Time for stage three of the GR131 in the Canaries, this time to Lanzarote. Its an easy 75km, so fine to get done over two days. Most of the reviews I read of the trail weren’t amazing, so I have low expectations….. but the canaries haven’t disappointed so far.
I landed on Friday night in an easyJet flight stuffed to the gills with Brits looking for summer sun, cleared the airport in nine minutes and got a taxi to Orzola. I stayed at the lovely Perla del Atlantico with a view of the sea, and was amused to meet a Canarian who had been an exchange student in NZ – in Invercargill of all places, which as she pointed out what’s about as remote as Orzola. It was blustering like mad, with 25mph winds, so I stocked up on provisions and retreated to the apartment for supper and an early night.
Day 1 39k from Orzola to San Bartoleme and some extra bits, c. 950m of ascent
The wind blustered all night and I had decided to sleep in as the distances didn’t look very long. The sun was up before I was, so I had coffee and a muesli bar and started strolling up the road around 7.30. Although the winds were still blowing a gale, thankfully they were blowing from behind. The first section was a nice stroll from Orzola to Haría, over a small pass. The light was lovely and it was fascinating to see the farming practices – lots of retaining walls to keep the wind off, and I passed several ancient farmers in dapper hats doing tough physical labour, bending from the waist to plant seeds in the black volcanic dirt (my job feels easy in comparison).
I arrived in Haría around 10 and had a look around the market before stopping for a cafe con leche. It was a delightful town
Strolling on, next up Teguise, but only after climbing up the side of an excellent hill (Valle del malpaso) with the hiking trail cross crossing a vertiginous switchbacked mountain road, which was beloved of cyclists – I must have seen 50 coming down. Reaching the top of the hill, the views would have been epic on a clear day with the beaches on both sides of the island in view. But I had to make do with just ‘pretty good’ views through the haze.
I arrived at Ermita de las Nieves, the high point of the trail, and was surprised to see a big group of hikers (after only seeing two people all morning). It was a popular spot, with a gang of motorbikes and many lycraclad mountain bikers.
I moved on swiftly, meandering down hill to the lovely town of Teguise. All of the villages appear uniformly white and pretty. The central church was lovely, and there must have been a festival on as there were about 30 boys dressed as what looked like bulls with bells on their backs chasing kids around. I sat in the sun admiring the town square and had a coffee and a toasted bocadillo.
The final section of the day was a short 10k to San Bartoleme, which you could see across the valley from Teguise. It was a flat easy stroll across a blasted dusty desert wasteland.
I arrived at Casa Natur around 2pm having clocked 33km. I checked out the maps and decided to stroll some of tomorrow’s trail so I could take a short cut in the morning. It was a nice little bonus 6km stroll around a small peak and a caldera. I couldn’t find any good restaurant so I had a bocadillo and a piece of cake and retired early to bed to listen to the wind blustering outside
day 2 37km to Playa Blanca with c. 450m of up
I slept in until seven, had two coffees a muesli bar and a banana and headed off into a quiet Sunday morning. There wasn’t much movement around town, and it was mostly road walking until coming over the little pass near Montana Blanca. Road walking is my least favourite type of walking, followed by dirt trails. But surprisingly it isn’t irritating me that much as I am enjoying the quite bizarre volcanic scenery and I have my most padded trail shoes on.
The villages came relatively close together… after Montana Blanca, I skirted Tias, then Conil and then La Asomada. None of them had cafes, and nothing makes a hiker sadder than a town with no cafes. The road was skirting along the side of several volcanic hills, so the views down to the Arrecife coast were lovely. I remember to put my hat on as my forehead was sizzled from the day before.
The highlight of the day was coming over a small pass between La Asomada and Uga – the farming creativity is extraordinary – the terracing to carefully protect the trees from the high winds was lovely . The route was slightly marred by excesses of mountain bikers coming by without much warning.
There was a bar open in Uga so I grabbed a coke but kept going to Yaiza. I was unlucky and didn’t see the camels that regularly patrol that section of the trail. The route picks its way through mounds of volcanic rock. My morning endeavours were rewarded by an exceptional bocadillo ‘racing’ (with egg, cheese, ham and chicken), and a coffee at Miguel’s in Yaiza.
Heading off into the increasingly hot sun, it was a flat dusty stroll to Las Brenas, which was a ghost town baking on a hill about 7k from the coast. I was so hot by this point that I took refuge in the bus stop for ten minutes to get some shade.
I summoned up the courage to keep going and strolled the final 7k to town (taking my time as I was parallel processing and doing a work conference call at the same time (thank goodness for modern communications).
The town of Playa Blanca was everything I don’t like about the canaries – heaving with tourists and cheap Italian restaurants. I had a callipo and stuck my feet in the water -and drank several litres of fluid. Then back to the airport to get ready for work tomorrow
The verdict – definitely my least favourite so far of the islands, mostly due to the road walking, but I enjoyed the scenery immensely. I wouldn’t do it again, but am glad I did it
March 8, 2020, playa Blanca, Lanzarote
Hiking style – This time, I decided to go fast and light, with less than 3kg of gear and hotels booked every night.
Maps and guides – Paddy Dillon’s cicerone guide is excellent as usual But you can download the full maps here . The full maps and trail notes are available for free here. I load the gpx files onto gaia, onto which I had pre-downloaded the OS maps for spain
Packing Given the hours of daylight, I told a headtorch with me, but kept my overall pack very light. Full packing list here
Hotels – I stayed at Perla del Atlantico in Orzola and Casa Natura in San Bartoleme.
Trailhead transport I took a taxi direct from the airport to Orzola to stay the night before starting the next day. I finished the hike in Playa Blanca – a busy resort, from where you could either get a bus or a taxi to the airport. (This is partly the reason I hiked north to south, as finding transport from Orzola would have been a pain). As it turns out north to south makes even more sense as, at least when I was there, the prevailing winds came from the north
Flights – Direct flights from Gatwick to lanzarote with Easyjet.
I am working a few more hours than normal this year, but to ensure I keep sane I have planned monthly hiking trips to get some exercise. This month, I am off to Tenerife to continue the GR131 trail which covers the Canary Islands, which I started doing over Christmas, completing the trail in La Palma. Its February so the weather is perfect
day 1 – Arona to Villaflor 18km, 1400m of up
It was an unpleasant 5.45am wake up call to get to Gatwick, but worth it. I flew to Tenerife on a heaving full easyJet flight full of elderly packaged tourists, I felt like a teenager but did have to carry some bags up the stairs. We landed in Tenerife 90 minutes late, so I threw on my shorts, grabbed a couple of bottles of water and high tailed it to the cab rank. My driver was bewildered that anyone would want to walk from one end of the island to the other and seem to think it was an incredibly dangerous proposition. I got to Arona (a lovely little village) and the starting point of the trail, just after two hoping for coffee and lunch, but it was not to be, as the only restaurant had just seated a table of 15, and there wasn’t a shop. Oh well, fingers crossed I would find something en route.
The first section of the gr131 is through the lovely ilfonche preservation zone. The best views were obscured by the clouds, but the glimpses of the craggy cliffs were lovely. There was also stunning desert flowers and cacti. It was hot as hell and I was sweating buckets going up hill. As luck would have it, I passed a bar in Ilfonche (6km in) and had three bottles of Aquarius (my secret Spanish hiking weapon – it is like Gatorade but nicer and the Spanish had it for at least 15 years before Gatorade was invented).
After that the trail to Vilaflor was through a lovely pine forest on beautiful red soil. I started late, so only arrived in town as the sunset, which meant I had some lovely views as the sun lit up the trees. The best views were down on the clouds which were c400m lower down, and it wasn’t possible to see the sea at all.
I had a lovely welcome at the El Tejar, where for a bargain €15 they served me tomatoe and avocado salad, soup, grilled tuna and cake. The canaries really are a bargain. And I was asleep by 10pm
Day 238km to la caldera with 1700m up
It was a brutal start to the day, primarily due to the absence of coffee. The hotel had made me a breakfast the night before but there was no kettle in the room, so no coffee, in spite of me having some with me. I was awake at six and left at 6.20 with the head torch on. The mornings endeavours consisted of a 1100m climb up to the Degollada de Guajara, and I love seeing the sunrise from the top of a hill. The paths here are gentle even when climbing and the Spanish sensibly put nice switchbacks in place (unlike NZ where we save money and mileage by making the trails go straight up the hill).
I took it slowly, pacing myself for a hot day and the views were epic. Starting by climbing through delicious smelling pine forest and then eventually hitting barren red volcanic rock and sand, with stunning barrancos (ravines) cut through them.
I had the entire trail to myself for the three leisurely hours strolling up to the Degollada and when I crossed over the ridge line the views of Tiede (the highest mountain on Tenerife) were spectacular.
The next section of the trail was a flat but spectacular 13.5km stroll to el Portillo, with tiede to the left and cliffs to the right. After the uphill slog, the flat was nice, though I was disappointed to actually see some humans (8 trail runners and 4 hikers) in that section. It was hot and the windy and I was hungry (not much breakfast and I hadn’t packed many snacks), I was ready for it to be done….
Arriving at el Portillo was a blessing and a curse. I mistakenly went to the visitors centre in search of food and coffee. After waiting 15 minutes they sent me 150m down the highway to the restaurant. That was the most dangerous bit of my day….. bloody frightening with cars zipping by.
I was delighted to see the restaurant but horrified in equal measure at the mass of humanity – tonnes of men in leather with motorbikes and lots of Lycra clad cyclists of both genders. I had two coffees, a Diet Coke, a roll and a donut as big as my face. I shovelled food in my face looking like a hobo, and then headed out buying three Aquarius for the road.
My spirits were well restored with food, and made even better by a hilariously eclectic mix of music that kept me dancing and entertained for the 13km to aquamansa, where I didn’t see a soul. Just as well, as I was singing along to meatloaf, Dire Straits, Glen Campbell and the Moana soundtrack among other things, and I can’t carry a tune
I arrived at 16.20 in time to catch the bus down to Orotava, which is another lovely Canarian town on the hill with beautiful colonial architecture. I suspect the beaches here are horrendous and full of resorts but the hills are lovely. I’m staying at the delightful Hotel Rural Victoria, in a beautiful building but the rooms have probably seen better days 🙂
Sun 9th 30k hike to la Esperanza 1500 up, 1870 down
Another early start, thankfully with coffee! And I had a taxi take me up to La Caldera at 6am (no buses until 8am). It was a glorious morning and I meandered up the hill in the still darkness. After about an hour I started hearing cocks crow, and at one point I turned around to see lovely views of El Tiede in the south peeking through the trees looking like it was in fire.
There is an excellent few km of trail hanging off the side of the caldera. There is a sheer drop down the side into the ravine, and fortunately there are sections where the trail has handrails to stop you falling. The views out over the ocean were lovely
For the first 20km, I didn’t see a soul. The path was lovely, but not spectacular, as it was all in the forest so there were limited views.
The last 10 of the trail was a fairly uninspiring forest road which was largely an obstacle course in dodging Spanish mountain bikers. It was nice but not amazing
My feet were ready for the end when we hit la Esperanza, and google maps reliably led me to an excellent establishment where I refuelled with carne machado (pulled pork), multiple coffees and a piece of red velvet cake.
9 February 2020
Hiking style – The key issue on Tenerife is lack of water. Originally I had planned to wild camp the route, but I didn’t enjoy lugging 5-6kg of water when I hiked the GR131 in La Palma, together with a tent, sleeping bag and mat, as well as food and a cooker (with 17kg in total on my back). This time, I decided to go fast and light, with less than 3kg of gear and hotels booked every night. There is very little water on the trail, only at Vilaflor, Parador (a 7k detour), El Portillo, La Caldera and Siete Fuentes (not guaranteed).
Maps and guides – Paddy Dillon’s cicerone guide is excellent as usual but to be honest, quite a lot more information than you need. The full maps and trail notes are available for downloading at this site and are very good and detailed, and you can download all the gpx files also. Caers Bart wrote the best blog that i found, here . I load the gpx files onto gaia, onto which I had pre-downloaded the OS maps for spain
Packing Given the hours of daylight, I took a headtorch with me, but kept my overall pack very light. Full packing list here
Hotels – I stayed at El Tejar Hotel in Villaflor and Hotel Rural Victoria in Orotava. To get to Orotava from La Caldera I took the last bus down from Caldera. The buses are good and reliable, and details can be found on the amusingly named Titsa website.
Trailhead transport I took a taxi direct from the airport to Arona to start hiking (I landed at 13.35). I booked a pick up from La Esperanza with https://www.booktaxigroup.com. I was a bit sceptical about it arriving as I paid in advance, but it arrived
Flights – Direct flights from Gatwick to Tenerife with Easyjet. Annoyingly the late flight landed too late to take the Gatwick express, so I Addison Leed it home, arriving at 1am in time for a few hours sleep before heading to the office
Next time – I probably wouldn’t do the section from el Portillo to La Esperanza as I suspect there is better hiking in the Tiede national park, particularly on some of the ridge lines. The forest walks are lovely, but the landscape at altitude is stunning
This is the first winter in years where I haven’t retreated to the Southern Hemisphere to go hiking and I desperately needed some long days walking and some tent time. I did my homework and decided to give the Canary Islands a go. They have never been high on my holiday list (although I have been previously for work), as I imagined them to be overrun with package tourists. However there are some epic trail races on the islands and the weather should be great as the islands are only a few hundred miles off the coast of Africa.
I am headed to La Palma, which has the most rugged terrain. The plan is to do the volcano route from Fuencaliente to Tazacorte (about 70Km), and a few routes in the national park of Caldera de Taburiente (about 40km) over a total of four days. I have my tent and a permit to sleep in Taburiente for one of the nights and will make up a plan for the other nights on the fly
I came to La Palma via Gran Canaria airport (which was candidly my idea of hell, heaving with package tourists) and I hoped like hell La Palma wouldn’t be the same. Arriving at La Palma the excellent taxi la Palma were there to pick me up and had bought me a bombona (gas canister for my stove), as it is the one thing you can’t fly with. He dropped me at the hostel in Fuencaliente, a bargain 30 euros per night for a private room with bath, albeit not much in the way of soundproofing, and I grabbed some supplies from the shop and hit the sack.
Day 1 Fuencaliente to Puenta de las roques (32km, 2200m of climbing 17kg pack)
I got up at six-ish and finally left at 7 in the pitch black with a head torch on. The sun doesn’t come up until 8, but I knew it would be a long day and the early bit wasn’t that scenic on the map.
It’s been so long since I hiked with 17 kg on my back that I have forgotten how hard it is!!!! All my gear is very light but I was unsure what conditions would be like on the tops so had bought a winter tent (1.8kg vs my normal O.4kg), and spikes for the snow (0.3kg), but nothing can make water ultra light and I wasn’t sure there would be water for the whole route so I took 6 litres with me! It was bloody heavy hauling it up the hill (and unsurprisingly I was over prepared but better to have than not have)
With the sun on my back I eventually got in a rhythm, albeit a really slow one as I slogged up the hills. I had the first three hours in blissful solitude. I had succumbed to putting some music on and was singing away happily to myself really enjoying the views when I passed the first of the many day hikers I would see coming the other way. I lost count at 60, by the speeds they were going I didn’t expect them all to make farocaliente before dark. The landscape is surreal and alternates between pine forest and pitted volcanic craters and pointy mountains. The nicest peak was The Volcan of Deseado which I could see for most of my day, it’s a distinctive point on the southern part of the islands spine
I made it to El Pilar (after about 18km and 1400m of climbing or 450 flights of stairs according to the Garmin and 500m of descent) just after lunch where it turns out there is a tap so I carried an extra 4 kg for 18 km for nada. But I still need it for the next leg. Even better there was a snack truck! Two Aquarius (an excellent nonfizzy Spanish soft drink) , a cafe con leche, a hot dog and half a packet of biscuits later and I was a new woman!
After snoozing in the sun for a bit I strolled the 6km rolling path to reventon which was nice and easy as it was all in the forest. I stopped for a break and some food again when I got there (it took me an hour and a half, I swear I have never walked so slowly!). Apparently there is a good natural fountain at Reventon but I didn’t see it
After that it was a slow grunt up the final 700m climb over 6km to the punta de Los roques, punctuated by many breaks ostensibly to check my email, but really cos I was knackered. I saw the refugio de Los Roques peeking through the trees with the setting sun shining on it and I tried not to be too hopeful it was empty or not crowded. I was happy to tent but it was going to be cold at 2000m and I hadn’t seen too many flat spots. I eventually made it up the hill and the refuge looked delightful and was happily inhabited by a solo danish guy. So more than enough room for me (it probably sleeps 16 or 20 at a push).
I set about hydrating, soup, decaf coffee, hydration fluids, cooking and eating in front of the refugio watching the amazing view. The sun went down and the light was breathtaking on the caldera. A bit more food and a good gossip with Soren (environmental law professor from Copenhagen) and we retired to bed at 8pm after checking out the stars (which are quite famous here as there is limited light pollution)
I had a mild fright at 10.30 when I woke up with someone crashing through the door of the refugio. Two spanish guys who had had a long day, they were suitably quiet while they ate and went to sleep so I managed to get back to sleep for awhile until one of them started making the weirdest snoring noises I have ever heard. I thought he was going to die as he kept stopping breathing. I gave up trying to sleep at 6am and got up to have a leisurely breakfast.
Day 2 Refugio to Mirador El Time and then a shower (29km, 900m ascent, 2400m descent, 15kg pack)
The sun started to peak through the darkness around 7.15 so I went outside with my coffee for an epic sunrise with a stunning view of Tiede summit on neighbouring Tenerife.
I strolled out slowly at 7.30 less weighed down than yesterday but it was slow going. The route was stunning, for the first two hours I saw no one and the views out to the caldera with the sun hitting them were amazing. The walk meanders up and down the spine of the island though in most places the ridge isn’t narrow enough to give any cause for concern but I wouldn’t want to be up here in the fog.
At some point after Pico de la Nieve the route comes close to the road and car parks, so I started running into ill equipped tourists skidding on the trails which were a tricky blend of sand, volcanic rubble and scree and rocks. I was already tired, so found a quiet spot to take a break and cooked up an early lunch.
It took me quite a while to hit the summit of Roque de los muchachos at 2430m, every summit was a false one, and I was low on water and thirsty. And I took a lot of breaks! When I did get there I didn’t stay long as there were about 500 tourists. There was a water tap next to the information booth marked ‘agua non potable’ which technically means it’s not drinkable but I was desperate. I had a litre and then saw the ranger and asked him if itnwas drinkable. He said they mark it that way to deter the tourists from drinking it, but the hikers ‘should know’ it’s ok as they block the tap if there is a problem (hmmmm not sure how I would have ‘known’, but was grateful nonetheless).
I left the summit at 13.30. My original plan had been to hike all the way down to the coast and then back up into the caldera. Checking out the map, the section from el time to Los llanos was entirely urban and not pretty and the route up from los llanos looked long and hot. So I decided to hike down to el time, bus to Los llanos and sleep in a hostel for the night for a shower and then head up to the caldera the next night.
That plan though did mean I had to book it down the hill to get the bus. It wasn’t far – 16km, but it was a 2200m drop. The path was rocky and while it eventually dropped under the tree line and had shade, the shade came with very slippery pine needles. The views on the first 8k were epic though, and there were very few people
The last 4km down (with 450m of descent) from the Torres to El time was interminable and without redemption. Rocky, steep, no shade, no view, and just the type of gradient where your toes get slammed into the front of your shoes (I’m pretty sure both big toe nails will be dropping off in a month). The only positive I could find about this interminable section was that at least I wasn’t walking up it. I had a mild sense of humour failure about 1km before the end as am sunburnt (forgot sunscreen and a hat) and was thirsty, so I stopped and downed my last litre of water and hoped like hell there was water at EL Time. Better than that, there was a bar with homemade cake. Two more Aquarius and an awesome slice of the owners banana caramel cake, and I whiled away 45 mins waiting for the bus to Los Llanos (and yes I know I can afford a taxi but I like buses)
Ok the bus was late, but I did get chatted up by a retired Swiss farmer on the bus who rents a room down here for six months in the summer. He was worried about me so walked me to the hostel. The hostel Vagamundo was all I needed, not as good value as Fuencaliente as it is shared bath and I had to rent a towel for €2, but €30 is fine. Then off to the important business of getting some fluid and calories in – off to the Argentinian steak house!
Day 3/4 into the caldera
After the gr131 the most recommended hiking on the island is in the caldera de Taburiente, you can hike into the crater and then take different routes up the sides. I had a campsite booked (free, see below) and had a plan for different hikes). After a leisurely 6km stroll into the camping from the mirador los brecitos, I was checking in and the ranger told me all the routes were closed due to landslides. I feel like this is the universe’s way of telling me to have a day off, so I pitched my tent, made some lunch and spent the afternoon reading and intermittently admiring the views
When I arrived this morning there was a loud party of Spanish people leaving – around ten of them with shiny gear, and I was hopeful they wouldn’t be replaced. Fortunately the campsite is vast and I pitched at the remotest end with the best view. I did go for a late afternoon stroll to check out the hills in the afternoon light and there was one other couple camping about 200m away, but still blissfully peaceful
After an excellent and quiet sleep I extricated myself from my tent to watch the sun come up, had a coffee and slowly packed up. It was a delightful walk back to Los brecitos, though I passed about 20 people on their way in, and on the way back to Los Llanos I passed ten heaving van loads of tourists on their way to the trail so I had made a good choice on what day to visit (apparently Sunday is always quiet as the tourists go to the market)
Day 4 afternoon chilling in Los Llanos
I spent the afternoon strolling around the lovely town of Los Llanos, stopping from time to time to have some tapas and a drink! There isn’t much to do but it’s quite lovely. I will be back as the hiking here is excellent and the infrastructure works quite well (taxis will drop off and pick off easily at trail heads and the buses work well).
Los Llanos de Aridane, December 30, 2019
Water is the most problematic part of La Palma at least on the volcano route, so plan accordingly
Paddy Dillon’s cicerone guide to walking on La Palma is a good one, but is more set up for day walkers than long distance, and it doesn’t helpfully outline water sources
Senderosdelapalma.es was an excellent resource and had most of the gpx trails to download
Buying gas for my stove was my one issue that I couldn’t figure out, so I asked the taxi company to buy me some and bring it with them to my airport pick up, and tipped them generously as it saved me a lot of hassle. ww.taxilapalma.com. (Note it turns out cooking of any kind is illegal in the national parks.). They also provide drop offs to trail heads, or if you have more time and less money the island bus service (guaguas) is excellent https://www.tilp.es/regular/
It’s easy to book a campsite in the caldera de Taburiente for free, and bookings open 15 days in advance https://www.reservasparquesnacionales.es/real/ParquesNac/usu/html/inicio-reserva-paso2-oapn.aspx?cen=4&act=%202
Mountain weather forecast for the high route here (I was worried about snow when I went, as it has happened in December before)
Stayed at the hostel pension in Fuencaliente and the hostel vagamundo and hotel benohoare in los llanos
Greenland – the largest island on earth and the most sparsely populated place in the planet. 85% of the land is covered in the ice cap, the population is c 55,000 (largely Inuits), in summer there is no night, and in winter there are no days. Technically it is part of the North American continent, but it is a self ruled territory of Denmark (yes I am ticking off another territory).
The main purpose of the trip is to hike the Arctic Circle trail from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut – c. 165km of epic trail through remote wilderness with a few ramshackle free huts available for hikers use and not much else. Apparently there are ferocious mosquitos and pretty challenging weather at the best of times, but this year there have been wildfires blazing for about four weeks, and while the fires aren’t dangerous (peat fires burn low and slow) the smoke can kill you. On top of this, I broke my wrist four weeks ago, and am not 100% sure I can put my tent up without the solid use of my left hand – this is going to be fun!
Day 1 – Half day Kangerlussuaq Airport to 3km past Limnaeso Lake (c.25km)
I landed from Copenhagen at lunch time to a lovely clear sunny day. The airport was tiny and not super efficient, so I had time to pop across the road and buy gas, as well as sort out a locker in terminal before my bag arrived on the belt. I loaded up my gear, and hit the road, walking the 13km from the airport to Kellyville along the tarmac, as it is technically part of the trail. I suspect I was one of the few hikers who took the road, as I was overtaken by numerous hikers in taxis in the 2 hours it took to get there. Never mind, I overtook 20 of them pretty swiftly once I hit the trail proper. Once off the road, the landscape was stunning. No trees, but endless lakes and lovely wildflowers…. it was like a sunny Scotland.
I passed the ramshackle collection of caravans and sheds and Hundeso and pushed on to a lovely unnamed lake where I stopped for dinner and a chat with and Aussie hiker, and then given it was still light, I kept strolling until about 8pm where I pitched my tent (pretty wonkily given the wrist disadvantage) in blissful solitude and passed out (once I realised it was actually midnight Denmark time and I had been up since 6am in Denmark)
Day 2 Hiked to 10km past the canoe centre and camped above the beach on lake Kangerluatsiarsuaq (c.45k walking)
I woke up a bit cold as had gone to bed in shorts, not realising that the temperature would drop so much overnight. I was too cold to sleep and too tired and lazy to put more clothes on. It is also pretty awkward sleeping in a sleeping bag with a broken wrist. By 5am I gave in, made breakfast, broke camp and was walking by 5.40am. I passed numerous stunning white Arctic Hares – they obviously think they are camouflaged as they stand stock still when they notice you, thinking you can’t see them (which you couldn’t if it was snowing), but they stand out in the green and red scrub.
It was a stunning morning walk – I passed one tent near the ford at the stunning lake Qarlissuit, but apart from that it was totally still and quiet. After about three hours and 15km I arrived at Katiffik Hut at the head of lake Amitsorsuaq – its a typical Greenlandic hut and I was going to go and take a look but I could see about 20m down the path that one of the occupants had decided to do their morning ablutions 2metres off the trail, and that was more bare butt than I had planned on seeing in the morning, so I kept walking past down to the lake shore where I made myself a coffee and had a second breakfast.
The day heated up as I ambled the 20km down the side of the lake to the canoe centre only passing three people on the way (still packing up their tents at 10am). My feet were getting a bit sore, and I was getting a bit grumpy so I stopped for an hour at 2pm, ate some salami, and soaked my feet in the ice-cold lake. I motivated myself back to action by promising myself an early stop at the lake head in 7km. Unfortunately the lake head wasn’t particularly lovely, it was boggy and windy, so I loaded up with 3 litres of water and planned to dry camp the first nice sheltered place I saw. Unfortunately that nice sheltered place didn’t arrive until about 10km further on at 7.30pm when I had been on my feet for 14 hours and had a sunburnt nose. I tried to pitch my tent around 6.30 at the lake side but it almost blew away. At. 7.30 in the first sheltered spot, I literally pitched my tent one metre from the trail on top of some scrub on a hillside, albeit with a lovely view of Lake Kangerluatsiarsuaq …. with no more mojo to continue, and then started shovelling food in my face for 45 minutes until I konked out.
Day 3 hiked to Innajuattoq and stayed in the lovely hut (c.40km walking)
My sense of humour was somewhat restored after 10 hours sleep, and I woke up at 7am to a lovely view. It was a stunning cool day, just as well as there was a nice 500m climb up from the valley to start the day. The first 2.5 hours to Ikkattooq hut were idyllic, lovely alpine lakes, tonnes of ambling reindeer, impressive views from the plateau, and some rugged cliffs, and then eventually the incongruous hut came into view. A couple of danish doctors were in residence and they shared their hot water with me for my morning coffee and we debated the route. All hikers had been advised to take a southern diversion from the main trail as there was a risk of smoke in the northern valleys. None of us really wanted to do the diversion as there was no trail, limited cairns, and I personally am terrible at navigation. I took some confidence from the fact that they, like me, were planning to go north and see what it was like, and potentially use an escape route if required that someone on the arctic circle Facebook group had mooted.
The next three hours was a bit of a mountain scramble and then a steep descent down to a wide river valley with a ford. Unfortunately, my brain wasn’t turned on, as while I forded the river like a kiwi expert, I forgot that my phone and camera were in the pockets of my shorts, so both were drenched, and neither have worked since – hence the paucity of photos from here on in. oh well! I eventually reached Eqalugaarniarfik Hut around 2pm feeling pretty hot and knackered. The hut was full and surrounded by tents. I met some local girls inside who advised me to go south but told me everyone else had gone north. They were from a children’s home in sisimiut, and were out in the wilderness learning how to hunt reindeer, and they were very proud to show me their gun. They invited me for lunch, but I decided to keep going….., I probably would have stopped for lunch if I had realised there was another big arsed hill to climb straight up from the hut….., it was slow going. I am pretty unfit at the moment, so did have to have a talking to myself half way up ;-).
Once up the hill, the views were stunning and the rest of the path for the afternoon was a pure delight, going around the lakeshore of three beautiful lakes and then following a river valley to Innajuattoq hut. I past three Czech students heading in the other direction to me who assured me the trail was smoke free, and then I passed a trio of guys with enormous 25kg bags (a greenlander, a Parisian and a dane) but more on them later.
I arrived at the Innajuattoq hut at about 6.00, and decided to stay inside for the night. This was widely touted as the best hut on the trail, and the three occupants already in residence were delightful – Theo and Linea from Austria/Netherlands, and Jens from Denmark. I promptly started devouring a four course meal of soup, fish and potatoes and two desserts, a cup of tea and a cup of cocoa, and then started feeling normal, as the trio of guys I had passed earlier arrived. Bo, Brian and Goran…. they were like a comedic trio, with amusing riffs and they entertained us all until 10pm, well past my bed time when I finally called it a night. I slept wonderfully – sleeping inside on a mattress is a heck of a lot easier with a broken wrist even if you do have to put up with gentle danish snoring.
Day 4 hiked to Kangerluarsuk Tullek Hut (short day, 34km walking, finished at 3pm)
I woke up at 6.30 and headed out by 7.00, packing up quietly so as not to wake up my fellow hikers. Most people on this trail take 9-10 days to walk the trail, so don’t start early. They also carry huge bags – with the average weight being c. 20-25kg, compared to my 10-11kg (including all my food).
It was an easy morning 17k hike to Nerumaq hut along a river valley with steep cliffs on either side and a few lovely lakes. I have realised the walking here for me is always easy in the morning when it is cool and the sun is at your back.
I arrived at Nerumak around 10am and make some pasta for an early lunch, had a coffee and then headed further up the valley. This was crunch time as this was the smoke zone. I covered the first 10km without any worries, but then did start seeing the smoke billowing up from a neighbouring valley. Fortunately very little of it was coming my way and I knew I was walking into the wind, so if I made it a few more kms, then I would be fine. I pressed on, but couldn’t help stopping to check out the aftermath of the fire on the far side of the river.
By about 2pm I was through the worst of it and at the lake just before the ford at Kangerluarsuk Tulleq. The worst hiking hours here are in the afternoon with the sun in your face and sweat in your eyes and tired feet. I knew the hut was uphill and it is quite dry at the moment so I couldn’t guarantee there would be water, so I loaded up with 3kg of water and slogged (very slowly) up hill to the hut. I took two wrong turns, as there were very few cairns, had one sense of humour failure, and finally made it to the hut at 3.30pm having done 34km. I could have kept going, but I really couldn’t motivate myself, and I only had 20km to get to sisimiut the day after anyway.
I entertained myself in the hut with Anders the German backpacker, eating more food, while he made do with soup and instant potato (I was nice and gave him some tuna and boiled his water for him), and we watched the smoke billowing from the other side of the ford. Two German ladies arrived a little later, Irena kept me entertained with the weight of the gear in her pack – she had a mattress made of down that weighed 1kg and required a special apparatus to blow it up – it was quite something. It was a tiny hut so we squished in together. I am not normally a fan of huts over my tent, but with the arm busted, it is definitely easier. I was in my sleeping bag by 8pm, and we were all asleep by 8.30pm – a big night in the bush
Day 5 last 22km to Sisimuit (arrived at 11am)
I woke up at 6 thinking the hut was surrounded by fog, but it was actually smoke, so I roused the others, packed up and headed out by 7am (after taking a wrong route for 20 minutes).
The trail sidles along the mountain side next to a fjord and there were stunning views, and then the trail veers sharply up to do a nice steep climb up to Qerrortusup Majoriaa. These high sections are beautiful, lots of little lakes and stunning views. There were a few tents dotted along the route. I met a Belgian guy about half way to Sisimiut who was making breakfast outside his tent at 10am accompanied by a very adorable local husky dog. Apparently she adopts hikers and walks them up and down the trail. Lucky for me, Snowy (as I named her), guided me most of the rest of the route to Sisimiut. Well perhaps not so lucky, as not far from the last descent (perhaps an hour from town), I forded a river, slipped on a boulder and fell hard on my broken wrist, and managed to get a great graze on my knee and as I would find out later, chip off a bit of bone in my little finger, fracture the joint and tear a tendon. Oh well!!!
I made it to Sisimiut just before 11, happy that I completed the trail in less than four days walking time. Less happy that I didn’t have a phone (and therefore didn’t know where my Airbnb was as didn’t have the address and there is no Internet cafe in town) :-). The universe always manages to sort me out, and I stopped in the first hotel I saw, got a map, and directions to the phone shop and the hospital. Sorted myself out an excellent 40 euro smart phone, got some X-rays on my broken finger, ate some pastries, and had a shower. I also had the good luck to meet Bo, Brian and Goran again. They had arrived at Nerumak hut in the evening on the same day I passed and there was a lot of smoke, so they pushed the sos button did the rest of the trail in a helicopter :-), which was nice for me as they were excellent dinner companions in Sisimiut.
Postscript – the Ice cap
I overnighted in Sisimuit, and then flew back to Kangerlussuaq. My plan had been to take a tour to the icecap and then walk the 40km back to the airport in time to catch my flight out. However, the weather had turned, my little finger was blue and difficult, and I decided to just be lazy and go on the tour and come back in the nice warm bus and stay in the excellent airport hotel. I highly recommend heading out to the icecap – its amazing and the Russell glacier is also lovely
This really was an amazing trail, and we were blessed with fantastic sunny clear weather all day, and unusually no mosquitos. Apart from the fire worries, the weather couldn’t have been better. I loved this trail and would be very happy to do it again!!!
Trail resources – I would highly recommend Paddy Dillons cicerone guide, the Greenland gps app (free), and the invaluable Facebook group hosted by Jesper and Huw
Food – take all your food with you, everything will be cheaper in your home country, and it also means you can get walking straight away. Gas and fuel are available in multiple places in Kanger, including the Isusishut which is 15m from the airport door
Gear – I took more or less what I took on the kungsleden (list here) except I took a poncho instead of waterproof pants and a jacket; and I now have a lighter mini in reach (highly recommended). I also took an extra fleece for the evenings and my heavier sleeping back (an extra 1kg in total max)
Tour – I booked with https://aac.gl to go to the icecap
San Pedro de atacama has changed a lot in the 20 years since I was last here. In essence it is still a tiny village of 2500 people, but it is also the most visited tourist town in chile. Every door front is a tourist agency, a restaurant or a souvenir shop. It’s nice, but it was nicer before. We are here to acclimatise at 2600m before heading over to Bolivia to the altiplano which is at 4500-5000, and I have learnt the hard way to make sure that I acclimatise first. And San Pedro is a lovely place to spend a few days.
We spent the first afternoon wandering around adjusting to the altitude and finding the best empanada in the town. We also tried to ignore all the tourists – but it was hard. It’s been a long time since I have travelled with this many tourists (one of the upsides of travelling in Africa is you don’t have to see tourists with too short shorts and bad tattoos).
Avoiding christmas like the grinches we are…
It was Christmas Eve, and the hotel were somewhat surprised we didn’t want the eight course celebration menu. I love how we celebrate Christmas – we basically ignore it – no gifts, no stress cooking for lots of people, but we use the money to go and have amazing holidays :-). We had eyed up a burger place for dinner but sadly it was closed. We tried a bunch of other places, all were full or closed, and ended up at the Adobe which was overpriced but fine. Hubby* had a healthy poor mans steak (steak, fries for four, and two fried eggs) and I had steak pilpil (with garlic and chilli). After that we hit up Heladaria Babalu for good local ice cream (although we had been ruined by Valparaíso where the portions were twice the size for the same price). We had quinoa and chanar ice cream – not bad, and hit the bed! Altitude makes me sleepy.
Mountain biking in the devils throat
After huge breakfast with some bizarre raw croissants, but excellent bacon and bread, we summoned our courage and borrowed some bikes from the hotel and headed up to Catapre. It was a nice cool bike ride along some rough tracks, and when you get there, its an excellent mountain biking track through a long gorge (the devils throat). Anyone who knows me, knows that I am as uncoordinated as can be (‘unco’ as we say in NZ), so I have never been great on a mountain bike. Blissfully I didn’t take any major spills though did get some impressive skids in. At the end of the throat, there was a stunning hike up to a great look out point. At 2600m, it gets hard to breathe!
We cruised back down the throat and then popped up along to river to see the lovely chapel of San Isidro. It’s definitely different travelling with hubby as he takes time to take beautiful photos….. I lost him for ten minutes as he was taking photos of the reflections in the puddles :-), and he also takes photos with me in them, which is kinda odd
Checking out the Quitor de Pukara
After Catapre we went to see the quitor de Pukara – and old Inca site. It was a nice well graded 20 minute hike to the top, and for entertainment, I ran down the 1.6k in 10 minutes. Even running downhill at this altitude had me out of breath. We came back to town in search of an empanada, but sadly Emporio Andini was closed so we had to make do with Super empanadas (twice the price and half as good).
Tour to the moon valley
A quick trip back to the hotel and then we were back with the tourists to take a tour to the Valle de la Luna.
The tour was my idea of hell! Too many people and too slow, and it was when I wished we had rented a car. The guide was terrible, and spent ages explaining completely irrelevant facts in truly terrible English. Honestly! I got told off at one point for not staying with the group – group tours are not for me. Fingers crossed we have a different guide tomorrow!!!! Having a scramble through the caverns was quite interesting
We did have a lovely time at the top of the big dune in the park watching the light as the sun went down.
We got back to the hotel late so had a sandwich and ice cream for dinner and hit the hay as we had a 6am pick up booked.
Off to the altiplano lakes at 4200m
Early the next morning we were in a van with more or less the same folks, but thankfully a much better guide to head 100km south to the lakes Miñiques and Miscanti at 4200m. The light was lovely and the lakes were stunning. We were the first tourists there (though hordes more arrived later). Felipe whipped us up an outstanding breakfast of eggs, avocado, ham and local toasted breads. We strolled around a bit, but the local people are doing an excellent job keeping tourists out of the ecosystem. You have to stay on the paths, and while it is mildly annoying for a second, I am actually very happy with how well they are protecting the landscape (though locals had told me Conaf was more worried about the mining companies than the environment, as 40% of the worlds lithium comes from the region).
Flamingos on the salt flats
From there we went to socaire to see the ancient irrigation system and a church, stopped by at the Tropic of Capricorn sign for some obligatory Instagram photos, and then headed to Laguna chaxo to see the flamingos and the salt flats. I love flamingos!!!!
Icecream, empanadas and burgers…
We then headed back to San Pedro via Toconao (for quinoa ice cream). It was a lovely easy day in the back of the van, and tours here are pretty cheap – we paid 40 usd each including a great breakfast. We had a late lunch at Andino – another excellent empanada, and then we made use of our lovely hotel room by lying down for a couple of hours doing nothing until dinner time.
The burger joint was back in business- and it was a great burger
Next step the salar de uyuni in Bolivia- the reason I wanted to come back, as I am pretty sure the hubby will love it
December 27, 2018, San Pedro de Atacama
To get there fly to calama airport and then get a transfer with transvip for 12,000 per person or 75000 for a private
All hotels are overpriced, especially at Christmas. We stayed at the Noi which was fine, but we paid twice what it was worth for similar hotels in chile
Best empanadas and cake at Emporio Andino, Burgers at the burger garden were excellent
There are multiple day tours. If you don’t want stress or navigation just take some of those tours. There are lots of places in biking distances but it is hot :-).
*Note for new readers to the blog, hubby prefers to keep a low profile, so he doesn’t ever get named on the blog….. though I have finally started putting pictures of his face (versus the back of his head) on the blog.
I arrived in Punta Arenas as tired as you would expect after 18.5 hours of flying and made my way to the lovely ilaia hotel.
The next morning I started my journey to Torres del Paine. The road adjoins the Magellan straits at the beginning and the wind literally howls off the water. The landscape is endless plaines, windy and stunted trees, with the rare house made of corrugated iron and blasted wood. Further north the landscape softened with beautiful roadside lupins, mountain views and flocks of guanaco. It was desolate but quite beautiful. The voyage was made entertaining by my companion Lorenzo – a 78 year old Italian who has been everywhere, and was hilariously charming with his pickup lines.
After three buses and 7 hours, I arrived at the welcome centre for the Torres park. I wanted to leave immediately. There were way too many people!!!. I had a quick Diet Coke and found the trail head and set off as fast as I could.
Blissfully I saw no one for the 13k to Camp Seron which took a little over 2 hours. But, the landscape was uninspiring, like a farm in NZ. The only thing interesting I saw was a herd of horses, and much of the trail followed a fence line. Part of me was worried that I had made a huge mistake and I was going to have a crap few days hiking. Oh well. Things got mildly better at the end when the trail opened up in a river valley.
The campsite was much flasher than I expected. There were flushing loos, showers, and there was food available (at appropriately high price points). Posh people had dinner inside with three courses. Dodgy campers had dinner in a drafty tent (park rules limit the locations where people can cook. While this is annoying, I understand it, as the park has twice had massive sections burn down as a result of hikers cooking fires). In case you wondered, I was with the dodgys eating instant mash potato.
I went to bed early and was serenaded by the howling wind wearing all my clothes
Day 1 Camp Seron to Camp Perros (33k 6 hours)
I was up early with the wind noise. It was freezing so I illegally made breakfast in bed (cooking up coffee from my sleeping bag). I didn’t head out particularly early for me but was the first out at seven. I didn’t pass anyone en route to the guard post at cordiron, and I was the first to check in with the guards (a mandatory procedure on the O circuit). The route was relatively flat and meandered along the Rio Paine. Nice but nothing spectacular. But at least I had the trail to myself.
I was delighted to head over the ridge to see the lovely camp Dickson (after 19k) at 10.30, but surprised to to find people still hanging out finishing breakfast – honestly how long does it take to get up in the morning! I was starving so had some pasta and coffee and then headed out again through a lovely bush trail. I put some good music on and amused myself by counting how many hikers I overtook (31). The highlight of the day was the glacier at Perros about a km before Camp Perros. The glacier feeds a pale green lake which is stunning. As you crest the ridge to see the lake the wind was so strong it blew me several metres backward.
I arrived at the campsite far too early at 2pm, and passed the afternoon drinking tea in the cooking room and listening to all the young kids talking about their big OEs (gap years). I am feeling so old. I also found two ‘kiwi’ guys (actually a Brit who lives in Nz and an American who used to), to entertain me. I strolled back to check out the glacier as the sun had come out, still stunning. More tea, some pasta and chocolate and then in bed by 8.30 listening to the wind howl
Day 2 – Camp Perros to Refugio Paine grande (34k 7 hours)
I had wanted to sleep in as it was raining, but lots of people were up early talking so I gave up and made myself a coffee at 5.45 and hit the trail out of perros at 6.30. I passed two surprised people at 7 and then had the trail to myself for the three hours to Camp Paso. It was a freezing windy misty rainy morning heading up the pass, in and out of the trees (which were blissfully warm) and then back into the howling wind on the rocky scree slopes. I had my hardcore mountain gloves on but was going full kiwi in my shorts. I have a cold so it was a bit of a slog going up the hill, trying not to sweat too much as that sweat would make me cold when I hit the top and the wind. The hills was dotted with orange trail markers which are very reminiscent of Nz.
I took some photos near the top, and put on an extra layer and my hands froze. As I went over the pass I had no feeling in my fingers and it took me ten minutes of heading down hill to make my hands work to get the camera out. Which was a shame, as the view was astounding. As you come over the pass it looks like there is a huge white lake below you, except it’s a glacier. I have never approached a glacier from above before and it was amazing.
I bombed the steep slope down the hill, willing my fingers back to life and hoping I didn’t fall as I wouldnt be able to use my hands! I was happy to arrive at camp paso at 9.30 to make a coffee. The ranger wasn’t impressed that I woke him up, but it is mandatory to register when you pass and he hadn’t left the book out. I was amused to find at least half a dozen occupants in camp still packing up
From Camp Paso it was an easy two hour stroll down to Refugio Grey with the trail popping in and out of the trees to stunning views of the glacier. There were three awesome suspension bridges, and some excellent rocky rooty sections which reminded me of home
I got to Camp Grey at 11.45 so decided to have a lazy lunch, and the ‘kiwi’ guys from the night before rolled up (it turned out two of them had left perros an hour before I had, and had made it to Paso ten minutes before me but were too nice to wake up the ranger). We had a long gossip with three cups of tea and some tuna and then I decided to roll on. Grey was a bit of a zoo with music and a shop and too many day hikers
From Grey to Paine grande was not my favourite. This is where the ‘O’ circuit (which is one way and requires you to actually carry stuff) intersects with the W circuit and the day hikers, most of whom haven’t learnt basic trail etiquette of saying hello and letting faster hikers go by. But I had quite a lot of fun in my shorts and T-shirt (everyone else was heavily rugged up) body surfing the howling winds along the ridge line.
I got to Paine grande just after three and was shocked by how many people there were. I contemplated briefly ordering a pizza in the restaurant but decided instead to retreat to the campers kitchen where I belong. Am sitting here surrounded by various nationalities cooking up a range of freeze dried delicacies (I had mug shot pasta), and drinking more tea with some alfajores I treated myself to at the mini market
I tried to go to sleep early but the tourist neighbours weren’t great at their camping etiquette and kept talking until 10.30, well after hiker bedtime
Day 3 Paine Grande to Chileno via Mirador Britanico (38k, 8 hours)
I woke up without the alarm at 5.30am and decided to get moving. I was planning to do the up and back hike from camp Italiano to mirador britanico and by all accounts it can be heaving. I was in luck as I had a solo stroll from Refuge Paine to the Italian camp. There was a crowd there about to start so I got going before them. I did get overtaken the first time on the trip, a guy who was running the 60k w circuit in a day. I used the motivation of being overtaken to speed up and I tailgated him to the top. The mirador (lookout) was amazing. Stunning views of the glaciers frances on one side and the Torres de Paine (from the back side) ok the other. It was a magical morning!!!
Coming back down I started to hit the legions of hikers, so was glad i had made it up early. I was starving and hadn’t had coffee so stopped to cook up an odd breakfast of couscous and coffee and then headed out along the side of Lake Nordenskjold to Los Cuernos refuge. I stopped for a quick dip in the lake (bloody freezing) and then stopped into the refuge for a Diet Coke and some biscuits and a chat with an international bunch of hikers I had met the day before
From there it was a meandering 16k to the campsite at chileno. It was hot so at each stream I came to, i took my shirt off, dunked it in the water, squeezed it over my head and put it back on again. Bliss – it’s hikers aircon
I arrived at chileno at 3.30pm and was planning to head up to the towers but was told I couldn’t as the closed the path further up at 4pm. Oh well, I was always going to go in the morning anyway, but it would have been nice to see the evening light.
To make up for it I had my first shower in four days (the other places had cold showers and there was no way I was doing that). I was probably overdue as I noticed that the people walking past me smelled of soap today, which is normally a signal that I don’t smell great. I am really putting icebreaker to the test on the ‘no stink’ promise on their clothes.
As Chileno doesn’t allow campers to use cooking stoves, I ordered a big arse pizza, it was so big I could only eat half (the rest I had later for second dinner and breakfast). Then I had several litres of fluid (Diet Coke, tea, hot chocolate and rehydration fluids) and couldn’t resist paying $10 for the WiFi. Of the 247 emails I had, only about three were urgent. Off to lie in the tent and hope for quiet neighbours.
Final morning walking out
All I had to do today was wander up to the famous towers and then stroll out of the park to get the bus. Most people go up very early in the morning to get there before sunrise, but I had heard stories of people getting really cold in the dark so decided to sleep in and head up later. It was a good decision. I left at 5.30 and didn’t see a single person for the first 40 minutes of the hike up, and then the last 20 mins there were lots of freezing people coming down. The walk took me just over an hour but would have taken longer in the middle of the night in the dark with a head torch and lots of people in the way. The view was lovely but I met some Belgians who had headed up at 1.45 am, it took them two hours to get there and then they sat freezing for over an hour until the sun came up. The view wasn’t that lovely that I would have been happy to freeze my butt off.
I stayed for 15 minutes and then strolled back to chileno refuge for coffee and cold pizza for breakfast. It was only 3km to get out of the park so I wasn’t in any rush to get out as the bus wasn’t until 14.30. It was amusing watching the day hikers struggling up the hill even at the very beginning of the trail. Some of them were even taking a break in the first km. Good on them for giving it a go, but I did wonder if all of them would make it
I found a posh hotel at the base of the hill and rolled in for a coffee and some strawberry tart and caught up on my email. I got chatting to a fascinating Aussie guy who had been tracking puma in the park (you can follow him at chris canguro on insta), he had the most amazing pictures and it was good to know the pumas are being looked after.
After that, more cake and Diet Coke and the bus to Puerto Natales.
Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas
I had a free afternoon wandering around Puerto Natales and most of a day wandering around Punta Arenas waiting to get back to Santiago. While neither is a worthy destination in their own right, they were both friendly towns, with a good vibe, decent coffee, lovely street art and interesting buildings.
Next stop meeting the hubby in Valparaiso and then off to the Atacama
To get to Patagonia, Fly to Santiago then take a Three hour flight to punta arenas. From there take a three hour bus to Puerto Natales (Fernandez) then another two hour bus to Laguna amarga, and then you can hike the dusty 7km to the park entry (on the road) or get the shuttle which takes 5 minutes
Don’t bother with a water filter, it was fine to drink everywhere
If money is no problem you can underpack food as there is chocolate and biscuits at every refuge, but there are no good dehydrated meals so bring those
If I did it again I would probably pay more for a private transfer to the park from the airport at Punta Arenas, as all the bus trips take a lot of time. I would also do more each day, as three days is more than enough.
I stayed at hotel ilaia in Punta Arenas and vendaval in Puerto Natales- both were good
I was off to Dubai for work, and so figured out how to sneak in a weekend in the Seychelles while there. Hubby wasn’t super keen to come as it is a bit far for a weekend so there I was, solo on a flight jam packed with honeymooners and couples! Flying into the Seychelles, you can see stunning beaches, wild rainforest, and huge rocks that seem to be falling from the mountain tops into the ocean. The island survives on tourism, and rightly so! I was first off the plane, and picked up a wonderfully dodgy rental car. A crapped out Kia Picanto that last saw it’s clutch in 2015, and I was going to rue the crappy engine more than once over the weekend.
I drove into town looking for the Larue apartments. There are no street numbers here, but thankfully google maps knew where I was going. The kia picanto couldn’t make it up the very steep wet driveway, and I was very embarrassed when I had to call the owner to come and get me – he drove my car up!. Apparently it happens every time a guest arrives (and don’t worry I got up fine every time after that). The Larue apartments are basic but lovely – it’s high on the hill in bel air with stunning views overlooking Victoria. Accommodation is ridiculously expensive here so I was happy to find a whole apartment for 80 Euro a night, it actually had three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
The afternoon wasn’t sunny so went down to check out the bustling metropolis of Victoria. Its tiny, lovely and indisputably African. I checked out the ‘sights’ – a cute Hindu temple, the church and a replica of the clock tower in London. And then I followed the local ladies to the market to buy food for the weekend – eggs, avocado, beans, corn, tomatoes and eggs. I couldn’t resist the bakery either and ended up with some delicious deep fried fish cakes that were so spicy my nose started running, and a ‘coconut gateau’ that was halfway between the consistency of a scone and a rock, but surprisingly good. I had an early dinner of veggies and eggs, and then passed out as the jet lag hit me like a rock
I slept a solid 12 hours, and roused myself at 8am to get some hiking in. I was staying at the edge of the national park on purpose as I prefer hills to beaches. I had lined up three hikes, which should have taken me about six hours. The first – Trois freres – named for the ‘three brothers’ – huge rocks which overlook the town of Victoria. It was supposed to take 2 hours return, but took 30 mins. It was a lovely view though.
Next up the ‘casse dents’ (broken teeth) which was sadly closed due to too much rain eroding the track. So I headed next to Morne Blanc. I picked up some local girls hitching on the way. They were hilarious, as they were ‘hiking’ with their university, but effectively they were walking on the road for the whole day. They were a bit tired going up the ‘big hill’ so I gave them a ride. I have to say the Kia picante didn’t do well with four ladies on a steep incline – it was first gear all the way.
I stopped at the trail head for Morne blanc and tried not to worry about the two blokes with machetes hanging around the trail head. That ’90 minute’ trail took 30 minutes, but was wonderfully steep up and down, so it was a nice jog. To round out the morning, and as I was finished early, I also ran a few km on the Mont d’or trail for good measure (accessed from Port Gilaud). All of the trails are well marked, but you can find them on the Gaia app.
I then headed to the top of the island. I passed a big resort and a crowded beach and kept going until I found a delightful private beach to myself for a swim. Afterwards, clean and restored, I drove to the end of the road to Cap Ternay, and then turned around to head back to a nice posh resort for lunch – Constance Ephelia. It was a nice place but overrun with kids and pink tourists, and out of my budget but I did have a very good lamb kebab!
I had no plans for the rest of the afternoon, so I put some good tunes on the car stereo and cruised down the west side of the island, stopping frequently to take photos or to jump in the water to cool off. Driving here is not for the faint hearted. Your rental car is bound to be rubbish, mine ground the gears every time from second to third. The roads are narrow, slippery, and windy! I rarely got above 40km, and spent most of the time in the mountains in second gear. Add to that the local kids and dogs who will randomly dart in front of you from nowhere. I narrowly avoided running over a dog fast asleep in the middle of the road. Don’t drive here if you have a weak heart!!! The old local buses belch out black smoke, and you don’t want to be stuck behind one going through the interior or you might suffocate, I pulled over a few times to get further away from the buses and try to breathe.
It was a brilliant afternoon, I loved the drive. The west side of Mahe island is much quieter than the east side, and highlights were Grand Anse and Anse Takamaka. It was a strenuous afternoon driving with one hand on the wheel, and one arm hanging out the window ……with the music blasting I looked just like one of the locals. I rewarded my effort with an icecream and a nap on Takamaka beach. After that I cruised back into town, and had another stroll around before dinner. A perfect day as a tourist 😃
I would highly recommend the Seychelles for a weekend, and if you love beaches there is tonnes to do for a week – I am just not great at sitting on a beach all day!
That was the last lovely country of the 197…., thanks Seychelles no. 186, just 11 more to go
I am on an instability and poverty roll on this trip – next up Comoros – the third poorest country in the world and they have had over 20 coups since they got independence from France in 1975. It was stunning flying over Comoros…. verdant green hills with few buildings, volcanic black rock and stunningly blue sea. I had flown in from Addis, the plane was heaving until we dropped 90% of the passengers off in Dar, then the few of us remaining winged our way over the ocean, and only three gringos (the two others were guys in construction). Comoros is not a tourist destination!!!
Arrival was the usual chaotic African madness, I got to the front of the queue like normal, forms all ready to go, and was physically bumped out of the way by several VIPs. I held my ground and managed to get my passport through after six of them by physically refusing to move away from the immigration desk.
My driver found me while I was waiting for them to issue my visa – 30 euros for the privilege – and he showed me to one of the least road-worthy vehicles I have seen in a long time (and I just got here from Juba), but the car was enhanced by a stunning faux fur leopard print steering wheel cover. We wound the windows down to cope with the heat and the pungent aroma of the two police men who demanded a free ride for the 26k to town, and cruised along the coast to the capital of Moroni.
The hotel was small and sweet! I had a small wander around town, and organised my hike for the next day, mildly grumpy that the tour man insisted I get up at 5am!!! Oh well. Dinner of steak and veg, and excellent ginger tea and early to bed.
I didn’t need an alarm clock, the friendly gents at the local mosque sorted me out by getting going at 4.30, and the lovely ladies at the hotel had left me some boiled eggs and a jug of hot coffee. Hassan was there on time and we headed up the road to meet Djire the guide. Friends had told me they started the hike up the mountain from 1600m so I was somewhat surprised when we stopped at a village at 550m. Oh well – must be the long version!! Off we went.
Nothing inspires confidence like following a guide with worn military fatigues and fake prada sneakers into the dark bush at. 5.30am while he smokes a cigarette and lights the way with his mobile phone. It was hot, rocky and slippery, but I saw the wisdom of Hassan’s advice later when we had stunning views the whole way up and it wasn’t too hot. Weirdly two wild dogs followed us from 20 minutes after we started until we finished. They never got too close as the guide kept chucking rocks at them. The climb to the summit, with stunning views over Moroni, took us three hours, we had to stop once so Djire could rest and have a cigarette.
The view from the summit down into the main crater was stunning, a big sandy flat hole surrounded by steep cliffs with almost fluorescent green trees hanging on to the sides. Djire confessed he was a bit tired so we stopped for a banana.
Then we scrambled down to the crater floor (followed by the dogs) to check out second caldera from the 2006 eruption. Stunning!!!
We had a wander around poking into holes with steam coming out, checking out the monitoring equipment, and admiring the hardy moss growing near the steam holes!
After that we headed up to the rim to find the clouds had well and truly rolled in! We managed to avoid the rain until we were about half way down, and then the torrent opened up, it was like standing under a fire hose! So I had a good African shower for about an hour, until the sun came out and the water started steaming off us. Heading down took the best part of two and a half hours as had done something to my knee, and it was steep, rocky and slippery. Definitely worth it!!!!
I headed back for an excellent lunch of steamed fish, veg and more ginger tea, and some excellent local fruit!
In the afternoon I strolled around town, well hobbled is a better word as I my knee was still not working, so got a few strange looks as I limped round town. Tripadvisor has just two sites in Moroni, and they are both the same place – the grande mosque. It was nice. You can’t walk far without passing a mosque in Moroni, on my 2.5k circuit this afternoon I counted 14. They are a pious lot these comoriens.
The rubbish in town depressed me. At least the goats were helping recycle.
It’s hot! Really hot! So I retired back to the hotel to sweat in peace.
I slept in, aided by the earplugs to keep the early morning muezzin from my ears! I had a full day to explore Moroni before my flight back to Addis, but sadly had already ticked off the major tourist site – the old grand mosque – yesterday. Oh well, perhaps it would look different in the morning light.
I wandered down, and yes it did look different. Or maybe it was because it was already so hot the sweat was blurring my eyes. I thought I better go see the new mosque also to compare and contrast – and then I made my best mistake of the day. I wandered down an alley and ended up in the Medina. It was blissfully cool(er) in the dark shaded alleyways with all the walls crammed together. I stopped and chatted to a few ladies, making sure to tell them I wasn’t French (they aren’t fans of their former rulers here), although we all speak French (though arabic and Swahili are in common usage too).
I found the new mosque, it was new!
And then I found the Friday market. I love African ladies in markets. And the Comorien women bought together the best of French, Arab and African ladies. All the bright colours of Africa, with the voluminous draping of the Arab world, and the ‘soigneuse’/careful arrangement of their look, just like French ladies. They sway while they walk, I wish I had a derriere like these women. It was loud and raucous as everyone stocked up for the weekend. A few ladies were out and about with their beauty cream caked on, apparently it makes them look more ‘clear’ i.e white. Hmmmmf!!!
I checked out the port, and the downtown, there isn’t much going on in Moroni, but most of the people were friendly, though a few of the guys a bit more friendly than required.
It was a lovely stroll, and then I retreated back to the guest house for lunch – more amazing steamed fish and vegetables. I then headed out to the airport. I had an amusing moment in security, I set the machine off, and the security lady yelled ‘oi, musungu’ at me (literally ‘oi white lady’)….., I get called ‘musungu’ regularly in the street here, but its not polite!!!!. I wonder how she would have felt if I had yelled ‘oi, black lady’ back at her….., but I figured I was outnumbered.
I would recommend a visit to the Comoros, and next time would stay a bit longer, rent a car and head round the island. There isn’t much to do here, but it is remote and peaceful. There isn’t much in the way of food here, I was craving cheese, and didn’t find any in the six ‘supermarkets’ I went to, so bring stuff with you.
I stayed at the Jardin de la paix. Namsa, Adjia, Moinamina and Madame Raenfati were lovely and looked after me well. I stayed in the ‘simple’ room which was €20 per night, though perhaps I should have splurged the extra €10 on the aircon as it was pretty hot. Their food was the best I ate in town too – really good fish and fresh veg. I also organised the guide for the mountain through Namsa at Ylang tours. Or if you have gpx, you can follow my strava link up and down
I had a wonderful time in the Nelson Lakes Park last year, but sadly the weather was pretty crap so I didn’t get to see much. Given Papa Scout and I had got out of the Richmond Range well ahead of schedule, we decided to continue on and do a variant of the Travers Sabine circuit which is spectacular in good weather.
Day 0 – St Arnaud to Lakehead Hut 10km/ 2 hours
After scoffing our burgers and cake to celebrate completing the Richmond Range, Manu and I realised we were already done with being in town and around other people by 4pm, so we decided to head out and stay in a hut rather than the backpackers. Lakehead Hut is a delightful flat stroll around Lake Rotoiti…. even more delightful when your legs are toast after four days of non stop up and down. We shared the 24 bed hut that evening with four other french people and a lovely kiwi mum and daughter who were out tramping. The frenchies did make quite a bit of noise playing cards, but like always, when the clock hit 9.30pm, everyone was in bed.
Day 1 – Lakehead Hut to West Sabine Hut 30 km/ 7.5 hours
We kicked off the day strolling up the Travers river valley with the songs from the Lion King running through my head….. it was easy to imagine lions running around in the long grass, and it was a fantastic morning with the sun bleeding through the mountains. Eventually we started a gentle ascent up to the top of the Travers saddle…. We paused briefly at John Tait Hut to take off a layer and then continued up the hill to Travers Hut for lunch at 1300m.
Our hiking rhythm is now pretty well established. We wake up with the sun, we get up at 6.15am (any earlier than that is a bit rude to fellow hut users), and we are out and walking no later than 6.45am. Papa Scout sets a cracking pace and doesn’t require any sustenance apart from a few peanuts around lunchtime.
I require quite a bit more food, but given neither of us like taking breaks, I shove food in my face as we go, while making sure I keep concentrating on my feet so I don’t fall over. We do normally stop for a lunch break, which never lasts more than 30 minutes, and typically will not stop hiking until 4pm or later….. I like it, but I don’t think it is for everyone.After lunch, we climbed up to the saddle and were not blessed with a view. The wind was freezing, it was below zero, and visibility was down to about 50 metres at the top.
After that it was a rough and tough slippery descent down a neverending steep hill to the Sabine River. I remember the descent being tough last year, but it turns out the diverted the path to minimise the risk of avalanche and now the path is even more ridiculously steep, muddy and it goes straight down the hill. I fell over six times, adding to the already numerous bruises on my butt. I clapped loudly when Papa Scout fell over – his first fall of the trip. He told me that this descent was the worst he has ever done in his many years of hiking and running – not a surprise. The trees were barely hanging on to the mountain, so it was no surprise we were sliding down. The descent was interminable, but we were blessed at the bottom with a gorgeous view of the Sabine gorge, and then another 3-4km through the bush before we got to West Sabine Hut. The hut was reasonably full with a mix of nationalities. We were delighted when the Swiss Lion turned up unexpectedly – he was pushing to use the one day of good weather to get through the Waiau pass. It was a lovely quiet night in the hut with surprisingly only one snorer – sadly for Papa Scout she was next to him.
Day 2 – West Sabine Hut to Lake Constance and then back to Sabine Hut 34km/8 hours
We were up and off at 6.45 to head up to the legendary blue lake/Rotomairewhenua – the lake with the clearest water ever measured in the world. It was a rocky rooty ascent up to Blue lake, but much better than when I came up last year and had to go through numerous stream crossings up to my thigh. Blue lake was magical!
We then continued up to the pass to sit in the sun and enjoy the view of lake constance! It was a glorious day to be alive!!!
After that, time to head back down to West Sabine to pick up our gear. Unsurprisingly, after several hours with no falls, I took a major fall in a stream on the way back to the hut. Not quite sure how, but I managed to fall on my throat on a big boulder that I slipped on in a stream. It took me a while to get out of the stream as I wasn’t sure I could breathe, and I sure as hell couldn’t speak. My usual responses kicked in of ‘can I breathe?, do I have all my teeth?, can I get out of the water? can I put one foot in front of the other?’. I was pretty sure I couldn’t speak or swallow as my throat was in agony, but I could breathe and I could walk. So I got my butt up and started walking. I realised about 15 minutes later I was shaking with cold, so I put all the gear I had with me on (my main pack was in the hut) and kept walking. I eventually made it to the hut an hour later, where Papa Scout was just about to send out a search party. I had a cup of tea, figured out swallowing was possible if painful, and managed to get a few painful words out. I decided we may as well keep walking to the next hut, where I could get a water taxi out if needed, as I was pretty sure I wasn’t broken enough to need a helicopter (which I could have also sorted out as hubby has me well equipped with a delorme).
Needless to say, it was not a fun 15km walk. Papa Scout kept an eye on me, and although my legs were more or less ok, my throat was not. After thirty minutes I put my headphones on, put my head down and just kept putting one foot in front of the other. When we arrived at the last sign before the hut, saying we had 30 minutes left, I started running! I was smelling the barn big time. I got there, had a quick wash in the lake, ate some food and then took two ibuprofen and an anti inflammatory and was asleep by 7pm with instructions for Papa Scout to cut my oesophagus open with a knife if I stopped breathing in the night. Thankfully I did not!!!
Day 3 – Sabine Hut to St Arnaud 23km/ 4.5 hours
Still alive the next day, and the throat, while sore, is in much better condition. So it was time to see what else was a bit bust – I have a spectacular bruise on my left arm and a huge one on my right knee. oh well, never mind. The upside, I feel much better today than yesterday.
We had planned to walk up the ridge today to see the view from Angeles before returning to St Arnaud, but the weather was not our friend. So instead we took the low path through the forest via Speargrass hut to Roberts Range. It was Papa Scout’s turn to be grumpy today, and there were repeated calls of ‘f@ck’ or ‘putain’ from up ahead, typically when he was required to go up a steep rooty hill, or go through a stream, or go through some mud. Kiwis are used to having perpetually wet feet, but French people are clearly not. I left him alone most of the morning.
I enjoyed the walk through the forest as I love the green of the moss and the ferns, and the way the sun dapples through the trees, and we busted out our 23k pretty quickly to hit the carpark by 11.20am. In true kiwi form, I walked around the carpark looking for someone driving the 6km to town and found a nice Czech guy to give us a lift. Straight to the burger shop!!! And then it was time for my first shower in eight days!!!!, amazing! next stop – the Motatapu Track.
Hubby and I compromised on another hiking trip….half my usual distance and twice his! We planned to join up the popular tongariro northern circuit with the lesser known ruapehu round the mountain track, and we almost made it happen!
Day 1 – Whakapapa to Oturere – 24km
The advantage of starting at whakapapa is you miss the legions of day trippers hiking the tongariro crossing who start from Maungatepopo. On a busy day there can be 3000 people, most of whom are unfit, ill prepared and too many of them leave rubbish on the mountain (I picked up a lot). If you leave whakapapa late morning, by the time you head up the hill most of these guys are gone. It is spectacular!
After the stunning red crater (which one of the hikers described as an angry red vagina) and the gorgeous emerald and blue lakes, we descended to Oturere hut – a fabulous kiwi experience with 13 kids and 6 parents, and a few foreigners – rare these days. Graham the hut warden was a delight who regaled us with the joys of paekakariki.
Day 2 – Oturere to Rangipo- 23k
We headed off early and saw no one in the two hours it took us to walk to waihohono. Sections were quite eerie, like walking on the moon with Ngauruhoe glowing in the early morning sun beside us.
After breakfast at Waihohono, we left the northern circuit trail and wandered south towards ruapehu. There were some wonderfully hairy sections, my favourites being those with signs telling you not to stop in case a volcanic mud slide starts
We saw three people on the trail that day and arrived at Rangipo hut at 1pm to meet a lovely man and his autistic daughter who had been up for the night. He had told her Santa had left her some presents on the mountain and she had persevered up the trail to find the presents in the hut. Adorable!!!! They left and hubby and I had the hut entirely to ourselves so we lit a fire and enjoyed the view
Day 3 Rangipo hut to Ohakune mountain road
A glorious morning and a lovely undulating walk through the forest to Mangaehuehu hut. Three hours and not one person. We then headed out to Maungaturuturu hut hoping the rain would hold off
It was chilly but the views were stunning and all went well until the descent to Waitonga falls. In typical fashion I fell over on the well formed boardwalk part of the track. I roll my ankle frequently, but this time I managed to smack the bone against a rock. Ouch! I actually had tears in my eyes…
I got up and started walking hoping that would sort it out, but figured out pretty quickly that it was not in great shape. So we hoofed it to the road about an hour further on… weirdly I walk faster when I am in pain as I figure I may as well get it over with, so we overtook a tonne of day hikers on the way. Fortunately my lovely brother was in Ohakune so he came and picked us up and got us fully restored with cake, coffee and fritters.
We did think about trying to finish the route the next day but it turns out I wasn’t able to put weight on the foot until five days later! Next time!!!