Friday, November 6, 2015

Hiking Cinque Terre

Monterosso, Italy in Cinque Terre
Ever since seeing the Amalfi Coast of Italy for the first time in 2007, we have told anyone who asked - or anyone who would listen - that it was the most beautiful coast line in the world. On that day eight years ago, we set out from Sorrento in our rental car and navigated the winding, cliff-hugging road with a sweaty-palmed death grip on the wheel, stopping along the way to shop at a ceramics store that was literally carved out of the mountainside rock, buying lemons from a roadside vendor, and taking picture after picture of the spectacular scenery.  One picture in particular we turned into a poster, available for sale here at our Fine Art America photography website.

Our poster of Positano on the Amalfi Coast of Italy
But after our most recent vacation, there may be a new challenger to the title of "World's Most Beautiful Coast Line."  And it's no surprise that it's also in Italy.  It's Cinque Terre.  Cinque Terre ("The Five Lands") is made up of five villages - Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore - along the coast of the Italian Riviera in northwest Italy.  The area is an Italian national park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is highlighted by a series of hiking trails that lead from village to village, up and down the sloping hillsides.  We were staying in Monterosso, the northernmost village of the group, and spent nearly seven hours hiking through three of the other small towns.


The cliff-top village of Corniglia
We had heard of the hiking trails of Cinque Terre, but it turned out to be a much more strenuous hike than we expected.  Portions of the trail require scaling steep, weathered steps and climbing rugged, rocky terrain.  But those efforts pay off when you walk through the quiet vineyards and olive groves that line the landscape, ultimately leading to breathtaking views of the glistening waters of the Ligurian Sea (an arm of the Mediterranean).

Ann climbs some of the narrow
stone steps along the trail.

We made our way through Vernazza and Corniglia, ending our trek in Manarola.  The main trail between Manarola and Riomaggiore (the southernmost village) was closed during our stay.

Some of the vineyards that line the hillsides of Cinque Terre
The best views of the area are definitely from the trails, but almost as equally breathtaking is the view from the water aboard the ferry, which we rode back from Manarola to Monterosso.

Manarola as seen from the Ligurian Sea

Here's a video we made on the trail between Corniglia and Manarola, about five-and-a-half hours into our trek:

So what's the most beautiful coast line in the world: Amalfi or Cinque Terre?  We suggest you drive Amalfi and hike Cinque Terre and decide for yourself.

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Pole' Pole'

We have returned to Moshi, Tanzania from our climb of Mount Kilimanjaro and, although we had an incredible experience, we were not able to summit.  The trek was very difficult with some very steep areas.  We got as close as we could but decided that we weren't up to the 7 to 8 hours of intense climbing that it would take to make the summit.

Pole' pole' is the mantra that you hear all over the mountain and it means "slowly, slowly" which is the only way you can make the climb.

It was, overall, a wonderful experience.  Our guides were great and very helpful, our cook fixed unbelievably good meals despite the harsh conditions, and the scenery was just incredible.  On the negative side, the altitude caused breathing issues, climbing exacerbated my acid reflux problem, we froze in our tent at night, and the bathrooms were literally the worst I have ever seen anywhere in the world (but at least there were bathrooms!)

One of the most amazing things we have ever seen was the super-human porters who carried as much as 50 pounds of gear on their heads day-in and day-out, climbing the tough route faster then we could without all the weight.  

We are disappointed at not being able to complete the ultimate journey but we did have a fabulous adventure.  Now it's on to safari in Botswana, spending our 20th anniversary at Victoria Falls in Zambia and Zimbabwe and then end up in Capetown and Johannesburg, South Africa before returning home.

Africa has so much to offer travelers!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Within sight of Kilimanjaro

It was a total travel time of about 24 hours to get from Indianapolis international airport to Kilimanjaro airport in Moshi, Tanzania.  We had a four hour layover in Amsterdam arriving at about 6am.  We couldn't pick our seats for our KLM flight to Kilimanjaro and were randomly assigned seats that were 8 aisles apart.  We managed to get seats together thanks to the nice KLM gate reps but then something rare happened.

Once settled in our seats in steerage, a KLM angel appeared at our side right before takeoff and asked if we would like to move back to an area reserved for babies that had tons of extra legroom.  Clearly, she was taking pity on poor John, who at 6' 3", was crammed in the seat with his knees up to his chin.  It pays to be married to someone tall!  When someone asks if you want extra legroom, you say YES!!  As a result we actually managed to get some sleep on the flight, and didn't even watch a single movie.  We forgive them for the really bad dinner.  I'd rather have legroom and be able to sleep than good food any day.

Upon arrival at Kilimanjaro airport we breezed past the "Ebola inspection desk" and got in the "I need a visa" line.  After ponying up the $100 in cash each just to enter the country we then stood in two more lines to get through visa stamping and immigration.  Then it was the moment I always dread: waiting and hoping as bag after bag goes by on the baggage carousel.  This time however the luggage gods smiled upon us and all three of our bags had already been set aside, waiting for us.
It took three checked pieces of luggage because of the sleeping bags and myriad of other gear we needed for the climb.

Gabriel was waiting for us outside the airport with a sign that read "Keys Hotel" and we were off in a van headed for our hotel which was about an hours' drive away.  Now at home it would have been half that time, but these roads were really rough and he had to take it kind of slowly.  We so take our system of roads and highways for granted in America!

All along the way we could see side dirt roads leading off to little dusty villages. And on the main road, we could see ram shackled buildings; some restaurants and others shops of some kind, that had dingy minimal lighting. In fact, there were very few lights of any kind along the way, save for the bright stars overhead which John pointed out were likely different ones than we are used to seeing at home.

The Keys Hotel had sounded interesting from the literature, but was, in fact, pretty modest.  We had hoped to have one,of the huts on the property but instead had a second floor room in the main building.  The first thing I noticed were the twin beds, then the mosquito netting tied up above it.  The TV  was an old LG analog with a 13 inch screen and we could find exactly ONE channel which was all in Swahilli.  The bathroom was minimalistic too with the only towels being 2 bath towels and 2 empty boxes where there was supposed to be soap.

We went back downstairs to get the internet password and the woman at the desk showed us to an area behind the hotel where we could, hopefully, get a signal.  So we spent a half hour or so on the "internet stoop" along with a bunch of young English-speaking fellow travelers checking email and posting to Facebook before heading to a long overdue shower and bed.  All the while, we could hear in the distance first, children singing somewhere, followed by what sounded like a very long Muslim call to prayer that went on forever.

John was out like a light while I was in the shower and I climbed in my little twin and dozed off only to be awakened by the buzz of a mosquito at my ear.  I swatted and hunkered under the covers but when he came back for a second fly-over, I hopped up and covered John with the mosquito netting before covering myself and trying to get to sleep.  It was in vain.  I have trouble sleeping sometimes anyway, but a combination of jet lag, extra adrenaline because of the climb and the sound of loud cars driving by on the road right outside our room prevented me from getting much at all.

In the morning, we awakened, got ready and went down for a breakfast of omelets (or so they were described), toast, cereal, juice and surprisingly good coffee.  That was followed by our pre-climb briefing with our guides Anold and  who will be with us every step of the way.  Merely writing those words is making my stomach flip over in anticipation of our days ahead.

As I write this, I can hear the strains of Kenny Rogers' "Through the Years" wafting from somewhere.  Here we sit in Tanzania at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro and we're not far from our own culture that is so pervasive around the world.  I find it both comforting and melancholy because that song is one that always makes me cry.  The words ring of truth for me because of how I feel about John and here we are embarking on yet another adventure together.  One that I would only take with him by my side.

More later!

Friday, June 12, 2015

On our way!

We are sitting at Indianapolis International airport waiting for the first of three flights that will take us to Tanzania and our climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

We packed until pretty late last night trying to get everything in two suitcases which was just not going to happen since we decided to buy sleeping bags and take them with us rather than rent them at the hotel in Moshi, Tanzania.

So we have two suitcases, a large duffel bag, a rolling carryon and two backpacks.  This is certainly not traveling light!  And boy will I worry about all the luggage getting there.

It's a short flight to JFK and then eight hours to Amsterdam and another eight to Kilimanjaro airport.  Breaking up the long flight is long as the luggage makes it!

I'm nervous, but I always am on a big trip like this.  And this could be the biggest yet!

John waiting at the Indianapolis airport for the flight to Kilimanjaro.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Because It's There

By Ann

Mount Kilimanjaro during a safari in Kenya
John and I are just days away now from embarking on what is definitely the most difficult and challenging trip we have ever taken.  It easily surpasses our round the world trip that we dubbed “14 airports in 14 days” which was exhausting in its own way.  But this time we are undertaking a physically challenging endeavor.   We are climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.  It’s the first part of a three week trip to Africa that includes safaris in Botswana, visiting Capetown and Johannesburg, South Africa and spending our 20th anniversary at Victoria Falls in both Zambia and Zimbabwe.  But climbing Kili overshadows everything else and for good reason. 

Although it is not a technical climb, it is not a walk in the park either.  It is a long slow climb to the summit altitude of 19,000 feet.  Not everyone summits either; some have to give up and turn back. 

The preparation for this trip and the gear that we have had to purchase is unprecedented for us.  Even though we have maintained a regular exercise program for the past many years, we have added to it for the climb.  We’ve also had to get vaccines and other shots updated and purchase medications to prevent malaria, altitude sickness and brain adema which is life threatening. 

We did a lot of research into the gear that we will need and, months ago, started collecting everything.  We began by buying good hiking boots and then wearing them to break them in.  Then there’s been a laundry list of other things to buy such as duffel bags, hydration packs, water repellent clothing, walking sticks, headlamps, water purification tablets, energy bars, and sleeping bags among a multitude of other things.  The sleeping bags were a last minute purchase when the hotel where we are staying prior to the climb said they could not guarantee the quality of the ones we would rent from them.  Since we didn’t exactly relish sleeping in a bag that a bunch of dirty climbers had slept in before us anyway, we decided just to buy some.  The problem is in the packing to take them.  Then there’s all the clothing.  You have to dress for hot temperatures when you start out and then freezing cold when you summit.  In the past, most of my trip preparation was buying new shoes and getting a mani/pedi!

The big issue with this climb is the altitude.  You just don’t have any way of knowing how it will affect you.  We’ve been to Machu Pichu in Peru which is at 11,000 feet and we’ve been to Lhasa, Tibet which is 12,000 feet.  I got rather sick from the altitude in Tibet.  The difference though is that we had no time to acclimate on either of those trips since we flew in.  With Kilimanjaro we are slowly making our way to the top.
It will take almost a week.  We are taking the Machame route which is one of seven different routes that you can take.  We will have a guide, a cook and two porters for each of us to carry our stuff.  We will sleep in tents for 5 nights on the mountain.  We won't bathe and we will be totally cut off from the world.  I think it sounds like an incredibly freeing experience.  I never dreamed I would look forward to not wearing makeup or shaving my legs, but I am!
We’ve had friends say “that just sounds awful” and one of John’s brothers asked if we were taking hammers so we can beat each other over the head for attempting this.  I’m sure we will have moments that we wonder what possessed us to do it.  You know the old saying about why you would climb a mountain?  Because it’s there!  I think for me it’s much more than that.  I want to prove that I’m tough enough to do something like this.

It’s a beautiful mountain.  We have seen it from the Kenyan side.  We were on safari and Kilimanjaro was shrouded in clouds and we couldn’t see it.  Then after an hour or more, the clouds suddenly parted and there it was!  It actually brought tears to our eyes. 

I am very excited but nervous but we'll have more about that and what we encounter as we blog daily during our trip.  Oh, and by the way, I did get new shoes and a mani/pedi!