Awesome Video That Will Make You Want to Go Hiking In Southern Portugal

Rota Vincentina

I don’t speak any Portuguese, but this video makes it pretty clear that I want to now go and hike in Southwestern Portugal.

A tourism video for the Rota Vicentina, a long distance path that totals 350 kilomters of trails, showcases a look into all the gems that the area has to offer, and a reminder of the importance of slow travel.

A Portuguese friend sent it to me, and I didn’t even realize that I could have watched it in English from the beginning. Granted, you could watch the English version of the video to have a better understanding, but I think it loses its charm. Five minutes of this and you’ve got your hiking trip to Southwest Portugal nailed down: you will get to see beautiful coastline, you will meet locals who will most likely serve you amazing food, you will get to play with cute baby lambs, you will get to go cliff jumping and you will see surfers in a Volkswagen van.

Now you just need to go and pack your hiking gear.

New Long Distance Hiking Trail To Open In Africa

Murchison Falls on a new hiking trai in Africa
Julian Monroe Fisher

If you’ve already crossed the Appalachian Trail off your bucket list, hiked the length of New Zealand along the Te Araroa and walked through the Alps on the Haute Route, then I may have found your next big adventure: a new long-distance hiking trail set to open in Africa early next year that will give adventurous travelers an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of a famous 19th-century explorer.

The Sir Samuel and Lady Florence Baker Historical Trail will stretch for approximately 360 miles from Gondokoro – near Juba, the capital of South Sudan – to Baker’s View, which is located near the shores of Lake Albert in western Uganda. The route follows roughly the same path that Samuel Baker used on his expeditions to explore central Africa, which took place throughout the 1860s and 1870s. Baker’s wife accompanied him on those adventures, which is why the trail has been named to honor her as well. In 1864, Baker made the greatest discovery of his career when he became the first European to set eyes on the massive body of water that he would name in honor of Prince Albert, the late consort of Britain’s Queen Victoria. Baker’s View marks the location where the explorer first caught a glimpse of Lake Albert itself and those hiking the trail will get to relive that moment a century and a half later.

The new trail is the pet project of explorer and anthropologist Julian Monroe Fisher, who recently walked most of the route as part of his Great African Expedition. Fisher is working closely with the Uganda Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife & Antiquities; the Uganda Wildlife Authority; and the Ministry of Wildlife, Conservation & Tourism for South Sudan to make this project a reality. The trail has the full support of the descendants of Samuel Baker as well and Fisher credits both RailRiders Adventure Clothing and Costa Del Mar Sunglasses for helping to push this project along.In June, Fisher will return to Uganda where he will begin placing historical markers along the trail to mark important locations from the Baker expeditions. Backpackers will then be able to follow the route and actually stop at those places, possibly even making camp in the same spot that the explorer and his wife did. All of this work is preparation for the official launch of the trail in January 2014, which will come just in time to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the explorer’s discovery of the lake.

While many of the great long-distance hiking trails across the globe are designated for trekking only, one of the more interesting things about this trail is that it will allow for mixed use. That means mountain bikers can ride the route and even 4×4 vehicles will be granted access. The route is reportedly very scenic, remote and largely untouched by modern conveniences, which should be a major part of its allure.

In addition to being a great attraction for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers, the trail is expected to be an economic boon for the communities that surround it. South Sudan in particular is struggling with having enough funds to help its development process as the country emerges from years of conflict as the newest nation on Earth. The influx of tourist dollars that could come along with the trail will be especially beneficial for that country.

I’m sure news of this trail will be most welcome amongst trekkers and mountain bikers alike. It sounds like it will be a beautiful and challenging hike that should prove popular with those who are truly looking to get away from it all.

Record turnout on Spain’s Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail

For more than a thousand years, the faithful have been making an arduous journey along rugged trails in Spain’s northwestern province of Galicia to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Dedicated to the Apostle St. James, it’s one of Europe’s most popular pilgrimage destinations and the routes leading there are seeing record numbers of hikers.

Part of the boom is because this year St. James’ feast day lands on a Sunday, a holy event that hasn’t happened since 1993. Tough economic times have also led some people to look to religion for reassurance, and led the Galician government to promote the route in the hope of bringing in much-needed cash. At the beginning of the year the province paid for a big insert in many of Spain’s major dailies. It has even brought in major acts like Muse and the Pet Shop Boys to do concerts.

Hiking “El Camino” is popular with people of all faiths and none. Most people do one of the many routes in Galicia, although hardier hikers with faith in God and their legs start from as far away as France. Many pilgrim hostels offer very low cost accommodation, but with an estimated 200,000+ pilgrims this year, it’s best to finish your day’s hiking early if you want a place. If you want to go, several online guides offer tips, this one being one of the best.


Photo courtesy user Liesel via Wikimedia Commons.

The East Highland Way day three: exploring Scotland’s lochs


The best part of long-distance hikes is seeing the world get bigger.

We spend so much time in cars, planes, and trains that the miles go by in the blink of an eye. Subtle changes in topography and flora aren’t noticed, and little corners of beauty are passed by undiscovered. Walk, and you see the world as it really is.

It’s my third day on the East Highland Way and I’m deep in the Scottish countryside now. The town of Ft. William is far behind (although still only an hour’s drive) and the rare villages now have barely more than a dozen houses. For hours I don’t see a soul.

Heading out from Tulloch I enter a forest. This, like so many woods in Scotland, is managed for logging. Rows of slim fir trees alternate with cut areas where tiny saplings have been planted to make the next crop. It’s a slow process, and not once does the roar of a chainsaw or the crash of a falling tree disturb my peace. After a few miles I come to Loch Laggan, the first sizable loch I’ve come across at seven miles long. The glassy water, unrippled by a single boat, reflects the hills beyond. All is quiet. I sit down to have lunch and enjoy the view.

There the peace ends, courtesy of an army of midges. These little insects are as annoying as they are persistent. They’re like miniature mosquitoes with more intelligence. First one flies around my head. While I swat it away, another sucks blood from my neck. The signal goes out, and within a minute there’s a hundred all around me. I wipe off my arms, neck, and face and my hands become smeared with mashed midges. Time to move. The strange thing about midges is that if you’re moving they have a hard time keeping up, but woe betide the hiker who gets caught while sitting peacefully by a loch. I finish my lunch on the go.

%Gallery-100127%Continuing along the southern shore of Loch Laggan I spot the spires of a Disney-style castle poking above the greenery. I’ve come to Ardverikie House, a stately home built in 1870 that recently gained fame as the setting for the BBC series Monarch of the Glen. I don’t own a TV, so I’d never even heard of this hugely popular show until I came to this part of the country. Now I sometimes feel like I hear of nothing else. The estate has become a pilgrimage site for fans, and locals tell me that people even peer through the windows and knock on the door. I can understand why there are Private Property signs everywhere.

Sadly, this means I can’t see the wonder of Loch Laggan, the ruins of a castle on a tiny island. The wooded, rough shores block the view from everywhere except the estate. Luckily there will be no shortage of castles on this hike.

I have another problem. The lone accommodation in this area, a B&B in the village of Feagour, has recently shut down. It’s 17 miles from Tulloch to Feagour, and the next place to stay is in Laggan, another five miles. I can walk 22 miles, but somewhere between 17 and 22 miles it stops being fun. So I’ve arranged for the folks at The Rumblie B&B in Laggan to pick me up at Feagour. Lazy? Sort of, but I don’t have anything to prove to anybody.

They’re meeting me at a waterfall on the River Pattack near Feagour. I arrive early (having, ahem, walked 17 miles in an hour less than I thought I would) so I have plenty of time to admire the falls. The fast-flowing river has cut a narrow gorge through the rock. The water, brown from the peat upstream, rushes down it. I scramble up the rocks to get a better view and to my surprise discover a wooden platform and railing, plus a path down to a parking lot on the other side. This rugged view of nature has been made safe for those who want to appreciate nature without actually being in it. Nothing can spoil the beauty of the falls, however.

Right on time a car pulls up and I’m whisked off to Laggan, a booming metropolis with two shops, a school, a public telephone, and some houses. I arrive at The Rumblie to a hero’s welcome. A Spanish couple is staying there who don’t speak any English. Their poor 14 year-old daughter has been doing all the translation on their vacation, using her high school English to book hotels and rent cars from people with heavy Scottish accents. The owner of the B&B knows I live in Spain and told the family that help is on the way. As soon as I get there the kid heaves a sigh of relief, all English stops, and I become translator for the evening to give her a well-deserved break. You never know when a foreign language will come in handy!

Next to The Rumblie is the Laggan community center, and I hear there’s a céilidth on tonight. A céilidth (pronounced “Kay-Lee”) is a traditional gathering to perform folk dances and sing songs. I’m exhausted from a long hike and two beers, but I can’t pass this up. I find the céilidth in full swing. Locals of all ages are gathered around tables in a long hall with a stage at one end. Old photos and children’s drawings about farm safety adorn the walls. A slim young woman is dancing to the accompaniment of a fiddle. I grab a beer and sit down. Everyone seems to know everyone else and the common greeting is, “What are you performing tonight?”. Not “are you performing” but “what are you performing”. Singers perform a series of Gaelic songs before a man with an accordion gets everyone out on the dance floor. I know nothing about the history of dance, but I think I’ve discovered where square dancing comes from. Scottish dances involves the whole crowd dancing together, making lines and circles and moving with each other in complicated patterns.

Then comes the next surprise. A crowd of Spanish and German teenagers come in, volunteers from a local farm where they do manual labor in exchange for learning English. Ironically the Spanish press reported a couple of weeks ago that farmers in Spain can’t find Spaniards to help out in the fields, despite a good wage and an unemployment rate of 20 percent. Instead the farmers have to hire Africans on temporary work visas. Good deal for the Africans, because they need and deserve the money more, but it’s weird to see these Spanish kids working for free in the Highlands when they could be making 1,000 euros ($1,271) a month back home.

Hey, if they stayed home they wouldn’t be seeing this! Every one of them seems to have acquired a local boyfriend or girlfriend and soon they’re doing the dances like they were born here.

It’s getting late and my eyes are getting heavy. As an old woman mounts the stage I stumble to my bed next door. I fall asleep to the lilting sound of her clear, strong voice singing in Gaelic.

Don’t forget to read the rest of my series on the East Highland Way.

Coming up next: Prehistoric forts and empty wilderness!

The East Highland Way day two: hiking into the hills


Haggis is not breakfast food. Yes, Highlander is a cool movie, and haggis is Scotland’s national dish, Robert Burns even composed an Address to a Haggis, but don’t have it for breakfast. In fact, I’d suggest not having it at all.

OK, you have to try it at least once, like you have to try sheep’s head when you’re in the Middle East, just don’t expect to like it. On my first morning in the Scottish countryside I’m served a “full Scottish breakfast” of eggs, toast, bacon, baked beans, sausage, and haggis. Basically a “full English breakfast” with haggis added.

Haggis is sheep lungs, heart, and liver cooked with onion, salt, oatmeal, suet, spices, and stock. The traditional recipe calls for this witch’s brew to be simmered in a sheep’s stomach. Coming as two thick patties on my plate it looks like mealy, low-grade sausage, and somehow manages to taste both spicy and bland. I expect to be revolted, having never eaten lungs before, but instead I’m simply underwhelmed.

You don’t have to come to Scotland to try haggis now that the U.S. government has lifted its ban on haggis, but you’d be missing some amazing countryside. After the first day on the East Highland Way I’m in Spean Bridge, an old village of tidy stone cottages, friendly pubs, and a small museum about the WWII commandos who trained in the area. It’s not far from my clan homeland around Loch Fyne. In fact the local history pamphlet is written by a schoolteacher named MacLachlan, who gleaned some interesting anecdotes from elderly residents, such as the fact that kids in the 1920s looked forward to springtime because they could take their shoes off and not wear them until autumn. All the boys were keen shinty players back then. Shinty is a bit like full contact field hockey and is not well known outside Scotland. In fact, until I got here the only meaning I knew for “shinty” was that it’s the Amharic word for “piss”.

Puzzling over this linguistic curiosity, I head east towards Tulloch, eleven miles deeper into the Scottish Highlands. Within moments the village is left behind and I’m all on my own in a wooded area following a dirt road. I’m using Ordnance Survey maps, incredibly detailed maps showing not only the topography and landmarks, but also individual buildings, ancient sites, and fences. My compass rarely leaves my pack.

%Gallery-99965%Hiking a new trail has pluses and minuses. At times the route follows dirt logging roads or even paved roads. This is not ideal and hopefully proper trails will appear in these parts. A big plus, however, is that when I’m not on the few stretches of paved road I don’t see anyone for hours. That, and stunning scenery, is why I hike.

The trail follows the contours of a chain of steep hills. To the north is the River Spean and beyond it more hills. The woods open up, giving me a clear view of the rugged hills and the river gleaming dully under a cloudy sky. While I see nobody, this is not an abandoned land. Sheep graze on short grass amid fields of blooming purple heather. An occasional fence shows this is private property. Much of the countryside is open access, meaning I can legally pass through. Not all farmers are happy with this, especially when they discover their once-remote property is on the route of a new trail.

I come to a gate that’s been tied shut. A ladder has been lashed across it with heavy rope to make the point doubly clear. A farmhouse stands nearby, dilapidated but obviously inhabited judging from the trash scattered all around. I can see that the gate on the other side of the property is also tied shut. I check my map. Yes, this is the right place. I have the right to cross here but obviously the landowner doesn’t want me to.

What to do? If I assert my rights I risk getting shot by a Scottish redneck. Shot in Scotland? Yes, farmers and hunters can own guns here, and while Scots aren’t as hyperprotective of their land as Americans, I am not happy about this situation. With the river on one side and almost sheer hillsides on the other, a detour isn’t an option. After a cautious look I scramble over the fence, run across the yard, and scale the other fence. I walk down the farmer’s driveway, legs pumping, hoping he didn’t see me. I don’t feel comfortable for another mile.

Soon all is serene. I’m crossing an isolated field with a sweeping view of the Highlands. A cluster of ruined farmhouses provides a good rest stop. My first impression is that these date from the Highland Clearances. After the Scots lost the rebellion of 1745, the English evicted thousands of families and burned their homes. Many got shipped off to the colonies. It wasn’t the first time. After the failed Argyll Rebellion of 1685, some of my ancestors were sent as bonded labor to the West Indies. Slaves, in other words. But why hold a grudge? In later years Scotland was the industrial powerhouse of the British Empire, as responsible for all its glories and sins as England herself. If I held a grudge against England for past misdeeds, I’d have to accept grudges from everyone whose ancestors were ever hurt by the British Empire. Not a pleasant prospect.

There’s not much left of these old farms. The walls only come up to my waist, except for one house where the chimney and hearth stand to their original height. I sit eating my sandwich where a family once ate porridge and haggis. It’s an eerie feeling. I wonder what happened to them and feel better when I notice the stone walls have mortar in them. That means this house dates to the nineteenth century. These people left to find their fortune in the city or another country. They may have left because of poverty, but at least they weren’t forced out by soldiers.

Bidding the ghosts goodbye I tromp into some woods and up a steep slope before descending again, crossing a bridge, and entering the “village” of Tulloch. It’s actually only a train station and two houses. The bunkhouse is part of the train station. A few other hikers are staying here, using it as a base for daytrips into the hills. As we sit in the lounge drinking beer the Flying Scotsman, a luxury train, stops at the station for some reason. I and a fellow hiker hurry out onto the platform and peer through the windows at couples in formal evening wear dining under crystal chandeliers. A woman wearing diamond earrings looks out at me and smiles. I smile back and toast her with my beer can. She laughs and toasts me back with her champagne glass. Her considerably older husband is too busy with his steak to notice.

It’s a bit surreal, these two worlds of grungy hiker and bejeweled heiress meeting briefly at a lonely rural station on a Highland evening. The train chugs to life and starts to pull off. She waves at me, husband still devouring his steak and what the hell, I blow her a kiss. She laughs and blows me one back.

It’s the closest I’ll ever get to marrying a millionaire.

Coming up next: Exploring Scotland’s lochs!

Check out the rest of my journey hiking the East Highland Way.