Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hiking Abroad

International Marking for Trails

  My husband and I love to hike.  A trip is considered particularly good if it includes one walk through the countryside.  Hiking is hardly limited to the United States and easily available for those who care to try sites abroad.

View of Marlborough Sound on Queen Charlotte Track
Walking sticks for sale on trail
New Zealand’s zest for trails and “tramps” exceeded any we’ve experienced.  There are walks EVERYWHERE - behind your hotel, across from the restaurant, down any of the thousands of dirt roads, and along the many rivers.  Kiwis take pride in their long term hiking. An entire vacation is often spent in their mountains.  On a local radio program, we heard a physician who was leaving his government job.  But before taking a new position, he intended to do a month long “tramp” exploring his country - a jaunt that is culturally encouraged

Weka bird on Queen Charlotte Trail
Furneaux Lodge on Queen Charlotte Trail
Here, the trails are well marked with the painted international white and red lines, mostly on trees but occasionally on rocks or the ground.  On a coastal walk, a sign advised  dogs were banned as they killed kiwis.   They forgot to warn of another endangered bird, the weka, who will steal your banana if unattended for even a short time. Along one path, walking sticks were for sale on the honor system.  Beautiful hotels are available a days walk apart on some of the treks.  More common are mountain hostels with basic sleeping quarters and kitchens.  Water taxis will even drop off customers for a coastal walk and pick you up down the way. It is a walker’s heaven.

Walking on plateau
After such  good experiences in New Zealand, we tried a day of hiking along the Lycian Trail, Turkey’s first walking path.   The 300 mile trail opened in 1999 and follows the Mediterranean Sea as it curves around the southern corner of Turkey.  Our hotel owners in Kas had never had anyone try the plateau cliff portion of the trail above the town which should have been a warning.   According to the guide books, we could catch a bus to the town above and follow a road out to the trail.  As we tired of waiting at the bus stop, a passing taxi responded to our waves.  Gratefully, the driver knew exactly where to let us off and we were again following the red and white painted lines.

View of Kas from Lycian Trail in Turkey
This trail followed a dirt road through fields and onto a flat desert like escarpment plateau.   Painted directions on stones were essential to stay on the path.  As we neared the edge, a forested area blocked the view but our last steps brought us to a cliff with the splendid  blue Mediterranean Sea 1500 feet below.  Thinking the hard part behind us, we started down, crisscrossing the cliff face on a narrow path - a significant challenge to 60 + year old knees.   At the bottom, our wobbly legs barely carried us to the nearest restaurant to recover.  

Cinque Terre Town
Italy’s Cinque Terre is a very popular walk between small villages along the Ligurian Sea coast .  After a terrible storm flooded two-fifths of the trail last year, we were able to walk only the three opened parts.  Since the first part was paved and level, tours walked this portion.  But the numbers diminished on the next leg as we passed through small vineyards, around homes, up rocky stairs, and across streams, always following the red and white paint.  An enterprising Italian had a lemonade stand along the way.  If the trail became too much, trains were available.

Vineyards up close on Cinque Terre Trail







Few American accents are heard on these trails.  Germans are the most adventuresome travelers and love to hike. “Michael” joined us on the Abel Tasman walk in New Zealand.   He was born in East Germany and had taken a year off to travel and learn English. He loved Motown and couldn’t believe we had grown up with that music.  At Italy’s Cinque Terre, we heard mostly German from fit baby boomers. On Turkey’s Lycian trail, no Turks were in sight.  Only a couple from England shared the path whose entire vacation was dedicated to walking the trail and staying in towns along the way.

Beach at Monterrosa on Cinque Terre Trail
 

Hiking in foreign countries requires time.  You may miss other more popular tourist sites.  Finding trail heads can be a challenge.  Hiking shoes are cumbersome to pack.  But only on trails do I feel really connected to the country - its air, fauna, birds, animals, weather, and views.  So, we’ll keep hiking - as long as our knees hold up.

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