Monday, October 6, 2014

Polish Mountains and Spanish Flats

I decided to split this year's holiday into two parts - one week in Poland, hiking the High Tatras and the second week in Spain walking the Camino de Santiago trail with G.


I started off with going to Poland with Exodus who I'd used before for the Mt Blanc circuit and Nepal. After a late night flight to Krakow and a transfer to Zakopane the next day, I met the gang I'd be spending the next week with.

There were two other women in the group (who were cousins from France) and the rest were lads from Wales, Scotland and England. Teresa, a mini powerhouse from Poland was our guide. It was a 5 day walking trip in the Tatra National Park where we'd average 15-20km per day over quite steep terrain that either seemed to be going straight up or straight down. We were also carrying our full packs most of the time, around 11kgs so that was a workout in itself.

Each night we stayed in huts with bunk beds and communal dining areas. Earplugs were essential! The huts were all very clean and most had hot showers. Food portions in Poland are enormous and we all struggled to get through the massive 3 course meals every night, even after a hard day's slog in the mountains. No wonder the Polish people are so active! The next few days panned out like this.

Day 1: Ornak peak (1854m)

Day 2: Ciemniak, our first 2000m peak. On the way we could hear a bear in the distance having a grumpy morning growling session. Thankfully he didn't seem to want to follow us up.

Day 3: Back up to the main ridge to the summit of Mt. Kasprowy (1955m) and then Swinica (2050m)

Day 4: We had to start using fixed mountain chains to help us as we scrambled up the mountain to cross the 'Eagles Perch' (2159m) - scary stuff pulling yourself up a mountain using a chain that you're not attached to. You slip and its bad news!

Day 5: We headed for Poland's highest peak, Mt. Rysy (2499m) on the Polish/Slovakian border. This was a 12 hour day with lots more chains and scrambling. I wasn't altogether happy on some of the chains but it was worth it in the end. We heard later that day about a man who slipped while scrambling on a trail nearby that was easier than the one we were on. He fell 150m. Sadly it didn't end well. Thankfully we didn't have to come down the same way we came up so we went down the Slovakian side, which is long but not so steep.

We headed back to Krakow on the Fri lunchtime and just wandered the city and the markets. On Sat morning a bunch of us went to the Salt Mines, totally worth a visit. We finished up with a group dinner in the Jewish district on Sat night before leaving for the airport on Sun morning.

Here's the link to the photos - Polish Tatras



I got to Madrid Sunday afternoon from Krakow, bolted through the airport with my pack like a sweaty mess to try and catch a 3:15 bus to Burgos where I was going to meet G. I got to the bus with 2 mins to spare only to be told the bus was full and I'd have to wait another 3.5 hours for the next one. After a bit of a sulk, I cheered myself up with wine while I waited.

While I was in Poland for the week, G was walking the Camino from Pamplona to Burgos. He's done the whole thing before but I was joining him for his favourite portion. We planned to walk for 5 days until Sat where we'd head to Santander before flying home on Sunday.

After finally making it to Burgos on Sunday night, we got up early the next morning and started our walk. There are yellow arrows, mostly spray-painted on walls or the ground which indicate the Camino trail.

We managed to cover 127km in 5 days. Much flatter and hotter than Poland but still carrying a full pack, which was a little heavier than Poland since I was wearing less clothes in the heat. The Camino seems to be rather unique in that its super friendly, more so than any other hiking trail I've been on. People wish one another a 'Buen Camino' as they pass by each other, and the common questions asked are 'where did you start', 'how far are you walking', 'how are the feet'?

G  was like the mayor of the Camino as he seemed to know so many people having chatted to them the week before!

Each night we stayed in Albergues, similar to the huts in Poland with dorms of bunkbeds. There's a communal dining area where everyone sits together to eat from the 'pilgrim' menu (a lovely 3 course meal) which includes a bottle of water and wine for only €9. Some of the towns we stayed in were absolutely tiny so there was plenty of opportunities for star gazing and satellite watching both in the evenings, and again when we hit the road early in the morning before sunrise.

One evening we decided to stay on a farm where ducks, geese, turkeys, hens, chicks, dogs and donkeys wandered around the place, all getting along (most of the time). Instead of staying in the dorm we stayed in what was basically a large garden shed with a bed in it. We even walked the ducks and geese to bed with the hospitalier (they waited outside his room for him as they liked him to walk them to where they slept every night).

Apparently lots of people skip the section we did as its quite barren and desert-like but of course this was exactly what I was looking for. We met a grandfather and his grandson who were walking the whole of the Camino together, the grandfather was 78! It takes around 6-8 weeks to walk the entire thing. And we met a mum and her 8 yr old son who were walking together although the son was on his bike. He'd cycle ahead on the trail chatting to everyone he met and would then wait for his mum who was carrying both of their packs to catch up. In the evenings he'd do his homework.

After 5 days of walking, we reached SahagĂșn. Sadly it was time to get the train to Santander and our flight home. Splitting the 2 weeks into 2 different destinations in such a short space of time was new for me but it really made me feel like I had been away for longer than I was, so I may try that type of thing again. Anyway, must plan some mini weekend walking trips to keep me going till the next big one...

Here's the link to the photos - Camino