Tag Archives: hike

City of Rocks

After a night camped beside the stables at the fairgrounds in Safford, Arizona we headed east into New Mexico.  We crossed a desert where yucca, straight out of Dr. Seuss, dot the roadside, and arrived at City of Rocks State Park in the afternoon.

Tall strange y-shaped plant with hairy body, green leafy top, and stalks sticking up into the air

Roadside Yucca

We really didn’t know what to expect, but were immediately impressed when we saw the rocks rising from the desert in the distance.

A desert with rocks in the distance

City of Rocks from a distance

The best thing about the park is that access to the rocks isn’t restricted in any way.

Diane posting on path with rocks rising behidn her

You can hike among them,

Car campers among the rocks

camp among them,

Patrick standing on high rock

and climb them.

The desert landscape is even more beautiful against a vertical backdrop.

Yucca plant on desert with rocks in the background

The rock that forms the City of Rocks was created 35 million years ago by the eruption of a nearby volcano.  Over the millennia erosion sculpted the rock into its present form.

City of Rocks is a small, unique state park, not more than a few square miles in size.  The dirt road around the rocks is a bit bumpy, but still accessible by motorhomes.  Most of the campsites are primitive, without any hookups, but there are some bathrooms.  Some of the spaces will accommodate even large motorhomes.

Large motorhome parked amonth the rocks with nearby bathrooms as viewed from across the desert

Large motohome among the rocks

We found a nice spot up against the rocks facing nothing but miles of open desert.

Our motorhome against a backdrop of rocks as viewed from acsross the desert

Our campsite

In the evening we attended a star party, where astronomers gave a guided talk about the crystal clear night sky of New Mexico.  They pointed out the visible planets, major stars, and constellations using a green laser, and we looked through 2 telescopes, including one which is permanently mounted in a small observatory in the park.

Like cloud gazing, looking at the rocks brings images to mind.  What do you see here?

A grey rock against a blue background that may resemble a face to some

What do you see here?

Cinque Terre

Flashback Friday — this is the first of a series of Friday posts about memorable events from recent travels.  They are a collection of writings that didn’t quite get published while we were on the road.

Our plans to visit Cinque Terre (‘Five Lands’) on the west coast of Italy in 2011 were thwarted by a killer storm on the night of October 25th.  We arrived in La Spezia during the early part of the tempest that did harm to the entire region, and catastrophic damage to 2 of the 5 villages of Cinque Terre.  In progress rescue work and the damage to the trail, the roads, and the rail line made doing the hike impossible at that time.  Not only could we not hike, but we were trapped in La Spezia for 3 days until the first road opened that would allow us to leave.

After this trying experience, we were glad to have the opportunity to revisit Cinque Terre in June, 2012.  We weren’t sure whether the famous Sentiero Azzurro (‘Azure Trail’) that connects the villages had been re-opened or what state it would be in, but we suspected that the people of the region would do everything possible to resurrect the primary source of their livelihoods as quickly as possible.

After our bad experience last visit in the only RV parking place in La Spezia, we decided to stay in a campground by a river in Ameglia, a few kilometers south of town.  The large, concrete bridge over this river that we had crossed during the storm had washed away later that evening, so on our return trip we had to detour upstream to another crossing and back down again to get to the campsite.  The receptionist said that the entire campground, including the buildings and the swimming pool, was flooded under 2 meters (6.5 feet) of water during the storm.  Thankfully everything was restored in time for the 2012 camping season and looked in fine shape to us.

We left our campground at 7:20 AM the next morning, drove to La Spezia to park, walked across town, and caught the 10:06 train to Corniglia, the 3rd of the 5 villages of Cinque Terre.  By doing so we avoided the crowds who walk only the easiest section of the trail between the 1st village (Riomaggiore) and the 2nd village (Manarola).  We would return to see these village and hike this section later in the day.  When we disembarked in Corniglia, while most others walked up the stairs, we hopped on board the free shuttle that runs up the steep hill (something the others may have been unaware of), bypassing the 368 steps and getting a head start.  Corniglia is a tiny village suspended on a rocky outcrop overlooking steep cliffs and the beautiful Mediterranean.  After a quick walk around (these villages are tiny, but we still managed to get lost in the labyrinth) we found the trail and started our hike.

Many coloured houses atop a green slope

Corniglia viewed from the trail

It took us about 1 hour to hike to Vernazza. Despite our proximity to the sea, it was very hot.  I was sweating like a tourist.  We found that lots of reconstruction had been completed (rock retaining walls, hand rails, trail work, etc.) and more was underway, but the trail was easily passable.

Diane standing on a yellow walkway that allows one to bypass trail construction work in progress

Trail construction under way

Vernazza also clings to the cliff along this glorious stretch of coastline.

Village with coloured houses on a cliff jutting out into the ocean

Approaching Vernazza

e ate the Italian salami sandwiches that we’d brought with us on the rocky point by the harbour while children were swimming around us.  Others were eating fresh pizza from the village, or sitting at the restaurant in the bay.  We continued hiking and soon were treated with a postcard view back on Vernazza.

Village of many small buildings surrounding a harbour

Vernazza

By mid-afternoon it was really hot and humid.

Patrick wearing maroon shirt and beige hat, sweating, with grees in background

Patrick Sweating

This last section of the trail was the most rugged and challenging.  We could see why most people skip it on the faces of those hiking towards us.

Steep cliffs covered in trees alongside the ocean

Rugged coastline between Vernazza and Monterosso

Despite this, It took us only 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach Monterosso al Mare.

A beach on the ocean with a small village and boardwalk behind and mountains in the distance

Rounding the point towards Monterosso

Hot and tired, we went for a swim here on the small section of beach which is open to the public.  It didn’t have the amenities of the private beach areas (umbrellas, change rooms, and lockers) but it did have a small fresh water shower to rinse off afterwards.

Looking along the beach with umbrellas and sunbathers and ocean to the right

The beach at Monterosso

I changed on the beach under Diane’s wrap and she changed in the train station bathroom across the street.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have another set of clothes, so we had to put our sweaty and smelly ones back on.  Afterwards we walked out to the point for yet another amazing view.

Small boats at anchor in the ocean with a beach and village in the background

Boats at anchor in Monterosso

We caught a mid-afternoon train back to Manarola (the 2nd village).

A narrow streat filled with people with balconies and awnings on both sides

Manarola’s main street

We watched the kids swimming and jumping from the rocks near the boat launch and then wandered out to the point for another tourist photo op.

Patrick in burgandy t-shirt and sunglasses with Manarola coloured houses and cliffs in the background

Patrick and Manarola

Leaving Manarola, we walked about 15 minutes on perhaps the best ‘trail’ I’ve ever been.  Hugging the cliff, it was more like a sidewalk and is wheelchair accessible.

Diane waving from the window of a section of the 'trail' enclosed into a rock tunnel with windows

Diane on a great ‘trail’

We arrived in Riomaggiore and decided to immediately catch the train back to La Spezia.  It had been a long, hot, and very memorable day.

Close up of Diane and Patrick seated on the train

Rest and Relaxation

After a challenging few days of getting here, we finally reached the country of Malawi. We arrived after thirteen hours of travel from Mbeya Tanzania, to a popular backpacker hangout called Nkhata Bay, on the western shore of beautiful Lake Malawi.

Our arrival just after dark was blemished by our vehicle being surrounded by touts in pursuit of a commission, who threatened our driver, and then ran ahead of our vehicle blocking the dirt road to ensure that they arrived at whichever hotel we were heading to before we did. We arrived at our chosen resort and got a shared room with the other Canadian couple (Terence and Natalie) that we’ve been traveling with recently. On the way to our cabin, we told the night manager why we didn’t think he should pay the touts in our case, and he obviously agreed with us, because a couple of them made a point of telling us so when we walked into the village the next morning.


Despite this, Nkhata Bay was lovely. Cabins on a hillside overlooking the water. A beautiful open air shower on the edge of the lake. The nicest outhouse (aka composting toilet) that I’ve ever seen, decorated with lovely potted plants. Great food, though very expensive by local standards, it was still cheaper than Vancouver, and the beer was still half the price of home. Fresh water snorkeling, with thousands of small colourful fish called ‘cichlids’.


Patrick went on a challenging hike, which included getting a bit lost in the jungle and steep scrambling to a summit, while Diane and two other women went to a pottery making and local cooking class in a village about 90 minutes walk away.

Patrick and his hiking companion, a recent PhD graduate from Holland, timed their hike so as to arrive just in time to enjoy the food the ladies had cooked. It included nsima (the local staple made from cassava flour, which Diane ground and sifted herself), cassava leaves that they had picked, yellow flower buds (perhaps from pumpkins), and usipa (small dried fish) that had been cooked in oil with a bit of tomato paste. The fish are eaten heads, bones, scales, and all. We didn’t eat very much by local standards, but we didn’t want to offend our hosts.


After three days, we left Nkhata Bay rested, and headed north to Nyika National Park. As usual, our transport was a challenge. Our fourty minute mini-bus ride took three hours, when a local man was removed from the bus by police for transporting little fish. He must have done something wrong, because everyone else on the bus was also transporting little fish. When we made it to the nearest town, we negotiated a taxi to take us to Chilimba Camp, about 180 kilometers away, two thirds of which is on gravel roads. We were looking for a 4×4, but were assured by the driver that he had done it many times in his car. We made it to the park gate, but had two flat tires simultaneously about ten kilometers further on. We changed one tire to the spare, and did a temporary patch on the other tire (which was leaking but still had some air) with crazy glue and some spare tent material. It was enough to get us back to the park gate, where we waited for a few hours until we got a ride (for the final sixty kilometers) in the back of a park ranger’s pickup truck, which we shared with a drunk park employee. Although the ride was cold, the sun was setting over Zambia, and the moon and stars came out in full glory.

Our objective in Nyika National Park was to hike across the Nyika Plateau, a three day trek from Chilimba Camp to Livingstonia. We had rented a tent, two foam sleeping pads, and two blankets from a guy in Nkhata Bay, because we have no camping gear with us. In the park, we arranged a ranger to guide us, and a porter to carry our food and extra gear. We didn’t have any cooking gear, but the guide and porter let us share their pots, and we borrowed some spoons from the camp.


The hike was terrific. The plateau we were walking across was a beautiful landscape. We saw some animals, but not as many as we’d hoped. The first day we camped on the high plateau, at about 7000 feet. The second day we started to descend and we spent the second night in a rural Malawian village, camped right in the center of the village green. We could get soda and beer there, but they had no electricity or refrigeration, so both were warm.

The last day we ascended to Livingstonia, a missionary post named after Dr. Livingstone. We spent the next two days relaxing to recover from our trek, except for a nine kilometer hike down the mountain to the beach, and then we were ready to move on to our next adventure.

Elvis is in the Building – by Diane

Petra is an ancient city of caves, carved into the sandstone by the Nabataean people about 2000 years ago. It covers a huge area, and is truly remarkable. It has the most amazing rock and rock sculptures I’ve ever seen.

After spending the first day walking around the site in awe and climbing two mountains, we decided to use our second day to try a new route which had been recommended to us by a couple we met in Egypt. We didn’t know what to expect, but Patrick was excited to check it out. We were hiking with a British couple that we met two days earlier. Martin is a retired fire fighter, and both he and Susan are rock climbers.

As we started out on our journey down a side canyon, a local person tried to tell us that we were going the wrong way. Then the tourist police yelled at us from the cliff above and advised us that the way was closed, was not safe, that there was a lot of water, and that other tourists had much difficulty going this way. After a lengthy debate, where it became apparent that we weren’t giving up, they let us proceed. A general rule of thumb in the third world is that if someone tells you that you can’t do something, keep trying and they’ll stop you only if it is truly forbidden. Many of the ‘rules’ are actually guidelines, or someone trying to cover their butts.

The entry to the route was through a large tunnel, carved through the rock by water over the millennia. The route is susceptible to flash flooding, but there hadn’t been any moisture for a few days. The four of us continued down the gradually narrowing canyon, which required route finding and negotiation of large and small rocks.


The first section of the canyon was not too tough, but as we traveled further along, the route became much more challenging. The walls narrowed to just a few feet apart, and the bottom of the canyon was filled with pools of ever increasing depth. The three rock climbers in the group found the journey quite exciting and even exhilarating, I questioned why on earth I was doing this. This was about the time when Patrick joked with Martin and Susan that it was a good thing that the two of them were with us, or Diane would be really giving him a hard time about the choice of route.


The narrowing of the canyon and the water in the floor of the canyon continued to increase. To avoid wading through the water, we used “foot back chimney” rock climbing moves on the canyon walls, and of course the climbers thought this was great.

After traveling down the canyon for about ninety minutes we came to the really “interesting” part of the journey. This was when the walls of the canyon were far enough apart that the chimney moves would only work for those of us in the group with long legs. Patrick went first, carrying both of our bags and cameras, to confirm the best approach, and to ensure the passage was viable. I went next. At the start all was well, however it was short lived as the canyon walls became farther apart. Verbal instruction from the group was plentiful.


I was suspended between the canyon walls, about four feet above water of unknown depth and questionable purity. This was when the climbing phenomenon known as the “Elvis leg” came into play, accompanied by a few choice words beginning with “F”, a scream and a splash into the water. Fortunately Martin quickly employed his fire fighter rescue moves and helped me out of the water. Patrick, on the other hand, captured the event on film for your viewing pleasure.


When I got out of the water, I found that we were in a small chamber carved into the canyon walls. This route was pioneered over 2000 years ago, and was a sacred placed for the Nabataeans.

I was relieved that it was only a short distance from the end of the slot canyon, and we were able to dry off in the warm sun before continuing our exploration of Petra.

Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai is in the center of the Sinai Peninsula, in eastern Egypt, which is located between Cairo and Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. It is a famous mountain for many historical reasons, and is where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Mt. Sinai is about 7000 feet high, similar to the tip of Blackcomb mountain.

We wanted to climb the mountain at night, to see the sunrise from the top. After spending the day wandering the beaches of Dahab, we left at 11 PM on a minibus with about ten other people who were crazy enough to do the same. They included a family of three from Mauritius, a couple of guys from Japan, one from Korea, two women from somewhere in Europe, and an Egyptian dentist.

We arrived at the trail head at about 1 AM. It was pitch black and bitterly cold. We brought every piece of clothing we had with us, each bringing two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, two shirts, our fleece jackets, windbreakers, fleece hats, and gloves. Diane also brought a sweater. Collectively, they weren’t enough.

Our group had a Bedouin guide, who led us up the wide smooth trail in complete darkness. We were constantly adjusting layers as the group wound its way up into the darkness.

Some tourists choose to accept the offers of local Bedouins, and ride their camels up the trail. The temperature was close to freezing, and sitting still for any length of time seemed unimaginable. Camels have large soft padded feet, and are virtually silent in the darkness. Their approach is heralded only by their strong smell, and the occasional grunt or fart, at which point we hugged the cliff to give them passage.

The Egyptian dentist was in trouble almost from the beginning, having difficulty keeping up with the group. Within 30 minutes, the European girls had taken his pack and shared its contents between them. He spoke good English and Arabic, and was able to communicate with the guide, who spoke no English. As the incline steepened, he began to fall behind, In the darkness, we heard frequent cries of complaint in Arabic, imploring the guide to slow down. Diane and I had no trouble with the pace, and Diane’s sprained ankle was not a problem.

About half way up, the ground was covered with snow. Our trail runners held up well, but weren’t really the best footwear for the conditions. We hiked upwards through the snow, passing tea houses along the way.

The last twenty minutes to the summit are composed of 750 stone steps. These are the uppermost of 3700 stone steps making up an alternate trail, which comes up from the other side of the mountain. These Steps of Repentance were built by single monk as an act of redemption. We were the first party to reach this point. The steps were steep, and were covered with ice and snow. We still had about an hour before sunrise, and the guide recommended that we stop at the last tea house to wait, not only to try to stay warm, but perhaps to let another group break trail.

The tea house was built into the cliff face, consisting of rock walls and a wood and tarp roof, with stones on top. It was dark and cramped, lit by a single kerosene lamp. We squeeze in, and huddled together for warmth. Egyptian tea, for which Egyptians pay less than 1 Egyptian Pound in the cities, was available for 10 Egyptian Pounds (an exorbitant price, but more understandable given that both the water and fuel to heat it had to be carried up the mountain by the proprietor). Diane and I rented a blanket for 20 Egyptian Pounds (about $5 Canadian), which was highway robbery, but necessary given that we were no longer moving to stay warm.


After about thirty minutes, we climbed the last three minutes to the summit, as the sky was colouring. On the summit was an old church, made of rock on the exposed summit. We shared the sunrise with several other groups, who had each made the climb during the night. The majority were religious groups, making their pilgrimages to this holy site. The Russians sang as the sun rose.


After about an hour on the summit, we hiked down past St. Katherine’s monastery, probably the oldest continually operating Christian site.  The Roman empress Helena had a shrine built here in 330 AD, near the bush where they believed that God spoke to Moses.

The next day, on the bus to the departure point of the ferry for Aqaba, we met an Australian who had made the climb a couple of days before. Near the start of the steps, he pulled his calf, and was unsure if he would be able to complete the climb. Luckily there was also a doctor climbing near by, who diagnosed it was a calf pull, and not an Achilles tear. She gave him 2 pain killers, and said that he could continue if he could stand the pain. He made it to the top, and on the way down, he road a camel as soon as he reached the part of the trail that they could traverse. On the bus, he told us that both he and Moses had climbed Mt. Sinai, and that they both received 2 tablets!