Author Archives: Carolyn

Rocha do Chambre

Never prejudge a hike. Wednesday’s hike was full of surprises. We thought we would be traipsing across open areas, then climb up to a cliff face. Ha. After a bit of easy, level walking midst strange foliage, we were plunged again into a green, wet, surreal “underworld.”

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Although the weather was mostly good, it had rained the night before, so everything was dripping wet and there were many puddles on the trail. Mosses and lichens were everywhere.  One stretch was essentially a lava road. The rocks were small, so going was almost as easy as a gravel road.

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Then we came to an area where the next trail sign was in the middle of a significant flooded area that reminded me of a Louisiana bayou.

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I thought we were doomed, but my experienced navigator found a way around and so we continued. We passed several water falls, each time praying we would not be forced to turn back.

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Our second major obstacle was another flooded area. The only safe thing to do was to take off our boots and socks, then wade through.  Fortunately, the water was not super cold, and the bottom was relatively smooth, so this was a minor inconvenience.

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Finally, we got high enough to have some views. I had not realized we would be walking the rim of a caldera. As I looked down at the level green vegetation below, I was no longer fooled. I now knew there was another world beneath that innocent surface.

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In one place along the rim, the trail was so steep that metal grating had been installed on the ground as tall steps, and there were heavy ropes for pulling oneself from step to step. Even Roger had to use them.

These steps brought us to a plateau from which we could see to the ocean, and we could see that we weren’t to the top yet, so another hill to climb.

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After more walking through deep woods

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and some dark steps,

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we suddenly found ourselves at the edge of a totally flat field with the cliff to one side.

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The trail went between the cliff and a drainage ditch, but there were hydrangeas along the cliff edge. The views across the caldera were spectacular.  The cliff to the left is the one we had just traversed.

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From here back to the starting point, the trail was as mundane as we had thought the whole hike would be. While we were relieved to be certain we would not have to backtrack everything we had been through, we were certainly glad to have experienced the best part.

More photos:

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To round out our day, and our week of hiking Terceira, we visited an stretch of road with grooves made by ox cart wheels. There were narrow grooves made by pre-1810 wheels with nails, and wider grooves made by later wheels without the nails.

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Such grooves are the focus of the two hikes we didn’t have time for. Our experience tells us, though, that those hikes have some surprises, too.

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Categories: The Azores | 1 Comment

Baías de Agualva

NOTE: I am having difficulty posting photos, which I have always considered essential to my travel posts. Rather than not post at all, I will include as many photos as I can in the remaining posts of this trip, then try to add more later.

Monday night we learned that schools would be closed on Tuesday because of a major storm. Forty mph winds were expected, but minimal rain. The desk clerk said schools close when winds are strong enough to blow the children over. Being used to Oklahoma winds, we weren’t particularly concerned and decided to continue with our planned hike on the north coast. We encountered rain in the middle of the island, but there was blue sky as we began our hike.

The hike began with a steep descent to the coast, then a scramble back up the cliff. There were some nice views. We encountered a part where we were between a rock wall and the cliff. We were thankful for vegetation along the cliff edge and that the wind wasn’t too strong.

Then we rounded a corner and encountered gale force winds and a cliff edge with no vegetation. Fortunately, the wind was blowing inland. If it had been blowing toward the cliff, we would certainly have turned back. At one point, I was blown into the vegetation by the wall and could only hang on and wait until the gust abated. We finally found a place where we could squeeze between the wall and the barbed wire above it to reach the safety of a field. Then we climbed over another wall to get back on the trail where it turned inland away from the cliff. It was still hard going as we went steeply uphill into the wind.

Later at dinner, we learned that all trails on the island were “closed” because of the storm, but there was no signage to that effect. My description may suggest that we took serious risks, but we always knew we had options.

After the hike, we visited the throat of a volcano that erupted about 2,000 years ago. It was like being inside a large bulbous vase with an opening to the sky. The artfully lit walls gleamed with a variety of colors. The space was nothing like a limestone cave.

Then we went inside a lava tube. This was a totally different experience with rough, harsh surfaces all around—again, quite different from a limestone cave. I bumped my hard hat eight times.

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Mistérios Negros

NOTE: I am having difficulty posting photos, which I have always considered essential to my travel posts. Rather than not post at all, I will include as many photos as I can in the remaining posts of this trip, then try to add more later.

Our first stop Monday morning was at the supermarket on the outskirts on Angra. It appears to be the largest store on the island and reminiscent of Walmart in the US. Their fruit selection appeared fairly extensive, their vegetable selection not as good. We had read that fresh milk is not to be found on the island. Alas, that may be true.

Monday’s hike is billed as Terceira’s premier hike. The name fascinated me. So when we started out on an ordinary trail with a stop at an ordinary lake, I was a bit disappointed, even though the turning foliage was pretty.

However, quite without warning, the trail seemed to disappear downward. Suddenly, we were in a hidden world of green. Various kinds of moss were everywhere. We came upon a lake worth photographing, then the hike really got interesting as we scrambled across lava from an eruption in the 1760’s. Several times we would climb to the higher “ordinary” terrain, then dive back into the “underworld.” When we came up for the last time, we encountered trachyte domes, which are formed from pasty lava.

After the hike, we went back to the north coast. The waves were higher than we had seen on Friday. We then visited the island’s version of Yellowstone—a fumarole spewing sulfur-smelling steam. It was not very dramatic.

Dinner was dramatic, though. A flat lava stone is heated in a wood fire to nearly 1000°F, then placed on a slab of wood that somehow had been treated to resist the heat. This is brought to the table with a thick steak on it. Each person cuts a piece of steak and cooks it to taste by rolling it on the stone.

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The Soretto Hike

NOTE: I am having difficulty posting photos, which I have always considered essential to my travel posts. Rather than not post at all, I will include as many photos as I can in the remaining posts of this trip, then try to add more later.

Sunday’s drive to the trailhead included a detour to the island’s high point. The peak was in clouds (we will try again), but the drive had nice scenery, especially with the ocean on the horizon. The road to the top still had its original hand-laid stone surface.

In the distance we could see a village and fields carved from the native cedar forest.

November is not the best time for flowers, but there were immense hedges of hydrangea with a few were still in bloom.

The day’s hike was near the village of Soretto. It was an unrelenting climb, but for the most part, the trail was good. Most of it was through a variety of forests. The native cedar which reminded me of Sequoias.

There were more hydrangeas and other attractive foliage.

There was a detour off the main trail to a small lake. We soon learned that this trail had suffered badly from bad rains. After some serious struggle, we came to a spot I could not negotiate. Roger was able to get up, but I needed his help, and we couldn’t move the vegetation at the same time he was helping me. At this point, we were only a third of the way up, so I waited while he went. He said the trail got significantly worse. Coming down was easier than I expected. Back on the main trail, there was better maintenance.

One area had a deep ditch to one side. For part of the way, there was a ravine on one side, pasture on the other, and ocean ahead. No photo could capture that.

However, I did capture a nice sunset from the room.

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The Forts of Saõ Sebastãio

There are seven authorized hikes on the island of Terceira. If Friday’s hike is representative, this is going to be a good week.

When we started driving this morning, the cloud cover was low, so we decided to explore the low southeast coast. The first time we stopped for a view, we realized we were at a trailhead, so, what the heck, off we went. We took our coats, but left the pants—an oversight that would bite us later.

Wherever possible, the trail hugged the coast, which could be dramatic because of the island’s volcanic origin.

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When we weren’t hugging the coast, we traipsed through green fields,

Slogged up and down steep banks, mostly without these stairs,

Went through neat gates,

and clambered over stone walls. Here, we learned the value of sticking to the authorized routes. It would not be easy getting over without some accommodation in place.

Along the way, we saw the remains of 16th century forts.

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As we headed inland to Saõ Sebastãio, the clouds opened up and the winds lashed us. We took the road back to the car instead of retracing our steps, then spent the evening trying to dry everything. Even with coats, we were drenched.

Sunday morning, the sun is shining.

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Terceira, the Azores

We have spent so much of this year traveling the US in our camper van (see msnomersvan.wordpress.com) that we wondered whether we would have a foreign trip. Then one night in October, Roger saw flights from and to Boston plus seven hotel nights on the island of Terceira in the Azores for $499 each. My first instinct was to check Trip Advisor. It seemed most of the posts dating back several years were, “We found this deal. Is it too good to be true?” The answers were positive and we would be near Boston in the van at the right time, so we quickly made the reservation. I should point out that this deal is regularly offered, and not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

This trip is different from our other foreign trips, a difference I didn’t fully appreciate when I packed. The trip is short. We will sleep in the same bed every night. No trekking among hostels and huts. I should have packed more like ordinary travelers than like backpackers. We could have brought more than one change of clothes. We could have worn cotton instead of fast-drying synthetics. Oh, well, I’ll know better next time, and there will be a next time.

Terceira is one of seven volcanic islands in the Atlantic, the Azores, which are a part of Portugal. Terceira’s claim to fame is that explorers like Vasco de Gama and Columbus stopped here in their travels. Its main city, Angra de Heroísmo has about 35,000 people. The main industry is cattle for beef and dairy.

Our hotel is touted as 4-Star. I’m a bit hazy as to what that means. It is pleasant and breakfast is a buffet feast. The room has a nice view with a hint of ocean.

Our 4-hour flight left Boston at 10:40 pm and arrived on Terceira about 7:30 am yesterday morning. We got only a couple hours of fitful dozing on the plane, so the priority for our first day was to stay awake. We managed to find the post office, an ATM, ice cream, Fanta and Coke Zero. Best of all, we hiked on Mount Brazil, the Volcano at the mouth of Angra’s harbor.

We saw poinsettias growing wild, a goat, a playground to die for,

and trees bent by the wind.

Most impressive, we saw the quarry for building the 16th century fort which still stands.

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Today, with 12 hours of sleep to revive us, we took the public bus halfway around the island to Biscoitos on the north coast.

When large waves hit lava rocks, the results can be quite impressive.

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The village of Biscoitos was also attractive. I think these are petunias growing wild,

and the unmortared lava stone fences were fascinating. They appeared to be used as support for grape vines as well as dividing fields.

Some were one stone thick.

Here is the local mail “truck”

and an unusual pruned tree.

Back n Angra, we perused the attractive park.

I thought draceanas were house plants.

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The best views were from a memorial at the top of the park. My, my. A sunset, an ocean, a palm tree, a couple of churches and a volcano all in one frame.

On the way down, we found the stream diverted by the town’s founder sometime before 1474.

We wandered about town a bit noticing this American influence.

We ended the evening with the Azorean classic meal, steak and eggs. Those cloves of garlic on top are not peeled. Notice the lack of vegetables. They appear to be scarce.

Tomorrow we rent a car. We much prefer the bus, but a car is the only way we can get to trailheads. We won’t be backpacking this trip, but at least we can hike.

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Categories: The Azores | 3 Comments

Leaving for Home 28 September

Monte Rosa, bless her pea-pickin’ heart, at least had the courtesy to come out to say goodbye, complete with alpen glow, as seen from our balcony.

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By the time our bus left, she was in full blue sky. How I wished for one more hiking day!

Although in this photo the center nipple appears tallest, Monte Rosa’s high point is actually the 15,211-foot Dufour, which in on the dark blob to the left, a jagged ridge that extends across the top.

This photo taken on the hike from Trift above Zermatt shows the other side of these features.

To add a bit of perspective, the almost two-mile relief from Macugnaga to Monte Rosa’s peak is about twice that of our hike above Trift. According to Wikipedia, the 8,500-foot face behind Macugnaga is the tallest wall in the Alps.

As a testament to her height, Monte Rosa stayed with us quite a ways as the bus descended.

We also got better views of the villages clinging to the hillsides.

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Even as we approached Domodosola, the terrain was abrupt.

We had a 5-hour wait in Domodosola, which was a pleasant surprise we would never have otherwise discovered. Domodosola is a simple non-touristy city. We lounged in sidewalk cafes and gorged on gelato before returning to the agritourismo near the airport.

So this year’s foreign adventure comes to an end. We are already contemplating the next.

Categories: Italy | 1 Comment

Macugnaga, Day 2

We have no valid complaint about weather on this trip, but today’s clouds were a bummer. At least there was no rain, so we got in one last good hike.

We headed up the valley in search of Monte Rosa. We had caught a slight glimpse of her at dawn.

Along the way, we found a communal oven from several hundred years ago. Bread would cool on these slabs.

There were occasional glimpses of Monte Rosa ahead.

We came upon a waterfall with a pool that must be popular in summer.

Above the waterfall, the trail looked dicey, so Roger left me in a field of wild flowers as he scouted.

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We ended up retreating to another trail that went up a moraine through a grove of larches.

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We came to a restaurant that was closed for the season, but the begonias on the balcony were like none I had ever seen.

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A couple thousand feet up, we came to the Belvedere, which we assume is the primary viewing spot for Monte Rosa. It has a lift up to it and this outdoor escalator.

Monte Rosa began to tease us.

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Past the Belvedere, we came to the Belvedere glacier. It looked like a gravel pit to me, but Roger said there was ice very near the surface and crevasses. Roger went farther into it while I went back to the viewing spot to wait.

On the way down, we saw that the lift was running. I hopped on for the last leg.

Tomorrow we go back to the agritourismo near the Milan airport. This time we will have food with us.

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Macugnaga

Macugnaga is in a very deep valley near the northeast face of Monte Rosa–the peak of Monte Rosa is two miles above us. Plan A was to hike over the Monte Moro pass from Switzerland to Italy, then take the lift down to Macugnaga. However, the lift closed a few days ago, and without it we would have had to descend more than a mile. The weather was also questionable, so for Plan B, we took the train though the Simplon tunnel to Domodosola, Italy, then a bus to Macugnaga.

The bus ride from Domodosola featured small cramped villages clinging to the steep hillsides. They were hard to capture, but we tried.

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Two things about the bus ride yelled, “You’re not in Switzerland any more.” First, the tickets were dirt cheap. Second, the passengers were jovial, as opposed to the quiet calm in Switzerland. A gaggle of older women with hair colors ranging from green to orange certainly enjoyed each others’ company, then the bus filled with boisterous school children.

The afternoon was cloudy, so we just wandered about the village. The architecture was an interesting mix of stone and wood construction.

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The Italian penchant for murals was evident.

This chapel dates from 1613:

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This fencing was unusual.

We had a late lunch at our accommodation because it was the only restaurant we could find open. It was not particularly good. At first, we thought that everything had closed for the season, then we remembered. Duh. This is Italy. They eat late. This evening, we had a much better meal at another restaurant.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we hope to see Monte Rosa.

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Randa and the Bridge

Today was our last full day in Switzerland and we made good use of it.

We are staying two nights in Randa, just north of Zermatt. It is essentially a farming community with the most grain storage buildings I have ever seen. They perch on stones to discourage mice.

And (Stairway is cut from one log.)

This ambiance came as a surprise, but that’s not why we are in Randa. We are here because of the world’s longest pedestrian bridge, which just opened July 29. We learned about it only a few days before we arrived in Switzerland and it immediately went on my to-do list. Roger wasn’t so sure, but it turned out to be a great day for him, too.

The bridge was about 2,000 feet above Randa, so up we went. By now, that’s just a hike. The trail was good, and views got progressively better.

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The bridge is about 1/4 mile long and about 300 feet above the valley. Today, with little wind, it was quite stable. It was built because landslides kept destroying the trail below.

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I liked looking down on tall trees.

The cables had huge shock absorbers.

After the bridge, we trudged another 800 or so feet uphill to the Europahütte.

The weather was great for lunch on their balcony.

The view was a perfect ending for our trip. First, there was the Weisshorn, a bit less than 15,000 feet.

Next to the Weisshorn was the glacier Roger had photographed so many times from the train, except now he could see it so much better.

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To the left of the Weisshorn was the Mettelhorn with the Platthorn peeking from behind.

We could even see the glacier where we turned to go up the Platthorn.

And Roger got a good look at the landslide that in 1993 blocked the river and flooded the lower part of Randa.

We took a different route down that was very steep but also had nice views.

As we entered Randa, we spied this short-legged horse

And huge cabbages.

Tomorrow, we go to Macugnaga, Italy, the south side of Monte Rosa.

Categories: Switzerland | 3 Comments

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