Posts categorized under ‘Nature & Outdoor sports’

Pirin Mountains, Bulgaria

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

In early August while trekking in the Pirin Mountains I was taking these pictures which I later on forgot to post, so here they are. Pirin Mountains are located around 2 hours drive away from Sofia with the highest peak at 2914 meter. There are several huts in this Bulgarian mountain range but camping is also possible as always. If you camp be prepared with warm clothes as the nights are getting really cold even in the summer.

Pirin Mountains

Pirin Mountains

Pirin Mountains river

Pirin Mountains

Pirin Mountains

Pirin Mountains lake

Pirin Mountains lake

Pirin Mountains coffee

Pirin Mountains

Pirin Mountains flower

Pirin Mountains

Pirin Mountains

Pirin Mountains

Pirin Mountains

Pirin Mountains

Pirin Mountains

Pirin Mountains

Pirin Mountains

Pirin Mountains cow

Pirin Mountains calf

Pirin Mountains tree shadow

Pirin Mountains empty hotel
Abandoned construction sites can make a good last-minute sleeping place inside a city, for example when hitchhiking and getting stuck.

Trekking to the 2468 meter peak of Gjallica, Kukes

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

I wake up slightly earlier than the alarm clock that I put on 5:40, but there is already some light outside here in Kukes, Albania. A quick shower followed by a walk to the petrol station from yesterday to tell the people there that I am walking to the mountain top. It is always good to tell someone if you are doing something like this, not that it probably will help in case of an accident. I have even told them earlier which hotel I am staying in, well, explaining its location as I do not know the name of it. The old man looks worried and double checks that I have everything: water, warm clothes, good shoes and so on. Then I start walking.

Albania Kukes Gjallica Fierza lake

It is about 1-1½ hours walk to get to the start of the mountain, and there is no distinct road or path so I walk partly on car road, partly on fields and finally inside a small village. On the way the sunrise is giving me a beautiful welcome to the mountain. There are people around but they look at me a bit strange and no-one of them speaks English. I ask them where the trail up the mountain starts and they point towards the mountain instead. Online I read something the previous night about a trail starting from behind a closed copper mine, but there is nothing like that around so I just start walking up the mountain on one of the shepherd trails from behind a private house.

Albania Kukes Gjallica fields

Albania Kukes Gjallica sunrise
The sun looking up from a lower mountain

Albania Kukes Gjallica mountain clouds
The 2468 meter peak which I will try to mount, covered in clouds

Albania Kukes Gjallica spring water

Shortly after my start I find a non marked trail which I blindly follow, but after 1 hours walk the path still looks the same. At least the sun is on the other side of the mountain, giving me shadow instead of the intense heat that I had expected. Still it is very hot just walking upwards so I change clothes. “One hour done, maybe two more before the top, and then 3 more down plus one back to Kukes” I think, calculating how many sun hours I still have left of the day. About 13, so as long as there are no problems on the way and if the path is correct, I should have more than enough time. One hour later I see what looks like the top near me, but at the same time I know it’s to early and from the beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and villages I estimate that I am still on low altitude.

Albania Kukes Gjallica low view
View on the shepherd’s path from behind the house

Albania Kukes Gjallica trail

About 1 hour later I reach a small green flat space with a water spring and some very simple huts. I find an old super lady, maybe in her 80s but extracting an energy like a young girl, and ask her how long time she estimates it is to the peak of the mountain. She tells me that it is 2 more hours, pointing out the path for me and asking me why I want to go there (I think at least, we do not speak the same language). Ok time to calculate sun hours again, two more hours means 5 hours in total up, 5 hours down and one hour to Kukes. This gives me little marginal for errors but is still good news, despite the fact that I am pretty tired in the legs and have to walk 2 more hours upwards before I can even start to walk back.

Albania Kukes Gjallica mountain spring

Albania Kukes Gjallica plateau

I start walking in the direction where the lady pointed, but after a while I make a turn in the opposite direction as supposed because the path seems to go very long in the wrong direction. I walk along a small trail that after a while just disappears into thin air, well, into semi thick forest. I start walking through the forest, knowing it is not smart to walk without a trail to follow back but as I have a gorge on the left side I know I can find my way back again. I walk upwards through the forest for about an hour or more until the forest gets less dense and a beautiful field opens up in front of me.

Albania Kukes Gjallica forest

Albania Kukes Gjallica high plain

On the field there is a big group of sheep walking around, with some of them drinking from a water spring. Now I can see what could be the top, but I know through experience that the peak is usually not as near as it looks, just hidden behind another hill. Suddenly I see two guys sitting down near the water spring. We meet middle way and greet each others. They tell me to refill my bottle which I do, although it is almost still full because the weather at this height is now more cold, making me drink less. We talk for a while, in different languages as usual, and the younger of them who is 15 years old joins my walk for a few minutes before turning to another group of sheep, just after inviting me for dinner or something like that after my peak ascent.

Albania Kukes Gjallica tableland

Albania Kukes Gjallica shepherds

Albania Kukes Gjallica shepherd boy

I continue to walk and after 2-3 more times of thinking that I have almost reached the peak, and about one more hour, I am standing on the actual peak of Gjallica, about 2200 meters higher than where I started walking (the valley below is on 250 meters elevation). Here, the wind is strong and new clouds are constantly created and pumping in from below. I change clothes and walk around for a while to explore the top, finding the last snow patch of the season, about 10 meters long. Keep in mind that this is on the 31st of July and that the heat below the mountain peak is intense. I linger around for about 10-15 minutes and then start to walk down again, now along a trail which I found a bit below where I was walking up.

Albania Kukes Gjallica near peak

Albania Kukes Gjallica mountain peak

Albania Kukes Gjallica peaks

Albania Kukes Gjallica July snow

Albania Kukes Gjallica peak view

Albania Kukes Gjallica path down

When I return to the shepherds, which to one more shepherd now have joined, we sit down in this idyllic surrounding and talk, enjoying some snacks I have brought with me on my trek. The sun is now very strong and the weather is perfect. After about 30 minutes I feel that I should get going, not knowing which path I will take down. The shepherds recommends the non existing path through the forest from where I came, but I want to walk on an actual path this time and they tell me where there is supposed to be one, probably the same as the old lady recommended for me.

Albania Kukes Gjallica shepherd friends

Albania Kukes Gjallica shepherd musician

I start walking and even though the path disappears several times I find my way down again to the field with the lady’s house. This time she seems not to be at home, but on the other side of the field I see some cows and people. We start talking and the younger girl who speaks good English tells me that she and her family from the village below have just walked up here with their cows, a donkey and some food to live here for a month during the summer. Around once a week they (or was it only the grandfather?) walks down for more provision. We talk some more and then its really time for me to get going after hearing that the time is now 5:30 PM.

Albania Kukes Gjallica caterpillar

Albania Kukes Gjallica dead forest

Albania Kukes Gjallica houses

Albania Kukes Gjallica house

Albania Kukes Gjallica mountain

Albania Kukes Gjallica village family

I hurry on my walk down and this time the path feels much longer than when I walked up. I am tempted to take some shortcuts I see but because I do not know where they end up I do not risk it this time. The sun is burning my skin and I do everything to try to hide from it, also putting on my final sun protection cream. Finally I get down some 2 hours later, still in strong sunlight and realizing that the time they told me must have been wrong.

Albania Kukes Gjallica city view

I start walking to Kukes but a minibus picks me up and drives me to the city for free. When I arrive I jump out at the gas station a bit outside the town to tell the people about my success and for them not to worry anymore. Then I walk into town to find the first possible place to sit down for a coffee and some food. Looking at my clock I realize I actually had more time to walk down if I wanted, but I feel happy being back in town without it being so late. After I finish the food I buy a beer and goes back to the room, turning on the TV and forgetting all about the beer in my tiredness, but still managing to repack half of my bag for tomorrows hitchhiking before crashing into bed.

Ometepe, Nicaragua

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

Wow I can not believe it’s already been a week here on the island of Ometepe. There are so much outdoor activities to do here and the nature is just amazing. Although there are almost no tourists on Ometepe at the moment (probably due to low season) I have spent a lot of time with the few travelers that I met here, as well as with some locals. So what did I end up doing during this week?

  • Bicycling around on the island. This is really nice but a bit slow in the southern parts because of really bad roads. The price to rent a bicycle is US $5 for one day.
  • Watching bull rodeo. Some locals told me there are bull rodeos every Saturday and Sunday, but at the same time other people told me that this was a special event sponsored by an upcoming politician on Ometepe. Well, if you miss the bull rodeo you can visit a cock fight instead which is organized frequently on the island.
  • Trekking up the active volcano Concepción. This is one of the two volcanoes that are the base of the island. Concepción is the oldest and tallest with it’s 1610 meters and takes about 7-8 hours to trek to the top and back, or about 2-3 hours one way to the 1000 meter plateau that has a nice view. The volcano peak is usually covered with clouds so you have to be lucky to see anything from there. The other volcano, Maderas is a bit smaller and with a lake inside the volcano that is possible to visit. Because a few tourists have died trekking up both of the volcanoes, the government decided that you nowadays need a local guide to trek on them. Although there is no control of this, it’s still recommended because the paths are not well marked. Cost of a guide is US $20-25.
  • Canoeing along the amazingly beautiful coast. I didn’t see the crocodiles that the local fishermen told me should be around, but I was mostly happy about that. The lake also have Bull sharks but both the crocodiles and Bull sharks should be concentrated on the east coast of Ometepe, and I can not see any locals that seem to care about them.

Besides the list above you can rent a motorbike for US $20 per day to explore the island. There are also a natural spring and a water fall to visit, as well as a ton of small charming villages. All in all, Ometepe left me with a really positive impression and I really recommend it as a travel destination for people who likes spending time in the nature.

Ometepe, Nicaragua. View from 1000 meter plateau of volcano Concepción.
View from the 1000 meter plateau of volcano Concepción

Ometepe, Nicaragua. On the way walking up to the top of volcano Concepción, surrounded by clouds.
On the way walking up to the peak of volcano Concepción,
surrounded by clouds

Ometepe, Nicaragua. Peak of volcano Concepción in wet clouds.
Peak of volcano Concepción in wet clouds

Ometepe, Nicaragua. On the way down from volcano Concepción, with local guide.
On the way down from volcano Concepción, with local guide

Ometepe, Nicaragua. Huge tree that now has the first 30 meters below ground because of the last eruption.
Huge tree that now has the first 30 meters below ground
because of the last volcano eruption

Climbing in Hungary

Monday, May 7th, 2012

The last weekend I finally started my climbing season for this year. Together with some new friends from Hungary I went to Csókakő in the Vértes mountains, which is about 1½ hour with car from Budapest. The rocks here are limestone and the routes are around 20 meters with fixed bolts rather far apart from each other in some cases. Difficulty levels vary but most of the routes that have grade VII to VIII also have overhangs, which suits strong climbers.

The mountains here are not so tall, around 350 meters, but the scenery is still rather beautiful with the Csókakő Castle just next to the climbing area; but without climbers and tourists walking the same paths.

Csókakő Castle in Hungary

Vértes Mountains in Hungary

Csókakő climbing

Vértes mountains with full moon

The Three Stars wreck, Limassol

Monday, April 9th, 2012

This morning at sunrise I went on a short road trip with a friend to see one of the many wrecks that exists in Cyprus. Just next to Limassol Salt Lake, in the area of Akrotiri, is the Three Stars wreck. This ship sank in 1972 after catching a fire and is now laying just 15 meters out from the shoreline at 7 meters depth and with one part even visible from the beach. The wreck is good for snorkeling when the waves are not to big and is also suitable for a beginner wreck dive. Entry is from rocks so if you plan to snorkel bring wetsuit boots or use fins.

Three Stars wreck sunrise

Three Stars wreck shoreline

Three Stars wreck

Cyprus pictures

Monday, March 19th, 2012

I recently rented a car here on Cyprus and did a road trip with a friend to explore the island. Cyprus is very small and it takes about 4 hours to cross the island with a car, so during the 3 days we were on the road we saw most of the country. The views here are very varied with coastline, mountains, small villages, medieval ruins and big national parks. Here are some of the pictures of Cyprus from this trip:

Cyprus tractor
Somewhere in the mountains on a random detour

Cyprus peninsula
Peninsula near Polis & Venus bath

Polis Cyprus
Again near Polis

Cyprus food
Plate with mixed seafood

Cyprus shoes
Lonely shoe on a beach near Polis

Cyprus harbor
Polis harbor in sunrise after waking up in the car nearby

Cyprus fish boats

Cyprus sailboats

Cyprus road
Finally up in the mountains again

Cyprus mountains
Near an UN area up in the mountains

Troodos mountains

Bulgarian Martenitsa in Cyprus
Perfect place on a 1170 meter mountain peak to leave a Bulgarian martenitsa

Mount Olympus
Part of Mount Olympus


TRNC mosque
Mosque in TRNC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus)

Turkish northern Cyprus
Near the border of the Turkish northern Cyprus (TRNC)

Occupy buffer zone
Occupy buffer zone, near border of TRNC

TRNC Cyprus
Again in TRNC

Car map
Car travel map with car keys and coffee

Potamia ruin
Medieval ruins in Potamia, near Polis

TRNC flag
TRNC flag on a hill in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

Caterpillar Cyprus
Hill in Potania with thousands of caterpillars

Potamia Cyprus
Again Potamia

Stavravouni monastery view
Stavravouni monastery view, near Larnaca

Cape greko
Arriving to Cape Greko in perfect timing for the sunset

Cape Greco Cyprus
Again Cape Greko (or Cavo Greco) near Ayia Napa

Map Cyprus
Trying to understand where we have been, only managing to pinpoint about half of the places

Indoor climbing in Sofia

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

One of the things I like to spend my time with here in Sofia during the winter is to do indoor climbing. While I really prefer climbing outdoors in the nature, indoor climbing is still a good option when the weather is cold. Here in Sofia there are 3 places for indoor climbing, with two of them being in the area Studentski grad outside the center. I don’t include the small climbing hall in the mall  “City Center Sofia” because it’s mostly for promotion or children.

Here are the indoor climbing halls in Sofia, Bulgaria:

This is my favorite indoor climbing place with big walls of different difficulties. Here you will also find “rock” grips together with overhangs which gives you all the different sorts of indoor climbing you need. This climbing hall also have the possibility to rent equipment if needed.
Opening hours: 10-22 (weekends until 21) 

National Sports Academy (NSA)
Also a very nice indoor climbing hall similar to Gravity and again with possibility to rent equipment. NSA is a little bit smaller with it’s 650 m2 in comparison to Gravity’s 1000 m2.
Opening hours: 10-22 (weekends closed) 

Sofia University
Inside one of the domes of the Sofia university is the only climbing hall in the city center of Sofia. This hall is mostly for bouldering and you will need to have your own equipment and a membership to climb here.
Opening hours: varies

Gravity indoor climbing hall:
Indoor climbing

I am wondering, is indoor climbing still an outdoor sport?

Sofia protests

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Protests are part of everyday life here in Sofia but during the last month they have been more than normal, especially with regard to the record cold winter that is currently hitting Bulgaria.

Most protests this winter have been against the ski resort on Vitosha’s illegal expansion into nature protected areas, which resulted in the ski lifts on Vitosha being closed leaving people with no option then to go further away from Sofia to go skiing or snowboarding. Here is what Radio Bulgaria has to say about the whole event:

Issues there emerged when in 2007 the Municipal Agency sold all lifts in the most visited part of the mountain to a private company. It did not take long before the new monopolist showed its views for the future of the mountain. Saying it was renovating the ski runs it dug out 350 huge boulders part of the protected stone rivers on Vitosha. Plants and habitats were destroyed but the reaction of the management of the Vitosha Park and a coalition of 30 non-governmental organizations stopped the work of bulldozers in the park stopped. According to the management plan of the mountain, the company was not allowed to change in any way the relief or natural vegetation, owned by the State Forest Fund. The new owners did not replace the old lifts, but stopped them and lobbied for law changes, guaranteeing them construction of a new bigger ski zone. Days before New Year’s Eve the changes were adopted, giving a green light to the private owners’ aims to start building new lifts in Vitosha without even paying taxes for that. According to experts, these changes cause losses of more than 25 million euro of budget revenues.

Then there were the shale gas protests. I am happy the Bulgarian’s really care about their amazing nature and want to protect it, which is very visible on how many people are showing up for these protests. This time the protests actually worked and on the 18th of January the Bulgarian government banned shale drilling.

Last but not least is the anti-ACTA protests that will take place tomorrow in 17 Bulgarian cities, and here in Sofia will start in front of NDK (National Palace of Culture) at 11 am. These protests are a result of Bulgaria signing the ACTA agreement in Tokyo on the 26th January together with 21 more EU countries.

Sofia protests

Moshav & Kibbutz in Israel

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

While hitch hiking in Israel me and a friend got a ride by a guy who’s family are living in a moshav, and who were himself planning to live there in his near future. He invited us to visit the moshav and we ended up staying there for two days, living as a part of his family.

A moshav is a type of community or settlement with the members of the community owning their own farms, in comparison to the kibbutz where the community shares the farms. In a moshav the people get a specific amount of land for farming when they get married. Nowadays it is more difficult to find good farming land which have resulted in some of these farms have been placed in the no mans land between Israel and Jordan, thanks to a agreement between the two countries. The same agreement gives Jordan a bigger ownership of the Dead Sea which is getting smaller and smaller every year because of mistreatment by the salt companies.

In this specific moshav where we were staying, the Zofar moshav, 2 out of 3 people were workers from Thailand. These people work on the farm land but with no other integration in the community. They even live in specific areas of the moshav which is only for them. Walking around in the moshav you can hear the loud music and karaoke singing from these areas, and to walk there feels a bit like walking around in Thailand.

Besides the no integration part of the Thai people, the feeling of a moshav or kibbutz are of utopia. Everything is perfect, beautiful and calm. The relationships between the different families are close and only a few people or families have chosen(?) to be for themselves. The area around the moshav is amazing desert and perfect for walking, jogging or even taking the motorbike or quad out for a spin. Still, with the desert looking like it will never end you know in the back of your head that if you need to go to a town it is only some hour away.

Not only can a moshav be self sustainable and also sell what they produce, some of them are using solar power both for themselves and to sell the extra power they don’t use. This usually means a small initial investment that is already payed back within 5 years, and then 15 more years of around 2 000 euro per month earned per family for the power they sell to the power companies.

All in all a moshav is a very nice way of living and it seems that also the young people are interested in keeping this tradition alive, although sometimes with newer technologies and ideas.

Zofar moshav

Agricultural worker
Farm worker

Family house
Family house with solar power

Family dinner
Family dinner with amazing food, wine & kippas (hats)

Farm dogs
Well trained dogs that do not enter into the houses

Cat and toy
Curious cat

Ping pong table
What is a sunny day without playing some ping pong?

Tea pot with palms
Tea and palms

Sheep fucking
Sheep’s having some fun

Family breakfast
Breakfast (Jachnun; dough with spicy tomato sause) with the neighbours

Dog upside down
Dog taking a rest upside down

Bird cage
Bird cage with tons of birds…

Hungry cat
…And one hungry cat outside

Lunch plate
Again food.. This time a quick lunch before hitting the road

Israeli desert
Beautiful desert with camels

Negev desert

Moshav farms
Farms in the distant

Moshav tomato farm
Tomato farm

Moshav paprika farm
Peppers farm

Climbing Lakatnik again (Alpine Meadow)

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Below are some pictures from yesterdays climbing, this time again in Lakatnik but climbing site Alpine Meadow.

Alpine Meadow river

Alpine Meadow walley

Alpine Meadow - cavers training

Alpine Meadow hut

Alpine Meadow in autumn colors

Alpine Meadow - autumn

Alpine Meadow hanging hut seen from below

Alpine Meadow river and trees

Alpine Meadow with village in the mist