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Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Climbing Mount Bromo

One of the first (and favorite) things we did in Java was visit Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, a vast 10 km wide caldera from which four volcanic cones protrude.  We hired a driver to first take us to Mount Penanjakan, where we hiked up to a viewpoint to take this picture:

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In the foreground is the now inactive volcano Mount Batok covered with greenery, and to the left behind it is Mount Bromo, whose rim we hiked up to later in the day, peering down into its bubbling sulphurous crater.  Off in the distance is Mount Semeru, the tallest (at 12,000 feet) and most active volcano on Java, which seemed to be erupting every few minutes while we were there.  We then hiked back down and had our driver take us to the rim of the caldera, from where we trudged across the Tengger sea of black sand and then up to the crater rim of Mount Bromo.

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Yup, that’s me up there on Mount Bromo.  Our driver had told us that you could go around the crater rim about 180 degrees before it got too dangerous, but even the accessible parts got pretty narrow in areas and had me feeling nervous (although other people, including families with young kids, seemed to be wandering around nonchalantly).

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That red dot in the picture above is Scott walking along another part of the crater rim.  I was too scared to go as far as he did.

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Down at the bottom, you could see the bubbly steamy crater lake, which I have a feeling would not be fun to fall into.  Every year, the Tenggerese (a small population of Hindu Javanese who live within the park) throw offerings including livestock into the lake. 

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While we thoroughly enjoyed the hikes and the amazing scenery within the park, even the drive there from the nearby city of Probolinggo was gorgeous.  Too bad I started taking most of the pictures on the way down when it was foggy, but I hope this gives some sense of the steep green valleys we drove through.

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This is Agus, our friendly driver, and the SUV that we took.

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We would have loved to take a motorbike up ourselves on that beautiful drive, but there was a cartel on tourist transportation and no motorbike rentals lest tourists try to do it independently for cheaper.  But our driver spoke English well, and we enjoyed chatting about everything from which American movies he liked best (favorite: Beverly Hills Cop) to how to say, “How are you?” in Indonesian. 

IMG_2211 Mt Bromo’s crater: two tourists walking the rim not really visible at this resolution

Mount Bromo is a big tourist attraction and deservedly so.  It’s a bit out of the way but well worth visiting if you’re going to Java.

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Postman’s Cottage on Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island (a small island off the southern coast of Australia) was where we discovered the coolest place we have ever stayed in: Postman’s Cottage.  The postman used to stay there every 2 weeks when he came to the western side of the island to deliver mail.  It then became part of Flinders Chase National Park and is now rented out to visitors.  It may not look like much from the outside (ok, I guess the inside doesn’t look that exciting either), but there

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were all sorts of details that made it cozy and romantic and wonderful.  Built in the early 1900s, it had lots of fun old-fashioned things like a wood stove for heating and candles and funky old power switches, but also all the modern amenities you could want with a regular stove, lightbulbs, comfortable bed, oven, fridge, giant bathroom next door, etc.  I suppose we could have used the lights more, but instead we played Boggle by candlelight while drinking glasses of wine, soaking in the warmth of the fire, and listening to the Cape Barren geese go crazy outside our door.  It was also really neat to stay right in the heart of a national park with kangaroos and wallabies and other wildlife at our doorstep. 

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                                Nina with a wallaby

Too bad it was only on our last morning that we discovered that one of the neighboring trees had a koala sleeping in it!  Amazingly the cottage was only $60 a night (crazy cheap by Australian standards), but I have a feeling that it’s going to go way up next year because they had just put in a shower before we came.  But how many places can you stay in with a koala neighbor?

 

The rest of the island was also just teeming with incredible wildlife. While exploring a grove of eucalyptus trees packed with dozens of koalas, I heard loud grunting that sounded just like a pig, but when I turned towards it, there was a large male koala on the ground running around and acting grumpy. He went up to bother a wallaby, who quickly scooted away, and then started climbing up another tree with two koalas. The female koala had been happily eating eucalyptus leaves at the top before this, but stopped and made not-so-happy sounds at him. He ignored this and continued up the tree, but then the other koala in the tree (I assume a male and her mate?) woke up and started yelling at him, so the intruder quickly slid down the tree, hopped back onto the ground, ran to another tree, and then started braying loudly again. This finally attracted Scott’s attention (he had been off watching a sleeping koala while all of the above was happening), and since he had the camera, the video below just captures the end of the action, which is when the grumpy koala climbed up another empty tree before taking a nap (koalas sleep a bajillion hours a day to conserve energy since the eucalyptus leaves they eat don’t have much nutritional value).

Afterwards, we saw an itchy echidna poking around looking for ants and termites to eat.

Echidnas are one of only two monotremes (mammals who lay eggs) alive today. Ten days after laying an egg into her pouch, the egg hatches and out comes a puggle (not to be confused with a cross between a pug and a beagle) who gets milk from his mother’s pores (since she doesn’t have nipples) while he develops in her pouch. Crazy! The other monotreme still alive today also happens to live on Kangaroo Island, but alas, the duck-billed platypus is very shy and we didn’t see one there despite multiple trips to the waterholes they’re known to frequent. At least we got to see a couple of them later at the Warrawong Sanctuary in Adelaide.

Oh, and Kangaroo Island had some other neat features, too.  Enormously powerful waves created giant expanses of white foam and pounded the rocky shoreline (there were so many shipwrecks they installed 3 different lighthouses on the island), carving features like the Remarkable Rocks.

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The seals didn’t seem to care about the waves much (other than fighting with each other to get prime waterfront property to sleep on).

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Anyway, we had a great time driving around in our Toyota Land Cruiser (free upgrade because it was the last car they had left), going on some short, pretty hikes, looking at funky rocks, seeing the amazing wildlife, and tasting the honey (apparently it’s the only place left in the world with pure Ligurian bees)…I don’t know that it tasted any different from regular honey, though.

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Hikes in New Zealand

Routeburn Track

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We actually did this one twice – a round-trip hike on both the western and eastern halves on separate days – due to logistics.  Even though the track is only about 32 km long and takes about 8 hours to hike, the parking lots on either end are divided by a mountain range and roads that circle around for 350 km, taking 5 hours to drive from the start to the end of the trail.  It was our favorite hike in New Zealand and just beautiful – full of lush rainforest, misty waterfalls, clear blue lakes, and expansive alpine views (especially if you do the side trips to Key Summit and Conical Hill).  Plus we saw a flock of cheeky keas who said hello (a large, intelligent parrot known for doing mischievous things like locking people in their cabins and pulling shoelaces out of shoes).

IMG_8689 IMG_8708 I forget, but Scott may have been exercising here a la You Are Your Own Gym. IMG_8693

This is just half of the waterfall I was able to fit in the picture.

 

Mt. Ngauruhoe Summit

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It’s much easier to just call it Mt. Doom, as Scott did, rather than trying to pronounce Ngauruhoe (the ‘g’ is silent).  Yup, this was the volcano used for Mt. Doom in Mordor for the Lord of the Rings movie.  Part of the hike was part of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, purportedly the best one-day hike in New Zealand, but we instead did the side trip up to Mt. Ngauruhoe so we didn’t have to take the stupid $60 shuttle that would transport us a few miles from one end of the track to the other and because we (ok ok, I) could pretend to be a hobbit climbing desperately to get to the top to destroy Sauron.  It’s a very barren, rocky landscape but there are beautiful views of two other volcanoes in the region as well as some brightly colored lakes – the Blue Lakes, Emerald Lake, and Lake Taupo.  It didn’t look so bad from the bottom, but when we tried to go up, we had an awful time with the steep scree (take one step forward, slide two steps back) until we figured out where the ridges were (there was no marked trail).

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When we finally got to the top, we were rewarded with incredible views of the surrounding volcanoes and lakes as well as a look down into the deep crater.  Scott celebrated by throwing his wedding ring into the crater (you know, to melt and destroy the evil ring).  Actually, first he made me do it but his picture turned out better.

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We also explored a steam vent at the top making hissing noises. Probably not the safest thing ever.

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And then we went down the scree.  Did I mention I HATE SCREE?  It also gave me flashbacks to all the scree at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Scott went down in a flash but it took me forever.

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Yuck.  I think Scott is that red dot already way ahead of me (but still not that far down the mountain).  Then after a series of miscommunications, Scott went ahead to the Red Crater, we got separated, and he ended up jogging everywhere looking for me.  Oops.  Cue flashback to the time we got separated in Denali National Park in Alaska because I am really bad at going downhill on unmarked trails.

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This is Nina going downhill on scree.  Ok, maybe it’s her posing in front of a fake Uruk-hai at Weta Cave, a mini-museum by the workshop where they did the special effects for The Lord of the Rings that she dragged Scott to.  By the way, I really want to see LOTR again after going to New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

Mueller Hut in Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park

So the picture above is actually from http://theadventuresofpepynandsofie.wordpress.com/ because I accidentally deleted all my pictures from this hike.  The trail itself isn’t very exciting – a steep, exposed up-and-down, thanks – but the views at the top and along the way of glaciers and Mt. Cook (the tallest mountain in New Zealand) are spectacular.  When we went, there was less snow than in the picture above, but we saw more exposed glaciers with lots of melting waterfalls streaming down from them.  Yeah, it was really annoying to have deleted those pictures.

 

Abel Tasman Coast Track from Marahau to Bark Bay

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Split Apple Rock (not technically part of the coastal track, but near enough)

If you ever go to Abel Tasman National Park, do not listen to the people and guidebooks who tell you that Torrent Bay to Bark Bay is the prettiest part.  Marahau to Torrent Bay is prettier, except that you don’t have to pay a water taxi over $50 to take you there.  This was the day we decided to hike 43 km, or literally a marathon, to hike part of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track and return without taking an overpriced water taxi (or expensive kayak rental for that matter).  This is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks and apparently its most popular hike.  While it was certainly pretty, going through lush forest with occasional views of the coast and some pretty bays,

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we didn’t understand all of the hype surrounding the hike, and a lot of the coastal hikes by the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are arguably better.

 

Miscellaneous Hikes

We did a lot of pretty short hikes as well, including to huge old kauri trees on the Coromandel Peninsula:

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This “square” kauri tree is estimated to be about 1200 years old.

We also walked to some glowworms by a waterfall at night, but the little phosphorescent green dots did not show up very well on camera.  In fact, I’m including this picture just because of how pathetic it is (Scott warned me it wouldn’t turn out well when I tried).

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It was way cooler and you could see way more than three dots in person, ok!?!

Our short hike over to Franz Josef glacier on the West Coast of the South Island was admittedly not very exciting.

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I really wanted to hike right on top of this glacier since I had seen amazing pictures from people who had hiked on the glacier and inside its narrow blue crevasses, but unfortunately the only way to do that was to go on an outrageously priced guided tour, so alas, it was not to be.  Besides, Scott was feeling grumpy that day when we stopped by nearby Fox glacier.  He did promise me we could go hiking on a glacier sometime when it wasn’t crazy expensive, though.  IMG_8760

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Encounters on the Annapurna Circuit

I’ve already included pictures of the amazing scenery on the Annapurna Circuit, but this post is about what else we saw…

 

Prayer flags

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We came across a lot of these colorful prayer flags strewn across peaks and stupas during our hike.  Each flag had a prayer written on it, spreading blessings with the wind.

 

Yaks

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Adorable!  We loved their different coat colors.

 

Bridges

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Every day we crossed multiple bridges.  Some of them were so rickety that I had visions of how I would grab onto the bridge a la Indiana Jones if it collapsed midway.  The dog at the end of the bridge in the picture above followed us around for a few hours one day, but he hesitated for quite a while before he was willing to cross.

 

Mules

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We tried to stay mountainside when they crossed our paths so we wouldn’t get kicked off the mountain.

 

Prayer wheels

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Buddhists walked to the left of these, spinning them clockwise, so we walked on the left as well.

 

Porters

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Scott and I hiked by ourselves and carried our own bags, but we ran into a lot of porters on the trail, whether carrying backpacks for hikers or carrying supplies between villages. Some had hiking boots, but there were plenty of Converse shoes and flip-flops going up and down steep trails. They often carried large loads (although the picture above is a larger load than usual) via a strap across their foreheads rather than on their shoulders. Impressive, but some had loads so large they made me cringe…I’m not sure if they had any regulations in place limiting how much they could carry.

 

Children

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While we were watching the dancing lama festival in Marpha, the kid in the picture above came up to us.  While he didn’t know much English, we had fun showing him our camera and letting him take pictures with it.  After a few minutes, though, he asked us, “Chocolate?” and when we shook our heads no, he quickly scampered off to find someone else to charm.  He was only one of many children who asked us for candy or rupees as we walked by.  One kid even rubbed his fingers together and said, “Money?”  It’s tough to see these poor kids, but it’s discouraged to give or buy anything from kids since it just encourages parents to take them out of school and use them to get more money from tourists.

 

Tourists

We met plenty of other tourists since it was peak season, but we were surprised at how few Americans there were.  About half were Europeans, and even Israelis outnumbered Americans despite the U.S. being 40 times bigger than Israel.  I hope I’ve convinced you that Nepal is worth visiting – Americans need to make a better showing!

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Annapurna Circuit, Days 10-12

Once we got over the Thorung La Pass, we spent a couple of enjoyable days exploring the villages on the western side of the pass, but we didn’t really feel like we were on the Annapurna Circuit anymore.  Traditionally, at this point we would only be halfway through the trek with another 10 days of hiking ahead of us, but since these villages are now connected by a dusty road shared by hikers and jeeps, many people now skip certain sections or even the entire western side of the circuit.  Instead of dealing with the dust, we caught a short, bumpy ride with Mitchell* from Mutkinath to the picturesque village of Kagbeni, in the Mustang region near the Tibetan border, where we spent the morning exploring.  We unwittingly stumbled upon an Ayurvedic healer with big dusty white bottles filled with strange powders who kept asking us, “Do you have weakness?” while we tried to back out of there as quickly as we could.  We also found what looked like a McDonald’s from afar…

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But turned out to be YacDonald’s:

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The menu was definitely fancier than we were used to, but we ended up having a lovely lunch at one of the many rooftop restaurants/hotels at the outskirts of the village.

After an extremely windy afternoon walk, we settled in the very pretty little village of Marpha for the next two days, proclaimed “apple capital of Nepal” and full of apply delights like fresh homemade apple juice and apple crumble.  We happened to be there when they had a big dancing lama (aka monk) festival – we didn’t understand a lot of the rituals, but it was still interesting to watch.  Check out the two giant horns in the upper right corner!

After side trips to the small villages of Syange and Chhairo, a Tibetan refugee camp (which Scott should tell you about if I can ever convince him to write a post), we flew out of Jomsom to Pokhara on the twelfth day.  It felt a little bit silly to take a 20-minute flight just to travel 43 miles, but the alternative was to take three different buses that would take about 12 hours if we were lucky.  We crossed our fingers and made it out on the last flight of the morning (no afternoon flights are scheduled due to high winds, and morning flights are often cancelled for the same reason).  We piled into a little prop plane, and as soon as we got in, the flight attendant practically threw little green candies at us as the plane started taxiing right away.  I briefly panicked when I had trouble finding my seat belt lodged deep in the seat, but luckily found it and was able to buckle myself in right before we took off.  Quite a strange experience not having to show any kind of ID nor see the usual safety video.  We had a beautiful but turbulent ride weaving between mountains (the preadolescent boy in monk’s robes sitting behind me definitely freaked out a bit) until we landed in the city of Pokhara, officially ending our time on the Annapurna Circuit.

 

*Mitchell was an interesting photographer who lived in a cabin in Maui and frequently visited Nepal.  We met him at our guesthouse in Muktinath while he was working on a film about the road’s impact on these villages, and he kindly offered us a ride the next morning in his rented Land Rover, which was wonderfully luxurious compared to the cramped group jeep we would have had to take otherwise.

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Annapurna Circuit, Day 9

We woke up early while it was still dark.  The night had been cold, freezing a layer of ice over the top of my plastic water bottle, but we had managed to stay warm burrowed in our sleeping bags with thermal underwear, hats, and the heavy blankets that our guest house had provided.  Unfortunately, the blankets were covered in the same layer of dust that seemed to cover the walls and permeate the room, sending up a cloud of dust every time we stirred, so we (and our lungs) were very happy to be leaving the room in spite of the cold.

We ate breakfast in the main dining room, which was bustling with people at 5:30 a.m., half an hour before sunrise.  Nervous anticipation underscored the energy in people’s voices.  From High Camp, it was a 2-3 hour hike to reach the highest altitude of the Annapurna Circuit, Thorung La Pass.  At 5416 meters, or 17769 feet, it was pretty puny compared to the 8000+ meter mountains not too far away, but it still felt pretty high up to us with no vegetation around and about half of the oxygen present at sea level.  It was a slow, steady climb.  In the thin air, I took 30 steps, paused to take 20 ragged breaths to catch my breath, then took another 30 steps.  Somehow, I enjoyed this rhythm much more than I expected to, savoring the view of the awe-inspiring mountains around me and knowing the end of the ascent was near.  Scott, I think, felt much more frustrated with his slowed pace and frequent breaks, normally being a very fast hiker.  Maybe now he knows what it feels like to be me most of the time.  It didn’t help that he also developed a headache because of the altitude.

But soon enough (at least for me), we reached the top!

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Here’s a photo of the view from the pass…

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along with a 360 degree video of the view:

I was pretty impressed with the enterprising Nepalis who ran the teahouse at the pass – who knew you could buy a hot cup of tea at almost 18000 feet?  After taking a break at the pass for a half hour, I steeled myself for the steep descent – we had to hike one vertical mile down over the next few hours before we reached the next guesthouse.  While I looked forward to being at a lower altitude (along with more oxygen and warmer weather), I’m not that sure-footed on descents in general, and I had been dreading it more than the ascent after reading descriptions of its often icy paths and hearing that someone had slipped and fractured a leg just the day before.  Fortunately, my fears were unfounded as the trail was well-worn and most of the ice that had been there yesterday had already melted.  We sped down the trail and reached Muktinath, the next village, in time for lunch.  As our first village on the western side of the pass, it was a shock to see motorcycles speeding through narrow, dusty lanes and all sorts of amenities at our guesthouse (oddly enough called Hotel North Pole), including a real hot shower!

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So yes, a tank full of kerosene in the bathroom fueled the flames in the contraption that heated the water as it dripped out of the faucet and that warned us not to use it in an enclosed space to because of carbon monoxide poisoning, but it was way hotter than any solar shower and we loved it.  Nor had we seen a sink or mirror for days – now that felt truly luxurious.

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Annapurna Circuit, Days 3-6

We soon settled into a rhythm: wake up before sunrise, set out at dawn, hike for a couple of hours, eat breakfast, hike some more, eat lunch, hike a little more, find a place to stay around 2 or 3 p.m., take a shower, maybe wash some clothes, eat dinner, fall sound asleep at about 7 or 8 p.m.  Each day, we hiked about 12 miles and gained about 2500 feet.  I was surprised by how little else we did.  We were often too tired to read very much.  Most of our day was spent either eating or hiking.  I loved the simplicity of our day and the beauty of the landscape.  Taking a shower, even if it was often lukewarm to coldish, felt wonderful after a long day of hiking.

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The fifth day was probably the prettiest of the trail.  The morning started off with a gorgeous lake reflecting the mountains above it, and as we climbed one of the steepest portions of the trail, we were surrounded by snow-capped peaks.

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At the end of that day, we arrived in the village of Manang, where we then spent an extra recommended day to help us acclimatise to the altitude, a welcome break from the daily hiking and packing/unpacking.  One of the largest villages on the trail, it had all sorts of snacks and supplies and bakeries stuffed with giant cinnamon rolls and pastries.  At almost 12,000 feet in elevation, the weather was noticeably colder, especially at night, and we finally unpacked the down jackets that had previously been stuffed inside a small compression bag.  Since most people spent an extra day there, projector halls offered movie screenings throughout the day (movies like Into the Wild and Seven Years in Tibet seemed to be popular) and every guesthouse seemed to offer overpriced laundry services.  Scott spent the morning of the sixth day on a day hike overlooking a lake and glacier, finding some Himalayan blue sheep, while I sat in the dining room and read a novel on my Kindle.

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