Tag Archives: walks

A gift from The Blue Mountains

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Starting to make an appearance… the Blue Mountains

It was when I arrived home from a trip to the Blue Mountains and kicked off my hiking shoes and socks that I noticed trickles of bright red blood dripping down on to the floor. And it wouldn’t stop.

By the awesome power of a borrowed car and a TomTom sat nav, I had cruised along the Great Western Highway, away from Sydney with the radio blasting and the Blue Mountains up ahead.

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Busking at Echo Point, the Blue Mountains

At Echo Point nearby Katoomba, a thick covering of fog concealed any natural wonders. I sat down and ate a sandwich to the sound of a didgeridoo being played by an Aboriginal guy who had been traditionally painted up, ready to pose for photos with impressed tourists.

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The Three Sisters, the Blue Mountains

Within a little while The Three Sisters revealed themselves, their stony prison smaller than I expected. I joined the crowds on the viewing platforms, got some truly bad pictures taken by a stranger that I had to delete (lots of sky, lots of me, barely anything of the Three Sisters) and then did a short walk over to the Lady Marley lookout where I took in the vast mountainous landscape, wisps of mist still drifting about giving it a mystical edge.

Legs unsatisfied, back at the start and with the Information Centre behind me I took a right and headed over to the start of the Giant Stairway with over 850 narrow steps leading down from the Three Sisters mounting point and into the arboreous gulley below.

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Views out from The Three SIsters

The signposted track led me along the Federal Pass on forest pathways, squelchy and covered in leaves. A building purr of thunder rattled the sky as rain drops slapped onto damp leaves, working up to a steady downpour. I hid in a hollow tree trunk until the worst of it passed.

After two hours and a steady pace later, I arrived at the Scenic Railway. Would I cheat and take the train up for an easy wander back to Echo Point? Hell, no!

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Views from pathway of The Blue Mountains

In fact, on the way back I was on fire, getting to the bottom of the Great Stairway within 40 minutes. Super speedy (wait for the pain tomorrow). ‘Are you really going up?’ asked a Dutch guy raising his eyebrows. He had just made the descent with his friends. ‘Sure’, I said, ‘I came down so now I’ll go back up. It’ll balance things out!’ ‘If we don’t see you back by 6:00pm’, he said, ‘then we’ll send the search parties out to the steps’.

It was unnecessary. Although I took a couple of breaks and nearly puked as my heart battered my rib cage, I was back at the top within twenty minutes, legs fully worked out and shaking.

And then back along the Great Western Highway, back to the house and kicking off my shoes and my socks and spotting the mystery blood dribbling down my ankles. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted my sock moving. I lifted it to reveal a squirming, wet and well-fed leech. Eurgh! How had I managed to miss that?! Thanks very much, Blue Mountains, what a parting gift.

For free parking by Echo Point, drive past the Information Point on your right, continuing along Cliff Drive. You will see a sandy stretch on the right hand side where you can park for free.

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Walks and warnings in Vilcabamba

Tourists are drawn to Vilcabamba for the hiking and the laid back atmosphere. At Hostería Las Ruinas de Quinara I was provided with a map detailing five different routes, ranging from an easy stroll to Agua Hierro to a full day bus out and trek to the Solanda Waterfall.

Mandango Peak, a four hour looped hike up to an altitude of 2,050 metres sounded like a great option for some activity after a few city stops and long bus journeys. I arrived at the starting point on the outskirts of Vilcabamba with another traveller to a sign that read:

WARNING!

Before you climb the Mandango Mountain be advised.

The last reported violent robbery on this mountain took place in in broad daylight at midday on Thursday the 21th of July 2011 on the top of the mountain.

Five tourists were robbed by three men with machetes. They received light injuries and lost all of their valuables, including cameras, money, I-pod, cell phones, backpack and more…

The information went on to recommend that ‘you do not climb Mandango’ or, if  determined to do the trek, do it with a group of at least four people and carry absolutely no valuables (‘it is forbidden to take anything with you’).

In a place known for it’s safe, tranquil atmosphere, this was somewhat of a surprise and disappointment. We could go back, dump any valuables and try again, but it still remained that there were only two of us and the likelihood of recruiting two others was slim: there didn’t appear to be any other gringos in town. That, and the fact that the offenders were still on the loose. Great.

The next option that would work time-wise was a relaxed three to four hour walk to Cascada del Salado via the village of San Pedro, home of the notorious and intense hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus, something the locals aren’t keen to promote to travellers.

Unsigned, this route took us down through the village and out on to a dusty dirt track alongside a gentle river. The sun shone, the water sparkled, and we hit a dead end. Wrong way. Butterflies and bees flitted about and occasional gusts of wind made the heat bearable. On the other side of the river, four young men lounged in the shade, machetes placed to the side as they took a siesta. We paddled, and picnicked on empañadas and then retraced our steps to another potential route.

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The path took us away from the river and along a more established road. We were on the right track, assured a weathered rider on horseback, just another hour to the waterfall. Turning back down towards the river, we followed a stream past fields of giant cacti and into the forest, eventually reaching a house.

Buenos tardes’, said a guy who was tilling the soil as we trudged by. I’m not sure whether I imagined it, but I picked up on some warm amusement and wandered if we were in fact trespassing on private land. He didn’t object as we followed a path up and out the back of the garden, past a mini waterfall and water collection system, and onwards along a narrow, overgrown track with a steep drop down to the river below.

The flow of water was intensifying; surely the waterfall was close. But again, the path reached an end. No waterfall.

Dusk arrived bringing with it some drizzle and a sense of defeat. It wasn’t meant to be. Not this time.

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Lock up the virgin

It seemed to be a walk for lovers, a steep thirty minute ascent out of Baños past holy shrines speckled with ‘te amo’ grafitti – divine love alongside ‘I-want-you-right-now’ love – and up to the Virgin Mary statue protected by heavy metal poles and wire fencing. She is a bit elusive; difficult to see and near impossible to photograph. But the virgin is barely the point of all this, she’s more of a destination and a viewpoint marker. It’s the walk up and the views out and beyond that make it worth trudging up all those hundreds of steps.

It’s peaceful on the way up. I pass only a handful of people – a few tourists, an Ecuadorian family and some teenage lovers entwined on a sunny, grassy patch just below the virgin’s gaze. Noise from the town wafts upwards: car radio pop music, a marching band, voices singing ‘glory glory hallelujah’ – but the main sounds comes from gusts of wind rustling the dry grasses and tough shrubs.

Another teenage couple turn up as I’m sitting on the steps taking in a birdseye view of Baños and writing in my notebook. Of all the places they could choose, they decide to hang out right next to me, blasting out music, – a female warbling about ‘mi corazon’. The mountains look lush and mighty and the clouds are coming in. I’ve had my fill. Time to go back down and leave the lovers to their business of engraving the trees and grafitting the post with more ‘te amo’ messages.

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