A Travellerspoint blog

Georgia - Mtskheta

Mtskheta - an ancient Georgian capital and christian heritage

Mtskheta is an ancient town and one of the historical capitals of Georgia, located about 20km out of Tbilisi. Mtskheta was the place of Georgia's adoption of Christianity in 3rd century AD and still is the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church. It's a both main tourist destination and a christian pilgrimage site.
Not many people know, but Georgia was the 2nd country to adopt Christianity. Armenia was the first.

You can get a minibus from Dibude bus station, same place that you get a bus to Kazbegi. You will need to get a ticket from a small window at kiosk-like ticket office. The ride takes about 1 hour and costs 1 GEL. Prepare for the minibus to get seriously full.

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Once you get to Mtskheta prepare to get "templed-out". It's a capital of Georgian Christianity after all.

Main sites to visit:
Jvari (The Cross) Monastery.
Samtavro (Place of the Ruler).
Bebris Tsikhe (The Elder's Fortress). Located further up the main road from Samtavro.
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We decided to go first towards the Fortress. It was fun climbing the ruins although a bit dangerous in flip flops :-).
Than we came down to the river and found a place to cross and found an off road track leading up to the Jvari monastery . It's about 4 km hike, as there are a few trails crisscrossing you have to have your wits about you and check were you turning unless you want to get lost in the middle of Georgian nowhere.

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We bumped into this pack of hostile bulls or buffalo blocking our pass, when we tried to approach them they would get up and make unfriendly advances at us. We ended up having to bushwhack across nettle field to get around them. Well, I'll take nettle stings over a buffalo headbutt any day of the week.
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Jvari was a highlight of the day. A great view point over the town and the valley beyond.

Posted by dima.safr 11:50 Archived in Georgia Tagged temple church hike georgia tbilisi mtskheta Comments (0)

Akhalkalaki and Vardzia

The frendliest town in Georgia

Day 1 - Rain and Cha Cha

Akhalkalaki is a small Georgian town on a border with Armenia. About half of the town is made out of ethnic Armenians. We arrived after 6 hours on a local bus. I went on a scouting mission around the center and quickly found a decent guest house for about 50 GEL.
The town itself doesn't have much to offer. However, there is a nice fortress which was recently restores and provides good views over the surroundings.
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After visiting the fortress we popped into a cafe on the other side of the crossroad (sorry didn't take a note of the name).

We ordered our meal and a couple of beers. The idea was to have a quick snack and have some rest after the bus ride we had. Than the owner has noticed that I was Ukrainian and offered to have some Cha Cha - local moonshine. He got out a water bottle full of Cha Cha and purred shots to Dovile and I, it would be rude to refuse so we downed it and washed up with beer. Than his relative turned up, he also decided to have a chat about politics and the war, and of course that had to be accompanied by Cha Cha. Dovile isn't a big fan of spirits, let alone moonshine, but you have to follow the customs, and in any case we were already leaving...
As soon as we got to the door, the clouds broke and it started to pour and hail. It looked like a solid wall of water... There was no way we were getting out there.
The owner told us not to worry and got the rest of the bottle out... Not again... We drunk until we finished the whole liter of Cha Cha and could barely stand. I don't remember how we got home, but I do remember waking up with a massive hangover.

Day 2 Vardzia

There are two reasons to visit Akhalkalaki 1-to go to Armenia, 2-to see Vardzia.

Vardzia is an ancient cave monastery site in Georgia. It dates back to 11th century and was started by Giorgi III, and continued by his daughter Queen Tamara.

You can take a bus for 5 GEL each way from the central bus station. We decided that since there were two of us it made more sense to take a taxi. We approached the first cabby we could see at the bus station, and after a bit of haggling agreed on 40 GEL for a round trip, so double the price of a bus but without having to worry about the time and with stops on the way.
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Like this castle for example

Vardzia is truly amazing. I have been to cave temples before, but never to anything of this magnitude.
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There was an entire city based in those caves. The rocks kept people and food cool in during hot Georgian summers. The complex is well preserved, you can easily identify living quarters, kitchen, winery, temple and other places. As well as a few long and scary tunnels taking you from place to place beneath the rock.
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Posted by dima.safr 10:39 Archived in Georgia Tagged taxi fort cave rock monastery drinking vardzia tamara cha_cha Comments (0)

Kazbegi - Georgia

Exploring mighty Caucasus mountains

Marshrutka from Didube bus station takes about 3 hours up the windy mountain roads and costs 10 GEL, you pay to the driver and they leave when full.

If you are planning to climb Kazbegi (5033m) you will need a guide or at least someone with solid mountaineering skills. Mostly because you will have to cross Gergeti Glacier at 3000m.

We had a much less ambitious plan, just to reach the Holy Trinity Church and get to a view point of the glacier.

As soon as we got out of marshrutka we were surrounded by old women offering a room. We picked one and got a room and food for 70 GEL.

You can get a jeep up to the church, or hike up to Gergeti and take a trail bending the hill on the left side.

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It takes about 1,5-2 hours to reach the Church, there are only couple of spots where you can refill your water bottle. Once you get to the top this when you get to enjoy the view.
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The church is very pretty and it gets rather busy with both tourists and pilgrims. After a quick photo session we decided not to waste any time and push on to the view point.
The trails is not too steep and easy to follow, it only took us another 2 hours to get there and see this thing of beauty. Mighty Kazbegi towering over the glacier. We could see some tents camping just below the glacier, we were told that this was the only place you could refill your water after the Church.
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Posted by dima.safr 08:31 Archived in Georgia Tagged mountains trekking glacier kazbegi stepantsminda gergeti_trinity_church Comments (0)

Kobuleti - ghosts of soviet union by the Black sea

Live music and abandoned soviet hotels

After visiting Svaneti and cutting our trekking trip a bit short we had extra 2 days and we decided to pick Kabuleti

Kabuleti is a seaside resort town just 20 km away from Batumi. It is made out of a seaside road and a parallel street stretching for a bout 7km.
We quickly found a place to stay on the street just behind the main road. Generally every second house lets out rooms and the cost depends on season and level of comfort. We found a pretty basic room for 20 GEL a night.

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This is one of those very odd, old-fashioned Soviet-type places. The waterfront is clearly up for redevelopment, it has a bunch of abandoned concrete buildings, but nothings seems to be being built.

A couple of shut down restaurants have been turned into piss corners. The funny thing is that the smell is so vile that you can't even seat in the restaurant next to it. There is no way that the owner doesn't realize that this is the reason his place empty. Well this is beyond me...

My, by far, most favorite thing about Kabuleti is the live music in restaurants. Boy they like it there they really do. We were having a dinner in one restaurant across the street from one with live music. The music was so loud that we couldn't hear each other. That restaurant and the two right next to it, on each side, were completely empty. And again, it is beyond me, how come whoever runs the place sees it as brilliant idea!

The beach is a bit odd, because it's made out of big rounded rocks it's quite hard to get in and out of the water. All in all we have spent two days just chilling, eating hachapuries and drinking beer.
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Posted by dima.safr 07:49 Archived in Georgia Tagged beach georgia black_sea kobuleti Comments (0)

Mazeri to Mestia - an adventure of our lifetime

An overnight trek from Mazeri to Mestia

The Plan

To hike from Mazeri to Mestia and onward to Ushguli. Mestia to Ushguli part is very popular with well-marked trails and lots of home-stays along the way. We decided to make it more fun and supplement by an extra day of less populous Mezeri - Mestia trek.

Mestia is a capital of Upper Svaneti region and a major tourist destination in itself. People come here for trekking, to see Svan towers and just chill in the beautiful setting among 4700 meter peaks.

Mazeri is much less visited, but it's popular with climbers who tackle Ushba. To get to Mazeri we took a marshrutka from Zugdidi towards Mestia and asked to let us out at Becho. From there we hiked 7,5 km on a jeep track up to Mazeri. As you hike up you get the first glimpse of Ushba being wrapped in clouds.
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We quickly found a place to stay in a guest house of Yuram and Djamala, negotiated price down to 35 GEL for half-board.
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Yuram and Djamala took really good care of us, we stayed with them for 3 nights, talking a lot about how Svaneti and Georgia overall changed over the last few years, and drunk some really strong Cha Cha (moonshine) Yuram used to be a boarder guard so he knows the area very well and can tell you all about the surroundings.

It's about 16 km from Mazeri to Mestia and should take about 8-9 hours. Altitude start/end: 1600/1420m; highest point is Guli Pass - 2960m. The trail is marked by quite a common marking of red and white stripes (just like Indonesian flag). GPS on my phone has been playing up lately, the day before it showed that we were in the middle of the Ushba glacier when we were about 5-10 km off mark. It wasn't a problem at that point, but created a concern that I couldn't fully trust the GPS reading.
We left about 7 am planning to make it Mestia by 4 pm.

We followed the markings and occasionally checked GPS map on my phone. I use RMaps and MapsMe, both work offline, and Rmaps allows you to download Open Cycle topographic maps. By about 10 am we have reached a small clearing which had a few shepherd's plywood cabins and a small fenced off area for cattle.

Following the marking we have turned left and carried on walking along the creek coming down the Usba glacier. This was the point when I remembered Yuram saying that apart from the place with the cabin's there wasn't any water on the way... so what is the deal with the creek?
I checked my GPS and we were going way of course towards Ushba, but than there were markings so what to trust? Could it be that my GPS is wrong again and we are on the right trail? or the map is wrong? or the old trail is no longer there and the marking lay the new trail?
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We could see something ahead of us which looked liked Guli Pass. I got really disoriented and ran up a hill (didn't even drop my backpack), to get some sense of what was around us and if there was an alternative trail to the right that we could cut to. But there were just more hills and gullies and nothing looked like the map.

I decided to carry on following the marked trail. It must be leading to Mestia, and in any case, it's easier than trying to cut through the mountains off trail, especially when we couldn't trust the GPS.
After another hour the clouds cleared and I could see something that looked very much like Ushba glacier, we were right at the bottom of it. At this point it was clear that GPS was right and we were way off our course. I saw a small tent on an edge of the glacier, dropped my back pack and went to see if I could find someone. The tent belonged to 3 polish climbers. The day before we saw a chopper circling Ushba, Yuram told us that a climber died on the mountain. The guys told us that the chopper was one of their mates and he only broke a leg and was fine.
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We checked their map against my GPS and it all made sense. The markings were leading right to the middle of Ushba glacier, and if we carried on in that direction we would end up in Russia, and that wasn't part of our plan.
Turns out that Georgians mark all the trails in exactly the same way. That wouldn't be a problem if the trails didn't cross... Marking two interconnecting trails with the same mark is like:
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It was already about 4 pm, was clear we wouldn't make it to Mestia, and we burned far too much energy going up and down the mountain. In theory we could have gone back back to Mazeri, but a thought of telling Yurama and Djamala how we messed up was a bit to much. We decided to go back to the cabins, which must have been the place where the trail splits, and stay there overnight.

The cabins were really thin, they had some metal-framed beds and one even had a wood-burner. As we were going to have late lunch and a dinner in Mestia, we didn't have much in terms of food. Luckily Jamala packed us some bread and cheese, we had one pack of pot noodles and a whole field of blueberries!

After collecting the blueberries, eating cold water-soaked noodles and leaving the bread and cheese for breakfast we looted the area for wood, ransacked the fence and fired up the wood burner.
At midnight a herd of bulls showed up. They started fighting among themselves, than must have smelled us and started to circle around that cardboard hut, occasionally giving it a nudge. That lasted for good couple of hours until the bulls lost interest and moved on.
As the hut was so thin the heat was escaping and it was getting really cold as soon as the fire died down. We spent the whole night burning the rest of the fence and cuddling next to the fire.

We decided to leave as early as possible, and hit the road around 6 am. From the huts, we hiked up until we reached the top of the pass. We have wasted quite a lot of time and energy on trying to find a marked trail or align with GPS. There isn't really a trail, there are occasional markings pointing you in the right direction. But basically you just have to negotiate your way up until you reach the top of Guli pass.

This is where it gets really difficult, the way down the pass is very steep and guess what? there is no trail either? We have tried to align with GPS trail, but it quickly became obvious that it must have overgrown or otherwise disappeared. At the end we had to take bearings using a compass and descend down some very steep hill being knee-deep in slippery grass and loose rocks. This was our first hike on this trip, and I really didn't want it to be our last one...

Once we came down to the bottom of the valley it was easy to find and follow the trail. We bumped into a few people hiking around the area. It took us about 2 hours to get to the top hill hanging over Mestia.

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We were so exhausted that we decided to cut our loses and abandon the trip in Mestia. Afterall we still had 2 months of trekking in Nepali Himalayas ahead of us.

Posted by dima.safr 01:32 Archived in Georgia Tagged mountains glacier treking georgia homestay svaneti mestia ushba wild_camping mazeri Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Adam's peak

Hiking Adam's peak from both sides in one day!

The plan

A pretty ordinary actually... To hike Adam's peak - Sri Lanka's holy mountain from Dalhousie. Adams's peak is the most holy place in Sri Lanka and a major point for both tourist and religious pilgrimage. From Dalhousie it's only 5000 stairs... easy right?
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Practicalities - it's easy enough to get to Dalhousie - the most common starting point. I took a bus from Kandi to Hatton where at the bus stop everyone knows where you supposed to be going and will put you on the right bus only a couple of hours away.

Dalhousie is no more than a base camp. It has a bunch of guest houses, market, bus stand and a monastery. Fairly easy I found a guest house for 800 rupee.
The plan is to be on the top for sun rise which in March is at about 5:30 am. I decided to do an "under 2 hours challenge", there isn't really a challenge, but it wouldn't be fun if I haven't made one up for myself. So there it was.
I left the hotel at 2 am and rushed down path. It's a beautiful feeling when you leap step over step as if you were flying up the hill, but it only lats about 5 minutes.... Than it gets hard... really hard, you have to work out a comfortable pace and make frequent stand up breaks and at least one sit down.
Having said that, there were some 80+ grandmas who were hiking up like terminators- unstoppable!
If you don't challenge yourself (spelled - make your life difficult) it can be quite an enjoyable walk, there are tea stalls and shops all the way through.
Well, I did it in just 1 hour and 50 minutes!
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There is a temple on the top. You can make a donation and have a prayer said (or sang) for you. Sunset from the top is brilliant:
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I was about to go down, but than I saw a staircase leading in the opposite direction and a sign saying "Ratnapura". It'd be silly to go up and down Adam's peak the same way, wouldn't it? Especially because this is exactly what everyone else does.
It took me about 15 seconds to make up my mind and decide on the following plan. I'll go down the Ratnpura route, which I knew was longer, but it's downwards, hence no biggy. Than I'll take a bus and get back to Dalhousie.
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I was down by about 10 am, took me not more than 4 hours. Was quite a pleasant walk and a drastic contrast to overcrowded Dalhousie route. The idea is is that the harder it is to get to the top the more karma-points you get, hence the only guys who do it the long way are monks, well and me, but I'was going down so it doesn't really count.
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There is a bus stop at the bottom of the trail-head and a shop with a few very curious locals. Wasn't long before I got on a 1,5 hour bus to Ratnapura town from where I was going to get an easy connection to Dalhousie.
I got of the bus just to realize there was no bus stop toward Dalhousie, which wasn't a problem. It's often the case the destination name isn't written in English or you simply have to change buses, been there done that, all fine. I tried to ask around, and that's is when I realize that I'm well of the beaten track. No one speaks English, literally no one. Oh yeh - that was 2010 and I had dumb Nokia so no GPS or Map, and I didn't take a Lonely Planet with me, since it was a simple up and down jog. I try Dalhousie, Dauhooise, Dal-house, Dalhooisee, until I remember the little of Hindi that I learn on the road Sri Pada (Holy Mountain) - BINGO. The guys put me straight on the right bus, and I switched off almost instantly.

I got of the bus rubbing my eyes and being ready for a nice Lankan curry... just to realize that I was exactly at the place where a bus picked me up some 5 hours ago.
At that point it was already 3pm. I had a choice to get back on the bus and take my chances finding a ride from Ratnapura, which worked out so beautifully last time, or hike 10,000 steps up to the top and 5,000 down. This is what I call a "Impossible dilemma"...
After conducting in-depth assessment of my options I rationally decided to toss a coin.
The coin said - "you are walking up mother f**er", you can't argue with a coin can you?

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This pic is taken on the way down, on the way up I have run out of battery.

So here it began, 6 most painful hours of my life...
You start pushing up the stairs, just to run out of stamina i about 15 minutes. Then you work out the system:
1- count your steps - makes muscular pain easier to take.
2-break you step. do 20 lefts and 20 rights, otherwise your right (if you are a righty) knee takes all the damage, and you fall. I know, I fell and couldn't get up for 15 minutes or so.
3-don't eat, stress and overexertion can give you stomach ache. You can walk on hungry with a bad stomach it's much harder.
4-watch out where you sheet. That's an odd one... but there are leaches everywhere and they are after your arse...
5-have 2 cycles. A short one - 5 min stand up break every 15 minutes, a long one - 5 minutes - sit down break every 4 short cycles.
If you master all of the above you turn into a robot and there is nothing that can stop you from having curry for dinner!
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As you get closer to the top a hand rail starts... This was a beautiful site, I knew I was close! I grabbed it and pulled myself up, I haven't even realised how much strength I had left in my hands... It was so much easier than walking, just pulling myself up the rail. Why did I bother to walk at the first place?

By 10 pm, I was on the top. I dropped on my knees and praised Lord Budha for about 15 seconds. After that I was flying down the stairs like an antilop. It took me lest than an hour to reach my place, and surprise everyone big time.
My host told me she was about to warn police as she realized I wasn't back, as everyone gets back by 8 am latest. Cooked me some of that carry I craved for and sent me of to bed.

The metrics:
15,000 - steps up and 15,000 steps down - an equivalent of 750 floor building.
24 - kilometers walked - just... felt hell of a longer!
23 - hours on the trail (includes 3 hours on a bus)
1 - knee - well messed up.

If you liked or hated this post please leave a comment!

Posted by dima.safr 11:51 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged mountains hike lost sri_lanka adam's_peak ratnaputa Comments (0)

Macedonia - 5 highlights

5 top things to see and do in Macedonia

About Macedonia

Reasons to visit:
1 - it is beautiful country, and one of the very few unexplored gems of Europe.
2 - it's very small and easy to travel. In 1 week you can cover cities, beautiful lakes and mountains.
3 - it's cheap. A beer for €1 in most places.
4 - budget flights from London to Skopje... and now straight to Ohrid!

Ohrid

For History
Macedonian cultural capital and one of the most beautiful towns I ever seen. Ohrid is located on a shore of Ohrid lake, which is split in half between Macedonia and Albania. The old town is full of churches and other relics dating back to 11th century, the new town has good selection of bars and food joints for any budget.
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Trpejca

For Beauty
A small idyllic village just 30 min away from Ohrid. You can take a bus from the main street (towards St Naum Monastery), when you stand on a bus stop a taxi driver may show up and offer to take you there for price of bus ticket. This is not a scum, he will just get more people to fill up the car.
Trpejca is a great place to chill for a day or two, has a few beach-side restaurants and a shop. The lake is at an altitude of 800m and up to 600m deep, and this makes it seriously cold.
Every house in town doubles as a guest house, we payed €10 per person for a studio.
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Pelister peak

For views
Pelister (2600m) is the highest and only peak in the center of Pelister national park. There are a few well marked trails and the views from the top are magnificent. We trekked from Brajcino to Molika hotel, 35km across the entire park, that was one of the most strenuous treks we ever done.
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Bitola

For cafe culture
Second largest city in Macedonia. It's a home to Heraclea - ancient city and archeological site.
Shirok Sokuk (Marshal Tito street) is the heart of the town, full of bubling bars and restaurants. You may also want to visist bazar for some more traditional scene. Great for people-watching.
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Vodno/Matka canyon

For ease of access
I love mount Vodno. It towers right over Skopje and is a perfect choice for your last day before you have to catch a flight/bus and move on.
You can either hike up, take a taxi, bus or a cable car right to the top of Vodno for great panorama of Skopje. But even better is to take a 2 hour hike in an opposite direction to Matka Canyon. An artificial canyon formed in very beautiful setting, with a monastery on one side and a restaurant on the other. A great place to grab a cold beer after descending some very steep steps. Than just grab a bus back to Skopje.
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Posted by dima.safr 10:26 Archived in Macedonia Tagged mountains canyon trek lake ohrid macedonia matka bitola pelister trpejca Comments (0)

Tenerife-climbing Teide

Tackling the highest peak in Spain!

Normally when you think of Tenerife or Canary Islands you think of a beach, a pool and an all inclusive resort. Needles to say this is not out theme...
However, Tenerife is also a home to the mighty el Teide - Spain's highest mountain at 3,718 m.
Teide is a very special mountain as it's on an island its prominence equals its altitude. You can standby the pool wearing a tea-shirt and observe a snow-capped peak. Hence it was only natural that for our winter break in Europe we decided to pick Tenerife and take on Teide.

Teide is open to climb all year round. In summer it gets unbearably hot and in winter it's often covered in snow. You can do it the easy way and take a cable car practically to the top, than you need a permit (arrange in advance on-line) to climb the last 100 m to the actual summit. Well that is the easy way.
Our plan was to hike it up in two days with an overnight stay in Altavista refuge @ €25. Don't fool yourself thinking it's Canaries, Teide is a 3,718 m. mountain and you have to deal with some serious weather in winter. Well this is where we got lucky this time. It sowed heavily in January, the roads were closed for a couple of weeks and were just cleared for our adventure.

Practicalities

Transport: There is a bus going along TF1, it reaches foothill station (from Las Americas side) in early afternoon and than goes in the opposite direction at around 4 pm. I guess you could use it, but this would mean starting your first day pretty late and than hanging out waiting for the bus on the way down.
Most convenient and cost effective way is to drive up. We hired a car for about €100 per week.
Permit: If you stay in the Altavista and get up and down before the cable car starts operating there is no need for permit.

It takes from 1 to 1,5 hours to make the journey, mostly because of sharp curves and steep ascent that you will struggle to tackle in your economy rental car. Once you reach the cable car station carry on for a kilometer or two until the next parking lot where the trail starts.
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On your way don't mind the idiot who think it's a good idea to stop at the middle of a narrow road for a photo opp.

First thing that surprised us is the number of people in Tenerife who own skies and snowboards.

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It could get confusing at the beginning s there are a few jeep tracks, but they eventually all meet, and if in doubt just take the turns towards Teide.

It's a bit of a steep ascent and we had to alternate from snow to scree which takes additional energy and stamina to keep up pace.
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These boulders are lava bolls, Teide is still an active volcano. Once we past them we had to take a steep trail up, the snow got knee deep and we drop our pace. We met a few guys who went up on a cable car and now were jogging down in shirts and flipflops :-).
We were just happy to have a nice sunny day!
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It took us about 5 hours to ascent 1000 m. and reach Altavista. Last 30 min gets hard as you start to feel altitude at 3000 meter mark.
Altavista is a simple but solid refuge they provide hot water and have an expensive snack vending machine. The dorms are small and can get claustrophobic, but they are well heated.
We had a dinner of some oranges and pot noodles (you can boil water there), and were off to bed.
You have to wake up at 2 am to have breakfast change into winter gear and put on crampons.

At the top temperature was around -5C, but the wind chill factor took it down to -15 - -20C. We were wearing thermal layers, our skiing trousers and jackets, skiing gloves and I had a balaclava, which is a great thing to keep you warm at night. Basically you have to be kited out rather more than less and treat it as seriously as you would a similar mountain in Alps.

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We joined a caravan of Spanish climbers, put our head-lamps on a headed out. There isn't a trail really, may be there is one in the summer. But frozen snow and crampons make it quite easy to move in pretty much any direction. If you lucky and the day is crisp you get an amazing sunset.
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As we came to about 200 m below the summit we had to traverse the peak on what is to put it simply: a very steep sheet of ice. This is where your crampons save your life, and it's not a bad idea to have an ice-pick too. Well since none of us used an ice-pick before we decided that it's safe not to have it and risk taking your own head of.

The very top of Teide is actually free of ice, hence you have to take your crampons off. This is because Teide is still active and there are steam vents which let out some really toxic gasses. Sulfur smells like rotten eggs and made us feel a bit sick, it's not too bad just don't stay over a piping vent.

It's a beautiful feeling to be on the top of the world at sunrise.
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And it was Dovile's birthday too! So we cracked up a small bottle of champagne and enjoyed the views over the endless clouds and peak Viejo's crater below.

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4 hours down and by early afternoon we were drinking cold beer, taking a dip in Jacuzzi and basking in sunshine.
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Posted by dima.safr 10:13 Archived in Spain Tagged snow winter volcano mountain trekking spain climb canary teide tenerif Comments (0)

Australia-Blue Mountains - Katoomba circuit trek.

30 °C

The plan - to walk from Katoomba to Tarros Ladders than to Kanangaroo Clearing and double-back to Dunphy's camping area. Very easy hike which would let us to enjoy the beauty of the Blue Mountains without much strain. Or was it?

We went to one of Sydney's sports superstores and made the following investments: 2 - sleeping mats @ $5 each, 2 - sleeping bags @ $20 each, 1 superior quality tent @ $20 (please don't rain!!!). We bought a large plastic sack, moved all of our non-essential stuff and left it in Elephant Hostel in Sydney. I recommend the place, they have a bar with $3 beers!

Day 1

We woke up early and grabbed a train to Katoomba from Sydney Central. Katoomba is within Sydney's transport network hence you can use same pre-payed travel card to get there for under $6.

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We stocked up on Aldi's finest beans, muesli, snickers, potatoes, boiled eggs and 2 liters of water each we set off on this adventure.

The first day you walk on a nice leveled fire trail, we made a couple of detours to Castle Head view point.
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We met a guy who was there for a day walk with his kid, and he told us that water situation wasn't great. But we were planning to go down in the wooded area hence we were going to be ok.
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We found a little trickle on a side of the road, I have topped up one of the bottles and we went onward to our camping spot. A couple of kilometers before our designated campsite there was supposed to be a creek which unfortunately happen to dry out. There was another one on the map, but it was below a steep cliff and hidden in a canopy so we have decided to move on.

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What a view! I have realized we had only 2,5 litters of water to share. This was OK for the night, but when day breaks and sun goes up you start to sweat water by pint.
I actually found 3 bottles of water stashed in the camp. But they were dated 3 years earlier, how long can water stay safe in a plastic bottle for? Of course its possible that bottles were reused, but you hardly ever reuse bottle more than once, and probably straight after the first use. I've decided we shouldn't risk chemical poisoning and left them alone.

And this is what we woken up to!
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Day 2

Next morning we were going to walk to Kanangaroo Clearing some 10km away. A really easy day.
We found the trail by the info sign behind the camp and quickly reached Tarros Lader.
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Good job I bought a synthetic rope a couple of weeks ago!
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Climbing Tarros Lader with a backpack on your back could be a quite dangerous endeavor.

From there we hiked towards Mount Mouin. By the time we reached the hill we realized 2 things:
1-there is no water anywhere near and we are down to one litter to share. We only managed to save that much by rationing and you could seriously feel dehydration.
2-there was no trail. I mean it was on my GPS but not in the real life.

We have bushwhacked along imaginary trail, climbing over loose rocks, bushes and watching out for snakes. I remember Dovile asking "how long till the trail head" me saying "600 meters", than her asking the same thing again half an hour later and me answering "600 meters", as if we were walking backwards! Not it was only hard work to fight your way through the bush, we were also burning a lot of water. Personally I was mentally prepared to do Bear Grylls and drink my pee. I thought that would make for a great facebook video too:-)

Than after covering slightly more than a kilometer in 2 hours we have reached Mount Warrigal. We found some compressed ground at the foot of the hill, which could have been remains of a trail, or just wishful thinking?

Mount Warrigal is a square rock which you can traverse on the left side. There is some shelter from sun and or miracle ...... a small drop by drop trickle of water. I don't have a picture, but here is a video of Dovile collecting water (don't mind my commentary):

By using sardines tin, a mug, bottle caps, sweaty hut and a hanky we have managed to collect just under a liter in about an hour. Great success!

At this point it was clear that with a speed of 1 km/h there was no way we were going to reach Kanangaroo Clearing, so we decided to get to Mobbs Swamp which was marked on a map as a campsite and tomorrow reverse back to civilization.

The liter we have collected did us little good, we drunk it in an instant and were still feeling dehydrated. Hence the Bear Grylls thoughts came back.

Then by some miracle we found a trail, it's only a couple of kilometers to Mobbs Swamp, and on a trail we can make it in no time. And the place is called Mobbs Swamp so there must be water!
Oh some local fauna blocking the trail...
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We stayed on a trail for about 7 minutes, than it turned into proper mangrove. A waist-deep grass with god only knows what beneath. And yeh, I am afraid of snakes, there I said it! Normally I would strike me pole on the rocks and trees when I walk in a snake territory so they can get out of the way, but now I'm a waist deep.... oh just keep on bushwhacking...

At about 6 pm we reached Mobbs Swamp site just to find out that Mobbs Swamp was well a swamp.
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Well, that was literally it, a meter long half-meter wide swamp, full of worms and what not unsavory...
We have deliberated for about an hour. Should we drink the swamp water or should we ration the last 0.5 litter we have and walk tomorrow back to civilization dry. We had to take into account that we were hugely dehydrated, that the walk to Dunphy's camping could be much longer than we anticipated and that we can minimize the risk by doing all of the below (Here I have even narrated a little video on how we dealt with the situation):

In case my video was too shite. We have tried charcoal filtering the water (gave up right away, too slow), than boiling it and than putting 4 times the dose of chlorine tablets so it smells like swimming pool!

Than a two caps turned up. An Aussie and and his Irish mate, they asked us if there was water as they were running short. I said "sure here it is, seems alright I drunk it", they looked at the swamp and said fuck that! We still have a liter each and should make it back. They were only on an overnight trip. They came from Dunphy's camping area via Knights Deck trail which they said was completely overgrown and very difficult to navigate and fight through, so a word of warning to all brave souls out there.

We stayed up until 10 pm going through process of boiling the water in a one cup that we had than cooling it off in a Hainz beans can until it's cold enough to be put in a bottle and than chlorinated. We also filled up our 5 litter water-proof bag.

I have never ever ever ever ever ever tasted water that good!

Day 3

I hate to abandon my plan, but this time we really bit more than we could chew and we definitely got more adventure than we bargained for. So we decided that it's time to go back to civilization to Dunphy's camping area.
Was a pretty strait trail, but look at this baby!
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Shortly we reached Black Horse Ridge. Lookout, there is a trail, but it's far too easy to lose, if you have a map on you phone or a GPS gadget, keep checking it.
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Shortly after we got to, or heaven Breakfast Creek! Water - clean water...

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There we had our first encounter with Kangaroo, and shortly after we reached Dunphy's camping area.
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A well equipped place with a barbecue, fire places, water catcher. We boilled some pot noodles and carried on to the next camp site just an hour down the road.

Day 4

Generally uneventful day, you have to walk quite a lot along the road and than you join the "Six Foot Track". You have to walk up the steps closer to Katoomba, and than we picked a place on a cliff just minutes away from the motorable road.
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A final look over the Blue Mountains....
P.S. Please comment on this blog if you liked it, this will be superbly helpful!!!!! Thanks!

Posted by dima.safr 02:40 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes mountains trek blue wild camp hike drought Comments (2)

Getting your travel budget right

This post is to help people with budgeting their trip:
The costs are either in USD/€ or Local currency and is based on a couple travelling together. For a single person use this formula "amount/2*1,2"
This is based on our personal experience, we are a well-traveled couple who likes roughing it and doing it the hard way. We tend to keep the cost down by using local transport, not taking AC and eating in dingy-looking local places.

Europe:
Portugal - €80 (inc. Rail transport, €10-20 for a 2-4 hour jorney)
Macedonia – €50
Montenegro - €80 (can go down to €50 if cooking your own meals)
Bulgaria – 80 Lev (in mountains hard to spend more than 50 Lev)
Istanbul - €80
Spain - €80
Georgia - €50
Armenia -€50

Australia – 100 AUD. (hostels, all your food from supermarkets, camp on the beach, drink from a goon bag)

Asia:
India – 2000 INR
Nepal – 2500 NPR
Myanmar - $60 (Accomodation and attractions your biggest expences. Budget 12-25 for a room, and 3-10 for entries)
Thailand – 1500 TBH
Cambodia - $50
Vietnam - $35
Malaysia - $60
Indonesia – $50
Singapore - $70
Laos- $45
China – 450 RMB (staying in hostels, making some of your meals. Biggest expence is travel and entries. A good idea is to get an ISIC card as a lot of places do student discounts)

Cuba – 70 CUC

Morocco – €50

It's fair to say that backpacking differs from country to country, the above budgets allowed us to get drunk everyday while in Cambodia and eat mostly out of Aldi value range while in Australia.

A good idea is to get a debit card that doesn't get charged for using abroad. We have saved about £300 over the course of the year on card charges. In the UK only Norwich & Peterborough offers a card free to use worldwide, Metro Bank is free to use in the EU.

If you think I should expand on any of the above please just leave a comment and I will.

Posted by dima.safr 02:29 Comments (1)

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