How Green Was My Valley

Stop what you’re doing! Seriously, stop right now and get on your computer – oh, I guess you’re already on it. Ok then, leave this page and immediately book a trip to Salento, Colombia. You can fly into Periera or Armenia (yes, Armenia, Colombia) or, if you want, you can fly to Medellin or Bogota or Cali and take a long, curvy bus ride.
Still unsure? Here’s a taste of why you should do it:
 
Following the long and winding road I took from Medellin to Salento, and after finally arriving at the Eco Hotel La Cabaña, I enjoy a brie, apple and prosciutto sandwich while sharing a bottle of wine with the French family staying in the room next to me. They’ve also arrived today but, as they came earlier, they’ve taken a dip in the river behind our house. We’re all hungry and the owner’s daughter, Maria Camila, has brought us dinner to enjoy on the porch in front of our rooms where we chat about our Colombian adventures thus far and our plans for the next couple of days.
The Eco Hotel La Cabaña consists of two houses across the street from each other with a combined total of nine rooms accommodating 26 people. As I settle into my room, a few flying creatures welcome me. This is a leche finca or dairy farm, and, though only a five-minute drive from the town, it’s still in the countryside and, though there don’t seem to be mosquitos, there are moths and other random bugs. This is no reflection on the cleanliness of the place, it’s just my room has lights and these types of insects are attracted to them. After unpacking and catching up on the news (yup, it has cable TV), I settle under my down quilt for a good night’s sleep.HotelWhen I  awake in the morning I don’t want to get out of bed. It’s a bit cool, not cold, but after the heat of Cartagena, the change in temperature (low-60’s Fahrenheit in the morning) is a shock. Climbing out of bed, I open the curtains and consider the possibility that my bus through the Andes might not have made it to its destination safely and I may have died and gone to heaven. The daylight allows me to see what I couldn’t last night; large black and white cows roam the pasture just outside my window chomping on perfectly green grass looking as content as I feel.
 
PuppyI dress and walk outside, immediately hearing the splash of the gently rolling river behind the house. I now get my first real look at the two houses of the finca. The white buildings with red trim are built in the local style with railed porches surrounding the entire structure and Dogwhich remind me of the Antebellum homes found in the southeastern United States. Walking over to the main house I say hello to the very friendly and very-well taken care of dogs who belong to the ranch owners and some staff before settling in a seat in the small dining room where I meet some more fellow travelers and staff.
Breakfast is fresh fruit, tamales, eggs, toast, homemade cheese from the cows on the farm (well, the cows didn’t make the cheese, but they did supply the milk and the farm staff made the cheese), juice, yogurt (the yogurt in Colombia is in the form of a drink), and, being in the coffee region, coffee is available 24-hours a day.
During breakfast, I speak with Maria Camila about the options of activities here and, as the weather is nice today, both Maria and I decide it’s a good day to hike the Corcora Valley.
The Corocora Valley is part of the Los Nevados National Natural Park and is known for its Quindío wax palm trees which, growing as high as 150-200 feet (45-60 meters), are the tallest palm trees in the world. It’s also filled with other incredible flora and fauna, as well as lots of mud.
JeepThere are a few ways to see the Corcora Valley. 1) You can drive there and enjoy lunch, coffee, or a beer while contemplating the incredible scenery. Oh, and by drive I mean you catch a ride on one of the many Willys. These Jeeps, which were left over after World War II when the U.S. government no longer had a need for so many, found homes in the coffee region of Colombia. These workhorses are normally outfitted with some bench seats lining the sides of the back and can carry up to 10-or-more people using the front and back seats, as well accommodating four people standing on the back bumper while holding onto Jeep Insidebars on the roof. 2) Grab a Willy to the entrance and take a 2-hour hike into the Valley. 3) Grab that Willy (wow, this is beginning to sound dirty and perhaps you should do that in private) to the entrance and take the 4-6-hour hike through the jungle, up the mountain (up even further if you want to go see the hummingbirds and parrots), and then down into the Corcora Valley. Choosing option number 3, I grab my Willy (wait, do I even have one of those?) and head off.
The first step is to find a Willy. I’m staying just out of town between Salento and the Corcora Valley and most people find their Willy in the town square. (Please excuse me as I need to take a moment to bang on my ear to force the Willy jokes out of my head.)
Okay, I’m better now. On a normal day, I could wave down a Willy with an empty seat, or back bumper to climb on and bring me to the hike. Unfortunately, today is a holiday and many Colombians have come to the area for the long weekend. (I’ve been here for three weeks and this is the second holiday, though I don’t really understand what either holiday has been about.) Maria Camila calls a Willy for me which, as it’s now private, costs me 10-times as much as a shared one would (COP31,000 versus COP3,100 or about US$10.00 versus US$1.00).
I arrive at the park about fifteen-minutes later and find my way through the blue gate to begin my hike. I’m told the hike is well-marked and I shouldn’t have a problem with getting lost. I later find this to be true as I get lost without any problem. Before long, I arrive at a small wooden structure next to which stands a man pointing to a map painted on a wooden sign. He’s giving instructions in Spanish and eight or ten people from various countries who don’t speak Spanish are nodding their heads pretending to understand. The man collects our COP2,000 entrance fee and we move on.

Mud
General trail conditions

I slide along the muddy trail thankful for my waterproof hiking boots yet, as good as the traction may be, I still manage to accomplish pratfalls which leave my pants, shirt, and hands a healthy shade of brown. (It’s my own personal mud bath.) The trail winds through the jungle, up hills, and across a multitude of footbridges made from wood planks and wire which bounce and sway as I walk across. Being sure to wait for the person in front of me to exit before taking careful steps to balance on the wood while touching the thin wire along the side, I quickly learn not to grab the wire as some connecting areas on the bridges and many areas along the trail are linked with barbed Nun Crossing Bridgewire. At the first bridge, I wait for the habit-covered nun in front of me to cross. She stops for a moment before stepping on the bridge. Touching her head and chest, she first crosses, and then she crosses.
I continue on, meeting travelers from all over the world – lots of French and Israelis – slogging through mud, up and down hills (though mainly up), and crossing questionable bridges. I’d already decided not hike up to the birds as I had my fill of Hummingbirds in Minka and, as they surrounded my hotel verandah, I didn’t have to hike uphill for an extra half-hour to see them.
Top of hikeThough I was told the trail is clearly marked, there aren’t really any signs and, at the few intersections I come to, it’s a choice of one muddy trail versus another. Still, hikers help each other along the way to find the correct path. The last forty-or-so minutes are strictly uphill. Eventually, I come to a clearing which allows me to see a series of switchbacks climbing the side of a beautiful green hill. Taking a Flowers Mountain Corcora Valleybreak every twenty steps, I finally crest the hill where I find grateful people happy to have reached the top and enjoying just breathing while sitting on benches or lying in the grass. The sunshine and incredible views give us renewed energy while everyone refuels with snacks they’ve brought. Joining in, I take a half hour to simply breathe.
The rest of the hike is downhill. Along the way, I meet two Italian women who are hiking with a guide they’ve hired. We enjoy nice conversation before coming to the Corcora Valley. Around every bend Corcora Valleywe find unbelievable scenes straight out of a painting. The grass coating the rolling hills is perfectly trimmed and dotted with wax palm trees reaching high into the sky. The guide has us scraping our fingernails on the tree in order to feel the wax coating which indigenous tribes melt and use as a waterproof coating for their legs while crossing the river. She also tells us of the tradition to hug a wax palm and points us to one twenty-feet away on the side of the hill. I and one of the other women go in for the hug while the other lady introduces me to an Italian phrase, “I have arrived,” meaning “I’m done.”
Wax Palm TreesEventually, I do arrive and have a coffee at the small indoor/outdoor restaurant while sitting on a bale of hay and chatting with some locals and travelers. I walk over to the parking area and grab a Willy with one extra spot for me on the back bumper. I stand with three other women and, buzzed on adrenaline, we’re all feeling powerful after our hike and enjoying the wind combing our hair while traveling through the picturesque countryside. Fifteen-minutes later, I jump off the bumper, pay the driver (only 3,100 this time) and head straight to the shower.
Riding on the back of WIllyNow, what the hell are you still doing here? Book a trip to visit this paradise of Salento and the surrounding region right now!

The Good, the Bad, and the Thank-You's – Lord Howe Island

Here it is, my end of location article. This is where I tell you what was good about Lord Howe Island, what was not-so-good, and who I need to thank for helping me along the way in Lord Howe. I‘ll also provide all of the links to accommodations, restaurants, and activities which were listed in the various articles, all here in one handy list. It’s a great article to bookmark should you every have the good fortune of visiting Lord Howe Island.
I normally also include a budget, listing what I spent and where I spent it but, have you ever heard the expression, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it”? Well, this might refer to Lord Howe. Also, as I stayed with Farmer Jane and Kongy for at least a week, well, as the commercial says, that’s “Priceless.” Suffice to say that,a s expensive as LHI is this time of year (it’s winter here), prices pretty much double in the summertime.
First, let’s begin with The Good:View pointThe beauty – well slap my bum and call me Gladys, this place is unreal. You know those cartoons where they draw the place in such a way that it could only exist in a cartoonist’s eye? Yup, this is. UNESCO had the right idea when, in 1982, they named this a World Heritage Site.
Oh, and that’s another thing; they care about their UNESCO listing. I’ve been to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites and so often, the people and their governments take it for granted. Lord Howe Islanders will go to extreme measures to see that they don’t lose this. Check out one way they’re working to maintain their beauty on Rebel-With-A-Cause.
BonfireThe people – this island of 350-people is a community. They may gossip about each other, but they also care about each other.
Lack of WiFi and cell phone networks –  What? That’s good? Well, it can be.If you’re looking at having a vacation where your kids aren’t glued to their phone texting, or your wife isn’t looking for things on Pinterest, or where you can truly escape from work, this is the place.
Porch
The ease of getting around – Yup, it’s small. While you can walk to many places, it’s best to rent a bike during your stay and use pedal-power. And just think of how fit you’ll be when you leave.
The simplicity – While some things are difficult – WiFi, good hair-products, specific foods, furniture – other things make up for it. If you’re a local, you can walk into Joy’s Shop, buy some groceries and, if you’re short on cash, ask them to write it in the book. Yup, just like Nellie Olsen’s mom’s store, locals can just put it on their store credit (no interest) and pay-up every month-or-so. And going to the historical movie which the school-kids put on is part of this too.
HikingFishThe hiking – if you’re a hiker, you’ll find some of the best day-hikes in the world.
The fishing – See hiking.
The Bad
The prices – as most things must be shipped in, the cost of even basic food items is pretty darned high.
Availability of things – Yes, you can buy some clothes, some toiletries and some souvenirs, but your choices are very limited and, again, it’ll cost you. (For god sake, someone open a sushi restaurant!)
Rainy-day options – should the weather not cooperate, your rainy-day options here are very limited. The only movie theatre is set up with folding chairs and shows one movie per-week; the one of the history of Lord Howe Island and the flying boats.
Lack of WiFi – Yeh, I know I put it on the “Good” list. It simply depends of your individual needs The museum paid a huge amount of money for a satellite dish and pay’s each month too. This spend is passed onto those who choose to buy it. It looks like others will have to consider purchasing dishes as, just prior to my departure, it was announced that the island’s only internet company was pulling out due to lack of people using it (again, there are only about 350 people living on the island).
The Thank-you’s
Farmer Jane
Ukelele
A HUGE thanks to Farmer Jane and Kongy. I can’t find the words to express how grateful I am for your hospitality (and I’m a writer!). You invited me into your home, showed me your beautiful island, and helped me to experience all it has to offer. (And Farmer Jane, you let me beat you at golf.)
Glass Bottom BoatThanks to Chase ‘n’ Thyme Tours, Lord Howe Environmental Tours and Leanda Lei Apartments for the amazing tours and wonderful place to stay. GuideWhile they offered me comps and discounts, like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie, these activities and accommodations offer a great product. The tour companies helped me get to know, and see the beauty of, this amazing place on land and under the sea. And Leanda Lei offered me a comfortable place to lay my head and, if I chose to, cook a meal.
Weed teamThank-you to the Weed Team for allowing me to tag along with you. I learned so much about the flora and fauna of the island, as well as how hard you work. It was nice to see the pride you take in your job and your island. Curious about this project? Maybe want to volunteer with them? Read about the on Rebel-With-A-Cause.
Thanks to the students and teachers at the Lord Howe Central School. I appreciated the opportunity to speak with you, maybe inspire you, and meet you. You live in a special place and I hope you appreciate it. Still, when you get older, don’t be afraid to go out and explore the world; you can always come back home.
Finally – thanks to you, my Virtual Travel Buddies. Thanks for choosing where we travel to, following along, and sharing the articles. You’ll never know how much your support for this project has meant.
The Links
Accommodations
Leanda Lei Apartments
Activities and Interests
Chase ‘n’ Thyme Tours
Lord Howe Environmental Tours
Lord Howe Island Golf Club
Lord Howe Island Museum
Restaurants
Anchorage
Coral Cafe
Transportation
Qantas Airlines
Volunteering
Lord Howe Weed Team
Miscellaneous
Lord Howe Island Visitors Bureau
Lord Howe Island Central School
Thornleigh

Lord Howe I'll Miss You

This morning I head over to the museum and order up a coffee and spinach and cheese wrap from the coral Cafe with the intent of publishing a story. When I sign on to the Very Expensive WiFi (VEW) of Lord Howe Island, I’m shown that I have 70kb left. It should be plenty to publish a story and send a few E-mails. Unfortunately, five-minutes after logging in, I’m locked out and told I have no usage left. When I ask the museum to check, it shows that it is indeed all used up. Apparently, although I have automatic updates turned off and, when Firefox asked if I wanted to download their update I declined, it did it anyway (Dear Firefox: No means no) and left me with nothing. I’ve decided to stop fighting the WiFi challenge and let this one wait until I get to them mainland.
Farmer Jane comes to meet me and we enjoy a nice lunch before riding our bikes over to Lord Howe Environmental Tours where we rent a two-person kayak. We remove our shoes and drag the kayak into the water and begin paddling, After about twenty-minutes, we arrive at Old Gulch, a beach area with the only camping allowed in LHI. (Don’t get excited as only locals are allowed to camp here.) After dragging the kayak onto the beach we note the small motorboat already there and, as Farmer Jane knows who it belongs to, we hope to chase them down and ask them to tow us back, as the current seems to be picking up.
BeachWe walk through a skinny pathway farmed by jungle-plants on both sides before it opens up to reveal a rocky inlet with sharp, volcanic rock on both sides. Farmer Jane leads me to one side and we begin Hikingscrambling along the rocks. For the next twenty-minutes, we climb along the edge being careful not to fall into the water or trip on any of the sharp ricks jutting out. It’s fun as we scramble past small tide-pools where Farmer Jane tells me that, in the summer, they sit and have drinks in some, while jumping from rocks into others. One is home to crab which we stop to watch climbing the walls (none of these for dinner as they’re not the eating kind).
TidepoolsWe turn the corner and come upon three-fishermen. These aren’t the ones the boat belongs to, but Keith and Chopper, two-local men, and Brian, Keith’s son. As we sit chatting on the edge of the rocks, Brian has something bite his line. It’s a big one (don’t ask me what kind as the only fish name I could ever remember was The Incredible Mr. Limpit, an early 70’s Don Knotts movie). After dropping him in a tiny tide-pool, Brian baits his line once more, but this time Keith and Chopper toss their lines in and Fishjoin the fun. It’s incredible watching the fish bite, one after the other. The guys reel in the fish as fast as I eat Snowcaps at the movie theatre. After watching the guys reel-in no less than five more fish, Farmer Jane and I bid our farewells and head back along the rock’s edge.
Once we arrive at the beach, we take a seat and wait to see if the fisherman who owns the boat is returning soon. After about thirty-minutes, we finally give-up and resign ourselves to the fact that we’ll be paddling back. Luckily the wind has lightened, and we have a fun time paddling back while playing a car-game my family used to play on road-trips. (Name a word and the players must sing the line from a song with the word in it.) By the time we return the kayak, our bums and feet are wet and cold and we ride off to our separate abodes and grab showers before she and Kongy pick me up for one last dinner at the Anchorage.
I awake in the morning and pack up, as today’s the day I leave Lord Howe. While I often hang around a place to await the results of the next vote, Lord Howe is just a bit too pricey. Even while staying with friends, the food and WiFi are costly. And I really don’t want to over-stay my welcome because, as mom used to stay, “House guests are like fish; after a few days, they begin to stink.” Yes, Lord Howe is a bit of heaven, but it can cost as much as those pricey pearly gates. So, in order to save money while I’m waiting for your decision, I’ve decided to fly to Sydney, one of the most expensive cities in the world. Nope, I never said I was smart.
I spend the morning biking around LHI enjoying the final bit of beautiful scenery. I head down towards the south to see what I see. As I never received the E-mail confirmation of my flight which was booked with one simple phone-call while on the island, I figure I’ll just stop by the airport to be sure it’s all good. If this were the mainland, I’d have placed an irritated and concerned call much earlier than this, worried that my flight hadn’t been booked. But this is Lord Howe so, it’ll most likely work out alright and, if there’s a problem, I’ll just stay a little longer.
As I ride south, I say hello to the cows hanging in the pasture on the side of the road and turn into what I think is the airport drive. It turns out it’s the weather station and I decide to drop by to see if they’re launching the weather balloon today. You may recall, when we stopped by to see it on the Chase ‘n’ Thyme island tour, it had a wardrobe malfunction and couldn’t be launched that day.
I walk in and meet Amy, the meteorologist and Ruby, her dog. Amy explains that, unfortunately, the balloon won’t be launched today due to a technological issue. I’m beginning to wonder about this Dogtemperamental balloon. Still, I don’t miss the balloon at all as wind up being quite entertained by Ruby who really enjoys a good game of fetch, though she makes me chase after her to get her ball. Amy, the meteorologist, has been on LHI for about four-months. She came here ten-years ago and loved it and promised herself she’d be back. She went and studied meteorology with the hope that she get a post on LHI. I admire her for going after her dream. Amy makes a quick call to the airport for me and I confirm my flight.
After a good half-hour of chatting with Amy and playing with Ruby, I say goodbye and hop on my bike again, with one stop at the museum to grab a coffee and a muffin, and say goodbye to the good people at the museum and the Coral Cafe who have fed me coffee, I continue on to my lodge to meet Farmer Jane who gives me a lift to the airport.
I’m flying Qantas Link and, unlike my flight in, it isn’t a continuation of an international flight, which means, not only is my carry-on limited to 7kg and my confirmed checked bag to 14kg (the highest Airplaneallowable for a LHI flight – see Lord Howe Did I Get Here?), but the maximum allowable checked baggage for a domestic flight is 23kg and, well, I’m over that by about 5kg so I’m charged AUD$40. Farmer Jane and I wait in the sunshine on the lawn of the airport building (yup, the wind has died down and this is the best weather I’ve had since I’ve been here; just in time to leave). The flight isn’t full and I’m pretty confident that both of my checked bags will arrive with me (this is more than I can say for most other flights I’ve taken around the world). After tight hugs goodbye, I walk towards the plane without looking back. This constant travel can be a lonely business and it’s been nice spending an extended period with an old friend.
Tomorrow – An AirBnB learning experience.
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Fore!

Australia - Kira - Jungle hike
Farmer Jane playing in the jungle

It’s a bit of a lazy morning and, when the afternoon arrives, Farmer Jane and I venture out to enjoy some of the fresh air of Lord Howe Island. We head off on the easy Transit Hill hike which takes us through the jungle (yet actually on a trail and not through the jungle where the trees were conspiring to trip me as in Kids Say the Darndest Things). The trail periodically opens up to beautiful views of Mount Lydgbird, Mount Gower, and the turquoise Tasman Sea. LHI is undeniably one of the most beautiful places in the world.
LHI - Beach View from hikeWe hike down from Transit Hill and take a seat on various benches which are placed in strategic locations around the island in order for visitors and locals to simply enjoy the spectacular views and each other’s company. Lord Australia - LHI - Carole and Kira HikingHowe Island is a place where you can awake with absolutely no plan and enjoy a day just going for a walk.
We’d planned to go to one of the island’s lodges for dinner but, as Kongy has had a horrible day at work and will be late, we decide to drink a lot of wine and cook some pasta with fresh vegetables. Yup, a full day going for a simple walk, enjoying the beautiful views, and drinking wine. Lord Howe is full of simple pleasures.
We awake the next morning and I pack up my bags as, for the next two nights, I’ll be staying at Leanda Lei Apartments, a lodge where Farmer Jane works and which I’ve decided to try on to see how visitors to Lord Howe Island normally live. While Farmer Jane and Kongy have been most hospitable, it’s time to leave them in their house to do what young (and old) couples do.
Bags packed and ready to go, Farmer Jane and I ride our bikes down to the jetty to take a look at the Island Trader, the semi-weekly supply ship which is anxiously awaited by residents as, besides bringing supplies for local businesses, most residents order food, clothing and other supplies off the internet, which are delivered via the Island Trader. Farmer Jane normally earns some extra money unloading the supplies but, as she’s working through a pinched nerve in her back, we simply watch the small trucks come and go.
Island TraderWe ride over to Thompsons Store where we enjoy a burger on the front porch and take advantage of the warmth of the sunshine, hidden from the winds along the coast. Afterwards, we stop back at the house for a change of clothes. We’re going golfing today! With the exception of Putt-Putt, neither Farmer Jane nor I have ever golfed. It might be a hoot. And, we’ve decided to dress the part, so we Golfcreate some makeshift knickers and don caps so, if our golf game sucks, we can at least offer comic relief to anyone who might be watching. We ride to The Pines Lodge where Kongy is working hard installing brick walkways and landscaping, grab the keys to the “Ute” (utility trucks which are used by many on the island) and head over to the Lord Howe Island Golf Club, with a quick stop at the liquor store in order to pick up a few small bottles of champagne to quench our thirst on the course.
Golf
Yes, the cigarette helps

We place our envelope with our greens fees in the self-pay honor-system box, grab some clubs and a golf-bag carrier from out back, and head off to the first tee. Kongy has given us a few notes on which clubs to use where and we grab the big, fat driver from the bag after placing our tee on the green. We can’t see the flag marking the hole, but have an idea that it might be far down the fairway and up into a hill between some trees. Farmer Jane swings first and is, well, not too impressive. In fact, she completely misses the ball. Her second attempt is nearly as good as she takes a large chuck of grass and dirt out of the ground. Try number three is slightly more successful as the ball moves forward about forty meters. Unfortunately, the distance of this hole is three hundred twenty eight-meters.
It’s my turn next and I bend down and confidently place my ball on the tee. It takes me four tries to get my ball moving forward and, both Farmer Jane and I go slightly above the par four, as she hits a seventeen and I top her with a twenty-two. Knowing that this will be a long game, we crack open our individual champagne bottles and enjoy the spectacular view.
Golf
Harry’s a swimmer

The next hole goes much better as I’ve decided the problem with our game is that we haven’t named our balls. I name mine Harry and Farmer Jane names hers Blue (yeh, we know). The naming of the balls seems to help and Farmer Jane shoots an eight and I hit a nine, only three-times the par three. Hole number three nearly has me down on my knees laughing as Farmer Jane seems to be using a trick-ball as she keeps hitting it but it only travels about five meters each time. The F-word tumbles out of her mouth countless times as I lean over my club laughing in hysterics. Still, it doesn’t go much better for me as I lose my ball and have to continue on with Harry-2. The par is three and we both hit fourteen.
Australia - LHI - Kira Golf Course jungle
Jungle walk from hole 5 to hole 6

Holes four, five and six have similar success rates as the first three and, by hole six, I’m hitting Harry-4 and she’s moved on to Blue-4. Moving from hole five to six has us walking down the hill and through the jungle to finally reach the tee-off location. (I have no idea of the official term for it.) It’s taken us two hours to play six holes. We decide to call it a day as Farmer Jane has hit a seventy-six and it appears I’ve won with a seventy-five. The total par for these six-holes is twenty so maybe neither of us actually wins. We each drank two small bottles of champagne and I’ve not laughed that hard in a long time so perhaps, we both win.
We head on back to the house, pick up my bags, and head over to Leanda Lei where I enjoy an evening in my lovely room with great kitchen facilities. I have a four-burner stove on which to cook, along with a microwave, refrigerator, small appliances and dishes. I simply enjoy some bread and brie accompanied by a nice glass of wine.
Coming next, Lord Howe I’ll Miss You.
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Farmer Jane and Kongy

It’s always strange seeing someone you’ve known in one set of surroundings, in a completely different scenario. As I mentioned I know Kira from my time onboard Disney Cruise Line, when we both wore white adjustable pants and gold stripes on our shoulders. This week I’m getting to see her in jeans, Uggs and an apron while feeding the chickens, harvesting herbs and mowing the lawn. It’s fun to see and, as we all know my fondness for nicknames, Kira will now be referred to “Farmer Jane.” As her boyfriend Brenden is known on the island as Kongy, adapted from his last name, “Kong,” we’ll just use that.
Tonight, Kongy and Farmer Jane are hosting a barbecue. And, as the island has approximately 350 residents, around ten-percent of the island has been invited. While Farmer Jane mows the lawn and sets up the outdoor space, I head to the museum to grab some of their very expensive WiFi. When I walk in, there’s no one in sight, so I take a seat at a table and begin working. After about ten-minutes, an elderly man approaches and informs me that the museum is closed today. This is a simple mistake as, well, the door wasn’t locked. His name is George and, as he’s doing a bit of work, he says I can stay as long as he’s inside. George really wants to chat but, as I’m trying to finish working and get off this wallet-breaking internet. I finally explain that I just need to finish a bit more work and I’ll be all good to chat.
Coral CafeAs I continued working, more people have joined George inside to get ready for tomorrow’s big grand-opening of the Coral Café, a new café which will be housed in the museum. I complete my work and chat for a while with George, his wife Robin and Stevie and Janet, the owners of the Coral Café. George shows me the fancy sign which he’s made for the Coral Café and describes how he’ll embed coral in it. Lord Howe Island (LHI)- life is slow, and people have time for creative pursuits which they may come up with on a whim. Due to this, there seems to be a lot of creativity here.

Chickens
Farmer Jane

I head back to Thornleigh, and Farmer Jane and I head out to pick up various supplies for tonight’s barbecue. We return with ingredients for our recipes, ice, wine and beer. We return to cook some food and feed the ladies. The ladies are 29-hens and they hang around with two roosters. It’s a bit like a chicken-version of The Bachelor. We toss old food-scraps out to the cackling brood who pounce on it like teenage girls meeting One Direction on the street. The feed includes some discarded eggshells which, Farmer Jane tells me, helps the chickens produce quality eggs. To me, it seems a tiny bit cannibalistic.
Finally, food prepped, salads prepared and, thanks to Kongy, bonfire burning, the first guests arrive. We spend the next eight-hours enjoying all of the pot-luck food, great company, and adult beverages. There’s some ukulele playing, some drumming, and roasted marshmallows. Tonight is my chance to meet many of the colorful locals as well as find out how everybody ended up on this tiny island. While many were born here on
Ukelele
Kongy and his ukelele

LHI – which has definite advantages including being able to own land, have a dog and other rights without dealing with a waiting period – others were working on the mainland and, through someone who knew someone who knew someone, got them a job here. There are also those who had a relative who moved here and told them about their paradise. The one thing they all have in common is their love and appreciation for living here. Most tell me of their love of the slow and peaceful lifestyle here as well as it being the best place to raise children who aren’t glued to computers but instead, go snorkeling, play in tree-houses and learn ukulele in school.
BonfireI’m entertained by Yvette, a bawdy Australian whose boisterous, devil-may-care attitude entertains a crowd. Her husband, Bert, is friendly, bearded guy who says things like, “What a jolly little blaze,” when commenting on the bonfire brightly burning. We decide that I’m probably the first person in history whose first stop in Australia was tiny Lord Howe Island, a place many Australians haven’t even heard of. I ask if I’ll be receiving a key to the island though, as nobody locks their doors here, what would be the point? The last guests leave just around midnight and Farmer Jane, Kongy and I sit around the fire enjoying the view of the thousands of stars overhead.
I awake in the morning feeling much better than some (I’m pleased with myself for switching from wine to water early on) and, after a couple of cups of coffee, I leave Farmer Jane to find some relief from her hangover (Kongy’s off at work) while I go for a hike. A tourist couple I met the other day told me about the hike to Kim’s Lookout saying it led to the incredible view shown in all of the photos of LHI. I walk up Lagoon Road, the road off of which Thornleigh is located and which travels, nearly tip-to-tip from the north to the south of the island. Thornleigh is in the north end of the island, I head further north and Lagoon Road to the end and continue onto the path along Old Settlement FieldsBeach which puts the beautiful Tasman Sea on one side the striking, green fields which lead up to even more striking, green mountains. The path soon curves inward as I merge onto Memorial Track. Memorial Track might also be called Stairclimber Track as it begins with well-maintained planks which gently lead to higher levels before reaching steps formed from logs and pressed dirt. I climb and climb, and climb, and climb, and, well, climb. This is a test for my injured hips to see if the famous island-hike of Mt. Gower is in my future this week. Due to the injury and constant travel, hiking and the gym have been very limited and, well, I’m not exactly in fighting-form. I’ve taken a prescription pain-killer and am hiking on an unstable hip along sheer drop-offs from the cliffs I’m hiking along the edge of. What could go wrong?
I finally reach the top of Memorial Track where it intersects with Kim’s Lookout. I take a seat on the round platform resting area and spend the next half-hour chatting with a mother and daughter from mainland Australia. Mom has surprised the daughter with a last-minute trip to LHI for her thirtieth-birthday. They’ve brought vacuum-packed food with them from the mainland as they’d heard about how expensive food is here. They figure they’ll only need to eat out one night during the week they’re here.
View pointI continue on to Kim’s Lookout which has me doing more stair-climbing as well as some ups and downs along a dirt trail. The trail follows the ridge-line of the cliff and provides stunning views or the sea-currents far below, as well as some tiny, uninhabited islands. When I reach the intersection of Kim’s Viewpoint and Malabar Hill I take a break to enjoy the spectacular view from 208 meters (682 feet). It reminds me of the Cliffs of Moher which we saw in Ireland (read about it here). I take a seat on the rocks and, eventually, find myself lying down on the ground, listening to music and enjoying the magical view while basking in the sunshine (I’m finally warm!).
Beach ViewAfter twenty-minutes of lying on the ground, as well as stretching my hips and hamstrings, I reluctantly stand up and head on down Malabar Ridge. Traveling straight down through the dense forest, this is the opposite of the stair-climber. Finally, the forest parts and the only way forward seems to be through three gates spread out down a grass-covered hill which seems to be someone’s farm. I search around the immediate vicinity and find no other obvious trail so I reluctantly proceed down the hill which I’m sure is private property, as well as being somewhat manure covered. I go through the last gate and find myself within one of the island’s many lodges. Apparently I took a wrong turn, as I was supposed to end up at Ned’s Beach. As it’s a small island and you’re never too far from where you want to be, well, this is not a problem. I walk down the road to the jetty, where the supply ship arrives at the island every two-weeks in the summer, and every four-weeks during a couple of the winter months. I sit and listen to music while watching the waves crash over the off-shore reef. Lord Howe Island is a place to just stop and enjoy the moment, and I take advantage of it today.
Farmer JaneI make my way back, stopping at the Anchorage Restaurant for a coffee and well-deserved piece of cake before arriving at Thornleigh to see Farmer Jane sitting on the porch feeding the chickens.
Tomorrow – a bus tour around the island and an evening at the golf club.
.

Lady and the Tramp

Having zipped away my morning in Rotorua (read Flight of the Jungle Bee), it would be a shame to drive the hour straight back to Taupo without exploring. They day is young and I’m, well, not that old. I ask my guide Dan about some hikes in the area and he recommends the Okere Falls Track. The Kiwis have a few different names for things and walking or hiking trails are called tracks. Oh, and they don’t go hiking, they go tramping. As I’m going tramping this afternoon, that would make today Lady and the Tramp. Anyway, this “track” parallels the Okere River, also known as the Kaituna River, and assures some great views.
I drive the twenty-minutes from Rotorua Canopy Tours to the track, park the rental car and step out towards the trail. This is an easy tramp (only 3 Kilometers or 1.9 miles) which takes me walking through history, a lush forest and along a wild river. Rotorua was only the fourth town in New Zealand to have power and the Okere Falls Power Station generated it. At the beginning of the hike I pass one of the turbines which was used when the power station went into action in 1901.
I continue tramping (oh so many jokes) and soon reach the turn off for Okere Falls. As I walk down the steps, sound of rushing water gets louder and louder. I turn the corner and see a photographer sitting on the rail and I hear a whistle. I look down to see an enormous amount of water gushing down the waterfall tumbling out of the trees. The photographer sounds his whistle in response to the one I’ve just heard and, after just a moment, a yellow-raft loaded with seven people appears from the trees. Like the log flumes which used to be at amusement parks (what happened to those?) the raft glides down the falls and I watch as two people tumble out into the water. As I used to whitewater raft quite a bit, I know that this is sometimes the best part. The photographer, myself and a few other bystanders watch as two more rafts appear on the top of the falls and a few more people do some whitewater swimming. When the photographer announces there are no more boats coming, we disperse and I walk back up and continue tramping on down the trail.
RaftingI soon come to the signs for Tutea Falls and Hinemoa’s Steps to Tutea’s Cave. I walk down to the overview to see Tutea Falls, otherwise known as Kaituna Falls (see, they can’t decide on names), where I see what looks like something out of the Disneyland ride It’s a Small World. It’s the perfect, blue waterfall spilling out of the lush, green forest and emptying into a tropical pool. As I walk up, rafts begin appearing from the top. At seven meters, nearly twenty three-feet, this is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world. As before, there are photographers and screams, but no swimmers this time. This is the last rapid for the rafting trips because, well, after this, everything else would be a let down (or perhaps they just need a stiff drink).WaterfallFrom here, I head down to Tutea’s Cave, which is less a cave and more a dent in the rock. Actually, it supposedly goes far in but, as the walkway extends just a couple of feet in, and the cave is dark, there’s just not that much to see.
I start the climb up the steps and continue on the dirt path where I stop at another viewpoint of the river and the falls before exploring some of the dirt paths I come across. I return the way I came, climb in the car and head back to Taupo to the cold house (two words New Zealand – Central Heating) and warm dog.
I decide to head out to a local restaurant in town for dinner. I hope to grab a Guinness at the Irish Pub I’ve found online as I’ve stopped by Irish pubs in most of the countries I’ve been and found them really friendly (perhaps it’s simply due to the whole getting drunk on Guinness thing). On their website, this place talks about their music and trivia nights and seems like a genuine Irish pub. In reality, this is a dive-bar. It’s a cold, dark room with a small bar. While they seem to have Guinness, I’m looking for the warmth of a traditional Irish pub and this has none of that. I politely tell the bartender that I might be back (I really need to stop worrying about insulting people) as I slip out the door.
This town has many fine-looking restaurants and I pop into one of them. There are only about ten customers inside this very large place. I sit at the bar which is far away from the door leading to the cold outdoors and ask for the menu. I order a Pinot Noir (not my choice anywhere else, but these New Zealand ones are fabulous) the young bartender seems confused. I point out the wine on their menu and he seems to understand. I then order the Cioppino (a seafood stew). Once again, I’ve confused bartender boy and, once again, I point to my selection on the menu. He nods his head and appears to understand. I then ask for the Wi-Fi code as my phone has detected a guest network. Bartender boy looks at me, shifts his eyes and says, “Um, I have to check.”
He disappears and, eventually, returns with the code “coffee.” I can see how that one might be difficult to remember. I slap on my best understanding look and say, “So, has this place recently opened?”
“I work twenty-hours a week,” he responds.
Um, okay. He disappears again and, after a while, returns to begin wiping the counter. I ask if maybe I could get my wine (I’ve been here ten minutes). He looks up, surprised (he’s obviously forgotten it), and asks the lady around the corner if she can pour my wine. He then heads over to the table of three middle-aged men sitting behind me and sits down. (I have a feeling these are the owners and he’s related to one of them.)
After another twenty-minutes, my meal is placed in front of me. Okay, perhaps not my meal, but certainly a meal. And while I like salmon, it’s not what I ordered. I point this out and the waitress apologizes, takes away the salmon and assures me it won’t be long. I notice one of the men at the table behind me where the boy bartender is sitting mentions this to him. Finally, after another ten-minutes, my meal is placed before me. While the food is not incredibly impressive, my expectations have been lowered and I’m simply impressed that I finally got the Cioppino. I snarf down my food and, as the boy bartender has returned, I ask for the check. I go through the process of paying and the boy never apologizes for getting things wrong, or even looks at me. I want to give him a nice little lecture on customer service and how, if you get things wrong, and apology goes a long way, but I feel it would be wasted. I actually question whether boy bartender might be wasted (could that be the problem?)
The next day, after some morning work, Frank and I head over to Huka Falls. It’s in Taupo and there’s supposedly a nice hike there and, well, who am I kidding, I just really like the name. Frank and I head over to the trail-head where there’s a lot of water flowing over a very small waterfall. It seems more like a dam with rapids at the bottom. I see a sign pointing out trails in either direction and turn right down the one for Huka Falls. I take a deep inhale (ha!) and begin my Huka tramp.
Huka Falls HikeThis tramp follows the river and offers stunning viewpoints of the surrounding area. I keep Frank on the leash until I see another dog run past free as a, well, dog off a leash. After a few more minutes of walking and contemplating whether I’ve established myself as alpha dog enough so that Frank will listen if I call, I decide to trust (something I’m relearning after Asia as well as My Man Friday). Frank doesn’t disappoint Frank the Dogand, while enjoying running around, he waits for me every few hundred yards, as well as stopping when I tell him to. (Why can’t all men be like this?) I stop for a while to chat with a German guy sitting on a bench enjoying a sandwich, as well as some Australian women. When I ask the German guy how far Huka Falls is, he points to where I’ve just come from and says he doesn’t know as he came from the other direction. It turns out the unimpressive falls I saw near the parking lot were Huka Falls and the sign was just indicating the trail called the Huka Falls Trail.
It’s time to turn around as the beauty of this hike seems to be the trail itself and I’ll be approaching the parking lot on the other end soon. Frank has a great time running along the trail and I enjoy the beautiful views on the return trip.
Tomorrow – Bath Time.

A Visit to the Cliffs of Insanity

An expert on the Irish bus system (ha!), today I have big plans for another road-trip. I lace up my hiking boots and head out the door of the hotel and walk the seven blocks to the bus station where I catch bus which will eventually take me to the Cliffs of Moher. Everybody from locals, to tourists I’ve met, to my mechanic back home has told me the Cliffs are a must.

Cliffs

The Cliffs of Moher is Ireland’s most visited natural attraction with nearly a million visitors per year. They rise to 702 feet (214 meters) above the Atlantic Ocean at their highest point and stretch along the coast for five miles (eight kilometers). Formed by thousands of years of erosion they’re named after the ruined promontory fort “Mothar” which was demolished during the Napoleonic wars to make room for a signal tower. All this amazing history and my favorite part, as a fan of the movie The Princess Bride, is that these are The Cliffs of Insanity!

Cliffs

By 11:30 I’ve arrived at the Visitors center and have purchased a ticket. The price is €6 but, if you tell them you’ve taken Bus Ēireann, your ticket will only be €4. From the visitors center I see long lines of people, to my left and to my right, walking uphill as if on a pilgrimage to Mecca, or even a climb up the Khumbu Ice Fall on Everest. I head out to join the party. I decided to first walk towards O’Brien’s Tower, a castle-like tower on the Cliffs to the right.

O'Brien's Tower

The walk is up steps and paved inclines. It will get your heart pumping, but just for a few minutes and is not much of a strain for most people. The other people don’t get in the way unless, of course, you want to get that perfect photo, and then you’ll only have to wait a minute for them to complete theirs. And, if you ask them nicely, they’ll take your photo once they’re finished.

I stop at various points along the wall to take photos and absorb the awe-inspiring view. It’s inconceivable (this word, I do not think it means what you think it means)! When I finally make it to the tower, there’s an extra fee to climb up to the top. As I don’t feel the view can possibly be any better than it already is, I pass it up and continue along the path. Soon I come upon a fence with a sign stating that I am now entering a private farm and the owners cannot be responsible if I, you know, fall over the side of the cliff to a spectacular death. I’m okay with that so I cut around the side of the fence with everybody else and walk along the dirt path to admire the view just a bit longer.Cliffs of Moher

After walking a while, I turn around and explore the other side. I make my way down and head up the other side. The views are different yet just as spectacular.

Forty-five minutes later, I head back to the visitors center to see their exhibition on the Cliffs and pick-up a sandwich. The exhibition is a nice 10-15 minute walk through the history and geology of the Cliffs of Moher. It’s worth it if only to see how all of the continents used to fit together into one giant puzzle called the continent of Pangaea.

I pick up a steak and ale pie (note to self: make an appointment with a cardiologist after this trip) and head off for a hike along the Cliffs to the town of Liscannor, The bus schedule lists Liscannor as a stop along the route back to Limerick so I figure I can pick up the bus there. I begin my hike back up towards the left, once again taking in the beautiful views. I stop here and there to take photos for myself and often for others as this view is too beautiful for a selfie. I pass by people speaking nearly every language imaginable and make some observations – the Spanish, French and Italian will stop in the middle of the trail to talk or take photos, completely oblivious to anybody else trying to pass. The Germans and eastern Europeans walk two, three and even four people side-by-side and knock off anyone coming from the other direction if they don’t get out of the way. The Americans talk really loudly, even when they’re walking right next to each other.

As this is not America and they don’t feel the need to act like my mommy and fence me in, I take advantage and sit on the edges of the cliffs which, honestly, looks a lot more dangerous than it is as I get on the ground a few feet away and crawl to the edge. Note to all those who are terrified of getting less than ten feet from the edge – these cliffs have been here for thousands of years and it’s unlikely that the ground you are standing on will suddenly melt away and fall into the sea. Still, you never know.

Cliffs of Moher

I continue walking when I run into a couple of American Franciscan Friars. Brother Frantisek and Brother Bernardino allow me to ask questions about their religion and being a Friar. I ask what makes a Franciscan a Franciscan (other than the whole Rice-A-Roni thing). They explain that they take a vow of poverty (what a coincidence, so have I) and that, as the word ‘friar’ comes from the Latin word ‘frater’ which means ‘brother,’ they are called brothers. They live in houses, usually of four to six brothers, in regular neighborhoods. It’s pretty much like Animal House without the drinking, the smoking and the sex (oh yeh, there’s that vow too). I wonder if they nickname each other privately, you know, Brother Bluto, Brother Otter and Brother Flounder. They tend to live in poorer areas so they can assist the community.

As I continue on, the crowds lessen. I run into an area consisting of hundreds of cairns. Hikers will know that cairns are piles of stacked rocks used to mark hiking trails without disturbing the environment. The cairns I see mark no specific spot and nobody seems to have an explanation for them except to say they’re probably built by people passing by just to do it. I tell a kid I run into that they’re fairy houses that the fairies live in at night when all of the people leave.

Fairy Houses

As I continue on I should note what you should bring with you to the cliffs. Bring a T-shirt, a sweater, a warm jacket and a raincoat. Yup, you never know what the weather will be here. Oh, and ladies, if you bring nothing else, bring a hair clip or ponytail holder. It’s windy. Not the nice, cooling breeze kind of windy, but the, “oh my God, it’s a twister Dorothy” kind of windy. I tell the lady in the gift shop that they should sell them and they’d make a fortune.

Cliffs of Moher Wind
Two words – Hair Clip

After walking for some time, I decide to give up my plan to walk to Liscannor and head back as, after I’m back at the Visitors center, I will have hiked for three hours, and besides, they have ice cream there.

I grab a 99 – ice cream with a chocolate Flake bar in the top – which costs €2.00 (hmmm) and, faster than you can say, “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die,” the bus has arrived and I’m on my way back to Limerick.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Spencer Butte

Have you read “A Yurt By Any Other Name?” You might want to do that first.

After a really terrible night’s sleep, I wake up vowing not to let it affect my mood this first full day in Oregon. I couldn’t get comfortable last night, but think it was more my own back issues than the Roundhouse bed. To quote Indiana Jones, “It’s not the years honey, it’s the mileage.”

I trek on over to the shower and drive over to a coffee kiosk a mile down the road that I noticed last night. I order a latte and a bagel and my mood vastly improves. I’m ready! But ready for what? So far, when I ask locals what their favorite thing to do here is, besides mushroom hunting, the consensus seems to be, hike Spencer Butte. So, now that I’m caffeinated, I throw on my yoga pants (I didn’t bring shorts as the temperature was supposed to be in the low 70’s and to this current Phoenician, that’s sweater weather) and lace up my hiking boots and I’m ready.

Water bottle in hand, I drive on over to Spencer Butte park, about 10 minutes away and begin the hike. There are a few choices of trails. I decide on the “Main Trail” as it’s about a 700 foot elevation gain in about a mile, as opposed to a 700 foot gain in about 1/2 mile. Slow and steady, thank you

I’ve been told by Nate at the Roundhouse that it’s an hour up so it should take a few hours. The online guide says it’s a 2 to 6 hour hike. As is true with most hiking guides they overestimated the time. It takes me about 45 minutes to reach the summit. The last part is true scrambling. I’m sure there’s a trail somewhere but I’ll be darned if I can find it. I’ve met a couple of women on the trail and they can’t seem to find it either. As we can see the summit, we decide it’s every woman for herself and make our own path. While the views along the way have been impressive, the views from the top are outstanding.

A view from the top

As I reach the top, not only do I see views of green rolling hills with tall pines and farmhouses to rival Switzerland, I also meet four twenty-somethings and their two dogs (no idea how old the dogs are). By “meet” I mean I catch my breath for a minute and say hello. They nod.

I decide I’ll win them over with my sparkling personality and ask, “Oh, are these the famous Guard Dogs of the Mountaintop?”

They say nothing.

As I like dogs and they generally like me, I hold out my fist to them to let them smell me (because apparently, to smell me is to love me). One seems nice enough but the other starts growling and showing his teeth.

I back off and say, “Um, are they friendly?”

The only response I get from the twenty-somethings is a sideways look and a smirk. For a minute I wonder if they speak English, but a few minutes later I hear them having a perfectly good conversation in my native tongue. I’m later told by one of the women I’ve met on the hike that this is typical of Eugene twenty-somethings. They tend not to speak unless it’s required of them. Apparently the possibility of me being attacked by Cujo didn’t rate high enough.

I sit and stare in awe at the most amazing view while chatting with Sonnet and Liz, college friends who have gotten together for a mini-reunion. Sonnet lives in Eugene and will be taking the Bar Exam this summer. Liz is a vet (the animal kind not the army kind) and the squirrels seem to know it as they’ve followed her to the top of the mountain. After about 30 minutes she announces that they must get going as she has to get a run in as she’s training for a marathon (I hate her).

Sonnet and Liz

After a few minutes more of enjoying the views, I make my way down, hop into my car and head downtown to hit up one of the famous Portland food trucks (I’ll carb-load for the marathon). I find a truck called Slurp which serves, Slurpwhat I’m told is the best Kahlua pork from a recipe handed down by the owner’s grandmother. I forego the rice, cutting the carbs (okay, no marathon for me) and get it only with the pineapple and cabbage. I take it over to Townshend Teahouse which has introduced me to Bubble Tea (fun to say and even more fun to drink) and Kombucha which is a fermented tea that’s supposed to be really good for you and is also quite tasty.

After eating my pork and drinking my Kombucha, I hop in my car and head over to The Hideaway Bakery to meet an old coworker for their Tuesday Pizza and Live Music evening from 5:00-8:00pm. They have beer, they have wine, they have pizza, they have music and they even have a sandbox. What more could you want? We get to catch up over another great Oregon brew while her three year-old plays in the sandbox and I get to hold her six month-old which I miss terribly since leaving my last job working with kids. Everybody’s happy.

Tomorrow – serving lunch, busing tables and The Joys of Indoor Plumbing!