the real Camino

Looking for something else completely, a tiny red notebook fell out of a pile of papers. I opened it and discovered my Camino journal, from July 2012. It was only a few pages long — but I was surprised how much I enjoyed reading it. So I decided to “re-blog” it here, with a typed out, deciphered edition.

Monday 16 July —> Really First Day.

The night in Pamp(lona) was awful, 7-yr-old epileptic above me kept me awake till I moved to bench at 4am. Then got up at 7:20 (a grand ~2 hours of sleep) and walked 5km to the supermarket & back. Bus uneventful. Arrive RV (Roncesvalles) & decided to jump straight into walking as it was already 11am – 7.5h of walking to get to SJPP (St Jean Pied-de-Port). But got lost following an unmarked trail… +3km. Then decided to go back, get my sellio (stamp) at RV, try again. 2 more false starts (+1km!) then finally on my way. I had no idea how hideously steep the RV-Lepoeder section was – over 500m from 950m to 1450m, then back down to 850m at Orisson refuge where I am now – today’s kms:

5km + 7.75 + 8.09 + 4.87 + 1.09 = 26km

1:30 + 2:05 + 1:52 + 1:06 + 15min = 6:45h

I was so upset at the beginning about getting lost & adding an hour &4km to my already “tight” schedule. There may have been a couple of tears shed. But then I got my groove on and powered up that BITCH of a hill, as Camino’s slipped and slid down past me. one guy even called out “Bon Courage! C’est haut!” but fortunately I didn’t know just how high and steep it would be… Then once at the top, it was easy, had a light lunch (totes worth the 5km walk this AM, right?) and kept walking and walking… then just as the pain was getting too much to bear, around 25km, I found this refuge. No reservations no problem. So far only other people are 2 koreans, a lovely girl who has been so nice to talk to despite my predicition that I would speak to no-one. And 3 stamps today!

Tuesday 17 July

I slept a blissful 10+ hours — 9pm, out like a happy light. Must have been lots of people around but I snoozed blissfully. Woke up at 8 and didn’t start till 9am. Joyful happy jaunt to SJPP, paused for Orange/Carrefour/Sportshop/food then off again. Best feelings of being in countryside in July! Just like the Creuse when I was a kid on summer holidays. Wicked sunburn despite sunscreen and “tent” – love my Oxfam super-scarf so much! Need to apply screen every hour at least, twice in a 6-hour midday walk is pure stupidity really! Am in an “Expensive” 33 Euro hotel as no gîtes locally and my feet are very blistered. Everyone is nice. I’m so happy and tired and happy!

7.33 + 12.8 + 6.8 = 26.9km

01:45 + 2:46 + 1:38 = 6.09 h

It’s taken hours to work out the next two days of travel due to 2 different variations (4 possible routes). But I have decided to stick to my pace of 26km/day, if my legs hold out. Eating “Type A” has been ok (and economical too, helping me avoid temptation!) thus far. Supermarkets provide my staples: apples, carrots, babybel, crisps, “salades” (carrottes rapees, nicoise…), cereal bars, and a big tube of mayonnaise + any lingering veg/fruit I can find. Not sure how I am managing goodwise really, as 6h walk burns 1300 kcal (my normal daily intake!) and I’m not eating much more. Oh yes! Nuts and raisins help. Must get more tomorrow! Blister status: 1 on each little toe and 1 on the front sole of each foot. Yay. Also: Love my water bladder. I get my 2L/day easily. Thanks James.

view from my window = inspiration for his video game! [James used to play an iphone game where he would glide over rolling hills…]+ 3 stamps 🙂

Wed 18 July. The tough day…

Oh well it wasn’t ALL tough. But definitely the toughest. Started at 8:40, and had to stop a couple of times to deal with the blisters on my blisters, but covered 11km by 12pm (not great but not AWFUL). Then at Stele of Gibraltar met a lovely couple and ate lunch with them, felt really positive — I’d not taken the shortcut at Larribar and was rewarded by the view and their company. They told me to take the shortcut from Olaïby to Arone as the “LR” (long route) was wicked. Sadly I got lost due to lack of signage, and then ended up taking the long way. Tried to do a short cut, met scary dogs… no phone… had several crying huffy panicky moments – blisters were agony but had to pull my shit together and just fucking WALK. So I did for hours… got to the gîte just in time, last bed, and also cos I shamelessly hitch-hiked the last km, in time for food-shopping. Yay! The lady at the gîte was SO lovely and I gave her my Taiwanese coin, she seemed really pleased with it (best 1NT I ever spent!). Talked to some nice (if very french) people. Not sure how I want to play tomorrow, easy 20km to Navaneux or push 25km to Abbeye? I think Abbeye. Wanna push forward but also torn that am not “enjoying” where I am because of worrying where I should be… à suivre…

11.2km + 11km + 7? 8? = 29km

3:20 + 3:14 + 1:30 = 8h

Late night notes. When I was walking I thought of how this was like caring for a recalcitrant toddler — my mind is the adult and knows that this must be done, but then has to coax, push, ignore the complaints, the “but it hurts I’m tired NOOOOO” of my body. Taking care of blisters is like working with an animal — a stupid, wounded one at that. I’m TRYING to help! But the stupid things keep slipping and pinchng and biting and refusing to cooperate or even stay still. Gah. Blisters SUCK. I need a pharmacy. All of the above reminds me of the conversation we had re: Nalia [my friends’ infant daughter] crying in the car, with Juan. It’s against nature to do these things, at least my softy body thinks so, and I can’t talk to it to explain, so sadly it just has to suffer till it understands.

Thursday 18 July [actually 19] HURTY DAY

Today was easy walking but SO painful all pleasure was impossible. Just staring at the road and wincing as my feet popped and crackled. Like walking on 2 lumps of ice shitty nails. ANYWAY. Got to Nav. by 12:20 and went straight to bed, lovely 3h nap in comfy clean sheets and duvet. Showers were “rain” but I went to supermarket and cooked pasta + sauce with grilled courgette, hummous with carrots, tomatoes and a big mushroom. SO happy to have a nice big vegetarian meal with so many colours and textures! Sharing a room with a German-Kurdish dad and his sons, discovering I actually speak decent Deutsch still — I think being in Spain has unlocked my linguistic skills. 19.6km in 5h. Total so far: 101.5. Lost my Opinel [penknife], boo, so got a nice blue one to replace it. Yay!

Friday 19 July [20th July actually… I love how it doesn’t even matter] Redemption?

So today was hard work. The pain has moved from my blisters (soles are ok but toes still fucking burn) to my heel, ankle, and long-time trouble-maker, my right knee + tibia. Shin splints? So yes, the 15km from Navaneux to Sauvelade were limping, miserable hours. It rained a little, just enough to justify the dreaded poncho, for the first hour. Then I called mama and felt a bit better, but also even more stressed as I’m basically falling apart physically and she is (unintentionally) putting a lot of pressure on me. Then I called Madaca to discover there were no beds available – hence my current location in Sauvelade. It turned out to be a blessing of course, as all unexpected decisions along the Way. Firstly, I more than needed to STOP WALKING. Second, it’s peaceful and fairly comfy. Third, the people (oh so very clicheed, but the support people provide along the Way is truly touching), the people I met and spoke with gently encouraged me (by the rigourous french standards) to do as the couple a few nights ago suggested and skip the next couple of etapes. In fact, to leave with the bag carriers and go straight up to Nagaro. A few calls later and I was set up with a ride tomorrow morning, and a bed in Nagaro tomorrow night. I will rest up, then walk two short etapes on Sunday and Monday, then meet Mummy and do Montreal and Condom with her – either 15km a day, or more if we feel like it! Perfect. I only wish I could call her to tell her the news. Today I listened to my ipod for the first time, and “Just a Ride” came on and of course made me cry but also reminded me of my own fundamental beliefs. I am not a catholic pilgrim but I am having my own “Way”,

you can’t help it, so many hours of daily introspection, it’s almost like a retreat, I guess that’s the point after all… I also have had to tell my story so many times, it forces me to generalise, simplify, find a truth that can be summed up in a few lines. Something I usually hate doing but that does need to be done, at the end of the day. So I’m learning myself that I do this kind of work, live that kind of life, have these kind of hopes, dreams, plans and beliefs. That James and I are together and apart. That I am a drifter. Continental drifter…

Today’s walk…

15.04km in 3:30 hours. Total 116.5km.

Reading Dickens’ biography… la vie est belle, finalement.

Sunday 21… yes there’s a day missing…

Yesterday I went up to Aire sur l’Adour (now it’s too late you finally learn how to say it) by taxi with 2 Belgians who then gave me a lift to Nagaro. Michel and Raymond were older guys, who had been walking for a week. I had a nice convo with Michel in the taxi, but it was a 20-30min conversation with Raymond which I found really compelling and moving. He told me to be proud of being “selfish” because “Il est plus facile de se sacrifier que de se realiser” and with the added reminder that “certains se realisent dans le sacrifice”. We hugged and swapped email addresses, I really felt a strong connection with him. It’s funny how the people I meet can all bring encouragement, love and support to each other… well not all of them, but I feel like when humans are left to themselves in safe, mutually respectful space, they do genuinely care and help each other…

Anyway, after a night in Nagarro (well first an afternoon, heavy with the mistake of eating a HUGE plate of steak and fries and apple pie and ice cream and coke (WTF) that left me heavy and sleepy) where I shared a room with Martine (who talked wisely about trust and long distance relationships)… I walked 6km to Haget. It’s a bit dull, and the weather is so perfect, but I need my feet to heal so I can enjoy walking with Mummy. The people here are less mindful but nobody can be everything to everyone.

Today: 7.45km, not sure of the time, maybe 2:20? good speed thanks to my healing blisters.

Mon 23 July – total 138km,

GPS refused to start today, but it took me 3h to walk from le Haget to Eauze, which is about 15km. I got to the gîte at 11am, showered, went shopping, ate lunch and napped, all perfect. Then visited the Eauze archaeological museum which has a fantastic treasure trove on display. At the gîte a woman expressed surprise (which I am used to for a variety of reasons) because… I was wearing a dress, and she assumed I wasn’t a walker. WTF? She is def one of the retarded type [ROSIE, NOT COOL!]. I bet she snorers. But otherwise the gite and Eauze are very nice… Sadly it’s Monday, so nearly everything is shut. Am debating another Monaco [beer and grenadine and lemonade] as it’s going to be at least 2 more hours till Mummy gets here and we get dinner. Just realised time was CRAZY good compared to yesterday. Twice the distance in only 40 min more!

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After this my maman joined me on the walk so I didn’t have any introspective writing to re-discover.

Loved re-reading this. One day… I’ll be back.

the perks of a job you love

I have a zillion photo posts to write, and I purchased an app that lets me drop and drag photos directly into blog posts so I’m hoping that resolves everything. It’s a bit messy and not quite what I’d hoped, so please forgive the disjointed nature of this post, hopefully it will improve once I get the hang of it.

This post is from a recent work trip, but I am unclear on confidentiality so I am just going to say it is in China and leave it at that.

Driving to the site on the first day, I’d been awake for most of the past 48 hours and was stinky and sticky, because our luggage got separated from us and I hadn’t expected to be on the go for 48 hours. But there’s nothing like steep mountains and winding roads to get me excited, and fortunately, you can’t smell me in this picture.

Many of the roads are very narrow and in order to prepare for the site opening (and a million coaches a day), they are widening the roads by literally just drilling away at the mountain.

Rather them than me…

 

This site has everything I love. Intense mountains…

Weird insects

And beautiful buildings.

But this was just on the first quick trip to the base of the mountain. Time to go back to the hotel and try and remember what it’s like not to stink.

We made a trip to the local shopping mall after dinner to find non-stinky clothes to wear until our luggage reappeared. I encountered this smooth operator:

It was actually operated by his dad, by what looked like a playstation controller, which I thought was pretty cool. I really wanted a photo with the two of them together, but his parents didn’t understand when I asked them and kept moving *out* of the picture.

Everything was happening at the mall that night. A “rock gig” was blasting on a stage in the middle of the mall. View from inside the lift:

I guess the mall is really the place to be. The music was really terrible, but I think people came for the novelty as they were Westerners playing/singing. I was more entertained by this sign on the lift (yup, 14 years of Chinese and I’m still amused by Chinglish.

Which is the perfect segue back to the site:

 

Even though I find even little mountains like this one fun (opposite our clients’ office)…

 

It’s these kind of scenes that get me really excited.

It’s a steep climb up, but the medieval “site planners” made it even harder, by thoughtfully providing steps… what’s not to like about steps, you may ask?

Well, these steps are about 50cm high, and on a slant, which means you pretty much have to crawl up them. Very clever for a medieval fortress, strategically speaking.

With a Rosie-The-Rambling-Hiker for scale:

I had thought I would give it a try, when I first heard about these steps. But once I stood in front of them, apart from striking a pose, I didn’t even entertain the thought. I actually clambered up just one step and it was embarrassing enough, as I struggled whilst my workmates watched and laughed at me. It is exactly like being in the giants’ abandoned city in The Silver Chair (from the Narnia books).

Luckily, there’s a sneaky secret passage that leads around the back up to the top.

View from the top of the steps (taken whilst shakily gripping the side of the wall with one hand — photos do not do this steepness of this scenario justice).

At the top of the steps is a pass, and in the pass is a guard whose job is to stand there from 8am to 6pm and call down to people telling them not to climb up the steps. He also told us we weren’t allowed to go up through the pass as the steps weren’t ready, but we had to, as it’s our job to get to the top, so he had to anxiously stand aside and watch us head off up the hill.

At first it seemed ok, nothing to fret about.

A little slippery without the wooden walkway, but as long as you hold onto the rails it’s ok.

Large amounts of water were pouring down the side of the mountain, making the 500-year-old steps somewhat difficult to navigate.

After a while, the Ming-dynasty steps dissolve into Song (possibly older, Tang has been hinted at) pathways hacked into the mountainside. The walkways aren’t complete by any means, but they’re our best bet for actually progressing up the extremely steep path.

More terrifying scaffolding…

Finally we emerged onto walkable steps again, where we could admire more ruins from the late 16th century (and earlier).

Here we had work to do, so there aren’t as many fun pictures, until later, when we paused for a tea break at the archaeologists’ hut (incidentally probably some of the best tea I’ve ever drunk).

There’s a chicken coop up here, presumably for eggs and dinner… it’s hard work getting provisions up that mountain and the archaeologists live here most of the time, so I imagine some livestock is worth keeping.

There’s also some adorable dogs, which my workmates told me were just wee puppies last time they came in June, and now are rollicking teens. I don’t know if they’ll be allowed to stay once the site is open to the public… I hope so, they were just so fun and sweet.

We raced down the mountain as night fell. It was very atmospheric; I love this photo so much.

That’s it for beautiful site visit pictures. I snapped one last mountain out the window on the plane… I’m really looking forward to heading back next week, even though the project itself is quite stressful. I’m so lucky to get to work in such a gorgeous environment!! And in the last couple of weeks I’ve been getting to do lots of research and writing on Chinese archaeology and history, proving for the first time ever that my 2006 BA in Chinese art and archaeology was not a complete waste of time! Only took 9 years to come to fruition…

Kinmen

The first stop after Taipei was Kinmen, an island (two islands, in fact, and also known as Quemoy) barely a kilometre from Mainland China. I hadn’t realised it isn’t actually part of “Taiwan” itself; it is part of the Republic of China but the people living there are neither Taiwanese (although they speak Hokkien) nor Mainlanders; they are Kinmenese, really (jinmenren, 金門人), and have no wish to be absorbed into the PRC either. The layers of cultural identity in Taiwan never cease to intrigue me.

We stayed in an absolutely gorgeous traditional “two hall house” guesthouse that was recommended to me by my friend Matt. I can’t describe how beautiful and enchanting the building and surrounding village are; in fact, when I originally began writing this post it turned into the basis of a potential thesis subject for next year (more on this later). So I have shelved all my obsessive architecture/cultural identity observations so I can develop a more academic version of them, and come back to write more of a “This is what I did on holidays” post. However it is SUPER LONG with ALL THE PHOTOS. Consider yourselves warned.

Day one in Kinmen, we arrived at the airport and took a taxi to Zhushan where Guesthouse No.17 awaited our arrival. We were a little early so we wandered around the surrounding buildings, stunned by the scenery of Ming Dynasty homes and small gardens.

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Our host Ms Zhang was wonderful, and when I explained that I wanted to hire bikes but James wanted to hire a scooter, she diplomatically suggested we hire a scooter and then make the most of the free bike services dotted around the island to explore different locations. She drove us to the scooter hire place, where the lovely Jerry set us up with a scooter for a very reasonable NT$900 including two day’s hire, a tank full of petrol (no need to refill before we return), and a free ride to the airport on our last morning (which costs around NT$300 by taxi).

We scootered to the National Park in Guningtou first, which has a number of military sites, with the idea of trying to find a bike hire station. At Lake Ci, we came across a military fort, complete with tanks:

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View out to China

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James looking like a Japanese soldier inside the fort:

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The view from inside the machine-gunner’s room:

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The more time we spent on the scooter, the more it became apparent that cycling was the real way to go when visiting Kinmen. There is a huge network of bike trails clearly signposted all over the island, and even though many of them were on shared roads which we could follow on the scooter, they were much more enjoyable on a slower, biking scale. We sat down in Jincheng and stared at the map, whilst I tried (with much frustration) to work out the location of the dozen or so bike hire stations. I googled exhaustively (note to self: create a page with the information in English and a google map!) and eventually we gave up and decided to just ride over to Shamei and hope we would find one there. And we did! By this point it was 3pm and the station closed at 5pm — you get to use a bike in exchange for your passport, so I was pretty keen for us to get back in time. I was a little worried we wouldn’t have time to do much in 2 hours, especially with the clunky hire bikes which are the type I associate more with city bike schemes than “cycling”. But in the end we had a lot of fun!

Trying to hide my disappointment at these silly bicycles (I was in the middle of taking directions from the hire lady here, and struggling to remember which of zuo and you is right and left, which is of little help to me since I don’t know them in English either):

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I cheered up once we hit the road, the sun and the blue sky and the ocean breeze all made me happy!

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Speed wasn’t really something worth thinking about…

Love the timer function on my iphone, although between me setting the phone up on the beach, running back to strike a pose, running to get my phone and running back to James, the tide had come right in past our bikes!

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We covered a respectable 12.5km and then returned back to the station well before 5, quite worn out (those bikes are hard to work compared to Bon Scott).

Then we scootered home again to the guesthouse, before James coaxed me back out to catch the sunset. We drove to a lookout point but the sun was not quite in the right direction. Still, we had a very pretty view out to China.

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James breaking all the rules as usual:

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As the sun was hidden behind a hill, we watched it set on the iphone instead:

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We then headed over to Jincheng for dinner. Jincheng is a very pretty city, with some very fetching traditional buildings and brick archways.

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We were planning to eat at a place called Jessica’s Communist Cafe, however we couldn’t find it and ended up getting hotpot. Then we scootered home again in the dark, pausing to grab some Taiwan Beer and wasabi snacks at the 7-Eleven.

The next morning, Ms Zhang had prepared a wonderful traditional breakfast for us:

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Most of the food was heavy on the fructans, which I have to stay away from in the daytime if I’m going to have an active and enjoyable day, but I couldn’t help binging on the youtiao (oil sticks — giant fresh churros) and the fresh mulberries. James had to take them away from me, and I tried to console myself with the meatball porridge and a banana but it was not the same.

I was really, really sore from the cycling and the scootering the day before so we chose to explore close to home within walking distance.

Inspecting the map:

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First we meandered through the village and the eponymous “Zhushan” (meaning Pearl Mountain, but really just a hillock).

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A ceremony was being held at the local temple, with music, singing and dancing, whilst onlookers threw ghost money over the performers.

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I particularly liked seeing the singer/drummer follow along the words with one finger — he was very dextrous at turning the pages single-handedly.

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We then walked to Oucuo, which was settled by the Ouyang family during the Ming Dynasty in the late 17th Century. Oucuo was a wonderful place to visit because of the abundance of houses still in their original layout, carefully maintained and modernised. I get very excited about “living heritage” — buildings that have carried traditions and meanings over the centuries and that are not kept as museums of how they once were, but as a continuation of their first and foremost purpose: homes to the living.

Kitty cat on a doorway:

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Nesting doorways:

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Loved this one in particular with the bright flowers, scooters, paste-ups and laundry all artfully building a mosaic of pinks and reds around the red brick frontage… sigh!

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Not all houses were inhabited or in a good state. We came across one abandoned rundown building, which we were able to access as the doorways were clear and easy to get into. It was full of abandoned broken furniture and was incredibly moving.

From behind:

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Check out this ancient TV! (and the rude hentai comics… obviously still a popular destination for locals… living heritage?)

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A group of cyclists came through the empty streets, a little incongruous in their lycra kit, but obviously quite a habitual scene for Kinmen.

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We headed in the same direction, and finally reached the beach. I always love being by the ocean (who doesn’t?) and got quite excited about the seashells.

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I packed up James’ and my shoes in my bag — a bag I made myself, with my own fair hands, a few years ago — and we progressed, barefoot in the sand. The water was very cold so we just splashed a little.

Showing off my bag:

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Cold-feet selfie, the last picture before….:

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Then we began walking along the shore, and James picked up a seashell for me (I was looking for the perfect one). It was all sandy so I dashed to the water to rinse it off… bent over… and *ploof!* my iPhone landed in the water (hitting me on the head and the shoulder on its way out of my bag). I quickly picked it up, mopped it off, and James and I put it out to dry as I pouted about having ruined my only recently paid-off smartphone. I’ve previously dropped James’ iPhone in a Taiwanese waterfall, but there’s no way the chlorides in the seawater aren’t going to cause corrosion (I’ve studied enough metal chemistry to know!).

However it does seem to be fine for now — who knows how long it will last for.

Anyway we continued along the beach, coming to a tank which James had apparently spied from a long way off but I stumbled upon with complete surprise (more metal corrosion!).

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James did what he has done for the last 32 years and climbed onto it.

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I scolded him because one does not climb on History!

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Then we walked towards a military fort, which looked exciting and foreboding.

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It turned out of course that it was impregnable by foot (well obviously, otherwise it would be a rubbish fort) and James led us through a charming landfill instead. It was a shock to see so much rubbish everywhere — the beaches had been pristine up to this point, and it makes you realise how much effort goes into keeping Kinmen beautiful.

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There but for the grace of god go I — my brand new Mizunos realise that they too, one day, could be an abandoned thong.

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We found the entrance to the fort, however it was locked.

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We headed onwards towards Zhushan, stopping at the Zhaishan tunnel to appreciate the three years it took to blast a passageway into gneiss granite.

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We were extremely fortunate to time our visit between two coach loads of tourists, as the tunnels were dreadfully echoey when filled with chattering Taiwanese. It was interesting to imagine how it must have been full of soldiers and ships.

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We had an ice-cream and discussed a potential venture for creating tours for older grumpy people, who like me don’t want to talk to other people and don’t want any noise or chatter, but would like to get out and about and see a few new places. I think this is a great potential business venture!

Then another couple of kilometres and we were back at our guesthouse. I wanted to nap, but James only allowed me to rest my weary feet a little before we went off for afternoon adventures!

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We decided to go hike up Wuhu Mountain (pronounced woo-hoo!) which is apparently the second-highest peak in Kinmen (this means very little, however). I got us lost a few times on the scooter, as I have to navigate from the back seat, one hand around James’ waist and the other clutching my precious iPhone as I indicate left or right — sometimes I overestimate how long it will take to reach the next turn and we have to reset the route. Also… I don’t know left and right, which can be challenging when giving directions. A few zig-zags around the island and we got there in the end!

We debated whether to bring water with us, as there was no indication of distance or elevation, or of how long the climb would take. The answer was: not very far, not very high, not very long!

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We were extremely impressed with the view once at the top however so it was definitely worth it.

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At the top I also finally captured a picture of one of the giant butterflies I had seen everywhere:

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We then descended to the other side of Wuhu to the village of Shanhou.

Ducks holding sentry at the entrance to the village.

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James professed this to be “his favourite duck”:

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Shanhou was built by a rich merchant family, the Wangs, late in the 19th and early in the 20th century. It was very different from Zhushan and Oucuo, as they are laid out in a highly regimented and orderly fashion, according to the rules of fengshui.

Model of the village:

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We weren’t terribly enamoured of this rigid style, and did not stay long, although we were both quite hungry so we enjoyed an icy cold Taiwan beer and a cong you bing, fried spring onion pancake, mine with an egg and some veggies and James’ with sausage as well. I love bing!

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Here is a pile of turtles, trying to clamber on top of each other and up to possibly eat me. Poor things, they are trapped in a small kind of well, no wonder they wanted to escape.

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On the way back James disappeared to explore a tunnel, whilst I powered on up the hill as I was feeling quite tired and wanted to get it all over! He found a cave with some sort of abandoned military function.

We then rode back to Jincheng, pausing at a night market where we saw the seashells from earlier that day, now ready to be consumed:

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We were determined to find Jessica’s Café. I quizzed locals until it was revealed that we had eaten there the night before — Jessica’s Cafe is no more, and has been converted to the hotpot restaurant.

Jincheng by night is so pretty though:

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We wandered around Jincheng some more, and eventually landed in a quite crappy Taiwanese restaurant whose sole merit was that they kindly provided us with a hand-translated menu. Chinese menus are my nemesis, as even if I could read every character, the names of dishes are generally pretty obscure.

Bellies full, if not delighted, we clambered back on the scooter for what I swore would be the last time — my back and bottom were both aching and sore from sitting on it.

However the next morning we had a couple of hours to kill, so James coerced me back onto the stupid scooter and we lazily roamed the nearby countryside, almost getting attacked by dogs a couple of times, and taking photographs of old and modern houses for my new obsession with Taiwanese architecture.

We posed with a Wind Spirit, iconic lions who dot the countryside of Kinmen (squinting attractively as it was so bright without sunglasses!):

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We also found ourselves at the foot of a random tower/hill, so we decided to climb that whilst we were there. It was just a 10-minute walk up, and really nothing special, but it was nice to have done one more Kinmen “thing” before we headed home for the airport pick-up!

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One last thing that made me laugh was when Jerry picked us up another driver was navigating their way past our car as we loaded in our luggage. They wound down their window, presumably to check there was enough space, and Jerry called out “Plenty of room!” The driver revealed herself to be a woman, and laughed, calling out “I know, I know, I just wanted to get a better look at such a handsome man, in such a fancy car!” Jokes that are funny AND that I understand in Chinese will always make me laugh twice as hard.

onze kilometres à pied

Today my legs are almost as stiff and sore as when I climbed Mount Hallasan in Jeju Island, so I can’t imagine how much pain is currently afflicting all the teams who walked the full 100km of the Oxfam Trailwalker. We did 11.something km from checkpoint 4 (Olinda) to checkpoint 5 (Ferntree Gully). These turned out to mostly be trails familiar to me from training in the Dandenongs late in 2013, but it was still nice to revisit them under such altruistic conditions.

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James and I arrived early as my sweet Natalie dropped us off (and then later picked us up) saving us the hassle of organising transport between the two checkpoints. James was keen to walk down to Olinda once we had checked in, but I was not making the mistake of adding ANY extra kilometres (“It’s only 1km there!” he tried to fool me, I am not falling for that trick). So I lay in the sunshine and James kindly kept the sun out of my eyes.

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We watched other volunteers on the clinic side pack up and head home. It’s quite tough that the slowest teams who have the hardest time of it (and arguably require the most TLC) miss out on all the fun at the checkpoints but also on all the support. Then the rest of our sweep team arrived, and we waited for the very last hiking team to check in so we could begin sweeping up behind them. The last team of hikers was obviously in quite bad shape when they hit the checkpoint with only minutes to spare before disqualification, but they kept up a good pace for most of the time we were on the trail.

There were 5 sweeps, and only one grabby stick (labelled a “nipper”, but I like grabby stick better), however I found nobody else challenged my ongoing possession of it and therefore I got to carry it for all 11.42km.

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James (well-camouflaged) was the official carrier of the markers.

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I don’t know how much he enjoyed being lumbered with markers, however I *loved* my grabby stick. I grabby-sticked every wrapper, every morsel of paper and every wad of chewing-gum I could spy — even when it would have been quicker to bend down and pick it up by hand like the others. This is obviously my dream hobby. I fell behind several times due to my passionate, borderline obsessive grabby-sticking. I’m sure everyone else appreciated it.

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On our walk we saw not one, but two kookaburras, which felt quite special. One of the kookaburras was watching us as we sat down for lunch, not remotely perturbed by our presence, and then eventually swooped and grabbed a mouse-lunch for himself, which he also consumed in front of us.

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I also saw some form of parrot — whenever I see a brightly coloured bird here in Australia, and dare to suggest it is a lorikeet, parakeet, rosella or whatever, an Australian will immediately contradict me and say it is something else. It was bright red (well its belly was bright red, as they were directly above me):

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Towards the end we caught up with the long-suffering last team. At first we lurked politely just out of sight, as it’s important they don’t feel we are pushing them. At one point we stopped just downwind from a patch of controlled burn, and the late afternoon sunlight falling through the trees was terribly poetic.

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Eventually we closed in on the hikers and sat down with them for a chat and to try and cheer them up. I felt so sorry for one of them in particular as she was obviously in agony long before checkpoint 4, and by this stage was hobbling on what must have felt like raw stumps! I remembered very clearly the pain I had gone through when I was walking home from Spain, and when she asked us if we had taken precautions for our feet, I remembered how all you can think about is your feet, it’s as if nothing else exists. La tête dans les pieds. Anyway the three of them eventually dragged themselves off and we pushed on again, only a few kilometres from the end.

I found the sight of the checkpoint quite pleasant as I knew Nat and Tim had roast beef and potatoes waiting for me, but I felt so heartbroken hearing the team (who I had begun to think of as my team) was disqualified from going any further. The poor girls were all crying and I got a bit tearful too… to have got so far (70km, in around 30 hours with one hour of sleep) only to be disqualified seemed so unfair.

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I didn’t let that put me off my dinner though. Nom.

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It’s not always easy to get myself to yoga. I didn’t want to go yesterday morning — it was 5:45am, James was in bed after waiting so many months to be together again, and I had slept really badly and did NOT want to get up. I also was grumpy because I knew I had to buy a 1-month pass even though I’d be banned from exercise for a week (more on this below) and then we’re going to Taiwan. But it’s so expensive to do Bikram it’s rarely not worth getting a pass.

Anyway, I went, precisely because it was my very last chance before my one-week ban commenced, and I felt meh-to-neutral all the way through. But on the last shavasana, I felt incredible. I think it’s a bit like a Rubik’s Cube or a videogame cheat code — you have to configure your body in 26 different postures, twice each, feeling crap, and then ta-dah! You feel good.

And if there was a fairly simple cheat code you could use whenever you want, to feel happy and well… you would be a fool not to use it at least a couple times a week!

Anyway — exercise ban. This morning I had an appointment to get my right knee’s common peroneal nerve injected with cortisone to try and improve my shin pain/nerve damage. It was pretty horrid, and then my leg went rather numb, but it’s wearing off now. I am reassured that my shin is aching which suggests they hit the right nerve. However despite me cajoling the specialist, the doctor and the nurse separately, they are adamant that I cannot exercise for a week and no, not even yoga.

My volunteer stint for Oxfam Trailwalker is in 10 days so I am trusting I’ll be ok to hike 11km by then. I certainly am cringing at the idea of not going to yoga for a week! But at least James and I can relax and enjoy a lazy Easter weekend.

On the 13th of March, my replacement at work will be starting! So I am very close to an end and there is bright light at the end of the tunnel. I’m a little nervous about how quickly work wants me to move on (my boss mentioned me potentially not bothering to come back from my holiday, but if he thinks I can do a complete handover in 8 business days he is quite deluded). But I’ll certainly be out of there by the end of May.

I have been debating blowing some of my savings to go back to Europe in June. I’d like to go visit my grandmother in the UK, and I would also like to walk a couple hundred more km on the Camino. It’s probably not a very wise idea but… it’s at the back of my mind. First and foremost I need to call Immigration and work out if it will affect my Australian citizenship eligibility though.

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Sorry about Monday. That was a bit embarrassing! so many emotions…

Today after work I had volunteer training for the Oxfam Trailwalker event in 2 weeks — James and I have signed up to do a shift as Trail Sweeps, on Section 5 (Olinda to Ferntree Gully). Kerry is the one who told me about volunteering for this 100km walk, as she is doing a whole bunch of shifts herself, at what I learned today is Oxfam Australia’s biggest fundraising event of the year.

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I’ll be honest I was mostly excited about getting to hike 11km whilst picking up rubbish. I love hiking, but just like David Sedaris (who aside from being a brilliant author, has had a rubbish truck named after him for his efforts), I hate seeing rubbish on trails. It broke my heart in Nepal that you can stand on a Himalayan mountain, looking out to Mount Everest, and see plastic wrappers everywhere around you. Bhutan was relatively pristine in comparison, Taiwan was not quite as bad as Nepal but not great either. Of course an event organised by Oxfam in Australia is going to make sure they leave no trace behind!

It turns out that the Sweeps mostly just collect the trail markers, but there’s bound to be rubbish too, since there will be 3200 people (800 teams of 4!) walking the trail ahead of us. I saw advice somewhere to bring a trowel for burying “human waste” but I really hope I don’t actually have to bury other people’s poop. I’m a bit sad to find out I won’t have a spike on a stick… I guess there’s still time to coax James into making me one!

I’ve spent the evening booking guesthouses and AirBnB rooms for our Taiwan trip. I have been building it all in a nice gaudy spreadsheet. Here’s a teaser!

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And final note: this morning I did the 6am Bikram class. This allowed me to wake up at 5:45, grab my water bottle, roll straight into class, and discover I had purple wine-stained lips from dinner last night with Graham. I love living next door to the studio so much.

Tasmania 2 – Mount Wellington (kunanyi)

We love climbing mountains. You may have noticed. The first morning of our trip, as we drove into Hobart, I saw what is locally referred to as the Organ Pipes on top of Mount Wellington and told James: I want to climb that one. He told me not to get my hopes up, but turns out, yes, I was going to climb it.

I am not sure how to document the experience! We have hundreds of photos and it was such an incredible experience. How can I possibly simmer it down to a blog post? Basically I am going to take you along the hike with me… there’s going to be A LOT of photos (it was 18km after all!).

Start of the hike. I am full of glee because I got to choose the first mountain we are climbing.


Waterfall crossing. Look right…

Look left…

First of two echidnas we saw!

Normally I don’t bother to make my pictures clickable. But I’m going to try and remember for most of these because everything soooo beautiful.

We met these gorgeous spiders (update: they are Nicodamus peregrinus). They have these fascinating abdomens that are like black-turquoise opals, and bright red legs. James got some great macro shots of them, I must eventually get them off him and insert here, mine will have to make do in the interim:

My head, with the Organ Pipes right up in the top right hand corner:

Sphinx Rock Lookout (with James, who due to walking faster than me, is determined to photobomb everything I try to photograph).

I loved these plants, similar to broom?

The view from the lookout (Organ Pipes to the left! yes, I’m going to climb up on top of them!)

As we reached closer to the Pinnacle track, it got a lot colder and started to rain.

Then the sun would come out intermittently. I was taking my rain jacket off and on again every other minute.

The landscape changed constantly too.

Target up ahead! (this also makes me realise how long this post is going to be… we still aren’t even half way there).

This picture may look like it was taken on an angle, but it was not.

Hazy view, not quite Hallasan levels but making me think we won’t see much from the top!

I’m aware I probably need to post fewer photos of these craggy mountains ahead of me, but I just… I just love them!

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Selfie time

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First crystal of snow…
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Suddenly a lot more snow…
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The Pinnacle!
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At this point the wind was gusting over 110kmph and the snow was stinging every exposed part of me — my face, but also my calves! I watched great big men struggle to stay upright! I squealed as the wind whipped snow into my eyes, and I hugged the rocks as we clambered up to the highest point.

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Like a boss despite the howling wind!
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Leaning back against the wind – you can see my boots lifting off!

Then minutes later — this is the view!

We were following a loop which meant we didn’t have to walk the same way back — more landscape changes.

You can’t tell in this picture but it’s now starting to snow again, and the wind was still whipping around us, hence the stylish condom effect.

Getting well snowy!


Ok! That’s enough snow, let’s switch to flooded rainy paths! Definitely reminded me of Hallashan, this one…

The sun is out again…

and I’m obsessing over the lichens everywhere:




Another path presents itself just as the clouds go in.

Waterfall crossing again

Some time after this point I realised I hadn’t seen James in ages. He’s normally way up ahead and I don’t necessarily have him within sight, but generally he stops every now and then for me to catch up. I feel first faint annoyance, then mild anxiety, which prompts me to call out for him, because I am feeling quite isolated all of a sudden. Calling does nothing and my thin reedy voice seems to carry about as far as the next tree. I should pause and mention that my feelings about Tasmania’s landscapes are marked by a film called Van Diemen’s Land, which is famous for its bleak, untouched landscapes, surrounding desperate convicts who are completely lost, and who hack each other to pieces and eat each other as they desperately try to find… I don’t even remember what they were trying to find. ANYWAY. Rosie anxiety begins to evolve into actual panic that I’ve lost James and maybe he’s hurt himself somewhere or I took the wrong path, hah, hah, irrational anxiety is so amusing. I had started crying and wailing Jaaaaaaames, before I finally caught up enough for him to hear me and coming running back, convinced I must be in grave danger given my blubbering wails. Thereafter we held hands until I had regained my cool and my independence. Also we are almost done!

Second echidna sighting!

This one was less blasé and hid from us (in plain sight) under some bark.

And that’s it! Congratulations, you just blog-walked 18km up Mount Wellington and back down again, in rain, wind, sun, and snow. To come still: Mount Amos and Wineglass Bay.