodbyes and made arrangements for pickup in 3 1/2 days and I headed up the mountain with only 1 1/2 hours of daylight left.

Just out of sight of the carpark was a small shed with a book to register and describe your hike.  Also, at this point was a contraption to disinfect your shoes.   You put your feet inside and pushed a button and some kind of spray supposedly killed all germs from your hiking shoes.   OK.

I had an hour and half to climb 500 meters  higher  to my (hopeful) first campsite at “Wild Dog Creek”.   I felt very happy to be in the forest and it was a lot of old growth and natural environment.    I would have liked to slow down a bit and study the different kinds of trees and plants but had to move.
I met 3 different groups who were coming down.    All had been out only for the one day and it was a long day as they all had climbed as least one of the mountains or “walls”.    Everyone was in their 20’s or early 30’s and ranged from France, Germany, Israel, and Chile.   Wow!  Quite an assortment and as I saw only 5 or 6 cars in the parking lot, I figured I’d have the wilderness are to myself.
A few of them told me I was on the hardest part of the trail as far as a steep and rocky climb.    Great.   I was enjoying the climb and didn’t think it too bad.      Just before a junction in the trail, I came upon “Trappers Hut”

 

       

This was an 80 year old hut, (actually rebuilt in the 60’s using the same, natural woods and techniques) built by possum trappers in the day when the fur brought a huge price in the fashion world.

Moving up, I watched the sunset from the trail as I still had 1 or 2 kms to go.

 

 

 

 

I heard the running water before I saw the “Wild Dog Creek”.   

It was in the middle of a prairie and running strong. So, I filled my water bottles here before I found the tent platforms a few hundred meters further.   It was good I did as the darkness was coming on fast and I had to set up my tent and cook dinner yet.
This campsite had 3 rows of tent platforms that were quite luxurious compared to ones I had camped on back in the states.   Huge with a great view, and cables to hook up your non-freestanding tents.  (mine).

Next morning

After dinner of elk meat (I dried some ground elk that my brother had shot 6 months earlier and mixed it with noodles with cheese), although it was only 6:30 PM, it was dark and after sitting for a half hour or so, I climbed into the bag and looked at the map a bit before deciding that it was too cold for my body as I live in Thailand where the average temps this time of year are in the 90’s F or 35 C.     But here it was probably in the low 40’s F or 5-7 C.

So I fired up the stove again and heated a one litre water bottle that I put my gloves around and threw in the bag to warm it up.     Ah warmth.  That’s good.   So I fell asleep about 7 PM!

About 1 or 1:30 in the morning, I was woken up by something on my back.   Woah!   WTF?    I shook it off and grabbed for my light.    Looked like a dog or coyote sneaking away.
Now my tent is a tarp tent and although I can batten it down pretty low to the ground, it has no floor and critters can get in.    But a critter that big?  That’s scary.      The fucker was on my back no less!
Needless to say, it was a long night as he kept trying to get to my food bag inside my tent.   

I didn’t find out until the next day what he was when I met some local hikers.    A bush-tailed possum.    Very sneaky and only looking for food but they have sharp claws and you wouldn’t want to get in a fight with one.   I did manage to get this bad picture of him in the next few hours as we played cat and mouse all night.    (I was the mouse I think)

Finally, the night was over and of course, no sign of the beast.
A slight drizzle was falling while I packed up.
There are real toilets on the top level of the tent platforms and after stopping there,  I headed up some more to the beautiful plateau.
I learned a long time ago to enjoy hiking in the rain.  As long as I can stay (somewhat) dry.
But I soon learned that my 20 year old Frogg Toggs were leaking a bit at both sleeves below the elbow.  Not a big deal, but made for cold hands.
About an hour after leaving camp, I saw a beautiful grove of cedar trees off the right and went over to get some water and check it out.
Wow, what a nice campsite.  

Soon after, I kicked out a flock of about 10 green and grey parrots.   Someone told me later they were called Rosellas.

I passed a 4 way junction in the trail that I would end up coming back to the next day.   It lead to Soloman’s Throne to the right (east) and The Temple to the west.     I went straight as the rain was picking up.

Not much further at all, I came upon Dixon’s Kingdom and the cabin there.    

Once again, this was an old trappers cabin reconstructed this time by a movie company that did a scene there.  It was actually doubled in size for the movie.

There were 4 or 5 guys there, packing up in the rain and now the wind was getting stronger also.    I was going to wait it out, but they were heading out.   The time was into the early afternoon by now and I was hungry, so it was an easy decision.     We talked a bit, but they seemed in a hurry.
They told me they were going “off track” and heading south on a dotted route on the map that said “faint trail, bush walk” or something like that.

They had big tents, big boots, heavy gore tex and of course: big packs.  And a big group so I’m sure they were going to be OK.    I’ll also say that they were the only hikers I saw in the 3 1/2 days of my hike who were using trekking poles.
They headed out into the driving rain and I headed into the cabin for lunch.                      

If you look closely at the last picture, there is a Wallaby eating lichen off of the rocks in the background.
The animals in this park didn’t seem very afraid at all of humans.  Not a natural thing IMO and probably the reason the possums are so brazen.

The rain didn’t let up and an hour or two later, 2 more hikers came in.  Again, they had big gear, big packs.  They hung some things up and headed back out.   I guess when you are from Tasmania (these are the first hikers I saw from Tassie), you don’t mind the rain as the weather is harsh and they say it changes quickly.

I stayed inside and when they came back, they told me they climbed the “Temple” but it was completely socked in.
They set up their big tent outside but I stayed in with the mice and ready with some rocks as the cabin logbook said the possums get in through the gap in the top of the door.   I balanced some rocks up there so they would wake me up and settled in, again heating up the hot water bottle.

This turned out to be a stuffed toy, but it scared me a bit.

One did come in in the middle of the night but left when I threw a rock at it.   I watched him squeeze through the crack and went back to sleep.
I woke up to a beautiful morning and got packed and ready before sunrise.    2 more hikers had come in in the night and set up another big tent behind the cabin.    After hiking in the USA and the big 3 trails there (triple crown), I wasn’t use to seeing such big, 4 season tents on the trail.    These things can weigh 4 kgs and my tent is about 400 grams, but then, they didn’t have to worry about critters getting inside, so, maybe it’s best to have heavier gear when hiking where the wild animals aren’t so wild.    I do trust my tent in the rain and have been in it through many a rainstorm (and snow) before.

OK, the hike up to Mount Jerusalem was really awesome, watching the sunrise and seeing the clouds below in the valleys.

Passing many small lakes on the way up, it was beautiful hiking.

Reaching the summit was also great although peak bagging is usually not my thing.  I’d rather be climbing or traversing than sitting at the top where the wind is strong and the temps the coldest.   But I had phone signal up there, so called a few people to show them the view with Messenger and WhatsApp.

On my way down, the 2 Taz hikers were coming up and they then showed me the mountain they had climbed the day before (the “Temple”) and how close it was to camp.
So, when I got back, I backtracked to the junction I mentioned from yesterday and turned east to climb the one that looked awesome: “Soloman’s Throne”

And it was!   You hike up one of the chutes (3rd one) after going up the rock scree, and it is steep, narrow and really great, with amazing trail work and steps in the rocks to make it so much safer.

The view from the top was pretty good too and from here, you could see the trail a long way below you as it was mostly in meadows.   From here, I called my wife in northern Thailand to show her the great mountain I was on.

 

 

Heading down, the chute was a little bit scary as it was so steep and going down is always more dangerous than going up.     Awesome climb and descent and I felt (and still do) that it was the highlight of this 3 1/2 day hike.

 

 

 

 

Back to Dixon’s Kingdom again, where the other two hiker/campers were now finally getting ready to head out.
I called them the “crack of noon” hikers, as to me, it was now lunchtime.

So now, I decided to head south and follow the guys who left in the heavy rain the day before.
I had a much nicer day with almost cloudless skies and followed their footprints as this was the unmarked trail and today the meadow was a bit of a swamp!

Wet feet but gorgeous day otherwise and I loved the route finding challenges although I basically just had to head south and sometimes found footprints.    

Not always human footprints

After only about an hour, I came to a beautiful lake, Lake Ball with beautiful views looking back.

Then back through some scrub brush, turning into old growth forest and lots of flora around.

And then another cabin.  This one built by “Boy” Ball, a World War II prisoner of war, who was on the Burmese death camps and helped build the “Bridge over the River Kwai”.   Once he returned from the war, some said he was never right, and he preferred to live up here in nature and roamed and trapped these lands for many years.

Then a big descent down to “Adelaide Lake” and a turning point for me as I would now head north to complete my circle.   Had a big lunch at the “Adelaide camp” and then started the ascent back up to the junction I passed on day 1.

     

Inside of Trapper Hut

Back to “Trappers Hut” for the night.  This is the same hut that’s about an hours hike from the carpark and since my friends were picking me up at 9 AM, and I didn’t want to wake up with an animal on my back again, I slept here for the night.

Once again, it was an eventful night.  (as they all were on this short trip).
The door locked tight, the bed in the cabin was quite comfortable and I heated up  my water bottle again.
A few hours after I fell asleep, I was woken by water dripping all over me and my bag.
The old, cedar roof leaked like a sieve!

Everywhere!

Except right in front of the door.
So, that’s where I slept, covering my bag with the plastic groundcloth I carry, and all was good again.
Until I woke up cold at 4 AM and had to reheat the water bottle. (remember, I’m used to Thailand’s temps!)

But, my fuel bottle ran out.  NO more heat. No coffee in the morning!   Ouch.
All right, it’s better than being woken up by a possum on your back, and it wasn’t long until dawn, and eating the rest of my cookies and headed down.
My friend was early, had the car heater turned to 25C.  (I was used to about 25F by now) and had homeade tomato soup, strong black coffee, and sandwiches waiting for me.
What a great friend. Thank you Peter.

I highly recommend this trip if you like less people, some real wilderness, and beautiful mountains with awesome views!

But I would highly recommend a closed tent! (and lots of fuel)   LOL!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: fiddlehead | February 24, 2018

Via Dinarica White Trail Part 3: Montenegro & Albania

 

 

This is the 3rd and final entry on Glenn and Ray’s thru-hike of the Via Dinarica White Trail 2017.   Started in Predjama, Slovenia July 3rd.     And finished…………well, read on.

Montenegro    August 13/2017  We entered Montenegro, according to the GPS, in a low point, mixed forest and meadow,  and then came to a beautiful lake and (open)  hut with lots of tenting sites.  There were a few hikers there from the Czech Republic who had summited the great mountain; Maglic,  the day before.  They were a little hungover this morning though.

     

We checked in with the ranger there, paid our fee, had a bite to eat and a coffee and headed up.   A few kms out, we ran into one of the few northbounders (NOBO) we would see on our hike.    He was from France and had started at the beginning (or our ending point) in Albania.   We stopped to trade info of course, and wish we had more time, but had a big climb in front of us.  

The  views looking back were spectacular of the heart shaped Trnovacko lake below.

  

But the mountain was calling us and it was getting colder and colder as we climbed.   Near the top, a slight rain made us decide we didn’t need to bag Maglic peak as it was socked in a cloud anyway, so we turned right on the Via Dinarica and hurriedly moved on to beat the storm.     There was a spring up there and we stopped for that but descended quickly on tired legs.

Down through a combination of rocky traverses and beautiful deep forest.

We were hoping to make it down to a spot where there was supposedly some kind of small shelter.  But as darkness fell, we set up our tents in a clearing short of this small village and shelter.    The next morning, we had a breakfast break there and the owner, or builder came out and we spoke a bit about his work on the shelter.   Once again, friendly people, even through the language barrier.  (Ray and he were speaking German, although by this time, Ray knew a lot of the Bosnian or Croatian words and sure sounded like he could speak each local language. )

   

Down through the village that went on and on.  Down all the way to a big lake and dam.  Just before the dam itself, the roadwalk went through about 7 tunnels cut through the mountain.   The last one being dark and long.

At the dam itself, a bigger road comes in with traffic and we were told no pictures!  Nyet! So, we hurried through there and began one of the tougher climbs on the whole trail.   The trail switchbacked almost straight up this little winding path through small trees and man, it was steep.    Good views looking back. 

 

And finally the top, and a house with a friendly man who gladly gives you water from his well.  No English or German though so we had to rely on our Croatian, or Bosnian language skills.

Now the trail was in the form of a meandering road that went through meadows of sheep and cow farming country, with little to no houses for about 10kms.    Eventually to a Bed and Breakfast we had heard everyone raving about in the comments.   But sorry: It was full!

They let us set up tents across the road and the restaurant was open to us.  Ray had one last night of sickness here and had to interrupt the party going on a few times during the night to get to the lieu.

We were glad to leave as it was not a good night’s sleep and with the long hiking days we were doing, we needed our rest at night.     We did talk to a family there who was spending their holiday whitewater kayaking!   A sport I was heavily into in the 80’s and was glad to hear people were out enjoying the beautiful mountains of the former Yugoslavia.

The mountains were definitely getting higher and harder now, here in Montenegro.  Another beautiful country with it’s rugged mountains and not many people taking advantage of the great hiking we were having.
So, another gorge, this time the river Piva (beer?) and a steep climb up to 2350 meter; Plananika peak.

       

Leaving another beautiful lake behind for this climb.  We got some water at the lake, never saw the hut there, but after another very steep one, we saw a lot of people at the top.  We figure they must come up a different way than we had as it was lots of scree, steep and even I had to get a stick to help me up this one.     Talked to some couples from Italy at the top and they were peak bagging some nearby peaks.  But our food bags were near empty and there was a town about 12 kms away, so, we started our descent.

And a beautiful  descent it was.

    

Right past the beautiful “Black Lake”, and on to the busy, touristy town of Zabljak.   Oh my……….town was crowded.  Was it the weekend.  You lost track of stuff like that on a hike.  We’d been out about  6 weeks already and weren’t used to this!    No wonder there were so many people on top of the mountain and more we saw on our descent.  There were thousands in this little town.    Everyone we asked said all rooms were full.    So Ray went into the biggest hotel, right in the center of town and asked if we could get 2 rooms.   Nema Problema (we learned that phrase quickly on this hike, meaning “No Problem”!

Best place in town, 2 big rooms, and a buffet that we both agree was the best of the whole trail.
We ate for hours and I believe it was 8 Euros!    I didn’t get a picture of that, but here is breakfast (or late lunch) the next day, as we took a rest day here.   

Leaving Zabljak was another road walk but this time, quite scenic with little to no traffic on the road.
Then a small mom and pop bar/restaurant in a tiny village for some refreshments and continued on.        

Past a lake with fishing boats and a house being built, all going well, until BLAM!  A gate with a sign: Keep out! No trespassing.   But our GPS track showed us continuing on this small dirt road.   What to do?
So, we turned right and looked for a way around it.  Finally seeing someone in a small house

Ray went up and asked the man and his wife if we could go through their land.  They said, only after you stop in for a drink.   Typical great Balkan  hospitality strikes again!    Now, I don’t drink and it was only around 1 in the afternoon.   But Ray is a good sport and drank both of our glasses of plum brandy and we told them what we were doing.   They said, too many bikes and cars were tearing up his road and leaving trash, so they put up the gate and sign but, hikers were very welcome.    So, we begged off and continued on our way, through his fields to cut back into our GPS track again.    

Continuing on, we had a mountain to climb and could see storm clouds ahead.   Sure enough, on our way up the mountain, we could hear thunder and see lighting and rain off in the distance.
We picked up the pace.    But it seemed that both us and the storm were both headed for the top of this grassy mountain.      So, we looked at the map on the GPS and shot for the gap to the right of the mountain.    Just as we hit the gap, the lighting struck near the top of the mountain.     That was close.   We started running.   We saw some shacks off in the distance (one km away?) and made a beeline for it.
By now the rains were falling also and the lighting was close, but more behind us.   When we got to the shack, it was all locked up with no where to get out of the rain except a small stable.    So, we went in, sprea some plastic over the cow dung there and waited it out for about an hour.  We had a little window so watched the storm from the manger.      

Continuing on, past small villages from time to time,  there were many horses out here.  We never could figure out what they do with these horses.   But there were more horses than cows so, we figured maybe they eat them.   They do like their meat in this part of the world.

Our next town would be Mojkovac and the track showed us bushwhacking down a steep mountain with no trail.   The trail ended at a cell phone tower and we were thinking that they didn’t want people in there, so, re-routed the trail.   But we were used to following the GPS and ended up going quite a long way around to get down to the town.
But once there, it was a big town, with good stores and a good hotel and restaurant.   Good resupply and headed out the next morning.

 

Trail through town a bit, and then out the other side, went up through people’s yards and a bit of a bushwhack here and there.  Eventually getting to a road up on top that went past another locked mountaineering hut.   Then, once again needing water, we saw a small house with people feeding some livestock and went to get water.   While they were filling our water bottles, an old car pulled up on this bad road and 4 or 5 guys got out.  They slapped a beer down in front of each of us and wanted us to drink with them.   Unfortunately, none of them knew a word of English or German so, we politely tried to refuse and moved on.  (just so we would not appear rude, Ray drank one)

Here we are sneaking out of there:    

We camped that night up high with a beautiful views of the sunset and sunrise.

  

Next day took us over a mountain with a government building and communications tower or something on top that we had been seeing for miles and miles.    Then  on the other side, was a touristy  kind of camp with many small huts for rent and people around riding horses and day hiking.  Nearby ski area may have been the attraction in winter.

Soon after was a manned mountaineering hut. And a big one.  Very friendly caretaker who cooked us a big breakfast and we watched his wife baking the famous round bread in a separate kitchen.

 

Looking ahead we were getting excited as Albania was looking amazing with big mountains.  We had heard it was the toughest part but we were pretty fit by now and eager to tackle the “Accursed Mountains of Albania”

That was our thoughts back here anyway, when we got there, we found out it was a lot tougher than anything we had done thus far.  

But we weren’t there yet and the weather was getting worse.    Coming into  the pass above the town of Tsenjevik, we were starting to get wet when a restaurant and small resort showed up right on the trail.   So, we indulged.   Had a good meal, good converstation and 2 small A-fram bungalows were rented to us.  Brand new place.  Not on the comments yet.   It rained all night so we were glad for the roof over our heads even though our tents are both proven and trustworthy.
In the morning, we saw that there were 2 or 3 other similar places in a tiny village right at the road crossing.

Not long after, it started to drizzle slightly. So we picked up the pace and it was a steady rain till we got to the next small town that had a restaurant and resort.    We stopped in and ordered a bigger breakfast and dried out a bit.    A lot of people came in in the next hour and we found out this was a popular spot to stay in order to climb some of the nearby mountains.     But they all decided to take the day off and call it a rain day.
But we headed out and it turned out it was an excellent move as the rain stopped and we had the  mountain to ourselves.  It was a bit eerie looking with the fog as we were heading up into the clouds.  But, really nice trail in here.  Some scree to cross and then the saddle near the top.  Once again we skipped the peak bagging as it was all socked in.

Coming down the other side there was an old abandoned village.  Sign there explaining something about a family who had lived there before the war.

 

 

Albania

Then it was on to Albania.  The last country on this trail as it stands now (or had in late August, 2017.

The view of the “Accursed’s” looked very rough and the introduction showed us how rough it was going to be.

 

Because almost as soon as we crossed the border, the trail not only disappeared again but it was steep, very rocky with patches of loose scree, ravines and no trail to be seen anywhere.   But we followed the GPS.    And then we finally made to the forest below and out of the exposed part.   The steepness lessoned slightly but, still no trail.   So, now we’re looking for trail in a beautiful forest and thinking, man, this could be so nice in here with some switchbacks and proper trail, but instead, it was blowdowns and steep bushwhacking for about 4 more kms!
Wow!  Welcome to Albania aye.   No trail, tough bushwhacking and finally……………….a dirt road to follow.
Eventually it got to the settlement and it was a wide, almost dry riverbed.    With houses and people on bicycles.   Pigs, sheep, chickens………..very rustic and old fashioned.

And then, among the houses and pigs and bicycles……….bomb shelters!   Or pill-boxes.  And lots of them.

We found out that these bomb shelters were actually built in the 60’s.    The political leader at the time, a man named Hoxha, was fighting with his neighbors and had a fear of being invaded.   So, he built with an average of 5.7 bunkers for every square kilometer. In Albania!

We saw 2 old men ride by on their bicycles and they were wearing black suits with starched white shirts.   Go figure.   Many people came out just before sunset to walk their sheep to the river for a drink.   It was sort of the social hour I think      We got to a big stone building and it was the local hotel.  Unfortunately it was full.  There was a big family of Italians partying there.  But it was getting dark and we were tired, so we found room and cooked dinner on the steps of the porch.

And in the morning, we crossed the river on a bridge, although one wasn’t necessary for the almost dry river.

Now the houses were beginning to get more modern and a bigger road came in.  Some tourists stopped and asked us where the immigration checkpoint was.   Huh?   We didn’t know about this and had entered the last 2 countries on trails with no checkpoint.    We did have a stamp from the Bosnia/Montenegro border as it was a National Park and were going to try to get through with that.
When it came our turn to hand in our passports, the guy never even looked up.  Just found a blank page and stamped it    When we checked later, we saw that there was almost no ink on the stamp.  You couldn’t read it anyway.   Our worries vanished!

So now we had to go back into Montenegro for a short period and back to Albania again.

The route took us through the town of Gusinje.   It was a large town by Via Dinarica standards with a  huge grocery store and restaurant upstairs.   Very classy place we thought and the waiter was very friendly.     We ate a big breakfast (again). And then did our last section’s shopping.   Last chance for gummy bears, fuel, Snickers and Ray’s pate’.

Heading out of town, we met a young couple who were from the area but had moved away.   They said the reason the town was looking modern was because the young people move to the cities and work and send money back to their parents, who build bigger and better houses.   

Leaving the town, we passes some fires and a swimming hole that had lots of tourists.  But it was dry.  Very dry. With no swimming going on there.     Up and up we climbed as we were now heading up to the highest point on the whole Via Dinarica trail I believe.

We then came across a big cabin in a meadow.   With signs saying it was a restaurant.   OK.   We can always eat.  So we stopped in.  But the caretaker lady said; “no food”  “no drinks” “we are all out of everything” and my son took the horse into town to buy more.   We said no problem, can we get some water.  She told us it would be best to get it out of the spring that would be coming up in a few hundred meters up the trail.    Sure enough, good cold piped water was there.
Near the top of that climb, we entered Albania again.   Again it was rough.  All rocks, cold. Looked like rain or snow about to start any minute.   

There were supposed to be 4 or 5 lakes up here in a basin and that’s where we planned to camp.  We saw a few rock climbers descending and they told us they were from Germany and had been up here or about 5 days and had did a few first ascents!    Wow!  They must’ve been pretty good.
They said there’s only water in one of the lakes and that’s where they camped.

When we got to the camp, the last of their party was just leaving.  2 guys who told us, they had such a great time, they were sorry to leave but it was time to head home.     Oh oh.   We too would be finished in a few days, but not yet!    We still had the toughest yet to come.
We camped on the lake and it was cold.   I built a small campfire there.  It was the only time on the whole trail that we had a campfire.

That night we had a heavy frost.   I had an inch or two on my tent in the morning.   Now we were glad for the long underwear, fleece tops and down coats we had carried for 50 days!

Brr.   We quickly broke camp to continue our climb and warmed up quickly.

Now the beauty got better yet.   What great hiking up here.   We did pass some folks who had camped above us and they passed us again when we stopped in the sun to dry out our tents.    They were a guided group and planned to summit a nearby peak.

We passed each other a few times in the next hour or two and it was some awesome rock hopping, hiking.  No trail really, just cairns to show you the best way.

Getting near the top, there were patches of snow we traversed.

THEN, the going got tough!

Rock climbing was the only way up.  No trail, just GPS track showing to go up.  Every once in a while, we’d see a blaze, but it was handholds and rock climbing moves.  Very slow as we couldn’t afford to get hurt in here.   A few times we had to take off the packs, climb and then hand them up.

I had done a bunch of rock climbing with my son so, I was enjoying it.  But I didn’t get the feeling that Ray was too much.  But, we both love adventure and this was some of the finest.

Then the top and looking back over what we’d just hiked.   Awesome.

Now, down the other side.  We figured (for some strange reason) that it would be easier than our ascent.
Wrong!    It is easier rock climbing up a face than it is going down.

The most difficult hiking I’ve ever done awaited us on the other side.


Scrambling down rock faces using rock climbing moves and falling would have been disastrous a we were far away from any help.  (even in these small towns we would see in the next and last few days had no hospital)

I loved it!

Challenging, steep, rocks everywhere.    And after we got down the worst of the steep rock face, we had at least a mile of nothing but scree.  Small stones that started a bit of an avalanche when you tried to walk on them.  So, we traversed, far apart to avoid falling rocks as, of course, we had no helmets.   And no water.    If you see our video, (will post a link at the end of this story, this is where Ray is creating a river of rocks)

Down, down down.  Till eventually, we saw a small shack.   

With a yellow water container sitting outside.     We yelled and yelled for someone to ask about the water and then, I opened the door a crack and looked inside.   Closed it quickly.   There was a man who appeared dead inside.    But maybe just sleeping one off?   Who knows.  We didn’t look again, but we did each take a half litre of water out of his full water jug.   And moved on.

Again, the trail was there sometimes and sometimes not.  Still scrambling on rocks and then, all of a sudden, a better trail and people!    Where did they come from?   

We asked and they were hiking the “Peaks of the Balkans” trail.   Well groomed, wide, beautiful trail.   So, if I had it to do over again, what would I do?   1/ switch to the “Peak of the Balkans Trail” or do the dangerous, non-trail, rock face and mile of scree that was hot, dry, steep and dangerous.
Probably the steep one again as I really enjoy that stuff.  And you have to if you are going to complete the entire Via Dinarica trail.   But we really believe this is where they need to build some trail.   Before someone gets seriously hurt

OK, now, we went down down down again.   I believe our high point was 2700 meters and we dropped all the way down to about 700 I believe.    A 2,000 meter downhill, mostly no trail, only rocks (that’s 6500 feet downhill)
The knees were complaining a little bit, but we kept going as there were now many bed and breakfasts along the way in the spread out town of Teth, Albania.

 

 

Still had people living off the land with their sheep and goats and animals, but you could tell the main money here was in tourism.   Signs welcoming hikers, with cold drinks, food and rooms for rent.

So, we picked one and got 2 rooms for our last night on the trail.

August 24, 2017

The next day was going to be our last hiking.   We woke up excited about that, but had another mountain to climb first.    But this one was the Via Dinarica White Trail AND the Peaks of the Balkans Trail.
So it was very well marked, and well trodden, with snack bars and cold drinks along the climb.

At the top, there was a pass and the trail widened a bit.   It was good it did as there must’ve been 20 hikers there.  To them, this saddle was their goal and had beautiful views looking in all directions.   They day hike up to this point from the town of Valbona, below.

We didn’t stay long as we weren’t used to people too much and the end was calling us.   So, we headed down on the wide and a bit crowded trail.

Down to a big resort at the bottom and then a wide, hot, 2 lane road that would take us about 10 kms further to the official end of the trail and the end of the GPS track.
It’s quite an uneventful ending to a really awesome trail.   We thought there would at least be a sign saying something about the terminus and trail.   But nothing there but a small creek we forded and a nearby picnic table.

But, we had just passed a bar/restaurant/hotel.    So, we retraced our steps, ordered a late lunch and had our celebratory beer!  

Unfortunately, the hotel was full but they called a nearby hotel and they sent a driver over and picked us up.

52 days, 1263 kms, and full of adventurous hiking, our trail was finished.

At least for now.   Plan are to extend the trail into nearby Kosovo and Macedonia.

We will go back.  Not only for the beautiful mountains, full of history and great, hospital people who always made us feel at home.
Thank you!

 

People have asked me which is my favorite country that this trail passes through.
Man, that’s a tough one.
I remember at the time saying each one that we finished was now our favorite.
Yes, it was THAT GOOD!

Slovenia had it’s picturesque front yards with flowers and lush vegetable gardens and very welcoming people.
Croatia had those beautiful Adriatc sea views with quaint European towns.

Bosnia had the least amount of other hikers. Something we found just amazing as the countryside was so beautiful.

Montenegro where the mountains were getting bigger and rougher, and just beautiful and preparing us for:
Albania: Now, the trail in Albania isn’t very long.   3 or 4 days.  But Wow! was it rough, and tough hiking and rocks everywhere with hardy people (and pillboxes)

I can’t pick a favorite. I’d go back to any one of them.

When they extend this trail into Kosovo and Macedonia, as planned, I will go back and hike more of this great trail for sure.

 

I do have 2 favorite pictures (OK 3)

 

 

Click Here for the 18 minute video we made of the hike.    Enjoy!

 

Posted by: fiddlehead | February 24, 2018

Via Dinarica White Trail Part 2: Bosnia & Herzegovina

Bosnia / Herzegovina

July 30th  (27th day since the start in Predjama, Slovenia)
Slovenia and Croatia had been great, but we were ready for some bigger mountains and more rugged country.     So, we entered our 3rd country on the Via Dinarica: Bosnia/Herzegovina!  (simplified in this writeup to simply “Bosnia”)

But first, I have to tell you a little story about our entrance into Bosnia.   We were hoping to get some food for resupply nearby the immigration point as often there is a store there, and post office to buy a SIM card etc.   But, nothing here.  Only hot, shade-less roadwalk  again.   But here, about 100 meters from the checkpoint, a car pulled up and asked where we were from?  We said America (a little hesitantly as this was a supposedly Muslim country) and the guy inside handed us one of the biggest candy bars I’ve even seen, and said: “Welcome to Bosnia”     That was cool!  What a welcome.
Next we got to a store that had everything .  I was worried about a SIM card because they are not so easy to program for outsiders.  Especially if you don’t speak the local language as you must talk to someone to authorize the temporary one.    Well, this girl at the store helped me for the hour it took to get it all straightened out and refused any tip or money for her troubles.    Another sign of friendly and welcoming people, seemingly happy to have travelers coming through their country.     A good feeling for sure.

The big lake was popular and we stopped at a beach and took a swim, washed a few things by hand and enjoyed the views.    Our trek this day would take us around most of the lake and we ended up camping alongside it in a secluded spot, looking back on Croatia and the windmills we had passed that morning.  Here’s the view from our campsite that morning.  

Leaving the lake, it was up on a new road that is being built to install many windmills.   The road is wide, with no shade and seems to go on forever.   I think we saw one car or truck in about 10 kms on this road.  Saw some windmills going up and the security guy came after us to tell us we were on restricted land even though we were following our GPS track.   So, we did some bushwacking but it was easy.  Across a farmer’s field.

Eventuall our bushwhack went down steeply to a huge valley and lo and behold: A pizza shop.   This was very welcomed as we saw it in the comments and were hoping they were open.   Not only they were, but a young couple came over and introduced themselves while we were waiting, and told us they also hike and live nearby and we are welcome to camp in their yard, 2 kms down the road.   So, we ate, and drank and then walked the 2 kms on full stomachs to find this great family on their little self sufficient farm.


They were so friendly, and we used Google translate a lot with the parents.  When we asked where would be best to put  up our tent, they said, oh no, you sleep in the bed and give us your clothes to wash and the showers are over here.    Well we had already eaten but, it was hard to say no to more food as they brought out a homecooked meal made with homegrown everything.

Wow!  And we thought Bosnia was gonna be the least friendly country for some reason.

We got a good tour of the farm, had a huge breakfast also with this great family and then they showed us the best way across the valley as the retired father walked it often.     They went with us for about 3 kms and we said goodbye in the middle of the valley.  

 

We stopped at a house to get water on the other side for the long climb up the next mountain.  It’s good we did, because there was none to be found for a while.    Again, they offered us red bull, and beer, and lemonade and…………..well, these people all wanted to help us out.   It was great.
The next mountain had some great views in all directions and we could see the windmills and Croatia behind and also the big mountains ahead.  

But, the trail disappeared at the top and once again, we could only follow the track on the GPS and it told us to go down a very steep and rocky descent (to a picnic table in the middle  of nowhere.

That night, we were planning on getting water and a place to stay in a small town on the way, that supposedly had a bed and breakfast.   But, we found it was closed we looked for a place to camp.   There was a pig farm nearby so we wanted to make some distance from the smell.

We then met a young hiker who said he was from Estonia and hiking with his dad.   So, we saw the tent set up and asked if they minded us joining them.    They were cool and we saw them a lot in the next few days.    They had just started that day and were out for a week.    There packs looked heavy and must have been as they had  a lot of water.    We setup nearby and talked late into the night.  (late for me is 8:30!)

We do get up early and were out of there before they stirred and headed up the mountain from there.     It was a tough day and no water (again) so, we kept moving with hopes of getting water at the next mountaineering hut.

Big big descent down to a lake.  Our knees were aching as we must’ve dropped 1,000 meters!     We get to the brand new hut, and it is locked up!  Again!   And no water (that was locked up too) We were out of water so while I rested in some shade, Ray went to the lake.     Turns out the lake is only about 3” deep (the depth of a hand) and the water was hot (and a bit dirty)
So, we filtered it through a handkerchief and put some purification pills in it and drank the warm water.   Then we headed out on a beeline for the next one (there was supposed to be another one coming up soon.    We didn’t want to have to hitch to town as we thought we could maybe yogi some food here or buy it, but nothing was open.   Nobody around anywhere.  

But, still we kept on going.   Then we heard some chain saws and saw 2 guys cutting firewood and having a break.     While walking by them, we asked if they knew where we could buy food.   Communication was a little difficult but by now, we knew enough words of the language to get our point across.
The younger guy opened up his cooler and it was full of food.  He gave us a big hunk of bread, lots of cheese, a few pate cans, and some big tomatoes.     We sat there and ate for about 40 minutes and then stuffed a few cans into our backpacks and walked on.
Just around the corner, there were a few houses and a big man sitting at his picnic table.   He invited us up and then found out we were hiking the trail, so of course, he had to go inside a get a bottle of schnapps and a plate of meat and a big pot of soup!    It was all so good and he had stories and pictures of when he was younger and his climbs up the big mountain before us.      Turns out he is a policeman and owns this weekend house and has the most awesome view.  He shoots a bear or a deer when he wants to and has a big garden (as does almost everybody in this part of the world. ) 

 

We never found the next settlement and mountaineering hut.  Probably best we didn’t as the comments on the phone app said the trail was non-existent in that area and lots of crawling through scrub pine.   We bivouacked in the woods at the base of the mountain after a long day.       Here’s Ray’s tent. 

Next day was a good and beautiful climb up this big mountain and we started seeing many yellow ribbons on the trail.   Looked like they had marked the trail very well in this section, but it wasn’t always our track.    Some bushwhacking again, through some nice fireweed that was head tall

Really nice day , although again, a dry one.   So, we had both been out of water for a while when we came to a beautiful cistern with ice cold, clean water.   Wow, was that good.  I was so thirsty, Ray was giving me the distance to the water from his GPS and I was counting my steps with hope that it would be within the next 100!

Just up the mountain a bit, from the cistern was a big mountaineering hut.  As we got there, a few guys got there about the same time from the other direction.   Turns out they were the one marking the trail and it was for a race they were going to have in a few weeks.  An ultra race.   50 kms I believe.  Now Ray and I had both been ultra runners and I had run Leadville, which is a tough one, but this trail was really rocky, steep and tough.     They invited us inside and made us some drinks as we cooked our lunch.  They told us a bit about the history of the area and the war.   Even the mountaineering hut in this spot had been blown up .      So, this hut was brand new and very nice.

They gave us some advice for the next section, which turned out to be invaluable as we always enjoyed a good swim and also would have missed the most scenic spot on the Via Dinarica White Trail.

The spot above, is off a small side trail that is easily missed.  There is a sign there with a picture of a camera.  But there are a quite a few intersections on the trails around here and it is a great spot for a photo.
From here, we meandered through beautiful meadows and came to another hut, this one locked but the water wasn’t so, we filled up again.   Then it was downhill.  And a big one.   I think we descended over 1500 meters from this hut, to the town of Jablanica.

This was about the halfway point on the trail, and we took another day off (only our second in 3 ½ weeks)   I had some mail sent here and my new credit card so, we got the best hotel in town and spent our day off shopping for new shoes, socks, gummy bears, and anything we wanted as it was the biggest town on the trail I believe.     The hotel that we stayed in was well known for it’s mutton  as they roasted the sheep over coals for hours.   We thought maybe one or two, but they had 7 full sheep spinning on the spits

.           

 

Then as we sat down to eat, our father and son team from Estonia walked in also for dinner.
So we had a great dinner together.   Now on the menu, you could either get the lamb that was 2 kgs. Or the small platter that also came with veggies.   I took the small as I was getting tired of only meat.  Everyone else opted for the big 2kg platter and that’s what it was:  ONLY MEAT!   Huge!   It took them a while to finish theirs and we had lots of talking and stories to tell.   Turns out they were going to do some smaller hikes in the area and change their plans away from the Via Dinarica.     We were sorry to see the go .  There are not many hikers out on this trail.  We are not sure why, because it is so beautiful and the people are so friendly everywhere.

Maybe it’s the water, or lack of.  Maybe it’s the war memories and unexploded land mines.   Maybe it’s the ruggedness of the trail.  Maybe (hopefully), it’s just too new and unknown.

Leaving the town of Jablanica, we walked through a farmers market

and saw a lot of the famous round ovens for sale that the of this country bake the famous round bread.    Next we saw the ruins of a railroad bridge across the big river.   Strangers might think this was a ruin from one of the wars, but it turns out, it was left over from a movie about world war II that was filmed in this town, starring Yul Brenner.

Headed through a small town of Ravna, which was really cool because it was so old fashioned and the little mom and pop shop that sold cold drinks used water piped from a spring to cool the drinks.    Next would be our steepest ascent of the trail .   From the town of Ravna, up to the hut at Vrutak, we would climb 1600 meters in about 2 miles!     It was so steep, even I had to find myself 2 walking sticks (something that most hikers these days use, but I’m still “old school” and believe they get in my way)

Very steep, Ray thought I got lost and went back down to look for me, then realized the trail forked and we met again before the top.
At the top, there were 2 buildings and again, mountaineering huts.

This time, they were not only open, but 2 couples were there cooking and spending the weekend in the cabins.     So, of course, they invited us to join them for dinner.   So nice.

We thought we were at the top, but no.   Still some climbing to do and then the trail got really nasty.

We follow the GPS when in doubt, and believe me, we had some doubt.   We read in the comments that there might be some land mines in the area, so, wanted to stay on trail.  But, the track took us through low, scrub pines that we had to crawl through.  And for a long distance too.   At the end of the steep climb we did, I was frustrated and coursing the trailblazer a bit.   Sorry, but something needs to be done in there. We were entering the Prenj National Park and this was supposed to be the favorite section of many former hikers, at least from the comments.     Anyway, we found a nice meadow to camp in for the night and knew it would get better tomorrow.

And sure enough………..it did!

We even found some water up there in the Prenj.  In a cave!  With snow!   Yeah!    Awesome.

     Continuing on, we came down to a huge grassy meadow with signs of cows being grazed there and comments saying there might be land mines around.

Now, I have a hard time believing that I’m gonna step on, and detonate one that 25 years of cow grazing has missed.   But we took precautions and went quite a bit out of our way to follow trail rather than cut across the meadow in the direction we needed to go.     There was supposed to be a spring in here somewhere and we found another locked mountaineering hut with no water, so I went out in search of the said spring.   Finally found it as we needed water.   Just after that, we saw a sign that said: “Land mines behind this sign”  Of course the spring was down there.

I must say the Prenj was very beautiful.   Very rocky again.   And finally we saw some other hikers.
Turns out they were day hikers who were peak-bagging some of the tallest ones in the Prenj,  Zelena Glava.    We stopped and had lunch at another (locked) cabin on the way down with a group of them.
Turns out they were all from Poland and were with a big group that would all be staying in the next town at the manned hut there.     When we got there, there sure were lots of them, and the place was full.   But, lots of room to set up tents in the field below.

Leaving there we had a road walk all day until we decided to take a shortcut that someone in the comments had mentioned. Bad choice. Someone had apparently since logged the area It was a mess of tangled and twisted debris left over.   Take the trail. (road)  Much safer.

So now we were in the town of Jezero, by a big beautiful lake.   But it was the weekend and it was packed.     Luckily we had called ahead and booked a room in a BnB there and the food was great.    

We had a nice swim in the clear lake and then bought food for the next 4 or 5 days in the only store around.

It was really tiny and the mom and pop owners spoke no English and wouldn’t let us see what was on   the shelves as they were behind the counter.   So, it was a good guess as to what kind of soup and noodles I would be cooking. But at least they had Snickers Bars.   I think I bought 12 of them!

Leaving town the next morning took us across a big river.  We had to cross it on a swinging suspension bridge that reminded me of Nepal.        .

Then we ascended up through some very small towns complete with cemeteries.    Looking at the dates on the tombstones, we saw that most people had died in the 90’s.   During the war.  And many were young children.    This is why these little villages often were abandoned I guess. 

Nice hiking in here though, and we were seeing the gorge below us, as well as views ahead of some famous villages and across the way to small towns up high in the grassy bluffs to the west.

We camped that night in a saddle just after a bombed out village near the Blasé lake.  

We needed water so figured we could get it out of the lake if nothing else.   Wrong!   We tried but there was sheep dung all around and reeds and bushes surrounding the lake.   I took off my shoes and tried to wade in to get to the good water and sank into the black mud up to my thighs!      No water to be had there!    So we cruised around the old town and found a few cisterns.   Some had water but no bucket.   Some had bucket but no water.    Finally we figured out we had to carry a bucket from one, to another and got some badly needed water.   The campsite was a scenic spot though.   It was very windy or we would have slept up near the church.  We choose the saddle instead.

Next day was more of the awesome hiking with views everywhere.  

We wanted to visit the famous town of Lukomir.   Famous because the town still does things the old fashoined way with raising sheep and gardens and being pretty much self sufficient.   We had breakfast in one of the more modern, western style places.   And then had a hard sell woman trying desperately to sell us a pair of homeade wool socks she had knitted.  

But, you can drive to this town, so, the tourists were showing up around 10 AM so……….

Here is word for word what we recorded from that day.

August 9th:  Interesting trail.  Tough, all the way to Lukomir, whicih is the highest settled town in Bosnia, and it’s becoming a little touristy.  There are still a lot of old people living there off sheep farming and making socks but there are 2 restaurants that are  pretty westernized and we walked in and ordered a full breakfast, AND lunch.  And we ate for about an hour and a half.  Hiker hunger was kicking in for me. Ray had 11 bottles of mixed juices that he filled his water bottles with. 

We then left to descend down to the river and on the way, we stopped at probably the best spring on the whole trail.  They are rebuilding a water wheel there.  Good cold running water from a great spring.    Then up the other side to another small village (Bobovic)  where we got some water from an old lady at a rustic old farm there.

It was a long day but we headed up the next mountai, hoping to tent somewhere on the way up.

But nothing looked good, so we kept going and finally at the top, we found 2 semi-flat spots and a really awesome view to tent for the night.    From this great spot, we could see both sunset and sunrise in the morning and then we found ourselves ridge walking along quite the knife edge.   Slightly dangerous hiking here sometimes, but I love this kind of hiking.  Exposed, knife edge with great views on either side all morning.   It ended with a peak:   Vito peak.

 

On the descent, we saw some other hikers!   Wow, that doesn’t happen often on this trail.   It was a guided hike from a guide named Ben and 6 or 7 English hikers.    We would see them again a few times in the next week.   

So, we descended to a spring and then to the small town of Tusila.    There are only 2 or 3 buildings here and 2 of them are restaurants.  So, we chose one and ordered breakfast.    They guy was pretty cool and showed us around.   He was cooking sheep again on a spit as so many restaurants do here in the Balkans.  

 

About ten or fifteen kilometers after eating that breakfast, Ray got sick.   Luckily we were near the small town of Ljuta and near a roadside water fountain (there are many of these long these along the roadwalks and often dedicated to someone who was killed in the war)  

We stopped for a few hours and hoped he would get better, but he only got worse.   Food poisoning!   So, luckily there was a guesthouse not too far away according to the comments and I hiked up to it.   There was the most amazing house, all built by a man and his brother and wife there.   Not too much English but he understood that I had a sick friend nearby and we got in his car and went and rescued Ray.    So, we got a room, had showers and this guy started showing me around his place.

That night his brother went out with his fishing pole and caught dinner.  Complete with bread from his homeade oven, and lots of veggies.  One of the best meals we had on the trail.   He kept feeding Ray tea made from herbs that he went out in the fields to find to help him get over his food poisoning.
We continued on the next day although Ray was still very weak.   Luckily it was a roadwalk to begin the next section.

Next town up was Kalinovik, and this town reminded us both of Russia and it’s drab houses, all the same drab, tan color.    We really thought we had been transported when we walked into the only hotel in town, applicably named Hotel Moskva  (Hotel Moscow in English)   And a  portrait of Vladmir  Putin above the reception counter.

That night we went to every restaurant and bar in town and tried to get a meal with veggies.   Everyone said “Nyet” only meat!    One woman walked us around and finally took us to a grocery store where we could buy some tomatoes, if we wanted to cook ourselves.   We ended up going back to the Hotel Moskva and ordering pizza.   It was made with ketchup!   Ugh!

The hotel was nice though.   But we found out the next day that there is a great place about 10 kms south of there that caters to hikers.    We had read about it, but thought town would offer us more food choices (WRONG!)        When we found the bed and breakfast a few hours out, the guy gave us a tour and he had built everything.  He was quite the creative carpenter and it was really cool.

 

Leavin here, we once again found our   selves hiking in some beautiful country with rocky meadows.   Half a day later,  I had a bad fall when I tripped over a rock and then recuperated a bit at a beautiful lake.

 

Wonderful hiking in the beautiful mountains, again with only ourselves there to enjoy this great trail.
Some of our first views of Montenegro and Maglic peak.

Ray was still not well.  The food poisoning was taking long because we never took time off.  Just kept pushing it everyday.  I guess that’s our style of hiking as we both would rather be hiking than camping, but looking back we probably should have taken a rest day.

We arrived at a small lake: Donje Bare, that had some toilets, so, while Ray was using that luxury, I got to talking to a few men who were having a bit of a reunion at the lake.    Turns out they were in the same unit during the war and spent some time here.

They said more than 1,000 men camped here and they were on the food procurement detail so, went out into the mountains and shot deer to feed the men.     One of them went swimming in the cold lake and we were about to have lunch when ………..guess what?  Ben and his English hiking group showed up.  This was the 3rd time we met them on the trail.    And was to be the last as they were all going home after this day.   They invited us to join them for their last on-trail meal.  Boy, they sure eat good.   They had a lot of food and gave us all the leftovers.  Unfortunately, Ray wasn’t eating much, but I sure enjoyed fresh veggies galore, cheeses, meats, and even some candy.

Leaving here, we had a long descent through the forest, down to a road that had the trail to the right, about 5 kms and a National Park and hotel to the left about the same.   It was late in the day and so, we headed left and roadwalked to the park’s hotel.   On the way, there was a new restaurant opening up and giving free food!!!.    Now, it’s pretty hard to pass up free food, but it was VERY crowded and we wanted to get cleaned up.     Then it started to rain.

We hadn’t seen much rain at all on this hike.   Every time it did, 3 or 4  times from my memory, we were near a house, or stable, or within running distance to one.    Lucky.
So, the next morning, it was a long roadwalk (10kms?) back to the trail. And since we weren’t able to change money, we’d be leaving Bosnia and switching to Euros only in the next country, Montenegro.
So, luckily there was a couple selling honey and cheese on the side of the road and they were nice enough to change our Bosnian Marks or marka with them.

Beautiful forest walking on the ascent

.   

And then a fire tower, a road and people!   Yes, people hiking.  A rarity on this trail.  We actually saw a group of about 30 people, with a packhorse for supplies and then their cute guide who we found out was a weather-woman and told us it was about to get cold.   The rain last night and the cloudy morning would bring a change in the weather for the rest of the hike.   Up to this point, it had mostly been hot, and we sometimes wondered why we brought down jackets, rain pants, and gloves and hats.   Now we would need them.

As we were in National Park here and coming up on the highest point in Bosnia: Mount Maglic, which straddles the border with Montenegro.   Stay tuned for the 3rd and final blog entry on this hike: Montenegro and Albania

    Stay tuned!          

Posted by: fiddlehead | February 22, 2018

Via Dinarica White Trail 2017 Part 1: Slovenia & Croatia

Via Dinarica White Trail Hike 2017.
I first read about this new trail in Outside magazine, where they called it the “Best New Trail of 2014”  Well, not only did I like hiking, but I especially like new trails and had always dreamed about an exciting way to see eastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia.    The Via Dinarica fit the bill perfectly as it would span 5 of the countries of the Balkan peninsula:  Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Montenegro and last but certainly not least: Albania!

So, I read up on the history of the area, the new trail, and  built a website to entice some experienced hiking friends of mine to join me,  and sent out the invitations.

Two  experienced hikers  were lured in along with me and the planning began in earnest.
Skip ahead 5 months later and we all hooked up in Slovenia to begin.

Christine (my niece) and I rendezvoused in  Vienna,  Austria, then took the train and bus and arrived in Postojna, Slovenia where we  met up with Ray and Shagg coming  from Trieste,  Italy.  Ray had just raced in the Swiss Extreme Ironman about five days before with Shagg,  Diana and Kig  (Ray’s girlfriend), supporting him.

 

Day 1 July 3rd, The Hike Begins.

Slovenia

We had booked a large house on airbnb to organize our gear and buy our stash of food for for the first  2 or 3 days.   We walked down to the center and village square where there was a show going on and had a great meal complete with decantered wine, and HUGE burgers

Christine holding a nice bottle of red wine at the restaurant in the town square

That night, we called a taxi and had him drive Ray, Shagg and I out to Predjama, about 10 kilometers away from Postojna, where the trail actually starts right next to the ancient castle there, in the small village.

Ray, me and Shagg in Predjama at the start of the trail

It’s all a road walk back to Postojna so, Christine stayed with her new friend, the owner of the Bed  & Breakfast while we went out and did this (a bit dangerous) section as it is on a somewhat busy road with no shoulder.

July 4th Day 2: Got up early, ate and filled water bottles and headed out for the adventure.    We didn’t know what to expect but read that it was through woods roads.  Well, sure enough, it was all roads, 90% dirt roads and lots of turns so; the GPS was in good use already.   We did have a map but soon found it didn’t show everything and we were glad for the GPS and phone app “Outdooractive”  (which also gives mileage and comments and a short description of each section)   This app is a “Must-Have” in our opinion as these comments and descriptions are normally the ONLY way to find out where the next water is.   There are also some descriptions for POI on the GPS (but we didn’t actually find that out till a little later)
Now, Christine had asked that we take it easy on her as she is a school principal and her summer vacation had just started, so the plan was to camp somewhere near water on that first full day.  Well, about 12 kms into it, we came to a house with a cistern and went to get some water.  Surprise, surprise: cistern is locked!!!

   

What? Not good.   So, what do we do?  Luckily we had enough and shared a bit and got all the way to our next goal which was marked on the map as a small village of Masun.

We got there and saw a house or two and then finally, the restaurant that we had heard about.   It appeared closed and I was a little worried as by now we were out of water and in need.    Luckily it was open and we went into a cool looking, old fashioned bar and logging knick-knacks everywhere and sure enough, both bar and restaurant were open and they had nice rooms upstairs.   We each got one and met up in an hour for our dinner.  Now, this place is a bit famous as there is bear on the menu.   I ordered the bear and Ray had venison. Both were delish, with lots of sides and dessert was great too.

Dinner on our first night out. I ordered the bear meat.

Christine was a bit ecstatic that her apple watch showed we had hiked 22 miles (35 kilometers).   (She was promised no more than 15 mile days to start)  But being the good sport she is, she took it well.

Day 3: July 5: Shagg heads home.   Today we had to say goodbye to Shagg as he was going to hike back alone, to Postojna and head back to his home in Arizona.   He was a good fun and we all were sorry to see him go.
The three of us headed out and finally hit some trail, although still no water sources, which was a little disheartening but we were carrying a bit more after yesterday.    The trail quickly petered out and we were soon learning that you had to keep the GPS and phone app handy (routes on each are the same, but the GPS batteries are replaceable and last much longer).  I was a little worried because I had left my solar charger back in Thailand as it was 7 oz. and I figured I wouldn’t need it: Wrong.    But no problem as Ray and I had both hiked the CDT and were used to bush-whacking and route finding challenges with a GPS.    That’s good, because there was much more of the same to come.

Eventually on this day, we ended up at a small village of aprox 7 houses.   Again: No water.   Nobody around and all cisterns locked.   But, I eventually found one that wasn’t .   But the water was a good 2 or 3 meters down this shaft and no way to get it out.  So, we spread out, looking for a bucket and rope to use and I eventually found an old cement bucket in a falling down garage.  And a cheap, plastic rope.  So, we threw the bucket down and the water that came up was ice cold, clean and delicious.  We treated it, as we weren’t use to cisterns (yet), but didn’t want to camp in town as we didn’t want to trespass on private land.  So we filled our water bags (had 2) and walked about 2 kms out of town until we found a flat spot to setup a small camp and cook our first trail dinner.     Sound sleep, after another hard day.

July 5th.    We knew we would have some excellent scenery today as we were climbing up Mt Sneznik, or Veliki Sneznik at 1776 meters high.   It was a beautiful climb with Mali (small) Sneznik about 40 minutes before the summit.   

We were looking forward to talking to someone familiar with the trail, as there were lots of comments in the app about the great couple who were caretakers at this hut.  But, guess what?  Closed on weekdays!   We couldn’t believe it.   And not only that, but water was locked up.  So, again, no water, and this time we were relying on there being some for sure.      Well, OK, we’re learning.  Don’t rely on the huts.

We had planned a long lunch break there and enjoy the views, but looking ahead, black clouds and possible thunderstorm coming our way.  So, we hustled off the mountain to the north and down a beautiful trail (that eventually ended in another bush-whack) to the Sneznik castle. 

This castle is owned by the government of Slovenia, and has a staff, restaurant, bar, and tour guide for the beautiful castle itself.    And WATER!   Lots of cold, beautiful water!

And we found out a festival was to be held that night and highly recommended by the staff that we stay and enjoy it.    We had planned to resupply in the nearby town, so, said we’d be back, and headed out to see about food.

The following hour was one I’ll always remember and shows the hospitality of the Slovenian and Balkan peninsula people.      We were looking for a store and a campground, so when we walked by a house with 2 teenage boys outside, we asked them were we could buy some food.  They said, they would drive us to one, but we thought it would be on our trail, and didn’t want to get rides, we were hikers, not hitchhikers.     So they gave us directions to the store about 2 kms away and then their mother came out.  We asked her about a campground that we had heard about.   She said it was quite far but we could set up tents in her back yard. She would have the boys cut the grass until we got back from the store.      We said: Wow! Thanks, but no need to cut any grass, we are hikers and can sleep in the woods if need be.  She just smiled.
We went to the local grocery store, that turned out to be typical in this part of the world, a small place that ends having everything you need.    Not many choices, but has it all: food, clothing, fuel, wine, rope, hardware, and even ice cream!      Great!

When we got back to the house with the friendly family, the grass had been cut, and she made us a huge salad to enjoy before we went to the party up at the castle.   The whole family then came out to meet us and watch us eat, and learn about each other’s cultures.     We didn’t want to eat too much because the festival also had food and drink    and music and a puppet show and more.    So, we finally walked back up to the castle and met the singer, who was touring Europe and was from Ireland.

 

 

 

And the puppet-master who apparently was somewhat famous in the Balkans.    

People were so friendly to us and surprised that were Americans hiking there.  We don’t think it is a very popular thing to do.  Now hunting, logging, gardening, horses, all got these people outside, but camping out in the woods?  I don’t think so.

I went back to my tent early as I was tired and woke up the next morning to 2 slightly hungover hiking partners.    And then, in the morning, the daughter came out to tell us her Mom had made us all breakfast and we could make ourselves comfortable in their old house across the street.   Had a fantasic breakfast with an art show when the daughter brought out her excellent art projects to show us.      What a great family!  Thank you so much.  (Christine since told me that she sent them a gift, but it came back a few months later, marked “undeliverable”)  Bummer!

Later that day, we said goodbye to Slovenia as we crossed into Croatia.   Our first country on this hike turned out to be a great one!

 

Croatia

Day 4, July 6th:   A few kilometers after Sneznik castle, we crossed our first international border and said goodbye to Slovenia.  Welcome to Croatia.  Border crossing went smoothly, but then when I tried to get a SIM card for this country, the PO was closed and the next big town wouldn’t be for a while.   Oh well. We wing it.

Another great grocery store in this town named Prezid.  Even more crowded with goods than the last one.  Happily we found the GAZ  canisters here as Christine and I were now sharing her propane stove.  (my wood fired stove experiment was a failure)     I would take over the GAZ once she left after 2 weeks.

Mostly road walk for this first day in Croatia and we soon noticed how most houses were so beautifully decorated with window boxes full of colorful flowers and trying to outdo each other.  And they all had vegetable gardens.  Everything was flourishing in the great, sunny weather.  
Ray and I live in Thailand, so, we were happy with the warmth, but Christine is from Maine and it was quite a shock for her.

Lots of horses in the fields we passed also as we would see throughout the whole Via Dinarica.   What do they do with all the horses?

The next town we hit was Trsce and we were hopeful of finding a place to get a shower and get cleaned up (it takes a while to get used to not being clean everyday on a thru-hike).
We asked at one place and they were full.   We headed up the road towards where our app said there was a mountaineering hut or shelter.   Didn’t appear to be too many mountains around so, we were surprised when, after about 1 km., we came to a cabin/house? With some people and lots of cars around.   They said they had 40 women staying there and were full.  But Christine put on the charm to the caretaker (Polish man?) and he said they’d find room for us.   All the women were out on a field trip learning about wild crafting.   So, we got our showers, and set up in the upstairs massive bunkroom and Christine set out to do some dishes.  Well, that got us all kinds of offers to eat some great stuffed peppers, and fresh bread, etc.       Turned out the night was a spectacular one with everybody drinking and laughing a lot and the caretaker finally getting around to cooking dinner over a big fire around 10PM!      Great people, great memories and lasting friends from that night and we were a bit sad to say goodbye in the morning.  But, we are early risers and the trail awaits us.

Leaving the good stop at Trsce, it was another roadwalk for a while up to a church.  It was now Sunday but, no church service.  Later someone told us this particular church was only used on special holidays. 
The GPS track from there shows the trail going down right behind the  church.      We spent close to an hour searching for it, but nothing to be found.  So, being the adventurous sort that we are, we just started following the track on the GPS.     Every once in a while, we’d see a blaze, but no trail.  Eventually, it got really thick with briars and nettles (ouch!).   And then we came to a house.  The inhabitants knew nothing about the Via Dinarica trail and gave us (badly needed) water.   We asked about a place to stay that was in the comments but they didn’t know.  They pointed up hill and said: perhaps there.
So, we followed the road up and came upon another great place.      This is marked as Hrib on the map, and the campground/partyspot/restaurant we found there was full of big motorcycles and rock music blaring.   Lots of biker dudes around and we thought we had walked into the middle of a Harley festival or something.    But, the owners came over and said, “help yourself to what you want from the cooler and I’ll be glad to take your order if you want food”   Well, of course we wanted food.  And maybe a place to stay.   He then showed us some small A-frame cabins he was building and said his goal was to have 20 of these and people would pay to use them.   When we asked how much, he said free!    Well, “free is better than cheap” as my buddy “Rainman” says.   So, we settled into a few beers and enjoyed some “Dire Straits/Lynard Skynard/etc” and ordered food.     

We ate a lot.  Meat and bread is basically the menu in this part of the world in most of the restaurants.

(and beer).     We stayed in the A-frames and also enjoyed a tour of the old house, complete with wine cellar and then a fantastic breakfast before we were back on trail and on our way.

(Every few days, we recorded our whereabouts and thoughts.  I will add them here where they belong in time and they will always be in italics, straight from the recording, along with the date when I know it.)

July 10: “Seven days   More than 120 kms.  We finally saw our first running water, after we descended down to the large river Kupa”           about 7 km after

So here we are at the Visitor’s Center. It says: “Birth House of the River Kupa”
But we finally hit some running water.  About 6 creeks this morning and the big river that we are following upstream, heading due south.    More comments from our recording we made that day:

Teen  said  “Wicked good , wicked good.”

Ray said  “We were offered schnapps and  coffee this morning when we morning at the river, but no hot dogs”.

Teen;  “Oh yeah.   Josep, had the schnapps.  Nice guy. “

Just uphill from the river, after ascending some nice steps,

We got to the visitor’s center and met the caretaker named Barbara.
She sold us passes for the Risnjak National Park, and then  gave us a tour of the nearby museum as well as called ahead to book us a room in the National Park’s hotel and restaurant.   Once again, great food.

The next morning, we headed up the mountain      and had high hopes once again of finally seeing the inside of one of the “huts”  The Risnjak hut is at the top of the long climb.

It got colder and colder as we ascended and when we got to the top, guess what?   Closed.  Locked.  No water.   Mmmmmm. We were told this one would definitely be open.   After being informed from 2 other hikers    we saw up there, they said: “Even the caretakers need a day off sometimes”.  

Oh well.      Time to get off the mountain as we it was cold and windy.

Next mountain is Tuhobic and it was a beauty.   No hut to get anxious about, just a great 360 degree view, but again a windy summit.  

An interesting phenomenom happened to us on the descent,  here is the recording we made about it:

Tuhobic descent Ray    July 12:    “When we came off  the summit of Tuhobic, maybe 1 or 2 km down the ridge, all of a sudden  the Garmin GPS showed us that we were on the A6 and Glenn’s app for Google Maps,  also showed that were smack dab on the A6, but we could see the A6 far away.   After hiking for another 20 minutes or so, we were still on the A6, the GPS seemed to be tracking but the underlying map seemed to be wrong”

We figured it out the next day.   We must have been right on top of the highway’s tunnel 300-400 meters below us.   We could see the big highway far away, but had no idea it was directly under us.

We got some rain that night and hurried into a small village and were hoping for a BnB

or “Apartmento” to dry out and hitchhike to a bigger town the next day to resupply the next (longer) section.

 

Lo ad Behold, just as the rain got harder, there was a place with a couple in the garage.   When we asked if they had a room or apartment. empty, they said: It’s not cleaned up from last night.

We didn’t care, so (actually it was spotless!    Christine found some food in the cupboards and cooked us a great meal.  The place was beautiful with artwork carved out of wood and a huge Jacuzzi.

(and people think we rough it out here!)

Soon after this, while resting near a mud puddle, where Christine needed water badly and we got some video of her filtering and double filtering this suspect source (tadpoles galore), we met our first hikers on the trail.   2 guys who were out for a few weeks. One from Belgium and one from the Netherlands.  

 

We hiked with them the rest of that day and did a little bushwhacking and then down a ski slope into the next town.

This is where we had to say goodbye to Christine as she only had 10 days total with us and would head back to Vienna.   Goodbyes are always tough and this one especially because we had such a great time.   

Here we are having our last meal and drinks together along with the European guys.

Next day, well I will transcribe exactly from our recording we made.

July 15:    OK, Today is Saturday, July 15, and We just started section 7 coming off a mountain that never gave us the view  (YEHAW in background)    But I want to tell you about:  Since we left Christine yesterday in Tuk, early morning, we left her about 7 am.  Because we didn’t know what’s coming up.  And it turned into the most rugged day so far.    First 10 km was road walking and then it headed up and then we had 8 km of this white rock, beautiful spears, with small chimneys and cables and ladders and just amazing, almost rock climbing.

We had to  some rock climbing moves here and there, and it was just amazing. We have some great pictures. 

 Anyway, we saw 3 cabins yesterday and we actually stayed in the 3rd one.   One was called Ratco, and it was in a cave,  the shelter was built in a cave and the next two were in the same spot basically, 50 meters apart and they were called Bijele Stijene 1 and 2.   Number 1 had great water, it was a cistern but it was good with a bucket.  No. 2 was a cabin with a nice stove in it  (numbers are reversed))    The one we stayed in had a nice stove and a nice pile of firewood there, and it was cold.   Like Ray even thought he saw some snow flurries.   This is July 14th.   So, we built a little fire in there.    We thought, well, we’re not gonna see the Dutch guy and Belgium guy again, because it was really rough hiking.  We got there at 4 o-clock  and normally we hike till 7 or something but, we decided to stay. Ad what do you know, here come the 2 guys about 2 hours later, so, we went to sleep about  7 oclock .  Ad all these people came in cause it was Friday night and they all drank outside till about 2 or 3 in the morning.     They went to bed.
Now this place only had about 8 bunks.  But I counted 7 packs besides our s this morning but , they had a lot of booze out on the table this morning.

So, we headed out into some more overgrown (or non-existing) trail and many flowers, bees (easy to see why there is so much honey for sale on the roads on weekends around here) with a goal of staying in the schoolyard in the small town of Kriviput.
On the way there, we were walking down a road and right past a restaurant  that was open.   Wow, if we had known.  Of course there’s no guidebook for this trail, so, we looked at each other and didn’t hesitate to walk right in and sit down.   The waitress came over with a 3 or 4 page menu and we were seeing salads, and soups, and burgers and …………..well, of course the only English she knew was the word: MEAT!     So, OK, I guess we’ll take the meat.     And a bottle of sparkling water of course.    When the food came, it was a piece of bread with 12 sausages on top.   12!    For each of us.  So, we ate meat.

Then a girl was cookin more meat out back behind the restaurant, this time some sheep.

Moving on, we made it to the town of Kraviput only to find that the school yard was quite a mess and old blacktop with no tent space.   My tent is a tarptent and I need to get some stakes in the ground.
So, it wasn’t the easiest setup but we made it. 

Next we walked along beautiful ridges, looking down to the Adriatic sea below.

the weather had turned colder this day and windy too.   We finally got to the pass with the big road about noon. And tried hitchhiking a bit, but no good.   So, we ended up walking the 14 kms down to the beautiful coastal town of Senj where we had to resupply.    We got a room, Ray went swimming in the cold water, and lots of food with ice cream for dessert.

Next day, we paid someone to drive us back up to the mountains and once again, hiked along ridges looking down on the beautiful sea below us.

July 17th   Senj to Oltari

Monday morning, July 17th. We spent last night in Senj.   Really beautiful little European town, right on the Adriatic sea.  Had the band playing at sunset. 

  

Ice cream stands and restaurants everywhere.  So, we did a resupply there and paid someone to take us back up to the top of the morning because yesterday it was a 14 km walk DOWN the mountain.
The day before that, it was Kraviput to the mountain pass above Vratnik, where we headed down from
But today we climbed a mountain and we’re sitting right now having lunch in this beautiful alpine meadow looking down at the sea. We’re up at about 1400 meters, and ah…..it’s been some bushwhacking this morningand some roadwalks but, right now we hopefully have some marked trail for a while.  Sometimes it’s marked and sometimes it’s trail, but it’s rarely both at the same time.    But ah, we sure are at a beautiful spot right now.

Eating good cheese and bread from town and we’ll soon be in Oltari, and that will finish this section 9.  

 

Then on to some more of the beautiful white rocks in Velebit National Park.

This time, we were on a trail that was amazing.    Built in the 30’s by a lot of hardy men as this was really a lot of work, to make a trail through this diverse land.     My feet were getting sore as the rocks were average of about golf ball size, only sharper!    And it was ALL rock!

This went on for most of the afternoon, but we ran into quite a problem near the end of this section.
When we downloaded and installed the GPX track on our GPS’s back a few months ago.  We didn’t realize that the data we uploaded to our GPS’s ended here.   WE ONLY HAD 1/3 of the trail!    Although the Outdoor Active phone app has the same track (and the whole trail) the batteries lasted so much longer in the GPS.   Now, this trail is beautiful at times, but at other times, it is bushwhacking through some tough stuff and no trail at all.  So, often times, we had the GPS on all the time, and the phone just wouldn’t last.    So, we needed to do something.
The girl at the hotel down in Senj was very friendly, and we needed a laptop to transfer, so, we got to the next hut on the trail, and bummed a ride back down to the town of Senj.     The woman at the desk was quite surprised to see us and let us use the laptop behind her reception desk.    It took a few hours, and luckily Ray is a genius when it comes to computers, so we were able to download them without using the software from Garmin.
Took the rest of the day, so we enjoyed another night in Senj and another 6 scoops of ice cream each!

Once again, paid her uncle to drive us back, this time a little further as we needed to go back to where we left off.

GPS’s fully loaded, in hand, we set off once again the next morning.    Hiked to the hut of “Alan” which was full of people and  a very friendly caretaker.

      

 

He cooked us a big pot of soup and gave us a room all to ourselves upstairs with a view.    We told him we would be leaving early as we like to get on the trail at sunup and he didn’t need to get up to see us off.   He said, oh no, I make you breakfast first.  And he did.   Once again, great hospitality in this part of the world!   We loved it.

Here’s another entry from our recording made in this area:

“It is now July 19th.
I’m sitting here looking down at the beautiful Adriatic sea and about 30 islands.
Maybe that’s Italy in the distance.
It’s 7:30 I the morning.
We stayed at Alan hut last night, which was a great stay.
Big hut!  Really nice guy running it.
Fed us a great sausage soup last night with bread.  And eggs with chopped up bacon and cheese this morning, very strong coffee.
The Velebit National Park has just been awesome.
Yesterday we stopped at this small little cabin, I was think it was called Rosival.
We came across this trail that was 9 kilometers long, that was built in the 30’s and it was just spectacular trail building, that they did in there.
I can’t imagine how they built that, without about 1,000 people for 3 years, because it was just stone walls holding up the trail which would have been cliffs without the walls and trail building there.

And it was hard walking because they were like baseball size rocks with many of them pointed.  Everywhere. 

Now today, we are half the trail and half rock and we have the Adriatic sea to our right, which is east. And it’s really spectacular.
Here comes Ray down the trail and we’re hoping to hike to another hut tonight.
We’re carrying food but not eating much of it as we’ve been finding huts and towns and stores that we didn’t know about.
A guidebook would be nice.   But not knowing what’s coming up is nice too.”

 

It’s now July 21st.

“Last night we stayed in a brand new hut.  Beautiful.  Called Zdrilo.  

Brand new, architectural design. Really steep walls.  Had a little tiny solar panel above the window.  And we charged our phone.  Had an electric pump for the cistern but the cistern was almost dry.   So, we got a few litres but this morning we couldn’t get any more.
We’re heading to Sugarska Deliva.  Which is a hut which is no longer in existence but there’s water there.   

This is what’s left of the hut and we learned later that a girl had camped in there the night before. It looked pretty nasty (she had no tent)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday we left the town  of Karlasbad, back up to BaskeOstarije, the hostel. And commenced this section
It’s been tough in here.    UP and down, up and down all the time.  Faint trail.  Good markings though.  Lots of blowdowns.
Rocky, beech tree forest.  Just nothing consistent, it’s either up or down and no one has maintained it for a while.  So it’s tough.
But beautiful.  Over and out.”

July 23 Stuge

(big wind in the background)

“Here we are on top of a mountain (ineligible)
We stayed last night at Stuge. Which was a bit rundown and too far from the water.  And ah: 2 hikers came In late, one came in just as we went to bed.  The night before that, we stayed at Stat (?) Where there was a pump in a cave there but a girl hiker there who was staying there who had drained it. We waited and it recovered enough for a few litres.   It’s been tough hiking.  Beautiful scenery. 
Nobody out here, except those people we saw at the shelters.   We don’t see anybody on the trails .  ever.

Anyway, we’re heading downhill from here.  This is the highest point of our trip so far.

We entered a National Park called Palenka .We entered yesterday. It’s been nice.  Very nice.
But we have some dark clouds coming in so, we need to move off this mountain.”

 

 

More beautiful ridgewalking looking down on the sea below us until the next section.   Here we ended up at Tulove Grede which turns out to be the site of a famous German movie about an American Indian.

There were a few RV’s there as German people like to come to this beautiful spot to camp and climb some of the big rocks on the movie site.   We sat down and got to talking to a family and they were going to head down to town shortly so we waited.   Cold beers, good conversation and a ride!   To town!

Now the next section was closed due to land mines that hadn’t been cleared yet from the war 20 years ago.   This part of the world had a terrible war that divided up the country of Yugoslavia into: Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo and Serbia.  (possibly Macedonia and Moldova too, not sure as we wouldn’t be hiking in those)
And land mines seems to be the way that both sides fought this war.   We saw many bombed out villages with falling down houses, with no one around.   Killed? Or moved away from bad memories?   Who knows. But we figured this must be the reason why not many people were hiking here.   We liked having the mountains to ourselves, but it was very strange.  To be in such a beautiful place, with total silence in villages and beautiful views with no one around.        We started seeing some signs for land mines, so made sure to stay on the trail now.    Most of the war and killing were done in Bosnia and we were getting closer to that country.

So, we had to skip a piece of this trail and hopefully they will get this section cleared soon.  We ended up getting a ride from the restaurant owners son in the next town, back up to the trail where we would continue.

Now the towns were looking more rough and more eastern.  (Turkish? Russian? Greek?) I don’t know but there was a change from the western European look we had been seeing.

Beautiful treeless hiking up here  with views all around.

We took many 360 degree videos to post to our FB page.

Now about this time, we’d been on the trail almost 3 weeks and hadn’t taken a day off.  Since the next day was my birthday, I let Ray know that for my birthday, I would REALLY like a day off.  So, we did, and went to the town of Saline, again on the Adriatic sea.     Ray went for a swim, I ate lots of ice cream and the town was great.   Not as big as Senj, but just as nice and the water was so clean.

And a banana split too!

In the next section, we would be starting a big climb up Dinara and  were warned (by comments on the app) that it was rocky and steep.
But it started out on a shadeless roadwalk that took us through a very small village (8 houses? ) and some old style trucks, houses, bee hives, and then some construction workers we tried to talk to.   No English, but a little German which Ray knew slightly.    There was a big mountaineering hut at the far end of this village with a phone number written on the sign.  Still had cell phone signal, so we called and asked if there might be a key we could open the door to stay in there.   The woman was very nice and spoke good English.  She said no, but there is a nearby cabin we could sleep in, so I looked around and there was one small rustic cabin that was unlocked.    So, we set up there and cooked dinner and enjoyed the beautiful view.  This was one of my favorite places to camp on the whole trail.

And that night, I took a walk and saw what looked like a wild dog or coyote to me.

Here’s our recording from that night:

July 25th  (Ray talking this time)

“We just came into a beautiful meadow.  But, shit started happening.  On the way here, we saw “bag man” , with a dead dog under his arm.  And we decided not to approach him. 

He came out of his vehicle and quickly entered the house, packing the wounded or dead animal.  Then we were attacked by a goat.  He looked like he hadn’t seen a human for years.   

Then we came to a little well, almost.  And Glenn descended a ladder to this algae pool where he filled up our bottles with green water.  But we ended up not drinking that.   Because then we went up to some beautiful hut, and out of the woods, and I’m not making this up, a guy emerged wearing army fatigues, a white dress shirt that could have gone with a tux, and a leather vest with fringe.  Yeah, you heard me right, six inch fringe.  He sat down next to us at this picnic table, and didn’t say anything.  We tried to break the ice but, more or less he just grunted and smiled. And then he pulled out a flask of plum brandy and I took a shot of it, he took a shot.  Glenn went and reconnoitered the area for tent sites.    I was kind of worried I might be attacked.  
Then Glenn called a lady from a phone no. on the cabin and she said the big hut wouldn’t be open but we could get in a small hut here that’s unlocked.  Then the guy pulled out his flask again, took another shot and then he walked away.  Then he got up and left.
So, now we are back at the small hut, Glenn’s cooking dinner, I just swept it out.  
It is a beautiful meadow and maybe the rain will hold off.

The cabin is from 1850, so it’s 167 years old and it looks it.  The roof might leak if it rains.  Over and out!”
Although it was still only July, there were people out cutting firewood this time of year as it seems everyone heats their homes that way.   Old tractors, pulling rustic old wagons, loaded heavily with beech and other hardwoods for the winter.

From here it was mostly  trail and then the aforementioned rocky section to the top.

Great climb, great peak, great day!     

On the descent, we passed an old castle from the Ottoman empire.   At least 500 years old.  It was pretty cool and next to a small town with another closed hut.   We did meet some old folks sitting on their porch in this town and had a conversation, again in German.   They were pretty surprised that we were hiking from Slovenia to Albania.   We would have liked to ask more about the war as we were seeing more and more signs of its destruction (the recent one, not the Ottoman one).   We thought this is going to be great, with swimming holes, and trails.   But no, it’s a road walk and no views of the lake.   Bummer and it was dry.   So, we needed some supplies and water and finally found a turn off to a town.  But where’s the store?   Finally we saw a stack of beer cases piled up high and said to each other:  “That looks like a place we could get some drinks at least, and hopefully some information on a place to camp”    Sure enough, we had guessed right on a few forks and this was the local grocery store, which also seems to mean where the older men hang out most of the days and drink their pivo (beer).    We drank a lot of ice teas and sodas and bought some food and found out we could possibly find an “Apartmento” or guest house in a few more kms.

We found a retired army officer who was fixing up a house to turn it into a bnb.   We asked about food, and he went inside and cooked us a big meal of soup, ham, great cheeses, and veggies.   (did I say veggies!   This was a first in a long time)       He then let us take showers and showed us a room with a beautiful view of the big lake.  

Continuing our roadwalk from there, we passed a monastery.  We walked in and there were a few people around.  Some in monk garb (black robes with hats) and one guy was in painting clothes and we watched him painting a mural on the ceiling of a small room.   Talking to him (in English) he told us he was a Serb and they had inhabited this part of Croatia before the war.    But now he lived in Serbia which was probably 500 kms from here as the crow flies.               

Next we came around a town and saw the lake to our left and it looked awesome.   Then there was an RV camped next to it, and when we got there, there was an arm of the lake that jutted into a beautiful cove and swimming hole.  We indulged!         

Then talked to the young couple for a while there as we ate our lunch.  They were testing out the RV for an extended trip around Europe.   This was their maiden voyage with it.  They both were from the area but worked in London so, English was spoken fluently.   They told us a bit about the war and explained that’s why you don’t see many people.  They either were killed or left to find more peaceful places.      Almost everyone who talked about the war with us, would end their narrative with the words: “It was complicated, and we’re all glad it’s over!”

Now it was Ray’s birthday and he too got a nice surprise:  We passed a creek that had a box of beer cooling away in it.   A man nearby told us he was getting the site ready for a big party that weekend and we were welcome to help ourselves to a cold one.    So, here’s Ray enjoying his birthday beer in the ice cold creek  (my feet turned numb in less than a minute!)  

Next town, Sinj, was a big one, so we got a room and then found out that a big festival was to be held that weekend in the town.   They were re-enacting a battle with jousting (horses charging each other with long lances) and they would be practicing that evening.  So, after a great meal, we went down to watch.

It was pretty amazing with these men riding horses full speed, with 4 meter long weapons, trying to spear a ring the size of a donut.  Only one guy got the middle hole of the donut, that we saw.  I was very impressed!  

Here is where Ray’s 2 friends from his teaching days in Georgia, met up with us and hiked for 2 or 3 days.  Unfortunately, this section was a lot of roadwalking and dry but  his girlfriend was very good looking so, she had no problem getting water.  (even had ice in it!)    We camped near a deer farm and unfortunately, a dog barked throughout the night as we camped at a nice pavilion that had been built for hikers.                

Now it was time to say goodbye to the longest country of any that we would have on the Via Dinarica trail.

 

I’m going to finish this blog entry here as the trip was a long one.  I’ll break it down into countries with this one being Slovenia and Croatia.    Stay tuned to the next leg of our journey:  Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

Also, I made an 18 minute video about the entire 52 day hike and it can be seen here on vimeo:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: fiddlehead | January 11, 2018

Back to blogging about some good hill walks in southern Phuket.

Haven’t written for quite some time. (I see it’s been over 2 years! Ouch!)

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been walking.
I did go on a 1263km hike this past summer with my friend Ray “Wall” Greenlaw in the Balkan peninsula:  Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania
I will write that up soon.
But this post will be about my most recent walks in southern Phuket.

I have been using Facebook to show pictures of my morning walks a lot.
Here is the link to that page: https://www.facebook.com/glenn.fleagle

If you can’t get on, here are a few of those pics: IMG_20180110_083723.jpg

There are all just in the past week.

So, I have been trying to mix up my walks and trying to get away from my most used ones, which consists of:
1/ Starting near the sea gypsy village in eastern Rawai, and walking the peninsula over to the old Evason resort, then back, along Rawai beach, turn left before Ao-bor-tor and head up the road closest to the shoreline.  Up to Laem Prom Thep, down the other side to YaNui Beach, up to the windmill hill, down to Nai Harn lagoon, then either back by road to the beginning, or (if I feel energetic), out to Ao Sane and back to the beginning via the connector road from Cheers bar to the Or-bator @ Rawai.

2/ Starting at the new dam near Phunaka Golf course.  And heading up to the headwaters end (NW) up past the elephant camp to the gate, then go left and up the 2nd steepest road there.  Eventually that gets up to the power lines at the top and goes west all the way over to Patong, where you have the choice to go steeply down to town (if I feel energetic, I do this), or walk a bit on the upper most road (above Ha-Sip-Pee  road), till the roads and paths peter out and you can’t go anymore without a machete, then turn around and go back   This is a great walk with literally no people (ever) and eagles, wild fruit, great views, and quiet. (read no traffic whatsoever)

3/ Here’s an old favorite with being near the jungle, but not in it, as there are concrete and dirt roads all the way:   Start at the Taoist temple at the apex of the road between Kathu and Patong (where so many Thai people beep their horns 3 times and it is very loud)   (just to the east of the temple, there is a small road)
I park behind the temple and walk from there.  But it is a very steep start.
To make it easier, you can ride up the 1st km to the Buddhist temple turn off and continue on the road.
Someone has posted new signs saying: Patong this way, with an arrow, and it’s easy to follow them all the way to Ha-Sip-pee road.   This out and back route is exactly 10kms, with a few hills.

4/ The traditional “Phuket jungle hike” that starts at the Gibbon Rehabilitation center near Bang Pae waterfall, and goes 3 kms over the mountain to the TonSai waterfall near Talang.    This used to be a great walk, but I stopped doing it because: Too far from my home on the motorbike (or car), and it has turned into a maze of trails because of blowdowns and NO MAINTENANCE!      I really wish the park rangers in these 2 parks (either end) would go out, even it it’s only once a year, and clean up the trail with saws and machetes to make the trail easier to follow.   Even though I’ve been on this trail a dozen times or more, I still take my GPS when I go, because it’s full of false trails and so easy to get lost up there.
But, when cleared it is awesome with swimming holes here and there, refreshment stands at either end, some wildlife (beware of the monkeys that have been supposedly “rehabilitated”), and great jungle hiking with waterfalls at each end.

5/ Going to list one more although not advisable without a machete.     This one starts at the bar in the northeast corner of Nai Harn lake.   Take the dirt road (that separates the bar from the new Spa, the one that washes all the mud into the road whenever it rains), up steeply.  After about 200 meters, there are 2 Myanmar worker camps, complete with chickens, kids and pleasant people who always seem to have a smile.   Continue on, but don’t go down where there is a fork.  Look for the old yacht that someone took up there (way back when the road was obviously much better).     Continue up the old concrete driveway but bear left before you get to the abandoned building.   Just 100 meters after this, is where you’ll need a machete as it always grows shut (no one keeping it open, cept maybe me),   eventually, you can bear right and hit a good path that rubber tree farmers keep clear,  Just keep going up, trying to stay as close to the sea as possible. Some good views.  Eventually, (500 meters?) you see a barbed wire fence on the left.  On the other side of it is a small path that takes you up steeply to some dirt roads at the top that the 4-wheeler folks keep open.    There is a maze of roads up here and actually 4 good lookouts,  seeing in all 4 compass directions can be walked to within 2 kms of each other!     Here are some pictures of those 4, from a walk I did about 1 week ago.

 

6/  OK, I’m going to add a 6th one because I went out today and decided to hike down to Nui Beach  (near the maize of dirt roads around “Black Rock” and trip #5 above)

I hadn’t been down there in at least 10 years.  I only went once because the road was terrible, and rumor had it that the owner pulled a gun on someone, so, no need to mess with THAT!

But I heard that were new owners and they built a swimming pool and the restaurant was open.
So, I walked down there today.  It is a lot of dowhill as I started at the dirt pullout before Karon viewpoint coming from Nai Harn.   You could drive much closer, but I’m out for exercise so, I like to make my walks at least 10 kms, although this one turned out to be only about 5 (but all up or down hill)

Saw some cool shacks and picnic area on the way down, and then a nice house overlooking the complex that is now called  “Water Beach Club, Phuket”

And at last a sign noting the new name: 

 

About 10 people around, having drinks, sunbathing or just relaxing by the beautiful beach.

Stuck around for about an hour and then checked out some construction projects going on, and asked around about bungalows.   A girl who worked there said: “Not yet.   Next year we hope to have some”  Seemed to me they’d be ready before that as there were about 3 or 4 projects going on.   I had a coconut water drink and it was ice cold.
On the steep walk back up, saw about 8 more people heading down.  So, I guess the word is out and this place is HAPPENING!     I would advise you check it out.
If you want to take your motorbike down, you can, but you’d better be good as the road isn’t the best.  There is a shuttle service sign of 100 baht per person (back of pickup I believe)    Good luck and have fun. 

All said, this is a beautiful place but only about a 5km walk.   I prefer longer ones and may head up to the north or central part of the island of Phuke next week.

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