Tag Archives: Hiking

Camino Portugués de Costa – Spain Days 6, 7, 8 & 9

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino de Santiago over 12 days.

Back to Days 3, 4 & 5

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Day 6 – Villadesuso to Baiona – Spain – 14.6km

I left the Albergue looking for coffee and breakfast as I walked through the Villadesuso with nice views of the coast. I then ran into a Portuguese couple I’ve seen for the past two days and walked with them to Mougás, 2km away, where I found a cafe. After eating, I continued on along the side of the road, occasionally dipping down to the seaside before climbing back again. I met a carver outside his shop who was very friendly and offered me a stamp for my credential. We chatted for a bit, and I bought a Camino shell from him for my pack.

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I continued along the coast, and when I reached the village of As Mariñas, with its small lighthouse, the trail climbed a hill. It was again nice to climb something, but it wasn’t difficult.

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On the other side, the trail led down into the edge of a built-up area with views out onto the bay.

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Further along and found the Portuguese couple at a pilgrim rest area. We walked on together for 3km before arriving into Baiona, a large tourist town on the beach. They continued on while I located my Albergue and showered before heading into town for lunch and a beer.

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Afterward, I explored the tight streets, investigated the front of the castle on the peninsula, including the beaches on each side. I then went for a walk to the end of the bay, where I climbed a hill to the statue of the Virgin Mary – Virgen de la Roca.

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The height also gave me great views across the bay.

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Day 7 – Baiona to Vigo – Spain – 30km

As much of today will be a slow process of walking into increasingly built-up urban sprawl, I was prepared for a boring day. I walked out of my hostel, and along the road to a local cafe for coffee, before finding a panaderia for some fresh baked goods. I then walked down the coastline road to the end of the shops before following it inland and up the hill towards A Ramallosa. After several kilometres through back streets, I came to Nigrán and, on the far side of a roundabout, found the statue of a pilgrim.

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After Nigrán, the path began to climb but remained in the sprawl. As before, the height offered some views, this time across the bay of Ría de Vigo to two large islands, Illa de San Martiño and Illa de Monteagudo.

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The path continued along, giving more views of the islands, but grew more steadily built up. I rounded the edge of the bay and entered the main built-up areas after Coruxo and began to see tall buildings in the distance. For much of the rest of the day, I walked through busy central city streets and roads. There is a fair amount to explore in Vigo, but it was hot, and I was footsore from all the pavement, so didn’t hang around. I then discovered my hostel was in the old town, a fair way away from the trail, so put my head down and marched on. I eventually arrived to find my hostel in what appeared to be a run-down area with plenty of graffiti and empty buildings. But after checking into the hostel and showering, I went for a wander. I turned a corner and came out on an open area filled with cafes, and on the far side, it opened into a large commercial area.

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I hung around the area, chilling out at a restaurant, enjoying people watching and seeing the culture of the area as I drank beer. When darkness fell, other bars and restaurants opened, including a pizza place. I have enjoyed local food but had a hankering I just had to sate.

Day 8 – Vigo to Redondela – Spain – 17.5km

After breakfast in a local cafe, I headed a couple of kilometres up the hill back to the main path and continued on. The heat started early today, but it’s only a short day, so I wasn’t in a hurry. Over the next couple of kilometres, the path climbed up to about 150m and stayed there for much of the rest of the day, allowing me to enjoy the views along the way.

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The trail and the views continued as I walked through the higher urban areas.

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The pavement joined Senda de Agua – water track – a dirt path through the forest, past a small waterfall, and this painted rock.

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After several hundred meters, the track came out into the suburbs again, giving a view of Ponte de Rande before disappearing back into the forest.

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I began descending and emerged at another urban area near a church – the Igrexa parroquial de Santo André de Cedeira – with another view across the harbour.

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From there, it was all downhill into Redondela, which is the official end to the Portuguese Coastal Camino. But this isn’t the end of my walk, the Central Route from Porto also stops here, and this is the trail I’ll follow the rest of the way to Santiago. The heat is apparent, and so is the fact the two trails have connected, as there are many more pilgrims on the streets and in cafes.

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After finding my Albergue, I showered and headed back into town, where I found the Celtic Lead Irish Bar and enjoyed lunch and a couple of beers. I then met up with a Portuguese couple I’d crossed paths with since Esposende, and we wandered the hot streets before finding our way back to the Celtic Luad for more beer.

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Day 9 – Redondela to Pontevedra – Spain – 19.7km

As I prepared for today’s walk, I watched several groups of pilgrims go past in the dark outside the hostel. I’m up early today as it’s going to be another hot one. And now I’m on the Central Route, the number of pilgrims has noticeably increased. I head out and follow the cobbled town roads on my way out of town. After passing several peregrinos, I stopped on the main road for breakfast and a coffee. I then raced on along the road for a short time before coming to a street vendor selling fruit and drinks, but more importantly, offering stamps. I stopped for another coffee before heading off again, passing a group of five Spanish girls on the side of a busy highway. The path then led through a small village with a pair of Albergues and yet more pilgrims. The hard road turned to a dirt road surrounded by trees and began climbing slowly as it made its way around the end of the Ria de Vigo bay.

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The trail headed back into a built-up area before heading down a steep downhill to the main road. At the end of the bay, I came into the village of Arcade and crossed the river that fed into the bay.

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On the bridge, I ran into the Portuguese couple. I walked with them for the rest of the day following the road through several villages as we made our way to Pontevedra, the capital city of Galicia. We stayed in the same Albergue and after showering we walked around the city to see its sights, two grand churches…

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…a bridge, a convent, and the ruins of an ancient church.

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Next, Days 10, 11 & 12, where I finish my pilgrimage in Santiago de Compostela.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Camino Portugués de Costa – Spain – Days 10, 11 & 12

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino de Santiago over 12 days.

Back to Days 6, 7, 8 & 9

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Day 10 – Pontevedra to Caldas De Reis – Spain – 21.3km
Today the trail was quite straightforward following the road out of Pontevedra. As usual, I was on the lookout for breakfast and found a cafe popular with peregrinos. But there I ran into a dutch lady I’d met in the Porto Albergue the night before I’d begun my Camino. It was refreshing to hear English being spoken fluently again and not the occasional forced second or third language.

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While the Camino Portugués has some views, much of the experience is cultural or spiritual, and it’s known for the camaraderie between pilgrims. However, due to COVID, few English speakers were tempted to this side of Europe. This and Americans not already resident in the EU weren’t allowed at all. This has led my Camino to be a contemplative and somewhat solitary experience.

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Once out of Pontevedra it was a quick march through country roads before several kilometres of slow climbing on a dirt path before heading back into villages. The trail led me past fields of grapevines, and even taking me under some.

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There were few views today on the way to Caldas de Reis, and tonight I have a room to myself in a hostel. Caldas de Reis is a town known for its hot springs. In many places along the trail, there are washing pools with running water for pilgrims to clean their clothes or rest weary feet in the cool water. In Caldas de Reis, however, I found a pool filled from a hot spring. It was heaven and great for the leg muscles. I saw others using it too, some stripping down to their underwear and getting right in.

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Day 11 – Caldas De Reis to Padrón – Spain – 18.9km

After eating the breakfast left for me by my hosts, I headed out across Caldas del Reis on quiet streets as it’s Domingo – Sunday.

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I found a coffee and took it with me as I headed out of town, tossing the cup in the last bin I saw. For the next few kilometres, the path climbed 150m, although it wasn’t intense, and in the cool wind, the climbing kept me warm. Today, the first part of the trail is mainly dirt and runs through forest, so not a lot to see.

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I passed a rest stop hankering for a coffee, but it was so full of waiting pilgrims I decided to push on. The path weaved across a highway before running beside a motorway until Valga where it began to descend through villages with fields of grapevines, corn and other crops.

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Still hankering for a coffee, I stopped at a cafe in San Miguel de Valga. While I was there, a Dutch guy arrived, and we got talking. After having an early lunch, we left the cafe and chatted for the last few kilometres before arriving in the outskirts of Padrón, barely remembering the walk. There was a large Sunday market going on in town and masses of people everywhere. With the current COVID threat in Spain, this made me nervous, so and I suggested we take a less direct route through town. At the end of the market areas, we went out separate ways, and I located my hostel before heading out to explore.

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Padrón is a classic little town with a central old town like many places across Europe. In my exploration, I ran into the Dutch guy once more, and we sat for a beer and some food before he headed off to his hostel outside of town.

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Day 12 – Padrón to Santiago de Compostela – Spain – 25.6km

On the final day on this latest adventure, I headed out from the hostel and along the dark streets of Padrón. Today, I’d read, would be one of the less interesting days, as the trail begins the slow climb into Santiago de Compostela and right from the beginning the urban sprawl began. After five kilometres, I arrived at A Escravitude, where I found this Igrexa.

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For the next 15 or so kilometres, I walked through leafy suburbs on thin roads making my way uphill towards the centre of the city.

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From here there are few views, and those are mainly of low hills and tree-covered suburbs.

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When I entered the main built-up area of the city, the path led me along the main drag. With more stone buildings around, the heat rose, and I found a vending station to buy a drink. The road then led me up to the Central Park, which in turn led me into Cidade Vella – Old Town in Galician. Cidade Vella in Santiago is rather large and is a spiderweb of walkways with many shops, restaurants and cafes. I found my way to the official ending point of the walk and emerged in the grand square to perhaps 20 groups of pilgrims spread out in front of the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela.

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I found a shady spot at the back of the square and sat down for a rest, watching pilgrims in the square languish about taking photos as more groups arrived. After my break, I located the pilgrim office, filled out the relevant online form and collected my official certificates of completion. I then located my hostel and checked in before returning to find lunch. Later, I got a late afternoon photo of the cathedral.

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I then ran into a Spanish girl who I’d seen walking and discovered she spoke English. I sat down for some beers with her and another Spanish guy. Later that evening, we gathered a group of Spanish people, some who could speak English, and went for dinner and more beers. Much fun was had.

I spent the next day wandering around the old town of Santiago and eating local food. While it’s served many places, I located a suitable place to try to Pulpo – Octopus – which I rather enjoyed.

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Final Impressions of Camino Portugués de Costa

I have completed two hikes this year, and this would have been my first had COVID not caused it be moved after the Tour du Mont Blanc. This was a long-distance, low altitude, cultural experience with some views, while the TMB was a challenging, high peak climbing, massive mountain hike with amazing views. While I very much enjoyed the cultural experience of the Camino, it would have been better to do it first as the TMB took away some of its grandeur. That and with many English speakers avoiding the region meant fewer friendships were made and more of a lonely experience.

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But, in the spirit of the Camino, it was still an enjoyable cultural experience. It opened my eyes to the beauty of northern Portugal, and allowed me to experience Spain. The food in both countries was amazing and the people friendly and understanding of my low level of Spanish. I have studied the language to a beginner level and it was enough to survive, but it has pushed me to reach the next level before I head to Spain for my next Camino, the Camino Frances in a year.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Camino Portugués de Costa – Portugal & Spain – Days 3, 4 & 5

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked the Portuguese Coastal Camino de Santiago over 12 days.

Back to Days 0, 1 & 2

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Day 3 – Esposende to Viana Do Castelo – Portugal – 28.5km

With yet another hot day coming, I headed out from the hostel and quickly found a coffee and breakfast. I then headed to the beach and followed the wooden boardwalk along the seaside. It was just early enough for holidaymakers to begin making their way down to the beach. But, it would also be the last beach I’d see for the rest of the day as the path cut inland through suburban roads to the town of Marinhas.

I then followed backroads through several villages, with only the occasional view of the ocean. I came through the township of Belinho and crossed the main road, heading between two buildings with interesting stonework. The houses here are all very different, many are covered in patterned tiles or stonework. I’m told the tiling is very common in Northern Portugal.

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I continued on for another couple of kilometres making my way to the Rio Neiva after which there is a stiff climb, the first on this hike. However, a recent flood had wiped out the bridge, so a detour took me well down towards the coast to another one. On the other side, the path led me back up the hill where I passed the Italian walkers I’d met the day before. I then climbed a hill near Castelo do Neiva, a church with a fair view along the coast and ocean.

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The trail then led me up over a small peak – 155m – then through a eucalyptus forest where a sign pointed me to a house and a stamp. On the other side of the hill, I came to a large old monastery, Mosterio de São Romão de Neiva, where I stopped at a pilgrim’s stop for some water. There are many Pilgrim stops along the trail, with stone seats, water fonts, and sometimes pools to wash clothes or dip hot feet into.

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Then, after the township of Chafé, I climbed a steep set of roads and came down with a view of Viana do Castelo across the Rio Lima, including the church on the hill, Santuário de Santá Luzia.

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And a closer look…

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I crossed Ponte Eiffel, a bridge built by Gustave Eiffel, I’m sure I don’t need to mention any of his other projects. The bridge is near a kilometre long with a thin walkway on either side. My accommodation was right on the other side, so I got a good shot of it from the other side, including the bay.

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At the hostel, I had originally booked a bed in a 20-bed room, but due to COVID, they had closed it, upgrading me for free to a room with four beds, which I had all to myself.

Day 4 – Viana Do Castelo to Caminha – Portugal – 28.4km

After breakfast at the hostel, I headed out through town following the high route, which passed below the Santuário. After a couple of kilometres on the same kind of road with only the occasional view, I decided to detour down to the beachfront, where I passed the remnants of several windmills. With the wind off the ocean, it was cooler than on the higher path.

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Then after an hour, I climbed the hill at Carreço back to the higher road for another impending climb. As the Camino has few ascents, I treasured any climbs as they usually come with views.

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On the other side of the hill, I walked into the town of Âncora and then to the beach – Praia de Âncora. With the heat continuing to rise, I again enjoyed the cool ocean breeze.

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I followed the trail along the beach for a couple of kilometres into Moledo where I had my first sight of Spain and Monte de Santa Tregá.

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I followed the road around and into town where I spied the word “stamp” in yellow on the ground along with an arrow pointing to a balcony. On it, a strange man was smiling at me and offered me a stamp which he assured me was free. We chatted for a bit before I again headed on. The remaining 5km into Caminha was a flat and straight road. That evening I ate a cheese and sausage platter for dinner – why not – before going for some beers with an Italian guy I’d run into a couple of times. But, like many others I’d met in Portugal, he wasn’t crossing into Spain due to the much higher COVID rate.

Day 5 – Caminha to Villadesuso – Spain – 20.2km

As it’s Monday, the ferry to Spain doesn’t run, but the guy at the Albergue told me I could catch a water taxi from 8 AM. I went down to the harbour at 9 AM, but no-one was there.

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I went for a coffee, and when I came back, other pilgrims were also waiting – two Spanish guys and a Swiss girl. Eventually, the four of us were able to catch a water taxi across the harbour.

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We arrived in the sleepy town of Camposancos, where the path took us up the hill. It didn’t climb too far before heading us down again to A Guarda, a seaside town with plenty of charm. Now I’m in Spain, the clocks have gone forward an hour, and it’s already lunchtime. But by the time I got to the end of the town, I’d neglected to get anything so decided to get something at the next village. I left A Guarda passing a beach with some topless ladies, something I discovered is common in Spain.

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There is no longer wooden boardwalks, the trail is now along a rocky path. Also, Spain has a more strict mask-wearing policy, so I have to be more vigilant. The trail led me along beside the sea for sometime before climbing up to the road, then a couple of kilometres further on returned me back to the beach.

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After 6km I came to Portecelo, but there were no shops in the village, so I kept walking. After another 6km I arrived in Oia where there were 2 restaurants, but as it was only mid-afternoon, I grabbed a bag of potato chips and a coke. 4km further on was my stop for the night, Villadesuso and I got settled into the Albergue.

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Compared to Portugal, the Spanish speak less English, so it was time to put my Spanish lessons to the test. I found a restaurant in a hotel with special peregrinos rates: €15 for 4 courses, including a drink. However, the waitress spoke no English, but I managed to get by with my limited vocabulary and even managed a short conversation. Then it was back to the hostel and bed.

Next, Days 6, 7, 8 & 9, where I drink at an Irish bar Spanish style and reach the capital of Galicia.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Camino Portugués de Costa – Portugal – Days 0, 1 & 2

In late August 2020, with the world still under the heel of the COVID-19 pandemic, I flew to Portugal to begin the Portuguese Camino de Santiago. The route I chose begins in the city of Porto and runs along the coast to the border of Spain, where it makes its way slowly inland to Santiago de Compostela.

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The total length of the route is 280km, which I plan to complete over 12 days. Unlike the Tour du Mont Blanc, which I completed recently, Camino Portugués do Costa is fairly flat, so it will be more of a daily hike for distance than massive climbs. And, before water, my pack will be between 9kg and 10kg. Except for the first day, the trail is well marked, either with the symbol of the shell with an arrow or just a yellow arrow.

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Day 0 – Porto Arrival
I arrived in Porto the day before the hike and was collected by a regional workmate. From the airport, he took me on a tour of the city, showing me several sights, including this temple in Gaia north of the city. The haze is actually fog.

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We then stopped at a top seafood restaurant for some local delicacies, cod patties, squid, and sardines asadas. Amazing. My workmate then dropped me off at my Albergue. After booking in, I went for a walk and found this church – Igreja do Carmo – with its tiled facade.

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That evening, I hung out with a slowly growing group of employees, new pilgrims, and other recent arrivals. We drank beer and waited as an asada – BBQ – was prepared with salted beef. Then, a dozen of us crowded around a table and enjoyed a great dinner. Afterwards, a fire was stoked, and we sat around drinking more beer while an American guy played guitar.

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Overall a great experience, and this even before I’d started walking.

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Day 1 – Porto to Vila do Conde – Portugal – 33.2km

As I went to bed later than expected, I woke late – 7 AM – and went down to pack. I’m usually more prepared at night, so it takes less time in the morning, but last night was fun. By 8, I was ready to head out. As I’m walking the coastal track – Senda Litoral – along the river to the beach and along the beachfront to Vila do Conde, my official start point is the Cathedral. I walked downhill to the Cathedral, adding an extra 2.7km to my route, stopping on the way for breakfast and a coffee. The below Monument to Bishop Pedro Pitões is at the front of the 12th-century religious site.

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I then found my way down to the river and followed the road around to and past the Ponte da Arrábida bridge watching some old fashion streetcars run back and forth along the tracks.

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After 6.3km, I arrived at Foz do Douro, where the river meets the sea, and followed the boardwalk along the waterfront in front of houses and the Parque da Cidade. Next to the port, I spied the first beach. On the other side of the port, I passed the industrial part of the city, another beach, and a massive refinery. Then, after walking 20km, I finally left the confines of Porto city at Boa Nova Lighthouse and stopped for lunch at a local restaurant.

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For the rest of the day, I walked along wooden boardwalks above the sand, slowly making my way north. From time to time, I passed small quaint seaside villages in classic Northern Portuguese style, the outer walls of the houses covered with tiles.

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At one point, a fog rolled in blocking views out to sea and further along the beach. There’s a cold current running along this region of Portugal, and on a hot day, the fog rolls up the beach. It’s odd, as I associate fog with cold days, but the sunbathers don’t seem to mind, although there’s not much swimming going on.

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I eventually headed inland and crossed a bridge into Vila do Conde, where I quickly found the hostel. After 37.5km, I was footsore and ready for a shower. A few buildings down I relaxed with a large beer before going for a brief walk around town. It didn’t take me long to realise walking more after today’s long walk was just silly, so I headed back to rest and prepare tomorrow.

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Day 2 – Vila do Conde to Esposende – Portugal – 24.4km

Well rested, I headed out in the morning, following a side road to a cafe where I stopped for breakfast and a coffee. I then followed a road towards the ocean, crossed at a tiled mural began along the beachfront.

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Much of the coastline in front of Vila do Conde is a beach, but when the town ends, so does the sand.

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The rocky coastline continued for several kilometres before the trail took me inland. I followed a series of back roads through farmed fields and long white greenhouses with only the occasional view of the sea. Without the constant breeze from the Atlantic Ocean, the heat became more apparent. For the second day, it was clear blue skies and sunshine, weather that would last for the duration of my time on the Iberian Peninsula. The road continued on through the township of Apúlia, where I discovered a break room for pilgrims. It was simply a small room with a pair of vending machines, some seats, and the all-important stamp. To officially complete the hike, I need to get 2 stamps a day in my credential – also known as the pilgrim passport, so any opportunity to get stamps is welcomed.

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And in one of the vending machines, I was surprised to see beer, but I bought snacks and coke instead. While I was there, a large group of Italian pilgrims arrived. They seemed suddenly interested when they discovered there was a stamp and, ignoring social distancing, crowded inside. I chatted for a bit with some English speakers before heading off. As the pilgrimage was initially a religious experience, the trail wends its way past numerous churches every day.

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The trail then led me through a forest on a dirt road before coming to the small township of Fão where I crossed Rio Cávado. On the other side, I followed a side road into Esposende, where I found my hostel wasn’t open for another 2 hours. I hung around in town, had lunch, and enjoyed the weather down near the river. For dinner, I tried something I’d been told about called Francesinha Especial.

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This feast is a triple-decker sandwich made with a meat paddy, steak, ham, beef sausage, and chorizo, lavished with melted cheese and topped with a fried egg. The entire thing is smothered in a special sauce and served with fries.

Next, Days 3, 4 & 5, where I see a church on a hill and cross into Spain.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – Italy/Switzerland – Days 5 & 6

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 5 & 6.
Back to days 3 & 4.

Day 5 – Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti – Italy – 11km

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After a good night’s sleep and a massive breakfast at my Airbnb, I head down into the town for last-minute supplies. I stopped to take a photo of where I’d climbed down from yesterday.

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From Courmayeur, the trail follows a steadily climbing road for about 3km before cutting into the forest. Thankfully, my Airbnb at 1250m elevation was halfway along this road, cutting a bit of climbing off my day. At the end of the day, I pushed into the forest and up a fairly steep set of zig-zagging paths. With little to see but trees, I found my zone and got on with the climbing. I eventually came out of the trees at 1850m to great views across Courmayeur.

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A further 100m climb and I stopped briefly at Refugio Giorgio Bertone for a cold drink then climbed the hill above where I stopped for lunch. After eating, I had the difficult decision of whether to take the official route or the higher, harder, variant. After being told by my host’s son last night that the walk into Switzerland would be a hard one, I decided to follow everyone else along the easier route. The trail skirted around the side of the valley at about 2000m and stayed that way for about 5km. Always in its stunning beauty, across the valley, the wall of the massif.

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The trail pushed into the forest and rounded into a gully where Torrente d’Arminaz, a wide and fast-flowing stream ran down the mountainside with a bridge crossing it. As it had been another hot day in the mountains, I found a great spot, got my feet out of my boots and into the icy water. No doubt the sound of my pleasure reverberated along the valley. With no hurry to push on the last couple of kilometres to my rifugio, I hung out at the spot for some time. As I did, other walkers came by, and they too took the opportunity to cool off in the water. Of course, it wouldn’t be right without one of my Dutch companions, this time the Dutch guy, who also got his feet into the water. After a while, we dried off, booted up and headed out.

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The last couple of kilometres were an easy walk, and we came past another Dutch trio, a couple and their son, who I chatted to as we came to final 50m climb up to the Rifugio. It was still early afternoon, and the Rifugio didn’t open until 4pm, so as a group we hung out around the tables chatting in the heat. Because of Coronavirus, the rifugio was only accepting prebookings, so the Dutch guy continued on to find a wild camping spot. After a shower, I hung out with the Dutch family. We drank beer and ate Italian sausage while talking about the trek and admiring the view.

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The father, about my age, had walked this route a couple of times. He had also climbed many of the peaks along the massif. I hung with them during dinner, which was full vegetarian, and then a couple more beers before retiring to bed early in preparation for the coming day.

Day 6 – Rifugio Bonatti to La Fouly – Italy to Switzerland – 17km

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As yesterday was not as hard a day as I’d read, today is supposed to make up for it, with an intense descent, a hard ascent and another long descent. After breakfast, I bid farewell to the Dutch family, another group I wouldn’t see again and headed out around the back of the Refugio. Over the next 3km, there would be some minor climbs and descents, but the massive wall of the massif across the valley stopped me from caring, the beauty and immensity of it.

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I arrived at a farmhouse and saw that the trail cut down the mountain on switchbacks, although nothing too steep or difficult.

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I followed the trail, descending 250m to Chalet Val Ferret, where I stopped for a cold drink. The weather again was warm, but storms were on the forecast later in the day. I followed the river for a short time until I came to the beginning of the first climb, which was crowded with cows. Looking for an alternative route, I followed the road around for a bit before climbing the steep grassy slope, a 350m climb before it flattened out. A short sharp climb took me to Rifugio Elena, which is closed this season. I stopped for a break and a bite to eat before the big climb to come. The view opposite…

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The first signs of dark clouds could be seen as I climbed the at times steep path zigzagging its way up the mountain for another 475m of elevation.

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Since I’ve been climbing for five days, while the sweat is still pouring off me, my legs have grown used to the effort, and again I don’t seem to notice the hardship as much. As I topped Col Val Ferret and the border of Switzerland, I stopped for lunch and to enjoy the view, putting on a jacket in the cooler breeze.

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After eating, and at the first signs of rain, I headed down the other side into Switzerland. The trail flowed gently down into the valley, and I stopped as a Marmot ran across the trail.

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Not long after, the rain came briefly before the heat again rose. I followed the trail down before it zig-zagged a couple of times and came out at a farm, Alpage de la Puele, where I stopped for a cold beer. I continued on down on a green hill that felt reminiscent of everything I’ve ever seen of Switzerland, heading steadily down to a river. I crossed and following a road around into a forest.

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After passing a quaint Swiss village, I cut down to the river again, where I found many piles of stones. I followed the river for some time, then after a short steep climb, I was deposited in La Fouly, a classic looking Swiss village. After pitching my tent at the campground, I headed into town for a beer and dinner.

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I sat alone enjoying a drink on a table next a young British couple and a younger Dutch couple. I was reading my guide book when who should appear but the Dutch girl, who’d already met the two couples. We joined them and began talking about food when an American couple appeared, shortly followed by my friend, the Dutch guy. A good evening was had with the larger group, ending with 4 of us in another bar playing cards. Unfortunately, just as we were leaving, the sky opened in full storm, leaving two of us ran back to the campground.

Next, two more days in Switzerland. Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland – Days 7 & 8.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tongariro Alpine Crossing, Central Plateau, New Zealand

Mount Tongariro is one of several volcanos in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s the northernmost of the three volcanic cones just to the south of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake.

Mount Tongariro is also the location of one of the most popular hikes in New Zealand: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This is a 19.4 kilometre hike that climbs over the Tongariro massif, past the summit of both Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.

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Map is © Copyright Tongariro Alpine Crossing Please visit that site for more information.

A group of us decided to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing towards the end of the season. We made arrangements and drove down from Auckland on Friday night with the intentions of climbing early Saturday morning. The four-hour drive turned into five and a half as we left during Auckland’s rush hour. We arrived late in the evening and bedded down for the night with alarms set.

A Bad Start
When we awoke on Saturday Morning it was raining and didn’t look pleasant. We went for breakfast and waited to find out if the we could still do the walk. The answer came back a resounding no. The rain and strong winds meant the mountain was closed. All we could do was hang out for the day and hope for better weather on Sunday.

What Tongariro should look like, apparently…
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Ominous News
We were up and had breakfast early on Sunday but the weather still didn’t look great. The mountain was still not visible from our lodgings and when our driver arrived he had bad news. He believed the mountain was again closed and wouldn’t take us, leaving us a little downhearted. We asked the owner of the lodge and he was unconvinced. He rang another driver who confirmed the mountain was in fact open and would take us up.

We were driven to the trailhead in the rain with trepidation, but with the number of other vehicles heading up, it seemed others would also be braving it.

Trailhead – Mangetapopo Carpark – 1100m
We began at the Mangetapopo carpark in a slight drizzle. There were no views of the massif or much else due to the low cloud. The trail was a mix of mud, stones, wooden platforms and people. There were hundreds of others doing the track with us. If this many were doing it on a bleak day, who could guess how busy it would be on a clear one.

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The walk was easy and for the first seven or so kilometres we barely noticed the 250m climb towards Soda Springs. I walked in a quick dry sports singlet, my hiking zip-off shorts and boots. The drizzle was constant but not heavy and I was fairly warm. Others wore long pants and full Gore-tex jackets.

Soda Springs – 1350m
At Soda Springs there is a warning sign: STOP! Are you really prepared? It suggested it was going to get difficult and to turn back if you weren’t prepared. As I waited for my group, I watched several people get to the sign, stare at it for a while and then turn back. With the drizzle picking up I put on a rain poncho over my singlet and began the climb.

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It became more rugged, with a rough dirt trail and steps weaving up the side of the mountain towards South Crater. The drizzle continued and the climb became more a little more difficult, but not by much. After a while of steady climbing we began seeing people returning along with trail with warnings of how bad it was higher up.

With the constant drizzle and the warnings I was tempted to turn back. Why do a climb when you can’t see anything the entire time? You climb for the views and the experience, but the only experience would be a wet cloudy one. I put on a jumper under my rain poncho and we continued on.

South Crater – 1650m
We climbed onto the area described as South Crater and out of the wind. With visibility around 20m we walked on the flat for a while, happy for the rest from climbing.

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Red Crater – 1886m
After the mud flats of South Crater we began up the ridge and discovered the wind that had been putting everyone off. It was blowing an absolute gale and you could see the drizzle sweeping over the ridge into the cloudy nothingness. I was not surprised people had turned back but since we’d come this far it seemed silly to head back. We pushed on, dodging between rocky outcrops so as not to be blown off.

We reached the top but couldn’t see anything so just kept walking, beginning the plunge down the other side, some members of our group going arse-over-tit on the slippery silt.

Emerald Lakes – 1730m
The small Emerald Lakes would have been amazing to view from higher up but they only appeared out of the gloom when we were 10m above them. It was still good to see something other than dirt, rock and rain. By now we were completely soaked, we continued on down.

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Not far below the Emerald Lakes we came to the Blue Lake covered in the same clouds.

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Ketetahi – 1456m
After several switchbacks we finally emerged from the clouds to see the Ketetahi Hut. The drizzle let up but the wind did not. We stopped briefly for a snack before pressing on.

For the next part of the trek we were in open ground along a winding trail. Since a great many people had turned back, we only saw two other groups on the way down. Then having spent much of the day hidden in clouds we finally got some views. Lake Rotoaira appeared and we even got the occasional glimpse of Lake Taupo beyond.

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Ketetahi Car Park 800m
With 4km to the car park the trail dove into rainforest and grew warmer. We crossed a river on a wooden walkway and eventually arrived at the trail’s end after what seemed a lot longer than 45 minutes the sign had suggested.

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Overall, due to the weather, out Tongariro Alpine Crossing was disappointing mainly of the lack of views. In the rain and cold, the hike didn’t feel overly difficult. It took us only 5.5 hours of the suggested 8 hours and of the 2.5 litres of water I took with me, I came out with more than 2.

Perhaps it would have been more difficult in direct sunlight, but I’ll have to come back another time to see. Maybe the next time I’m in New Zealand.

The Trail Wanderer

Mapping My Journey So Far

Sixteen months on the road is a long time. During that time I covered quite a distance and did many things. While I’ve been ‘resting’ in the United Kingdom, I’ve put together a step by step rundown of my trip including maps.

South East Australia

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In a van called the Pointy Brick I…

Antarctica, Chile and Argentina

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From Brisbane, I flew to Auckland and spent 3 weeks with family before flying to South America where I…

Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador

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From Buenos Aires I…

Colombia, Central America and Mexico

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From Ecuador I…

The Full Map. May take some time to load.

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The World Wanderer

Volcán Concepción, Nicaragua

The towering cone of Volcán Concepción on Isla Ometepe looks imposing when crossing Lake Nicaragua towards it. The closer the perspective, the more intimidating the peak, which usually has a cap of cloud atop it…

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But on the rare occasion when the clouds do disappear the full cone is visible in all it’s splendour. This was how it was the day before we were due to climb it.

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When looking to climb one of the two volcanos on Isla de Ometepe, I’d decided on Volcán Maderas, Volcán Concepción’s little sister. I was told that both volcanoes take the same amount of time to climb, but Volcán Maderas was muddier and less fun. So, eight of us from the hostel booked Volcán Concepción instead. We hoped for another beautifully clear day but we were to have no such luck.

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We met our guide during breakfast in the town of Moyogalpa and caught a chicken bus for 20 minutes to the trailhead where we began walking along the trail strewn with rocks and sand.

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We followed the track for 30 minutes, stopping to peer up at a group of Howler Monkey’s in the trees. It’s amazing how much noise these small monkeys actually make.

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The trail abruptly became steeper and our climb began. The trail began fairly steeply through the trees on roots and dirt steps. While the climb wasn’t overly hard, it seemed harder because of the humidity. We stopped regularly for 5-minute breaks, although there were no views available through the trees.

The only forewarning we had of coming to the tree line was the cool wind, a godsend in the humidity. When we did break the tree line we emerged into the clouds which again obscured our view. We stopped in a windy spot to decide our next course of action and managed to get a cloudy shot of the island below us.

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Then came the difficult decision: continue climbing to the top covered in cloud the entire time with no visibility or head down to a more scenic viewpoint. We decided to climb a little further but after ten minutes and being battered by cold winds in the dense clouds we turned back, deciding to take the scenic path instead. This upset two of the climbers, both of whom wanted to get to the top no matter what.

We followed a thin trail around the side of the volcano and dropped below the cloud line to a point where we could finally get some decent photographs of the island below and the lake around it.

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We continued climbing around to a large crack running down the volcano where lava had flowed years earlier. We took a break on the hardened lava.

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The lower we climbed, the more the mainland of Nicaragua could be seen on the other side of the lake and beyond that in the distance, the Pacific Ocean.

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As we neared the bottom, we looked back up the great crack in the side of the mountain.

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And because we hadn’t come back down the same way we’d climbed, we had to walk ninety minutes back across the island to Moyogalpa.

Overall, the hike was not as difficult as expected, although it may have grown more so had we pushed on through the clouds to the top. I’m not unhappy to not have made it to the top, as without pictures it would have been an empty victory.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Volcán Barú, Panama

Barely 37km from the border of Costa Rica is Panama’s tallest mountain, Volcán Barú. At just under 3,500m, it’s still considered high altitude but is really just a molehill compared to 6,000m tall mountains of Andes. Volcán Barú is commonly climbed for the rare possibility of seeing both the Pacific Ocean to the south and the Caribbean sea to the north. It’s rare because the view to the Caribbean is often blocked by a layer of clouds.

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There’s two ways to the top of Volcán Barú, either taking a 4×4 vehicle tour or to hike. The hike is difficult and long at 13km from the trailhead to the peak (with a 1,750 climb in altitude) before 13km back again. What makes it a challenge is most people begin climbing at midnight, aiming to see the sunrise from the summit after walking 6 hours in the dark. Hiking 26km makes for a long day at the best of times, but beginning at midnight makes it just nasty. I even tried to nap in the afternoon, but only managed an hour, which was nowhere near enough.

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Getting to the trail head is fairly easy, with one of the hostels offering transport for US$5. Then after a very short briefing, we were pointed off along a wide track and told to just keep climbing no matter what forks in the trail we see. Except for 3 short descents, the 13km was a steady climb along the wide rocky trail. When you’re hiking at night all you have is your head torch and the ground directly ahead of you to look at.

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We were lucky to be walking under the full moon, so it wasn’t always necessary to use the head lamps. But even in daylight there would be little to see, as there are trees along both sides of the trail. We did come to several locations where we looked down upon the township of Boquete. The lights were beautiful but fleeting and too distant for good photos.

Getting to the summit for sunrise was not my aim, so I took is more slowly. When sunrise did hit, I was still half a kilometre from the summit but was able to watch it, seeing the same view as I would have from the top.

Unfortunately it was around this point where altitude sickness struck. It felt like someone had split my head in half and prodded at the insides with their fingers. As I climbed the last of the trail to the radio tower buildings at the top it grew worse and I started to feel ill.

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The last 500 metres was steeper than the rest and when I made it to the top I found the howling wind rough. I found a secluded spot and put on some warm clothing. When dressed, I looked around the buildings and took photos of the surrounds.

To the south was the city of David and the islands in the Gulf of Chiriqui beyond.

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To the west, Costa Rica.

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On the other side, I discovered the buildings were not at the absolute summit, as there was a rocky outcrop that climbed perhaps 30m higher. To get to the top was a rocky scramble, but with the state of my head and stomach I decided against it. The cross on top is the highest point in the country.

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From the northern side of the summit I was out of luck with seeing the Caribbean sea but instead clouds fading away into the distance.

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While I sat huddled out of the wind, one of the girls from my hostel found me and sat with me while I brewed a cup of tea using my hiking stove.

The walk down was very long but straightforward. The trail descends for most of its length except for three points where it climbs. Half way up the first and longest of the three climbs, my tiredness gave out and I lay down on a large rock for a power nap, letting my friend walk on alone. I woke forty minutes later slightly refreshed and no longer feeling the altitude.

The rest of the walk was more of a stagger although I did manage to catch my friend again. We discovered there were many wild flowers growing along the trail but was too exhausted to take photos beyond this one…

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We passed some of the lookouts and caught daylight glimpse of Boquete…

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We eventually made it to the end of the trail and exhausted, booked a taxi through the ranger before being whisked away back to the hostel for a shower and a well deserved sleep.

Overall, the hike up Volcán Barú was okay. I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t suffered altitude sickness at the end and if we’d started at a more reasonable time. While walking at night was fine – it’s cooler out of the sun and there isn’t much to see anyway – the main difficulty is the length. To make the hike more enjoyable, I would make it a two-day hike, camping just below the summit, climbing to see the sunrise early on morning two before the long walk back again.

The Lone Trail Wanderer.

Boquete, Panama – Impressions.

Nestled in the mountain plains 60km from the border of Costa Rica is the mountain town of Boquete (‘Boc-ket-e’). At 1,200 metres above sea level, the township is cooler than the rest of Panama and this makes it a popular holiday destination for both locals and travellers alike. It’s also one of the leading retirement locations for US citizens outside of the United States.

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Boquete is next to Parque Nacional Volcán Barú and is the primary starting point for those who wish to climb the volcano, the tallest mountain in Panama. The mountains around Boquete contain many short trails but the only real hike is the volcano climb, although it’s not the best of hikes as there’s little to see along its 26km length.

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Every year in mid-January Boquete hosts a flower and coffee festival that runs for ten days. It’s a very popular occasion with people coming from all over the country to party late into the night at the dance hall. Feriado Las Flores y del Cafe – literal translation: Holiday Flowers and Coffee.

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The fiesta is less crowded during the day, which allows better access to see the impressive flower displays.

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There are plenty of things to do in Boquete besides hiking and the festival, these include horse riding, visiting coffee plantations and farms, and the Aguas Calientes – hot springs.

For $2 you can spend all day on the property where several pools have been crudely set up. The crudeness gives it character, and if you get too hot there’s a river nearby to cool off in.

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Overall, Boquete has a vibrant energy about it and is a great place to hide away from Panama’s year round heat.

Next, I cross the border into Costa Rica to the capital of San José.

The World Wanderer