Tag Archives: trekking

Walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela

So I completed the Camino de Santiago de Compostela almost two months ago now and I’m only just starting to process it — mainly because of all the travel I’ve been doing since then and now. It was an incredible travelling experience — the sort of experience I think many travellers simply miss out on.

Fields of wheat are a feautre throughout the middle 2 weeks of the Camino
Fields of wheat are a feautre throughout the middle 2 weeks of the Camino

The Camino de Santiago is a walk to the Spanish city of Santiago and it’s been a dream of mine for some years now. You can start walking from wherever you want really, but the most popular places are either 100km away in the town of Sarria or 780km away across the Pyrenees in the town of St Jean Pied-de-Port in France! I chose the one from France and completed the walk in a lazy 33 days.

People often ask how it’s possible to simply walk from one end of a country to another without some sort of support crew and the answer is quite straightforward really. You wake up, put on your shoes and walk until you’ve had enough. That’s it. There are always cheap hostels to stay in, there is a walking track of sorts and you simply walk. Every single day.

It was sunflower season during my walk
It was sunflower season during my walk

The spirit of the walk is part pilgrimage to the Cathedral in Santiago part losing yourself for a month part “what am I doing here” — but every person does it for their own reason, in their own time and for themselves. And that’s what’s so cool about it. Despite meeting up with plenty of other walkers, you’re still responsible from getting yourself from A to B every day and as such you really are walking your own journey.

Day one of the walk for me was up over the Pyrenees and into Spain. It was a fabulous introduction into what lay ahead — fantastic scenery, wonderful people, brutal adventure. To be honest, the first day wasn’t as hard as expected, but it was difficult to imagine being able to keep that sort of intensity up for a whole month. The very next day the difficulty of the journey became real when I injured my knee. I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary — no funny twist, no weird bend. It just stopped working properly and became very sore. And I had to hobble and shuffle about 10km until I got to my accommodation. Not fun.

Climbing through the Pyrenees
Climbing through the Pyrenees

As the days wore on, that injury healed and other ones surfaced and never went away — blisters. Almost everyone I met on the Camino got blisters. It’s just part of the journey and finding a way to nurse them is the key to continuing your journey.

A typical day on the Camino for me involved waking up at 0630, throwing my clothes on and simply walking outside to look for the nearest bar serving breakfast. Many others arose at 0530 and hit the road to beat the heat, beat the crowds, find some solitude.

Puenta la Reina on day 4 of the Camino
Puenta la Reina on day 4 of the Camino

After a quick breakfast, it was time to get some KM under the belt and after a couple of hours it’d be time to stop for a second breakfast and some coffee. Walk a bit more, get tired, stop for lunch. By this stage the end of the day is usually in sight with only another 10km to walk. I’d usually aim to get to a hostel by about 3pm, but in the earlier stages when walking in excess of 25km, this sometimes turned into 4 or 5pm!

Much of the Camino is along dirt tracks in rural areas. To find which way to go, there are yellow way markers everywhere. Towns are usually spaced a few kilometres apart giving the journey quite a rural feel and the odd town brings welcomed respite.

Waymarkers on the Camino are generally regular and reliable
Waymarkers on the Camino are generally regular and reliable

One of the things which really surprised me about the walk was the friendships I made along the way. You very quickly recognise the same faces every day and those same people tend to bond over breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s not even like you need to make an effort to make friends. You automatically become friends due to your shared experiences — pain, exhilaration, frustration. It’s fantastic!

Friends - the unexpected best part of the Camino!
Friends – the unexpected best part of the Camino!

So why should you do the Camino de Santiago? Because it’ll be the single most challenging walk you’ve ever done. You’ll get out of your comfort zone and battle all sorts of problems. It may well be the catalyst for change in your life!

And besides, there is nothing better than watching the sun rise every day for a month, watching scenery gradually change as you head west and noticing the sun rising later and later.

Sunrise every single day on the Camino - one of the best things about it!
Sunrise every single day on the Camino – one of the best things about it!

For me, it’s one of the great travel experiences out there. Not many people can say they walked 780km across a country. Now I can and I’m damn proud of it!

What do you think? Pretty cool walk or what?

Myanmar (Burma): Kalaw & Inle Lake

Myanmar: Thazi at Dawn
Myanmar: Thazi at Dawn

The journey to Kalaw/Inle Lake by bus is excruciating. From every direction, it requires a bus journey of more than 9 hours.  From Yangon it is in the realms of 12 hours and this may or may not including a change of transport in the small town of Meiktila at around 3:30am! The journey from Meiktila, through Thazi and up the hill is 5 hours of largely unpaved road that in the dry season becomes a dust bowl. And as most buses keep their windows and doors open, the colour of your skin changes to a dark brown and your lungs become clogged with the parched Earth. Yes, it is a hell.  But on the bright side, Kalaw and Inle Lake are an excellent place to spend a week or so just relaxing and catching up with fellow travellers and sharing a yarn – and the trekking is memorable.

Kalaw

Myanmar: Monks in Kalaw
Myanmar: Monks in Kalaw

Kalaw is a nice place to rest for a few days after being completely broken by the state of the road to there. There isn’t much to see or do, except for perhaps the local cave with thousands of Buddhas. This was quite good and receives very little tourist traffic. We got the impression that most people stayed in Kalaw for just one night and started trekking the next day.

Trekking

Most people Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake and this seems to be the most sensible option given that the road from Kalaw to Inle Lake is also treacherous. Most people take the 3 day/2 night trekking option which generally provides for one night’s accommodation in a villager’s house and one night’s accommodation in a monastery.

For most people, the first day of trekking is quite strenuous because it is uphill for almost the whole day. But despite its difficult nature, there are plenty of rest breaks and total trekking time doesn’t exceed 5 hours. At the end of the day, the harshness is quickly forgotten. The second and third days are much easier and probably a little shorter.

Myanmar: Tilling the Fields
Myanmar: Tilling the Fields

Accommodation on the trek is basic, toilet facilities are clean, but very Asian (but better than almost all roadside toilets at home) and washing oneself is simply a scrub of the face and underarms because of the very public nature of the wash facilities. Costs vary from trek to trek, but we can recommend Sam’s Trekking service located at Sam’s Cafe. He’ll almost never have more than 4 in a group (we were 2) unlike some others that were trying to get us onto a group of 7!

Baggage can be sent ahead to your chosen guesthouse at Inle Lake for 3000 kyat, you are not required to carry your own bedding and the food provided on the trip is ample and of a great standard. You must trek!

Inle Lake

Despite the charm of the Lake, the best reason to visit this area is to relax and chat with people about anything and everything. We spent 4 days here just sitting on the balcony of the fantastic Aquarius Inn – one of my favourite guesthouses anywhere.

Myanmar: Inle Lake Canal
Myanmar: Inle Lake Canal

Most people stay in Nyuang Shwe which is a good kilometre from the lake in the dry season and go on adventures from there. One day we cycled to some caves and then a winery (!), the other days we read endlessly and chatted about travel, sports and the meaning of life.  Some people insist on seeing the sites of the lake, but almost universally they report that apart from the lake itself, the other activities are not good (such as the jumping cats).

So Inle Lake is really about relaxation and it is a fantastic place for this.

Despite the relaxed atmosphere of Kalaw and Inle Lake, they really serve as bookends to trekking through remote villages. I would seriously question visiting either of these places if trekking wasn’t part of the itinerary as the logistics of travel may just be too punishing. But then again, what else are you going to do in Myanmar except visit places at the end of treacherous roads?  Does Myanmar sound exciting yet?