A walk on the wild side
As we write this, it’s the end of our 4th week on the road. Emma hasn’t showered for 3 days and her eyebrows are starting to meet in the middle. Ross’ beard is coming in to full force, although he hasn’t yet agreed to grow a top knot. There’s still time. We’re sitting in a coffee shop in Meteora having entered Greece yesterday afternoon. Our toes are still numb from last night’s wild camping up in the mountains. We were determined to power through the cold, wet fog that descended on us this morning as we made our breakfast under our awning for the first time. This, coupled with alternating shifts inside the car with the heaters on full and the engine running, got us through!
So here we are defrosting. We know that blog time is well overdue! One single weekly commitment now seems hard to manage. The mantra of ‘if you want something done give it to a busy person’ definitely stands true here. We have NOTHING to do, yet we still seem to run out of hours in the day!
It feels like we have been away for AGES. London life feels like a tiny, blurry distant image that wasn’t ever quite real.
We’ve been reflecting on what has changed and just how easily one adapts to a new way of living. All of a sudden...no job to think about and no roof over our heads - but we adapt!
We are realising what we take for granted a huge reason for undertaking this trip in the first place:
- the things that are so much easier back home but we didn’t know it
- the things that were actually luxuries but we thought they were essential
- the fact that we can live with much less and we’ll be lighter and more content as a result
- the things that really matter and that really make us happy.
We are spending more time on the things that make us truly fulfilled and trying to share that more with others, too. As a good friend once said, her motto in life is to focus on ‘love, learning and laughter’. We’ll talk more about these things in the future, but right now they feel like a pretty good fit for how we’re living our life. Yippeee!!!
A quick summary of what’s changed:
Knowing the days of the week
Grooming of any kind! (:()
Talking with friends and family (albeit remote, it’s still great)
Cooking (and getting creative with limited supplies - garlic is our best friend...probably for the best we are travelling just with each other). Here’s one of Emma frying discs of some mysterious potato that we thought was sweet potato but then wasn’t. Turnip maybe???
Reading (we love listening to audiobooks whilst driving - currently we’re on Aldous Huxley’s ‘A Brave New World’ and we are also listening to Series 3 of Serial while dipping in and out of the Infinite Monkey Cage with Brian Cox & Robin Ince. All excellent!)
Singing (Ross is learning how to harmonise instead of just copying what Emma sings, although frustratingly he always needs to know WHY)
Knots in hair (Emma) - no leave in conditioner will cure the matted-ness of those locks
Exercise (we’ve both started a marathon training programme using Hal Higdon’s guide)
Meditation (Ross is doing a ‘gratitude’ course on Headspace and Emma is doing a ‘patience’ one...😳)
Some good habits are forming...hopefully we can make them stick on our return next year.
Now for a bit of an update on the journey itself. Since our last blog (we left you in Liechtenstein), we have been dotting our way through the Balkans. What a DELIGHT these countries are. Here’s our squiggly line from Liechtenstein to Greece!
We kicked off the part of the journey with a lovely little pause in the city of Mozart and the Sound of Music (neither of us have actually seen this but apparently it’s a big deal). Ross’ sister Gil and brother in law Paul came out to see us in Salzburg. After just one week away, they were missing us so much and just couldn’t wait to see us. We were really excited to have such special *first* visitors on our trip (nothing to do with the fact we were already sick of each other and desperate for some other company...we jest). The whole weekend was a hilarious juxtaposition: us in an 8 bed room in the Meninger aka ‘minger’ hostel in what they claimed to be the ‘historical centre of Salzburg’ (if they meant historical as in closed down erotic massage studios from 1995 then perhaps it was accurate), and Gil and Paul in the penthouse suite of the Sacher Hotel with their own royal balcony, views of the castle and individually wrapped Sacher cakes on arrival.
Some snaps of us all together 😍
We absolutely loved this time with family and cherished every moment. A side bonus was the suitcase full of chocolatey Sacher toiletries, fruit and cake Gil smuggled out for us to take with us on our journey, much to Paul’s disapproval!
After we dropped the D’Analezes off at the airport in Munich (hopefully to reunite in Cape Town...they’re just working out flights), we drove to a waterfall near to the Austrian border for our first wild camping experience (except for Cape Wrath, which was slightly less daunting (despite the weather) as it’s actually legal to wild camp in Scotland!). We are using iOverlander to find our spots at the moment: a brilliant app created by users with details of wild camping spots all over the world. Hopefully as we build up our confidence we will find our own spots and be able to contribute to the app rather than just follow the recommendations of others, but right now we know we are inexperienced so this feels best for us.
This spot was perfect - by a waterfall, tranquil and off the main road! We we also minutes from a beautiful 5* hotel called Tatzelwurm so we popped in there for a warm and a beer (which we nursed for about an hour to make the most of the €4 it had cost us)! Not sure that the waiters knew what to make of the two bedraggled travellers hanging out in their posh restaurant for no good reason!
After 2 weeks on the go, staying in a mixture of large hostel dorms, campsites and our wild waterfall, we decided to treat ourselves to a private room in a hostel in Lubljana, Slovenia. It was also our 9 year anniversary so we thought this was a good excuse for some relative luxury. Funny to think that the previous 8 years of anniversaries have sometimes been spent in fancy hotels and indulgent restaurants; we were so excited at the idea of a private room in a hostel and actually going out for a meal of any kind. Anyway, it was a bloody great hostel and a bloody great city. We loved it and ended up staying for 4 days! The hostel (Hostel Celica Art) is a converted prison and we had our own jail cell.
It was a hub of creativity with various musicians coming to perform concerts there and rooms being used for wonderful art exhibitions by local artists. The hostel was situated in the Metelkova district which is full of stunning graffiti and lots of really diverse people.
Lubljana has also been named Europe’s ‘Greenest City’. You cannot find a ‘normal bin’ anywhere. Everything is split into different categories for proper recycling...everywhere! Bikes are the normal mode of transport and you can tell that people really consider the environment and make thoughtful decisions. An example of this is the image below - we saw an elderly man outside our hostel routing through the bins. At first we thought he was looking for food for himself. But actually, he was sorting the rubbish for recycling. He didn’t seem to work for anyone, it was like he had a personal pride for his city and its impact on the environment. What a place!
After our little rest, we decided we had been ‘too still’ and that we needed to shake it up a bit by climbing Slovenia’s highest mountain - Mount Triglav. It’s 2800 meters high, so not huge but a considerable hike. We knew that Slovenia’s highest mountain hut sat just below the summit at 2500m and that it was open year round (unlike many others) as it also doubled as a meteorology centre. The drive there was cool - we drove through our first river (more of a stream but let’s not let the truth get in the way of a good story) and had to take several detours around fallen trees!
The climb was incredible. We were so lucky with the weather and saw the most brilliant sunrise from the hut the next morning. At the hut, we were looked after by the two weathermen who made us wild mushroom soup (a Slovenian speciality), enough pasta to feed about 20 people and lots of cold beers. They pointed out Austria, the Adriatic Sea and Croatia...all viewed from our sleeping bags! We slept on benches in the dining room that night. It was the only place that was heated, and we didn’t fancy sleeping in the dorms which were about 0C at this time of year.
We made a decision not to summit as the last 300 meters were by ‘via ferrata’ literally ‘iron path’: a protected climbing route made from pieces of metal (staples, steps, ladders) and ropes bolted to the sheer rock face. We had done one before last year in Borneo with a guide in Summer, and didn’t fancy attempting one alone in icy conditions. We gave ourselves a pat on the back for being so sensible (and bragged about the fact to our parents, too) - shared this advice with our 21 year old Dutch room mate Bart who was on his first ever mountain and planning to do it alone with no kit (!!!) -and then headed down the mountain together back to the safety of our car. Bart had walked the entire valley prior to climbing the mountain the day before (adding about 3 hours to his journey) as no one in Lubljana would let him hire a car because of his age, so we dropped him back at the train station on our way to Lake Bled. We were touched by his warmth and openness as he shared his dreams of being in the Dutch Commandos and how he’d caught the climbing bug after his Mt Triglav expedition.
Our second, very special, wild camping experience was on the edge of the Sava River. Thanks again iOverlander! We’d read that getting there was a little tricky and that you might need a 4x4...”A 4x4 you say?! We have one of those!!” we both thought silently whilst feigning nonchalance to any onlookers. Still now, any time we have to manoeuvre that tiny little gear stick into low or high 4, we gleefully announce to the person in the passenger seat “I’M PUTTING IT INTO 4x4 NOW” and then drive the remainder of the journey with a slightly insane grin on our faces! We haven’t even really been off road yet! Who knows how we’ll cope in Africa, who knows.
So, “IN 4x4” we bumped down a concealed gravel track (as per the instructions on iOverlander) to meet the banks of the Sava River. It wasn’t too bad, we got kind of stuck in the mud turning around but nothing too advanced! The path met a beautiful deserted beach which is frequented by trout fishermen in the summer months. Absolutely perfect for us! The Sava river is a beautiful pale turquoise and there are big whitewashed boulders strewn along it. The mountains tower above it on either side, and when we arrived, the red and brown foothills were lit by the late afternoon sun (‘our light’ we call it...you know, when the day is still warm but your shadows become long and everything seems golden). It felt quite magical - especially as it was hidden away.
We’d arrived nice and early, still with a couple of hours of sunlight left, and so we set up our camping chairs with blankets and read our books with a brew by the riverside. Gorgeous.
We slept with the sound of the river rushing past and our bellies full of left over Triglav mountain hut pasta. The next morning, we took advantage of the warm dry weather to air out our stinky sleeping bags, faff about, drink coffee and do ridiculous photo shoots...the results of which you can see below!
These beautiful few days in Slovenia left us glowing and grateful for how lucky we are to be on this adventure.
Thank you for reading if you got this far (I’ve given up trying to be brief, it’s just not me).
Lots of love, The MacKays x