Georgia Road Trip: Springer Mountain

It is early in the morning and I hear a drum beat outside my room. We must be expecting a great sunrise this morning. I go to the kitchen to get some coffee and walk down to the sunrise observation area.

The sunrise is amazing this morning. I feel very lucky. The lodge at Hike Inn is mostly quiet but some guests play Here Comes the Sun from their phone and the sunrise group sings along.

After sunrise it is time for breakfast. It is very filling and I am offered extra servings of bacon. I would never pass up extra bacon.

grits, bacon, eggs, peach spoonbread

I talk to the front desk staff about how long today’s hike should take. There are two dinner times scheduled this evening and I am assigned to the early one. I know I am a slow hiker so I ask if I can be moved to the later dinner. I never know how long a hike will take me and I want to be safe. Luckily they can move me.

I ordered a trail lunch yesterday and pick it up at the front desk while I get ready for my hike today ($8 three sandwich choices ~meat, veggie, peanut butter; plus trail mix, and a large cookie).

My cookie. I end up eating it later after my hike.

I start my hike today at 9:20 am. I am hoping that gives me enough time for the return trip.

The hike today is to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, a 4.4-mile hike (8.8 miles round trip) from the Hike Inn.

The first part of the hike is mostly downhill which is nice but I am warned to save energy for this part on the return trip.

I reach a gap where there is an open area. I cross this area to continue my hike. It is here that I start the hike uphill. Luckily the climb is pretty gradual.

There are a couple springs where I can refill my water bottle with fresh water but my camelback is still 3/4 full and already heavy enough. Good to know that on a hot day there are options for refills.

I finally get to the top. I stop to take some pictures then sit down to enjoy my sandwich. I chat with other hikers.

Sandwich time

There are ladies from the lodge up here who brought their own wine in a water bottle. What a fun idea!

I try not to rest too long because I want to allow enough time to get back in time for my late dinner. While hiking back I meet a barefoot hiker from Florida. It takes a brave person to hike barefoot in the woods.

I love the fall colors and slightly barren trees.

The last couple miles on the way back is hard because there is about a mile of inclines to hike toward the end. I need to stop frequently.

I eventually arrive back at the inn. I am not as late as I anticipated. In fact, I could have made it in time for the early dinner. I decide to take advantage of this extra time and shower so I am cleaned up for dinner. I can go to sleep soon after eating. I am so tired I forget to photograph my dinner.

My body is sore so I proactively take pain relief so I get a good night sleep. I despise being woke up by aching muscles.

Next Morning

I do wake up a few times during the night but I otherwise am well rested. We are woken up for sunrise but it isn’t as lovely as the day before. Fortunately I scheduled two nights at the inn and had at least one full sunrise.

After sunrise I take one last look around the grounds.

Since I burned so many calories yesterday I am excited about breakfast this morning. No bacon today but I enjoy the sausage and biscuits and gravy. After breakfast I get ready to checkout.

After I pay my bill I sit at the front entrance tightening my shoes and such getting ready for hike back. There are a group of ladies getting ready to hike back to the parking lot “the long way” (all the way to Springer mountain and then to the parking lot for a total of about 12 miles). One in the group is not up for the long hike (nor would I be) and asks if she can walk back with me. Its been a long while since I’ve had a hiking companion. We have a nice hike back and talk about lots of different things. We make it back to the parking lot safe!

Never been so happy to see a sign that I have reached the parking lot. I have another smaller hike scheduled for later in the trip but for now I am heading to Helen to relax.

Georgia Road Trip: Hiking to Len Foote Inn

Amicalola Falls waterfall

I am checking out of the beautiful Limelight Inn and making a short stop at a waterfall before I start a 5 mile hike to an inn where I will spend the next two nights. While planning my trip to Georgia my aunt mentioned Springer Mountain as a multi-day hike. She has fond memories of hiking to this inn that can only be accessed by foot. The inn is also a starting point to hiking Springer Mountain, the start of the Appalachian trail in the south. The inn, Len Foote Hike Inn (named after Leonard E. Foote, a local conservationist), has limited capacity but luckily I am able to get a reservation for two nights. Most hike in for the day, stay one night, and hike out the next. I will stay for two nights so I can spend a complete day hiking to the summit of Springer Mountain. Some do this as very long hike to Springer Mountain to and from the parking lot but that is way too ambitious for me.

The check in for the hike is at the Visitors Center inside the Amicalola Falls State Park. They instruct hikers to start no later than 2:00 PM for the 5 mile hike to the inn. The check in deadline is to ensure all hikers arrive early enough for dinner and lodge check in. I plan start at about 11:00 am this morning after my visit to the Amicalola waterfall. Hopefully I have more than enough time, given how slow I am.

I stop at the first parking lot for viewing the waterfall. It is a short walk to the observation point. I notice a staircase to get different views for the waterfall. If I had more time I would go to different levels but I want to get my hike started. I take a couple photos and head back to my car.

Parking for the Hike Inn

There is limited parking nearby the trail. I’ve read I may have to park at the overflow lot at the nearby lodge. When I arrive at the turn the road for the parking lot it is blocked by service vehicles. I talk to the person at the parking entrance and tell them that I am trying to park for the hike (the same parking lot is used for viewing the waterfall from the top). They think the lot is full but let me in anyway. To my disapointment the lot is full. I park illegally for the time being and run over to use the nearby bathroom. I sit in my car and wait to think of what to do next. Luckily while I wait people return to their cars from viewing the waterfall and I am able secure a space right at the trailhead! This is where my car will live for the next 48 hours or so.

Parking lot for Hike Inn
Trailhead

I gather everything I think I might need for two nights into a smaller daypack and my hiking poles. I don’t want to carry extra weight but I kind of wish I had a bigger pack to bring more comforts with me. I’ve hiked the Inca Trail so two nights in semi-discomfort in a cabin should be a breeze to me at this point.

After the trail starts hikers have to cross a paved road which confuses some day hikers I run into. Eventually the trail splits in two: one heading to the Hike Inn (where I am going) and one heading directly to Springer Mountain (Blue trail, 7.3 miles one way). Some do the Springer mountain hike as an out and back day hike and some hike directly to Springer Mountain to start their Appalachian trail hike from the south.

The trail starts out relatively flat then is continuous inclines and declines. It can be quite tiring to an out of shape hiker. I stop along the way to rest and enjoy beautiful views. I feel blessed that I am able to enjoy fall foliage and have cooler air to hike in. I am warm but not overheated; I love hiking in this type of weather.

At one point I stop to watch the wind blow colorful leaves down all around me. It is magical.

I notice a skunk-like smell. I think some people are smoking pot on the trail. It isn’t until later that evening that I discover it is the plant called Galax that grows along the trail.

Most of the trail is flat but there are some rocky parts. There is a fun section with some bare trees that look like they are out of a horror movie. I am sure they look eerie at night.

I am also enjoying the signs that tell me how far I have gone. It is helpful to know when I should stop and take a break along the way.

Fun trees

I finally get to an area of flat paths at the last part of the trail. Wooden planks are elevated side by side to make a wooded trail. I assume this area must get wet at times. My legs are about to give up but I am just happy it is cool and flat here. I think I am getting close to the end.

Finally the trail leads me to the lodge where I am spending the next two nights. I catch my breath then head up the stairs to check in. My room is ready but my linens are not yet ready. The accommodations are minimal but they do provide bedding, towel, and wash cloth to use during your stay.

My room is a bunk bed room. I have the room to myself and no single supplement is required!

One of the main buildings houses individual odorless composting toilet stalls. Instructions say to only drop compostable items in the toilets and keep the lid closed when they are not in use. They are interesting to use since you feel air flowing below you; I almost thought it might suck me in. It is weird but you get used to it.

Nearby the toilets is a separate women’s and men’s washroom with sinks and two shower stalls. I thought it would be busy with only two showers but I really only had to wait once for a little bit for my shower opportunity. The water was warm which is nice.

I arrive early enough for the tour of the grounds at 5 pm. We learn the history of the lodge and all the efforts they put into reducing their carbon footprint – composting worms, reduced use of electricity and use of solar panels. There is no WIFI on site and although I could get a cell phone signal at the inn, they discourage phone and computer use.

Recreation room. During normal times this is full of games and books. They removed them temporarily due to covid.

Nice porch to read and waste the evening away.

view from the lodge
View of the lodge

There is a outdoor sitting area with a nice view of the range in the distance. It is a great place to watch the sunrise in the morning. If they expect a good sunrise, staff members will beat a drum gently to alert lodgers who want to see the sunrise.

They are all about conservation so you are encouraged to use the same mug for beverages during your stay. They have coffee, tea, water and juice available at all times. Food is only served at breakfast and dinner. You can plan for separate paid bag lunch ahead of time if you want something to take along for a day hike. Meals are typically served family style but due to covid they currently sit parties with only people they traveled with. I like my alone time but I need things like forced group activities to get me out of my shell. I guess for this trip I’ll do lots of reflection.

The food is plentiful and tasty. They are big fans of no waste so we are encouraged strongly to take seconds and even thirds. They even reuse some of the foods for the next day’s meals (i.e. extra ham is served at breakfast or as part of a lunch sandwich). Lets just say I did not go hungry during my entire stay.

After dinner it is pretty much almost dark (fall time). I go straight back to my room to unwind for the evening. Time to get rested up for my long hike tomorrow. I am doing the hike up to Springer Mountain.

Medellín: Guatapé

Today M and I are taking a day trip out to the town of Guatapé from Medellín. There are a few different ways to get here (taxi, private tour, bus) and we decided to take the cheap route and take the bus. For us it is a 20 minute walk to train then take metro to Estacion Caribe. From Estacion Caribe walk to the terminal del norte bus station. There are a couple bus companies that have a bus to Guatapé, find one that has a soon departure (ticket booth #14). Go early so you’ll have time to climb and explore town. Once you arrive book return ticket since seats are assigned/limited – we found this to be very important on the return trip back.

The ride takes about 2 hours and is comfortable enough. There are not any empty seats so it is nice that I at least share the row with someone I know this time.

If you want to get off at the Peñól de Guatapé before you go into the town of Guatape, you have to tell the driver or listen carefully for the stops. We didn’t and ended up going all the way to the town of Guatapé when we really wanted to stop at the large rock first. We take a cab to the rock (Peñól de Guatapé) and he drops us off at the bottom of the hill. We had to walk uphill to get to the small town of El Peñol where we bought a ticket for the climb.

Piedra del Peñol

La Piedra del Peñol is the large rock nearby the town of Guatapé . It is an awkward looking rock but at some point some people decided to climb it. There is conflicting stories that one man did the climb but I’ve seen online that it is a group of men. Since then a set of stairs have been added for tourists and locals to make a climb as well.

Our morning task is to climb 700+ stairs to the top.

In the 1970s the area was dammed so the rock now overlooks a series of lakes and islands.

Fun chiva bus in the town El Peñol

In a crevice of the rock is a winding set of stairs.

It is tiring but we make it to the top (with lots of stops of course).

There is a café at the top so we take a break and have a beer.

We head back down and take a jeep back to the town of Guatapé.

Guatapé

It is lunchtime and I decide it is a great time to try Bandeja paisa and I have a new best friend as a result. It is a very good amount of meat and this dog wants me to share.

After lunch we wander around town. I am once again in a beautifully colored small town in Colombia.

I love all the scenes depicted at the bottom half of the buildings.

There is a large town square that is surrounded by restaurants.

The large white church has a beautiful wood ceiling.

More wandering around town

There is an afternoon storm coming. The clouds look ominous so we head to a indoor/outdoor cafe to wait it out. It doesn’t take long. Good thing we climbed the big rock in the morning.

More of the town….

We stop at a colorful café for a dessert treat.

We start heading to the edge of the town where it becomes more residential and less touristy. We end up by the water where obviously the water level is super low. The low water level gives the appearance of the boats looking stranded.

We see the bus station. Since it is getting close to time to leave we stay in the area and wait. There is a guy acting strangely nearby. We keep our distance to save trouble.

Bus station

Finally we board our bus for the ride back from Guatapé. I am glad we got on early otherwise we would be standing the entire way. The bus is full when we leave and we stop to pick up others on our journey. Unfortunately we chose the row up next to the door so we had quite a few people squeezing around us making it uncomfortable. Also the bus stopped frequently and people would ride temporarily trying to sell things, food, jewelry, etc. But it wasn’t until this man who got onto the bus and proselytizing to the bus loudly did it really get annoying. He stood right in front of us and screamed loudly at the bus for many minutes about Jesus. We put our heads down and pretended we didn’t understand. At some point we heard him talking to those in the seat across from us and we heard them tell the man that we don’t speak Spanish and that is why we did not interact with him. M and I both heard and understood the conversation and grinned briefly at each other. Now is a great time to play stupid! Eventually he leaves the bus. Good riddens!

Needless to say we are happy when we finally arrive back in Medellín.

The bus ride to Guatapé is cheap as heck. It isn’t the most glamourous way to travel but now we will always have the memory of the crazy bus ride.

Me not knowing what to expect on the ride back

It is a long day and long bus ride. Also I don’t mention enough that though I love the metro in Medellín it is exhausting to take the 30 minute journey uphill after a long day of sightseeing.

We only have energy tonight to stop for dinner around the corner. After that it is to bed. Partying will have to happen another night.

Cartagena: Pink Sea of Galerazamba

Today we have booked a private car to take us the see the famous Pink Sea of Galerazamba and Totumo mud volcano.

The pink sea is an hour northeast of Cartagena on the coast.

This man-made salt lake is a mine that is run by the small town of Galerazamba. The bright pink color is caused by microbes which create pigmented protein to absorb the sun’s energy.

The Pink Sea is not always bright pink but we get extremely lucky since it is as pink as it can be. The best time to visit is December to April and we are visiting in February.

There is no swimming at the pink sea but we were allowed to walk out into the water and have some photos taken.

The whole thing felt essentially like a nice salt scrub.

We head next to the Totumo Mud Volcano.

Both the sea/salt mine and mud volcano are run by the nearby communities who are employed by and profit off the locations.

We choose not to “participate” in the mud volcano during our visit. Reviews said that you have to pay someone inside the mud mound who will then massage mud all over you. Once you exit the mud pit you walk down to a lake where ladies clean the mud off your body parts. We are not interested in having someone randomly put their hands all over us. Usually I am a “When in Rome” type of person but both M and I are both on the same page – maybe we’ll skip this one.

Instead we checked out the mud pit from below.

village surrounding mud volcano

We walked down to the lake to witness the “washing”. Nope, not for us.

Once we arrive back to the tourist areas of Cartagena we decide it is a great time to check out the popular La Cevichería.

It is a long wait for a table but once inside it is worth it.

While everything we ordered is delicious it was this shrimp in curry that we craved after. It is an amazing dish.

M is fan of Liverpool and noticed a local bar was playing a game while we were town so we went down to The Clock Pub for a little while to watch. After the game the bar played 80’s pop videos.

Keeping up with the theme of fun we head down to a another lively pub. It is daytime so not rowdy but we did enjoy the décor of clothes hanging from the ceiling (including underwear). I do not recall the name of this pub but it was nice for a quick stop.

It’s been a long day but it isn’t over yet. We have dinner reservations to we head over to the area of the restaurant.

Earlier we had made reservations for dinner at Juan del Mar upon recommendation of our driver. While it was good, it wasn’t as good as La Cevichería.

Juan del Mar

After dinner we call it a night since we have our cruise rescheduled for tomorrow. Hopefully it goes as planned.

Cartagena: Getsemani

It is M’s first full day in Cartagena with me. We have booked a cruise to the Rosario Islands. We could have traveled directly to an island to do a day of relaxing on the beach but from reviews it doesn’t seem like a relaxing option due to beach vendors constantly bothering you.

There are a couple different choices for a day cruise ranging from packed-like-sardines in a speedboat to a luxury yacht cruise. The speedboat option seems like it could be fun but we both agree we would prefer the more laid back (though more expensive) catamaran tour.

There is an early start of 8:00 for our tour. We leave early to ensure we arrive in time.

Morning walk to our boat tour

One we arrive we wait at the marina for quite a while.

Finally our boat arrives. It is a lovely sight to see.

After arrival we still wait to board. Eventually the staff announces that they are cancelling the cruise for the day due to strong winds at sea. We are disappointed.

Luckily we can reschedule in a couple days. There is already a line of people waiting for refunds to be processed or to book another day. They let us onto the boat to wait in comfort which is great because we get to use the very clean bathroom downstairs. M has a great idea of getting cheap morning beers from one of the vendors on the dock. It didn’t take much for her to talk me into one as well. We sip our beers while we wait our turn to rebook.

We have rebooked and the day is still early. We have a free day we did not plan for. We head from the marina area and decide to explore town a bit, stopping first in a nearby museum.

The museum we stop at is the Museo Naval del Caribe, the Museum of the Colombian Navy.

All the exhibits are in Spanish but we understand enough to get an idea of the history. The exhibits are heavy on the military and the sea. We had some playtime in a submarine for a bit.

Side Note: M and I combined have a pretty good grasp on Spanish. We seem to fill in each others gaps well. What she doesn’t remember I remember and vice-versa. It gives me a bit more confidence.

After the museum we decide to check out the funky neighborhood of Getsemani. Fortunately it is in walking distance so no taxi is necessary.

We pass through some more charming streets on the way and stop for arepas.

Narrow walkways

We stop at Quero Arepa for an arepa snack.

Sloth at Parque Del Centenario

We walk past Parque Del Centenario where it is said you can see monkeys but we instead find a sloth on a tree. He is snacking on some tree fruits. Some people are trying to feed him and pet him but we respectfully keep our distance.

Getsemani

We have arrived in Getsemani. The neighborhood of Getsemani is funky and colorful. We originally considered staying in his neighborhood but opted to be closer to the tourist sites. If I am ever to return I am definitely staying in Getsemani. I really like the vibe.

I see lots of street art in many different cities but it never seems to get old.

Flags hang from above, in this case flags from different countries.

We watch an artist at work.

Today is about walking, eating and drinking. We stop to try local fried foods at a hipster restaurant.

Cháchara restaurant
empanada sampler

We stop for food once again, this time to split a small pizza.

We end up down a narrow and colorful street shaded by colorful umbrellas.

We are almost out of Getsemani but not before we stop at a corner bar that sells sushi and beer. We order only beer.

Once back in the tourist area we climb the fortification walls to catch the sunset.

After dark I get to try the Russian themed bar near the apartment. We decided to test our luck and have a Moscow Mule at the KGB Bar. Back in the USSR!

Keeping the theme of Soviet area relics we head next to my happy place at Cuba 1940. We don’t stay for the band tonight but we will be back.

As we walk back to the apartment we peak into a service at a beautiful church.

Even though things did not go as planned our day ended up pretty great.

Tomorrow we head on a trip a little out of town to see the pink sea. Hopefully it is the perfect pink color.