Hobbling and hobbits on New Zealand’s north island

New Zealand

“You can’t hike any more. You have to change your plans,”  the doctor says sympathetically. “Was it your dream to tramp across New Zealand? Had you been planning it for years?”

“Well, no,” I reply, “but it’s really disappointing. How long will I take to heal?”

“Three more months, maybe…or keyhole surgery.”

I have torn a cartilage in my knee just 160km into the Te Araroa hike across New Zealand. It’s now very clear that I won’t be able to hike the whole trail. But because I can stay in the country for six months, it’s possible that I’ll recover in time to walk half of it.

Hitchhiking, hiking & camping Malaysia

Malaysia
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Map of our route from my diary

“Aaaaggghhhh! You fucking wankerrrrrr!” I scream at a young guy as I chase after him on my scooter. He has just grabbed my breast, whilst driving at 60kmph on his scooter, and now I’m on a high speed chase.

But after just half a minute I wonder what I would actually do if I caught him. Ask him to pull over so that I can have a polite word with him about his misogynist ways? More likely the chase would end with me having a serious scooter accident. So I stop driving and cry instead.

Hiking the GR10 trail in the Pyrénées

France, Walking

We hiked the GR10 in June 2016.

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I don’t like climbing mountains. I think of it as macho: the egoic human wanting to conquer the peak. Don’t get me wrong, I love long distance hiking, and I have done my fair share of hikes. But I don’t feel the need to climb a few thousand metres high.

So I wonder why I am here, why I have chosen to walk the GR10, a trail that spans all of the Pyrénées, from west to east  – a whole 900km of up and down. It is, of course, because I want to be immersed in beauty. And surely you don’t get much more beautiful than the Pyrénées.

More reflections on being alone: Hiking the Carian Trail (part 3 )

Turkey, Walking
A waymarker on a pine tree (yes, I have to climb up the mountain on the other side of the beach!

A waymarker on a pine tree (yes, I have to climb up the mountain on the other side of the beach!

I am walking the Carian Trail, an 800km long hiking route in south-west Turkey. See parts 1 and 2 here and here.

Day 8: Eski Datça to Pigs Hollow (15km)
I have started a new section of the Carian Trail – the Datça Peninsula. To my relief, the trail becomes unbelievably beautiful and, thank god, a lot more easy! The hike is much more similar to the Lycian Way (hurrah!), with massive limestone rockfaces, pine forest, sea views and a beach that is only accessible by boat or by hiking. No longer am I just surrounded by prickly bushes!

Hızırşah village

Hızırşah village

Limestone!

Limestone!

View!

View!

I hike to Pigs Hollow. The beach and valley at Pigs Hollow (Domuz Çukuru) used to be a backpackers’ camp, but it closed down two years ago. Now it’s inhabited by two men, a dog called Dırdır, some cats and some chickens. The only access here is by Carian Trail or by boat. The men welcome me and give me dinner, most of which is grown in their vegetable garden.

Hiking the Carian Trail (part 1): endurance and struggle!

Turkey, Walking
The stunning view from Amos on the Carian Trail

The stunning view from Amos on the Carian Trail

The Carian Trail (or the Karia Yolu in Turkish) is an 800km hiking trail along the south-west coast of Turkey. Having walked the Lycian Way in Turkey a few years before, I am certain that I know what I am getting into.

My intention is to walk 400km of the trail, and I want to do it alone. I’m sure that I will meet no other hikers, as this trail is pretty new. It will be an amazing journey of personal growth, and I will spend days walking, meditating, foraging for edible plants, and swimming on deserted beaches. It’s going to be paradise, I think to myself….

Day 1: İçmeler to a meadow close to Amos (8km)
I pack my rucksack in my guesthouse and lift it up. “SHIT! It’s so fucking heavy!” I say out loud to myself. On all of my recent hikes, I have shared the load with Chris. He would take the food and water and I would take the tent. But now I am alone and I have to carry it all: a few litres of water, food, tent, sleeping bag and mat, clothes, books, notepads for writing, compass, torch and other accessories. Immediately I ditch a book – my copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I hadn’t been enjoying it much, anyway.

“You’re a vegan? What CAN you eat?!” – More hiking & hitching in western Europe

France, Germany, Hitchhiking, Walking
"Where the hell are we?!" I say, as I look at the map

“Where the hell are we?!” I say, as I look at the map

I like to think I’m a good map reader. But sometimes – fairly often, actually – I look at a map and my mind goes completely blank. I can’t work out where the hell I am.

Chris and I are in the Pyrénées. We need to stay low: there’s thick snow once we get above 1400 metres. So it’s also important not to get lost, or we might find ourselves camping up on a mountain ridge in a snowy blizzard, completely unprepared.

But, of course, we get lost. There’s five different trails, some bigger than others, all branching off in different directions.

On the road with Nicol and Albin

France, Hitchhiking, Walking
Hitching the Atlantic coast

Hitching the Atlantic coast

La Rochelle! The city that I have always wanted to visit since my school French class, when every character in the text book either lived in La Rochelle, worked in La Rochelle, or went on holiday in La Rochelle. A bright blue kingfisher darts through the park and the streets are calm and quiet.

We set up camp, perched on a sand dune next to the Atlantic ocean on a freezing, icy night.

Camping in the frost on the freezing coast in Châtelaillon near La Rochelle

Camping in the frost on the freezing coast in Châtelaillon near La Rochelle

HITCHHIKING OUR FIRST TRACTOR!

HITCHHIKING OUR FIRST TRACTOR!

Nicol et moi, happy on the road

Nicol et moi, happy on the road

Hitchhiking in France is, of course, easy, and once again, female drivers stop regularly for us. I think it’s the only country I have been to where the drivers don’t say, “You’re hitchhiking? It’s dangerous!” Each driver has a different life and a different story. One woman is pregnant and moving house; one driver, Abdel, offers us a job in his vineyard; Brenda has a brain tumour and is on her way to the hospital for a scan.

So far, Nicol’s been a perfect travel companion, but now she faces the ultimate test: a few days of walking in the French nature in the pouring rain with a heavy rucksack on her back, sleeping in a leaky tent in the middle of winter! We walk the GR64 hiking route to the Dordogne river and the rain lashes down on us. Nothing phases Nicol, and we laugh hysterically as we walk through a farm and sink into a mixture of cow shit and mud and the poo seeps into our socks.

Shitty shoes!

Shitty shoes!

Nicol, looking surprisingly   awake after a cold night in the tent

Nicol, looking surprisingly awake after a cold night in the tent

Aaaah! France!

Aaaah! France!

Castelnaud on the Dordogne

Castelnaud on the Dordogne

Nicol having a break

Nicol having a break

La Roque Gageac on the Dordogne

La Roque Gageac on the Dordogne

After a couple of days of being cold to the bone, we arrive in Cahors, literally covered in shit. A woman asks me if I’m ok and offers to buy me a sandwich from the bakery.

We have persuaded my friend Albin that he really wants to take us on a roadtrip in his van named Coco, and he picks us up in Cahors. We travel just 15km and Coco breaks down.

After a few hours, the van is fixed and we travel along the river Lot in the Causses du Quercy region. Albin looks out of the window as he drives and constantly waves his arm in the air, gesturing for us to look at the view. “My garden!” he says with a big grin, proud of the country that he’s from.

We follow the vallée du Célé and travel through the gorges de la Cère and gorges de la Luzège. The scenery is magical – sometimes it feels like we’re in a fairytale.

"Today is a terrible day," Albin moans as we break down.

“Today is a terrible day,” Albin moans as we break down.

Nicol and Albin with Coco the van, in the perfect sleeping place  on the river Lot

Nicol and Albin with Coco the van, in the perfect sleeping place on the river Lot

Nicol, Albin et moi

Nicol, Albin et moi

This place actually exists! The Tour de Merle

This place actually exists! The Tour de Merle

Nicol et moi, on the top of the world at Saint Pantaléon de Lapleau on the  Gorges de la Luzège

Nicol et moi, on the top of the world at Saint Pantaléon de Lapleau on the Gorges de la Luzège

Collecting spring water!

Collecting spring water!

Nicol and me at the Viaduc des Rochers Noir

Nicol and me at the Viaduc des Rochers Noir

Our few days on the road together are spent with a lot of laughter and also a lot of (mostly lighthearted) bickering, as the three of us learn to share Albin’s tiny house on wheels. “ORGANISATION!” Albin exclaims to us at every opportunity. For Albin, organisation means switching his bags of belongings to the driver’s seat when he wants to sleep, and back to the main part of the van when he wants to drive.

“I want to teach you the life in a van,” Albin says to us. Life in the van proves to be complicated, and the simple act of opening the van’s door is problematic, as it involves a special technique. “You pull, you pull, and you push!” Albin demonstrates again and again. I finally get the hang of it on our last day together.

Despite some bickering, our days are mostly filled with giggling and singing, and we laze in the sunshine in the daytime and explore the incredible nature. Albin teaches me the guitar and Nicol the diablo, and as he’s a juggler, we spend many hours juggling. I discover that I have a natural talent for balancing a ball on my head!

On our final evening, we stop in a tiny village in the darkness, and Albin knocks on the door of a house to ask for water. A man called Dominique answers the door and invites us in for dinner. We are humbled by his kindness and we spend an interesting couple of hours cooking dinner and talking about each other’s lives, and Dominique tells me how he used to hitchhike many years ago. We chat about Jack Kerouac and both agree that the book On The Road is actually a bit shit.

This talent is going to make me millions!

This talent is going to make me millions!

The juggler

The juggler

Beautiful forest

Beautiful forest

France!

France!

In the fairytale nature

In the fairytale nature

Albin and Nicol with our host, Dominique

Albin and Nicol with our host, Dominique

Finally, it’s time to say goodbye to Albin and his van, Coco, and I have tears in my eyes when they drive out of sight. I feel so lucky to be alive, and to have been travelling with both Nicol and Albin – both very beautiful souls. Nicol and I continue onwards alone, hitchhiking towards Ardèche, through mountains of snow. We arrive at Françoise and Denis’s house in the mountains. As Françoise and Denis tell Nicol about their travels, I marvel at how inspirational my friends are: Françoise, who walked from France to China, Denis who studied Mandarin in China; and Albin, who gave up a conventional engineering job to become a juggler.

Like Albin, Françoise thinks that France is the most beautiful country ever, and we laugh as she plays us Jean Ferrat’s Ma France (My France). And after these last couple of weeks on the road, I’m inclined to agree with them that France is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

On the road!

On the road!

In the snowy mountains of Ardèche

In the snowy mountains of Ardèche

Brighton to Beijing overland part 4: The green grass of smiley Mongolia

Hitchhiking, Mongolia
The first person we meet as we cross the border into Mongolia :)

The first person we meet as we cross the border into Mongolia 🙂

“We are hitchhiking. We have a vague destination but it’s not very important to us when we get there. We have a tent, lots of food and water, and we don’t want to get a mini-bus or taxi. We don’t want to stay in a hotel. Please don’t worry about us!”

This is what I would say to everyone, if only I could speak Mongolian. But the problem with hitchhiking in Mongolia is that we can’t communicate. We have a phrase book, which proves invaluable. Every car stops for us, more out of concern or curiosity than knowing what we’re doing. It’s unsurprising that people are confused: we are not booking an expensive tour of the country and we are not hiring a jeep and a driver. In Mongolia, this is a Tourist Rarity. We meet various Europeans who are paying $700 for 8 days in the Gobi. (I blame this reliance on tours on a certain famous guidebook).

Brighton to Beijing Overland…part 1: a race to Moscow!

Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia

On the melting roads of the Baltic countries…

The alarm goes off at 4.45am. Urgh. We catch a train to London. It’s 6.30am in the morning and the trains are depressingly full. We’re on day one of our overland journey to China, using a mixture of hitchhiking, buses, and of course, the famous Trans-Siberian Railway.

Chris has sorted everything out for me – my train tickets and my visas. But first we need to get through France, Holland, Germany, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

It feels like cheating when we get a coach to Berlin, and actually, it would have been quicker to hitchhike, what with the usual traffic jams on the Autobahn (why do the German motorways have a good reputation?!)

The Land Is Ours! Wild Camping in the Wye Valley

England, Wales
Redwoods in Llandogo, Wales

Redwoods in Llandogo, Wales

I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her… If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.
Henry David Thoreau (Journal, 3 January 1853)

It’s the middle of the night and I’m laying in my tent, deep in the woods. Suddenly I hear footsteps. They’re coming closer and closer to me. My heart races nervously. Something, or someone, is trying to get into my tent. I scream. The next morning, I discover that a creature has gnawed a hole through my tent. And the following night, the footsteps come again. As I fumble desperately for a torch, I put my hand on something furry and scream again. I have previously camped in forests inhabited by wolves and bears, but it is this creature, which turns out to be a tiny mouse, which finally manages to scare the hell out of me!