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6 Mayfred Avenue
Hope Valley, SA, 5090
Australia

The official website of adventurer and author of It Takes Two To Tandem, Louise George. Louise currently resides in Adelaide, South Australia with her husband. The two regularly travel and undertake many adventures together, including riding travelling 880 miles through the United Kingdom, from John O’Groats to Lands End.

MY BLOG

Filtering by Tag: Trekking

Albania: Theth to Valbone and Lake Komani

Louise George

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We are picked up by a Mercedes mini van, organised by Green Garden Hostel, and driven to Theth. We felt like we’d been teleported to Nepal. Initially the road was narrow and although sealed, dodging or moving over for other traffic made the journey slow.  We drive past fields of lavender and what appear to be chamomile flowers blooming. Soon we were on a mountain road. The mountains were steep and rocky, some with pockets of dirty snow. Clouds hung low in the drizzle. The road was very narrow with steep drop offs. Later the surface deteriorated to rough gravel and embedded raised rocks. There was no room to pass on-coming vehicles, so some backing-up to wider verges was required. It took almost 3 hours to travel 70 kms.  

We arrived in drizzle at accommodation Alpbes Theth, a guesthouse that is associated with Green Garden Hostel. Meals are included and we are almost immediately sat down to lunch of bread, spinach pie, sheep milk cheese, salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, and yellow capsicum, coated in olive oil, sheep milk yoghurt, washed down with a shot of Rakija. The soft rain turned the air cold. In fact I found it hard to generate any warmth in spite of donning all of the clothes I’d brought for the hike. While packing for the trip the last thing Nev said to me was he had his bathers, because there was a blue spring, and you could swim there. I didn’t even open my bag of warm gear that I had brought for the possibility of cycling getting cool, and now I am berating myself for my stupidity, entering a mountain region unprepared. For most of the afternoon we rested in the room, I was wrapped in the quilt.

Later we were bored, and still had to wait until 8 pm for dinner, so we walked out in the soft drizzle.

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When we were called for dinner, I was reluctant to go to the dining room and leave the quilt behind, but soon warmed up after a dinner of soup, chips, BBQ lamb leg, cheese, salad, bread, and vegetable slice.

We requested breakfast for 7:30 and hoped that the weather would be fine so that tomorrow we can undertake the hike we intended. Breakfast is: mountain tea, bread, omelette, homemade butter, white cheese, ricotta, honey, fig jam. Feeling very full of food, and with a pile of additional food hastily prepared for a picnic, (our hosts hadn´t realised our intention to complete the hike) we departed just after 9. The 4WD track lead us about 3 km downhill to the trail head. The sign indicates that it´s 6km to Valbone Col, so that means 6km uphill! We continue on a rocky 4wd trail, that soon turned to zigzag up the steep shingle hill. Later it was muddy underfoot through beech forest. Still we continue upwards with occasional pauses for photos. The mountain views were stunning. About 40 minutes from the top, on the edge of the forest there was a cafe! We supported the local economy by purchasing cans of Nescafé Latte, and a slice of pancake-layer-stack, glued with honey.

At the Col, nimble Nev detoured out to the highest point to get some 360 degree views. We crossed through to the other side and then began descending, crossing many shingle avalanches.  Sometimes the track was quite narrow. This is the type of surface I don’t like walking on. I’ve never slipped, but the consequences of doing so, would be treacherous. Eventually, after much descending, we arrived at a meadow that was a good place to stop for lunch. Our packed lunch was bread, white cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers. Up to now we had seen only one other couple, but at this point we passed many people going up from the Valbone side. 

The descent continued following a stark white, rocky riverbed, and we are completely surrounded by mountains. The sun was shining and it was a pleasant walk all the way to Valbone where we stepped onto tarmac opposite a luxury hotel, where we celebrated by sharing a bottle of beer.

The trail finishes near the hotel tucked in the forest

The trail finishes near the hotel tucked in the forest

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The walk wasn’t over for us; we didn’t have anywhere to stay, so we continued, looking for a guesthouse with a spare room.  We met 2 French couples on bikes. They were travelling separately, and had met a month ago, and now, by chance, had met up again. It was interesting to get their perspecive of cycling in Albania. By the time we had found suitable accommodation we had walked 22.2km. I was extremely cold, and again I’d been tucked under a quilt trying to be warm, but dinner was served outside, sitting in armchairs at a small table, surrounded by peaks kissed by the last of the sun.  Tepid Moussaka with some rice mixed in, bread, pasta shells that had been cooked in a broth, (but with no sauce) salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, ricotta with chopped green pickled tomatoes stirred in. We watched as goats on the road were herded to safety for the night, and a lone horse wandered home. We declined the offer to watch the World Cup Soccer, and headed for bed.

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An early start; breakfast is to be at 6:30. I used Nev´s phone to set the time not realising that the 6:00 alarm was only for Saturday, for the rides he used to go on in Australia, with his mates! Just as well I wake early. By the time I thought to check the time it was 6:15. We managed to pack ready to leave, and be at the outdoor table in time for breakfast of deep fried omelette, bread, another type of white cheese, and fig jam, washed down with mountain tea. Mountain Tea is an Albanian breakfast accompaniment. It is made by steeping the plant, stem and leaves, in hot water. It is served hot or room temperature, and has a very pleasant flavour with a hint of perfume similar to lavender. Evidently it is an endangered plant, Sideritis Raeseri, a medicinal herb, rich in antioxidants.

A minibus took us to Busan, where we needed to catch another minibus to Fierze. While we waited on the footpath what appeared to be a minibus pulled up in front of us. Yes he was going to Fierze and we had difficulty understanding the fare. Nev gave him 1500 Lek and then he snatched the remaining 600 Nev was still holding. We took off at a crazy rate. Nev and I simultaneously reaching around for seat belts, and exchanging the same thought as we looked into each other´s eyes; ¨what have we got into!¨ Nev checked Google maps and the exchange rate. It was now obvious that this vehicle, in spite of it´s disheveled state, was a taxi, and we were in the hands of a crazy Albanian driver! At a village he pulled over and he told us to get out, and pointing and waving, indicated we were to go with another man who was at the side of the road standing beside a small car. We clarified that we didn’t need to pay the man any money, then the minibus did a u-turn and disappeared. The driver of the small car lit a cigarette, and we were off, enveloped in smoke, to Fierze, only a few kilometres away. The driver stopped outside a restaurant and told us, quite sternly, to get out. So we did! On asking at the restaurant, we found it was still 3 km to the ferry and it departed in 45 minutes. We set off at a brisk walk and then decided to hitchhike. Thumbs out to the first car and it pulled over. Two young men quickly moved stuff to one side of the back seat and we squeezed in. We were offered, and ate their biscuits, and soon dropped at the ferry.

The three hour ferry ride on Lake Komani was beautiful, even though the peace was disturbed by accompanying local music, played just a little too loudly! Lake Komani is a man-made reservoir as a result of damming the Drin River. Large hills rise from the water and occasionally there is a view of mountains behind. The scenes are very picturesque but not dramatic like the country we had walked through yesterday.

As soon as we disembark the ferry we are approached by a man who asks if we need a ride to Shkoder. He has a taxi with two passengers and is happy for two more fares. We are happy to accept his offer that is cheaper than the minibus we were expecting to catch. Today, in terms of transport; you lose some; you win some! 

Sri Lanka - Introduction

Louise George

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Most tourists our age who go to Sri Lanka spend about 10 days here. They join a tour where everything is catered for, or hire a driver (as was recommended to us by the gentleman at the Colombo Tourist Office). A driver will obviously take you where you want to go, help you get tickets to tourist sites and probably even select places to stay. These can sometimes be more expensive than the budget traveller wishes to pay, but more suitable to the drivers needs. Sometimes drivers will want to take passengers to shops where they get commission. We had 21 days and a pretty relaxed schedule. We chose the ‘do it yourself’ option because we wanted flexibility, we wanted to ‘do it like the locals’ and we’re tight arses.

Our accommodation choices were always adequate rather than superior. Rooms were clean, we always had an ensuite bathroom; but sometimes the linen was a little ‘tired’. Occasionally access would be difficult if a person didn’t have good mobility; often stairs (no lifts) and at Ella Hide View the wooden stair was rickety and the handrail broken, so treacherous in the wet. Wherever possible we chose local restaurants rather than tourist restaurants. Local dishes were more flavoursome; we are not afraid of the heat of chilli, nor of eating with our fingers (although some restaurants do provide forks and spoons), and meals were usually a couple of dollars cheaper than restaurants that target tourists. Street food was often very delicious; especially mango sprinkled with salt and chilli powder.

We had a wonderful time, and given that we had 21 days, would not have travelled any differently. Maybe we would have headed for the northern beaches, rather than the southern ones, as we have been told that at this time of the year (April/May) the north is not affected by the monsoons.

Nepal - Manaslu Circuit - Day 6 - Namrung to Lho

Louise George

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With the enormous porridge bowl filled to a centre peak higher than the brim, it’s too much this morning. Nev is well today but I'm feeling a little queasy.  The apple slices looked appetizing but with the flavour of onion evident, I was easily deterred from eating breakfast.  I was reminded of the numerous times I had seen washing of stainless steel bowls, mugs and pressure cookers outdoors, probably in cold water and the less than hygienic lifestyle was sitting heavy in my belly this morning.

I had time before our departure to walk back through Namrung village. I was interested in checking out the ‘resort’.  We’ve taken 5 days to get to this point but the Nubri Four Seasons resort offers 4 day packages to tourists that includes a helicopter return flight from Kathmandu, meals, a few hours of walking on two of the days, foot massages and hot showers! I walk past a woman sitting outdoors in the meagre warmth, weaving yak hairinto a colourful scarf.  The light and temperature is probably far superior outdoors, to what she would have experienced in her stone house.

Our trek started around 7:30, mostly on a track that is more hard packed earth and only some stairs. We cautiously crossed five snowy avalanches. There were still some steep climbs that I felt I was struggling with, and I tried the nasal breathing that KK advised was the best for oxygen intake but breathing in and out of my nose just initiated snot forming, so I kept stopping to blow.  My body seemed to be overheating on the climbs so I put my poor performance down to not feeling too well. We made good time to Lho, arriving at 11:42, so a trek of only 4 hours 25 minutes with a morning tea break. The early arrival gave us time to wash our clothes, have a hot shower (200 rupee) including a hair wash.  The afternoon was sunny but a cold breeze cut to the bone. The room was like a wind tunnel.   Nev , Jo and Greg climbed up to a Buddhist monastery.  It was high on the hillside and I decided to stay back to rest. When we arrived there was a community meeting of locals underway.  There were many people sitting outside with a spectacular view over the valley and the mountains beyond.  Their discussions continued to around 5:30 by which time it was bitterly cold. There were lots of raised voices at one point, and everyone standing and yelling, and a bit of argy bargy. I can't believe how cold it is! I have fleece pants covering my legs and my body is layered with merino chamisole, tshirt and sweater, a down jacket and head topped with a hat. At least it has been sunny and warm while trekking. KK tells us there is bad news about the pass, because of recent snow.  Evidently Samarkand to Samdo is 2 feet deep with snow. Time will tell. Rained heavily in the night, woke 10:15 thinking it must be around 4am as disparate to go to toilet, had to go out in pelting rain. Fresh snow down quite low. Villages have little children greeting “Namaste chocolate”, “Namaste balloon” with palm outstretched we have nothing for them. Most have running noses and cheeks skin thick and red as in wind burn.

Our trek started around 7:30, mostly on a track that is more hard packed earth and only some stairs. We cautiously crossed five snowy avalanches. There were still some steep climbs that I felt I was struggling with, and I tried the nasal breathing that KK advised was the best for oxygen intake but breathing in and out of my nose just initiated snot forming, so I kept stopping to blow.  My body seemed to be overheating on the climbs so I put my poor performance down to not feeling too well. We made good time to Lho, arriving at 11:42, so a trek of only 4 hours 25 minutes with a morning tea break. The early arrival gave us time to wash our clothes, have a hot shower (200 rupee) including a hair wash.  The afternoon was sunny but a cold breeze cut to the bone. The room was like a wind tunnel. 

Nev , Jo and Greg climbed up to a Buddhist monastery.  It was high on the hillside and I decided to stay back to rest. When we arrived there was a community meeting of locals underway.  There were many people sitting outside with a spectacular view over the valley and the mountains beyond.  Their discussions continued to around 5:30 by which time it was bitterly cold. There were lots of raised voices at one point, and everyone standing and yelling, and a bit of argy bargy. I can't believe how cold it is! I have fleece pants covering my legs and my body is layered with merino chamisole, tshirt and sweater, a down jacket and head topped with a hat. At least it has been sunny and warm while trekking. KK tells us there is bad news about the pass, because of recent snow.  Evidently Samarkand to Samdo is 2 feet deep with snow. Time will tell. Rained heavily in the night, woke 10:15 thinking it must be around 4am as disparate to go to toilet, had to go out in pelting rain. Fresh snow down quite low. Villages have little children greeting “Namaste chocolate”, “Namaste balloon” with palm outstretched we have nothing for them. Most have running noses and cheeks skin thick and red as in wind burn.

Nepal - Manaslu Circuit - Day 4 - Jagat to Deng (also known as Dhang or Dyang)

Louise George

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The initial plan was for separate days: Jagat to Philim (1700m) 3 hours, then Philim to Deng (2095m) 5 hours, however we have decided to double them.  Ahead of us we have possibly 8 hours of trekking, (fortunately only gaining 550 metres), as we combine the recommended distance for 2 days.  With the likelihood that we will receive afternoon rain it is better to leave earlier, so today signals the first of ongoing 7:30 a.m. departures.

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Crossing by a rickety wooden bridge, then leads us along the sandy riverbed beside the Bhalu Khola.  Later we are climbing the ups and downs of the cliff face.  Groups of locals have been walking towards us as they head south to work in fields, or on new houses being built in the area.  I am reminded how fortunate we are to be walking here for sheer pleasure, rather than because our livelihood depends on being fit and strong.

The morning becomes a blur of a constantly changing trail, that includes lots of punchy climbs up, and short sharp downs, that are often rock hopping; although these are interspersed with some neatly stepped sections.  There are long, steel swing bridges, and a couple of shorter wooden ones.  Walking becomes easy as the trail travels through a broad valley where crops of millet and corn are stretching in the spring warmth.  We expected the morning to take 4-5 hours so are delighted to arrive for lunch at Ekle Bhatti (another check-point) after 3.5 hours.

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We had all looked enviously at Greg's Vegetable Curry meal last night, so to speed up our lunch break we all ordered Vegetable Curry, only to be served a disappointing meal of rice and soupy mustard greens.  The porters were tucking into their usual Dahl Baht breakfast, and in comparison to our lunch, it looked delicious.  We laugh at our bad luck, as it's been typical that someone has ordered, a never before tried selection, from the menu at the evening meal that looks delicious, so we follow it up at lunch (another time, another village) and the lunch time version has always been inferior!

The local inhabitants are Gurung people, an ethnic group that migrated from Tibet in the 6th century.  Many locals come toward us carrying cane baskets of fire wood, split the best size to be ready for burning, most likely to fuel the kitchen stove.  The loads look heavy and I'm surprised to see how young some of the children are, with full baskets.  We are carrying a pathetically light load in comparison, and wear strong boots to protect our feet on the rough track.  Most of these people wear the light plastic sandals, that fit with a plastic strap across the top of the foot, but provide no support; we would consider 'beach worthy'.  Some people are barefoot!

The afternoon trek takes us through forests of bamboo and pine, with the occasional red rhododendrons adding splashes of colour.  We pass the trail to the Tsum Valley that goes off to the right.  As almost everyone hikes the Manaslu Circuit in the same direction as us; anti-clockwise (otherwise the approach to Larkya La is too steep and there is nowhere to acclimatise), from now on we shouldn't have trekkers coming towards us.

Light drizzle began at 1:30 but it didn't stay for long.  We are still following the local people carrying the plastic chairs, wooden boards and corrugated iron.

It's quite cool by the time we reach Deng.  Our daily ritual, on arriving at our accommodation is to freshen up.  This afternoon I decide not to brave a cold shower.  Thank goodness for 'wet-wipes'!  We then meet KK in the dining room at 5 p.m. to study the menu, order the evening meal, establish a time for dinner, (every night this is "as soon as it is ready") followed by ordering breakfast and agreeing on the next morning's breakfast and departure times.  Then we read the trekking notes for tomorrow, and chat until dinner is served.  As soon as our meal is finished, we take ourselves off for an early night.

As there is no ceiling, our room tonight, has a view from the bed, of the underside of the corrugated iron roof.  Paper thin wood-panel walls, only extend to the height of a ceiling; had there been one.  We have adequate privacy without sound-proofing, as we are almost deafened by the rain that was pelting down at the time of our arrival; and continues.  Later we’re exposed to our neighbour's unhealthy-sounding fits of coughing and throat clearing.  The only toilet is downstairs.  Reaching the toilet involves being exposed to the rain while descending the stairs, and then ducking under the verandah.  It's not a clean 'out-house' and I vow I will 'hold-on' until morning.

KK tells us that as it is raining heavily tonight, there will be no rain tomorrow.  If KK's forecast is accurate, that is good immediate news, however it will unfortunately mean that the rain we are receiving will be manifesting as snow up on the pass!