Blown out trails, knee deep snow, and foreign trail maps. The solo trekking saga continues. Eight weeks ago I was flying over the Atlantic with the US in my tailwind. Today Cheryl (my rental car) and I traveled along the Adriatic coastline and on up through the mountains to Zegrab.
In between that flight and today’s arrival to Croatia, I have been lost, had my pack puked on, hiked through 10 national parks, missed trains, and road a camel that I thought was a female but turned out being a male – in heat nonetheless. I can say, “Hello,” “Please,” and “Thank you” in seven different languages and I’ve visited more countries in this short time than my entire life combined. So lets go in order shall we?
Italy was my first stop, and as you probably guessed I hiked the Cinque Terre along the Riviera coastline. Italy was also where I quickly learned that there are “train transfers,” which generally allow 5 minutes or less between transferring, and the train platform number is not listed on the ticket (insert evil grin here). Needless to say, I fumbled and panicked my way through Italy. Racing up stairs with no clue as to where they would lead. Scanning around with a pathetic look on my face trying to find a word in Italian that might point me in the right direction. Just missing the train and standing outside the doors as they shut while everyone inside stood there staring at the stereotypical vision of an All-American backpacker.
Eventually, I made it to Manarola where the hiking would begin. The scattered fishing towns were pure magic to see in person. I wandered through the jagged cliffs and soaked up scenes of pastel colored buildings, ancient eroding vineyards and of course fifty shades of beautiful blue water crashing beneath me. Church bells echoed through the stone walls and sun rays drenched the dark corners bringing every inch of the seaside to life.
I finished my hike at the hour of gold and sat on top of my backpack waiting for a train and eating gelato. The writing could end here, and I would be entirely satisfied. The Cinque Terre is #LifeGoals all on its own. However there are many more tales of trails in the European archives.
Spain, where your late night bartender is also your early morning barista and the town’s handyman. SO there is no escaping. When you decide to get rowdy in the tiny pub down the street, make sure you’re ready to face your actions the next morning over coffee. Though we hardly shared a fluent conversation, laughs were shared tenfold and memories made that I cannot forget. A little personal humiliation never killed anyone, and I was still laughing about it as I hiked through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which were exceedingly beautiful.
The craggy peaks have the most unique variety of colors woven through them, like someone took hunks of orange and blue and airbrushed them throughout the notches. I trekked through sand and snow, then snacked on a leftover spinach empanada at the base of a small punch bowl-like waterfall. The weather was cold but held out for most of the day until it sent me towards home around 3pm, where I was given complimentary tapas for ordering a beer in Granada. Spain was filled with long bus rides, monuments, sangria and palaces like the Alhambra that are sure to flick a soul switch inside you.
After a short week, I made my way towards Morocco, country that would provide many pivotal moments worthy of journaling. This is the part of my story where the “Beast From The East” made its debut, proving its ability to cause serious detours in my weeks ahead. Europe was peppered in chaos as it snowed in the Sahara Desert for the first time in 37 years. It snowed at the Roman Colosseum, and Barcelona got a foot of snow. And when it was time to cross the Strait Of Gibraltar into Morocco, you better believe the ferry was delayed and delayed again. Waiting out the storm for two days in Tarifa, Spain (with our friendly bartender), I made it across the narrow strait connecting the Atlantic and Mediterranean sea despite the storms.
Did I mention the 20 meter waves? Oh yes, there was that. I’ll save you the Google conversion, it’s 65 feet. I came to learn this was a proper introduction to Morocco as I would spend the next three weeks of my life in a state of culture shock and fear.I’ll be honest “solo hiking” was not abundant because for the first time in my life, I was afraid to wander off too far alone. I hiked through three of the countries National Parks. The trails were mountainous and always provided the most stunning panoramas. When I was in Talassemtane you could gaze over all of Chefchaouen – The Blue Pearl.
The striking blue village high in the northern mountains. Leaving the blue pearl to catch a six hour bus ride to Fes is when I learned you never set your bag on the floor in Morocco. You see, these busses don’t stop for anyone and if they do stop they wont tell you why they are stopping or for how long, and they don’t care if you get off or if you make it back on. By the end of the journey there were plastic bags scattered across the floor of the bus that people had relieved themselves in, and no one seemed to mind. I mean, what else are you supposed to do?
Another mind blowing, yet pleasant experience was my trek through the Ouzoud Falls. This was a guided hike, and I listened for miles as he educated us on the land, the people and, the history of Morocco. The falls provided such a unique view, I was truly taken back by the beauty of this place. On our hike out, a decent sized monkey jolted from a tree onto my head in search of food. I could do nothing but laugh but, inside I was praying that he wouldn’t steal my camera. Later on I made friends and we hired a driver who I then rode shotgun beside for the next five days as we drove across the entire country.
I discovered the art of a “Desert Toilet” and each morning we would ask how long we would have to be in the car. By the third day he simply quit giving us estimations. Some days it was 10 hours, some days it was six but every day was without heat and of course was the coldest it’d been in years. Snow. In Africa. Call me naive but this was something I was not anticipating.
Morocco gifted me with wild experiences. Sitting on top of a camel I named Martha and parading into the Sahara desert to sleep in a tent made out of rugs. After a series of discoveries, Martha would become Martha May Huevos. We bartered in the markets and ate so much couscous it was actually comical. There was the 5:30 am worship wake up call every single day, which was immensely broadcasted in each city through a wired speaker system so you could conspicuously hear the moans of prayer. When it came time to say goodbye I was sad and relieved all at the same time, but a full 8 hours of sleep was beckoning. Travel days can be just as exhausting as climbing mountains.
Two busses, two planes, three espressos, and 15 hours later I arrived in Greece. I was once again greeted by my travel companion “The Beast from the East.” For 28 years, I’ve seen photos of Greece. I’ve watched films situated in Greece and am guilty of Santorini screen savers. Well, I was IN “Greece” for two and a half weeks and never once saw a single recognizable image.
“The Beast” kept me from visiting many parts of the country but I put up a hell of a fight. My European go cart for this journey, Clint, and I logged over 2,300 km in 7 days, and I managed to only get him stuck in the snow ONCE! We journeyed north and trekked through many National Parks. The first visited was Vikos Aoösand it holds the Guinness book of world record for being the deepest gorge in the world. The park had recently been bombed with 18 inches of snow and it appeared I was the first to arrive at the trailhead post-dump. Luckily a stray dog from a near village took the initiative to be my personal guide for the day. We trudged our way through the thick but favorably dry snow, passed through many historical monasteries, and then marched upward for a gander at the record setting gorge.
Rising the next morning, I grabbed my hard boiled eggs and set off to hike to the villages of Tzoumerka National Park but was hindered by Clint’s lack of four-wheel drive. So I left him in the snow and took off to roam around the area in search of a trailhead. I logged five snowy miles and loved every heavy step of it! Even the ones I spent resurrecting Clint from the snow. This area is definitely on my redemption list for my next attempt at, hopefully, a more sun filled Greek getaway.
The highlight of my Greek expedition was undoubtedly Olympus, one of the most eerie places I have ever hiked. The day started in the quaint town of Litochoron, which rests amongst the foothills of Olympus National Park. As the theme would continue, I was the only person on trail that day. My first few steps were glorious. I was filled with the sounds of rushing water and singing birds. My cheeks were pink from the brisk end of winter and my heart was pounding.
Mount Olympus, the residence of 12 ancient Greek gods. The stories and history these paths hold were present in my mind as I respectfully continued my ascent. There was a shift in the air about three hours in, and all of the sudden I came to the realization that my surroundings had become silent. I could hear a leaf fall several feet away. So quiet I could hear the water swirling in the bladder of my pack. I did several 360 degree scans only to discover my neck and shoulders were worked from my recent transformation to a human pack mule. Each step I took forward felt more and more disruptive to the peace.
My nano spikes crunched the earth beneath me and I noticed I was holding my breath to stay quiet. But why? All the solo miles, all the trails and summits, and I was afraid here. I was overwhelmed with fear. It cast over me in the form of silence. I knew there was a rushing river below but it provided no music this high on the trail. I told myself that I flew all this way, traveled this far, slept in shitty hostels, ate like a bird and wore the same stinking socks days on end FOR THIS. I told myself I was safe, but was I? I pushed on and kept hiking upward.
I arrived at a notch that provided the most beautiful sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and the valley below and in that moment decided to turn around and head back. I ran about half way down with flailing arms until I arrived at a point I self proclaimed “safe,” which was when I could once again hear the sound of water. I don’t expect readers to understand because it’s something I can’t really explain, but I had to listen to my instincts. And even still, fleeing a few miles short, I feel proud and so blessed to have been there witnessing all that is Olympus National Park.
I touched down in Croatia less than a week ago. It was pouring rain but I was smiling because this is a country that has been high on the list for me. If you’re unclear as to why, the answer is hiking.
Since my rainy arrival I have logged 40 miles of National Parks. Krka being the first and most mind blowing of them all so far. If you’re like me and love a good waterfall, you MUST visit this place. The wooden trail weaves through the park hovering over the moving water for a great portion of the way, and in some areas it is sunken under rushing turquoise current.
Falls blast out from every corner, and you can’t hear anything other than the force of gushing water all around you. The drenched green earth becomes the most vibrant shade you’ve ever seen, and the pools are so clean you feel unworthy to stand above them. Every approached corner was Christmas morning for me as I knew there would be something magnificent once I rounded it.
Croatia greeted me with a big fat wet welcome and I couldn’t wait to see more. I went on to hike through Plitvice Lakes National Park and Paklenica National Park. Which again the views were no comparison to the photos I had seen in my searches. “The Beast” had passed through Croatia too and was sure to leave its mark. Snow runoff provided submerged trails and blown out streams. There were some closures but I was fortunate enough to miss the brunt of of “The Beast” and maneuver my way through the parks.
So ten down, five to go, and nine weeks left.
I feel as if I have spent more time alone in the last eight weeks than the last two years combined. I cannot begin to describe what I have learned on my journey so far but I feel closer to the person that I should be. There have been many road blocks, and not just from “The Beast” but I continue to persevere and I look forward to overcoming the ones ahead. I am so fortunate to be here hiking through these extraordinary countries, and I hope to have many more tales of the trail to share with you all in the near future.
Love and Light,