Hiking in Arcadia, Greece

It is no coincidence that the name ‘Arcadia’, the name of this region at the heart of the Peloponnese Peninsula of southern Greece, is synonymous with our ideal rural landscape. This lush, mountainous landscape is such a beautiful place you may even feel you have stumbled into one of the myths for which the Peloponnese Peninsula is famed.

The area around ancient Gortys is a lovely place – heaven for hikers. The monks of the monastery of Prodhrómou own the surrounding farmland and they have carved a path up along the Gorge of Loúsios between Áyios Andhréas and the monastery. It takes around 40 minutes to reach the start of the graded path. The walk is along a graded trail which follows the stream. The monastery itself perches precipitously on the cliff edge high above the path and one of the few monks who live here will show you the frescoes here if you show up when the monastery is open – it is closed between 2 and 5pm. Strict dress codes must be adhered to and if you are immodestly dressed then you will be given a blanket like item of clothing to don to enter the monastery. Beyond this monastery, the path continues past two more, one of which, Paleá is a ruin dating from the Tenth Century. The other, Néa, is from the Seventeenth Century. It has been restored and extended in recent years but frescoes dating from 1663 are still intact and can be viewed by applying to the permanent caretaker monk. The path then winds its way beside the river and it takes less than two hours to go through Paleohóri to reach Dhimitsána. If you choose to walk this route you will see why it is so popular with hikers.

The Mainalo mountain range is traversed by the E4 European long-distance path. It starts in Vitina and ascends to the ski lodge on Ostrakina before descending once more to Kardara. This is a very pleasing and varied section of this well-known walk, giving lovely views of this area.

Hiking from the village of Vitina to the village of Stemnitsa is a particular highlight of walking in this area. Vitina is a popular mountain resort with city-dwelling Athenians who come here for a taste of the fresh mountain air. From the central square of the village, take the road leading out of the village to the north-west. The start of the path is well sign-posted with yellow labels. It will lead you first of all down to the river Mylaontas in its scenic gorge and along its banks until you reach a picturesque, deserted watermill and a wooden bridge. After an hour or so’s walk, you head to the spring of Aghios Theodoros, then up onto a beautiful plateau covered with walnut trees the church of the life-giving spring. Passing through Eftakarvelou, you turn right, continuing on until you reach a crossroads. At the crossroads you take a left turn, and follow this path for five kilometers or so until you reach Stemnitsa.

These routes are just a few examples of the many wonderful hiking paths throughout Arcadia. Come to the Peloponnese to discover some of them for yourself.

Adventure Travel In Peru – Hiking The Inca Trail To Machu Picchu

After months of planning and over a year of dreaming about it, I finally got on a bus from Arequipa to go to Cusco to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. My friend Milana from Los Angeles, who I used to hike and mtn. bike with, and Karen, her longtime friend, were meeting me in Cusco. We were supposed to be there a couple of days early so they could acclimatize but Milana’s flight from Lima was cancelled so she arrived about noon the day before our tour started. I had already met Karen the day before and we had gotten to know each other a bit as we did some sightseeing and hiking together near Cusco.

When Milana arrived, we went to eat at a restaurant just off the plaza and she had ceviche to eat, it is raw fish marinated in lime juice. Either the ceviche or the lack of time to acclimatize to the 11,000 foot altitude in Cusco, or both, got her off to a bad start. She woke up sick the next morning for the start of our four day trek. We had signed up for a group tour, expecting up to 12 people, so we were delighted when the mini bus picked us up in that morning to find only two other people on the tour! An almost private tour for the group price. It didn’t seem like such a small group by the time we added a cook and eight porters to our guide, Carlos, making a total of 15 people. However most of the time we were trekking it was just the six of us, the porters were either packing up camp behind us or rushing on ahead to get ready for us. The service was great but personally the morning tea in our tents when they woke us, the dining tent for all three meals (although it felt really good at dinner time due to the cold) and the fancy menu, etc. was something I would have given up for a cheaper price. They definitely don’t subscribe to the ultra light hiking idea with a cast iron stove and 20 lb. LP gas tank!

One of the things that surprised me on the first day was to see people actually living along the trail, and riding bicycles back and forth. On the second morning there were women and children with burros going up the trail to set up stands to serve breakfast, sell candy, snacks, bottled water and even Gatorade! By the afternoon, that was all behind us as we headed up to Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,770 feet, the highest point on the trail. The scenery had changed from lush rain forest in the morning to sparse vegetation and rocks by the pass, along with being much cooler. When we stopped early in the afternoon at our campsite for the evening, I couldn’t just sit and wait for dinner, I went on ahead to the next pass, exploring side trails along the way. Solid clouds beyond the summit ruined my hopes for a spectacular sunset but it was an enjoyable time anyway.

On day three we got into the high jungle, thousands of more steps, and actually into some of the ancient ruins. Also a seemingly endless variety of orchids and other flowers. One thing we didn’t see was any wild animals, just a few birds. It also seemed like the farther we went, the more tourists there were. The first day we hardly saw anyone else, so I’m not sure where they all came from. By that evening we were back in civilization, with the option of a restaurant, hot shower and cold beer, which many were enjoying.

The final morning we were up early to be the first ones on the trail, hoping to get pictures of Machu Picchu before there were any people there. They actually opened the checkpoint a few minutes early and we were started off in the dark, on the last couple of hours of the trail, arriving at Machu Picchu just after sunrise. For me, one of the highlights of the trip was hiking up Huayna Picchu, the high peak behind the ruins in all the standard Machu Picchu pictures. There was a wonderful trail, steep and rugged, up to the peak, where the views were fabulous! I saw a less used trail going down the backside and followed that a ways but finally had to turn around to meet the others and catch the bus into Aquas Calientes. Only when I got back to the checkpoint at the start of the trail did I find out that it was a loop trail and I could have continued on around the mountain. There was no time to soak in the hot springs, as we got to Aquas Calientes a bit late and then found out that we had to leave early to walk to the train that would take us back to Cusco, because of the landslide that had covered the tracks on the edge of town. A final surprise was that evening when the train stopped a couple of hours before Cusco and the conductor said that was the end of the ride. We never did find out why but ended up having to take a taxi the rest of the way to Cusco, fortunately arriving with no problems.

The trip was great, Machu Picchu was unbelievable and something that pictures can’t do justice to. Never the less, I did take about 400 photos, trying to capture the grander to relive later. I am looking forward to returning to the area to hike from Cusco to Choquequirao, sometimes called the sister city to Machu Picchu, and then on to Machu Picchu. This hike is much less common and allows for exploring on your own.

Doggin’ Vancouver: Where To Hike With Your Dog When In Terminal City

Frederick Arthur Stanley was the sixth Governor-General of Canada, presiding over

a completely uneventful five-year term beginning in 1888. He had the good fortune,

however, to be immortalized by two tangential occurrences during his service. One,

he authorized the equivalent of $48 to purchase a trophy for a hockey

tournament that became the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup and two, he was

in office when one of North America’s most spectacular urban parks opened in

Vancouver.

More than 50 miles of roads and paths twist under majestic cedars, hemlocks and

firs in Stanley Park, located on West Georgia Street, Route 99/1A, on a peninsula

north of town on English Bay. The dogwalk along the 5.5-mile seawall around the

entire peninsula is one of the most popular activities in Vancouver. Started in the

1920s to halt erosion, the stone wall took six decades to completely finish. At nearly

three dozen Vancouver parks, including Stanley Park, dogs are allowed off-leash

from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m and 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Just northeast of town is the dog-friendly Cypress Provincial Park. The lure of the

North Shore Mountains looking down on Vancouver brought hikers and skiers by

boat until the opening of the Lions Gate Bridge in 1939. This new easy access

threatened the old growth forests when clear-cut logging began under the guise of

cutting ski trails. Preservation forces aligned to save the trees, including namesake

stands of yellow cypress, and the park was created in 1975.

Alpine canine hiking is convenient to Cypress Parkway on three mountains: Black

Mountain, Mount Strachan and Hollyburn Mountain. The Hollyburn Mountain Trail is

a hardy ascent of about four miles round trip to the summit and the Black Mountain

Loop Trail visits sub-alpine meadows and glacial lakes ideal for a doggie dip. The

full circuit will take about two hours.

Less strenuous fare can be found around the mountain bases. The Yew Lake Trail is

a 30-minute canine hike from the main Cypress Mountain visitor center, on fully

accessible terrain through wetlands and meadows.

Experienced hikers can tackle the Howe Crest Sound Trail but maybe not with your

dog. Small cliffs are negotiated with ropes and you will encounter narrow trail

chutes. The rugged 18-mile trail tops several mountains and is best attempted by

canine hikers in small, well-researched bites.

To reach Cypress Provincial Park take Exit #8 off the Upper Levels Highway in West

Vancouver, and follow the road up the mountain.

copyright 2006

Hiking The Logan Turnpike Trail

One of the many access to the Appalachian Trail is the Logan Turnpike that provides this access at Testnatee Gap. Most of the hike on this pathway parallels Towns Creek after following a turnpike to the gap. The trail was named after Frank Logan in 1997 who was one of the most influential people in North Georgia. Logan discovered gold in White County in North Georgia where he later on paved the way for growth in many market places on this area after the war. The trail is about 2 miles and marked by blue blazes.

The road was built in 1821 and was travelled mostly by merchants transporting food and produce to Testnatee Gap’s southern area. It was also used to be known as the Union Turnpike and used to be part of a longer stretch of road from Athens Tennessee. However, most travelers passed the Federal Highway for safety and travel time reasons since the Blue Ridge Mountains made the journey longer on the turnpike.

Starting from a historical marker which is nearby the old toll keeper’s house on the road, the path continues to the trailhead. The trail sets off at a junction of the country road and Forest Service property line. The path is entirely within the Raven Cliffs Wilderness that leads out of Union Country to the south. Following an upgraded portion of an old abandoned roadbed for the first mile the path continues to parallel the Towns Creek. The trail is easy to manage until you reach an underdeveloped footpath that makes the hike strenuous. At this point, the trail approaches the Appalachian Trail which affords a spectacular view of a drainage basin cove.

The path hugs the Towns creek bank as it continues to end the steep traverse while approaching the forest with small streams. On the lower slopes, small springs of water appear at the Logan Turnpike. Clear water flows downstream where some wet crossings are expected. At this point, cross to the west side that makes the start of Town Creek. As you move forward this trail, you will come across moss-covered rocks and still on a stream bed. Extending to 2 miles due south from the trailhead, the trail ends at Testnatee Gap. And just a bit of trivia, Testnatee is a Cherokee word for turkey. The Tesnatee Gap is also the northern access point for Logan Turnpike while the southern access is our start point at Kellum Valley where the trailhead is located.

Backpackers and Billionaires

It used to be that backpacking trips to Fiji involved a bus ride from Nadi to Suva, then a ferry to somewhere like Ovalau, Savusavu, Taveuni or Kadavu. No more. These days young budget travelers are lining up to go to the Yasawa Islands, a chain of 16 large volcanic islands and dozens of smaller ones roughly 35 km off the west coast of Viti Levu.

The dazzling white beaches, clear warm waters, colorful coral reefs, and sunny dry climate make the Yasawa Group an ideal tourist destination, but until recently a visit involved a rough sea voyage from Lautoka in an unsafe village boat-or an expensive seaplane flight from Nadi. Blue Lagoon Cruises has been plying the Yasawas since the 1950s, but passengers aboard those upscale vessels sleep in staterooms and local residents receive few benefits from their presence.

Until the 1987 Rabuka coups in Suva, it was the policy of the Fiji government that the Yasawas were closed to land-based tourism. The long years of military-backed government brought few changes to the Yasawas, although Australian investors were allowed to construct the deluxe Yasawa Island Resort in 1991 and a couple of village-operated backpacker camps sprang up on Wayasewa and Waya. Since the early 1980s, local families have operated three small low-budget resorts on Tavewa Island, thanks largely to Tavewa’s status as a freehold island beyond the authority of the Fijian chiefs. For decades local church leaders have portrayed tourism as a corrupting outside influence to be kept at arms length from village life.

It would be hard to imagine anything more removed from real Fijian life than Turtle Island Resort on Nanuya Levu Island, Fiji’s ultimate hideaway for the US$1,500-a-night crowd. Nanuya Levu has been freehold land since 1868, and in 1972 Richard Evanson used US$300,000 he earned in the Southern California cable television business to buy the island.

Evanson’s Turtle Island Resort became the prototype of Fiji’s current crop of boutique island resorts, hosting notables like Hollywood stars and millionaires. Brooke Shields stayed here during the 1980 filming of the escapist classic The Blue Lagoon.

A self-styled environmentalist, Evanson has planted thousands of trees on his island, and has converted the mangrove forests into tourist attractions by cleverly creating boardwalks. The resort’s food is grown in organic gardens and power is generated using solar and wind energy. Each year a group of volunteer California eye specialists visits Turtle Island Resort to perform eye surgery on needy villagers or to equip them with donated prescription glasses.

Yet for most Yasawans, life has changed little since 1789 when Captain William Bligh and loyal members of his crew paddled past the group in an open boat shortly after the famous mutiny on the Bounty. Even today, most villages are without electricity or running water, and opportunities for economic development are very limited. The Yasawans have felt neglected by politicians in the distant capital, envious onlookers as mini-cruise ships and yachts carried wealthy foreigners along their shores.

In May 2000, rabble-rouser George Speight and assorted thugs seized the Parliament building in Suva, turning Fiji on its head. Speight’s pro-indigenous rhetoric struck a chord in the Yasawas. Villagers from Nacula Island staged a mini-coup on Turtle Island, locking Evanson in one of his 14 luxurious bungalows as village youths rode wildly around Nanuya Levu on Evanson’s golf carts.

When the excitement died down, plaited mats were spread and kava roots were pounded, and over many bowls of grog, Evanson and the villagers came to an understanding.

Rather than killing the golden goose, Evanson convinced the Nacula people that they’d be better off opening resorts of their own and allowing him to continue running his business in peace.

Evanson offered interest-free construction loans and promotional support, and the Nacula Tikina Tourism Association was born. The association’s Web site FijiBudget.com currently describes a dozen locally-operated resorts around the Blue Lagoon in the central Yasawas, including the three existing properties on Tavewa. All resort operators must conform to a strict code of conduct intended to preserve the environment and guarantee acceptable levels of service. Though primitive compared to the luxurious Mamanuca resorts off Nadi, the Yasawa backpacker camps provide basic food and accommodations at a relatively low price.

The mass influx of backpackers only began in 2002 when Awesome Adventures, a subsidiary of New Zealand-owned South Sea Cruises, launched a fast catamaran service up and down the chain. You can now depart Nadi’s Denarau Marina on the Yasawa Flyer any morning at 9:15 a.m. and be at the resort of your choice in time for lunch. As many as 150 backpackers do this every day and the village-operated resorts on Kuata, Wayasewa, Waya, Naviti, Tavewa, Nacula, Nanuya Lailai, and Matacawa Levu are booming.

Reservations can be made upon arrival at Nadi Airport through any one of a dozen 24-hour travel agencies right in the airport terminal itself. All of these offices sell catamaran tickets with a bus transfer to the harbor included. Deluxe lodgings and gourmet food should not be expected at any of the Yasawa resorts-yet the friendly people, spectacular natural beauty, and low prices make most travelers overlook these inconveniences.