Trekking Necessity: Knowing Your Blood Type & Why It’s Important

When we talk about trekking, it is critical to be prepared as much as possible. Bringing maps and preparing our gear all come to mind as means of preparation. But do you ever think about finding out your blood type? It came to my attention recently from a fellow blogger that this is something very important to consider. Anyone who is active in the outdoors should know there are inherent risks associated with hiking, trekking and climbing which can lead us, on rare occasions, to sustain injuries that may require blood transfusion. This is when knowing your blood type becomes critical and even more so knowing where to find blood when you have a rare blood type becomes a matter of life and death. For instance, for people who are RH negative, some countries have very limited supply of such blood type. The good news is there are organizations worldwide that work on ensuring there is a supply for those who have a rare blood type. Continue reading Trekking Necessity: Knowing Your Blood Type & Why It’s Important

Enjoying Nature: South Africa’s Table Mountain

It’s fair to say that many travel enthusiasts will have South Africa as one of the must see countries in the world.  The country has a diverse array of activities available to enjoy nature, from hiking to scuba diving to whale watching or shark diving.

Of course, in addition to the mountains and beaches, there is also Capetown which has been noted as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  While most people only get enthusiastic about the city of Capetown as the major area of attraction in said city of South Africa, my mountain-fanatic friends and I were more excited about stretching our legs to climb up the summit of Table Mountain.  The truth is hiking up Table Mountain is an easy way to spend the day with so much gratification out of the climb as you are afforded spectacular views at the top.  It is highly recommended that if you have one full day extra and you want to experience a bird’s eye view of the city, the mountains and the shoreline, well, then you better go hike up that mountain!

And we did.  Because of how excited we were about the idea, we did not waste time as the day after arriving in Capetown, without undue delay, we headed out to do the day hike up Table Mountain which stands at about 3550 feet.  Locals say that the top of the mountain is prone to cloudy skies and wind.  Checking the forecast revealed that the later we went, the better the weather.  So we took our time waking up and getting breakfast.  Conveniently, our hostel, Never@home had breakfast in their own restaurant so we didn’t have to go so far for that portion of the day.

Happily hiking up and gaining elevation quickly. Photo credit: S.G. (aka B).

We took a cab to the start of the trail at Platteklip Gorge and started hiking up a little past 11 am.  The hike up is expected to take 1.5 to 3 hours.  The trail up is only 2.5 to 3 kilometers but with 3400 feet elevation gain, it is a decent work out.  Once on top, you can walk to the summit for another 45 minutes which is more or less flat.

The weather was a little cloudy but without rain.  The trail is rocky all the way up and with rain it would have been a challenge to hike up safely.  The higher we got, the steeper we climbed but the views do get better as you get higher.  All in all, the views at the end were great rewards for the strenuous hike up.  We saw a number of people both tourists and locals who were descending, and not many ascending like us.  Cool beans.  It is always nice when the crowd flows the other direction – at least that is the preference.  I can understand why people would rather go down although I can imagine that to be much harder with the knees.  With my short height, it would be a struggle as some of the rocks or boulders are almost my height the higher we got.

At the summit, you can see 360 degree views of Capetown, the mountain range, and the shoreline.  After the summit walk, we then proceeded to go towards the direction of the cable car. Along the way one can see more spectacular views of the ocean next to the cliffs.  Further towards the cable car you then enjoy the views of Lion’s Head which is also a peak that can be hiked; however, we didn’t have any extra day for that so we just enjoyed the view of it from Table Mountain.  At the top, one can stand on a number of platforms to see the city and the ocean with the mountains in the background.  From there, you can easily take the cable car down and hop on a taxi to get you back to the city center.  Interestingly  enough, most tourists see Table Mountain by taking the cable car up even though it takes over an hour of wait to ride it.  Hiking up is a way better option because not only do you get a workout but it is also faster most often especially at peak season.

After thoroughly enjoying the summit views, we then descended via cable car and made it back to the city center to do a walking tour of the Bo Kaap section of the city.  A presumed cloudy day turned out to be gorgeous weather for us.  Can’t beat that.

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Going Off the Beaten Path: The Albanian Alps (PROKLETIJE)

Getting to the Albanian Alps (PROKLETIJE / ACCURSED MOUNTAINS)

The Albanian Alps consist of the mountain range of Prokletije.  The range covers three countries – Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania.  A popular trek in the area is called the “Peaks of the Balkans” trek which can easily take two weeks to do.  You can even find all the information you need on this trek via Peaks of the Balkans website.  I only trekked from Valbona to Thet which is part of the long distance trail. Continue reading Going Off the Beaten Path: The Albanian Alps (PROKLETIJE)

The Republic of Georgia Brings You Mountains and Unparalled Hospitality

Situated between Europe and Asia, Georgia is a truly hidden gem for nature lovers.  Georgia is bordered by four countries: Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey.  On a whirlwind of a trip, I ventured into the four areas in which one can explore the hiking trails of the Caucasus Mountains – Svaneti, Kazbegi, Tusheti and Lagodekhi.  Apart from the mountains, Georgia impresses upon any traveler the sense of hospitality that only a few places in this world still hold.   There is the feeling of being “home” in Georgia if you manage to be open to interacting with the locals.  Despite the language issues, you are well-cared for because the locals simply treat you as heaven sent as guide books tell you often.

On my first full day in Tbilisi, I was lucky to be invited to the hostel’s birthday celebration for one of its owner’s friends.  I was offered a taste of the local cuisine and experienced a wonderful merging of cultures when a fellow hostel resident played a traditional musical instrument from Iran as a way to celebrate the occasion.  In Georgia, there is not much of a line between a stranger and a friend/family.  By simply being there, you’re already part of the most intimate of all social groups – a part of the family.

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Old town Tbilisi has sulfur baths to ache sore muscles.

On another occasion, I was well taken care of at a different hostel I stayed at in that I was offered a bed, the use of shower facilities, as well as,  being able to charge my electronics and make use of their wifi.  All these were free of charge while I wait to depart for my late night flight home.  The cat, along with unlimited coffee, also came as a bonus.  My insistence to pay was refused repeatedly but my presence was highly treated with warmth.

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Feline company while waiting at Tbili Hostel in Tbilisi.

After my first full day in Tbilisi, I realized the hospitality at every place I stayed at was the norm, not the exception. So it is easy to feel pampered and spoiled in Georgia.  I also had the occasion, as part of my scouting treks/projects for my social enterprise, Peak Explorations and non-profit organization, Trails Without Borders, to meet locals who are connected with the tourism industry and they were accommodating enough to meet me at such short notice.

As to the trekking tourism potential for Georgia, having experienced the trails myself, I must say that I anticipate the trekking tourism to explode in the next few years or decades.  While most European trekking destinations have already gone far beyond being deemed as “established”, Georgia is up and coming with so much potential to take over the limelight in this arena.  It is already being discovered slowly with tourism growth rising each year and trails being established by various local and international organizations.  One such organization is the Transcaucasian Trail (TCT), which has its headquarters in Washington, D.C.  TCT aims to build a world-class long distance trail in the Caucasus mountain regions that will connect Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.  This will attract more hikers and mountain enthusiasts to all three countries as a goal.  The last phase would only require further improvements and expansion in terms of accommodations, transports and tourist services.  Tusheti, especially, will have a huge surge of change in the upcoming years given that its accessibility has yet to be improved to open its doors to an increase in tourism.

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In Ushguli (Svaneti region), which is the highest village in Europe at 2100 meters and a view of Shkhara, which is the highest peak at 5158 meters.

Mestia and Usghuli in Svaneti are already gaining attention with a new ski resort being built in the area; while Kazbegi, the most accessible mountain area of Georgia, continues to have a high demand in terms of tourism which will push it further to increase its accommodation, transports, and tourist services.

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Kazbegi peak and Gergeti Church as viewed from the town.

Lagodekhi, and its  hidden gem called, Black Rocks Lake, come as a pleasant surprise to those who arrive at the town with the same name and definitely deserve greater attention but for now only a few hardy souls partake in the 4400 meter total of climbing up and down the mountain to see this scenic lake that borders Russia.

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Black Rocks Lake with Russia just across from you.
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Black Rocks Lake in Lagodekhi National Park requires a 3 day trek.

Needless to say, I have thoroughly enjoyed my adventure in Georgia and I would even go so far as to recommend those who are adventurous enough to go alone.  Why? Because Georgia is filled with solo travelers, most of whom you will run into and end up exploring the trails with.  In that sense, it is an ideal place for solo traveling as the country is safe and locals are ready to help regardless of the language problem.  Just one thing when you meet other travelers – be prepared to answer the question, “Why Georgia?”  It’s the number one question of the trip, only because it takes a unique kind of person to decide to travel in Georgia.  Take it as a compliment.  In my own travel, I did not see any American backpackers although I met backpackers from all over the world such as Israel, Egypt, Sweden, Portugal, Malaysia, Ireland, Poland, Czech Republic, UK, among a few others.

I am forever changed because of Georgia. Its simplicity, the sweeping views along the trails of the Caucasus and the generosity of the people will haunt me for eternity, so much so, that I would even consider living here in the future.  The Georgians are maddeningly warm and hospitable which will only add more to its rise as a worthwhile future trekking destination in Europe.  In contrast, in most touristy trekking regions in Europe, hospitality has been compromised in many ways and therefore leaves you wanting for more connection to the place and its locals.  In Georgia, experiencing the people will leave you with a sense of openness to the world that is simply contagious. This then leads me with just one last thing to say – Go now before the rest of the world discovers it or risk losing out on the magical experiences from its current level of authenticity and rawness.

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