New Zealand: Along the Ben Lomond Trail.


Hike-about is an adventure that commenced June 2010. After storing our household movables, ridding ourselves of a house but retaining our 'home' together, we set off with the purpose of hiking in different parts of the world, not forgetting the home country, the USA.

Our primary focus is hiking to mountain peaks but any challenging hike will do just fine. Extended stays enable us to enjoy and experience living in various places amongst differing cultures. Hike-about has evolved into a way of life. It's also a process of discovery, both the world and ourselves.

We work and live 'on the road' but return to the city in which our grandchildren reside, every couple of months. This provides us the wonderful opportunity to be with them as well as a child or two, even three and of course, friends.

By the end of 2022, the blog contained over 1,470 hikes, each a set of pictures with stories and anecdotes from the trails. An index to the right allows the viewer to identify earlier experiences.

Finally, we are often asked about the journey's end.
ur reply, as accurate as we can state, is: "When we are either forced to cease through health issues or the enjoyment level no longer reaches our aspirations, we will hang up the boots."

"A Life Experience As No Other: Dare to Seize the Day Together", published by Fulton Books, depicts our life on the road and mountains until the beginning of 2017. It has developed 'exponentially' since then.

Jenni and Jeffrey Lazarow

Whereas we continue to update the blog regularly, we no longer circulate email notifications.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

60.24 & 60.25 Bulgaria: Pamporovo: Home of the Rhodope Mountain Range: A peek at the charm surrounding us and nearby.

After reaching the top of the ski slope, one of the steepest ever, we gaze at the apartment/hotel complexes scattered below.
Jen contemplating how to instruct her leg to move forward. Apparently, there is a rebellion underway.
  We’ve been to Pamporovo once before, booked in for a few nights and stayed seventeen. It’s a gem tucked away in the Rhodope Mountains which border Bulgaria and Greece. We are on the Bulgarian side although the language may as well be Greek for all we understand. There’s a tranquility in the region which allows a person to absorb the surrounding beauty without any of the usual noise. This is further enhanced, we’d guess, because of the period. The region is a ski resort which means, of course, that the main action occurs during winter months. Therefore, it’s incredibly quiet and peaceful without visitors. To illustrate the point, we are staying in an apartment complex; it appears we may be the only current residents. Over the recent long weekend during which the country celebrated Independence Day, we counted 12 vehicles in the parking area—that was a rush period. There are another 3 or 4 buildings/hotels behind and to our sides which appear equally empty. Wherever we travel in Pamporovo, we notice the same look at each complex. 

  Besides the quietness, the atmosphere permeates an air of all is well with the world and its inhabitants, at least the few living here in this season. The air is clean, very fresh, which is supported by views we observr through the camera lenses. They are different from usual—revealing a clarity that is obvious. It makes us smile each time we get ready to ‘click’. While we may be a little odd, perhaps more than a little, we’ve come to appreciate the magnificence of the wilderness more and more on each outing while wishing to avoid the chaos of the cities, whenever possible. We’ll close this off by stating something frequently mentioned. We know that on every outing, on every hike, we will experience something new, unique and often miraculous. Perhaps it does not take much to impress us, but truth be told, having a low threshold for wonders is just fine with us. We wouldn’t want it any other way. 

  Jen and I have always loved the ski slopes outside of winter. They provide superb hiking opportunities, wonderful views, little foot-traffic, if any, and are always without snow. The struggles we endure upon them, particularly in this region, provide far more pleasure than any hardship suffered. In addition, in many places, even in summer, a person can purchase a cup of tea/coffee or even a meal at the summit (except Pamporovo). At times, this is a nice reward after a tough climb. Invariably, the ascents are steep and rough. After all, when in proper working order, they are covered deeply in snow. Come to think of it, we concede: We are odd. 

  Bulgaria is as a taxi driver said to us soon after our arrival when he dropped us off before our hotel for the first night, some hundred meters away, because a car was blocking the road: "This is typical of Bulgaria", he smiled. Some of the oddities include a large number of abandoned buildings, both in the wilds and cities. Many are partly completed structures. In Pamporovo, there are many small supermarkets saturating the area. Most advertise on the store windows that they are open 24-hours per day. Heck, we’d be happy should they open for even an hour. We’ve yet to enter one of these establishments as they are all closed—we presume for summer. It makes sense but the signage had got our hopes up on a few occasions when we required food. 

  We share an entrance (partly) with an hotel, a rather large structure known as The Grand Monastery. At the entry gate to the buildings is a boom and next to it sits a guard. While we appreciate security as much as the next person, especially having a history in South Africa and now the United States, it sure seems strange to have the service during this exceptionally quiet period. Whenever we look through our windows, (we have picture windows in the bedroom and lounge—aren’t we spoiled!), we record the status of the boom arm and traffic flow. Often the arm is in the upright position which means traffic may flow into the parking area without any form of security check. Once we observe such laxity, whether a vehicle has passed through at all on the day, Jen or I will dash to our entrance door and ensure it’s double-locked. One cannot be too careful. We fear for the times when we are out on the trails and that 'arm' is not doing its job. 

Never thought I could be so struck by the beauty of wild grass or maybe, it's the wild woman or should it be, 'Woman of the Wild'.
Moving to the next ski slope (two across from the above), we head down the last segment, the fourth one. Our residence is about 250 meters to the right of the village. The national flag is outstanding in this environment.
Never thought this gentle woman would spend so much time struggling in the bush.
Homeward bound, no railway available.
On the top sits an army base. Loved the contrast of colors of the two hills.
Bulgarian First Division chase after Lazarow, Second Division, multiplied by one.
The hills are alive, without music, but strike a note/s with their own charm.

Jenni and Jeffrey

Sunday, September 24, 2023

60.21 Bulgaria: Smolyan: 'Let's climb a wall': Via Ferrata and delightful views. 60.22 Canyon of Cascades (Waterfalls), equally delightful.

Some of the best experiences are off the beaten track, but hopefully on some track.
  Jen asked a while ago whether I longed to return to Pamporovo, Bulgaria, (close to the Greek border), so I could have some fun on the rock wall, the via ferrata. We discovered this gem of a place 4 years earlier and I will admit I became quite besotted with the endeavor. It brought back memories of my dear Mother who probably encouraged this form of activity, or some might even think, misbehavior. When young, it was not unusual for Mom to utter ‘Jeffrey, you are driving me up the wall.’ Maybe, I’m continuing her tradition of climbing (driving up?) walls. Now I can see how challenging, helpful and stimulating I was to my mother. Unfortunately, she never complimented me or even acknowledged favorably my contribution to her climbing activities. Well, in all other aspects she was wonderful. 

  In answer to Jen’s comment, while there’s no denying I enjoy this nippy activity, it’s only one of 119 reasons I wished to return to Bulgaria. Originally, I tallied a round amount of 120 desires. However, my memory being what it is, I forget that last activity. Hopefully, it will resurface before we are due to depart this fascinating country…continues below. 

  She's no wallflower but she is pretty.
Across town, Jen reaches the first meaningful waterfall. For her next trick she will attempt to climb the wall. She did it in the picture above. She'll be wearing rubber gloves to avoid wetting her hands and scraping her nails. Watch carefully!
Meantime, back at the wall, he attempts to emulate Jenni but with far less grace.
The next waterfall is higher, more spectacular, but less powerful than we witnessed previously.
Two calm lakes and a beautiful environment on view as we reach a high edge.
This is the highpoint of the Cascades hike. In the distance to the left is the via ferrata. Below is the City of Smolyan which lies snug in the valley.
While you may have been viewing earlier pictures, he continues to move upwards, now stretching for the next rung, hoping that the builder used sufficient bonding.
To the left is the City of Smolyan, safe and maybe feeling a little smug.
Jen above another waterfall, standing on the bridge. Unfortunately, the maintenance on many of the bridges and ladders is poor. We notice many broken structures along the circular hike which is worrisome.
While the River Jordan is deep and wide, this one much less so.
Taking a closer look at the waterfall from the other side of the stream.
Jen captures me explaining to a local woman that in order to descend the steep part of the rock safely, she should take the less dangerous path where her friend stands. The crowd is gathered at the zipline. This is where my command of the Bulgarian language is so useful. Da!
Wonderful place to live: the outskirts of Smolyan.
  When we discovered this activity, quite by chance, we returned a few times to pursue it. On each occasion, we were the only ones at the wall. Why this is important is that we wondered whether restrictions are in effect upon participants, namely, the need for safety ropes, helmets, a harness, gloves, licences, etc. In the area, there are a few warning signs including prohibitions but only on other activities. None apply on the ‘via ferrata’ although we did not undertake an extensive search. Using some sense, we ensured that each rung was firmly cemented as we climbed. Fortunately, it all worked out well. 

  Today, we arrived and noticed two young men talking with a few people close to the parking lot. They appeared to be official. Turns out they operate the zip-line that is a mile further into this interesting rocky region. I suspected this could be trouble. We went ahead and noticed that the trail was far busier than we had experienced in the last couple of weeks. In fact, the road was too and the parking lot where we live, normally quite empty, had undergone a change. Many cars had arrived overnight. We stopped a trio of women, asked our usual question about ‘English’, and when given the affirmative found out it was ‘Independence Day’. It all made sense. 

  I thought I’d climb the wall before anyone else arrived, being independence day, although there were at least a dozen people gazing at it. I got down to the edge and lo and behold I heard and saw the two youngsters. They spoke English and basically told me it was a bad idea to attempt the climb without an instructor and equipment. We had a chat from a distance and I mentioned that this would be my fourth occasion, hinting that I had some experience. I did not think to mention that I’m a bit of an 'ironman', having two replaced metal hips in my body. (By the way, on that day was the one year anniversary of the second surgery.) Of course, he retorted that it only took one occasion to end a life—unfortunately, he’s correct. Jen was not comfortable, to put it gently, and I decided although there was no formal prohibition against undertaking the scaling, maybe it did not make sense to push it. Some ironman. 

  We then headed up to another peak, viewed the city of Smolyan below and in the distance, including the extensive, all-green forests which were showing the odd bit of autumn coloring. It was breathtaking, the combination of the position and the views. It also included a view of the Canyon of Waterfalls areas which we had hiked 3 days earlier. Unfortunately, Jen was feeling a strong flow of adrenaline through her body after preparing herself for the climb. On the other hand, I developed a rush of frustration. It irritated me to feel that something I was planning to undertake for a while by then, was no longer available, although not officially. I realized the fellows had my safety in mind, but it was a general warning as I would not undertake something of that nature should I not have an appropriate sense of comfort. That I had undertaken the climb on 3 previous occasions gave me confidence. Nevertheless, I was a little nervous as I expected. 

  I looked at Jen after we made our way down from the hill. I think she must have seen something in my face that prompted her to ask whether I wanted to go ahead and climb. I had no doubts. I decided to go up and down without spending more than a minimum amount of time on the rock face. Fortunately, although there were many people in the area viewing the wall from distance, no one else attempted the climb. After completing the wall scale, my mood changed completely—I felt whole again. We then headed to the zip line, saw our ‘buddies’, hiked down from that position and experienced further wonderful sights. It’s exciting finding these gems. 

  As we headed back to the car park, we approached the via ferrata section again and Jen again inquired whether I would like another turn at the wall. I didn’t hesitate and went up the other set of irons. I’m most grateful to Jenni for her understanding as I know that watching me takes something out of her. Fortunately, she keeps busy by utilizing the camera. I think what must really be off-putting is that I usually hand her my wallet before departing. It does create an eerie feeling for both of us but it’s practical. In the end, following my discussion with the zip guys, I took back my wallet and ended up keeping it for both climbs—so much for that precaution. Must have been carrying quite a lot of cash. 

We've spotted Snezhanka Tower from many places this trip, at least 5 thus far. It's a beacon of light for us.
Jen arriving at the peak after another extremely steep ascent, greeted by the tower.
The current 'Queen of Bulgaria', (may it not rain so much), hikes up a different ski slope at Studenets on another occasion, arriving at Snezhanka Tower.
Some places look safe and comfortable...perhaps, only from afar.

Jenni and Jeffrey 

 Per the text, Jen sort of encouraged me to try the other set of rungs. I sort of a flash. The rungs do take an awkward twist part-way up.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

60.20 Bulgaria: Bansko: Banderitsa ski slope, providing a different perspective of the world and trying for a little self-understanding.

  The world looks different from height, usually far more dramatic, sometimes a little scary, other times very scary and invariable more attractive than from level positions. By world, perhaps it more accurate to say views create different impressions, not unlike humans, the further away the more attractive. However, the implication is the higher up the more attractive rather than the further way horizontally or laterally speaking. From height, one gains a better impression because most of the time there is little to obscure the view while allowing the eye-and-brain to absorb a fuller picture or perspective, a clearer defined subject. 

  The following photographs illustrate the concept mentioned above as they were taken on a very steep ski slope. The going was rough; after all it's never the intention to make such slopes comfortable for hikers or to encourage people to view them as nice alternatives to chairlifts. Obviously, when in use, they are covered in snow and therefore the terrain of gravel, grass, debris and rocks is irrelevant to winter users. 

  Every now and again, we think about life (hourly), usually our own and realize our lives are all about ups-and-downs, literally speaking. We are most grateful for this form of 'turbulence'. 

  We can promise you that at ground level, most of the structures are not 'pretty'. But from height, well...
For want of a better title, we termed this "Treehouse". Why a multi-story structure (rather than single) was built in the wilderness has us fooled. Was it to save a few trees or is it that land is so expensive?
Jen levels off for a little after an incredibly steep climb over an uneven surface. Nevertheless, it's a wonderful feeling and it certainly allows one to reach places not otherwise achievable. (Mounts Vihren and Kutelo in the background, peaks on which we stood and sat...and we suppose, ate too.)
It allowed her the following view, as an example.
and this one, too.
This photograph, taken 2 days earlier, shows Jenni walking away from the pond above toward the buildings. Clearly, the weather was different and it began to rain soon thereafter.
Jen still moving up. What do they say? 'If you're not going up, you're on the way down'.
Behind us are Vihren and Kutelo plus the distinguished curve. They are truly a unique pair. (Altitude 9,560 and 9,540 feet respectively.)
Kutelo with some color in front of us viewed from 8,346 feet.
Returning from Kutelo with a view of the Banderitsa slopes. One can make out the ski lift pylons on the mountain in the distance.
Time for a break and sparkling view. 
  Mount Vihren and an old buddy viewed from 7,366 feet, a mere 2,200 feet higher.
Peak of Mount Vihren, still buddies, but one of us is weary at 9,560 feet.
I talk to the trees and hope they'll let me through.
One of the less steep slopes.

Jenni and Jeffrey 

It felt like a view from an airplane, the town beyond Bansko.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

60.19 Bulgaria: Polezhan: Setting out the features/sections of an experience to reach 'number 5' of the Balkan Mountain Range.

Position 1: We arrive at the commencement point. Ten days earlier, we walked up to this point, Bezbog Hut, in less than two hours. For this hike, we rode the chairlift to the hut as the hike to the peak would be more than enough for our capability.

Position 2: We walk to the other side of and above the lake and ascend the surrounding mountain while looking back at Bezbog.

If hiking, climbing or walking is placing one foot in front of the other and moving forward then how can this function/pastime be interesting. On the face of it, it’s a good question. Okay, have you any other questions? We would love to provide a comprehensive answer to the query because it’s deserving of explanation if only to share the enormous benefits we have and continue to derive from moving our feet about, taking into account hops, skips, jumps, climbs, trips, jogs and moves we never thought possible. It appears that we are stalling—not providing an answer to the issue raised. We have answered the question many times but not always directly. In addition, one does not wish to be repetitive or to appear to be justifying or rationalizing an activity. Suffice to say, without providing a magic solution to satisfy a reader’s interest, we would offer the following hedge. In fact, I will provide my own answer (Jeffrey) rather than coerce Jenni into agreeing. After all, while we may have (and do have) so much in common, it does not mean we agree on everything. (continues below) 

Position 3: Time for a stiff climb as we negotiate the second major ascent. 
Position 4: After 50 minutes, the mountain with 3 distinct sections confronts us. Most mountains are 'trained' to be deceptive...and this one is an expert in the field, including being covered in loose rocks.
Position 5: Typical of this mountain's surface.
Position 5a: The final ascent has 3 components: tough, tougher and toughest.
Position 5b: A view of Popova Lake.
Position 5c. Somewhere well below the peak.
The struggle on loose rocks of mostly granite.
Position 6: Jen peaks after an incredible outward hike, with lakes below. Got tougher on way down.

Position 7: Jen on the peak with views of Vihren and Kutelo behind, peaks we visited previously.
Position 7b: A close-up of this magnificent specimen...of course, Mount Vihren. The only thing lower than me is the 'hoodoo'.
Position 8: Close-ups of the stunning Vihren and Kutelo Peaks, number 2 and 3 of Bulgaria and the Balkans.
Two days prior, we witness the two peaks from the ski-slopes of Banderitsa.
Feel at home in Bulgaria although a pillow to sit on the peak would be nice.
A 'room with a view' as witnessed from the peak...Dobrinishte.
  I offer the following comment because I feel so blessed to have discovered a way of life different from anything else I have experienced during a life which I believe has been most fortunate—at least until today. (Thank you, Mom and Dad, for loving and protecting me during the early years). However, during the period prior to Hike-About (before 2010), as wonderful as it was, I did not learn, grow, experience, face challenges, discover, enjoy each day, including many more aspects of life, to the degree as during this latter period. Whether it will continue in the same vein that’s unknown to me. However, I do believe it’s been the most wonderful part of my life. It’s truly provided a more universal education, a better understanding of cultures, human behavior, personal tests and challenges, and of course, a deep and everlasting insight into the wilderness. Perhaps the best part of all has been to provide a self-understanding and to realize that as an individual in the context of the world, I am truly insignificant, even less. To counter that, it has also explained and allowed me to really understand and explore the concept of ‘Carpe Diem’ (Seize the Day). 

  I should add one more aspect; there are indeed many. While I have reached an age where I find humanity a disappointment in general, we do come across individuals whose goodness and decency make the world worthy of its existence. Thanks to those individuals and of course, all the other righteous people we've never met. We are further humbled by you. 

  Yes, perhaps there is something more than boring about an activity of placing one foot in front of the other. 

Position 9: On our return to the hill above the starting point, the wind had disappeared, allowing a stillness that's an infrequent sight, quite surreal.  
Sometimes he sits and thinks, sometimes he just sits. We eat brunch in so many different places, invariably with incredible views and atmospheres. This was yet another example of such opportunity.


Jenni and Jeffrey