All posts by teveve

Java highlights

As I read the worrying news about the earthquake on Java, I remembered the first time we set foot on this magical island. It was our second visit to Indonesia. We were eager to discover a second island after Sumatra and so we spent around two weeks on volcanoes, beaches and in cities before we took the ferry to Bali. This is a just a small selection of photos and the most memorable memories.

A sea of clouds in the ancient crater of Mount Tengger

Monkey terror in Pangandaran

Pangandaran is a small town on the south coast of Java. It is famous for two things: its superb surf and the nearby Green Canyon. I can imagine it is much busier these days but when we visited there were only a handful westerners on the beach. We loved the sunsets.

The last moments of light on Pangadaran beach
The last moments of light on Pangadaran beach

There is a less-known sight near the town, a small nature reserve with rich wildlife. One morning we decided to have a little excursion. The tropical forest captivated us and we wanted to see more and more. There was a rickety bridge and the rest of the area was fenced off for some reason. Of course, we entered.

Soon we came across a whole family of macaques. I put down my backpack and started to take photos while Anita was capturing them on video. The next moment the bag was in the strongest male’s hands. He ran to a bush a few metres away and tried to open it, hoping to find food, I guess. There was no food in it but all our money, our passports and all the film for the whole trip. I grabbed a stick to scare him but he was not afraid of me. Instead, he flashed his huge canine teeth and stepped towards me. We stood there for maybe ten seconds but it felt like an hour. Finally, he decided the bag was worthless and they all left. I grabbed the bag and we hurried back to the permitted zone without a word.

Bodobudur and Yogya

The journey to Borobudur was anything but comfortable. The bus was only half full when we left Wonosobo so we went slower than a tractor as the driver saw potential passengers in every bush. The town itself is forgettable but who cares when you have one of the world’s largest Buddhist monuments next door.

Borobudur's main facade in daylight
Borobudur’s main facade in daylight

We were lucky with our hotel. The laughable price included free tea and breakfast and the owner arranged a special sunrise tour for his guests. We were woken at 3.30 and then led to the fence of the temple complex. A bamboo ladder was prepared for us and a guard took a bunch of banknotes from our guide before we climbed in.

The sun rises in Borobudur
The sun rises in Borobudur

The next two hours were worth the discomfort and all the money. It was pure magic how the sun slowly illuminated the stupas around us.

The soft tones of dawn in Borobudur
The soft tones of dawn in Borobudur

The bus ride to Yogyakarta wasn’t problem free. We had to get off bus some 15 km before the city I felt so sick. We exchanged a few words with a sympathetic passerby and took a smaller bus into town.

Ornamented becak in Yogyakarta
Ornamented becaks (cycle rickshaws) in Yogyakarta

But we loved Yogya. It was cooler (in both ways) than Jakarta, youthful and much less dirty. We enjoyed gamelan music and a wayang golek performance in the Kraton (the Sultan’s palace). Then a friendly man showed us the Taman Sari, the Water Palace. Sure, he then took us to a batik store but shared a lot of interesting information with us about the Sultan and the old days. Did you know that the Sultanate of Yogyakarta still exists in the middle of Java? The present monarch is Hamengkubunowo X.

End of the shift for a guard of the Sultan's Palace
End of the shift for a guard of the Sultan’s Palace
Boy in Yogyakarta's water palace
A boy is angling where once the sultan’s wives swam

Mount Bromo

Generally we try to avoid well-known tourist traps and prefer less crowded places. For example, I resisted Bali’s Tanah Lot or the Vatikan’s Sixtine Chapel for years. But the postcards with Mount Bromo convinced us we had to take this opportunity.

Mount Bromo and Mount Merapi from the plane
Mount Bromo and Mount Semeru from the plane

We bought tickets for a big bus and they promised to take us to Ceromo Lawang (near the crater rim) in 9 hours. The bus left 90 minutes late but this was the least annoying problem. It was a small bus with hardly any legspace, the trip took 12 hours and they dropped us at their own hotel near Nyadisari (6 km from the crater).

The least we could do was that we stayed in another hotel. But it now seemed impossible to reach the crater rim by sunrise we were so far from the trail head. Because we wanted to reach the top the old way, on our feet.

Mount Bromo, Indonesia
The magic colours of the five volcanoes

No trail, no water

The day started at 2.20 and we had no idea when it would end… We were told the night before that Ceromo Lawang was just 4 km but it was around twice that far. Luckily, a minibus stopped and they gave us a lift. It was carrying local guides so we saved the price of the entrance tickets and got back the hope to see the sunrise from the rim.

The first part of the trek was easy, if only we had slept more and drunk something since midnight. But then the stairway suddenly disappeared. There must have been a landslide and it was still completely dark so we almost gave up when I noticed little holes on the hillside. We climbed up and soon found the trail.

Enjoying the well-deserved view of Bromo and the other volcanoes
Enjoying the well-deserved view of Bromo and the other volcanoes

The sun was just coming up as we reached the first viewpoint (Penanjakan 2). The sight was unbelievably beautiful and we stayed until the sun rose completely. And it was a good decision because Penanjakan 1, the top of the crater rim, was so full of tourists, jeeps and souvenir shops that we could only stand it for a few minutes.

Walking on the crater rim of Mount Bromo
Walking on the crater rim of Mount Bromo

We walked down to the Sandsea (the caldera floor) and although we still had nothing to drink we climbed young Mount Bromo before we returned to our hotel.

The crater of the young volcano
The crater of the young volcano

Hardly alive in Jakarta

From Java we went to Bali and Lombok. Then we flew to South Sulawesi and when we heard that the central part of the island was a no-go zone we spent almost three days on board a ship to Manado in the north. We returned to Jakarta from there at the end of our holiday and had three days for the capital.

The old port in Jakarta
The old port in Jakarta

It must have been the nasi goreng we had in Manado that caused a serious case of food poisoning to us. We spent two days in our hotel room (and the toilet). The third day we felt a little better so we looked around the old port and bought some more souvenirs.

After three days of food poisoning even this short sightseeing trip was a challenge
Not in my best shape in Jakarta

Since then we have returned to Indonesia twice but never to Java. Maybe next time.

 

Palmyra to Aleppo as we saw it

In the second part of this nostalgic throwback to the better days of Syria, I’ll talk about the experiences we had in the central and eastern part of the country back in 2002. We spent a few days in Palmyra and then an afternoon in Deir ez-Zor. Finally we took a train to Aleppo, although we almost ended up somewhere near the Iraqi border…

Aleppo Citadel after sunset
Aleppo Citadel after sunset

Palmyra

The ancient city of the Palmyrenes was already prospering 2 millennia ago and became an important regional centre under Roman rule. It is regularly mentioned among the wonders of the world due to the extensive ruins, including the well-preserved colonnades and the burial towers.

We arrived in Tadmur, the modern town, by bus from Damascus. It was late afternoon but the heat of the desert drove us into our hotel. We only ventured out for the sunset and we were swallowed by the beauty of the place.

The slender columns of Palmyra in the light of the setting sun
The slender columns of Palmyra in the light of the setting sun

The next morning we hired a taxi and saw one of the burial towers of Palmyra. The guardian had unbelievably big keys and the headless statues inside somehow indicated the fate of the ruins. When it got hot again, we had a dip in a pool in the oasis. As we walked back to the hotel, a greengrocer invited us for a tea. When he heard Anita was pregnant, he proudly introduced his ten children to us.

In the afternoon another taxi, a 1949 Chevrolet, took us up the hill to the Citadel. He was also very enthusiastic when we told him we were going to have a baby. We had great views of the ruins of Palmyra as the sun set.

View of the ruins from the Citadel
View of the ruins from the Citadel

Update: During 2015 ISIS destroyed several historical artifacts and buildings of Palmyra, including the famous lion statue, the Tetrapylon and the Temple of Bel. Restoration has since started and the Lion of Al-lat is now exhibited in Damascus.

Anita with the Tetrapylon
Anita with the Tetrapylon

Deir ez-Zor

Probably because of our History studies, the very name of the River Euphrates had a very romantic feel to it. When I found out that we were just a bus ride away, I immediately decided to take a detour before going to Aleppo. This is how ended up in the provincial city of Deir ez-Zor by the famous river.

The truth is that we weren’t exactly amazed by the place. Our hotel room was very basic and run down. The streets were dirty and we had the feeling it wasn’t quite safe. But we loved the Euphrates and spent an hour walking across the pedestrian bridge, watching people and the sunset.

Sunset over the Euphrates River by Deir ez-Zur
Sunset over the Euphrates River by Deir ez-Zor

Update: There were numerous clashes between the Syrian Army and different opposition organisations (including ISIS) but it remained in the government’s hands. It was under siege by ISIS for more than two years but never taken by the Islamic State.

Aleppo

We only spent one day in Deir ez-Zor and then took a train to Aleppo. In fact, we almost ended up near the Iraqi border because we first got on the wrong train…

Apart from the nicely preserved Castle, my most vivid memory of Aleppo is the narrow streets of the souq. We watched old merchants selling their goods and artisans preparing various products in their tiny shops.

Old man waiting for customers at a market in Aleppo
A whole street was full of tiny stores and workshops in this part of the market
Donkey with its owner on a busy road in Aleppo
Where else could they go if the planners forgot about the donkey lane?

Anita felt sick while we were in Aleppo and we were worried she might have contracted malaria by the Euphrates so we looked for a doctor. A taxi driver took us to the university hospital and even helped us get a number to a specialist. Just as the doctor was asking her questions, Anita suddenly felt worse and in the end she vomited on the floor… But the doctor remained very helpful and he reassured us that it was just an upset stomach.

 

A young boy and his donkey take a break in the old town of Aleppo
A young boy and his donkey take a break in the old town of Aleppo

Update: Aleppo was exposed to some of the Syrian war’s most devastating bombings. Some 15,000 people were killed as the Syrian Army slowly recaptured the city from the opposition. The World Heritage site old town with its famous Great Mosque was destroyed. The factories were plundered and the machinery was taken to Turkey with the knowledge of the Turkish government.

Syrian government forces finally took control of Aleppo in December 2015. Since then hundreds of thousands of refugees have returned to the city. Many factories are operative again and some of the historical buildings are under reconstruction.

Church of Saint Simeon Stylites

We took a little excursion one day from Aleppo to visit the ruined church of Saint Simeon Stylites. It was built around what is thought to be the remains of Saint Simeon’s pillar. The hermit spent 37 years on top of the pillar when it was considerably higher than today.

The remains of Simeon's column
The remains of Simeon’s pillar in the ruined church

This is one of the oldest complex church ruin in the world, built in the 6th century AD. They say the pillar was much higher even a century ago. It was not the elements that dwarfed it to its present size but the pilgrims, who wanted to take a small piece home.

Church of Saint Simeon
Church of Saint Simeon near Aleppo

Update: Islamic extremist groups took control of the church during the Syrian war but they did little damage to the ruins, surprisingly. Then after it was recaptured by Kurdish forces it was heavily damaged in an air strike.

Southern Syria before the war

My then pregnant wife and I spent a little more than two weeks in Syria back in 2002. I have been treasuring these photos and memories since then. In this and the upcoming posts I’ll try to show you how inviting and calm this country was before it fell prey to the greed of local and international powers. This first part is about Southern Syria.

The blue village of Maalula
The blue village of Maalula

Bosra, a hidden gem in Southern Syria

We arrived in Southern Syria by road from Jordania. We flew to Amman, the Jordanian capital. First we wanted see Syria to then return to its southern neighbour for the second part of our holiday. The journey was a bit tiring but I remember how good it felt when the border guards welcomed us with a smile.

The Roman amphitheatre in Bosra, a highlight of Southern Syria, on a peaceful day
The Roman amphitheatre in Bosra on a peaceful day

We took a short sightseeing tour on a horse cart. The owner of the cart was a sweet young man, who did his best to present his town though we didn’t have a common language. He took us to a souvenir shop and let me take a photo of him and his horse.

For me the highlight of this small town was the ancient Roman theatre, now nested in the middle of a younger fortress. We spent hours walking up and down the stairs and admiring how the lights changed.

Columns of Bosra's amphitheatre
Columns of Bosra’s amphitheatre against the setting sun

The other memorable thing was the accommodation. We stayed in the medieval Citadel, the only budget hotel at the time. Our room was around 6 metres tall and we slept on old beds lined by the walls. Everything was decorated with beautiful carpets and cushions.

Update: In 2013 the army used the Citadel to bomb the town on a daily basis. Later the town was taken over by the Syrian rebels in four days of fierce battle.

Damascus

Arriving in the Syrian capital, our first experience was that the hotel owner gave us a discount when he heard we were from Hungary. The positive vibe surrounded us during our stay. One day a man showed us a mosque; he turned out to be a carpet seller. In other Oriental countries this would have meant an hour of hassle. He wouldn’t accept any money in return for his time.

Elaborate ornament in the yard of the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus
Elaborate ornament in the yard of the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus

The medina – old town – of Damascus felt like travelling back in time. Supermarkets were still unheard of so people went to the small specialist stores to shop. Entire streets were filled with handicraft workshops, clothes bazaars or goldsmiths’ shops. And people were smiling.

I will never forget the atmosphere of the 100-year-old Bakdash ice cream parlour. Or the elderly taxi driver who tried to teach me Arab words with enthusiasm. It was Friday when the batteries in my camera died. We asked in a small shop and they sent us to a Kodak store. But first they insisted we drink a tea with them. And then there were the old buildings of a thousand tales.

A gate leading to the inner yard of the famous Omayyad Mosque of Damascus
A gate leading to the inner yard of the famous Omayyad Mosque of Damascus

The most majestic of them all was the Omayyad Mosque. This ancient building has pieces of a Byzantine temple in its walls and its decoration is stunning. We sat inside watching how people prayed peacefully in the shade.

A man lost in his book in the Omayyad Mosque, Damascus
A man lost in his book in the Omayyad Mosque, Damascus

Update: January 2012 the clashes between the Syrian army and the rebel forces reached the suburbs of Damascus. In June bullets, shrapnel shells and tank shells caused serious damage in residential areas in central Damascus.

Saidnaya and Maaloula

These two Christian communities are located in the Barada Valley not far from the capital. Both are noted as two of the last few towns in Southern Syria where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is still spoken.

The Convent of Our Holy Lady of Saidnaya
The Convent of Our Holy Lady of Saidnaya

Saidnaya has long been a pilgrimage destination for both Christian and Muslim believers. Its Convent of Our Lady of Saidnaya sits high above the city, offering wonderful views of the neatly organised stone houses.

The population of Maaloula is special as both its Christian and Muslim inhabitants still speak the ancient Aramaic language. The town is famous for its blue-silver houses and old monasteries.

Maaloula was famous for its blue houses
A predominantly Christian settlement, Maaloula was famous for its blue houses

Update: Between 5000 and 15000 people (war prisoners) were executed without a trial and cremated secretly in the prison not far from Saidnaya by the government forces.

During the war Maaloula has changed hands several times. The army took hostage 12 of the Orthodox nuns (they were later released). Today it is held by government.

 

 

 

Free tapas and gorgeous setting: Cuenca

You have only a few days to spend outside the Spanish capital? You’ve had enough of the noise and smog of Madrid? Or you’d like to experience the Andalusian tradition of free tapas without traveling hours to the South? Check out Cuenca.

The gorge of the Huecar River
The gorge of the Huecar River from the Cerro del Socorro Hill

As we admire the dramatic setting of the old town, it’s hard to understand how the ancient Iberians and even the Romans could overlook this place. It was the Arabs who built the first fort between the two rivers and called the town Kunka. It remained in Muslim hands for centuries before it was taken by the Spanish.

After the poverty of the early 20th century, today’s Cuenca is a charming city with a prospering tourism industry and a busy cultural calendar. As a result, it was declared a World Heritage site. But what is there to see?

1. The Cathedral

The Gothic building of the Cathedral
The Cathedral, the first church of Gothic style in Spain

The massive building of the Gothic Cathedral dominates the Plaza Mayor. Along with Avila’s cathedral, it is one of Spain’s two oldest churches of this style. But the facade you see today is not the original. In 1902 lightning struck its tower, which then caused the collapse of the ornamented facade. It was soon rebuilt and here are plans to restore the tower one day.

2. The Plaza Mayor

Colourful houses of the Plaza Mayor
Colourful houses of the Plaza Mayor
The Plaza Mayor at night
The Plaza Mayor with the Town Hall at night

Cuenca’s Old Town has a pretty main square with the Cathedral on one side and the Town Hall on the other. There are several bars and restaurants to take a rest before you continue exploring the city. Interestingly, the Plaza Mayor can be accessed through the arches of the Town Hall.

3. The two gorges

The gorge of the Huecar River
The gorge of the Huecar River from the Cerro del Socorro Hill
Cneunca is just as beautiful at night
Cuenca is just as beautiful at night

If the Huécar and Júcar rivers hadn’t created deep gorges around the rocky ridge, probably the Arabs would never have chosen this place to build their castle. And what a sight they provide with the houses and churches balancing on their edges!

There are paths leading to the two hills surrounding the rivers from where you can take great photos. And if you are full of energy, there are paths for hikers and runners.

4. The hanging houses

Old houses of four to six floors
Old houses of four to six floors stand along the edges of the ridge
The famous hanging houses
The famous hanging houses date back to the 15th century

Fortunately, a number of medieval houses have survived the centuries in the old town. We were lucky enough to be invited into one of them and fell in love with it at once. The rooms are small, just like the windows, but that’s no problem if you have 5-6 floors!

Some of these houses were built precariously on the cliff edge and they are just as popular with the tourists as the churches and the bridges.

5. And the free tapas!

You get your free tapas for any alcoholic drink you order. And even soft drinks!
Free appetiser soup before the free tapas
Cuenca is the only place where we got appetizers (small portions of soup) before our free tapas

You’ve got thirsty and a bit hungry walking around the old buildings? The good news is that the lovely Andalusian tradition of free tapas is well and alive in Cuenca. Just order a small beer or wine (or even a soft drink) and you can taste the wonders of the local cuisine. To my surprise, we even received “appetizers” before our round of tapas in one bar! If you only try one (though I don’t know why you’d do that), go to the Bodeguilla. It is where I took my photos and the tapas were… I can’t find words, go and taste them!

Thank you for your attention! If you liked this post, perhaps you’d find this other article interesting about the El Camino pilgrimage route.

The French Way – 10 tips to prepare for your pilgrimage

The last village before Logroño

El Camino Francés, or the French Way, is a centuries old pilgrimage route that takes you from the French side of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela.

The French Way is only one alternative route of El Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) but definitely the most popular and best known one. In recent years it has been described and promoted in a number of books and films and thousands of people walk (or cycle) the roughly 800 km.

Colorful landscape near Azofra
Colorful landscape near Azofra

Although it is usually described as a journey to take in one go in about a month, this is not the only way. My family and I have been returning in October for three years to walk this inspiring way in installments. Our reasons are simple: in summer the route is way too crowded and this part of Spain is scorching hot. And in fall/spring we never have an entire month because my son goes to school and my wife works in one.

In this post, I’ll help you with the organization of your pilgrimage. Or long-distance hike, as you like it. Because although it’s a route that came to life thanks to religious faith, it has much more to offer. It is journey through changing landscape, cultural insights, culinary experiences and human encounters.

1. The best times to walk

Statues on top of a hill (Alto de Perdón) near Pamplona
Statues on top of a hill (Alto de Perdón) near Pamplona

Generally speaking, May to June and September to October are the best times for the French Way. It can be pretty nasty in November to April with lots of rain and/or snow in different areas. Daytime temperatures are hellish in July and August and the sun shines mercilessly. Besides, August is school vacation for the Spanish and most Europeans so you can expect huge crowds and fierce competition for beds.

2. How to reach the starting point(s)

The French Way officially starts in Saint Jean Pied de Port (France) or Roncesvalles (Spain). Assuming that you arrive in Spain by plane at Madrid airport, I recommend taking a bus to Pamplona first. Check PLM Autocares. It’s a little more than 5 hours and costs around 23 euros.

From Pamplona, you have two options: bus or taxi.

Autocares Artienda buses connect Pamplona with Roncesvalles. You can only buy the tickets (6 euros) at Pamplona bus station on the day of your travel. In summer (July and August) there are 2 buses a day but none on Sundays. The rest of the year there’s one bus daily (except Sundays).

ALSA takes you from Pamplona to Saint Jean Pied de Port. It costs 22 euros but there are services only during the summer months. At other times you’ll have to take a taxi, which is a hefty 120 euros (for maximum 4 passengers).

Some pilgrims ride bicycles - it can be challenging on some dirt roads
Some pilgrims ride bicycles – it can be challenging on some dirt roads

If you want to start walking elsewhere, you can use a site that compares all possible means of transport, like this one. It’s also a good idea to try shared cars though you generally have a better chance if you travel between large cities.

If you don’t walk as far as Santiago, try to end your trip in a sizeable city with good transportation options. It will save you time and money when you return to continue your pilgrimage.

  3. What to take with you

If you walk the route as a real pilgrim does (without someone transporting your stuff after you), you have to pack light. You will walk 20-35 km a day so every kilo counts. The essentials:

Clothing:

– hat or baseball cap,
– 3-4 T-shirts (e.g. technical quick-dry running shirts),
– 1-2 long-sleeved tops for cold mornings,
– 2 pairs of hiking pants (convertible to shorts is useful),
– socks (designed for hiking) and underwear
– raincoat
– sunglasses
– good walking shoes (see the next point)
– flip-flop (for the evening and the shower)

Sleeping:

– sleeping bag
– toiletries
– towel
– earplugs (as there’s always someone who snores like a freight train)

Walking:

– water bottle
– sunscreen
– Vaseline (to treat your feet in the morning)
– headlight

Technology:

– smartphone (with a detailed map)
– USB charger
– solar charger or portable battery (if you didn’t get the chance to fully charge your phone at the albergue)
– a guide app for your phone (consider this)
– earphones

First aid (specifically for walking):

– bandaids,
– sewing kit (handy if you have blisters!)
– antiseptic ointment

Mind you, this is only the minimum you’ll need. I always take my DSLR camera and you may want to have an ebook reader with you, not to mention personal medication, etc.

4. The right shoes

Your feet will have to cope with all sorts of surfaces along the 700+ km French Way: asphalt (too much of it), gravel, dirt roads, rocky paths and cobblestones. Needless to say that choosing the right footwear is crucial.

Heading to the next village on the French Way

To cut it short, I’d recommend either trekking shoes (see a good article here) or trail running shoes (check out this list). They are light and flexible enough and the sole protects your feet effectively from the impact of the uneven surface. Trekking boots are too heavy and conventional trainers are too soft.

Your shoes should be the right size: they should fit your feet well but not be too tight. And take well-worn shoes with you on the Camino. It’s not a good idea to start out with a brand new pair.

5. How to choose the backpack

The other key issue is the right backpack. What you carry should not be (much) more than 10% of your own weight. Accordingly, the ideal size is 40-50 liters. Choose a backpack with adjustable back, chest straps and hip belt. Most of the weight (around 70%) should rest on your hip and not on your shoulders.

It’s a good idea to take a rainproof backpack or a separate rain cover for wet days.

6. Happy feet make a happy pilgrim

Before you walk:

– Cut your toe nails
– Do NOT wet your feet in the morning (if you must, use only cold water)
– If you did wash your feet, dry them completely, including between your toes
– Apply Vaseline on all your feet. This will hydrate your skin and prevent sweat from accumulating in the sensitive parts

During the walk:

– Wearing proper trekking (hiking) shoes is a must (see point 4)
– Seamless socks will prevent blisters
– Tie up your laces well and make sure the tongue is in its place

After walking:

– Clean your feet with cold water
– If you have a bruise, treat it with antiseptic ointment but don’t cover it
– Never burst a blister. Instead, drive a piece of thread through it with a needle and leave it there overnight. It will remove the liquid and accelerate healing
– Make sure your shoes dry during the night. Use talcum powder if necessary against bad odors

7. How to plan your days along the French Way:

There are albergues (low cost hostels for pilgrims) every 5-10 km along the French Way so you can plan your days quite flexibly. Conventionally, the whole route is divided into 31 days but you don’t have to stick to this.

It's always exciting to arrive in a new village
It’s always exciting to arrive in a new village

It’s a good idea to start lightly. Don’t walk more than 20 km on your first two or three days. Then as your feet and body get used to the challenge, you can raise the number of kilometers. But in my experience the ideal distance is around 25 km.

8. Don’t let the bed bugs bite

Apart from the fellow pilgrims, the landscape and the inner journey you take, the albergue is the institution that will have the greatest impact on your experience. There are basically three types: albergues run by the church, a municipality and private individuals. Rates vary just as standards along the French Way. While most albergues are adequately equipped, clean enough and their staff (the hospilateros) are welcoming and helpful, some are less well-tended or downright filthy.

Warning sign for pilgrims

Luckily, you can choose where to stay but occasionally you may have to make compromises. Then it’s useful to have a sleeping bag and take a few precautions. Don’t leave your clothes and things around. Keep your backpack away from the beds. You may want to consider treating your sleeping bag with permethrin or, if you prefer the natural solution, lavender oil.

If you are unlucky enough to find bedbug bites on your body in the morning, don’t panic. Any pharmacy will provide you the right cream to treat them. Just don’t let the damned critters ruin your Camino experience!

9. Keep your stomach satisfied

You plan to walk 5-7 hours walking every day, often in harsh weather conditions. It’s very important to make sure your body gets all the necessary nutrition and liquids.

Take your time to start the day with a full breakfast (e.g. dairies, cereals, sandwiches, fruits, fruit juice).

During the day, take a short break every 1-2 hours to drink water and eat something that contains carbohydrates so that you can keep walking.

Something with carbohydrates...
Something with carbohydrates…

 

Your dinner should be the main mean of the day, preferably taken at least 2 hours before going to sleep. If you choose an albergue with a well-equipped kitchen, you can cook for yourself. It’s also a great occasion to socialize with other pilgrims.

10. Behave with responsibility

Don’t take advantage of albergues where a voluntary donation is expected. Leave a few euros if you can afford it.

Remember that hospitaleros are volunteers who sacrifice their spare time to take care of you. Tell them if you are satisfied and don’t make them more work than necessary (I mean, wash up your dishes after you, for instance).

You are never really alone unless you want to
You are never alone unless you really want to

Don’t leave litter along the way. Collect them and discard them in the next village.

The French Way is likely to leave you with indelible memories and a number of new friends. Just show respect to others as you expect them to treat you.

Buen Camino!

Tokaj wine region walk

The Tisza meanders by Tokaj

Take a pleasant and not too difficult walk with me in the Tokaj wine region of Hungary. It’s the best time now that the leaves are turning yellow and red but the days are still mild. And if you are lucky you can find some leftover on the vines although vintage is over.

Quick facts:

Distance: 22 km
Difficulty: easy to medium, suitable for children
Time needed: 5-6 hours for the walk and the rest of the day to enjoy the landscape and the wine
Starting point: Bodrogkeresztúr
End point: Tarcal
Transportation: there are several trains a day from Budapest (3.5 h), Miskolc (1 h), Debrecen (1.5-2 h) or Nyíregyháza (1-2 h)
If you wake up early enough, you can start walking around 10 am and catch the train from Tarcal before 7 pm.

Tokaj wine region

The barrels used in Tokaj wine region are made from local oak wood to add their flavour to the wine
The barrels used in Tokaj wine region are made from local oak wood to add their flavour to the wine

Tokaj and the surrounding Tokaj wine region could easily be one of Hungary’s top destinations if it had a little better marketing. If more tourists looked beyond the borders of the capital. Or if trains weren’t painfully slow. But let’s see the good points. This magical place is still largely unexplored and visitors are highly valued.

You can spend days canoeing and camping in the area in the summer months
You can spend days canoeing and camping in the area in the summer months

Why do I think the place has huge potential? It has so much to offer. The view of the two rivers uniting at the foot of Tokaj Hill is great from the bridge or, better still, from the hill itself. In the warm months you can spend days canoeing or kayaking in the wilderness. There are quaint villages with character by the Bodrog and Tisza rivers. Tokaj, the namesake town has a pretty high street and main square with all facilities. And, let’s not forget about the wine.

The black 'noble mould' that covers cellar walls and bottles is an important part of the wine-making process
The black ‘noble mould’ that covers cellar walls and bottles is an important part of the wine-making process

We, Hungarians, like to think Tokaji wine is world famous. Well, I’m not surprised if you’ve never heard this name before. It’s not your fault. 40 years of Communism took its toll on the once renowned ‘nectar’, also mentioned in the Hungarian national anthem. Quantity was preferred to quality at the time and it will take a lot of hard work to get rid of the bad connotations. You can find a great description of Tokaj wine region and its wines here.

But for many years Tokaj wine-makers have been striving to provide high quality wines. So go and sample them before they become wildly popular and expensive again.

Up the hill

The excursion starts in a small village, Bodrogkeresztúr
The excursion starts in a small village, Bodrogkeresztúr

The walk begins from the train station of Bodrogkeresztúr. It’s quiet village at the foot of Tokaj Hill and today it is practically built together with its neighbour, Bodrogkisfalud. Both places sit on the bank of the Bodrog River and are part of Tokaj wine region. Local wine is sold at a number of small private cellars and more professional wineries. To tell the truth, we always choose the former. The wine may not be up to the highest standards at these family businesses but the friendliness of the owners make up for it.

You can buy locally made wine at many houses in the villages
You can buy locally made wine at many houses in the villages. Ask the owner to take you to the cellar and listen to the stories as you taste the range before you choose what to buy.

You can walk through the village along the main road or follow the grassy path on top of the dyke, depending on your mood. Then after a few hundred metres by the side of the road a dirt road forks off to the right, marked with a red cross. You’ll follow this path almost all the way to the top.

The church of the village as you can see it from the dyke
The church of the village as you can see it from the dyke

This road must be one of the oldest around the hill, used for centuries to connect the vineyards with the villages. You will see the evidence as you walk on. At some places the road cuts so deep into the sandstone that its walls are 3-4 metres high.

This deep road is one of the (many) highlights of the route
This deep road is one of the (many) highlights of the route
Roots of the trees embrace the high walls of the ancient road
Roots of the trees embrace the high walls of the ancient road

Then you enter into the light again as the road continues between the vineyards. There are breathtaking views from here to the villages and the protected wilderness between the two rivers. Keep following the red cross sign and soon you find the asphalt road that leads to the TV tower. You could stay on this road but its longer and less comfortable so it’s better to keep to the tourist path (now a red stripe). About ten minutes later there’s another junction in the forest: turn right and follow the red triangle that leads you to the summit.

St Theresa's Chapel guards the fields
St Theresa’s Chapel guards the fields
Two villages (Bodrogkeresztúr and Bodrogkisfalud) with their vineyards by the River Bodrog
Two villages (Bodrogkeresztúr and Bodrogkisfalud) with their vineyards by the River Bodrog

A stop in Tokaj

Sadly, the only thing you can do on top of Tokaj Hill is admire the panorama. Unless you are a paraglider because it’s an ideal launching spot. There are no services at all and the TV tower doesn’t accept visitors. But the views are worth the effort.

The panorama from Tokaj Hill
The panorama from Tokaj Hill

You have to follow the same path on your way down (the red triangle becomes a red stripe again). As you walk downhill there are several viewpoints offering great photo opportunities. If you keep to the signposted path, you arrive in Tokaj in less than one hour.

Many viewpoints offer great panorama
Many viewpoints offer great panorama

It’s a compact town so you can stroll along the main street and see the old buildings in a short time. Produce of Tokaj wine region is on offer at a number of cellars and bars and you shouldn’t leave without sampling FurmintHárslevelű, Sárgamuskotály or Aszú. The first three are the names of the locally produced grape types and the corresponding wines have both dry and sweet varieties. But the best-known wine of Tokaj is the Aszú, a dessert wine of unique flavour. This one-day walk isn’t really suitable to do a proper wine-tasting tour with 5-6 types of wine. Walking the last 10 kilometres half drunk would be a challenge so you’d better spend the night in one of the many hotels and guesthouses.

The Tisza meanders by Tokaj

 

This is also the place to time your lunch as Tokaj has lots of restaurants to suit all budgets. Lángos Mester at the end of Rákóczi Street offers great lángos (what else?) and there’s a small candy shop nearby with wine-filled bonbons. You can have fresh fish (and Tokaji wine) at Taverna right above the roundabout by the bridge or a proper lunch at Bonchida Restaurant. If you try only one cellar it should be Rákóczi Pince in the main square.

Walking through vineyards

Filled with gastronomic experiences and full of energy, you can now set off to walk the last bit to Tarcal. The marking of our path is a green stripe from the town centre, which leaves the main road just before the railway overpass. You can see the building of the railway station on the left but there is more to look for on the right.

A nicely renovated traditional wine house
A nicely renovated traditional wine house

This street is lined with wine houses and it’s called the Cellar Row of Love. Two or three will always be open during the day so if you somehow missed wine in town or if you just long for one more glass, this could be your last chance. Our personal favourite is Benkő Winery.

You will spend the last two hours walking beside or in the middle of the vineyards with the Hill on your right. There are whitewashed houses and mansions scattered on the hillside. They used to be the homes of the owners of these areas  and some are still inhabited.

Vineyards at the foot of Tokaj Hill
Vineyards at the foot of Tokaj Hill
The concrete road is designed to lead rainwater away fast
The concrete road is designed to lead rainwater away fast

Soon you notice the two church towers of Tarcal and the pretty chapel of Saint Theresa on a hill in the distance. There’s a short section just before the village where you can’t avoid the highway so take care.

The towers of Tarcal
The towers of Tarcal

Tarcal itself is a pretty place with elegant churches, traditional houses, old cellars and even a castle. So if you arrive early enough, get a bit lost in its streets before you get on the train.

Needless to say, you could easily spend days in Tokaj wine region as there are so many other villages and towns to see. And lots more to do. But that’s another story

Atlas trek, Part 2

Typical Berber village in the Atlas

The M’Goun Massif is part of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, North-West Africa. Its highest peaks are well over 3000m (Mount M’Goun is over 4000m). These days many of the small villages are connected with good quality paved roads but if you want to discover the higher regions, you’ll have to follow old mule tracks.
This is the second part (days 3 and 4) of our Atlas trek, which crosses the range from Agouti to Ait Hamza. (Of course, you can change the start and end points.)

Quick facts:
Total distance: 55 km (if you don’t get lost)
Time needed: 3-4 days
Accommodation: camping by the rivers and near villages, homestays in some villages
Food on the way: There are very basic foodstores in most of the small villages but don’t count on much more than canned fish and biscuits
Water: there are plenty of sources and brooks in the mountains but take water purification tablets
Highlights: the traditional Berber villages, where time seems to have stopped and the breathtaking landscapes
Photos taken during our Atlas trek in late June

 

The way to the Rougoult Pass (3000 m)

From Rougoult, you continue your Atlas trek along the Tifra River (now just a humble mountain brook) that leads you close to 3000 m.  Some descriptions of the route say it should take only 2 hours. Well, it took us much longer than that. Maybe it was because we were hiking with our 8-year-old son, I don’t know. But anyway, don’t be surprised if you’re still struggling uphill after four long hours. Sooner or later you’ll be there 🙂

It's a challenge to walk the path at places. And great fun!
It’s a challenge to walk the path at places. And great fun!

The route is physically demanding but extremely interesting at the same time. First, there are rock formations. You can see how the mighty forces of the Earth shaped the mountains into what we see today. The rocks come in various colours, too, from shades of white to red.

Craggy cliff face high above Rougoult
Craggy cliff face high above Rougoult
A lone tree holds on against all odds.
A lone tree holds on against all odds. Look at the crazy geology of the mountain!
Red rocks not much before reaching the pass
Red rocks not much before reaching the pass. Look at the ancient mule path on the left.

Then there are the people you can meet while on the way. We met elderly men crossing the mountain on muleback, young boys leading horses and an entire family passed us on mules. It was a funny situation as we were just refreshing ourselves, sitting in a pond of cool water in swimming clothes. But they just smiled and carried on. We heard the whistles of shepherds looking after the sheep hundreds of metres higher. Then we saw a woman collecting grass and carrying it back to her house.

Not an easy life
Not an easy life
Some of the people we met on our way
Some of the people we met on our Atlas trek

Amezri

If you are running out of drinking water you can fill up your bottles at the spring just under the pass. And here are many others along this Atlas trek but it’s better to have purification tablets just in case. We reached the top around 6 pm and I think we got a bit lost, too. In fact we walked higher than necessary. Then we caught sight of two young women, collecting dry bushes. They were very helpful and offered to show us the way down to Taisgawalt. But they were so fast that we were almost running for the next hour!

On the Rougoult Pass, the highest point of our Atlas trek
On the Rougoult Pass, the highest point of our Atlas trek
We had to walk really fast after the two young women
We had to walk really fast after the two young women. You can see one of them in front with a bunch of dry branches on her head

We still had a little time to admire the views from the top. It was interesting that the colours and shapes on the two sides of the pass were so distinct. The northern valley was much dryer and less colourful.

Looking back from the pass
Looking back from the pass
This view greeted us at 3000 metres
This view greeted us at 3000 metres

By the time we arrived in the next village (Amezri) it was getting cooler. There is a basic food store in the village. We bought tinned fish again and some biscuits, plus a big bottle of coke for the local kids. They followed us down to the bank of the Tessaout river, where we put up our tent. We found a gîte (simple hostel) but it was so badly maintained that we rather stayed in the open air and enjoyed the now usual bath in the river (when the boys had gone).

Day 4 to Ait Hamza

What’s good for the locals is not always so good for travellers. These days the old paths are mostly replaced by gravel roads high above the river. So the route from Amezri to Ait Hamza won’t be the highlight of your trip, especially after the beauties of the previous day.

Still, we enjoyed the sight of the carefully cultivated terraces of land by the river. For centuries, the Berber population of the mountains have developed sophisticated ways to get the limited water of the river to the mountainside. As a result, the bottom of the valley is lively green despite the dry climate. Hopefully, this doesn’t change in the future. Because if the big cities attract these people with the promises of an easier life, this paradise will be gone for good.

The terraced fields of the Tessault Valley
The terraced fields of the Tessault Valley

Two boys from Amezri followed us on a donkey till we got to the next village. They were trying to convince us that Aron would feel better on the donkey.  We were afraid of the fleas so refused the service. But they deserved something for their perseverance so we bought them a coke and said goodbye.

The houses of Itchebakan
The houses of Itchebakan

The route passes by the village of Itchebakan, another example of traditional Berber architecture. They feature kasbahs (large fortified buildings for one or more families) and agadirs (granaries) made from compacted mud, stones and wood. If you’d like to learn more about them, you can find a great article here.

Back to Azilal

At the end of the 4th day you arrive in Ait Hamza, another typical Berber village of the Atlas Mountains. It is locally known for the traditional rugs woven by the women of the village. We decided to finish our Atlas trek here as we didn’t want to spend another day walking mostly on paved roads. We found an affordable room in a smaller kasbah. The next day the owner took us to Demnat, from where there are buses and/or shared taxis to Azilal.

Rock formations high above the valley
Rock formations high above the valley near Ait Hamza

All in all it was a demanding but highly memorable trip. It’s suitable for anyone of average fitness and some hiking past. We only met one tourist on the 4th day but many locals, without whom the whole experience would have been poorer.

Thank you for your attention! If you liked my post, why not check out this hike in the Bohemian Paradise of Czechia?

Mount Agung: 5 faces of Bali’s holy volcano

 Mount Agung from the airplane

Mount Agung is Bali’s most holy mountain, the abode of the gods.

With its 3031 metres, Mount Agung is visible from many locations and provides great photo opportunities. Looking through my archives, I picked my top 5 viewpoints.

Pura Agung Besakih

The Mother Temple of Bali is a complex of more than 80 temples sitting 1,000 metres high on the western slopes of Mount Agung. The Balinese believe the top of the majestic volcano is where the gods live. It was first mentioned in 1007 AD and today it is one of Bali’s top tourist attractions. Besides, it is still a centre of worship and arts.

Besakih Temple Complex on the slopes of Mount Agung
Besakih Temple Complex on the slopes of Mount Agung

Pura Agung Besakih is a delight to visit any time of the year. But if you happen to visit the island at the time of the Odalan, it will be the highlight of your holiday. During this festival, the temples receive special decoration and you can see processions of women in traditional costumes and hundreds of people praying. The next Odalan will be on 13 October 2017 and then on 11 May 2018. More information here.

Klungklung (Semanapura)

The official name of this pretty provincial town has long been Semanapura but locals stick to the old one. It lies 25 km from Mount Agung just a few minutes from the sea. Today it is a sleepy, perhaps even a bit boring, place but it played an important role in the history of the island. It used to be the capital of the famed Majapahit empire. The title of the king was Dewa Agung. Then it became known as the last Balinese kingdom to surrender to the Dutch.

Mount Agung peeks from behind the clouds
Mount Agung peeks from behind the clouds

There are a number of sights to check out nearby so it’s a good idea to choose it as your base. The Puputan Monument in the centre of town commemorates the 200 heroes who died for independence in 1908. Two buildings of the old Klungklung Palace were restored and can be visited. There is an intriguing museum, a Hindu temple and a busy market, too, to keep you entertained.

Lombok

For many visitors, Lombok is just a stopover to the popular Gilis but the island has a lot more to offer. Mount Rinjani, the second highest peak in Indonesia, dominates the skyline from most corners of Lombok. For an unforgettable hiking experience, I highly recommend a multiday walking trip to the top of the volcano. Or just to the crater rim, depending on your level of fitness.

The sunset with Bali's Mount Agung from Lombok
The sunset with Bali’s Mount Agung from Lombok

The original inhabitants of the island, the Sasaks have their own language and culture. If you venture away from the beaches, you can visit their villages and see how the traditional songket cloth is woven. Of course, the main attraction is the beaches. The most accessible is Senggigi beach in the west. You can enjoy the sand, the sea and the breathtaking view of Bali’s Mount Agung as the sun sets.

East Bali

The perfect cone of Mount Agung accompanies you wherever you roam in the eastern part of Bali. There are black sand beaches lined with colourful fishing boats, palace ruins and excellent diving spots in this region. But what impressed me most were the rice fields, banana and coconut plantations in the rural areas.

Endless banana plantations in East Bali with Mount Agung
Endless banana and coconut plantations in East Bali with Mount Agung

Looking for a relaxed beach in East Bali? Pasir Putih near Candidasa is exactly that. And the sand is (almost) white, just as the name suggests. Another coastal town that offers some secluded beaches is Padang Bai. And from its port you can reach the last destination on this list.

Nusa Penida

My personal favourite is a small island off the southern coast of Bali. When we first visited back in 2004 there were hardly any hotels. I had to stop people in the street to ask if I could rent their motorbikes. The second person said yes and we were speechless for two days. We returned two years ago and it was still incomparably friendly and quiet after Bali. And I believe Bali is still a magical place despite the tourist hordes.

Alga plantations on Nusa Penida with Mount Agung in the distance
Alga plantations on Nusa Penida with Mount Agung in the distance

Arriving from Sampalan or Kusamba, you find yourself on the northern coast of Penida. There are incredible views from here of Bali and Mount Agung. The first photo is from 2004, when most of the coast was occupied by alga plantations. I took the second one in 2015.

Sunset on Nusa Penida with Mount Agung across the sea
Sunset on Nusa Penida with Mount Agung across the sea

Rent a scooter and you can explore a world of breathtaking beaches, rocks and quiet villages with the kindest people on Earth. And the sooner you go the better. Though Penida is still unspoiled compared to Bali or the Gilis, things change fast. Two years ago this place had no visitors or facilities at all. I looked down from the edge of the rock but didn’t try to climb down because I thought I had things to do in this life. And now anyone (with guts) can walk down to one of the most amazing beaches you’ll ever see.

Bohemian Paradise: 3 must see places

The Bohemian Paradise

The Bohemian Paradise in Czechia (the Czech Republic) is a place where you become a child again. Or feel like Indiana Jones. You can find rocks of bizarre shape, labyrinths of moss-covered cliffs, lakes and waterfalls in a relatively compact area. And if that’s not enough, history lovers can admire old castles and everyone will enjoy a walk in one of the cute towns of the region.

You can find the Bohemian Paradise in the Czech Republic, or more precisely in the north of Bohemia. It’s around 100 km north-east from the capital, Prague. This land of special natural beauty became a protected area in 1955. It was the first of its kind in the country and its size has doubled since then.

Lost world
Lost world

The park (Cesky Raj in Czech) is best known for its unusual rock formations, the thick pine forests and the fairy-tale castles. It has been popular with tourists, artists, rock-climbers and hikers for centuries. Today you can choose from a number of well signposted routes but you can always “get lost” a bit to discover the place for yourself.

Fairy chimneys
Fairy chimneys

It’s a good idea to stay in one of the towns around the park (like Jicin or Turnov) but accommodation at reasonable prices is also available in small villages. I’d recommend this site to look for rooms or houses to rent. It’s in Czech but easy to navigate and understand. We stayed in a farmhouse in Nová Paka and loved it. The natural reserve is not that big so you can easily reach any of the following three areas from your base.

Prachov Rocks

If you stay in Jicin, this is the most accessible attraction. Not surprisingly, what makes the Prachov Rocks (Prachovské Skály) unique is the rocks. You can roam among the outlandish sandstone formations and climb some of them for superb views. There are signposted routes and you will find stairs and railings in the harder parts.

A narrow rock corridor
A narrow rock corridor
Rock columns guard the valley
Rock columns guard the valley
Sandstone towers
A signposted path takes you past sandstone towers

You can start your hike from Prachov itself or from Jinolice, both about 6-7 km from Jicin. There are three small lakes nearby, where a campsite operates. It could be a nice place to stay in the warmer months.

 

Adršpach-Teplice Rocks

I’m sure one day won’t be enough of these fairy-tale chimneys of sandstone. The Adršpach-Teplice Rocks have all the beauties of the first location plus more. You can squeeze through narrow passages between the rocks and there’s also a pretty waterfall. Or you can take one of the boats that commute on a small lake. The Titanic and the Concordia take you past the cliffs while you take hundreds of photos.

Entrance to the park
Entrance to the park
Finding the waterfall is an adventure in itself
Finding the waterfall is an adventure in itself
The Concordia sails again
The Concordia sails again
The lush forest is an extra
The lush forest is an extra

This protected area is not strictly part of the Bohemian Paradise and it is a bit farther off. It’s about 70 km from Jicin. The tourist path is best to approach from the town of Adršpach, where you can park your car for free.

 

Hrubná Skála

Hrubná Skála has its fair share of bizarre rock formations that can be 30-40 metres high. In addition, you can visit a majestic palace and the ruins of a medieval castle. The views of the plain from Trosky Castle are well worth the effort. 

Eternal kiss
Eternal kiss
The bridge by Waldstein (Valdštejn) Castle
The bridge by Waldstein (Valdštejn) Castle
Passage to the unknown
Passage to the unknown

Hrubná Skála is 20 km from Jicin in the same direction as the Prachov Rocks so the two could be visited on one day but spare a few hours for both if you can.

If you are luckier than us and have more than just three days, you can find many other sights in the region. Bozkov caves, for example, have the largest underground lake in the Czech Republic.

Did you like this post? Check out my article about the 4-day hike in the Atlas Mountains!

M’Goun Traverse in the Atlas, Morocco – Part 1

The M’Goun Massif is part of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, North-West Africa. Its highest peaks are well over 3000m (Mount M’Goun is over 4000m). These days many of the small villages are connected with good quality paved roads but if you want to discover the higher regions, you’ll have to follow old mule tracks. The M’Goun offers several opportunities for multi-day hikes. One of the most popular routes is the M’Goun Traverse, which crosses the range from Agouti to Ait Hamza. (Of course, you can change the start and end points.)

Quick facts:
Total distance: 55 km (if you don’t get lost)
Time needed: 3-4 days
Accommodation: camping by the rivers and near villages, homestays in some villages
Food on the way: There are very basic foodstores in most of the small villages but don’t count on much more than canned fish and biscuits
Water: there are plenty of sources and brooks in the mountains but take water purification tablets
Highlights: the traditional Berber villages, where time seems to have stopped and the breathtaking landscapes
Photos taken in late June

 

Azilal to Agouti by taxi

The M’Goun Traverse is a medium difficult hiking route but the beauty of the place is definitely five-star. To reach the starting point, I recommend taking a bus from Marrakech to Azilal. There you can stay a night or carry straight on to Agouti village deep in the mountains if you arrive early enough. The waterfalls of Ouzoud are also definitely worth a visit and you can easily reach them from Azilal.

You can take a bus or a shared taxi from Azilal. We chose the taxi and we had to wait 2 hours for the car to fill up. Then it’s a 3-hour ride to Agouti, which lies on 1850 m. But before that the taxi has to climb a 2200 metre-high pass. 

The grand (shared) taxi station in Azilal
The grand (shared) taxi station in Azilal

The Lakhdar Valley

In Agouti, we had lunch at a lodge (gîte), where it would also be possible to sleep it you arrive too late. If not, you can start walking straigthaway. First you walk south along the same road you took by taxi. After about an hour there’s a gravel road to the left. If you follow this road, you’ll soon notice the houses of a village (Agerssif) in the valley on the left. You can have a gorgeous view of the Lakhdar Valley from this point. Instead of walking all along the bends, we followed a mule path down to the river and then crossed the small bridge. 

View of the Lakhdar Valley
The Lakhdar Valley

There are several places suitable for camping in Agerssif by the river (1470 m). We preferred to stop a few hundred meters later in order to avoid the unwanted attention. The locals were usually surprised to see foreigners and children were downright scared. The sandy riverbank was perfect for the tent and the water in late June was OK for washing.

Camping spot near Agerssif, Morocco
Our camp near Agerrsif

The second day begins

The valley is perhaps even more enchanting in the morning in the first rays of the sun. It’s a leisurely walk for the first 8-9 km because you just follow the paved road along the Lakhdar River.

The sun rises over the mountain
The sun rises over the mountain near Agerssif

You’ll certainly not be bored as there is plenty to see. People are working on the fields by the river and you will see men piling hay or women carrying it on the road. I was surprised to see local women performing hard jobs while most of the men I saw were on horseback or muleback, looking after the animals.

Women carrying hay
Women carrying hay from the fields
OK, men also work
A man is working outside his home in a small village
But female mules have the hardest job :)
A mule on its way

It’s exciting to see how the colour of the landscape changes here from brown to red to white and back to brown again. Across the road on the left, you can see a crumbling kasbah and simple houses all built from the stones of the mountain.

Village with kasbah
A village with a kasbah, high above the river
Multicolour mountain
Multicolour mountain

Then you arrive in Ait Bou Wlli (Bououli), where you can find some basic stores. At this point another river, the Tifra flows into the Lakhdar from the left. A gravel road crosses the rivers and then you continue south towards Rougoult. The road is easy to follow and ascends gradually past some groves and terraced fields. About halfway in the valley you will spot the houses of Taghoulit, perched on the mountainside. 

Ait Bou Wlli, Morocco
The main street of Ait Bou Wlli

Where the gravel road ends

Just before Rougoult (1850 m), the road turns from red to brown again. You can buy basic food products in the village and you can sleep in its campsite or one of the homestays. We saw a nice camping area by the river under some big trees, too. But again we didn’t want to be surrounded by curious kids all evening so we carried on a bit and camped a little above the village. (It turned out to be private property when a man appeared on a mule in the dark. We exchanged a few words with my rudimentary Arabic and paid him a little money.) This ends the second day of the M’Goun Traverse, a total of about 18 km. 

Rougoult appears in the distance
Rougoult appears in the distance
The Tifra Valley
The Tifra Valley

From Rougoult, a narrow path continues along the Tifra River to take you close to 3000 m and then on to the other side of the mountain. I’ll tell you more about that in my next post. Until then, why  not check out a picturesque hike in Turkey’s Uludag Mountains?

UPDATE: Here’s the second part of the M’Goun Traverse 🙂