Sverige, del två: Hiking the Bergslagsleden

Del ett: Stockholm…a cobblestone whirlwind, finding my feet in this cosy, multifaceted, vibrant, sparkling city. The middle, I’ll get into here: a foray into the forest in central(ish) Sweden. After that, we go back to the city to continue the outdoor adventuring, which is intertwined in one’s existence here. Friluftsliv.

Sverige, dag två: I meet my Calvin, Swedish interpreter and de facto tour guide, at the family flat in Stockholm, for a week of birthday adventuring in the homeland (my birthday, his homeland). My Swedish is admittedly atrocious (read: nonexistent), so I’m counting on his prowess combined with the 11 or 16 words I’ve managed to string together to get me through these next days. Luckily the trees don’t care much what language you speak, as long as you treat them with respect. And they do here; treat the forests well, I mean.

We are geared up to the brim with equipment and supplies to hike the Bergslagsleden from Kloten to as far as we can get in order to arrive back in Stockholm to celebrate my birthday on Friday.

Our first day, we arrive in Kloten to do some kayaking. It’s windy and a bit overcast, but we try our luck with the kayak place at the beginning of the trail.

The kayaks are nice…ditto, the company and the scenery. The wind, not so much. So we return the kayaks after a couple of hours and decide to begin the hike that afternoon (15:00ish), aiming to reach the first camp shelter, 11km in, by sundown. [For the record, I’m glad we decided against the kayak-camping option…]

And they’re off… It’s ambitious, our goal, but we lace up the boots, pile on the packs (on the order of 15 kilos each), and set off. Adventure points* earned for both the kayaking and the strong start!

By km 7, though, we’re tired from the drive, the kayaking, and the hike thus far. We’re hungry, and I’m feeling the jetlag. So we begin to look for a place to pitch the tent when we stumble upon a stuga along a little stream.

Åbostugan, it’s called: a semi-restored stone cabin built into the hillside (green roof and all!). The Bergslagsleden info sheet tells us that the name of the stream is Sandån, and the stuga was the type of house in which the area’s (very) poor lived…they’d harvest the reeds around the pond for food for the animal(s), and even bring the cow or goat inside in wintertime! The cabin is about 4 metres x 5, with a dirt floor, fire pit, sleeping platform, and table for eating.

We’re fully-content with our lodgings for the evening, but considering the (not-so) posh accommodations, we wonder where we’d put our cow.

We’ve logged 8km this afternoon and dinner is well-deserved and a little indulgent (and quite international): home-made knäckebröd with olives and sun dried tomatoes, reconstituted veggie masala and rice, Moroccan mint green tea and dark chocolate peanut butter cups for dessert. We toast to a pretty excellent start to our adventure, climb into warm sleeping bags, and consider ourselves lucky to be able to do this as lifestyle, not life.

The Bergslagsleden is broken down into stages. Stage 1 is 20km; Stage 2 is 17…and so on. We’re shooting to do a couple of stages, then double back to the car or figure out another way to get from Point B back to Point A, in Kloten. The Swedes are nothing if not orderly. So their maps indicate where to find clean drinking water, camp shelters, good places to pitch a tent, trail highlights, etc.

We wake up on Day 2 to that fine mist-type rain that soaks you to the core in minutes. We cook a trail brekkie fit for royalty (food dehydrator for the win!), re-pack our packs, thank the gods of Gore-Tex, pile on the layers, and begin the day. We’re shooting to finish Stage 1 and make some headway on Stage 2 today. There’s an established camp and conference center at the end of the Stage, so this should be a good place to rest for lunch and assess the rest of the journey.

By the time we reach Gillersklack, and the end of the stage, we’ve renamed the Bergslagsleden to the Bog Slog (laden). Intermittent rain has turned the lovely blue- and lingonberry-lined trail into a muddy skating rink. I deftly demonstrate how gravity works by sliding off a wooden plank (perhaps ironically placed to provide safe passage across a boggy patch) and onto the mossy forest floor. I briefly contemplate staying there for the evening but hoist my ego (and my heavy pack) upwards and onwards, for it’s the ego that’s bruised far worse than my arse. Fall #2 is my knee vs. a boulder: as they say, that one’s going to leave a mark!

We’ve hiked roughly 12km to Gillersklack in unfriendly conditions (but at least it’s stopped raining) and we’re now fantasizing about the sauna we’ll take when we arrive at the camp (this is Sweden, after all). And we do. Arrive, that is. What isn’t there is the camp. Its season has ended, quite literally; the owners have gone bust. So what greets us at the end of Stage 1 is 3 guys looking for a real estate deal.

The wind is still blowing, but at least the sun is out by this time… We resist the urge to accept a ride into town from the real estate guys, so we make a late-ish lunch at one of the defunct camp’s tables, take a much-needed siesta to dry out a bit, and after some grumbling we’re ready to roll again. Though it’s again late in the day, the goal before dusk is to find the first shelter in Stage 2.

The good news is that we’re rested and well-fed. The bad news is that my knee hurts, C’s feet are soaking wet, we’ve overshot the trail and have to ask a local for directions (he turns out to be a chatty Danish guy who runs a Spiritual Center in the nameless place we’ve wandered into by accident). Dusk is drawing near, but luckily after our long slog we find the camping shelter…just as the sun is setting.

Neither of us is in the mood to make dinner, rehydrated or otherwise. I coerce a grumbly tentmate to make a fire, hoping to fix the day’s shortcomings with s’mores, that weird and much-too-sweet American delicacy he’s never tasted. I’ve not made them since my Camp Waziyatah days, but this is one recipe you can hardly muck up. The combination of toasted marshmallows and chocolate does somehow make up for the soggy, boggy day, and smiles return to the forest. We fall asleep in the Olovsjön shelter, stora Björnen dancing over our heads. The day’s tally: 23km. I’m awarding 10 adventure points. Sleep: well-earned.

We wake up the next day with a plan: the weather has made the trails less than fun. We’ll hike to Kopparberg (8km or so), get a bus or taxi back up to Kloten, go touring in the Swedish countryside where C grew up, crash in a real bed, and hike in that area the next day.

Reality: Hatched plans don’t often take into consideration the what-ifs. Like, what if no buses run between Kopparberg and Kloten? What if the taxi company doesn’t answer the phone? What if we have to make camp that night beneath the Kopparberg Midsummer pole then hike back up to Kloten the way we came?

Kopparberg

Because of a little thing C calls trail magic, that last what-if didn’t turn into a when. For the record, the Kopparberg bus schedule is, erm, limited. And the taxi company is unreliable. But as C finally gets the taxi guy on the phone, a fairy godmother, in the form of a kind older woman, appears and volunteers (literally out of the blue) to drive us the 20km back up to Kloten. Trail magic indeed. Score: Soggy, boggy hikers – 0; Bergslagsleden – 1. Our elder savior lady gets the adventure points for the day. And the Belgian pralines C had brought me as a birthday treat. And a story to tell her grandkids.

A hot shower and clean sheets never felt so good. In fact, waking up on the right side of a real bed helped the weary wanderers manage 17km in the Swedish countryside, including a foray to forage kantareller for dinner!

Aside: Sweden has a law called Allemannsretten or freedom to roam. Essentially, anyone has a right to walk, hike, bike, ride horseback, pitch a tent overnight, and pick berries or mushrooms when and where they find them (all within the guidelines). It’s a law based on mutual respect of people, their property, and the environment. Instead of No Trespassing signs, it’s closer to, “Hello neighbour, I hope you have a nice time in the outdoors today. Would you care for a snack? Have a nice day.”

I’m liking the Swedish way of life more and more.

…to be continued, back in Stockholm!


*Adventure points: a system we devised a couple of years ago to reward our adventursome efforts in Sardinia. The concept stuck.

[Sverige, del ett: Stockholm…Part I]

Sverige, del ett: Stockholm

I’m eating Swedish pancakes and yogurt on a boat in the Stockholm Archipelago, mere steps from the exquisite Riddarholmskyrkan, the Riddarholm Church. Just a bridge and a few more blocks away is the famed Gamla stan and Stockholm’s Old Town, in which I stumbled around during my Day-1-massive-jetlag state yesterday afternoon.

My bags are laden with supplies, for I am to meet my Swedish Interpreter/Adventurer here this evening.

Supplies: enough for the week-long backpacking and kayaking expedition we’ve planned in the Swedish wilderness.

The Swedish wilderness: of this, I am a bit leery, but with the weeks I’ve had back home of late, I’m ready for this or any other adventure the days ahead may bring.

Preparedness: To get myself up to the task, I’ve been walking and hiking and yoga-ing and squatting and planking. And shopping…I’ve got new hiking boots, sleeping bag, pad and other accessories, borrowed a proper backpack. I dehydrated a week’s worth of interesting foodstuffs, made energy bars and snacks. I’ve stuffed it all into my largest rolling duffel, added clothing for being seen in public and touristing around Stockholm for a few days, plus garb for a 3-day stopover in Iceland on my return. I somehow managed to come in under the 23kg weight limit for checked baggage. [Note: it’s an understatement to say that navigating the cobbled streets here is tricky under load.]


Last night I managed to navigate from the airport to Stockholm’s Central Station, then to the Tunnelbana, Stockholm’s Metro, and on to Gamla stan, then a short walk along the water to the boat-hotel, with views of the surrounding islands. Ferries marked “Djurgården” zip back and forth. I’m to discover Djurgården for real later in the week.

Stockholm is a strategically-situated city, the center of which sits amidst 14 islands, an impressive archipelago at the intersection of Lake Mälar and the Baltic. Most of the islands are connected by bridges, making it seem like a nice city to wander around, if (literally) scattered. There are also archipelago cruises you can take, which, I’m noting, would be a lovely way to spend a summer afternoon. Wind is whipping across the way, and it’s September and I’m already layered in an early-winter jacket, so I’m also noting that swimming here might be even colder than a dip back home.

Jetlag avoidance tips: Take an overnight flight. Dricker mycket vatten (employ some of the 11 or 25 Swedish words absorbed for the trip). Remain awake and upright throughout arrival day. Walk off the late afternoon weariness. Take in the tail-end of a half-marathon. Stare in wonder at local landmarks. Eat a proper dinner. Wobble back to boat-hotel, stopping to gawk at the low-hanging crescent moon, shining golden above the twinkling lights of the boats on the water. Collapse into boat-bunk and sleep for a solid 10 hours.


Awake, rested, fed and watered, I’ve embarked on a day of wandering, biding time until I meet up with said Interpreter. It’s bilfria gator dag, car-free day, here in the city center. I have had no time to read up on things to do in Stockholm, so I’ve just wandered down to the waterfront by the Grand Hotel, where I’m currently being berated by a one-legged magpie for not sharing more of my kanelbulle with him.

This city is working its magic on me already. First, it’s spotless. There are trash barrels every 20 metres (where people consciously, if not religiously, recycle). The architecture is a fantastic display of 16th and 17th Century buildings, some even older… In this part of the city, there are churches and palaces and grandly-carved stone arches and gargoyles and rooflines everywhere you turn; the buildings a palette of warm and inviting hues that has me wanting to redecorate when I get home.

I wander into one of the Royal Palace’s exhibition halls to view the decadent royal carriages on display, wherein I learn of a certain young Swedish Count (Hans Axel von Fersen the Younger) and his seemingly torrid affair with Marie Antoinette (in the process noting my ignorance of pan-European historical scandal).

The waterfront: exquisite, as are the elaborately-spired buildings lining the water across the way


Because it’s Sunday and additionally car-free day, it’s quite nice that nobody seems to be in much of a rush to get anywhere. And so, I’m absorbing what I can as a stranger in a (somewhat) strange land.

Observations: Stockholm is a more multicultural city than I expected. Though I of course know different, somehow I still envisioned a city full of leggy blond folk, and I’m curiously surprised to observe legs of all heights and hues, attached to bodies just as varied. This morning I chatted with an Iraninan-born woman, a biomedical engineer living here now. Here, of course, the immigrant debate is alive and well, fueling (or fueled-by) an uptick in the volume of the far-right Swedish Democrats, a party perhaps more frightening than our own right wing extremists back home.

I’ve overheard chatter in a multitude of languages, and my attempts in Swedish (tack, ursäkta, snälla, en kannelbulle tack…) appreciated and replied-to en engelska. I’d been warned that Swedes like to practice their English as much as visitors want to butcher (erm, attempt) their language (Scandinavian efficiency wins). It’s refreshing, the chatter without the in-your-face loudness of a place that Needs To Be Heard (All The Time!). I realise I’m quieter when I travel; not only because I don’t know the language, but also because sometimes it’s nice to not hear even my own American English.

I take in the quiet of car-free day. And as if to punctuate the day’s non-din, the drumming from two guys in a cart, being driven around by a bike (a Swedish Tuk-Tuk, perhaps?), is a silly surprise as it clambers by.


I stroll. The day warms. And the lovely afternoon affords nearly 20kms of urban hiking by day’s end. It’s time now for this not-as-weary traveller to meet her co-adventurer and continue the journey into the Swedish wilderness.

Explorers ho! (as they say)

The adventures continue: Sverige, del två: Hiking the Bergslagsleden

Ett språkproblem

When I visit a new place, I like to know a few words or phrases: hello, thank you, please, how are you, where is…(the train, loo, exit), excuse me, help!

I’m lucky that my first language is English. I’m also unlucky. Because here, in this insular island-esque not-island, attached top and bottom to countries that speak languages other than ours, we’ve decidedly decided that we need not know more than one language to get by in the world.

Tidbit: Did you know that 58% of Americans do not hold a passport? (and that’s up markedly, mostly because passports are now required to get to the Caribbean and Canada)

I studied French in Junior High. Hated it, then switched to Spanish in High School. American Sign Language in college (because at that time nobody suggested it might be a good idea to have a 2nd language, so I thought this might be good to have in my back pocket if the tinnitus ever worsened 🙄).

I’ve been to Central America 9 or 10 times. The Spanish has come in handy (assuming a Duolingo brush-up before the trip): I can get by in broken Español.

I’m envious of my multilingual friends, my half-Brazilian/half-American niece (who can prattle in 4 languages before breakfast), those to whom another tongue is not a big deal to idly pick up and put on, as one does a new shirt.

Nearly 3-1/2 years ago, my most polyglot copain asked me, “how’s your French?” Horrors of 8th grade flashed on so many levels as I realised my answer was, “horrible.” In any language.

Since that day, I’ve studied 5, 10, 30 minutes of French pretty much every night. My longest Duolingo streak is well over 100 days. I’ve got a Babbel subscription. I’m able to read a newspaper article, understand (and tentatively participate in) adult conversation…J’ai lu Le Petit Prince (en Français!). Social media headlines baffle me, yet I went to Paris for my birthday last year and didn’t completely flounder. I had an interesting dinner with a Swiss couple and my B&B hosts in The Seychelles in May and wasn’t entirely underwater. It feels good but not nearly enough… My English-speaking brain is still trying to convert the other language into English as it comes in, then convert that into something French-like as it goes out. In the process, the time it takes to create conversation seems interminable. And I’m left, literally, speechless.

And so as I’m preparing to leave for my next adventure to Scandinavia (favourite Swedish interpreter literally in tow), I’m trying to learn some Swedish words. If to impress no one but myself.

It begins easily enough: hej. tack. ja. nej. Hello. Thank you. Yes. No.

Quickly the problems mount: There are now 3 new letters to learn and not mangle [ä, å and ö] while simultaneously trying to not sound like the Swedish chef (whose gobbledygook, I’m told, rings closer to Norsk than Svenska).

Hur mår du. snälla. hejdå. How are you? Please. Goodbye. And I’m trying to configure lips that are clearly inte Scandinavian. I almost instantaneously become a parody of myself…Bork. Bork. Bork.

It continues: Duolingo gives me jordgubbe (strawberry! I can do this!). And frukost (a girl needs to eat…brekkie!). And then this happens: skärp (bork. bork. bork.), which is not at all the same as en scarf or en halsduk. (or is it ett?) And kött. And fläskkött (use the ä, or else it’s bottle meat vs. pork!). But those are okay since I’m nearly veg. But at frukost we need to use a sked (no, really, try to pronounce that word with an American mouth). And we’ll be in the forest so we may encounter en sköldpadda or en groda, which is not the same as en fråga. Numbers: I should know there are sju dagar in en vecka. Health: what if I get hurt and need en sjuksköterska?! I have a “k” problem. F*ck. (this one is global)

So on one hand, I’m lucky: that most of the Western world speaks English. I’m lucky, because I get to travel to Sweden with a real-live Swedish interpreter (who cringes in horror as I contort my mouth to form the simplest of words without laughing). But I feel quite opposite: I’d like to participate and explore and learn about a place with a partial understanding of what makes it tick. Food and words and history and people…it’s all connected.

And so, if you see me walking down the street these next couple of weeks, earphones on, talking to myself and making strange faces: this is why.

And if you encounter my terrible Swedish in Stockholm, humour me? I’m just hoping to embarrass myself as little as possible on this trip.

Ursäkta. Förlåt. Tack så mycket.


CLICK HERE for the full and very beautiful language diagram by illustrator Minna Sundberg I used in the header photo.

 

 

Writing while not travelling

I write nearly daily. Sometimes the ramblings are mere crap flung on a page, to unstop a dam and let the quality words out to play. Hopefully. [some of the less-crappy bits are HERE, if you’re curious]

Case in point: I finished this today, a mélange of exasperation, daydreaming and misfit ranting. I’m not sure I like it as much as other things I’ve penned, but the words badly wanted out and I like it enough.

The more I travel, the more I want to see and hear and learn and experience. The more I become a member of a larger sphere of experience and citizenship, the less I feel beholden or attached to this small (and shrinking) one from which I hail. This citizen of the world thing has merit: belonging is a mindset.

And if belonging is a mindset, I need to wonder whether one belongs because they strive to fit a mold. Or: if belonging is an effortless thing, where once you find that place, you won’t want to ever leave, will I find itHave I already?

And does it become a place to leave once you’re there?

As part of my inquiry, I’ve been writing (much crap flung in the process) about our capability to take things for granted, about the meaning of true friends, about being fromlessabout the insecurities of living in a really weird time.

And as I write, I read…in doing so, I stumble across inspiration for the next adventure (and the one after that); in the process, procrastinating by plotting points on a map or two (or 6) and planning the first leg of the next holiday.

Some of the best books read in the past few months (travel, fiction, fantasy that approximates our absurd reality…). Africa, Pakistan, Eastern Europe, Discworld:

2018-07-07 16.04.26Glorious Sundays such as today are meant for forest bathing. And so I go, to break in the new hiking boots, to contemplate my place amidst the trees and forest critters, to indulge my aging pup, to visit my secret cache of wild blueberries, to breathe in the mossy air in hopes of dislodging stagnant words…

I don’t know why, but this made me think of a brilliant Soul Asylum song:

Tropical quickie.

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Tropical ramblings on a Friday before a long weekend…

I woke up early this morn, half-dreaming of a place with palm trees and teeming reefs, half-real, half-fading in my morning haze.

I walked by the water a little later, the sea a bit less ultramarine here, contemplating the green-ness of late May, seeming late this year; I listened to the mockingbirds and blue jays and the distant knocking of woodpeckers. I made tea from ingredients I’ve collected from faraway spice markets.

I’m working from home today, listening to Zulu music between meetings while my dog’s snoring keeps time with the beat.

It’s a weird and wonderful world out there, all these places whispering their invitations to go exploring. Today, I’m collecting that feeling and brewing it, like a magic tea of sorts, to glean inspiration and motivation.

#HappyFriday

[more on the Seychelles] [more on Medium]

Seychelles, Part III: How to lose adventure points, and a stopover en route home

[Seychelles: Part I] [Seychelles: Part II]

Map of Mahe

Map, courtesy http://www.seychellestouristguidebook.sc/pocket-map/

Mahé is a booming metropolis compared to La Digue, and I’ve booked us at the lovely Sans Souci guest house, set in the jungly hills above Victoria. It’s something to look forward to, after the day we’ve just survived. The tummies are feeling better, tho we’re clearly wrung out as we board the early ferry and land back in Mahé.

An effervescent Jeanine greets us when we arrive at the guest house. We’re given a map, some general suggestions on how to spend the day, and keys to one of their guest cars. The weary adventurers have survived the worst of the food poisoning, and we’re back on track for a last day of exploring: a hike to the top of the island and then some lunch and a swim before C needs to be at the airport for his flight this evening. Oh, and they drive on the left here, roads vaguely marked by random signage and large boulders. Let’s go exploring, as they say.

We drive up to the trailhead at Morne Blanc, opening the way to the second-highest point on the island. It’s a natural staircase of sorts, lined with lush jungle that elevates us from rainforest to cloudforest in the time it takes to climb to the top (667 metres). The view of the west side of the island is lovely; pristine beach sprawls below, less industrial than Victoria’s shipping port and industry. We follow the windy mountain road, Chemin Forêt Noire, down to see what sea we can see.

Lunch at the rather chic Del Place restaurant affords us a view of l’Islette, a private island resort that can be reached via short walk across the lagoon. Unfortunately, the tide is high. Fortunately, we’re experienced aqua-hikers and my Sherpa is up to the task. That evening I learn that the island is being leased by a Russian reality TV show called Dom 2. I daresay a German word pops into my head: kopfkino. 😈

Adventure points: 1 for driving jungle roads, on the left side. 1 for the hike up to the top of Morne Blanc (0 points for realising Morne Blanc means “dull white.” I have no idea why it is called that, because the view of this side of the island is fantastic!). 1 point for more aqua hiking in waist-deep waters to the island.

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Roadside view near the end of the road on the northwest side of Mahé. It’s not ugly here.

We head back to the guest house for a siesta before C goes to the airport. I’m anxious now, both for airport goodbyes and the fact that I’m due to navigate (on the left) back to the guest house, on my own, in the impending darkness. But it goes well and award myself 1 adventure point for making it all the way to Victoria from the airport without getting lost (NB: it’s a straight line).

This cockiness is short-lived because I subsequently receive -362 adventure points for getting profoundly lost, almost running out of gas, going the wrong way down a 1-way street, and getting directions from a toothless drunken woman before finally managing to navigate to the correct exit off the roundabout to go in the proper direction to get up the jungly winding roads in the pitch blackness of the night, only to be an hour late to dinner with the lovely folks at the guest house. I shouldn’t be allowed to drive in uncharted territory without a co-pilot.

The new day finds me navigating (correctly, this time) to the Sir Selwin-Clarke Market in Victoria and taking a wander about town. If I’m honest, the spice market in Stone Town, Zanzibar is much more interesting and I’m finding myself wishing we were back on charming La Digue for this last day.

Regardless, it’s good to see the downtown and have some downtime in the afternoon to get organised for my trip back home. Time flies, as they say (NB: the least problematic item of the Mahé experience was driving on the left).

🌴🌴🌴🌴

I’ve planned a stopover in Istanbul to break up the two long segments of my journey home, and I’m staying at the adorable Empress Zoe B&B once again. Location meets character: it’s literally around the corner from the 4Seasons and even has resident cats!

It’s not quite 5am when I arrive. I’m greeted by foggy, empty streets as the Adhan, the call to prayer, sounds. It’s an exquisite, almost intimate welcome back to the neighbourhood with its cobblestone streets and winding alleys. At once I feel at home and excited to explore this city once more. My goal for the short time I have here is to cross the Galata Bridge and climb to the top of the Medieval Galata Tower to see the city from that perspective.

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The view from my window

The spring rains break for long enough for me to walk from my B&B in Sultanahmet (near the Blue Mosque and Ayasofya), through the city and to the waterfront. I like this city, its old stone architecture and elaborate mosques juxtaposed against the bustle of one of the most important cities in this part of the world. East meets West in every way imaginable.

Mission: accomplished, and I see the city from up high, disappointed that this beautiful old stone tower is now not more than a restaurant with a (really crowded) observation deck. Regardless, it provides a fantastic panorama of the city, both the European and Asian sides.

I wander the city, revisiting the Mısır Çarşısı (spice market) and the Grand Bazaar, wending my way to the fantastic fish place I had dinner at last time. 20km or so on the legs, dozens of photos on my camera. A brilliant way to spend a stopover!

In the morning, there’s just time for brekkie and a wander around the neighbourhood before my taxi brings me back to the airport for the looong flight home.

As we navigate through traffic, I contemplate the trip and the amazing variety this brilliant planet has to offer. In the past 12 days I’ve travelled over 15,000km, been on 3 continents (and seen a 4th across the Bosphorus) seen spectacular beaches with tide-carved granite obelisks, encountered animals not found elsewhere on earth, witnessed first-hand the effects of global warming on our oceans, watched a white-spotted moray eel swim beneath me as I snorkeled, wandered past centuries-old stone buildings, sat under mind-blowing night skies, walked the streets of an ancient city bustling in a modern world, hiked in lush rainforest, driven on the left-hand side of the road, spoken two languages and heard least a dozen more, ridden a bike in a bikini, sampled a rainbow of foods and drink, seen a rainbow, and shared laughter in tropical rains while feeding a gentle beast that was (conceivably) conceived in the 19th century.

Travel is magic.

[Seychelles: Part I] [Seychelles: Part II]

Seychelles, Part II: Into the (semi) deep, a climb, surrender, and the reward

[Seychelles: Part I] [Seychelles: Part III]

This morning, we load up the bikes with dive gear and the day’s necessities and point ourselves towards the dive shop. The sky shines a vivid, almost musical blue, and the sea competes with an azure rainbow; variegated cyan delineating reef from sand.

20180501_135055-1We had seen the rocky mound of an island from land, its sole palm reaching for the sky as if trying to escape Poseidon’s wrath. Ave Maria, it’s called; there’s no use attempting to mix metaphors here. This is our first dive site.

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The Seychelles’ reef system has suffered much the same fate as others in this ocean: a bleaching event a couple of years ago and a subsequent coral die-off, which leaves me sad but not surprised that the vibrancy isn’t as I’d hoped. It seems to be trying to come back, though, and the fish are here to stay. We see a few green sea turtles, and some decent-sized schools of fish; moray eels, humphead wrasse, unicornfish, triggerfish, butterflyfish and puffers; octopi, cowfish, un petit requin (black tip), moorish idols, and that silly-looking yellow and black one with stripes and spots whose name I’ve forgotten…we’re even graced with the appearance of the elusive pipefish. Clownfish are few, alas, as there are few anemones in which they live. But we tally 5 adventure points for the dives, including C’s earned by fending off a rogue sea urchin. This mermaid’s fins are sated for now.

Back on land…

As if the day’s humidity weren’t enough to sap one’s strength, we decide to ride our (15ish kilo) bikes up the island’s highest hill to take in the view at Nid d’Aigle. The road winds its way up, the hills at a 45° angle to the rest of the world; the humidity rivalling the consistency of, say, lobster bisque. Biking gives way to pushing said (leaden) bikes, which eventually leads to surrendering to the elements (we are, by this point, more liquid than solid humans; sweat becoming just another layer on top of sun cream), depositing them at the side of the road to climb the rest of the way à pied. This is one of the steepest roads I think I’ve ever been on, but the reward here is the view (bonus: also the restaurant, Belle Vue, from which we’re vue-ing makes the best fruit juice on the island). We make reservations to return the following night for dinner and sunset (transport inclus), then continue upwards on the gnarly trail behind the place to the mountain’s peak (hint: the view from the restaurant 350 metres below was better).

Adventure points earned: 1 for biking up the absurd hill on leaden bikes; 2 for surviving without suffering heat stroke; 1 for hiking into the jungle, to the top of la montagne, and not falling to the same fate as the storied German*.

One final adventure point is earned for wildlife encounters on the way down: a free-range tortoise greets us, out for its morning stroll (at a tortoise’s pace…arriving to us in the height of the afternoon), enjoying a snack of freshly-fallen mangoes. C befriends the beast and they share a moment.

☀️☀️☀️

20180504_120636-354.jpgThe next day’s dives are similar to the first, with a parallel state of corals and ditto sea critters. They are nice dives with fun swim-thrus and more interesting granite structures than the previous day, sea flora painting the rock its underwater patina. This being a nice but unimpressive dive overall, I was not prepared for what we saw next. As we exited a swim-thru and rounded a corner, a massive, majestic, magnificent marbled ray defied not only the m-adjectives, but my expletives as well, by making itself known. It was nestled between two rocks, flanked by several smaller stingrays, seeking or providing protection, I am not clear. We stayed close, watching their behaviour, the smaller rays coming and going, fawning over the larger in almost a caress; nature never ceasing to amaze. It is at these times I feel fortunate to be a diver, experiencing the undersea world in childlike awe and wonder, as if given special access to explore another planet.

Back on dry land, we bike to the north and then to the east (La Digue map), to where the road ends at Anse Fourmis; jagged rocks teasing the way to a jungle path we are determined to explore when we’ve got more hours (not tonight, tho, we’ve got a date with a sunset). The surf is wilder here, the rocks sharper: testament to a more exposed coastline on this side of the island. The views no less spectacular, and we’re awed anew.

Adventure points earned: 10 for the diving (attributed mostly to the ray and its entourage) plus one for the evening: a lorry ride up and down the giant hill, a sunset dinner and an overall lovely day. I fall asleep with a smile on my face and can’t recall the last time I road a bike with a basket in a bikini.

More diving the next day and a half, adding a handful more adventure points to the tally. The sites are good, but Pemba is still at the top of our list of favourites. We see dolphins from both the room overlooking the ocean, and the boat during the surface interval off Grand Soeur island. There are small black-tip shark sightings, barracuda, moray eels (one more massive than most!), swarms of Indian ocean fish… A collection of fun dives with more granite rock formations to swim thru and sea turtles to swim beside. There’s also a lovely little yellow frogfish, adding to the list of sea critters I’d not seen before this trip.

The diving has been fun thus far, but the end of the road calls… back on La Digue, we mount bikes and head for Anse Fourmis again, and our quest to reach Anse Cocos. It’s like a Monty Python meets Indiana Jones meets Bear Grylls: we’re not 200 metres into the jagged, rocky, jungly trail as the clouds decide to open and release monsoon-like rains. We can continue on and risk life and limb on the rocks and jungle brush, or play it safe and return the way we came. Opting for the latter, the bike ride home is like a 7-year-old’s dream: fat, warm raindrops form giant puddles through which we splash, laughing. We’re soaked to the core when we come across one of the local roadblocks: a massive tortoise, looking spic and span in the downpour. They’ve not yet become a novelty, so we stop to share our oranges with this friendly beast. It is not possible to be more drenched than we already are.

Adventure points earned this day: 1 for the dive, another for a remora that took a fancy to C and remained our dive buddy for the entire dive; add one for bushwhacking and jungle hiking in the rain.

☀️☀️☀️

It is only in hindsight that we declare, “do not eat the chef’s special.”

We return to Anse Banane by bike in the inky darkness, a headlamp and a torch lighting our way through the still-damp night. We’ve come to a highly-recommended restaurant, with its charming décor and seating facing the ocean, the storm-fueled waves crashing fervently across the way. The meal, a lovely smorgasborg of salads and fish of all styles: curry, fritters, grilled (chef’s special), with a home-made banana cake for dessert.

The day, the dives, the hike and the silly soggy bike ride: excellent. The night: not so much. We both wake in the wee hours, reeling from what can only be food poisoning. Details spared, this dashes our last diving day (my 1.5km bike ride to the dive shop to let them know we’re half-dead nearly does me in for good) and has us horizontal, indoors, for the day. With one foray to the beach in a failed attempt at a swim, we retreat to the relative safety of the hotel to recuperate and commiserate. This is not how we wanted to spend our second to last day here…I know C is cursing the elephant. Survivor points: 5.


*About the German: local lore tells of a German tourist who hiked up to Nid d’Aigle with his fellow travellers, spotted a house he wanted to see again, and went back up the mountain on his own. He was never heard from again; search teams and dogs couldn’t even find him. We heard this over lunch from the owner of a café on our way up to Nid d’Aigle…whether the story has morphed into island legend, we’re not clear.

[Seychelles: Part I] [Seychelles: Part III] [C’s recount of the week]