Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Kalbarri, Western Australia.

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Just under 600km north of Perth is Kalbarri. This tiny coastal town is found at the mouth of the Murchison River which snakes its way into the Indian Ocean, just as the locals tell in their Dreamtime navigational stories. The name comes from a local Aboriginal man. The history is similar to many of the towns on this coast: thousands of years of Aboriginals, some marooned Dutch mariners, then people selling some land and settling. Today, Kalbarri is a pleasant fishing and tourist centre. Outside of town there is a National Park of the same name. I stopped here without knowing too much, but as with the rest of the west coast, you stop because you can.

The end of Civiliztion

The end of Civiliztion

The beauty of travelling up Western Australia is the lack of choice. The population is so sparse that every place you come to seems exciting. It reminds me of those trips from school where everyone piles out of the coach to the vast excitement of a rest area. When you cover such large distances, getting off the coach to stretch your limbs and buy some snack treats is paradise. In Oz I think it’s called ‘beyond the black stump’. I have also heard it called the sticks. In Ireland there is beyond the pale. All expressions, despite local differences in meaning, have the same general idea – beyond civilization. Although there wasn’t much to see after the northern suburbs of Perth, there were still some agricultural areas and gas stations with shops. The journey up to Kalbarri felt like \I was finally beyond the black stump.

Coachgaze

Coachgaze

I suffer from what I call ‘coachgaze’. This is a condition which goes beyond boredom an into a kind of zen like traveller’s trance. It involves your eyes following the endless landscape and occasionally homing back in on the constantly blurred asphalt of the sun-baked roads. I think coachgaze is brought on by having a limited amount of technology to entertain yourself with, and by having vast distances to cover. The distances usually involve almost nothing of interest to look at. Coachgaze changes your perception of time and space until everything just stretches into one semisomnant blur. Sleeping on coaches is never real sleep, it’s more like being half awake, interrupted by a forgotten dream. I have only experienced coachgaze in Patagonia and Australia. I’m pretty sure you would get it if you travelled through the Midwest of the US or through many parts of Russia.

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My coachgaze ended as we pulled into another roadhouse and caught a smaller bus off the main highway, it felt nice just to be travelling west instead of north. After a nice sleep in a real bed I headed out to the Kalbarri National Park on a minibus organized by the hostel. In places with few historical and cultural assets it’s really easy to book a tour and head off on a bus. The guide was called Mike and he seemed like a typical Aussie, with a mix of crass humour and aggressive small talk. He did however; really know his subject. Snaking through the bends and canyons of the ancient looking Murchison river, he informed us of every tree, shrub, rock, and insect along the way. The strangest discovery of the day was a ‘legless lizard’. Everybody thought it was a snake, but the lack of legs isn’t the only thing separating these two creatures, their anatomy is completely different. It was a paraplegic lizard.

Legless lizard

Legless lizard

Despite the sun beating down, the rock formations kept much of the track in the shade. When we finally got the opportunity to take a dip the water was colder than anything I have ever experienced. Actually, only two of us were stupid enough to swim, just myself and a Swedish lad. The whole day was relaxed and I really got the true sense of being in a different continent.  A dry, red, almost Martian landscape. All my references were vindicated with the strange red rock formations and the unusual flora and fauna. From all the parks I visited in Australia this was my favourite for scenery.

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Wanaka, New Zealand. Sometimes I hate typing the comma after a place-name, especially ‘Wanaka’ As far as I know there is only one Wanaka, but I insert the comma for clarity. I also use the comma, and insert New Zealand because I didn’t really know about Wanaka until I was there. If I didn’t know then I presume many others won’t know either.

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It’s at the southern end of Lake Wanaka and serves as the base camp for the Mount Aspiring National Park. Wanaka has the tangible excitement of most resort towns, but it is still quaint and laid back. The town is part of the Queenstown-LakesDistrict and is often overlooked due to the proximity of the hugely famous Queenstown. If some people overlook Wanaka then I underlooked Queenstown. To underlook, is not a word as far as I know, but let me explain further.

One of my main reservations about New Zealand was the number of ‘adventure tourists’. I imagined really loud people with crass manners and a wardrobe similar to that of the old ‘Pepsi Max’ adverts. A common sight is white people with dreadlocks – which I’ve never been sure of. They spend so much time and energy seeking out carefully controlled fun, that they often forget there is an unfranchised world of excitement beyond the buses and bungee cords. I’ve never trusted manufactured fun. I believe fun is a spontaneous feeling which is driven by s state of mind and can exist in the most mundane places. If you have to travel from the UK or the Midwest to find fun then I think you need to have a long hard look at your life. A famous and venerated Zen Monk once said to me (whist tutting despairingly)

‘The only fun you find at a fun fair is that which you bring within yourself.’

Adrenaline junkies are genuinely hooked on their drug of choice. I would like to say ‘literally’ hooked but I don’t have enough science to back that up.

“Have you done a bungee jump? Really? I did two at the same time, in the dark, into a pit of cobras.”

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Adrenaline tourism is great for the economy of New Zealand. However, after working two jobs and having to cope with adrenaline numpties for too long I decided that Queenstown was not for me. I read about Wanaka being a smaller and quieter version of Queenstown, so I stayed there instead. I was happy, not just with the town and surrounding scenery; I was also happy with the demographic who chose to stay there. I met a few people who had underlooked Queenstown to get somewhere more relaxing. I only passed through Queenstown briefly so I cannot really comment upon the place. What I can say, is that Wanaka was one of the unexpected gems of New Zealand’s South Island.

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My pleasant hostel opened out to a lawn which ambled down to the Lake. I decided in Wanaka that promenades and waterfronts are nice but Lakeside proms are much nicer. The breeze is gentle and you don’t get salt and sand trapped between your toes all the time. The town has all the tourist infrastructure you would need for both seasons, you can ski here too! I was mainly interested in doing some hiking but I couldn’t be bothered waiting for the bus and I didn’t have enough time to do a multiday hike. In the end, I opted to go to Roy’s Peak to get a good view of the Lake and some of the bigger mountains. I walked along the road to Roy’s Peak which was interesting in the sense of seeing how people live outside the tourist centre. However, I strongly recommend not walking unless you plan on going round the lake; I was pretty tired upon reaching the start of the trail.

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This part of New Zealand was exactly what I had imagined. There were straw coloured grasses and turquoise lakes. The mountains unfolded as if they had just been laid by the god of terraforming. I had my back to the view while walking, so when I eventually reached the peak I felt very happy with the last vista. My only regret was not being organized enough to re plan and stay longer in this mountain paradise. Despite my creeping envy of everyone who passed me to continue hiking, I had one of my most memorable days here. I needed the rest, not just from working, but from others. Depending on your personality type, hiking can be a great escape from all of life’s distractions. Looking back I think I was always fond of hiking and walking but my experience in Wanaka started me on a gentle quest to always walk to the top of any nearby peak. This has reached a point where if I don’t walk a serious length each week I feel genuinely down. Mountains, lakes and forests always restore my humours, none more so than Wanaka.

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San Carlos de Bariloche is a small city in Río Negro, Argentina. Most people seem to call it Bariloche, and for some reason I call it El Bariloche. It’s surrounded by the foothills of the Andes and it sits on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi. It’s a regional tourist centre for mountaineering, hiking, and skiing. I don’t remember ever making the decision to come here, it just seemed like a natural progression on my journey from Mendoza to Tierra del Fuego. I had intended to travel down the coast of Chile and return through Argentine Patagonia. The cost of Argentina at the time I visited was considerably less than Chile, so I think this was a strong motivation. I dodged the hotel hustlers at the bus station and decided to walk into the town; I was pursued by several stray dogs as is often the case on my travels in South America. The outskirts seemed unremarkable and didn’t leave much impression. However, after checking into a local hostel I immediately set out to have a look at the town centre and the view across the lake. I was very impressed.

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Julio Roca statue

My experience of both Chile and Argentina was always tainted by watching football. My image of the people from this part of the World was always dark haired swarthy characters who either outclassed or out cheated my long suffering England team. This image is of the exotic Latin types transplanted from the back streets of Napoli or Madrid into the vast regions of the Americas. I was aware that there was an influence, especially this far south, from Germans and British. Although I knew this I never really expected to land in what seemed like mini Switzerland. The style of the centre could have been plucked from William Tell. It’s a beautiful if embarrassingly twee town. Most of the people seem overwhelmingly European, or should I say Northern European. The comparison with Santiago de Chile and Mendoza was quite striking. I felt like an outsider with my scraggily dark hair and unshaven black face.

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Centro Civico

This part of the World was settled by some Germans, the name of the town may actually come from Carlos Wiederhold who established a shop here. There were subsequent migrations of people from all the Alpine areas of Europe. Slovenians, Austrians, Swiss, and Northern Italians. The aesthetics are specifically Alpine with log cabins and those large boulder type walls, the sort you may find in Aspen, Colorado. I always wonder about ski type places whether things are built like this because they have to be or because they just feel that they should be. Is it the abundance of ‘ski lodge’ materials that lead to the ski lodge aesthetic or do people just think, well, it’s a ski lodge kinda place so let’s make it look that way. Either way, I’m not complaining. I love the place! There are many nice little cafes and chocolate shops. You can wander round looking at the semi ethnic souvenirs with an icy breeze rolling in from the lake.

It’s so far from most places, including Buenos Aires which feels another world away. It makes me wonder if it could be the perfect hiding place for Germanic types hiding from prosecution or trying to evade War Crime charges. If Hitler ever did escape before the Red Army rolled in I image this place would be a great choice. There are a couple of publications who used this area as the backdrop to their various conspiracies. To lend weight to the argument the local German School was apparently run by former SS Hauptsturmführer Erich Priebke. Anyway, that war is over and Bariloche stands as a testament to solid and tasteful Architecture with streets of old world charm. I actually returned here on the way back from Tierra del Fuego, I wish I had stayed longer!

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http://www.bariloche.gov.ar/

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Grey-Wolf-Escape-Adolf-Hitler/dp/1402781393/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1357046228&sr=8-1

 

 

Torres del Paine National Park is in the southern Chilean part of Patagonia. The Cordiella del Paine is the most impressive part of the park with the hugely impressive ‘towers’ or ‘Torres’. These three needles which you will see in my pictures are around 2,500m altitude. It’s possible to spend a lot of time hiking and climbing in the park but I really went to see the three towers.

I arrived from the south because I was staying in Puerto Natales which is about 1h30 or 112km from the park. Unlike most of the tourists I wasn’t staying in the park, I found it rather expensive for basic cabins, this was why I did an extremely fast ascent to get the view of the three towers. My bus to return to Puerto Natales didn’t give me much time to hike so I ran as often as I could and made a scramble over the last thirty minutes to get to the viewing point.

All experience is subjective and it was an extraordinary sequence of events that coloured my experience. I hadn’t read too much about the place before arriving in Southern Chile, it didn’t seem to be on a par with the other bucket list places in South America. I was pretty tired after jogging or at least marching to the lake from where you can see the towers. When I eventually got to the top it was…awesome.

People (mostly Americans and Australians) use the word awesome to describe many things. After seeing the Torres del Paine I don’t think I can use the word any longer. I was literally struck with awe and wonder. When I saw the view of the impossibly large granite monoliths I reeled off so many swearwords I felt like I had got a kind of condensed turrets syndrome. My feet were rooted to the ground and I felt paralysed. As I got my senses together I realised there were three people behind me who were taking some food whilst leaning against a rock. There was no confusion, they weren’t fazed and I wasn’t embarrassed by my outburst. They simply looked and listened and basically said ‘we had the same ideas’. A scene like this couldn’t even be imagined, the most impressive lands of Tolkien’s Middle Earth couldn’t compare with this site. By this stage in my ye ar long trip I had seen many things and many places. I will maintain that New Zealand is the most scenic place I have visited. However, as a single site and a single experience, the three Torres of Torres del Paine have remained the benchmark for all my experiences before and since.

I regret to describe this in such superlative language because I fear it may raise expectations before others visit, but I have to be honest, it’s the best thing I have done whilst wandering. I was also very lucky to have a clear crisp day, I have been told that the weather in Patagonia is pretty fickle. I leave you to look at the pictures, I hope they give a sense of how impressive this place really is. I don’t like having my picture taken in front of places but I include one on this occasion because I felt a real sense of achievement and I hope you can tell by my expression the wonder I felt. The picture was taken by the people on the rock shortly after my turrets outburst.

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In the days before things were recorded, when China was in its infancy, various tribes wandered the Korean peninsula. These tribes are related in customs and traditions to Manchuria and the Russian Far East.  There was no Korea or any form of an organised political entity representing such people. As with many tribes found in Siberia, North America and even Northern Finland, they were a shamanistic people who worshipped nature and animals. Two of the most striking and important totemic animals are the tiger and the bear. These two animals (possibly representing two different tribes) prayed to a deity called Hwanung. Hwanung was a kind of prince of the heaven, son of the great Hwanin. The two animals wished to become human but rather than just make them human, Hwanung wanted to test their resolve, so he gave them 20 cloves of garlic and some mugwort. They had to survive off these foods in a cave for 100 days. The lack of sunlight and other foods were too much for the tiger, he gave up after twenty days and left the cave. The bear stayed for the duration and was rewarded by being transformed into a  woman called ‘Ungnyeo’. She became lonely and needed company so Hwanung  married her and  she gave birth to a son, who was named Dangun Wanggeom.

Dangun is the father of the first Korean nation called Gojoseon. ‘Go’ means ancient as there is another dynasty called Joseon which occurred later. Like most mythology there is usually some history hiding somewhere in the mystical tales. The totemic animals may represent tribes who were included or excluded in this federation.  The Chinese Emperor Yao may have been in power at some point during Dangun’s reign, if this is the case then we are looking at  2357 BC-2256 BC. Dangun is certainly important in the history of Korea, even the years were named after him before the 60s. Dangi (단기) began in 2333 BC and Dangun’s foundation of Korea is celebrated, or perhaps remembered on October 3rd on National Foundation Day(개천절) or “Festival of the Opening of Heaven”.

Like rulers the World over, Dangun was probably deified to prevent any challenge to his authority. If any of this sounds like nonsense then I ask you to take a closer look at other mythical figures or creation myths. Intertwining the foundations of nations in myth is common to most cultures and it allows pre historical  peoples to make sense of ‘history’ using narratives they understand. It also doesn’t do any harm to the status of the élite if they come from sacred beginnings . If you consider any of this story primitive and lacking in  facts then here are some more to consider:

Rome: founded by twin babies Romulus and Remus who were saved by a river, suckled by a she-wolf and fed by a woodpecker.

Britain: founded by Brutus of Troy (son of Aeneas) who sailed there after a dream and had to avoid sirens then defeat giants before naming Britain after himself.

Everyone: God got bored and made Adam, then he used Adam’s rib to make a woman…..

Ever since I learnt about this myth I was keen to visit the sacred mountain where Dangun has an altar to his name. The place in question is on Taebaeksan 태백산. Unlike most mountains the top is completely barren and devoid of trees. There is a large alter inside a stone built structure. After a 2 hour hike I was rewarded with one of the calmest and most beautiful places in Korea. People ascend this mountain on New Year’s day to see the sunrise, I can see why. I stopped of at a buddhist temple for some water and then another short hike got me to the top. It was an extremely hot day and I felt like I could see the whole world from this mountain top. I hope to return some day to see the ceremony carried out  by the Shaman priests.

 The best place to start the hike up to the altar is Danggol (당골). Here are the times from the bus station(터미날) in Taebaek and back again from the Dangol carpark. It takes about 25 minutes to get to Danggol carpark and you can get food and drinks there as well as information from the Provincial park office. The hike to the altar and back takes around 4 hours.

Taebaek is best reached from Dong Seoul by bus and takes about 3h30.

Taebaek also has a train station connecting it with Gangneung and Seoul Cheongnyangni 4h15.

http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/SI/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=791747

http://tour.taebaek.go.kr/site/en/sub4/sub4_3_1.jsp