Fuerteventura – Beyond the beaches

It was in Cologne, Germany where we lost the touch with mother Earth this time, as we headed for a holiday. It was Christmas eve and we were heading for Fuerteventura to spend the holidays living like hobos, in a tent, wandering around the island for about a week.

We arrived well before noon, which left us with quite some time in our hands to dive into the maps and books to find the perfect place to see the sun rise on Christmas day. And quite a spot we found. There seemed to be plenty of beach on the western edge of the southern part of the island, called Jandia. Just a short drive over a mountain ridge and we would be there.

So we set off. First winding up onto a view spot over the Atlantic. Over there we got the first idea of why the island was called Fuerteventura – Strong winds, as we were almost blown from the face of the Earth. A bit further down on the other side of the ridge, we found a road / riverbed, heading to the sea. Looked perfect for us, especially as the violent wind left the river at peace.

We took our tiny rental car as far down as we dared and walked the remaining bit to the beach. It wasn’t the perfect beach weather; the grey clouds were hanging low to the mountaintops and the sun seemed to have gone somewhere else to enjoy its Monday. We didn’t mind. The scenery was beautiful and there were more than enough places to put our tent to.

So there we stayed. We strolled around the beach, letting the wonderful feeling of being on a holiday sink in. We enjoyed a cheap wine with our dinner, while watching the light fade and disappear behind the mountains and into the sea. Leaving behind the magnificent wonder that is the Milky Way.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The spot we had thought to be wind free was far from in reality. We noticed that pretty soon, as the cooler night air allowed the wind to sink down from the mountains. The wind came in violent rolling gusts, beating our tent. Our tent then was happy enough to transfer the beating to our faces. Jolly.

Initially we had been planning to do a long distance hike on the GR131 crossing the island. But after realizing that it would be practically just a desert walk, and neither of us was feeling too much like dragging along liters and liters of water, we tossed the idea.  Instead our days were filled with walks across the arid landscape and searching for the perfect sleeping spots.

That wasn’t such a bad idea. After the first night, the days that followed pampered us with clear skies and the mild temperatures of the Canarian winter. We ended up finding some nice, hidden beaches in the midst of the holiday villages, perfect for us to camp at and swim in.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A few magnificent sunsets later, we decided to head further to the north, driving through the central parts of the island. On the road trip we got a welcome break of the touristic centers. They were replaced by hills with a tint of green and small farming villages. Soon we got first glimpses of the islands old volcanoes too.

On the go, we got to some natural pools at the shoreline. The water there is warmer than the ocean itself,  perfect for taking a small dip. The clear, cool water was such a relief for our tired hiking feet. The pool was home to all sorts of creatures. Small fish and shrimp came to nibble at our feet as hermit crabs were trying to find shelter from our camera lens. Quite amusing all of it, we had some true David Attenborough -moments looking at those tiny fellows going about their lives.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As we headed on, we noted the north end of the island to be a much more pleasant place compared to the south. There were hippies hanging around mixing up with surfers and more shoreline free of all-inclusive hotel complexes. The hotels were replaced by randomly scattered camper vans and mobile homes.  Our tent fit right in with them.

We were nicely right at the foot of some of the volcanoes, so we decided to hike them. We found a loop trail, walking us up a couple of the higher domes. The trail, as most of the trails on the island, was easy. More like a road than a trail.

We wobbled upwards pretty fast and soon a great panorama over the island opened up before us. As the skies were clear we also saw the neighboring islands Lanzarote and the tiny Isla de Lobos. The volcanoes themselves were also an interesting sight. I have always been somewhat fascinated about the marks of volcanism. How they tell the story of the earlier times on this earth.

On the way back we got a fun surprise as we were surrounded by dozens of curious little chipmunks! The hungry buggers had clearly learned that tourists pockets often have something for them to eat, so they were eager to investigate us too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After the volcanoes and chipmunks we headed back to the shore, to camp at a small sandy bay.  There were some other groups of people too, scattered between the bushes and dunes. Before long, we noticed a sound of sniffing coming closer to us from the dark. And a bit later someone stumbled over our car. And then over our tent and a pile of stones.

It was a dog. A blind little fella, who was apparently trying to find a way back to his family. The dog kept running in circles, aiming for anything with light on it. Poor thing, we couldn’t leave him running around like that, so we went to find his owners.  Luckily they weren’t far, parked with their mobile home a 100 meters away and as they called for the dog named Toby, he came home, and was clearly relieved. The owners were wondering though, how we had figured out that poor Toby was blind…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A few days were still remaining of our holiday, so we swam and hiked a bit more. For the last day we found a loop over the higher hills of the central part of the island, leaving from the town called Vega de Rio Palmas and heading over to Pico Lima. That turned out to be a refreshingly challenging hike, taking us to smaller trails and steep hillsides, twisting in between huge aloe vera plants.

The hike was rewarded by a great view over the island. There was a nest of a hawk hidden away under a slab of stone, and we stopped for a while to watch the parents come and go, taking care of their crying young.

On the way down we descended into a beautiful terrace garden, with fruit trees and cacti. From there an eroded river bed took us to the same village where we left from. An old lady who had seen us setting off on the trail was surprised and happy to see us back in town. How sweet.

With that hike we said goodbye to the island and headed for the hotel we had booked for the last night. Fuerteventura doesn’t make it to the list of my favorite destinations. But after the first shock of seeing all the all inclusive hotel  villages filled by Germans, the island did manage to show us a beautiful side too. Can’t possible complain about the great sunsets and the pretty beaches, never the less, I was happy to return home for the New Year’s party with Waffle’s family.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All of the pictures are here!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Finland – Home, Hiking and Friends

For a change, I headed to Finland alone. Waffle has fewer holidays than I, so I am sometimes obliged to get out of Belgium without him. It always is a bit of a weird feeling to climb onto the plane on my own, there is nobody to be silly with and keep me company. I was missing him throughout the holiday.

Finland in the darkness of October is not the most comfortable, romantic or pretty destination on Earth, but with luck, it is not raining the whole time and there is still some fall foliage left. As the plane came down to Helsinki, it was evident that I was in luck. It was sunny and the trees were still having a golden coat of leaves.

I didn’t really spend any time in Helsinki. Just bought some wool and knitting needles to keep myself busy in the train and headed to the Northern Savonia, to our cottage and my parents’ place. The sun had set a long ago as I arrived to the quiet train station of Siilinjärvi. My dad was waiting there to take me home.  As we drove away from the street lights,  in the dark northern sky we could see the pale green pulse of the aurora’s. A group of three elks passed us by too. Magical!

The first night I slept in the summer house of ours. Dad had heated the sauna and the open fireplace, so a gentle heat welcomed me while the impenetrable darkness had surrounded the world around. The cottage has a very distinctive scent to it, of wood and lingering smoke. That hit me deep to the emotions and the full extent of my homesickness rushed over me. Sometimes it is in the small things.

The morning came with a substantial chill to it. The night temperatures were approaching zero and on the inside of the hut, the warmth from the sauna was only a fading memory. It took some courage to stick my toes from under the blanket and get going to find something warm to wear.

The world outside was pretty; damp and gray and cold but still, in my eyes, pretty. The golden leaves in the trees framing my view to the lake and the surrounding fields and the still lake mirroring the sky can be very soothing. The silence out there is amazing, too as the birds have left for the south and the life on the surrounding farms is slowly halting. I felt a bit lost out there all by myself. The hut is something me and Waffle have together and it really felt like something crucial was missing without him.

On the agenda for that day was to pack my parents, me and the dog to a car and drive to the east, to the town of Lieksa and the National Park of Patvinsuo. A few hours in a car followed, through the vast emptiness of the Finnish countryside, under the heavy grey sky and low hanging clouds. Finnish melancholy at its best. 

I had rented a log cabin via Villi Pohjola from the edge of the park, at a lake shore, in a pine forest. It was a tiny thing with two bunk beds, a kitchenette and, most importantly, a sauna. It was conveniently close to the hike around Suomujärvi, which I was aiming on doing the following day.  We heated the sauna, the most brave of us even tested the lake water then it was time to cook. Everybody went off to bed fairly content, drowsy from the sauna and food. 

Nothing much had changed the following day. A soft cloud of moist was sticking to the pines, and it was difficult to see further than a couple dozens of meters. The forest bed was soaked too and the plants drooping over the tiny trail made my shoes and pants wet in no time. 

My parents and the dog followed me for the first kilometers before turning off to a shorter loop. Before leaving me alone into the woods they saw it proper to mention that the area had a hefty population of bears. Probably at least 70 of them roaming between me and the Russian border. Yay. 

So with a slight chill down my spine I went on my way, through swamps and magnificent forest of pines. It was endless. The forest went on an on, I could not see an end to it. Every now and then the trail took me to the shoreline of the lake Suomujärvi, which has over 20 kilometers of softly curving sandy beaches. I was really taken aback by the beauty of the nature there. Sometimes I was hoping it would be a bit warmer, so I could take a dive. 

It had been a long time since I had been in a forest all on my own. I had been missing it, sometimes planing on going on a multiple day hike alone. This was just a days stroll in the nature, but still it gave me a touch of the peace and self-secureness I had been looking for. I was probably a little more sane when I excited the hike. 

My parent’s met me again at the nature center of the national park, we made coffee on campfire; something that unites us all Finns: love for the little bit smokey coffee, made on living fire, in a pitch black pot. They days are short in October, and soon we were forced to return to the cottage. 

 

The following day it was time to return home, through the same, soaked and grey landscape. I still had a full day to spend with the family up there in Savonia, before heading to Helsinki. I prepared the cottage to be ready for winter (some appropriate raking happened too) and my aunt made sure I was well fed, before heading to Helsinki. 

For the stay in Helsinki I had found a lovely little accommodation from Airbnb, a boat! The Nikoali II, docked at the old market hall in Helsinki. It was most certainly a special accommodation, a slight smell of oil and a soft swinging were the most distinguished features. 

Before I got to crash in the boat’s bunk, there were food and friends to be enjoyed. I was happy enough to go full tourist mode in my former home town. I was gawping at the old buildings and the beautiful parks and soaking my nose in the smells of the old market hall. It is a funny feeling, to be a stranger in your old home. All the places are familiar, you know the streets, shops and boutiques, but every time you find something that has changed or is new.

After all the gawping it was time to dip my fork into the creations of a Finnish contemporary fusion kitchen with some friends around the table. There we dined and talked and laughed, until the evening grew long and people had to head home. 

The next day it was time for me to return to Belgium. Bag packed with some Finnish goodies I headed to the airport. Sad, again, to leave Finland behind but happy to return to the normal every day routine, with my dear Waffle. 

This year I won’t return to Finland anymore. There is no time for holidays and for Christmas our path takes us to a very different winter destination. More on that later! 

 

 

 

 

 

The last steps in the Pyrenees

The previous post is here!

It was a restless night, we both kept searching for a comfortable position, listening to the sounds outside.  As the wind ruffled the tent, I was happy to be tucked in my wonderfully warm sleeping bag.

The morning came, as it always does, brisk and clean and all new. The sunlight smacked my sleepy eyes and forced me awake. A graving for coffee was next in line and soon enough the stove was set up and water beginning to boil. After some hot breakfast and coffee we were ready to head off.

This would be our last day of hiking. The trail, which had appeared in front of us yesterday would follow the ridge all the way down to the GR10 again. The beautiful undulating ridge was basking in the sunlight, promising an easy way home.

And easy it was. Beautiful as well. We were so relieved to see the more demanding parts of the trail disappearing behind us. The trail walked us past a few smaller peaks, until leading us to a magnificent broad saddle, littered with tiny blooming heathers and other small flowers. I have never seen such a large saddle, it was like walking across a football field, high up on a mountain ridge!

After useless loitering on the wide open plain, we had to start going again. Up onto the last peak of the hike. It was a gentle mountain, that one. Not so high anymore, soft and round. But from the top we got a great overview of the whole trail and all the peaks we had conquered.

On the other side of the peak the ridge continued to be beautiful. With softly tumbling meadows on one side and plummeting cliffs on the other. All this was topped off by a small herd of young horses wandering around the mountain meadows, all wild and free.

The downwards journey advanced swiftly, soon we found ourselves below the tree line and in the middle of wild blueberries. The best hiking snacks there are! all in all our descent was fairly uneventful, we started to meet some other hikers, going the opposite way, and on GR10 it got almost crowded. I was starting to feel increasingly ill. A loud humming in my ears, blocked nose and difficulties to find my balance were making the last meters to our car little bit less of an enjoyable journey.

I was happy to see our car again. Always after a hike it seems like a promise of comfort, at least a soft seat to lay your buttocks on. But it is bittersweet happiness, since the car takes us away from the mountains too. Plus it is so hot you could bake eggs inside.

As we drove down the serpentine, my ears were blobbing between blocked and open and blocked again. Waffle was demanding I go to a doctor. I hate going to doctors, but Waffle went on and found one in a tiny village called Piolenc, the capital of garlic. We were confident that a doctor, even in the south of France, will speak English. We were wrong. Plenty of confusion, translating and hand signals later I got a diagnose of ear infection and a long prescription for all sorts of medicine. Maybe indeed I had been sick enough for the doctor’s visit.

That turned our the planning for the rest of our holiday upside down. I always become extremely feeble with antibiotics, so hiking was pretty much off the menu. Luckily we were not too far from the second home of Waffle’s parents’, which happened to be empty at the time. We retreated there to medicate me in peace and comfort.

The house is in the beautiful gorge of the Ardèche, so the situation was not bad at all. We spent a couple of nights there and during the days we searched for places to skinny dip in the rivers. And there are plenty of those! Every corner of the river hides new secrets. The water is crystal clear and and there are plenty of small pools created by water to the soft limestone. It is nicely refreshing to take a dive in a small pool of cool water in the heat of over 30 degrees. From the northern areas of the nature park of Monts d’Ardèche we even found a beautiful set of cascades!

This holiday was creeping to an end and once again we had to get onto the road and off towards home. We were on the move early enough to make a stop and be tourists. I had realized with my antibiotic-infused brain, that our route went via the Burgundy wine region. Hooray, something new for us! Quick Googling pointed out one excellent, small vineyard, Parigot et Richard, making Crémant de Bourgogne in the town of Savigny-lès-Beaune.

Turned out, Savigny lès Beaune was not at all shabby village. The houses were very French, built out of pale stone and the streets were tidy and after every corner you walked by a vineyard or two. We wandered into one of those, just by random.

We were welcomed by a man, a happy man who apparently had been in the process of tasting his own produce. He sat us at his table and started pouring wine. White and red, fairly dry, both of them. He was clearly not in favor of mixing grapes, so all his bottles were containing 100% of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Aligoté. Perfectly good wines, so we walked out of there with a couple of boxes and left the man himself giggling in his own reality.

After that, we actually managed to get to the house I had found earlier with Google. They were busy at work; the harvest had started ahead of time, thanks to the exceptional weather. But they did manage to squeeze us in, when they heard we were in the region only for that afternoon.

And oh boy, was I happy they did! Their selection of sparkling wines was exquisite. Bottles containing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Aligoté in harmonious quantities offering quite refreshing tastes.  Waffle accidentally compared the product to Champagne, which was a mistake; these people clearly have a pride of their own. The wine maker was slightly insulted, remembering to mention, that the grapes of Champagne are actually from the Burgundy region! After chatting and tasting we left happily with a few boxes of sparkling gold.

After a the wine found its way to the car, we went for a walk to clear our heads, so we could hit the road safely again. We circled the town, found some vineyards and plenty of old war planes deposited into a garden of a castle. Quite a surprise that was!

An hour or so later, we got driving again for the last leg of our journey to home. Car full of wines, heads full of happy memories. We were both so glad that we finally got to do a longer hike in such a beautiful setting, even though the start of the holiday hadn’t been too promising.