Georgia Road Trip: Part 1

I’ve been back in the USA over 7 months and COVID has hit the world. I’ve spent many months quarantined in my room or doing an occasional outdoor activity. I haven’t actually caught covid so far but I am still scared to travel (I had one pretty nasty illness in May that my doctor insisted was not COVID). I really need to get out of the house for a week or so. I finally get the courage to book a solo road trip to the nearby state of Georgia. I’ve noticed a couple of friends taking trips up there to do day hikes and it looks like a safe and interesting thing to do.

My first stop is southwestern Georgia at Providence Canyon State Park, a place many refer to as a mini grand canyon. It is a canyon caused by erosion from poor farming practices. Fortunately/unfortunately the end result is a neat little place to visit for the day to view and take a hike.

I am driving in from central Florida and arrive in the evening. I book a hotel in a nearby town that is actually in Alabama. Eufaula, Alabama is a small town that is very low-key and seems safe enough to stay for an evening or two (it is a good thing I booked two evenings, more on that later).

Driving into Alabama from western Georgia

The drive north, mostly highway miles, is where I think I notice a strange noise from my car (my car is quite old but a very reliable model and current on maintenance). I essentially do the equivalent of putting my fingers in my ears and try to ignore it. If I pretend the noise doesn’t exist will it go away on its own? I eventually arrive at my hotel and my car still sounds strange as I pull in the parking lot. “Maybe it is just tired and if I let it rest for the night it will be fine”. I check into my hotel room and rest for the evening. The next morning I am heading to the Providence Canyon. I wake up and start the 30 minute drive to the canyon, still ignoring the noise (I know, totally irresponsible). I arrive as the canyon is opening (since I read warnings that there can be crowds and they limit visitors for the day). It is impossible to ignore the noise anymore. As I park I get weird looks from others in the parking lot. I do an inspection to see what the problem might be. Luckily another visitor in the parking lot is knowledgeable of my issue and points it out right away. I have eroded a break pad and that is what is causing the noise. I am confused because I didn’t think my break pads were that old. This seems like a problem I need to resolve right away. I find a repair place who will take me immediately and drive back 30 minutes to the town I am staying. I need new break pads and rotor. The cost is ridiculously expensive to fix but it isn’t like I can comparison shop at this point. I get the service done and pay the price. I could head back to the canyon but it is already late in the day. I decide to wander around Eufaula instead. Luckily I have one more night scheduled in my hotel here.

I end up on a little paved trail that is mostly empty. This town is on the water so I can see boats on the water from the trail.

After my walk I order a pizza to take back to the hotel and go to bed early to return to the canyon in the morning.

The next morning my brakes are working great again and come in handy when I need to stop to make sure I don’t runover a parade of hogs on the road.

I am back at the canyon, this time for good. I start along the loop trail which slowly descends into the canyon.

I have the choice to explore the inside of the canyons from below or head up the incline to do the 2.5 mile loop trail. Today I decide to do only the 2.5 mile trail because I am out of hiking shape and I have longer hikes ahead of me on this trip.

The area used to be a settlement that had to be abandoned due to the earth collapsing. Left behind are some old cars.

Most of the loop is shaded and like a forest hike but the last part is mostly open but offers great vistas of the canyon.

There is an old church and cemetery on the walk back to the parking lot. I can never resist a peek at an old cemetery.

Overall it is a great visit. My only wish is that I would have spent the time to hike some of the canyons. Perhaps if I didn’t have the car issues I could have split the hikes over two days to make it more manageable.

I drove up to north Georgia afterwards to be closer to Amicalola Falls, the place I will start my adventure for the next couple days.

The Limelight Inn in Dahlonega, Georgia is a beautiful place to spend the night.

I enjoy my lovely porch view of the fall for a little bit then head into the town of Dahlonega for dinner. I find a nice little outdoor restaurant to enjoy dinner in this cute college town.

Gyro at Capers on the Square

After dinner I head back to my Inn and enjoy the sunset from my porch since it is COVID times and most places appear to close early. It seems like a cute town to do some shopping in, maybe during another visit.

Tomorrow I head out on a 5 mile hike to a lodge I will be staying for two nights. More on that later.

Salento: Valle de Cocora

One of the most popular things to do in Salento is hike in the nearby Cocora Valley (about a 30 minute jeep ride from town). Two options exist: a loop hike which is about 12km and a shorter up and back hike (about an hour or so). Both hikes will give you a view of Cocora Valley’s iconic palm trees. The long hike is rumored to be amazing so I am planning on doing the whole loop today.

I start off early today because I know I am a slow hiker. I inform my hotel I am missing breakfast again and they instead provide me a lovely fruit platter and orange juice to take on my journey. I also stop at the shop on the corner to order a coffee, empanada and some other breads to take with me (one being my new addiction of sausage stuffed rolls – these are amazing when they are fresh). I also carry lots of water.

To arrive at the start I hire a jeep from town square in the morning. They say they leave once an hour but they really leave once they fill up. Mine left 15 minutes early. Luckily I showed up early for the 7:30 am ride.

Made sure to note jeep ride times

The jeep drops us off on a dirt road I am assuming is nearby the trail entrance. There is really no instruction of where to start, I just know that I should start “off to the right” for which direction I plan to go. I should have followed the crowd as the jeep emptied but I decide to try to use the nearby restroom before I start my journey. By the time I got out of the restroom there is no one really to ask which way to go.

I wander around for a bit up and back on the dirt road. The entrance I am looking for should be to the right of the road.

view from the road

I look down at maps.me on my phone and I think I discover the correct way to the start.

I chose doing the loop going counter-clockwise to avoid crowds. Also the journey across the waterway is beautiful early in the day and the inclines are more gradual in this direction.

I head down into the valley and I eventually reach the trail entrance where I pay an admission charge and receive a wrist band.

I pass a small bridge and stop to say hi to some cows.

Entrance to first part of the path.

I start my hike trough a narrow trail in the middle of a meadow. There are cow pastures on the sides of the path. Vibrant green grass blankets the meadow. The weather is slightly cool. It is a beautiful day.

At the edge of the meadow I stop and eat my fruit before I carry onto the next part of my journey.

Fruit box from my lovely hotel

I start the stream-jumping section of the path. The second part of the trail is basically a series of rocky paths that wind around a stream with frequent bridge crossings. The bridges get progressively more scary: meaning the further you go the less maintained the bridges seem to be (I read where one called them the Indian Jones bridges).

This is another amazingly beautiful part of the trail. I enjoy hearing the stream of water while I hike.

Leaving the waterway behind I start climbing uphill towards a hummingbird sanctuary, a pit stop on the trail. I intended to visit the sanctuary but the climb is making me tired. I recall the advice I was given from other travelers a couple days ago and decide to turn back and forgo the visit. I have much further to go and I want to make sure I have energy to complete the loop. I did read reviews later that were favorable but nonetheless I am glad I skipped it because the trail continues uphill in the intended direction and I need all the energy I can conserve.

While on the trail I encounter signs of the different wildlife I may see along the way.

I hope I don’t run into one of these guys
Getting closer to the top
Bamboo shaded rest area

The terrain is changing again and I end up on a sandy path. It is challenging and uphill. I hear the sounds of doors creaking in the trees. I look up and see no birds so I can only assume what may be making those sounds.

I finally reach what I understand to be the highest point. I take the slow zig zags uphill. I stop on the bright green meadow “walls” to lay down and rest because it looks so comfortable.

At the top of the switchbacks

At the top there seems to be a café but it looks like they are only serving a specific tour group. It may be private property but they don’t mind that others are hanging around and resting on the nearby benches. I find Finca La Montaña a place to catch my breath and snack on my breads before moving on. I learn later that it is a coffee farm.

I am past the halfway point now I think.
I watch a dog watching people walk downhill (doing the trail loop clockwise)
Finca La Montaña

As I leave Finca La Montaña I walk by quite a few people going in the opposite direction. It appears the Finca La Montaña I have just arrived at is the final spot at top for those doing just the shorter hike. Unfortunately those walking toward the finca look tired since the journey is mostly uphill and it is now the hottest time of day. I chatted with a few hikers caught off guard with the uphill challenge. My hike is challenging as far as inclines go but at least the uphill parts are broken up by horizontal parts. I am excited to learn the rest of my hike will be mostly downhill.

I walk by some lovely tall pine trees.

only 4.2 km to go. mostly downhill from here.

I notice more beautiful views hiking down. Soon I reach another section where someone is collecting admission to the observation area where I can finally view the tall palms – El Bosque de Las Palmas. I receive another wrist band.

This map makes the path look very simple but it didn’t feel very simple while I was hiking.

Downhill path. It is now hot and sunny so I am thankful.

Finally I reach the upper level of the mirador or viewpoint of the lovely palm trees. It is incredibly windy today.

I walk out a down a series of sandy terraces, each giving a distinct viewpoint of the area.

Entrance if you are entering the trail from the opposite direction. Some people just visit this portion of the area and skip the long hike.
Chill out areas with great views
Tried to follow my location via maps.me. Not sure really how helpful it was.

I head back down what I believe is the street I arrived at this morning. I see a meadow where jeeps are parked. This must be where I catch my return trip to town. I wait for a jeep to become available and hop in the back. Luckily I am sitting inside (even though it is crowded) and not hanging off the back like other adventurous travelers.

Ride back into town

The journey today was long and exhausting but it was highly rewarding. I am adding this hike to my list of memorable hikes.

Jardín: Hike to Christ

Another day in Jardín (Antioquia, Colombia) so I decide to take another short hike but this time to a Christ statue on a hill.

The town looks beautiful this morning as I head out for my hike.

Where I am going today is up the hill to see the large statue of Jesus (Seen as the little white thing in the photo below).

See the Jesus on the middle left.

The path is straight ahead and not clearly marked. I only know it is the correct path because of website that created a great guide to the area (fortunately I found the link to their website intentional travelers – they are so helpful).

The trail begins as a steep decline downhill on a rock trail. I am glad I am wearing my hiking boots again.

A kitten comes by to greet me before I start my hike.

I don’t really see many others around once again today. Traveling in Colombia is quiet compared to visiting other countries. Normally the isolation would have me worried about my safety but for some reason I feel safe here.

I come to a large moss covered tree. The tree is beautiful and reminds me of home.

I come to a little wooden bridge and cross a stream.

The area around the stream looks like a nice place to picnic during the day.

It is not clearly marked but I notice a rough path going uphill. I am thankful that it is both dry and that I am wearing my hiking boots. The steps are challenging for my shorter legs.

Looking down below. I see other hikers!
Town off in the distance

I arrive to a gate. There is no sign but it is not locked. I open the gate and walk through, hoping I am not tresspassing.

I am at some sort of summit. I stop and take in the views. There are large beautiful black birds flying to and fro.

I walk past banana trees. The path I am on is clearly used but very rough. I see another couple hiking around so I know I am in the right place.

Eventually I arrive to the area that contains the statue. There is a restaurant or café that appears to closed but a gate is ajar. A tour guide has entered into the viewing area with some tourists; I assume since he is there then it is ok to enter. I grab a seat and enjoy the view for a while.

At some point it looks like the owner shows up. I pack up my things in anticipation of getting asked to leave but he doesn’t seem angry we are there. I don’t stay long anyway.

restaurant up top
seating with view of town below
Finally the view, from below it looks like there used to be gondola system. It doesn’t seem to be operational.
A directional sign! Don’t see many of these.

I think there are other trails up here somewhere but I end up just heading back the way I arrived.

Trail goes on? Who knows?
The Moss tree again

It doesn’t take me long to arrive back in town. It is still early so I take the time to visit the inside of the beautiful town church.

I love the tiles and the ceiling colors.

I head back to my hotel to freshen up and rest. I’ll head out later to see some birds at dusk. More on that later.

Jardín: La Garrucha Overlook

Town of Jardín, Antioquia, Colombia

Feb 12, 2020

Photos of wandering around town this morning…

Today I start out late as usual. I have good intentions to leave early and take pictures around town but it doesn’t really happen. I do wake up early but actually leaving the hotel at an early hour seems impossible. I order the fresh breakfast at the hotel – it is quite filling. I gather up my laundry and find local laundromat since my dirty things have been piling up. After dropping off my laundry I start heading towards the trail that I plan to hike today.

For today’s walk I have maps.me and a PDF file on my phone from a blogger who is done a similar hike (there is no good “tourist guide”).

I head to a restaurant to order a sandwich to take on the way. I like to carry a sandwich to be able to stop and eat when I get tired of walking. I find this town has a way of humbling me when it comes to my knowledge of Spanish. Ordering the sandwich is awkward but I eventually put in the order in for a ham and cheese sandwich. Once my sandwich is ready I grab a soda and I’m ready to go.

The hike today is up to La Garrucha where there is a cable car station (I can take the cable car from town and forgo the hike if I want to). The cable car looks suspect (pictures later) so I hike to the lookout by taking the path starting at the yellow bridge at the edge of town.

Once I cross the bridge the beautiful views are non-stop at this point.

The road turns to the right and I start walking uphill. It is pretty warm in the sun so I start my sweating as usual. There are also not any directional signs so I follow maps.me and the advice from the blog.

Mini-yellow bridge with statue
Looks like a covered area for banana harvesters

After a while I catch my first sight of coffee plants. There is a good amount of coffee grown here but the next town I visit is when I will visit a finca (coffee plantation).

Soon I notice that coffee and bananas are companion plants.

These signs were no help at all.

Finally I make it to the overlook where I order a coffee at the café and take in the view.

I watch as others take the trip on the cablecar.

I debate taking the cable back down because I am tired from the uphill trip. I chat with some tourists who walked up in the other direction and they tell me the way back is all downhill since we are at the top. The return trip isn’t entirely downhill but yes it is mostly downhill.

The road back contains farms and residences.

I pass by a charming homestay where musicians are playing music outside.

I pass farms and smell the distinct smell of marijuana. I don’t see anyone around so perhaps it is far away.

I come across a field of wooden crosses. Not sure their purpose.

Some switch backs on the road going down hill

I end up passing by a ecological park or homestay (Eco Parque Camino De Piedra).

I come across this beautiful door which I later learn leads to a tunnel that offers private tours.

I cross a bridge and soon after is a stream. People who have taken a horseback tour of the area tie their horses outside a restaurant and take a dip in the water. I sit here and finally eat the sandwich I have brought with me on today’s journey.

After my rest I continue on to where I find a mini-waterfall.

It doesn’t take me long until I reach the short trail that leads me back to town, passing colorful places on the way.

I head back into town and treat myself to a beer and a large dinner.

I seriously love this town.

Abel Tasman and One of those days

Abel Tasman

This morning before starting another long drive I try to check the oil on my campervan after reading in the lease agreement that is something I should be periodically doing. The problem is I can’t find the engine. I’ve never owned or even driven a vehicle like this before. When I open the front hood it is all nonsense inside. Finally I ask a stranger at a gas station. He tells me he isn’t really familiar with the van but he thinks the engine is under the passenger seat. What?!?

Sure enough it is.

Looky there

After checking I am back on the road but I make a pit stop at a park where I read about my favorite bugs (sarcasm).

Apparently I am the filet mignon of humans

I am heading to the north coast and my destination is Abel Tasman. I have a reservation for two nights at a campervan site near the water.

Abel Tasman at low tide

The drive to Abel Tasman is twice as long as the estimate is. Once again I did not sleep well in my van last night so I am tired. Also it is really stressful driving on the steep winding roads heading into the Abel Tasman National Park; traffic is bad and cars ride my tail. I normally pull over to let faster cars pass but there is no shoulder for me to safely pull over. To top it all off I can’t find a place to buy gas that will accept my credit card and I am running really low on gasoline. I stop at a gas station one after another, each spaced far apart, and none of them are able to accept my credit card. I am almost at my campsite and when I discover the gas station nearby will not work as well so I have a mini panic attack.

I know a panic attack about finding gas sounds silly but I am pretty worn down and stressed out at this point. I turn around and end up driving to another town to find a gas station; thank goodness my van made it. This gas station has an attendant where I can make my purchase. I buy gas and three candy bars because I can’t decide if I want crisped rice chocolate, almond chocolate, or chocolate with peanuts so I just buy them all. Isn’t that what you do when you have a panic attack?

I decide that tonight would be a good time to spend some money on a hotel room. I just imagine getting to a crowded campsite with a bunch of screaming kids and end up getting into an argument with another traveler being very inconsiderate (something that tends to happen at these campsites time to time).

So that’s how I end up at a motel tonight. Hopefully I get a good nights rest and I am up for a hike because I’ve been looking forward to a day hike, I just wasn’t looking forward or expecting the crowds. But it is Monday so maybe it won’t be quite as bad tomorrow.

For tonight I have my candy bars ready and decide to go for some delicious veggie pizza at Sprig & Fern Motueka. It is really great veggie pizza. You can tell the vegetables are cooked fresh. Pizza and chocolate makes the world better, right?

Abel Tasman

Today I am doing a hike at Abel Tasman National Park. I wasted a day yesterday so I can’t do as long of a hike as I originally anticipated doing.

Abel Tasman National Park is named after a Dutch settler who had a battle with the local residents. Settlers eventually destroyed the area for logging, etc. They also tricked the native population into giving up their land.

In the mid 1900’s the land was preserved and turned into a park. Now it is a beautiful haven for day hikers, campers, and kayakers. One can spend days hiking from location to location while staying at different campsites.

I am only prepared for day hikes and fortunately there is a water shuttle to assist in that.

Waiting for my water shuttle:

My plan today is to take the shuttle from Kaiteriteri beach to get dropped off at Anchorage and hike back part of the Abel Tasman Coast Track to pick up the return shuttle at Apple Tree Bay. I have the option of walking all the way back to my car if I am feeling real adventurous. This shuttle ride only goes half-way into the park. I could could go further and see other interesting walks; some only available at low tide. I chose the one I did because it seems easily doable by me and I don’t quite trust the New Zealand track rating system; Kiwis tend to be in way better shape than I.

Taking off to Anchorage:

Split apple rock

I have arrived at Anchorage. Upon arrival I see the overnight camp site. Being intrigued I peak in the dorm. There is a nice dorm area to take coverage in overnight. No technology but at least not left out in the elements. I am happy to use the composting toilet before I begin my hike.

Dorm bed building

I start off the hike confused because the directional sign points in the opposite direction from where I believe the trail should start. I guess it is ok because the trail starts by going uphill and across the peninsula and heads back the correct way.

As I walk up the trail I hear lots of bugs. They are very loud but fortunately they all leave me alone.

The first part of the trail is mostly uphill but is well covered by the trees. Soon the trail opens up to a great view. It is warmer up here but at least I can see the water below.

Looking back down the way I came
Looking down at Torrent Bay

It is warm but not too warm, almost perfect for hiking.

I keep track of all the directional signs to ensure I am still going the correct way.

If I want to make it back to my car I am looking at least 11 km walk.
They have the pine issue here as well.
I am getting close to water again

I stop at a pretty beach on Akersten Bay to take a break and eat my sandwich. Hikers can camp on this beach for the night. The trail to get down to the beach is a little steep, unstable and at the end I need to hop over a cute little stream.

Again the sign is pointing in the opposite direction for which I think it should.
But the beach is still on my left so I am good.
At Apple Tree Bay. Do I want to hike another 2.5 hours to my car?

I finally reach the beach where the shuttle will pick me up, Apple Tree Bay. It is only 5.5km or so to walk back to my car. I consider it while I rest on the beach. There are very few people on this beach. I watch a family with their kayaks stop here to rest.

I decide to go ahead and take the shuttle back. It is a nice ride back.

Abel Tasman is beautiful and peaceful (except the main beach on the weekend). I could spend a week here camping, hiking and kayaking. One more thing to love about New Zealand.