Tuesday 5 December 2017

Safari's Favourite Stuff of 2017.

5 Books I really got into this year:

What Doesn't Kill Us- SCOTT CARNEY

Average man becomes a fricken rockstar.  Truly.  Due to Scott's easy to read recollections I spend 15 minutes a day every morning doing a silly Wif Hof deep breathing/ breath hold/ cold shower routine because of this book and it feels great... I didn't get sick at all in 2017. Nothing. Solid immunity, positive mindset.  
Wif Hof! Works for me.  
If you like Chris McDougall's 'Natural Born Heroes' & 'Born to Run', this is in the same vein.

The Road to Sparta- DEAN KARNAZES

In my opinion this is Dean's best writing yet; a mix mash of Greek mythological history, personal memoir and trail tale.  You learn the fabled Spartathlon Ultramarathon is set along a greasy polluted road for much of it's route and Dean found ancient nutritional ideas don't necessarily make for the greatest gastronomic endeavours. You rock Mr Karnazes!


This guy knows how to write, and although just a slim volume- it kicks arse.  I enjoyed the first quarter the most that detailed how White settlers in the US 1800's abscounded to live with the local Indian tribes. How cool does that sound?!  Do humans really function better and feel happier during wartime when something worthwhile is going on?  Your call.


Elizabeth is in a different world from most of us.  Hardcore traveller.  Happy to be stared at.  Comfortable waiting for a flight to scoop her up... waiting for days at a time.  Knows the history and dodges the stitch ups.  She flits around the many islands of Indonesia, nicely skipping Bali (noticeably actually) and painting an honest picture of everyday humdrum life minus the tourism brochure make up and slick photography filters.  Makes you want to jump on a flight to Jakarta right now.  And no one goes to Jakarta...

The author hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2009, same year as I did.  But in the wrong, I mean opposite direction.  (He went with the herd, Northbound, 'sigh') Robert gives a charming and broad history of the how, why and who of paths and formation of trails, from interpreting colonies of ants to ancient Indian clans and their relevance in our understanding of why the hell do we follow the paths we see and not just blaze our own trails??!

3 Films that deserve a viewing over a dandy brew or 2: note: not necessarily 2017 vintage, just ones that motivated me to remember life is not just about struggling to pay the bills and sedately towing the line, when I forgot from time to time.

180° South.

Bit of classic adventure flick- man chases the path of his heroes Yvon Chouinard & Doug Tompkins, meets hottie Easter Island lass and gets stuck into plenty of sailing, hiking & climbing.  It's been around for a while but comes across as timeless.

You can watch it on Youtube here

Walking the Amazon.

Wandering along the Amazon for years (yes, years) and making it out alive after dodging drug runners, exciting animals and what must have been bloody hard yakka is surely a supreme test of will and dedication.  This guy is a fuckin legend, no arguments thanks.
And there is virtually no whinging in this flick.

The Beer Mile.

A slick Mountain Outpost creation. Watch it on Youtube here

No Jam Jam (Jamil Coury) in this one, just some mad buggers that live in the Rockies who know how to have fun. If you have ever had the pleasure of chugging 4 beers in between 4 laps of an athletic track in under 10 minutes you will probably watch this more than once.  And it's great to see the mighty Jim Walmsley having a hard go of it!

Favourite Brew:

Modus Operandi- Sonic Prayer IPA  6 % alc/vol

This citrus infused 500ml can of WOW, fuck me, that's awesome!...is my choice for brew of 2017.  Entirely personal opinion and taste of course but at $30 AUD for a pack of 4, 500ml it isn't cheap but I promise it isn't crap.  Definitely not.  New South Wales is pushing out some great craft beers and this just proves my point.

If anyone is keen on a book featured here give me a holla; safarihiker@gmail.com

All taken!

Saturday 4 November 2017

8 days in Taiwan, the 'other' China.

How does a super safe destination with polite, friendly people and kick arse food served on a mountainous tropical landscape half the size of Tasmania  sound to you? 

There is hiking, wilderness and easily accessible interesting aboriginal culture to explore.
Good roads, uber schmick  trains and costs approximately half of what we pay here in Australia.  Which wouldn't be that hard to get excited about really as Aussie is a seriously pricey place to live and travel throughout these days, and that sucks the fat one.
But enough Australia bashing- my trip to this portion of North Asia was a quicky and a goody; 8 days on the mystical island of Taiwan.

A no brainer- a 'civilised' squeaky clean Asia, kinda like a cross between Singapore and Japan.  But easier and less bewildering.

That's the intro, lets crack on.

Quick facts:

Population- 25 odd million last count.  Mostly of Chinese descent with a small number of indigenous folk that are related distantly to Polynesian wayfarers.

Topography- no real swimming beaches to speak of except down the far South end where some of Life of Pi was filmed.  Crazy wave action, 4000 meter mountains and an ever gurgling volcanic geology contribute to a sheer sided, earthquake shifting, jungle coated hum dinger of an island.
Most of the population lives on the flat, heavily urbanised West Coast facing China while the East Coast is green and wild and well worth the effort to get there.

Transport- Sweet!  Mostly good roads except the ones that get smashed and wiped out during earthquakes and devastating typhoons.  Rail system is on par with Japan and mainland China I reckon.  Do what you know is good and take the train.
Puddle jumper flights are available to most major cities but perhaps unnecessary unless heading to an off shore island.  MRT rail throughout Taipei rocks!  Like Singapore but even politer and better, if that is possible.  Scooters are ubiquitous. Look that adjective up if you don't know what it means.  And maybe look up 'adjective' too if needed.

Safety- No crime.  Well none that affects tourists anyway.  Saw a few drunk old guys near the Longshan Temple in Taipei and they waved and smiled and said something in Mandarin or Taiwanese that I'm going to pretend was very encouraging and kind.  That was about as scary as it got.  Except for the nutcase bus drivers.  Very law abiding folk are the Taiwanese. No one attempted to rip me off and most people were super helpful and polite and I love them for it.  Nuff said.

Money & Costs- the Taiwanese New Dollar (TWD) exchanges about 23 TWD for 1 Australian dollar.
A can of beer was about 30 TWD at a 7/11, reasonable hotel room 1600 TWD, basic, tasty Chinese or Japanese meal 200 TWD.  As I said before (I did you know), I found day to day travel around the island of Formosa about half the cost of Australia, comparatively.
But you are substituting $5 shonky meat pies and deep fried canola coated carbs for fresh vegetables and tasty, succulent fare, yum!
I thought it was a good deal but if you are coming straight from South East Asia it may bruise ever so very slightly.

Language- Mandarin & Taiwanese.  A bit of English spoken, plenty of signs in English and heaps of locals thankfully knowing the rudimentary basics of our messy language- you will get around and not starve to death or crumple in a weeping heap on a hot humid West Coast highway.  Most of the tourists are from mainland China and I found sighting a Caucasian or African person quite surprising but there you go.

*I used the Lonely Planet guidebook, 2017 edition.  Really good.  The last couple of trips I have been on, I have ended up binning whatever LP guide I had out of frustration or boredom- they often just seem like a pointless badly written waste of space but this one was helpful and much needed, I found.  Recommended.

I flew into Taipei from Launceston, Tasmania first up to Melbourne then on Air Asia swooping into Kuala Lumpar for an overnight and onto Taipei, capital city of the Republic of China; (ROC) Taiwan.  We won't get into the politics of the 'real' China because that stuff hurts my head and that's just what they call themselves but the return ticket cost about $500 AUD.  Good price.  
8 hours Melbourne to KL.  5 hours KL to Taipei the next day.  Bring your own water, it costs a dollar a bottle. Air Asia. You get what you pay for and you often pay very little.

After customs the MRT express train (purple one) is easily found via the numerous signage, cost was about $7 AUD and whisks one into Taipei Central in about 35 minutes.  I stayed at the very kitsch Bee House hotel a short stroll away down a side street.  Tight space in the room but very friendly, welcoming staff and nice breakfast and little stuffed bees everywhere.

Hoards of fellow tourists were discovered just before sunset ambling up the steps to the lookout on Elephant Mountain to get a classic view of one of the worlds tallest buildings- Taipei 101.  I totally recommend this oft taken, sweaty and crowded pilgrimage and when you bop back down off the mountain, the food court in the base of the building has great Japanese eateries and cold beers.  Promise. 
Train station on the red number 2 line heading East is labelled Xiangshan/ Elephant Mountain in English.  Simple stuff right, even I worked it out.  

Get an Easycard or Taipei 2 or 3 day pass from most MRT stations and then getting around is swifter and cheaper than purchasing a plastic token for every trip.  Signs and announcements are in English and fellow traveller's are super polite and placid even when the carriages get jam packed.  

Wulai is a mad little mountain/ hot spring/ river town with a mostly indigenous population just South of Taipei in the rainy, humid jungle.  It is reached by train then a local bus and I padded around the main street and found a friendly cafe to tuck into some lovely greens and pork and fish and prawns.  Simple Aboriginal food like wild boar sausage on a stick is grilled everywhere and the road leads out to Wulai Waterfall.

Next day it was back to Taipei, hopped on the High Speed Train to Tainan, jumped into the first major hotel restaurant across from the train station and experienced full gluttony reigning supreme at a traditional Taiwanese buffet.  
Forget the scenery swirling by at 300 km/hr, ignore the fact the High Speed Train station is miles and miles from Tainan itself and requires a super slow slow local train to just get there...I have never seen so many crabs piled high nor so much seafood grilled and blasted with heat.  The deafening buffet crowd of hundreds of carnivorousness punters devoured pretty much most of the oceans organisms and murdered a large ice cream selection.  
I was kind of traumatised but sated.  
I felt bad, bullied but very full.  
And then I checked into my hotel room; The Kindness Hotel.  Truly.  That is what it is called I shit you not.  Good sized room with Japanese electronic toilet with all the wizz bangs squirting up your bum, shower with 8 heads pumping hot water, late buffet dinner and buffet breakfast and all you can eat anytime cheesecake and ice cream.  Free laundry facilities.  I put on 2 kg on this trip, seriously.  And I don't usually eat sugar or junk but there you go.

There's a really tranquil little temple right next door, dedicated to a long gone emperor.  
In fact Tainan is chock full of temples and I did a fun day long urban hike hunting down some of the more obscure and sexy ones.

Couple of days in Tainan and a day long rail ride to Taitung where I had a breather and lunch and a bit of a wander around an archaeological site before being whisked away to Hualien on a muscular train covered in teddy bears.

Cool scenery was gawked upon in what is called the Rift Valley.

Hualien is a fun spot, I stayed at the again very feminine and kitsch Meci Hotel which had the theme of snails.  Not bees or kindness this time mind you, snails.  Loads of free sugary goodies of course and the sweetest staff, (pun intended and I mean it- they were on the ball), it is down from the train station and round the corner from loads of convenience stores and eateries.  

I had quite a few fantastic meals in Hualien.  There is a strong Japanese influence in Taiwan and Japanese cafes and restaurants are common as chopsticks.  Actually, if you don't use chopsticks regularly you will when you get here.  Never saw a fork or spoon.  They might be banned or something.

One evening I went to the 7/11, purchased a big bag of beer in cans and sat outside in a public park (sounds seedy doesn't it?) and people watched (not what you think, just keep reading). 

Best thing was when the rubbish trucks came mooching around just before sunset but do you think I thought they were garbage trucks?? No!  The Mr Whippy ice cream tune theme was blaring out!  If you don't know the Mr Whippy theme it's kind of a melancholy, slightly sketchy piece of music that is universally known in Australia & New Zealand to make shitty little rugrats cry with outrage when Mum or Dad or both shake their heads and decline little Justin or Jennifer's request for a treat from the ice cream truck.  
The garbo vans play it!  How soothing! Trickery? Brilliant.

Taroko National Park is touted as the big banana, the real deal, the main attraction in Taiwan.  It attracts loads of people and it's awesome.  Really.  I took the hop on/ hop off suicide bus and had a blast exploring the twists and turns and tucked away surprises of this delightful protected area.

Recommended even if you hate crowds as much as I do.

The train back to Taipei took a few hours and the mass urbanisation and concrete swept in rapidly.  My plan was to circumnavigate the island wholly by rail and I did that.  I had shunned the numerous night markets as too much hassle but I had to check out Taipei above ground in the nitty gritty and see what was the go.  So I stayed my last night in Ximen.  

Another kitschy hotel with girly wallpaper and yummy breakfast noodles.  Loads of stalls and shops and stuffed toys and bright lights but very tame.  Like Bangkok without all the crooks and hookers lurking round.

Thank you Taiwan.  You are clinging on by your fingernails for survival and I truly hope you hang around for a while longer so I can duck in for another visit.  A very under rated destination.  There are some large hairy mountains that need climbing and I didn't spend nearly enough time sampling the craft brew scene.

Zaijian! See you soon.

Thursday 26 October 2017

Shakadang Trail, Taiwan. 8.2km return.

The easiest, most accessible trail in the tourist clogged ghetto of Taroko Gorge National Park (really selling this one aren't I?!) that punches way above it's weight is the Shakadang.  Just say it with a bit of omff and with a bad Asian accent "Shakadang!"- and you will be excited and pumped to scuff the marble rocks of this rockin track which is actually an extraordinary opportunity to view some damn fine scenery on Taiwan's East Coast.  I haven't bothered to put up a map as it is flat, short and follows a river.  You cannot get lost or fail to locate this walk.  Easy stuff.

I will write up a whole blog post on Taiwan as a travel destination for anyone interested (soonish, promise) as I think it is a bit odd no one really visits this stunning island and I don't have a problem encouraging tourism to little known areas of the globe.  It's kinda my thing...

Taroko Gorge is beautiful.  It's busy yes, but a must see.  Go see it.

I jumped on a very scenic train journey from Tainan on the West Coast through Taitung and up the guts of the Rift Valley between lots of green jungly mountains.  The Puyama Express was covered in teddy bear stickers, very Taiwan, Chinesey kitsch and flew as smooth as a Hello Kitty doll after a hot wax.

I'm already stretching out the tale of this 8km walk for far more than I can get away with so I'll mention the terminus was Hualien, a friendly town dedicated to Taroko Gorge tourism and cement manufacturing.  

To access the park, no charge incurred, you can rent a car (expensive, requires an international licence permit that I am far to lazy to acquire) or rent a scooter (more difficult than it used to be apparently but ask around, I saw a few Westerners plonking around on rentals) or just jump on the tourist hop on, hop off bus (yes, that's what I did, very intrepid and lazy Aussie) for $11 AUD.  A pants browning ride with a kamikaze nutcase Taiwanese driver took about 40 minutes from the bus terminal at Hualien train station to the Taroko Gorge visitor centre and the Shakadang trailhead stop was 2 minutes later.  Thankfully.  I was busting for a massive piss so I padded over the bright red bridge and dropped down the stairs to the trail proper to discover... people fricken everywhere.  I smashed into some jungle bush and hoped it wasn't poisonous and let the bladder drain.  You make your own loo at the Shakadang trailhead.

Plenty of keen punters, some in heels and suits but mostly casual Chinese families on holidays clogged the first couple hundred meters of the well paved trail.  The popularity of the Shakadang is quite warranted though, great views and scenery all round, providing you can weave around the dreaded selfie sticks and keep your shit together.

After about 1.5km the crowds thin out which means most of them turn around and head back to the car/ air con bus/ scooter/ whatever and the trail ceases to be paved and narrows a bit and the cliffs poke down a bit menacingly and it gets fun. 

Signs warn hikers not to leave the trail or they will be shot and then killed again afterwards or something like that and I didn't as I'm not excited about or directly drawn to water generally.  
However a few Western backpackers dunked their feet in the aqua blue liquid and ground the sand between their toes and they looked like they were enjoying the moment and the world still turned and the river kept flowing so there you go.  Get close up at your own risk. 

End of the trail means this sign, a primitive dunny, some friendly mozzies and another longer trail that requires a permit (who bothers with permits? Perhaps I should have).  I spun around 180 degrees and rocked out the return journey with the camera tucked away.  No permitted trail for me which was a shame.  
The rest of the park is a blast but that's another story.

Friday 21 July 2017

The track to nowhere; Sri Chinmoy Sydney 24hr 2017

Saturday 8/ Sunday 9 July 2017.

Campbelltown Athletics Stadium, New South Wales.

*Safari track rating: Dead flat, no changing scenery, a mental trudge.  See why I love this event!

It was Saturday 10am and the freaky fringe element of an already fringe dwelling sport lined up on the starting line of the 400 metre track at Campbelltown Athletics Stadium for a weekend of rotating around an artificial turfed surface for as many times as possible in a 24 hour period.

The difference between timed track events and point to point or looped distance Ultra-marathons is that you can pull the pin any time and you do not have a set distance to gauge your result.  The goal of many, myself included, is to go the whole 24 hours on the trot and see how many laps of 400 metres you can slog through and not blow up.

I was having a second bash at the Sri Chinmoy Sydney 24 hour track race.  A permanent Winter fixture on the Ultrarunning  calendar in the South West of Sydney, I had set the bar lowish at 160 km (100 miles) last year & easily reached that target.  I was punting for roughly 185 km this year or at least a finish if that goal went to shit.
2 and half laps is 1 km so that meant many, many tedious laps of Campbelltown Athletics Stadium.

No 'race' as such for me this year though, I was only competing against myself and enjoying the camaraderie of other Ultra nutters.  Mostly over 40's and not fussed with fashion or style.
My run did indeed go to shit but I hung in there gutting it out and here's what happened.

I cracked on at about 10 km an hour pace for the first couple of hours under a shining sun and blue skies until the 6 hour runners kicked off at 12 pm.  Some of the boys and girls participating in this category were hard out sprinting, making those of us doing the big dance look a tad geriatric.  I know from hard earned and at times, miserable experience, that going out too hard in a 100 mile race or 24 hour event can yank the wheels off later on.  It's about conserving energy and holding back a bit.  And thinking of that hot shower and cold beers at the end.

The Sri Chinmoy volunteers put on a fantastic aid station (every 400 metres!) with great vegetarian food stuffs and cheering aid station crew.  As in cheering: Every. Single. Time. I. Went. Past. 
For the whole event.  Serious energy and good vibes from these lovely folk while we kept spinning around the oval while cars droned by on the highway and the train from Sydney rattled past occasionally.
A super large TV displayed my name and number laps and total distance, under the supervision of legendary Aussie Ultrarunner Martin Fryer.  Look him up, this guys the real deal.

The 6 hour punters finished up at 6 pm and the rest of us that were left charged on.  A chill crept into the air and the heavenly 17 degrees we enjoyed during the day switched to single digits and the flood lights sprang to life and the full moon and stars beamed down.  I was feeling a bit rubbish with the runny shits and and for the first time ever; an upset stomach.  I never have this issue that messes with so many other runners but a few quick trips to the toilet were needed.

Then my right hand glute played up and the calf started to twinge.  Brilliant.  
I work a fairly physical job at present in a vineyard that leaves me aching most days.  I can only surmise my running was affected by all the repetitive tasks I do 5 days a week.  Bloody work.

I haven't got any night time pics so that's me brushing my teeth the next morning as I keep on keepin on.  

A few mad buggers cracked on at 10 pm as we approached half way through our run, they were contesting the 12 hour race.  In my book that has to be one for the diehards- starting a run at 10 pm. Much respect. 

After a while I found it far too painful to run so I swapped out shoes.  That helped for brief period where I rocked out 12 km an hour for 90 minutes then was forced to a demeaning walk for the remainder of the event. 
It sucked. And it was crazy cold.  I seemed to cope better than most for some reason, maybe my Tasmanian lifestyle helped?!  Many runners rugged up like the Michelin man and jumped in a sleeping bag and rested for a period to warm up.  I was severely tempted to do the same but realised that if I did it was game over and I would never get going again.  It was fight the fatigue and embrace the minus 2 temperature on a Saturday night.
The 2 leaders keep up their unbelievable pace while most of us shuffled/ walked/ tried to run until the sun popped up and melted the thick frost covering almost everything in the stadium. 

This is from last year, 2016.  I was cutting through the fog and actually sort of running.  It was painful and I didn't learn a thing and I signed up again for more of the same.  Sucker for punishment.

10 am Sunday morning rolled around and the support crews had pulled down their tents and packed away the chairs.  I bowled around a the last few laps with a bloke named Arthur and we finished with the same total distance; 154 km.  Quite a bit less than hoped for but I never stopped or sat down.  Except to poop.

A brilliant badass event that asks everything of you and has the coolest atmosphere and organisers on the planet.  The volunteers even sang 'Congratulations' to all of us at the award ceremony.  After staying up all night cheering us on, feeding us, encouraging us and dealing with our roller coaster of emotions.  Legends.
I cried a little.  I felt invincible at times.  I was sick of the sight of the brown/ orange track.  I looked forward to the thrill of changing direction every 4 hours.

Thinking I might do the 6 hour or 12 hour next year and let the legs fly a bit. See how I go.