Monday, 14 November 2016

I have a new website and blog

Hi there!

Thanks for visiting this blog. I've now set up a spangly new website and blog that you can visit here or you can cut and paste the URL

On the new website you will find my blog and an update on the progress of my #40by40 quest to climb 40 volcanoes by the age of 40. Please do sign up for the email updates on the new site and follow me on Twitter and Instagram (the links are on the home page). And if you have any questions or feedback, then please do get in touch.

Thanks for joining me on this journey.

Katrina x

Friday, 26 August 2016

Me, a compass and three burly blokes

So I can now officially read a compass and an Ordnance Survey map. (Yep, the certificate is even winging its way to me in the post as I write.)

After my minor freak out on the rain-driven and cloud-covered slopes of Mt Snowdon last year, and my stupidly ambitious desire to climb 40 volcanoes by the age of 40, I thought it best to actually get some outdoor skills.

So there I was on a Monday morning sitting inside a concrete shed on a farm with three middle-aged blokes looking at a compass. The four of us scribbled notes furiously as the instructor discussed the bezel (the bit you turn) and the romer (for measuring the distance in a grid reference).

I was the only girl. When I’d turned up these three burly blokes were already waiting – dressed in a mixture of checked shirts, camouflage/combat apparel and sweat-wicking outdoor tops. Facial hair added to the weathered, outdoor look. Their hand shakes were strong and firm, and they had manly names like Steve and Andy.

Beer bellies aside, these guys looked the real deal. I felt slightly intimidated.    

But looks can be deceiving. Sure these guys liked the outdoors – all of them had done a bush craft course, lighting fires with flint, living off the land and building shelters from trees – but in the real world they were something else entirely: a stage manager for a rock band; a London black cab taxi driver; and a former IT university lecturer. You couldn’t get more motley than that. 

And so these were my survival companions for two days. After learning the ropes of compass and map reading, I was putting my trust in them to direct me on a four hour course through the Surrey Hills near Guildford, UK.

We were given our co-ordinates, located them on the map and designated a leg each to lead. Stocked up with compass, water, tuna salad and 35 pence Tesco sweet mix, we were off.
Lunch stop with a view

By and large, I was impressed. These men could actually read a map. They were going great guns, picking up paths where I was left scratching my head. Then we took a wrong turn. Only we didn’t realise until we came to a cross roads that wasn’t supposed to be there. Fortunately, it wasn’t the end of the world, as we soon navigated our way to where we needed to be – a minor detour really.

But then it came to me. It was my turn. The pressure was immense.

I puffed out my chest and strode off at a pace, looking every bit the wannabe female version of Bear Grylls (as a friend suggested on Facebook). It was all going fine until I got lost – twice.

I mean it wasn’t proper lost. I knew where I was – sort of.

The first time, we were on the right footpath but the turn-off was confusing. A tiny path hidden by overgrown grass meant we spent 10 minutes trying to figure out where exactly we were on the map and what direction we should be going in. I say we, because the men decided their input and expert map reading skills were required. A joint effort, however, saw us head off in the right direction, me feeling a little less confident.

The second time was a result of taking a path that was not indicated on the OS map, believing it to be the one I needed to turn on to (so clearly I can’t take full responsibility on this occasion). We spent 10 minutes walking backwards and forwards scratching our heads trying to figure out where the next path was that we were supposed to take. What was annoying was the fact that the car park and finish was literally 200m east. We ended up just pushing our way through the ferns – which is when we discovered the path we should have been on. From there we found the car park (thankfully).

All in all, it was an interesting experience – particularly having to use the “toilet tent” that was about seven metres from a busy road and in the perfect line of sight of car drivers. My confidence has vastly improved now that I can read a map and compass; however there is still a lot to learn before I will feel sufficient in navigating mountain ranges.

Now the challenge is to put my new-found skills to the test. What better excuse than to get outside!

Have you had any navigation hick-ups?

The course I attended was with Trueways Survival. I attended independently and all opinions are my own.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Feeling the pain: When not to give up

Say you’re running a marathon. You love running, you’ve trained hard and you’re running for a good cause, yet about halfway through you hit a wall – not literally but figuratively. Your energy levels slump, every movement creates a shockwave of pain radiating through your body, and your heart wants to leap out of your chest. Tears prick your eyes as the evil little thoughts start to infiltrate into your head – “You can’t do this,” they say. “You’re tired,” they say. “It’s ok to give up,” they say.

It’s at this point, as the experts claim, that you need to dig deep and find the mental strength to push through the pain and negativity. In a way, it’s not so much finishing the marathon that is the achievement (although I salute everyone who has had the urge to run a marathon – you are troopers). It’s almost more the overcoming of the desire to give up. You faced the prospect of failure, gave it two thumbs up and triumphed.

My dig deep moment

A month ago I was in the Lake District, UK, halfway up a small mountain. We were marginally lost, I was feeling decidedly unfit and exhausted, and I just could not be bothered trying to find the summit of the mountain. I was that close to packing it in and retracing my steps back to the hut.

It was one of those dig deep moments. So I consumed four Haribo sweets in quick succession and chugged back some water. Then putting one foot in front of the other I forced myself up the hill.

About half an hour later, I reached the summit, celebrating with a rather embarrassing victory dance (thankfully we had the mountain to ourselves). The view was stunning – green rolling hills all around, the valleys dotted with the cool, sparkling waters the Lake District is famous for. I wouldn’t have got to experience the summit’s beauty if I had given up back down on the mountainside.

When not to give up

Since that trip I’ve been thinking about my dratted 40 volcanoes. I mean seriously, what was I thinking? Forty volcanoes by the age of 40. All that cost, all that planning. It would be so much easier to just bin the idea.

And then I had a revelation. Although I wasn’t in the middle of running a marathon or climbing a mountain, although I was neither physically tired nor in pain, I had somehow stumbled to that crossroads where I could either give up or plough on.

I was surprised by this. In my head, I thought I would face the prospect of failure as I physically strode towards the top of a volcano. That it would be physical pain and tiredness that would put an end to my quest of climbing 40 volcanoes. But here I was, at home, sitting in front of the computer with a cup of tea and a plentiful biscuit supply. I wasn’t even breaking a sweat and yet I was thinking of packing it in.     

The realisation made me feel uneasy. Somewhere buried in my subconscious I was actually considering giving up based on the thought that the whole quest was just too much hard work, that I had too much other stuff going on – but worse, I considered this a perfectly permissible reason to give up because it felt “better” than if I gave up during the physical act of climbing a volcano. How cowardly is that?

Yet scarier still was the realisation that I hadn’t even recognised, up till that point, that I was subconsciously willing to accept defeat in this way. It was like I was giving up before I’d even begun (or just begun if you count two volcanoes climbed so far). And that is just downright shocking.

And then I thought, good Lord, what else have I given up on in my life just because my brain had had a minor meltdown? There are probably university classes, job applications, first dates, holidays, new experiences, healthy eating plans, exercise regimes – hundreds of things that I’ve chickened out on without fully realising it. Things I wanted to do but fear or excuses got in the way.      

Life is hard. It’s easy to make excuses. I’ve learnt that that crossroad with the neon sign advertising defeat and encouraging you to give up can appear on the horizon at any time. You don’t have to be physically out of your comfort zone to come across it; a mere unguarded moment of doubt is enough to have it come careening around the corner.

It’s at these times that it’s most important to dig deep. Don’t give up.  

Thursday, 7 July 2016

That time the taxi driver wanted me to play matchmaker

After a two and a half hour, sweat-drenching walk in humid 31 degree C heat in Nevis (I thought the walk to the capital Charlestown would be a simple amble – I was wrong) I made the executive decision that taxis were perhaps the better, albeit more expensive, option to get around the Caribbean island.

Not only were they air conditioned, I got to talk to some interesting taxi drivers.

Take Tin Tin, for example (seriously that was his real name, and he wasn’t named after the cartoon character). A lovely 55-year-old man with a lilting Caribbean accent, soft white fuzz on his head and no wrinkles. He worked for the Nevis Government’s water department and taxied in his spare time.

It also transpired he was super keen to have an English girlfriend and ultimately move to England. He loved England and had lots of family there, you see.

Within 20 seconds of settling into the cool confines of the taxi, his eyes hooked on me in the rear-view mirror, telling me of his love for England. Yes, yes, it’s great I agreed – of course, apart from the fact the weather is so much nicer in Nevis.

Talk of weather? He was having none of it.

Instead he said: “I am a nice person. I am decent yeah. I could be a stay-at-home boyfriend. I can cook and clean – I am a good cook; I like cooking. I look after myself; work out, you know. I like things tidy. I would be a good boyfriend.” He nodded his head while looking at me intensely in the rear-view mirror, then added: “You seem like a nice girl.”

Good Lord, was this man, old enough to be my father, propositioning me? What, after five minutes of being in his taxi?

I glanced at the taxi door, considering my options of throwing myself onto the pot-holed road should he indeed get heavy. Instead, I played the ignorance card, pretending I didn’t realise he was hinting at more than small talk during a taxi ride.

“God, I wish my boyfriend was more like you,” I enthused. “He is a terrible cook. I have to do all the cooking. And all the cleaning. He doesn’t do cleaning.”

Tin Tin looked suitably crestfallen after this exchange but then, after a brief pause, he eagerly asked: “Do you have any single friends living in England?”

Not quite what I was expecting, but I started to list off my friends and their excellent attributes – talking if anything to stop him from thinking I might be his soul mate.

One friend, he particularly liked the sound of. He threw a business card over the seat to me.

Suddenly I was transformed into matchmaker, tasked with giving the business card to my friend, who is then to get in touch with Tin Tin and organise a trip to Nevis. They will hang out, he said. He will treat her well, cook her dinner, he said.

“Now don’t forget to give her my business card. You promise?” It’s a question he asked three times before I finally reach my dinner destination. It’s a question he asked three more times on the way back to the hotel. He appeared to have fallen in love.

The next day Tin Tin was waiting in reception for me. I’d mentioned the night before that I wanted to visit the botanical gardens. Bugger, I had hoped to avoid him – I didn’t want to be the one to break his heart.

I reluctantly climbed into the taxi, bracing for the onslaught.

It began.

“Did you talk to your friend?” Opps, sorry, no.

“But you will talk to her? You have to promise you will give her my business card.” They have to organise for her to visit Nevis, he said. He can guarantee her a good time.

But she may not be able to visit, I said. He disregarded the comment with a flick of his hand. They will talk on the phone instead, several times a week. “I have an international calling card,” he said. 
And so it went on.

Finally on returning to the hotel, he asked for a photo of my friend, the first time he wanted photographic proof of her existence. With dodgy internet access, I found one on Facebook. He perused the photo for several moments.

“Ok,” was all he said, nodding and handing the phone back to me.

His final words as I climbed out of the taxi were: “Now don’t forget to give her my business card.” He drove off, the dust from the car wheels hanging in the hot air.  

That was the last time I saw Tin Tin. The next day was Monday. I assumed he was working his nine-to-five job. I wish him all the best in his endeavours of love.

But I do feel bad; his business card is still in my handbag pocket.

Have you got a crazy taxi driver story?

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Mud, vertical climbs and volcano number two

The jungle on Nevis Peak
“That was your warm up. Now you climb.”

Those were the words of our buff 57-year-old guide as we stood in a scraggly jungle of moss-covered trees, vines and ferns, staring at a criss-cross ladder of tree roots that ascended heavenward. We’d been walking up hill for the past 20 or so minutes, going deeper into the thick lush bush that carpeted the slopes of the volcano dominating the small Caribbean island Nevis. If I wanted to get to the summit in my quest to climb 40 volcanoes by the age of 40, then the only way was up.

What attracted me to Nevis Peak was its height – just 985m, so not too difficult (at least in my head) – and the interesting descriptions on various websites claiming that a muddy scramble with ropes was needed to get to the summit. Oh and, of course, Nevis is a beautiful, sparsely populated island in the Caribbean with golden sand beaches. My boxes were ticked.

Well the internet research wasn’t wrong. For two hours we hauled ourselves up the volcano, clambering over horizontal tree trunks and boulders, shimmying up tree roots, and finding muscles to pull ourselves up mud-slick ropes when tree roots weren’t present. Around us, the sounds of nature rang out; the creaking and groaning of tree on tree as the wind whipped the branches and leaves, while the sing-song of birds cheered us on.  

The midway point

The higher we went, the more moist it became; outside the jungle, we caught glimpses of whirling mist, but under cover, moss was laden with dew drops and decomposing plant matter turned into a viscous brown sludge at my feet. It smelt of earth, and wet and rot. For a hot and dry island, this was one soggy centre.

Gailey and his pristine white t-shirt
And where there was water, there was mud. Great loads of it, in fact. I was smeared in it, my arms and legs coated, my finger nails caked. Gailey, our guide, wore a white t-shirt – I looked at him enviously; it was still pristine. 

Finally, after a particularly tortuous push through a gorge of mud, we walked out of the jungle into the light. Here we were at the summit – a small grassy clearing surrounded by bramble-like brush and ferns.

View from the summit

Bizarrely the patch was dry – I sat down thankfully and surveyed my surroundings. We were cocooned in cloud; there was no view, which was common for the summit of Nevis Peak. Somewhere out there, supposedly, were golden beaches, the mountainous form of St Kitts and, further in the distance, Antigua. I couldn’t even see the crater. Yet, regardless, celebrations were in order – I’d bagged volcano number two on my #40by40 quest. Inside, I danced a jig.

After a quick break – and an attempt to wipe off as much mud as possible – we were off, slipping and sliding our way down the volcano, and in search of a shower or at least the sea for a cooling dip.   

How to do it:
British Airways flies from London to St Kitts, then jump on a 45-minute ferry to Nevis. The volcano hike requires a good level of fitness (and no aversion to mud) and takes around 3-5 hours return. It is recommended that you have a guide, as some parts of the trail, particularly at the base, are hard to follow and other parts are dangerous. I used Sunrise Tours

My trip to Nevis and climb of Nevis Peak was done independently. All opinions are my own. 

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Volcano number 2 update

Lizard Point - most southerly part of the UK
It’s all rather busy at the moment. My folks from New Zealand are currently visiting the UK. After a delightful week and a half of entertaining them in London they have gone off on a road trip of England. I decided, right at the last minute (after having a mini meltdown), that I would indeed join them for a few days to enjoy the sights of Cornwall. It was bliss.

Eden Project

Now I’m back in London and I have three days before I jet off to St Kitts and Nevis – a two-island nation in the west Caribbean featuring beaches, volcanoes, rainforests, monkeys, former sugarcane plantations, and thankfully no Zika virus (yet). It is here that I will be climbing volcano number two in my #40by40 quest.

The volcano in question is Nevis Peak. This 985m stratovolcano sits in the centre of Nevis, the smaller of the two islands, with its summit often shrouded in a layer of cloud. Although less than 1,000m in height, the hike to the top is described as challenging (a guide is recommended), including a treacherous and muddy scramble. It’s this that attracted me. It sounds great!   

I was hoping to attempt Mt Liamuiga on St Kitts but I’m having trouble coinciding times and guides so it looks like I will have to give this one a miss, much to my annoyance.

Besides lounging on the beach with cocktail in hand, there are plenty of activities to keep me occupied. I certainly intend to check out the monkeys and do some exploring by foot.

I have been nervous about this trip – from travelling solo, to going to a part of the world I haven’t been to before, to having to figure out how to get from one island to the other, to hoping my questionable cardiovascular fitness won’t be a problem, and obviously worrying about the Zika outbreak and possible terrorist attacks. I’ve even had a couple of sleepless nights worrying about what might go wrong. But now the trip is just around the corner and I’m trying to tame the nerves – although I have to admit, I equally can’t wait for a bit of rest and relaxation and to cross off my second volcano.

This week away is set to be a challenge in more ways than one. Nervousness aside, bring it on!

Have you been to St Kitts and Nevis? Any travel tips? 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Why we are more awesome than we think we are

After writing my last post on being paralysed by fear, I was reminded by the boyfriend that four years ago I was s*** (his words) at camping.
A previously successful camping adventure
Yes I remember that first experience with him well – a long weekend just outside Oxford. I had camped a couple of times before – nothing too strenuous and I’d survived.

So in my head this was going to be a lovely drive in the countryside, and a couple of nights, cocooned in a cosy, little tent while the stars twinkled above us. It was still the honeymoon phase of the relationship. Camping; I couldn’t think of anything more romantic.

Until we arrived. It was October – and that was the problem.

All thoughts of romance vanished amid the growing darkness and steady drizzle. The temperature quickly plummeted as I squelched through the mud, trying to erect a tent in the dark. It was about then – wet, cold, muddy and hungry – that I realised that camping in October was perhaps not the most intelligent of ideas. This was a baptism of fire.  

And the going didn’t get any better. Two sleepless nights ensued where I was forced to “sleep” with all my clothes on, trying desperately to keep warm and my nose thawed without asphyxiating myself with the sleeping bag. At least I had a mattress of sorts, not that it insulated me from the cold, bumpy ground.

But it was the mud that did it for me. Goodness there was a lot of mud. My two pairs of shoes were coated in it, the hems of my trousers a glorious dank brown colour. Granted this wasn’t the equivalent of Glastonbury or V Festival, but still, the mud was decidedly unromantic.

I grumbled and moaned. The boyfriend noted the empty paddock and how we had all that muddy-green space to ourselves. He was enjoying this; I couldn’t think of anything worse.    

You would have thought that horrific experience would have turned me against camping. Yet since that mud-filled weekend, as the boyfriend reminds me, I have slept under canvas numerous times – while trekking New Zealand’s Kepler and Routeburn Tracks, while wandering part of the South Downs Way, in a forest in Kent, and on boggy ground under Mt Snowdon. And in a way, I’ve weirdly grown to love the freedom that a tent brings (although a love affair with mud is yet to be seen). And I’m now considering my first wild camp.

The point is, it’s easy to forget how far we have come, and how much we have progressed and learnt. We race through life, fuelled with
impatience and fed with quick fixes. Then when something requires more time and effort than we want to spend or when something pushes us too far outside our comfort zone, we give up or make excuses, believing it’s outside the scope of what we think we are capable of.

That’s bollocks of course. We just don’t recognise or appreciate that, in many circumstances, we have already developed many of the skills to help push us further because of the incremental steps we have already taken.

Our awesomeness already exists, and by recognising what we have already accomplished in our lives, however small or great, we also recognise that the foundations are there already from which we can build our dreams.        

Four years ago I may not have been able to contemplate camping more than two nights in a row or surviving without a shower. Now I own a bivy bag and I’m considering a wild camp. For me, that’s only been possible because of the perspective I’ve put on my personal progress (thanks to some help from the boyfriend).

The same is true for any aspect of our lives. And when we recognise this, it’s truly liberating. That’s when anything can be possible.

What have you accomplished in your life? What awesomeness already exists from which you can build your dreams? 

Saturday, 23 April 2016

What are you scared of?

Almost a year ago I quit my editor’s job to go freelancing. That was a big decision; it was tough. But equally it was liberating. And now I can’t imagine having to step foot in an office everyday, let alone share a commuter train twice a day with stressed-out lemmings.

But this almost-year of freelancing has been interesting and more difficult than I expected it would be. If I thought quitting my job was hard, that has been nothing in comparison with grappling with the fear and self-doubt of venturing out on the hare-brained idea to climb 40 volcanoes by the age of 40. The woeful tally so far being a big fat one! (I sit here writing this with the self-pity coming off me in waves).

The fact is, in the past 10 months I’ve experienced a rollercoaster of emotions – from the jubilation of employment freedom to the finger-biting worry of where the next pay cheque will come from, and a whole mish-mash in between.

But it has been fear that has been the greatest plague. It’s been all consuming and paralysing; this little voice nattering away in my head telling me I’m not good enough, that I don’t have the skills, the experience, the kit, the money or the aptitude to climb 40 volcanoes – or, indeed, to do anything remotely exciting or adventurous.

I look at all the awesome explorers and adventurers out there – they’ve been climbing mountains since they were knee-high to a grasshopper, they are strong and brave and courageous, putting tents up blind folded with one hand tied behind their back, drinking the juice from elephant dung, and sleeping in the middle of nowhere with just the stars for company.

Then I look at myself – a failed girl guide and control freak, with an irrational phobia of getting sick and a susceptibility to the cold. I’ve never wild camped, the thought of going number twos in the bush is anathema to me, and I freaked out climbing Mt Snowdon (which actually anyone could climb). I have grandiose dreams of skipping up volcanoes but my cardiovascular fitness means I’m out of breathe by the time I reach the top of escalators in tube stations, while my upper body strength is confined by my “superhuman” ability to do no more than 10 push ups on my toes (and that’s on a good day). I mean, I don’t even know how to put crampons on boots! Lordy, I don’t even own crampons!

So, where do I get off thinking I can be some Lara Croft wannabe, volcano-climbing supremo? I’m just an ordinary girl (ok, almost middle-aged woman), living an ordinary life with extraordinary dreams.

But there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of people who probably feel the same. People with dreams, who watch television programmes entranced by their on-screen heroes, feeling guilty that they even entertained the idea of venturing forth and conquering. They read the books, cover to cover, spellbound by the images jumping from the pages, feeling that niggle of pain in their chest and wishing away the argumentative voices in their head. They are the ones who daydream but don’t know where to start; the ones with families and responsibilities who will always come up with an excuse.

I feel your fear. I am that person.

To all those people, you are not alone.

“Fear can be good when you're walking past an alley at night or when you need to check the locks on your doors before you go to bed, but it's not good when you have a goal and you're fearful of obstacles. We often get trapped by our fears, but anyone who has had success has failed before.” - Queen Latifah

What are you scared of?

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

5 reasons to visit London’s East End

London’s East End – it has a troubled past, known for its poverty and the infamous Jack the Ripper. But it’s also an area rich in history and a eclectic mix of cultures, resulting from the waves of immigration to the area – Huguenots, Jews, and Bangladeshis. Now in 2016 it’s an edgy, bustling metropolis fusing market stalls with hippies and creatives, curry houses with renovated former industrial sites, and Henry VIII hunting grounds with high-end consumerism. It’s an untempered blend of past and present, where every street corner leads from one world to the next with a multitude of new discoveries to tempt the intrepid traveller.    

London’s East End is vast and there are certainly more than five reasons why you should visit but, here, I give five reasons based on my recent tour through Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Brick Lane

1. A Brick Lane curry is a must
On virtually every London backpacker’s check list, a Brick Lane curry is an absolute must and is sure not to disappoint. Brick Lane, itself, is home to numerous curry houses with tantalising aromas wafting out their doors, which has built up from the strong Bangladeshi community that immigrated to London in the 1950s and 60s. Many would describe a Brick Lane curry as the best in Britain – spicy and flavoursome, with huge chunks of juicy meat, all served with rice and a tasty naan bread. Try Aladin, listed by the BBC as one of the world’s best curry houses.   

This is just a sample of what is on offer!

2. Feast on a traditional English meal
A curry might be a cornerstone of modern English cuisine but any hungry traveller to London can’t go without trying the traditional fare of fish n’ chips and mushy peas (also known as a “luminous green sludge”). It just so happens that it is believed the concept of battered fish with deep fried chips originated in London’s East End and that the first combined fish n’ chip shop was opened by a Jewish immigrant there in the 1860s. It makes sense then to try the English tradition when visiting the East End. Visit Poppies Fish & Chips for an award-winning 1950s dining experience – but note, it’s popular and the queue will often go out the door.    

3. Tap into the inner creative
As the creatives have filed into East London, giving it its distinctive edgy vibe, they have left their marks on the walls of buildings – from giant birds to alien space invaders and even a Banksy sketch. The street art and installations are colourful, creative and inspiring. Wander the streets yourself or take a guided tour to learn more about the artistic origins.

4. Say meow to the East End’s most famous cat
Lenny the pub cat is described as the guv’nor at one of the best pubs in Spitalfields, The Pride of Spitalfields, just off Brick Lane. This rotund moggie struts around the pub, pulling in the punters or serenely sits on a stool at the bar. Lenny even has his own Twitter account and some say he is the most photographed cat in the world. Come to the pub to stroke the cat but stay for a tasty ale or cider.
Lenny the pub cat
5. Pig out on a selection of culinary delights
Think the East End is just about curry? Well think again. With the enticing mix of cultures, the smorgasbord that is on offer will have your taste buds dancing. From smoky bacon sarnies and custardy bread and butter pudding to fresh bagels stuffed with thick cuts of salt beef and juicy gherkins. Or just breathe in the tantalising aromas while wandering around the heady bustle of Spitalfields market. To really taste what the East End has on offer try a food tour like Eating London’s East End food tour.    
Tasty bread and butter pudding

Been to London's East End? What are your favourite best bits? 

Many thanks to Eating London, part of Eating Europe Tours, for the press trip. All opinions are my own.  

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Would you walk the Caminito del Rey – the world’s most dangerous walk?

“Holy Moly, Batman & Robin! Just looked up Caminito del Rey and had a very buttock clenching moment. That walkway makes the Kepler [Track] look like child’s play. Txt me to let me know you are safely through. Hope at least one of you can get this on your phones. Mum xx”

Mid walk
When your mother sends a frantic email, urgently requiring you to let her know you’re safe because she happened to Google the Caminito del Rey, you know the walk you’ve embarked on is a real doozie.

North of Malaga, in the south of Spain, the Caminito del Rey is a pathway that meanders through the Desfiladero del los Gaitanes gorge – 100 metres above the rippling, milky blue Guadalhorce River. In 2001 the path was closed after five people died in the previous two years when they attempted the treacherous path that had no handrail, dodgy safety cables, rusted beams and, in some cases, no path at all, just thin air. Plaques line the path in memory of those who died.

But my mother need not fear as local officials have pumped some £2.2 million into renovating the path and ensuring health and safety requirements are met. Now there is a crisp and steady boardwalk, a gleaming handrail, safety lines with steel bolts, staff on hand en route, and all walkers must wear a helmet and hairnet (perhaps the latter is a little OTT). The walk is so safe now, you can even take your granny – and indeed several daredevil OAPs were strolling along with us, grey hair protruding from underneath their helmets and hairnets.

One could joke that the walk was now too tame but the remnants of what the path had been like were all too clear, and that, coupled with the vertiginous 100 metre drop, made for an exhilarating stroll with jaw-dropping views.

Being there in person was awesome but for those with no head for heights, experiencing it through the camera lens is just as satisfying. So here is a selection of photos for full effect.

Sexy hairnet for health and safety
All set and ready to go

The walk begins

It's quite a drop below

The gorge spreads out 

The old path across the gorge

Admiring the view

And then it got scary

Look mum no hands!

Hello over there

That's me

Holes in the old path

More holes in the old path

An example of where the old path just disappears into thin air

The sturdy but slightly wobbly bridge

Hold on tight

A rusted beam in the old path

A memorial to those who died attempting the old path

The path suspended to the side of the cliff face

The end

Do it: Visit for background information. The booking portal is currently closed while a new company is chosen to manage the walk, which is expected in April. I shall update accordingly.

Have you walked the Caminito del Rey pre-renovation? Share your scary highlights. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

What is it like to eat in Spain hippy style?

Was that incense or the sweet aroma of marijuana? Or perhaps it was a burning scent issuing from the crackling fireplace?

It was hard to tell with the sensory overload when entering the dilapidated building with its boarded up windows. The sign outside, hanging on scaffolding to stop a wall from falling over, said Vegetarian Restaurant. It certainly wasn’t your normal sort of restaurant.

We were staying in the hostel across the road, in the south of Spain, and they weren’t providing dinner that night. The options were a 15 minute walk downhill in the dark to the tiny and more steeply priced village El Chorro or walk 10 seconds across the road to this supposed restaurant. We chose the latter.

Three tables were set out for dining guests, dressed in plastic table cloths and a vase with a fake flower. On one wall, painted bright bubblegum pink, hung a huge wall hanging of an Indian women with multiple arms, which flapped slightly in the breeze from the open front door. On another wall were promotional ads for outdoor companies showing rock climbers in death-defying poses against breath-taking backdrops.

We were the only dinner customers, though a small group of people huddled around the fireplace that belched black smoke intermittently into the room. They chatted animatedly in Spanish, swigging mouthfuls of beer from one litre bottles, while Bob Marley grooved loudly from the speakers.

We took a seat at one of the tables. Our waiter, a lanky Spaniard, was a one-man band, taking on the role of both waiter and chef. He spoke very little English, which didn’t matter much as the menu consisted of a set four-course meal (all for 8 Euros). Trying to order the drinks was the hard part. It consisted of comedic hand gestures and charades until it came to the point where we just had to walk into the kitchen to view the options available.

Sipping a glass of Rioja, the first course arrived; a salad. Crisp green lettuce leaves, tomato, cucumber, mushrooms, grated carrot and a sprinkling of raisins and seeds. Next up was a bean and potato soup, which tasted far too healthy for a holiday meal, followed by a lone and scalding hot vegetarian spring roll accompanied with a thin slice of cheese. Finally we were presented with an apple each for desert, which we dutifully cut into segments as we maintained some degree of formality with the dining experience.

By this point in time, the waiter-slash-chef had made himself comfortable on the couches in front of the fire alongside the others, who had now started to smoke. Trying to get his attention for a second glass of wine proved difficult as he looked like he was settling in for the night, a cigarette dangling from his fingers. Every so often a sweet pungent aroma wafted our way – I was sure someone was taking relaxing to another level.

Not long after, we were beckoned to sit on the couch. We had a stilted attempted at a conversation somewhere between rudimentary Spanish and Pidgin English with not much luck. Being offered a smoke was the easiest part to understand. I, of course, declined.

We soon left the rather random vegetarian restaurant, not quite sure what to make of it all. But certainly it was an experience to eat a four course meal in a dilapidated building, served by a hippy, Bob Marley-loving Spaniard. Definitely one for the blog.

What random dining experiences have you had on your travels?