Monday, February 22, 2021

HIKING THE ANDES, the HUAYHUASH TREK: Owen’s Peruvian Adventures, Part 2, Guest Post by Owen Floody at The Intrepid Tourist

Week 8: 52 Places to Go
Glacial Lakes on the Huayhuash Circuit, Peru
In 2017 our friend Owen Floody was in the midst of a series of three treks in Peru--Machu Picchu in May 2015 (Part 1 of Owen's Peruvian Adventures), Huayhuash in July 2015 (Part 2)--and Cordillera Blanca in mid-2017. Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He has always been an avid photographer and in his retirement has taken numerous trips that allow him to pursue his passion. He is a frequent contributor to The Intrepid Tourist. Here is the report of his Huayhuash trek and a few of his excellent photographs.
One of our camps.
The Huayhuash Range (Cordillera Huayhuash, pronounced “why wash”) is a compact cluster of mountains in the Peruvian Andes, approximately 225 miles from Lima.  It only extends over about 20 miles but contains more than 20 peaks, six of which exceed 6000 meters (19,685 ft) in height.  One of these is Siula Grande, the scene of the adventure described by Joe Simpson in the book and movie “Touching the Void.”
Our pack animals awaiting their day’s assignments.
My trek encircled much of the range, covering roughly 85 miles in 12 days.  As the area is very remote and sparsely populated (e.g., we never did pass through a village), we camped throughout, though the excellent support provided by our tour operator, Peruvian Andes Adventures (PAA), freed us of many of the normal rigors of camping: We were able to hike with just day packs, avoid the hassle of setting up or breaking down camps, and enjoy great meals all due to the efforts of the PAA staff and animals.
On the Huayhuash Track
Though the distance we covered may suggest a rigorous trek, the real challenge was in the altitude.  Most of our time was spent above 13,000 feet and most days saw us crossing at least one pass exceeding 15,000 feet, the highest of these at 16,400 feet.  One can prepare for some aspects of such a trek with an appropriately challenging exercise program, ideally including a healthy dose of actual hiking wherever you can find significant ascents and descents.  But how can most of us prepare for altitudes such as encountered here? 
Day hike from Huaraz
What I did was to arrive in Huaraz (the trek’s starting point and PAA’s base) four days early and then take full advantage of the many half-day and day hikes offered by PAA.  These covered beautiful ground and were graded in difficulty, making it possible to put together a package of pre-trek acclimatization hikes that were manageable and enjoyable, and that very much helped me to prepare for what was to come.
Soaring snow-covered peaks of the Andes and wetlands
The scenery encountered on this trek was spectacular, the most impressive of any of the seven major treks that I’ve done. Many of the types of scenes that we enjoyed are the ones that you would predict, i.e., soaring snow-covered peaks, high mountain passes, pristine valleys and meadows, wetlands.  But the Huayhuash is especially well known for its beautiful glacial lakes.  Some of these treated us to the sights and sounds of repeated avalanches. And many, if not all, presented an array of contrasting and beautiful colors. 
Altogether, then, this trek around the Huayhuash circuit provided an outstanding visual feast.  But this did come at the cost of considerable effort.  Why go to the trouble of trekking, especially when so many outstanding scenes can be seen from roads?  One answer is that the Huayhuash and like destinations are so remote as to be accessible in few ways other than by foot. 
All text and photographs copyright by Caroline Arnold at the Intrepid Tourist

Monday, February 15, 2021

TO EVEREST (ALMOST) AND BACK: Guest Post by Caroline Hatton at The Intrepid Tourist

Week 7: 52 Places to Go

Mount Everest (in the middle) beyond the Hotel Everest View (in the trees)

My friend and fellow children’s book author Caroline Hatton, one of the most adventurist travelers I know, went trekking in the Everest region of the Nepal Himalaya in November 2018. Here is her report of the trip. She took all but one of the photos in this post. For info about her books, visit

I didn’t know that rooms are not heated, even in freezing November temperatures. When I had read about “tea house” lodging, I had pictured rooms above hot kitchens and warm dining rooms. But even the kitchen staff often wore insulated jackets and fleece hats. And dining room stoves were lit for only a couple of hours at dinner time, with people huddled around like Emperor penguins in an Antarctic blizzard. My sleeping bag, rated for 0 oF (~ -17 oC), saved my life.

Why go in November? Because it’s the second most popular month, after October, for Himalaya treks. As the days pass, it’s less likely to rain, but the clear weather grows colder. It was a good trade-off to avoid peak crowds.
The trail crosses the river between Phakding and Namche Bazaar
My sightseeing itinerary along the only trail toward Mount Everest, through the homeland of the Sherpas, was standard. I flew from Kathmandu to Lukla, hiked to Phakding and Namche Bazaar, back to Lukla, and flew back to Kathmandu. Namche is ~13 miles (~21 km) from Lukla, or less than a third of the way to Everest Base Camp. Yet I saw Everest from one point near the trail between Phakding and Namche, and the following morning from above Namche.
First glimpse of Everest (with top in cloud) between Phakding and Namche Bazaar
I slept no higher than 11,300 ft (~ 3444 m) in Namche, a familiar altitude after decades of California Sierra Nevada backpacking. No altitude sickness, no rock climbing, but also no wilderness or isolation on the ancient trade route between villages. This classic “Everest Panorama Trek takes at least five days round-trip from Kathmandu.

Hikers need at least 11 days round-trip to reach Everest Base Camp (17,552 ft ~ 5,350 m), or longer for the Three-Passes Trek past turquoise-colored Gokyo Lake.
Arriving in Namche Bazaar. Photo courtesy of guide Sangam Shresta
In contrast to the nightly cold, my first “hot shower” was heaven, but the instant I turned the water off, I was plunged back in ambient room air, barely above freezing. Even though I dried myself and got dressed as fast as possible, my feet turned purple before I could get socks on. No more showers for me! Why bother anyway, since I had only one shirt and one pair of pants for six days? Thank goodness for wet wipes, perfect for keeping important parts sufficiently clean.

On several occasions when I was outside, teeth-chattering temperatures became forever associated with favorite sights: peak tips ablaze at sunrise, clouds on fire at sunset, or racing fog tearing open to reveal a snowy height in blinding sun. Then it seemed worth freezing to the bone in exchange for the hope of getting a good photo. My camera’s Vibration Reduction Technology neutralized my shivering.
Mount Ama Dablam (22,349 ft ~ 6812 m) from the Sherpa village of Khumjung (12,402 ft ~3780 m)
The notion of hiking toward Everest, which had existed solely in my imagination as a reader, became reality. A thrill that had involved mostly brain cells became physical, from head to toes, skin to muscles to heart and lungs and guts, with the universe pressing against me with sun glare, gravity, and cold, shaping my experience, reshaping me.
Buddhist mani stones (inscribed with mantras) in a Khumjung street
On my favorite day, I hiked a loop from Namche to the village of Khumjung. I saw Everest for the second time, when I stood by the statue of Tenzing Norgay, who summited it with Edmund Hillary in 1953. The trail soon led straight up a steep slope. Loaded yaks marched straight down without hesitating or slipping. At the Hotel Everest View, I sipped the obligatory tea on the terrace, taking in the clear sight of the top of the world. Onward through fir forest, with the snow capped panorama scrolling around me, I thought nothing could ever make me feel as exalted. Then I saw Khumjung, with its big gray stone houses and green roofs and stone-walled fields in between, spread in the warm sun.
Wild Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus) or “lion goat”
On the way back to Namche, wild Himalayan tahrs (Hemitragus jemlahicus), nicknamed “lion goats” because of their mane, were resting on grassy slopes. That day, on that side trip, I didn’t see too many other visitors.

In contrast, on the main trail toward and from Everest, traffic was lively with international athletes competing in the six-day Everest Trail Race from Everest Base Camp down to Lukla (not to be confused with runners in the Everest Marathon in May, also down from Everest Base Camp, but only to Namche Bazaar), climbers, photographers, plain old trekkers, yak or mule caravans lugging their stuff, or bringing food and fuel up the mountains, and assorted humans needing to find or lose themselves in the epic landscape.
Yak, race competitor, and porter on trail through Jorsale
Trail noises were a mix of trekking pole taps on stone, gravel, or dirt, international chatter among walkers, the pastoral melody of yak and mule bells, the whistles and shouts of their handlers, bouncy popular Nepali songs squirting out of cell phones strapped to young porters speeding along with heavy loads, and helicopters pounding up and down the valley with sightseers, supplies, and perhaps the occasional evacuee. As a writer, I also noted smells: eggs cooking, stove smoke, incense, kerosene, and tourists and porters who skipped showers.

Back in Lukla, my bedroom was on the ground level, two floors below the kitchen and dining-room. The chilly temperatures must have dropped by an order of magnitude per floor. After dinner, facing this descent, one trip mate with gaze fixed and jaws set, the embodiment of unshakeable determination, said, “Down to the permafrost!” Another grumbled, “What do you call hell when it’s freezing?”
Lukla: lodge dining room with black stove
Still, compared to my Poon Hill trek below the Annapurna, the other most visited Nepal Himalaya region, I liked this Everest region trek better because I found it easier and prettier. Trails had far fewer stone steps, let alone extra-high ones, the higher altitude meant cooler days, more evergreen than deciduous trees, and yaks instead of buffaloes, though I love both animals, and the highest mountains looked closer, which was more exhilarating.

Back home in Los Angeles, the following winter I thought of the Sherpas conserving resources, and set my thermostat down to 60 oF (~15 oC) or turned the heater off. It’s as if the stirring splendor of the Himalayas lit a fire inside me, which I can turn to for warmth and inspiration.

For more info

My excellent trip organizer, Adventure Treks Nepal, provided an excellent guide, Sangam Shresta, and two fine porters for our group of four.

Detailed trail descriptions can be found in the Lonely Planet printed guide book, and the essential parameters and profile are available online:
Visit Nepal 2020, a video by the Nepal Tourism Board.

More posts at The Intrepid Tourist about Caroline Hatton's trip to Nepal: 

All text and photos copyright Caroline Arnold 

Monday, February 8, 2021

CYCLING THROUGH CUBA, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle at The Intrepid Tourist

Street in the town of Trinidad, Cuba

Week 6: 52 Places to Go

My friend and fellow children's book writer Gretchen Woelfle went on an exciting two week cycling trip in Cuba in the spring of 2015 and has graciously contributed this report. Gretchen has also done cycling trips in England, Spain, Vietnam, South India and Sri Lanka. You can find her reports on those trips by using the search function below.

Quick!  Go to Cuba now, before it changes too much! And if you want a real adventure, go cycling in Cuba with, a British group. 

Gretchen with the limestone karsts of the Vinales Valley
I thought Cuba would be flat. I was dead wrong. How could I forget that Fidel and his compadres hid out for years in the mountains? Our English guide kindly called our routes “undulating.” I went careening downhill as fast as I dared, to get as much momentum as I could for the uphill climb. It was exhilarating! The roads weren’t flat, but they were free of motorized traffic. We cycled past many horse carts, men on horseback, and a few bicyclists.
Horse carts were common
Cycling is a great way to see the country. You’re at ground level, hearing the sounds, smelling the smells, feeling the wind and the sun….. For eleven days we cycled through villages and towns, stopping for mid-morning Cuban coffee and lunches in lovely old haciendas. We browsed in village markets where the crafts were made by the very women minding the stalls. 

Waterfall and swimming hole
We went into the Escambray Mountains, a national park, and hiked down a canyon to an exquisite swimming hole, fed by a lush waterfall. We cycled down the mountains on back roads, through farming valleys, to Santa Clara and the vast memorial (and burial place) of Che Guavara. (His saintly status is guaranteed, for he died young, serving the Revolutión.) We spent a day at a beautiful Caribbean beach and a night at a horse-breeding ranch. We visited a tobacco plantation and clambered through vast cave networks that would never pass US safety regulations.

Street scene
Along the way we stayed at government-run tourist hotels outside of the towns, beautifully landscaped with inviting swimming pools. Some were brand-new, all were comfortable. Best of all, in Viñales, we stayed for three nights in casas particulars, private homes operating as B & Bs. We sat in rocking chairs on the front porch and watched neighbors nip in and out of each other’s homes, and bicycle vendors with braids of garlic draped over their handlebars. Our hostess, Lioska (who scowled when she admitted her name was Russian,) complained about the taxes she had to pay for her private enterprise, but was expanding her business from two to three bedrooms.
Dinner at Lioska's House
A few memorable moments:
Dinner in a palador, or private restaurant, with a local band, who had us singing, playing percussion, and snaking through the dining rooms in a conga line.  Even the kitchen staff joined the fun…cycling past a farmhouse where women laughed and shouted “Abuela!” (Grandmother) to me….drinking a cold Cuban Tukola after a hot ride….music everywhere: friends making music on a beach, with others dancing….two old men singing in a plaza in Trinidad…chatting with a market woman who wanted to trade my cycling shoes for a papier maché 1950s car that her father made. (I bought one instead.)….visiting one family’s small botanic garden and home, and learning from our Cuban guide, Jaime, all about their three Santaria altars with Catholic/Santaria saints…. people-watching in the Viñales town plaza: small children racing around, teenagers flirting, everyone enjoying music from a nearby club…. shouting “Hola!” to folks in the horse carts….making friends with the eight English, three Irish, and five Americans in our most congenial group.

"Everything depends on our own efforts." Fidel's words painted on walls and houses all over Cuba.
I got a splendid look at Cuban landscapes from pine forests to tropical beaches, glimpsed rural and town life on the ground, and felt the unquenchable Cuban spirit in people’s smiles and greetings.  

Our daily cycling ranged from 25-40 miles. An easy cycling speed is about 10 miles per hour, so this left plenty of time for leisurely meals and other activities. And there was always the support bus if you wanted to climb aboard. (Full disclosure: I cycled about 90% of time, opting out of a few steep climbs.)

Produce stall
Traveling to Cuba: We flew from Los Angeles to Cancun, Mexico. Flights from Cancun to Havana via Cubana Airlines were purchased from a UK travel agent. You get your $25 tourist visa for Cuba at the Cancun airport. Cubans are happy to see us, and don’t stamp US passports. 

Good book: The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba by Julia Cooke, published in 2014, is a close look at young Cubans today, by a journalist who spent the last five years living or visiting Cuba for long periods. I read it before I went, and after I returned.
More info: has tons of good information about many things Cuban.

Part II of Gretchen's Trip: Five days in Havana.
All text and photos copyright Caroline Arnold  

Monday, February 1, 2021

WALKING THE CORNWALL COAST: Part I, by Caroline Arnold at The Intrepid Tourist

Week 5: 52 Places to Go

Cornwall Coast: View of Tintagel from End of Rocky Valley

A Week of Fresh Air and Ancient History (September 1998)

The slate cliffs of the Cornwall coast stretched for miles to the north and south, while the sparkling waves of the Atlantic Ocean disappeared beyond the western horizon. As I peered over the cliff edge into the rocky cove below it was easy to imagine pirates or smugglers stowing their booty in a secluded sea cave. Long ago I had fallen in love with this rugged southwest corner of England as I watched the adventures of Poldark on television and read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Now I was here and ready to embark with a friend on my first walking holiday.

I had often thought that a walking trip sounded like the perfect combination of exercise and scenery, and Cornwall seemed like the ideal place to start. Not only is its jagged coast spectacularly beautiful, but it has a proud and ancient heritage dating from Neolithic times. From mysterious stone circles in south Cornwall to the reputed birthplace of King Arthur at Tintagel, the walk promised intriguing peeks into history as well as abundant opportunities to enjoy nature.

The Southwest Coast Path

The Southwest Coast Path is a public hiking trail that runs continuously along the coasts of Cornwall and Devon for more than 500 miles. It is well marked and we quickly learned to look for the acorn signposts to point us in the right direction. The portions of the Coast Path that we hiked, between Newquay and Tintagel and near Penzance, were selected both because they promised good views and because there were villages at suitable intervals where we could stay each night. (We booked rooms ahead of time.) We planned our trip for September with the idea that we would miss the summer tourist crowds and still have a chance for good weather. As it turned out, we never had a drop of rain, and although I had packed warm clothes, I didn’t need them. Cornwall does have the mildest climate in all of Britain and likes to think of itself as the English Riviera.

Setting Off
Promenade in Newquay

We spent our first night in Penzance, and then took a bus to Newquay, where gracious old hotels look over a wide beach popular with surfers. As we stepped off the bus we nearly collided with a whiskered gentleman carrying a bell and wearing a tricornered hat, embroidered coat, and knee breeches. At first we thought we had somehow landed in the wrong century, but discovered that he was the official Town Crier. He struck up a conversation and when we told him that we planned to walk nine miles that day, he seemed dubious that we would make it at all. I suppose that we did look like an unlikely pair—two middle-aged women weighed down with heavy packs. He didn’t know that we both had been taking long walks to get in shape. When we told him our plans to walk north, he insisted that we were making a big mistake because, in his view, all the best scenery was to the south!

To Porthcothan
Just outside of Newquay we picked up the Coast Path and began our walk northward toward Porthcothan. In general, the path was level except when it dipped down to a beach and we had to walk across sand. Some of the ascents to the headlands were steep, but we just stopped frequently to admire the view, take a photo, and catch our breath.

Much of the Coast Path hugs the top of the cliffs and was originally used by customs officers patrolling the beaches for smugglers. As we walked along, we looked down on seagulls, seals, and the occasional shipwreck. The Cornish coast is famous for its treacherous waters, and its rocky shores have claimed countless vessels. On the landward side of the path we looked inland over the green and gold patchwork of the Cornish countryside. Most of the landscape is open and grassy due to the more or less constant wind, but tucked against walls and in protected areas we also saw purple and yellow wildflowers, scarlet rose hips and ripening blackberries. People have been farming in Cornwall since the first settlers arrived from Europe about 5000 years ago. Today's farmers are encouraged to use traditional methods, so the farmsteads, with their sagging slate-roofed houses and enclosed fields, appear much as they have for hundreds of years. Ancient walls keep most animals in their cliff top pastures, but we passed a few sheep grazing perilously on the seaward side.

Ancient Traditions
Cottage window, Mousehole

Celtic people came to Cornwall about 700 B.C.E., bringing with them the knowledge of iron making and Celtic traditions and language. “Cornwall” may come from the Cornish word “Cornovii” meaning “cliff castles.” In our walk we passed numerous Iron Age cliff castles and burial mounds, although to our inexperienced eyes, they usually looked more like grass covered lumps than ancient ruins.

Cornish, a language which is more like Welsh than English, was spoken in Cornwall until 250 years ago. It remains in place names such as Truro, the county seat of Cornwall, Delabole, which boasts Europe’s largest open slate quarry, and Penzance, the town made famous by composers Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance.

Sharing the Path!

Occasionally we took alternate paths away from the cliff edge. Theoretically these were shortcuts, but were never marked as clearly as the Coast Path and usually required negotiating various stiles and crossing farmer’s fields. On one occasion we had a standoff with a herd of young steers but managed to get through with just being stared at.
We were not purists about walking every inch of the way or carrying our packs when it wasn’t necessary. After the first two days we were able to leave our packs at our hotel (or have them sent ahead by taxi) and then just used a small day pack for our raincoats (which we never needed) and our water and lunch. Even the tiniest villages had little cafes where we could stop for a cup of tea so we didn’t have to carry much food.

Cornish Pasties and Cream Teas
Exercise always guarantees a good appetite and for lunch we usually ate Cornish pasties, the hearty meat-filled pies that originated as a portable lunch for the local tin miners. Although the pasty—rhymes with “nasty”-- has become a fast-food staple in much of England, the best ones are still found in Cornwall. My hiking companion is of Cornish ancestry and told me that the thick dough enabled the pasty to be tossed down a mineshaft unharmed! The other food for which Cornwall is famous is clotted cream, a thick buttery spread that one slathers on fresh scones along with a dollop of strawberry jam.

Part II  (posted on 5/3/11) covers stops in Padstow, Port Isaac, Tintagel, and walks near Penzance.
Go to the end of Part II for information on getting to Cornwall, accommodations, and other details.

For more about traveling in Cornwall, see Gwen Dandridge's post CORNWALL, ENGLAND: Long Lost Kings, Mermaids, Pirates and Cream Teas, Guest Post by Gwen Dandridge.

All text and photos copyright Caroline Arnold.