Author Archives: scubajoblog

Mountains, prayer flags and red powder (part 2)

People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things – Sir Edmund Hillary

Not that I am extraordinary or want to be. As a lowlander (living below sea level) I just am a bit afraid of the Thorong La Pass. At 5416m altitude it will be the highest point I ever set foot on. And I am not sure I can make it. So, the morning of the crossing of the pass I am sort of scared. We get up in the dark, have a small breakfast and take off at 4am. My legs have no power, I feel tired and realize I have to climb 1000m to get over it. With -12 degrees Celsius my sugar aids (Cola & Snickers) start to freeze. But then, as soon as the sun starts lighting up the tops of the mountains around us I get the power. After a bit more than 2 hours we are there, Thorong La. It makes me emotional, what a sensational feeling and how colourfull are all the prayer flags. I am on the top of my world and still mountains are towering above me. This place is extraordinary!

And then down, down, down. 1800m to Muktinath (15km). The views are incredible and so different. This valley is much more desert-like. Small, Tibetan-style towns are build on bare rock. Maybe it is the season, but hardly anything grows here. Just in the river beds there is some agriculture. Interesting to say the least, and we are walking in it. Our senses stimulated by this environment. Of course, the past 7 days we mostly climbed up, so now we mostly go down.

We hike to Jomsom (20km), where we take the bus to Ghasa. It is the most boring part of the circuit, so skipping 30km on a very bumpy and dusty road is a good thing. From Ghasa we cross the river and follow a nice track through some beautiful Nepali landscapes, away from the dusty road. First stop is Tatopani. A busy little town, renowned for its hot waters (tato pani). Heavy rains tell us the monsoon starts early this year. Luckily we hike in the morning, thus making sure we are in our tea houses in time.

The next stops are Sikha (8km), a small town in a lush green valley, with view on the Annapurna range in the background, and Ghorepani (8km). Ghorepani is starting point for the Poon Hill trek and touristic. Many guesthouses, many tourists and excellent views on the Annapurna’s and Dhaulagiri mountains. With the flowers of the Rhododendron in the foreground this is magical. The next morning we get up before sunrise again and hike up to Poon Hill (3200m). The sun rises slowly, illuminating the mountains in a mystical glow. Even though our guide says it is not a good sunrise, I love it. We go down, have breakfast and descent to Birethani (21km, 1050m). 85% Of the way are stone steps down. It leaves us not only with great memories of splendid views, but also with pain in our legs which the locally produced ‘moonshine’ Roxy cannot cure either.

The last hiking day is a short one. We go to the bus stop in Nayapul to take the bus to Pokhara. A small thriving city (2nd in Nepal) next to a nice lake, where we slowly acclimatize again. Now not to the altitude, but the hectic life. We are close to the main street, full with shops and restaurants. What a lot of noise… We rent a bicycle to make a nice cool cycle tour along the lake to Pame and further. In the evening we have a farewell dinner. Part of the group will stay here for some days. It is time to say goodbye to a magnificent trip with a magnificent group.

The next day we drive back to Kathmandu, check in into our hotel and go shopping. Just one more day. We spend it with some of our group on the Monkey temple (Swoyambhunath Stupa) and in Bhaktapur. Hinduism and Budhism go hand in hand in these places. Monks are praying, prayer flags colour the temples and stupas and the Hindu gods are coloured with red and yellow powder. These places are both World Heritage Sites and heavily damaged by the earthquake a few years ago. Sad to see, but still nice to also see tourists. With the fees money is raised to rebuild the historic monuments. It will take a lot of time due to many rules and regulations, but they will get there.

And me… I will be back for sure. I have travelled a lot in my life and realize I now have found a country I really like and possibly even love. This feeling needs more exploring!

“I will go anywhere, as long as it is forward”- David Livingston

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Prayer wheels and Dal Bhat (part 1)

To travel, to experience and learn: that is to live – Tenzing Norgay Sherpa

In March 2018 one of my longest travel dreams came true. I traveled to the highest mountain range in the world, the Himalaya’s. No, it is even better, I hiked for 2 weeks between the giants in the Annapurna range and experienced the nature, the silence, the great food and the lovely people of Nepal.

After my flight I arrive in Kathmandu. A chaotic city with many, many cars and motorized bikes trying to find their way. It is too crowded in rush hour and very interesting to see ruminating cows lying in the middle of this chaos. Their holy status protects them from being hit. My taxi finds his way to my hotel through this chaos and it is there where I meet my group of trekking buddies. I am excited, this is where it really starts.

The next morning we drive per bus and jeep (facing the traffic chaos again and also the challenging dirt roads) to Besi Sahar and finally Syange. We check in in a tea house with view on the beautiful waterfalls. It isn’t all that bad. The food is good, the bed is good, the surroundings are very nice and the company interesting. After the first night sleep, we still drive for some 45 minutes to Jagat, the starting point of our trek. Finally we can start walking. It is one of the longest days to start with. We will go all the way to Bagarchhap (2100m), roughly 21 km in a nice valley, along a rough and winding river. For me the scenery is very spectacular. We trek as a group and even our porters stay with us most of the way.

The next days we go to Chame (14 km, 2700m) and Upper Pisang (17 km, 3320m). The scenery changes with us climbing higher and higher. We keep on following the river, it’s sound has a calming effect on me. We see the first snowy tops of the Lamjung Himal, Manaslu (8156m) and Annapurna II (7937m). This is what I wanted to see. At lunch I eat my first Dal Bhat, and it tastes good. I love this country, everything just fits me in a way…

Slowly but steadily we gain altitude with every step we take. As we reach the scary 4000m in Manang, it is mandatory to do an acclimatization hike in the afternoon. We then just go up a few hundred meters, have a chat, enjoy the view and scenery and go back down to the tea house. All to prevent AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Another thing is to drink a liter of fluids per 1000m height. It is tough, but in the end it helped me. I had no symptoms whatsoever.

After Pisang we arrive in Manang (18 km, 3500m). My heart is pumping a bit more by now as the oxygen level goes down. The craving for sweetness is not less though. In Manang we find a number of bakeries with the most fabulous pies and pastry. Chocolate brownies with real grinded coffee in this magical setting… this must be heaven. We stay here for 2 days to do some acclimatization again. First we go up to the stupa on the hill behind the tea house (3650m), the next day we cross the river and hike up (3850m) to some holy viewpoints with many prayer flags and beautiful views of the glacier and its lake. Along the way I turn every praying wheel, chanting ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’. For good Karma I am told, but I also ask for nice weather. You never know.

Day 5 we hike to Yak Kharka and cross the 4000m line. The line where the oxygen levels are reduced to 50% of normal (at home). The afternoon hike goes uphill again (4150m) and introduces us to the yak. Yak are big, hairy cattle which are roaming around, just like all other cattle in this country. A bit more wild though, so we take a bit more care.

In the meantime, temperature goes down as well. The nights are freezing and the down sleeping bag finally comes in handy. So far we are Lucky with the weather, so at daytime hiking in shirt still is comfortable. Last stop before the highest pass is Thorung Phedi (9 km, 4500m). Nothing much, but the setting is absolutely impressive. High mountains all around us, it is the end of the valley. We see snow, impressive peaks and still enjoy beautiful weather (twisting the prayer wheels pays off). The afternoon hike (4800m)shows us the first bit of tomorrows track. We will start in the dark, so we won’t be able to see it then.

The first part of this trek is amazing. We have seen so many different landscapes, met very friendly people, eat some delicious Dal Bhat and walked many kilometers. And it isn’t over yet… (more to come soon).

Climb mountains not so the world can see you, but so you can see the world – unknown

Part 2 >>
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The ‘Fietserpad’ – a cycle tour from north to south in The Netherlands (part 3)

There is no such hill as a Limburg hill – Scubajo

After almost a week I enter the 2 provinces where my parents were born and where basically my history started. First I cycle through a small bit of Limburg.

Limburg

Just south of the Berg and Dal region from part 2 I take a sidestep to the Mookerheide (Heather field of Mook). I would have passed blindly, but I have some time and am very curious. Lucky me. What a beautiful hill, purple from the blooming Heather, with spectacular views on the west bank of the river Maas. Then a somewhat boring part along the river. Until Gennep where I have lunch. I cross the river and am in the next province.

North Brabant

The province where my cradle has been. Again the roads proceed along the river, through corn fields. Worth mentioning are the small hedges planted between the fields to act as a ‘natural’ border. This has been done probably since the 15th century already. And to be honest, that was it already. I drive back into Limburg. These ‘borders’ are sometimes a bit strange. For me it does not matter. My route goes south.

Limburg (2)
Just passed the border and I meet a friendly mountain biker who accompanies me to my campsite. We have a coffee on the way, and even though I do not know the guy, this encounter is inspirational. I love Limburg. I stay in Lottum on a campsite at a farm, completely with pigs, fancy chickens, rabbits and guinee pigs. Lovely.

The next day I pass Venlo, Blerick, Baarlo, all cities along the Maas river. The views are spectacular. The Maas is a rain river, causing the water levels vary a lot. In order to be able to sail the river, a number of weirs have been build. To pass them and see the difference in water levels is impressive. At some point my route turns inland to pass a nice forest area called ‘Leudal’. Today is a bit wet and the sandy path tricky. At the bottom of the valley I find again a nice water mill. Nobody is here, just me and some squirrels. I pass a few castles and start realising that Limburg is very well known for the rich history and large number of castles (over 250)!

I pass the historic white town of Thorn and briefly enter Belgium to visit Maaseik and return to Limburg, by simply crossing the river. The landscape changes a bit, small hill appear and the towns I pass all have a nice historic centre. Roosteren, Obbicht, Berg, Urmond. I see many castles and manors and admire the perfect state they are in. Most of them are still inhabited, which explains why they are maintained so well.

The road goes East now. I pass a castle I knew from stories, but never visited before. Chateau St. Gerlach is a hotel & event location and is located in an absolutely fabulous setting. The scenery is beautiful and some of nice pieces of art are presented in the garden. On the day I was there, there was a Lamborghini Islero day. Some very nice historic cars were showed in the park. Via very touristic Valkenburg I enter a small forested area, pass a few crucifixes, turn right and am surprised by a very, very nice castle called Schaloen.

Knowing the plateau of Margraten is ahead, I am still hit hard by this elevated area. The road goes up steeply and I am stuck. The 15kg on my bike is pulling me back. Man, I feel my legs, but wow it is so pretty here! I deserve a real nice piece of typical Limburg cake called ‘Vlaai’. The views are great, the weather is certainly helping a lot and I reach the end of my trip. Official end is at the border in a small ugly town called Withuis. I simply cross and turn back. For me personally the end is the Pietersberg, our highest mountain. I turn North, follow the river Maas again, cross per ferry, cycle a bit through Belgium and get to the mountain. Struck by surprise I see we are basically dig out this mountain. It is made of limestone formed in the Cretaceous when there was a sea in this area. Perfect material for building, so we dig. I cycle up a mountain bike path (regret it halfway), visit a small limestone cave and go down on the other side. The end of my tour is the city centre of Maastricht. Buildings, people, traffic… I take the train home. This was a very, very nice experience…

“U can’t buy happiness but U can buy a bicycle. That’s pretty close…”

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The ‘Fietserpad’ – a cycle tour from north to south in The Netherlands (part 2)

A bicycle ride around the world begins with a single pedal stroke

I started in the province of Groningen and passed Drenthe. My ride through Niedersachsen in Germany I will forget. That was somehow one of the least impressive parts if you ask me. Gas installations, empty villages, the route went over grassy paths, tractor tracks and gravel roads. Okay, the most interesting thing was the fabulous ‘Kuchen’ (cake) on a terrace in Uelsen.

Overijssel

Then I enter the third Dutch province of my trip: Overijssel and one of my favourite areas called Twente. My first challenge is the Poasche Berg with an elevation of 89m. It is an end moraine remaining from one of the ice ages long, long time ago. I return to the nice town of Ootmarsum (I was here last year as well, see Cycle tour around Twente) and proceed along a very long canal. At some point I see a nice historic building called ‘Schuivenhuisje’, a weir used for the releasing of water from the Dinkel river to the canal. After a less impressive day, this is cheering me up. The lovely Dinkel river is winding through the fields and forrest. Small, picturesque towns show me their happy faces. A little bit further is the estate of Singraven, with its beautiful water mill. I pass Losser and Glanerbrug, and realise I am cyling along the Dutch-German border again. On a sandy road I notice the righthand side is Dutch territory, the left German. For me both corn fields look exactly the same.

I decide to make a small detour into Germany to visit a very nice water mill in the forrest, the ‘Haarmühle’. The route proceeds along large heather fields with swampy areas and another very impressive water mill (Oostendorper molen).

Gelderland

Without knowing I cross a province border again. I am entering Gelderland, and to be precise the Achterhoek. Famous for some Dutch rock band called Normaal, motor races and farm land. And then, again Germany. This tour partly follows the border and crosses it few times. I enter the sleepy town of Zwillbrock and see a beautiful Roman church. Not far down the road there is also a swampy area (Venn) where flamingo seems to breed. Unfortunately they do that in Spring, so I have to come back some day.

I proceed along typical landscapes and notice the humor people have. Garden gnomes greet me, welcome signs to have a seat and rest, a warning for a suicidal dachshund and I am so happy to spot a deer in the forrest. This is what I came here for. At the end of the day I set myself on a terrace in Bredevoort. The Book town, where people put their bookcases on the street, where there are many book shops and… a very impressive brick windmill, build in 1870 and used for grinding corn.

Without many places to get coffee, I proceed my route West. And then I reach ‘s-Heerenberg and Stokkum. I thought I knew a lot about the beauty of my country but here I am stunned. There is a beautiful 13th century castle and I never knew. The sun illumunates it like a fairytale. I have lunch and just keep on looking at it. Amazing. A bit further down the road is one of the oldest brick tower mills of western Europe in the town of Zeddam. Probably built in the 15th century, it is still operational today. Cycling here is fun, as there are some hills to conquer.

Again I head into Germany. This time I pass through a forrest with some nice hills to climb. Soon after I reach the point where the river Rijn enters the Netherlands. I keep cycling West and should have known this means headwind. Many kilometers of hard pedalling along the river. Somehow I have great fun. The views are completely different from the other days. I pass the river on a small cycle ferry and proceed. The polder is fantastic. Wet areas with wild horses and Scottish Highland cows and the history of making bricks from the clay.
I pass the nice town of Nijmegen to enter a very nice area called Berg en Dal (mountain and valley). I climb and descent in the forrests, have great views on the Mooker Hei, a nice elevated area with blooming heather and lowlands in the background. These are the lands of the world famous 4 days of Nijmegen hiking event. I love it here. 450 km On my counter and more to come…

Part 3>>
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The ‘Fietserpad’ – a cycle tour from north to south in The Netherlands (part 1)

Don’t limit your challenges – Challenge your limits

I have this long distance cycling tour in my mind for some years now, I even bought the route book already. In 2017 I finally decide to go for it. I start in Pieterburen in the North of Groningen, on the coast of the Waddenzee, and I will cycle all the way to Withuis in the South of Limburg, at the border with Belgium. The end will be on the Pietersberg (‘mountain’) in Maastricht. All in all a distance of roughly 670 km, which I cycle in 10 consecutive days. The route I take from the book “Het Fietserpad”. This is part 1 of my adventures.

Groningen

I take the train to Baflo, where I start cycling. First up North to the coast of the Waddenzee and the official end, and fir me start of the tour. I have decided to ride it from north to south, instead of the other way around like in the book. It is just that I have more connection with the southern provinces. This route is basically a cycling version of the longest long distance hikes called ‘Pieterpad’. On my tour I meet many people hiking the 485km (or part of it) to Maastricht. I follow most of their route, with some detours here and there.

The province of Groningen is flat, green, windy and has a lot of grassland with horses, sheep and cows. And windmills, of course. Mostly for keeping the land dry. Typical for this area are the ‘terpen’ or mounds. Long ago people build their churches on an elevated part of land to protect them from high waters during floodings. They are clearly visible in the otherwise flat countryside. The capital of this province is also called Groningen and it is a nice city, full of historic buildings like the Martini tower. I keep on pedaling, passing the beautiful Paterswolder lake in the late afternoon. The sun is starting to set and makes the view on the windmill simply spectacular. What a beautiful country I am living in. At the end of the day I arrive in Haren.

Drenthe

The second province I pass through is Drenthe. I have been cycling here for a long weekend last year Heather and ‘hunnebedden’ (dolmens) and am excited to be back. I pass the small town of Zuidlaren and cycle through beautiful countryside. Lots of blooming heather, sand dunes and large areas of peat or turf. Once very valuable and used for many things, most of the peat areas have been extracted, leaving swampy lands. In Balloo I visit a dolmen and pass a boulder circle, which basically is a piece of art directing and informing the long distance hikers of the ‘Pieterpad’.

The tour proceeds through forrest, small villages like Grolloo and the Ballooër Field. In the amazing setting I find one of 4 historic small drainage windmills left in Drenthe, called Tjasker. I proceed along more heather and peat fields, through lush green forrest, passing some large boulders from Scandinavia, left here during the last ice age. Part if my route passes the Hondsrug, a long stretched hill of (yes really) 26 meters high. It is of such natural and historic importance that UNESCO recognized it as geopark in 2015. And I can see why.

I pass a few more very nice farming villages with fantastic historic wooden farm houses, to finally end up in Meppen on a lovely campsite called the Boemerang with chickens and a dwarf pig calked Floor.

Part 2 >>