Do you ever get that feeling? A pull to be in the forest, along a seaside cliff top, or climbing a trail to a wide sweeping view? A nature boost can calm you down, feed your soul, get your appetite peaked. But it's the really gritty hikes that force you to dig deep, that 'brand' your brain with memories and a sense of accomplishment you'll never forget. Here are our stories of 5 tough, remote, and ultimately spectacular journeys that leave you weary to the bone and smiling ear to ear.
Ladders and more ladders, up and up, the 40 pound backpack on my back starts to feel like I'm papoose-ing 3 grown men up this endless climb. Rung after rung I raise a foot, a hand; I look up at Allan's feet, the rhythm of his steps keeps my own feet climbing. We make our way up the gully wall, pull ourselves onto the rim, and pause to look through the trees at the river below. So serene. So severe.
And on that day went. Roots pushing into the soles of our feet as we negotiated along the narrow forest path trying to save backs and knees. Muscles maxed, we waded along endless soft sandy beaches, through boggy mud, and across freezing cold rivers. By the time we put up our tent that evening, all we could do was collapse onto the ground in our hastily strewn sleeping bags, feet throbbing. Truly! Throbbing. Then...I felt warm hands grab my toes, soft lotion ease the throbs, and a firm, gently rub. Ahhh. My feet had never felt anything so good! A massage from an angel, my angel! I "ooh" and "ahh" and am completely unable to move. Eventually I grab Allan's feet and chuckle at his even heartier "oohs" and "ahhs". Foot massages better than sex. Who would've thought I'd find this on the West Coast Trail?! One of the many images burned into my brain: feet; taking my already memorable journey up a notch into the magnificent.The Details:
Vancouver Island's West Coast Trail is 75 km (45 Miles) of exquisitely varied terrain and hefty challenges. 5-7 days long, this remote shoreline trek features rivers to cross, deep gullies lined in endless ladders, and an intense bouldering moonscape that greets the crashing waves of the open Pacific. From towering old growth forests to sandy river mouths, the camp spots are a welcome sight at the end of long, arduous days. Even in this rainforest be wary to ration your water; unless you come face to face with the coast's heavy, relentless rain. In which case: rationing not required!! All in all, spectacular views, countless physical challenges, and some highlight gems including a beautiful cascading waterfall, native villages, and possible bear and cougar sightings. Isolated and strenuous with breathtaking scenery around every corner, this demanding adventure is known to be one of the most grueling treks in North America. The West Coast Trail is a lifetime experience that will push you, delight you, and leave you with an appreciation for your feet that you will never forget.
This article does not cover everything you need nor does it intend to. Please take the time to be prepared for this hike as it is for experienced hikers and you can quickly get into a bad situation if the weather turns or you experience an injury.
Find out more about the West Coast Trail here:
Oh, and you'll likely need to make a reservation. As grueling as this hike is, it's a popular one.Highlights
* sun hat
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Wandarrah’s House - Luang Phabang
Wandarrah, the woman we are staying with, is wonderful and I’ve grown quite fond of her. She brought me some rice last night for my ailing stomach. She has been very welcoming and willing to share information about Laos with us. She is a very talented weaver and teaches young woman the art of weaving on beautiful large wooden frame looms in a shop beneath her house. She also teaches in the villages, does her own weaving, and runs her small guest house. The woven pieces from her shop are so gorgeous that I have a hard time holding back from buying too much! But today I found a beautiful skirt that fits me to a tee. And just what I wanted! The nicest part is that Wandarrah has woven the cloth herself which makes it very special to me.
Wandarrah at her favorite place!
The beautiful fabric here has really renewed my interest in weaving and textiles. Maybe when we get home I will take the time to look into the subject more thoroughly. I remember how much I enjoyed studying textiles… I’m delighted to see all the beautiful workmanship. It’s like a small wick inside that needs a match to start the flame, but once lit the light grows ever stronger.
It seems the time in Luang Phabang has slipped by very fast. Yesterday we planned to leave but it was raining so hard we spent a day just hanging out. It was perfect; so pleasant to have a chance to speak more with Wandarrah and learn about her work and family. She is kind, more willing than most to be friendly. Calm and giving, with confidence and curiosity. Allan asked her about some wood he saw delivered to the house and found out they are building a second house in the Lao traditional style out near the big water fall. She will set up more looms to teach the villagers out there and also open up rooms as a guest house.”
She had a look at my scarf from Thailand and says it has been woven by the Lao people who now live on the opposite side of the Mekong. Many people fled over the river during the communist revolution in Laos in ‘75. Now more Lao people live in Thailand than in Laos.”
Dawn Market - Muang Sing
The following morning I awoke at 5:30 AM. I didn’t want to miss anything. As I made my way down the hall I poked my head out over the street: three women with baskets on their backs were briskly walking towards me. Their outfits of many colors on black, short skirts and small jackets, were topped with gorgeous headdresses; like small pillbox hats covered in embroidery, tassels, and silver. Their beauty in the hazy blue glow of pre-sunrise caused a rise of anticipation within me. I quickly dressed and followed the people down the road.
I sat alongside the open stalls, watching the people. The costumes of tribal folk mixed among the local women in Lao woven skirts and colourful blouses and men in western dress made a curious mix. Soup was cooking, tea boiling, and veggies were set out on tabletops for inspection. The sun rose in a red glow, large and round and shining across the green hills through the haze to cast it’s gold early morning light upon the market.
Dawn: the market wakes up
As my timidity left me, I walked slowly between the stalls, curious to see more closely. Both the people and the goods were as interesting as the other. Three mornings I wandered there and watched. I saw many interesting veggies and more modern wares, but the wildest to me was the meat. I saw mini dried frogs, a beautiful blue and black feathered bird, plenty of chickens, turkeys, fish. Each day a cow was slaughtered and the meat table was covered in all the bits of cow - every cut of meat with some hanging above, others laid out; intestines, liver, etc. I didn’t look long enough to put a label to much of it. It really sets your mind off thinking of the human being as just another animal in the food chain.
Get it while it's fresh!
A mix of melons, cucumbers in neat piles, bananas, and plenty of greens. The first morning I saw a woman carry in a rodent the size of a small dog or cat. It must have been strung up still alive, but later I saw the same type of animal with its throat cut lying dead. I’m not sure if it was the same one; a fellow traveller thought it might be a mongoose. A multitude of ‘barnyard’ birds ran about here and there on the fringes, others with legs tied or in basket cages stacked among the produce. And among it all were needles and thread, t-shirts and umbrellas, fabric and lighters and coke and cigarettes. A woman spun thread with a drop spindle. A young boy served up hot dumplings. An old woman offered a huge chunk of opium.
Spinning yarn in the morning light
Other than the Lao people I saw at least three tribal groups: Hmong, Akha, and Mien/Yao villagers, many in breathtaking local dress. The men tend to wear more western garb, but some still dress in traditional garments, perhaps topped with a western style hat. It intrigues me to see the mix of local and western wear together. The juxtaposition is truly magnificent in its capture of the present; an illustration of the changes coming to these people. Change I am a part of, just in being here.
Muang Sing is the central market for the area and each morning at dawn the villagers arrive in town from the surrounding area. A bustling exchange of food and goods goes on for 2-3 hours as the sun rises.
Hmong, Akha, and Mien/Yao villagers
Slippers - Nom Tha
The highlight of the day was an old tribal woman who came by selling her handmade bags. Beautiful smile! Allan couldn’t resist - his second bag that day! He’s as bad as me when he feels the presence of these gentle people (they’re probably all hard core business women!). Anyways, next thing you know the woman pulls out a pair of slippers- hand done! I let out a gasp...they were the style of the antique ones I’d fallen in love with in ‘93 in the museum in Chiang Mai. They are beautiful! She asked 500 kip ($5US) and I couldn’t bear to bargain her down an inch! I’m so thrilled with them; and to top it off they even fit me. My only wish was that I knew what tribe she came from...we asked her, but she couldn’t understand.
Handmade slippers (South East Asia)
Buddhist Puja - Huay Xai
We made our way up the hill to the monastery, climbing wide steps with brightly coloured serpent ‘rails’ and frangipani blooms sprinkled about. At the top we heard chanting. The monks were having puja and their soft voices spread out in the thin blue air. I turned to see the Mekong and it’s final reflections as the sky slowly began to darken. To hear the puja for the first time since Ladakh makes me feel calm. I feel pleased to find some Buddhist spirit here in Lao where it feels very secular to me. The chanting monks were seated facing a beautiful large Buddha. We spent several moments just to listen.
The next morning I woke up early to take a walk at sunrise. I’d enjoyed that so much in Muang Sing! I went down to the river to gaze at everyone beginning their day. Walking up the hill I noticed the monks coming down from the temple in a single line. I quickly ran to our room and out onto the veranda for a better view. Young monks in gold with bright orange belts and gold alms bowls hanging from fabric shoulder straps came down and began to file into the street. Some went left, others right, all carrying their bowls and remaining in a line. A couple of the monks wore saffron shaded robes and at least one had on deep purple. Several were in bright orange robes and purple stoles. The colours! So rich in the early morning light. The monks proceeded down the street where people from the town knelt and shared rice into their alms bowls. Such a beautiful ritual. I’ve heard of it, but never been about so early as to see them. The image is so rich in me that Huay Xai will be held this way in my mind: vivid colour, calming song.
Huay Xai and surrounding areas
by Julie MacDonald
photography by Allan Weston
All Rights Reserved 2015 Kaikuna Clothing
Green everywhere; rich and deep, pale and shimmering, reflecting light. All I see is green. All but a trampled brown path below, a narrow strip of sky above. I hear a gentle rustle like a trickling stream; the sway of tall, now thin-now thick stalks, their leaves dancing, whispering. A sense of calm. The air is moist, earthy and fresh; it even smells green. A touch of breeze feels thick, heavy and warm. But the forever forest creates a cool sanctuary.
Rain begins. All senses are invigorated, exaggerated...greener, wetter, cooler, fresher. The steady sound of pattering drops against the sturdy stalks and softly bending leaves, almost hypnotic, completes the isolation. You feel you’re in another world as the green envelopes and empties you; alive and wet!
The Bamboo Forest hike on Maui’s east coast is a worthy end to the scenic coastal drive from Paia to Hana and Haleakala National Park. After gazing at spectacular beaches and waterfalls, and navigating along the winding road aside steep green covered slopes, a hike in the bamboo forest is a fitting place to find oneself; to reflect and recharge.
Bamboo is amazing and exotic. Not only is it beautiful, but it gives us a wide array of products created from this abundant resource. From furniture and flooring to bike frames, food, and flowing fabrics, we find more bamboo items in the market than ever.
When travelling through more remote areas of Asia I remember seeing bamboo used throughout the villages in many ways: for homes, irrigation, tools. Tourists bring home carvings, wind chimes, and musical instruments. Bamboo is prolific, like shells in a seaside curio shop.
So, why was I having such trouble finding out about fabrics made from this abundant material? Searching the net, I was lost in a confusing dialogue between fans and foes. How does fabric from bamboo fit into the many other choices we have as designers and consumers? Why do some folks hate it while others love it?
I dug in, determined to find a path through the opposing views, to find my way through this interlocking knot of often contradictory information. I found myself back in the forest, having lost my sense of direction entirely, when it came to getting solid info. Such beautiful fabric; soft and comfortable, breathable and easy care. It’s excellent for hiking as it wicks moisture from the skin and reduces odor. Rayon from Bamboo is a delight to wear. What is there not to like?
Eventually I’ve come to a basic understanding of this fabric. Like most things, there is both the exciting and the ugly. Here is a simple break out of what I have learned:
The bad stuff:
- bamboo needs to be processed into viscose when it becomes a fabric
- the processing is much like that of pulp and paper and is often accomplished with the use of
- with these toxins used in processing, it can result in water and air pollution
- harvesting bamboo can be done well or very poorly
The good stuff:
- bamboo is a super fast growing plant and can grow several crops per year
- doesn’t need all those horrible pesticides and herbicides so is easy to grow organically
- biodegrades fast
- doesn’t use much water at all to grow - this rates as a 5 star quality for me
- the plant is a sustainable resource
The Really Good stuff:
- the processing of bamboo into rayon viscose can be done in a much cleaner way
- this involves making the process a “closed loop” where the water is recaptured and reused
and air pollution is minimized to a very low level
- there are regulatory bodies that are helping to monitor harvesting methods
- much the same as the processing of eucalyptus trees into Lyocell fabric and beechwood
trees into Modal fabric, there is a realistically possible future for recycling all 3 of these
cellulosic fabrics - research is presently in the works
So, when you next find yourself in a forest of swaying green bamboo, take a moment to look around; remember how amazing this beautiful grass truly is. Whether in Hawaii, SE Asia, or South America, get out into the forest, surround yourself in bamboo. Wrap up in it too. I can’t promise it will keep you from getting wet, but what you will get - from both the hike and the hoodie - is a lasting smile.
Check out Kaikuna’s Bamboo Women’s Hoodie at: http://www.kaikuna.com/collections/jackets
by Julie MacDonald
photography by Allan Weston
All Rights Reserved 2015 Kaikuna Clothing, LLC