Adventure Travel Africa Madagascar The Nomadic Life

The Trail to Pic Boby is Lined With Moonshine

Entering Andringitra

The blisters on my feet made me loathe closed-toe shoes as I inched my way down the rocky moonscape to our second and final campsite, Tsaranomby. How long had it been since I’d worn anything other than flip-flops?

Suddenly, from behind me, I heard a voice. “Mora mora e! (Slowly slowly)” an old guide, technically leading someone else’s group, said as everyone but him had passed me. “We have to go slowly! Oh! Be careful! Slow now, slow now,” he squawked repetitively until I snapped and said “Hey, I GET IT, I’ve been walking slow this whole time!” Without a word, he passed me and descended into the campsite.

“Ah, I’m sorry, was that rude?” I asked when I caught up with Liz, the Peace Corps Volunteer who lives and works with local guides to Andringitra National Park.

“No, whatever, that guy is always annoying,” she said, and we joined the other four parties of tourists, whose tents had long ago been set up by their porters, in the valley below. We threw down our bags and got about to setting up our nights’ shelter ourselves.

It was our second night camping, and we only had a little further to go before returning to Liz’s town at the beginning of the trail, Morarano on our next and third days’ hike. After the previous two days of hiking, we were happy to look forward to an easy walk home. The previous day we had hiked roughly 13km over the tall ridge surrounding Morarano and its’ valley, then through rocky trails and rice fields to Andringitra National Park’s entrance. From there it was another 5km up a steep, staircased trail, and a savanna-esque valley to our first campsite. Early the next morning, we climbed another endless staircase to the peak of the “highest accessible peak in Madagascar” — Peak Boby — to catch the sunrise.

The peak was originally discovered by a French scientist who hiked to the top with his dog and as the dog arrived first he decided to name the peak after him. However, locals found it offensive to have a mountain named after a dog so they gave it a Malagasy name, Imarivolanitra (literally: the peak that touches the sky). Unfortunately for them, “Boby” (boh-be) is easier for tourists to pronounce so I fear they’ll never be able to rid themselves of the dogs’ namesake completely.

Now in Tsaranomby withour tent set up, the sun was making a fast retreat behind the mountains, turning the rocks a brilliant pink-orange. Around us, the guides and porters fanned camp fires and stirred up giant pots of (plain) rice and leafy greens. A couple of the guides served their tourists tea in tin pots, while Liz and I loitered about, trading cigarettes for a coveted piece of bread with jam and bouncing back and forth between talking to the guides and the tourists. We were neither; as often happens with PCVs, we were caught in that spot between being a local and a visitor. We spoke the language, but it wasn’t our mother tounge. We ate rice three times a day with the guides and porters, but leapt at the chance to have bread and jam. But most importantly, we acted as a bridge.

“I feel like the guides and tourists interact more when I go into the park with them,” Liz said.

The same could be said about buying them moonshine.

Around sunset, a toaka-gasy seller returning from a party stumbled past the campsite with his gasoline-barrel full of the home-brewed sugarcane moonshine slung over his shoulder on a stick. As a thank you, Liz bought a coke-bottles worth (about 60 cents) for the guides. By dinnertime, the guide who had been walking with us was making drunken speeches in English — “yeees, yeees, yeees, we drink….. together! yeees?” — and the French college students were giggling at another guide’s attempt to flirt with a girl, while claiming not to be flirting.

But eventually the moonshine ran out, the fires died, and a full moon peaked out from behind a cloudy sky, as one by one the campers slipped away to sleep and leave the party behind in preparation for one final push to the end of the trail.

Buying GreensFinal DescentHiking up to Peak BobyFinal Descent 2Top of Peak BobyFog on Peak BobySunrise near Peak Boby

Photos: (1) The end of the first day’s hike (2) Buying leafy greens before heading into the park (3) The final descent to Morarano (4) The trail to Peak Boby (5) The final descent again (6) With friends at the top of Peak Boby (7) Fog on Peak Boby (8) Sunrise over the valley

North America The Nomadic Life The United States

Thru Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail: An Elusive Route

South of Yachats // Credit: Marian Mclaughlin“Do you like long walks on the beach?” my friend teased; referencing how I’d earlier rolled my eyes at this cliché interest listed on a facebook profile. I smiled, and had to admit the irony of my judgment as I looked around at the giant boulders jutting from the ocean and the seemingly endless expanse of flat sand and pine-dotted cliffs we had yet to pass. Except, her remark well If I was not wearing the most comfortable walking shoes for men – I likely wouldn’t have made that super long trek of a hike. summarized our attempt at following the Oregon Coast Trail (OCT), which hugs the Oregon coastline from the Washington to California borders, as a thru-trail. We had essentially embarked on one damn long walk on the beach.

I had originally chosen the OCT because of its easy access to food, well maintained campgrounds, and the seeming simplicity of the route. The first two held true, but aside from several patches of well-marked trail that took us through lush temperate rain forest or long stretches of beach parallel to highway 101, the trail wasn’t always obvious. At times I felt like we were chasing an elusive creature with a map – printed from the Oregon Parks Service website – about as good as the one used by the kids in Astoria-filmed “The Goonies”.

It wasn’t until about 92 miles from our starting point in Tillamook, outside Yachats, that we saw our first sign demarcating the trail and unexpectedly hiked 2.2 miles of steep incline. By chance alone we met a pair in Neskowin who informed us the next 6 miles of trail would actually be a technically closed maze of fallen trees. While later en route to Humbug Mountain from Port Orford, high tides made a beach hike impossible, forcing me into the bike lane along a curving, 3-mile stretch of highway 101 during a heavy downpour.

Eventually, the beach hikes became too monotonous and we agreed to simply pitch our tents in a hike-heavy area (such as Humbug Mountain), do a day hike, and move on. At one point, a hip, artsy 20-something couple from Portland offered us a ride to Newport and we immediately ditched our plans in exchange for a beer at the Rogue Brewery.

But even in despite of our questionable actual-miles-hiked log, the OCT had an abundance of surreal landscapes, wildlife, and picturesque vistas for us to gawk at. In fact, the trail’s habit of meeting back up with 101 and winding through some of Oregon’s sleepy (and at times quaint, quirky, or just plain creepy) coastal towns made simply finding the trail half the challenge. Some stretches (such as Yachats to Florence) resembled the challenging, seaside, dirt trails we had expected, while others (such as Lincoln City to Waldport) were lacking enough in nature to send us to the nearest bus stop.

Although the OCT is totally feasible as a thru-trail, I’d follow the majority on this adventure and hike it as a series of smaller day hikes. That is of course, unless you truly enjoy long — seriously long — walks on the beach…

OCT Resources

Oregon State Parks Website: includes PDF downloads of maps for the OCT
The Great Outdoors: a basic, practical overview
Day Hiking the Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson: includes information on thru-hiking the OCT

Trip Gallery

Adventure Travel In Photos North America Oregon The Nomadic Life

Brookings, Oregon: The End of the Oregon Coast Trail [photos]

For roughly two weeks I followed the Oregon Coast Trail by means of foot and wheel, finally finishing the trip outside Brookings, Oregon and camping there for two nights with the boyfriend.

Sunset at Harris Beach

Boyfriend + My Birthday(s) Dinner

Sunset at Harris Beach

Full Moon at Harris Beach

It's cherry season in Oregon!

Although hikers can feasibly attempt the trail as a thru-trail, most opt to do it in a series of short day hikes. After vaguely trying to hike the OCT from south to north, I can see why. Keep posted for more details on my opinions/reactions from Oregon’s seaside trail!

Adventure Travel North America Oregon The Nomadic Life

Hiking in Cascade Head, Oregon

Neskowin to Lincoln City

Photo Credit: Marian Mclaughlin

The trail unofficially known as Phil was closed for good reason. But since our new friends in Neskowin who had dragged a plastic dining set to the beach to share a sunset pasta dinner with us had assured us it was OK to hike, we trekked on. A mudslide perhaps had strewn tree trunks and branches across the path and stream-fed weeds grew tall enough to render it invisible in parts.

On the other hand, boot and dog prints made us think we weren’t alone. Someone with a hatched (who we frankly referred to as hatchet man) had cut slits in the logs to make them passable, encouraging us to continue. However, when the dog prints clearly enlarged to bear prints my body tensed with anxiety and I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out and hitch a ride to Devil’s Lake.

Sure, I’ve been on sub-par trails and traipsed through the habitats of animals who sometimes maul humans, but I’d always had someone more experienced to defer to. My anxiety welled as I realized I was the experienced one.

I had forgotten to tell someone other than the Neskowin pair we’d known for less than a day about our whereabouts and the list of things that could go morbidly wrong raced through my mind. I suddenly felt foolish. So when the trail opened to a gravel road that cut through it, we abandoned our nature trek for the highway — too nervous from following bear tracks and tired of clapping our way up a mountain to say the hike was still enjoyable.

Adventure Travel North America The Nomadic Life The United States

Why I Want to Visit the Oregon Coast Trail Right Now

With novice-hiker friendly Camino de Santiago financially out of reach, inspiration for my latest travel daydream is a bit closer to home.

1. Potential for Long-Distance Trekking

While most sources seem to point towards day-treks on the Oregon Coast Trail (OCT), over the years the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department have developed the OCT as a route for hikers to be able to thru-trek the state’s coast. Most impressively, this project includes a set of comprehensive maps and directions for those attempting it. The remoteness of the trail varies from fairly secluded, to not at all — at times criss-crossing with highway 101 and several coastal towns. In fact, 41% of the trail is on paved roads, and not really much of a trail at all. However, there’s definitely an appeal to this as it makes  it easy to hop on and off the trail to refuel or quell that inevitable sense of loneliness on a long journey alone.

2. Diverse Landscapes

One of the highlights of the OCT is it’s unique geography.

“It’s incredibly varied. Tidepools, secluded beaches, old-growth forests, shifting sand dunes: All are part of the Oregon coast hiking experience” (from Day Hiking: Oregon Coast by Bonnie Henderson)

Not to mention an array of noteworthy sights and parks along the way, such as Cannon Beach, Rockaway Beach, and Ecola State Park, where the classic 1985 film The Goonies was shot. 1980s-style treasure hunt anyone?

3. Never too Far From Beer

Oregon and the Pacific Northwest have rapidly gained a solid reputation for their microbreweries, some of which are conveniently located alongside the OCT (a list can be found here). Happily, one of my favorite breweries, Rogue Ales (brewers of the oh-so-tasty Dead Guy Ale), is among them. It’s coastal location in Newport boasts 35 taps and a gastropub menu that will surely serve motivational purposes for the first half of the hike.

4. Watching the Whale Migrations

I’m not entirely sure why the possibility of spotting a one of the gray whales that make their Alaska – Mexico migration along the coast is so appealing — but it is. Each year in the winter and spring, whales can be seen making their migration along the coast. However, the parks estimate that about 200-400 whales stay put along the coast in the summer time, meaning that no matter what time of year it is there’s always a chance one will make an appearance.