Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Around and back

It`s been a while and I`m now in France! The keyboards here are quite different from in the USA, so I appologize in advance for mistakes and just shorter posts in general.

My month in the UK was great! I had a lot more flexibility in my travels since distances are smaller than South Africa and there are lots of buses and trains everywhere. I also managed to hitchhike a few times.

After Bristol I spent a night in Bath with my friend, Louis, and his family. There are canals all around the UK with footpaths along them. On a whim I decided to take one from outside Bath heading east. I spent an evening walking, followed by a night under my tarp next to a corn field. The next morning I walked to the town of Deviez where a road runs straight south towards stonehenge. I didnt find a great spot to hitchhike, but got lucky and had a ride within a few minutes of putting out the thumb.

Fortunately or not, Stonehenge is right on an intersection of major roads. This made it easy to get to, but it kind of takes away from the magic of the place when the weekend trafic to cornwall is creeping by. Stonehenge itself is impressive and set in a beautiful countryside. Unfortunately, in addition to the major road trafic, theres also bus loads of tourists. It was worth going though.

Since I got to stonehenge so early I decided to try my luck and head north past devizes to the small town of ashbury. Here there is another series of circles of stones and mounds. The town is actually built inside the circle and you can walk around freely and touch the stones (unlike stonehenge). The stones themselves arent as large or well preserved, but its almost cooler than stonehenge (and more or less empty). If you happen to be heading to stonehenge you should definitely go here as well.

While making my sign at stonehenge some Australians asked me where I was heading. They decided they could take me and so the 4 of us crammed into their little car, luggage on the laps, and drove up to ashbury. They had never heard of ashbury (which is true for most people, even in the UK) and so we spent sometime walking around the stones. Originally this was where I was going to stop and spent the night. It turned out the aussies were heading to Cardiff that night (just west of bristol) and so I continued riding with them all the way to Louis`s place. These were just the first of several friendly aussies I met while travelling around the UK.

Back in Bristol I decided I needed to bus straight north. Louis was getting off work in a couple weeks time and wanted to go to France at that time. So rather than slowly work my way north I just bused all the way to Carlisle with a brief stop in Manchester. Along the way I stayed with the cousin of a friend of Louis in Manchester (not as bizzare as it sounds, I had met everyone invovled in the connection before in London) and then with a nice young family in Carlisle who I found through couchsurfing.

The north of the UK is known as being the industrial center and not known for being especially nice (especially not the weather), but I found Manchester to be quite nice. Its an interesting mix of old and modern buildings with a fairly lively and cosmopolitan feel to it. There were some pretty nice museums as well. I quite enjoyed the industrial museum with their collection of old steam locomotives. Carlisle was also really nice and was home to a mideval castle.

My main reason for shooting up to Carlisle was to see Hadrians Wall. I learned while at stonehenge that there is a path that follow the entire lenght of where the wall used to be. Carlisle falls somewhere near the western end of the wall. From here I set out east towards Newcastle along the Hardians Wall Path. For the entire first afternoon and part of the next morning there isnt actually any wall to see. Instead you get picturesque pasture land and english countryside, complete with cows and lots and lots of sheep. And their poop everywhere ofcourse. The path actually goes through the pastures and fields. England has odd property laws, the queen actually owns all the land and people are just leasing it for a thousand years or something like that. Whatever it is, everywhere you go in the UK you will find public right of ways crossing through fields and sometimes along backyards.

The second and third days of walk were very nice. The wall follows a fault line and there are these large crags that it is perched on. A lot of the wall is still here on these stretches and there are also some archelogical sites at some of the forts along the way. From the tops of the crags you can look out on miles and miles of pastures and tiny villages and see the wall stretching off in the distance. I would definitely recommend walking at least a small portion of the wall (lots of people take buses or drive and take little day hikes).

At night I would find a place to put up my tarp and then curl up in my sleeping bag as the temperature dropped. I slept in a variety of places, in little groves and right next to sections of the wall. I had mostly great weather, some rainy stetches, but I managed to stay mostly dry. My meals consisted of penut butter and honey sandwhiches and granola. Autumn was farther along in the north. The tree were just starting to change and the nights were becoming quite cold.

About 20 miles from Newcastle I came to the A68 which runs north to Edinburgh. I hitched, once again very successfully, and was in Edinburgh shortly after 1pm. My description of my time in scotland is going to be as brief as my time there was. Edinburgh is a beautiful old city, spent a night, hiked a little peak nearby early the next morning, and then was on a bus to Glencoe that afternoon. I wanted to get up further into Scotland and spent a couple days before heading south and Glencoe was a name someone mentioned while I was hiking Hadrians Wall.

Scotland is very different physically from the rest of england. Glencoe was in a beautiful area, right on a loch and squeezed between large, steep, rocky peaks. The ground in Scotland is like a sponge, everywhere is wet and it rains a lot. I got the last bed in the local hostel and then spent the next two days hiking and biking around the area. I had a nice mix of classic rainy scotland and beautiful, clear, sunny weather. Somehow I always managed to get pretty wet though. I was very grateful to not have to worry about setting up a tarp during that time.

After two short days in Scotland it was straight south overnight, a nice day in London, and then an overnight ferry to France! Im in Paris now staying with another friend, Mathieu. Ill save France for another post.

Everywhere I went in the UK I learned about 5 other things that I would like to go see. I saw a lot, but I would love to go back. Especially Scotland, I just barely scratched the surface there. I also never made it to Cornwall! Anyways, cant see it all, Ill just have to return.

Monday, September 6, 2010

UK Brief

I've been in the UK for over a week now and enjoying it thoroughly. I spent a few days exploring London and then met up with a friend I met in the Caribbean. Appropriately we went to the Notting Hill Carnival - a big Caribbean festival held in London, one of the biggest street festivals in the world. Then we traveled back to Bristol where he lives. I've spent about a week in Bristol now. Its a beautiful city placed along an estuary. It's very hilly, with lots of old buildings, colorful rows of town houses, and parks. The place isn't a big tourist attraction, but is very nice and is home to a big hot air balloon festival and a kite festival (that happened just the other day). The city is also actively trying to reduce its carbon footprint by building bike paths, encouraging eco-friendly building, and various other initiatives. It's been fun hanging out here. This week I might get down to Cornwall if the weather holds up, then i'll be making my way north towards Scotland.

Check out some more new photos:
Outeniqua Forest Adventure - Days 3 & 4 - Windmeulnek Hut

Outeniqua Forest Adventure - Day 5 - Journey Out

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Out of Africa

I've had several people ask me what I'd tell people about South Africa after my time there, would I recommend them going there, what stood out the most, etc. It's not a straight forward answer and it's hard to put into words.

South Africa, and Africa in general, wasn't a place I'd been dying to go to. In fact I hadn't really thought about going there anytime soon. Sure someday I wanted to, but what most people go to Africa for, seeing lions and elephants, wasn't high on my list of things to do. It was really the World Cup that got me down there. When I would tell people I was going to South Africa most would ask if it was to go on a safari. I'd tell them it was for the World Cup, to which many would respond, 'oh right, what sport is that for again?' Even going in to the trip I had no clue what I'd do after the World Cup. I figured I'd see a lot of the country while travelling with my friends and then decide where to go based on that. And more or less thats what I did.

First off, my time in South Africa was amazing. It's a beautiful and diverse country. Each part of the land has something different to offer. But it is a long way and an expensive plane ticket from the States. If you want to see impressive mountains you won't find anything rivalling the Rockies in South Africa. Warm sandy beaches with fewer sharks can be found much closer along the Gulf or in the Caribbean. If you want to tour some wine lands there's always Napa valley, and even France is cheaper to fly to. But South Africa is more than just a place to see and some things to do.

There's an incredible diversity as you travel across the country, and each place has a different vibe that eludes description. It can be felt in the earth, heard in the trees, and seen in the wildlife. My travels have been defined more by the people I've met than by the places I've seen and the things I've done. And the people I met in South Africa we're amazing, hospitable, friendly, and open. To give you a sense, I basically didn't pay for lodging since travelling with 3 other friends in June. Sure a month of that was on a farm, but in general people were very welcoming. It's interesting how you can know one person for months and just be acquaintances and spend less than a day with another person and become quite close. There were many such people that I encountered on my journey.

Should you go to South Africa? Yes, I think so. It's a country that we rarely hear about, but when we do it's only the worst things (which is true of news in general). You'll find South Africa is different, it's beautiful, it's diverse, sure there are problems, but the people are wonderful, and there's lots to do and see! I couldn't tell you where to go or what to do though. There's so much in the country so that everyone's experience will be different. Unless you have 3 months to wander around you really need to pick and chose where you'll go and what you'll do.

So would I return? I definitely think so. I'd do it differently though. South Africa is a big country and, like America, it's best enjoyed with the freedom of a car. I did alright busing around from region to region, but then mostly relied on my feet or my hosts to get places locally. I would also make sure to take an extended trip into the bush. I had a little self-guided day safari with friends and saw lots of animals, but never really got the complete experience of living in the bush. I would go a different time of year, our summer months are their winter months. Winter is fairly mild there, but can still be quite cold and, depending on where you are, wet. The plus side to going in their winter is that it's definitely less crowded.

I wouldn't say I fell in love with Africa, but it's perked my interest a lot. It's a massive continent and I've just seen the southern tip. I now have a lingering curiosity to see more. This trip is a first in terms of my wanderings, and I'm learning a lot as I go.

Added lots more picture:

Farm 119
Outeniqua Forest Adventure - Day 1
Outeniqua Forest Adventure - Day 2