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?  

Sunday, 6 March 2016

The tentative plan – and how it all changed

It has not passed me by that we have already entered March and I have yet to tick off volcano number 2, let alone have any constructive plans in place. I have no excuses for my woeful expedition planning. But shame on me all the same.

Last year, I had a brilliant strategy. Mt Vesuvius, Italy, and Mt Teide, Tenerife, last year and then seven volcanoes this year: Stromboli and Mt Etna, Italy; Mt Eyjafjallajökull and Thrihnukagigur volcano, Iceland; Mt Ararat, Turkey; Jebel Sirwa; Morocco; and Nevis Peak, St Kitts and Nevis, Caribbean.

And then it all went a bit Pete Tong. After a successful – albeit slightly fraudulent summit of Mt VesuviusMt Teide didn’t happen. The plan now, hopefully, is to achieve Mt Teide later this year (hopefully being the operative word) but this is still to be confirmed.

Despite this slight setback last year, I was looking forward to this year. I booked a tour to Italy in April for Stromboli and Mt Etna, with the bonus of two extra volcanoes. But as luck would have it, I was the only person booked on the trip. As a result this has now been cancelled so I rebooked to do the tour in September instead. Then it was brought to my attention that it clashed with the boyfriend’s birthday – how I achieved that I have no idea, but an epic girlfriend fail. Thankfully there was a slot a couple of weeks earlier so the trip has been rebooked (third time lucky) and I’m breathing a sigh of relief and keeping my fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, the Iceland volcanoes are tentatively planned, but not yet booked, for late July. But Iceland is a notoriously expensive destination and they take their adventure tourism seriously (like New Zealand) – a guided climb of Mt Eyjafjallajökull (guided because of the glacier and crevasses) will set me back £174. So there is a lot of umming and ahhing (and cursive glances at my bank account) over this.   

I’ve also decided to bin Mt Ararat for now. Its 5,137 metre height has freaked me out a bit and I don’t think I’m quite ready for that challenge just yet. And Jebel Sirwa isn’t really doing it for me now.

Instead I’m leaning towards the rolling volcanoes and green valleys of the Auvergne volcano region in France, where there just happens to be the delightful GR400 walking route. I like the idea of walking through quaint French villages, feasting on cheese and lentils. This idea only popped into my head a couple of weeks ago but I’m keeping an eye out for the guidebook, which is rather inconveniently in French, and of course I don’t speak French.

So in all, I’ve only booked one volcano this year – including a week lounging on a white-sand beach in the Caribbean in June (by myself but hopefully the cocktails will keep me company). Fortunately St Kitts and Nevis is not yet affected by the Zika virus. Let’s hope it stays that way. 

Three months into 2016 and it’s not exactly how I imagined this year to start off but, hey, there’s still 10 months to go.