Colombia 🇨🇴: Colonial village spotting on the Camino Real

Camino Real (‘Kings Road’) is a generic reference to a vast network of former indigenous trade routes that were subsequently paved by Spanish conquerors. We hiked about 42km from Cabrera to Los Santos (including a fair amount of climbing) while most people just hike the short 6km from picturesque Barichara to Guane. This part of the camino real was rediscovered by German Geo van Lengerke (a run-away murderer) who used his road engineering skills to support his own trade business. It also has a religious touch with virgins and other religious items on display throughout. However, it is nowhere near the pilgrimage you get to experience on the Camino de Santiago.

Day 1: Cabrera to Barichara (8km)

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/cabrera-barichara-25092975

Catch a bus from San Gil to Cabrera from the regional bus terminal to get to the trail head. It takes about one hour once you actually leave San Gil (=when the bus is full). Pretty bad road and slow going, but nice scenery.

Cabrera is a nice little town and the actual starting point of the camino real. The first stretch takes you 400m straight uphill following the 14 stations of the cross – each depicted with a small sign. The trail is obviously less well traveled and in bad shape. As you climb up, the scenery unfolds though. Amazing views over Cabrera and the surrounding mountains. After 2km or so you top out. From here is it about 6km straight to Barichara with great views again.

Barichara is a really well maintained, clean colonial town and popular amongst tourists. Highlight for us was a super tasty dinner at Shanti. Very enjoyable evening indeed.

Day 2 – Barichara – Guane – Villanueva (14km)

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/camino-real-barichara-guane-villanueva-18970409

We left it late to leave the hotel after a great breakfast on this rather warm 1st advent Sunday. After a little more reconnaissance of Barichara we got on the most popular section of the camino real – a 5.5km stretch to Guane. The hike is almost all the way down (adding to popularity) and well preserved for large parts. All the way you are entertained by the spectacular scenery of the Santander region.

We reached the village Guane by 11.30 for refreshments including a shot of Sabajon – mine with whisky and Laura’s with tequila. Similar to baileys and rather tasty – so we bagged two bottles (I would come to regret that decision a little bit later on).

The heat had picked up by now and the path out of Guane to Villanueva leads uphill (c600m). After the first 200m climb is the last shop on the way – we got some more liquid in and continued up.

Half way is a viewing point (mirador) with great views and after another 300m climb we reached the top and crossed over into the opposite valley where the roofs of Villanueva greeted us.

Villanueva was a lot bigger than we anticipated (given there was not a single listing on booking.com) and didn’t quite have the same charm as tiny Guane or colonioal Barichara. First up was finding a hotel… The old fashioned way! (and yes, still works!).

Back in town we sampled a few empanadas, visited a billards boozer for some beers and had dinner in a local fast food place as most restaurants where closed Sundays. What a stark difference to the tasty homemade dinner in Barichara yesterday…😔

Day 3: Villanueva – Jordan (17km)

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/villanueva-jordan-3810015

This day promised to be an easy one. In the beginning flat and from about half way just down. So we didn’t leave too early, about 10am. We’d pay the price by way of getting grilled later in the day.

First event of the day was a lonely puppy not far from Villanueva. It seemed lost and frightened. Laura, always the animal lover, managed to feed her all our bread (=lunch) and a fair amount of water before we left it near a school where two construction workers carried out some refurbishments.

A bit further we reached a small village and enjoyed refreshments while watching locals playing ‘bolos criollos‘ – a very basic version of bowling with three pins in front of a wooden plank wall and an iron ball thrown at them (rather than bowled). Not long after we reached an amazing viewpoint into Chicamocha canyon.

 

From here the descent into the valley and ultimately the village of Jordan began. It was hot (and getting hotter with every step down) and the sun burnt relentlessly. Further, the path down has lots of loose rocks and one can slip easily. In fact, the following day a tuk tuk driver told us of occasional fatalities as people slip and fall (and no-one finds them for days on this not a well trodden path). On the flip-side, views were stunning.

Once in Jordan, a village with 70 inhabitants, we secured a bed in the only hostel around and got ourselves finally some food. Evening relaxed with some smule karaoke action going! Hallelujah. Literally.

Day 4: Jordan – Los Santos (5.5km)

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/jordan-los-santos-28269980

The last day had arrived. The shortest day (on bloody paper that!), but with 900m of climb ahead to get out of the canyon up to Los Santos. Upon leaving Jordan we bumped into another hiker from Bogota who asked us a seemingly endless number of questions. He, however, would only hike tomorrow (well, we think he wont 🤣😂).

The path is of much better quality than yesterday’s descent and more improvements are being done as we speak. Every 100-200m of ascent little huts provide shelter from the sun. Just take sufficient water (and best some ice)… You will need it. I recommend 2.5l per person. If you run out, there is a little creek to take water about 3/4 up the way.

By midday we reached Los Santos Another beautiful village and with significantly better infrastructure than Jordan. Here we concluded our hike with a quick picture in front of the church. Time for some food (the Camino Real restaurant offers not cheap, but tasty lunch… Try the trout!).

Buen Camino everyone!

Scottish National Trail: Loch Freuchie two day trek – Let’s get wet baby (day 7 & 8)

Today: 53km | Total: 236km

Before we left Comrie on day 6, we did a little planning and figured the next 50km or so are a two-day hike without option to resupply (unless begging farmers). So we did some late night shopping and downloaded relevant offline maps (I use the ViewRanger app, stages for the trail are here) before hitting the sleeping bags somewhere outside the town.

Laura’s comments

Día 6: Un día para recordar. Sólo lee el blog Scottish National Trail: Novia Perdida (day 6). 😔😂

Día 7 y 8: El día 7 fue un gran día, mucho sol, muy caliente y paisaje increíble, perfecto, similar a mi ciudad, una noche increíble y con mucho tiempo para descansar.

Para el día 8 hubo mucha lluvia, mi chaqueta no es a prueba de agua, por lo cual caminé todo el tiempo con la ropa muy húmeda, afortunadamente Ronny tenía (hand warmers) y obtuve un poco de calor, el frío en Escocia es muy fuerte para mí. Afortunadamente unos kilómetros después encontramos una pareja qué muy amablemente se ofrecieron a darnos un chance hasta nuestro destino, el pueblo de Aberfeldy. 😁

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THROUGH THE 200KM MARK (1/3rd DONE) 😀 🏕

Day 7 started a bit slow. We either missed a path for it was overgrown and invisible or for lack of map reading skills on my side. Time went by, but the mileage didn’t budge much. It also involved fighting our way (literally) through spaces with loads of plants… Just like in the jungle. Hello Jane & Tarzan!

Well, we got ourselves sorted eventually and enjoyed a beautiful day out. A lot of uphill again (700m ascent) crossing over from one valley into another on our way to Loch Freuchie.

With so much delay we called it a day much earlier than usual after only 19km, took our time to wash in the cold but clean river water, had egg & cheese omelette as well as soup and just a little more time with sunlight than usual. A little luxury.

Scottish readers of the blog might have missed comments on midges. Well, they were not worth mentioning so far. They are now. Nasty little things. Thankfully the repellent (40% deet) works and the tent has a good insect cover.

Our second day was the exact opposite of the previous day. We woke up with rain banging on our tent. I just managed to rescue Laura’s shirt, which she washed the night before. We were tempted to stay in the tent all day. But then, we only had food for a day and don’t have much time to spare.

So we packed up in rain and got going by 10am. It was not too bad and to our surprise busier than usual. First up a group of scouts, then a group of mainly german tourists. So far, so good.

The rain was non-stop. It didn’t take long for the gloves to get wet, our pants, then Laura’s Decathlon jacket. Just not made for Scottish summer. By lunchtime we reached Loch Freuchie… In hope of a warm meal. Laura was soaked and now the gas canister empty. Shit!

So back to emergency supplies like HUEL (meal in powder form… Today with pineapple & coconut flavour), crackers and a bit of leftover red wine. We had a few spare clothes too and handwarmers to get going in good spirits again.

And so we trodded on. After some 24km we were on the final stretch into the town of Aberfeldy when we met two other hikers. They spent the weekend in a bothy with their dogs and offered a lift into town. How could we say no? ☺️🙄

Fun ride with these two – a Scot and his Slovakian partner. Turns out he has been extensively in South America including Colombia. What a coincidence!

Anyway, we enjoyed a great pub dinner at ‘The Fountain’, booked a room for the night and were happy ever after 😴😴😴

Tomorrow a bit of shopping to get done before hitting a three-day trek across the Cairngorms. Can’t wait!

Scottish National Trail: Edinburgh all the way North to Cape Wrath (day 1)

So, the recovery time past the Elbe paddle is up and two big parties are digested. Now it’s time to get back outdoors to hike the Scottish National Trail from Edinburgh all the way North to Cape Wrath, the northernmost point on the british mainland. In total 750km of fascinating countryside, villages and people lie ahead (as well as rain, wind, sore feet…).

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Slateford – Ratho – Broxburn

Today: 20km | Total: 20km

The first day started only about 3pm. First we had to travel back to Edinburgh from Dunkeld, had a publunch before we finally got going in Edinburgh suburb of Slateford. We had no specific destination in mind for today – one of the positives of carrying camping gear.

 

The Scottish National Trail is an 864 kilometre-long long distance walking route running the length of Scotland from Kirk Yetholm to Cape Wrath. Devised by outdoors writer and broadcaster Cameron McNeish in 2012, the Trail offers very varied walking, following long-established footpaths for much of the distance but becoming progressively more difficult as it heads north, finishing with a tough stretch of backpacking – with some pathless and demanding terrain – on the final stretch of the Cape Wrath Trail.

All in, we managed 20km along the Union canal who will be literally on our side for at least two days. Our first major stop was at the pretty village of Ratho with its iconic The Bridge pub and nice residential developments around a small marina. From there further to Broxburn.

 

Obviously, it had to rain on the first day. Welcome to Scotland! Laura’s jacket was not quite up to the job. The rest of the gear was ok though (well, the new boots still need a little more breaking in).

Laura’s comment (day 1)

Otra aventura con Rocket ha comenzado. Las espectativas del viaje son muchas, aún conociendo las condiciones de los diferentes lugares y el común clima de Escocia, tengo la certeza que será un GRAN tiempo en este maravilloso país. 👧🏻

 

One highlight for me came late in the day, as we fixed our empty stomachs with dinner at a Broxburn burger place (one of the traditional ones). I tried fried Haggis… And i loved it. Defo gonna get some more of that stuff while up here. Not sure why i waited that long to try it.

Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs, minced onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach though now often in an artificial casing instead. According to the 2001 English edition of the Larousse Gastronomique: “Although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour”.

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Exploring the Pyrenees around Queralbs

The first time I encountered Pyrenees mountains was in 2015. The first stage of my camino de Santiago took me right over them (see here). This time was a little more relaxed and just a day trip to Queralbs and a 800m hike up to Nuria. Views were stunning and fresh air & exercise made for a really nice day out. On the way home also a quick stop in the town of Vic.

The journey to Queralbs, close to the french border, took about 2h including a mandatory breakfast break. The village is the last place you can reach by car in that parts of the Pyrenees at some 1200m altitude. From here you either hike up to c2000m altitude to reach the village Nuria or you hop on the train like many tourists do (what a waste that would be in my eyes).

The hike is some 8km in distance and about 800m climb. A real pleasure and even at a relaxed pace doable in 2,5h. Once you get to the top there are further hiking options to the surrounding peaks, boat trips on the reservoir, pony riding for kids or a visit to the sanctuary of the virgin of Nuria. More here.

After a good break with bread, cheese and jamon iberico and a little rest in the sunshine we made our way back down and drove an hour to the town of Vic for a bit more food. Seems like nice town with a large square in the historic center, but nothing to spend more than a few hours.

An afternoon in Monserrat

The Montserrat mountain range and its Abbey are a popular destination and home of legends. It’s about an hour outside of Barcelona. There are plenty of organised trips and even a direct train connection from BCN. I preferred renting a car to get there. Views on the way are stunning and driving through the countryside is a welcome change from the bustling city life in Barcelona.

There is plenty of history about this place. The Benedict Abbey of Santa Maria hosts the virgin of Montserrat Sanctuary and has even been considered a holy grail location in German legends and the nazi’s even looked for it under Himmler in 1940.

Montserrat literally means ‘saw mountain’, which pretty much matches the shape of the mountain range.

The mountains itself are an interesting piece of geology and look a little pink-ish. The sedimentary layering is clearly visible. It’s a popular spot for rock climbers offering altitudes of up to 1,200m. I kept it to a bit of hiking this time (and that only after taking the funicular) just to get to the spots that offer great panorama’s of the surrounding countryside. There are several hiking options at the top ranging from 45min to 2h taking you along former eremit housing and to the best viewpoints. Take a jacket – can get windy!