WPC: Wanderlust the Hiker

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My good friend Carla and I, off to hike the Coast to Coast path in Northern England.

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Cresting the Ridgeway in Southern England


Crossing the moors on the West  Highland Way, Scotland

I know I get around more than most.  One of the downsides of moving all the time is that it can wear out the spark or lust for adventure.  Just figuring out how to get your bills paid can be adventure enough at times!   For my real getaway–my real adventure– is to go long distance walking:  Seeing the trail written before you.  Following it despite whatever the weather throws at you.  Wondering what is around the next corner.


Blue Mountain Trails


As a kind of part two to my earlier post about our stay in the blue mountains, here are some favourite photos from the trails around Holywell. They were much too interesting not be awarded a post of their own, and it was a great excuse to use my macro lens.


Many of the Holywell trails are steep and up and down paths that cut through the hillside.  Either side of you are jungle, shady nooks and mossy banks, which make the hikes pleasantly cool.


The minute we entered on to the cabin grounds, we were approached by a salesman selling raspberries. I had heard they grew up here and was planning on picking some myself, but when I saw how I would have to scramble down steep trail banks to get them it certainly seemed worth buying them rather than getting a broken ankle.  This went against my hunter-gatherer instinct but it was probably a smart decision.  When I told the sales guy that picking them looked a bit risky, he said, “I know what you mean. That’s why I have my own plants at my house!”


January felt like a kind of Spring here, with baby fern shoots everywhere.  I wonder if you can eat them like fiddlehead fern soup?…


…in fact ferns cover most of the jungle floor.  I loved how they made cooling, shady umbrellas.


And you know when you’ve reached a certain elevation…there they are: pine trees.


A typical view across from the trail.  I want to go and visit that house!


What looks like some kind of bearded moss parasite draped trees everywhere on the mountainside.  It added a spooky air, but it did make me worry about the health of the trees?


One of the Holywell cabins is called “hotlips” and of course my mind went to Major Hoolihan from Mash.  In fact, the cabin wasn’t named after what might go on inside, the name hotlips actually comes from a local plant whose flower looks like a pair of lipsticked lips.  See the resemblance?


Hike to Zogaria


The peaceful wide trail at the start of the hike

The trail to Zogeria is one of the longest on the island and has been on my hiking to-do list for years. Zogeria is on the northern tip of Spetses and starts with the usual hike up to the ridge road, and then takes a right-hand turn towards the Church of Agias Ilias, the highest point on the island.   Latham and I stopped there for a small breakfast and enjoyed the views from the row of red chairs that look out to the sparkling early morning sea.  From the sterna of Agias Ilias you can see out to both sides of the island (reminding you how small the island really is), but our peace was broken by the bees were up early too, so we grabbed the map and figured out the start of the new northbound trail that we hadn’t taken before.

The first part was easy to follow but finding the turn off was harder.  When we found it, it looked very narrow and rarely used.  Pricker bushes grew over the path or threatened to catapult across your legs, armed with thorns that looked like they could pierce leather.  It was easy to believe that we had taken a wrong turn, but we moved carefully onward and it brought us to the right place, an obscure point on the main ring road which I had never noticed  before as a trail head.  Had we been on a motorbike, we would have turned right and taken the wide dirt trail directly down to the sea and followed the path a bumpy 1-2km to the beach at Zogeria.  Our pedestrian map told us to turn left and walk a short way along the concrete road, turning right on to a long narrow trail that paralleled the lower coast road.  It kept us high up forever, winding back and forth. Now three hours into the hike,  the sun was getting higher and hotter in the sky.  I was starting to wilt and the most challenging part of the walk was upon us: spiders!  Lots of them.   Strung out across the path from tree-to-tree.  You couldn’t see the threat of their invisible webs until they were upon you. If your attention waned for just a few moments, suddenly there would be the caress of an elastic web string pulling across your face, a pregnant pause, and the veil of the web would land in your hair with the promise of a very large spider in the middle of it!   We tried to tread waringly.

Latham grabbed a stick to serve as the Spidermaster 1000, and waving it ahead of us Harry Potter-style, he caught almost all of the invisible webs before they caught us.  A few slipped through the wand’s magic powers and we batted our heads and waved our arms, screaming the spiders out of our hair.   After forty five minutes of this, I was exhausted and wobbly,  but happily the path started to descend towards the sea.  All I could think of was how I was going to  throw myself in the ocean headfirst.

We cooled off in the sea for a blissful 20 minutes, then started the final, easy hike along the coast road to Zogeria Beach.  It had been a 4.5 hour hike with the swim stop.  I’d do it again, but next time I’ll be turning right!


One of the terrible spider beasties – out to get us!


Wielding the Spidermaster 1000 against the evil spider army


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These people arrived by boat on Zogeria beach.  No spider-battling stories for them!


The reward of a greek salad at the end of the hike.

Hara Chapel


Leading from the side of the Hara home are the remains of a pretty mosiac path that winds through the pine trees.  The trail clearly promises some kind of discovery at the end, although we didn’t know what.  With curiosity, we followed it to discover a small chapel that was is need of some TLC but was pretty good structural condition otherwise, but it had no front door.  The paint was peeling off the exterior walls, but the inside was still a blaze of colour.


And inside someone was still tending the place. Candles burned at the icons of mother and child, the floor was swept, and garlands of olive branches decorated the walls. An old plastic chair in the corner must have been the caretaker’s private spot to enjoy the quiet and peace of the place. We sat a while and looked up to the ceiling. It was a blaze of blue with stars looking down on the pretty ochre walls and wooden carvings.





So sad that the chapel sits there so lonely most of the time, but its I’m glad to see someone still takes care of it a bit. Wonder what happened to the doors?

A Word a Week Photo Challenge: Rust


Every summer for about the last ten years, I’ve tried to retrace steps to the other side of the island where we usually don’t visit very often. The reason is that getting back is difficult because there’s no bus to take you back and its usually too hot or too dark to walk both ways in August.


This year we worked out the logistics with motorbikes and Latham and set off early evening to find an old abandoned house that I remember from years back, Hara.  It’s distinctive gate has its name written above in rusting letters, “Xara” (Hara) meaning “joy” in Greek.  I hadn’t seen it for about fifteen years and remembered little except that distinctive gate.  I did recall though that it had an intact roof and locked doors and windows, which wasn’t the case when we visited this time.

The roof had collapsed in many places, some rooms were filled with broken rafters and tiles, but a few still remained recognizable as their original function.  We wandered around, exploring the nooks and crannies of what was once someone’s home.  The house once belonged to the poet sisters Mary and Irene Botassi, and Irene’s husband Herman, after they retired from living in Switzerland.  As far as I can figure, the house has been abandoned for over fifty years.  It  was both fascinating and sad to see it slowly crumble.

Click here for other rust submissions







“Xara” in pebble mosiac, buried under years of pine cones.



The Church of the Panagia Daskalakis


Panayia Daskalakis is one of our favourite hiking destinations. We’ve been hiking up to it from our house for the best part of the last twenty years. We have carried Latham up in a baby backpack, explored as a group of moms and toddlers and, once school started, we’ve continued to visited each summer when we return. Every year we take family or friends up to enjoy a morning breakfast picnic of still warm croissants or tiropetas from the bakery.  We  sit at the church a while to take in the view before we continue on our hike. This year it was just the three of us.


The property belonged to the Greek industrialist, Dimitris Daskalakis. The church is kept in excellent condition and painted every year before an annual festival.


Its built in seating is the best picnic spot, with beautiful views across the harbour.


Daskalakis built a large waterfront textile factory on the island in the 1920s, which created jobs for the Spetsiots until it closed after the second world war.  Daskalakis died in 1939 just as war broke out again and is buried here at the church.


Dimitrios Daskalakis, Industrialist 29-9-1939


Unlike the church, his adjacent home is in ruins. When we first visited about 18 years ago, the roof was still in place, covering the kitchen, and kitchen tiles were still on the floor.  The living/sleeping area had half a roof.  Now both are long collapsed.



This year, after a very long time, I was finally able to step inside the ruin. For a long time the floor has been too precarious to walk on,  but now the beams and tiles have rotten down and the ground is solid again.  A pine tree inside stands as testament to how much time has passed without a roof.


There’s still a communal bench strung between two trees, but it has gotten very rickety with time.  The kids would always climb on top of it and have their photos taken.  I think its much too frail now to take their weight.



A little reminder of earlier visits


This was the kitchen.


….and an upstairs closet

I’m sure the church will continue to be preserved and the house will continue to crumble. We plan on continuing to keep track of its progress ;o)

Shivapuri Hike (with bloody ending!)

shivapuri national park

We finally got out of the city this weekend. Latham and I managed a short hike in the Shivapuri hills, just North of Kathmandu city. I am frequently told the area is covered with a labyrinth of footpaths and trails, but getting out to explore has been frustrating. And now it is the rainy season, the weather can turn bad unexpectedly, so to be on the safe side, we committed to a short walk in the forest to a small waterfall.

It was so wonderful to be able to just walk unhindered along a trail. No noise, no traffic, no horns. And the first outdoor exercise I’ve had in a long, long time. Here are a few photos from the trail – full of greenery, lushly blanketed forest floors, flowers and not too many bugs:


We could hear the waterfall long before we saw it. More of a waterslide really… a gentle babbling flow, not gushing roar

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The cascade ended in a waist high “bathtub”.  It would have been a great place to bath.  We just stuck our toes in the water

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Beautiful lantana growing everywhere, as only lantana can…

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Loved the gnarly, multi-coloured tree trunks



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Unusually, we saw quite a lot of stone work…something I haven’t seen much of so far in Nepal.  This was an abandoned hut.

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leaf close up

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wall closeup

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Look what we found growing wild…!

Before we set out, we were warned about avoiding leeches in the rainy season. I remember the same warning in the Philippines but we never did make it into the jungle during the rains, and I never got to experience them first hand. So, naively, we kept a look out for leeches. I’m not sure what I thought would happen. I guess, I thought if we could avoid brushing up against long grass or bushes, we’d avoid the leeches.  But these aren’t ticks….  Little did I know that the little bastards live in the soil.  They can lie there dormant for very long periods of time, and when it rains they rise out of the dirt..standing upright with their heads hungrily thrashing around for a blood meal, which they spot by heat and vibration from the victim.  The hapless hiker stands a moment to admire the view and the well camouflaged leech makes his move…..

Latham stopped a moment and pointed at his shoe. ” Is that one?!””  We both recoiled in horror when we realized it was.  It was tiny and thin, more like a threadworm that the slug-like creature I had imagined.  (It turns out they only look like slugs once they are full of blood.)  He kicked and squished it.  It broke the spell and we couldn’t get off the trail fast enough!  The initiation could have been worse…we could have been bitten….

leech bite

…ironically it was Robert who was….as he never actually went hiking.  The dreaded things inject the bite site with an anti-coagulant so it takes forever to stop bleeding.  Gross!

And for the truly brave….here are a couple of leech pictures (from the internet I might add)…no way were we going to stop and take a picture!


Leeches before a meal….


….and after! They drop off when they’re full!!!!!

Blazing Arizona ….

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The fabulous rock formations that form the backdrop to Saguaro Lake Resort

Far away from my usual habit of posting chronologically, I’ve been meaning to add a hiking trip to this blog that I did with friends over three years ago now in April 2010. It was after Carla and my big 2009 adventure on the Coast to Coast trail when I first starting blogging.  It was the next natural next hiking adventure to add.  However, it got buried in the many events of 2010 (including the great new Foreign Service adventure) and it never made it on to electronic paper. So, to take a giant dusty leap from the chaos of Kathmandu to the heat of Arizona, here’s a small restropective of our day in the Arizona cactus forest.

In Phoenix for an annual conference, Carla, Michelle, Gretchen and I preplanned the best route to hike in the area in just one day…all we could manage before the start of the event.  Most trails we found were “there and back” trails where you could hike to a destination and then turn around and retrace your steps.  We really didn’t want to do this and searched around for a hiking loop that would put us back where we started but not repeat the same scenery.  However, “there and back trails” have their place in the desert as we later learned.

I insisted in staying somewhere “Arizonian” rather than a motel on the highway somewhere, before we switched to our large hotel chain accommodation for the conference.  So we spent two night at the Saguaro Lake Ranch, a dude ranch, with great views of the mountains.  It was clean, basic and friendly and I enjoyed experiencing where we were.  I hope that, despite the bugs, everyone else felt the same.

Saguaro resort cottages

Saguaro resort cottages

It may have been rustic, but it was unmistakably Arizona, and we were sleeping next to the dramatic scenery of the Usery Mountain trail, our planned 7 mile loop for the day.  The next morning a good breakfast was to set us up well, but I knew as we enjoyed the luxury of a second coffee cup, that their earliest breakfast service started way too late, and sure enough we didn’t hit the trail until after 9am when the it was probably already 80+ degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.


start of the trail

The trail started among pretty desert scrub and more cacti than I had ever seen in one place.  Our packs were filled with almost nothing but water.  2 litres per hour had been the recommendation, which seemed excessive at the time.  But we listened and filled our packs with giant gallon jugs.  The climb was slow and easy, but the heat soon made everything much, much harder.  It was a lot harder to cover a mile in 100 degree heat than in the coolness of the English countryside.


Into the cactus forest

From the higher levels the views were wonderful.  But boy was it hot!  And we drank vast quantities of water as they warned we would.


Taking a photo break



Someone’s not so subtle attempt at a directional sign



None of these photos convey the heat. But blazing hot and 100 degrees+ in the sun

We stopped frequently to rest and grabbed shade whenever we could. Around early afternoon we took a wrong turn and wasted an hour doing an unplanned loop back up to the trail that we lost. That wasted energy, water and emotional reserves, but thankfully a French couple were heading home to their car and left us the rest of their water.  We’d have made it back without the extra, but it made a great psychological difference and was just the boost we need for the last section ahead.

As I stumbled on through the heat, I decided that “there and back paths” existed for a reason in the desert, offering you the opportunity to turn around at any given point knowing how much time and energy there was left to commit.  With loops you just had to keep going into the unknown.


Enjoying the slow climb before the going got too hot

It turned out that the last part of the walk was probably the easiest.  A gentle downward or level path in a relatively straight line, that eventually took us back to the car park where we started.  But I see this only in hindsight as that last stretch felt like it nearly killed me.  I am just not a hot weather hiker, and I wasn’t to feel that kind of intense, brain-boiling heat again until Pinatubo or Pico de Loro in the Philippines.

Thank you ladies for sharing the adventure with me.  We never got to blaze Oregon together the following year, but if you want a renunion in the the cooler Himalayas…let me know!

hiking girls - off the trail

Hiking girls – off the trail

Thames Path: Day 3: London Bridge to Lambeth Bridge

London Bridge –– Southwark –Bermondsey  – South Bank – Waterloo- Westminster – Lambeth



If day one and day two were about a London riverside in development, day three was about a riverside that belongs to tourists, and the day started as it meant to go on with at least five different “river fun runs” underway. It didn’t help that it was a Sunday either. Crowds of tourists of all nationalities, strings and strings of riverside runners, and hustle and bustle. This wasn’t the Thames that we saw the day before. It took some negotiation to make our way along the riverside at this point. So many runners and tourists!

Hays Galleria

Exiting London Bridge station takes you directly into Hays Galleria, a large shopping center for tourists, mostly.

London Bridge

The London Bridge. Not very spectacular, is it? However there are many other much more impressive bridges all within a short distance of one another along this stretch of the Thames

Southwark Cathedral

Southwark Cathedral is the first major point of interest after you cross London Bridge. Parts of it date back to the 12th century and its well worth a visit if you have time. We didn’t….to busy dodging all the pesky joggers!

Like Greenwich, Southwark is steeped in history and you could easily spend half a day looking around. We hustled past the second of the historic ships that weekend. First the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, and here the Golden Hind.

Golden Hind

Passing Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind….past more of those joggers….

Southwark Bridge

Southwark Bridge with St Paul’s Cathedral in the background


Every inch of the city seemed alive in this section of town on a Sunday. Even the banks of the Thames, exposed at low tide, were covered in people. This crowd seemed to be “mudlarking” (searching through the mud for buried treasures.)


Further down the bank at Southwark is the Globe Theatre, a marvelous reconstruction of Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre. One of these days I would love to see a performance there.

Millennium Bridge

A little further along from the Globe Theatre, the Millennium Bridge comes into view. Built in 2000 as the name suggests, this pedestrian bridge goes from the South Bank to the heart of the city and St Paul’s Cathedral

Millennium Bridge

Another diversion….had to cross the Millennium Bridge as I had never done it before. Great view down the Thames!


Looking back to Tower Bridge


Yep…yet more people. Millennium Bridge was packed. That’s what you get for going out on a Sunday!


Back on the South Bank heading towards Waterloo


Around the South Bank there are so many activities going on. This is the skateboarding park under the bridge


At the Royal Festival Hall. London Eye coming up in the distance


Street entertainers galore. These guys were doing a trick bicycle routine opposite the houses of parliament. But there were also singers, mime artists and jugglers….tourist heaven!


Close up on the London Eye

Houses of Parliament

A better view of the Houses of Parliament


Finally as we passed under Lambeth Bridge, a view of Lambeth Palace, home to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the end to the day’s excursion

We ended Day 3 in the area where tourist London also drops off. Further down the river, away from the main attractions, there will still be crowded riverside days at weekends, but it will mostly be Londoners, not tourists, that we will come across. However, when we pick the trail again from Lambeth Bridge, I imagine it won’t be until 2015. You never know, but I don’t think I can make it back to the UK next year, but I look forward to picking up the trail again…. watch this space!

Thames Path: Day 2: Greenwich to London Bridge

Greenwich – Deptford – Surrey Docks – Butlers Wharf – Tower Bridge – London Bridge

Day two picked up where we left off at the Cutty Sark near Greenwich Pier. There’s so much to see and do in Greenwich, and its hard to walk through London and not stop at 101 different worthy distractions. The previous day’s planned distance was reduced considerably in reality, as it simply too much fun to stop and look at everything. It quickly became clear that the London section of the walk was going to be more about exploring riverside activities than truly hiking away the miles, which was just fine with me.

 Royal Observatory Greenwich

The Royal Observatory Greenwich — home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) — only got a fleeting glance from us….

So, before we got very far along the Greenwich riverbank we stopped and explored the Greenwich Foot Tunnel that takes pedestrians underneath the Thames to the opposite bank.  Its a pretty cool experience and tiring too if you decide to take the stairs rather the lift shaft.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Looking back at the Cutty Sark as we headed westward down the river. The dome on the right is the entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel on the South bank. (There’s a matching dome on the North Bank too.)

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Inside the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Originally built as a pedestrian shortcut for workers over 100 years ago, its now a unique way to cross the Thames

As we were committed to the South Bank, we crossed back again and re-commenced our journey westward.  Deptford came up on us quickly.  Its a less developed, neglected part of the city, and the path took us away from the riverside and into 1960’s urban sprawl.


Riverside signage in Deptford.  A stark contrast to earlier signs along the Thames…

Although our walk took us down past some less attractive areas of town,  Deptford isn’t without it history or charms. It was also a Saturday, and the first day of the annual London Open House weekend, which I learnt meant that participating private residences or places of interest not normally open to the public were opening their doors so the likes of us could come and have a quick poke around. I had forgotten all about it, but as we walked down the back streets of Deptford, this gate beckoned us forth:


Normally closed to the public, the current resident of The Master Shipwrights House had opened his doors to anyone wishing to take a look around…


…so we took time out to do so.  It had attracted quite a large crowd of people and we all wandered around his home that was a mixture of history and every day living. I think the boys enjoyed it despite Latham’s yawn!


Obviously the house was in need of repairs, but historical upgrades are expensive and funds clearly weren’t there. But the house was sound and they had used the exposed walls and floorboards as part of the integral design. Interesting.


Outside they had used the garden’s riverside frontage to invite local historical societies and interest groups to give talks on various subjects….


…including a display of different salvaged treasures from the Thames, I think.

We spent a good hour in there, but eventually returned to the riverside trail, heading westward towards a series of quays.  If yesterday was about old industrial sites meeting new modern trendy London, today was about the quay.  Small marinas and quays were strung out in successions for the next couple of miles.


Crossing one of the many quays in the area.

The last one along this stretch was Surrey Quay, which unexpectedly hosted an organic garden and petting zoo, which seemed like a pleasant place to stop and grab some lunch. They are all set up for toddlers and finger food, but the adult organic restaurant was very good and we enjoyed the animals too!  An unexpected find in London!Surrey Docks Farm


Surrey Docks Farm has its ducks all in a row!




One of many lonely, crumbling jetties still standing….

The rest of the day’s walk took us past the start of some upmarket housing developments, perched alongside some of London’s older abandoned jetties.  Canary Wharf made a final appearance behind us as we turned the bend onto the final stretch towards Tower Bridge.  Reaching Butler’s Wharf was the start of tourist London, fancy restaurants, and trendy shopping.  Quite a change from just a mile or two up the river.


Canary Wharf

A last glimpse of Canary Wharf


Not sure quite what this was, but loved it for what it is now…sort of a piece of river art

This day’s photo journal wouldn’t be complete without a picture of our penultimate destination – Tower Bridge – not to be confused with London Bridge our final stop on Day Two, and just a short half mile away.

Yay!  Tower Bridge!

Yay! Tower Bridge!