Category Archives: travel

Adam´s Peak via Dalhousie and Ratnapura

Named Adam´s Peak since this was allegedly the first place of earth on which Adam sat his foot after being thrown out of heaven, this is probably the major pilgrimage site in Sri Lanka. The season runs from poya day (full-moon) in December and until May. During this time hundreds of pilgrims ascend the more 5000 steps through the night passing hundreds of teashops and temples on the way, arriving at Adam´s Peak at 2243 meter in time for sunset. Most arrive at the top well before sunset and sleep on mats on a concrete floor inside a cave right next to the top temple. This is a walk where you are never alone.

Ascent through the night towards Adam´s Peak
Ascent through the night towards Adam´s Peak

The closest village is Dalhousie, about an with tuk-tuk  from  Hatton on the main Colombo-Badulla train line. Most tourists start the ascent from their Dalhousie guesthouse at around 2 am and return by the same way after sunrise.

However, to avoid backtracking, and since there are in fact two ways up the Peak (from Dalhousie and Ratnapura), I decided to descend to Ratnapura, thus I bringing my entire backpack with me. This descent, though technically very easy,  is really tough on the knees: 1700 meters straight descent on steps.  I started out from my guesthouse in Dalhousie a little before 3 am arriving at the top (with luggage) around 6:30, including several stops at temples, tea-shops etc. on the way. A wonderfully atmospheric experience with myriads of people, shops and glittering statues as well as all kinds of paraphernalia. At the top, I arrived right on time for the puja, again a very atmospheric experience with fabulous views.

Adam´s Peak at sunrise
View from Adam´s Peak at sunrise

By descending the steps towards Ratnapura I immediately left the tourist-track (though tourists make up less than 1% of those ascending Adam´s Peak) and for the next five hours I met nobody except a couple of locals. There are tea-shops on the Ratnapura route as well, however it is significantly longer (both in terms of length in km and descent, as Ratnapura is lower-lying than Dalhouse) than the track from Dalhouse. It passes through wonderful forests, though the eternal steps equal anything I have experienced in Nepal. Finally down (the trail does not end in Ratnapura itself, but about 40 km outside), I took a tuk-tuk to Ratnapura bus station and then a local bus down to Galle on the Coast.

Pilgrims on their way up Adam´s Peak
Pilgrims on their way up Adam´s Peak

Walking in the tea plantations of Sri Lanka

The tea plantations are one of the most famous symbols of Sri Lanka and a highlight for most visitors. Easily accessible as the main train line from Colombo to Badulla passes through numerous plantations, starting mainly after Hatton train station (the jump-off point for visiting Adam´s Peak).

One of the great cultural walks in Sri Lanka is the +800 m walk up to Lipton´s seat, starting out from Dambatenne tea factory, a 45 min tuk-tuk ride from Haputale. Dambatenne was the original factory of tea-magnate Sir Thomas Lipton, and it is said that he often walked to the point now called Lipton´s seat to survey his empire. It takes around 2 hours to walk the 7 km and 800+ meters ascent up to the seat from Dambatenne tea factory, all the way through tea plantations on a paved road.

Tea pluckers weighing tea leaves at a weighing station
Tea pluckers weighing tea leaves at a weighing station

The tea-pluckers are Tamil women. They live in separate Tamil villages, located close the tea plantations, easily distinguished by prominent hindu temples. Employed by the Dambatenne Estate, they are payed 600 Rupees (around 4 US dollars) per day for a quota of 18 kg tea leaves. Whenever the bag on their backs is full, they empty it at a weighing station. If the 18 kg quota is not reached, their salary is reduced according to a specific algorithm.

Tea plantations in Ella
View over tea plantations in Ella

It has been well documented that the Tamil tea-pluckers are among the poorest in Sri Lanka. Apart from tea-plucking being hard work, they are frequently discriminated against and the Tamil communities are not integrated into the Sri Lankan communities. My tuk-tuk drivers mother used to be a tea-plucker, but was able to give it up as her children could provide sufficient income for the household. He told me how she would complain from constant back-pain as well as chronic skin problems, not to mention the ubiquitous leeches present in the often wet tea-fields.

a day in the life of an offshore medic

Between 2013 and 2015 I worked as a rig medic on the Maersk Deliverer (Maersk Drilling) located offshore Cabinda, Angola.

Below a typical day onboard:

05:50 The Sick Bay is supposed to open at 6am. I get up at the last minute and walk the 20 meters upstairs from my cabin..

06:00 The daily rush hour in the Sick Bay is  6-8 am: The crew on night shift just got off, and if they have some medical concerns they will see me before they go to bed. The day crew also prefers to visit the Sick Bay early. Furthermore all the managers both off and onshore start working at 6-7am(and sending emails) and issues may come up at the morning meeting that requires my input: Questions about the status of medicine supplies, maintenance of medical equipment, advice on certain haphazard chemicals etc.

Drilling on the Maersk Deliverer
Drilling on the Maersk Deliverer

06:30 Daily water test: I test a sample of tap water in the Sick Bay. The water onboard is produced by a fresh-water generator.

06:45 Two crew members present with what looks like a common cold, both Angolans. I test both for malaria and both test negative.

07:00 I walk the 50 meter down the corridor to the galley, where I grab breakfast. Bacon and eggs..Breakfast is served between 5 and 7 am, and includes pasta dishes and french fries as this meal serves as “dinner” for the crew working 12 pm-12 am.

08:00 Via email I am advised of several crew member needing an update of their DMA Medical Certificate. I work with the RSTC to arrange appointments with them..

09:00 Time for coffee break in the galley with the Camp Boss and the Chief Cook. No issue is to small to be discussed here.

Abseiling, Maersk Deliverer
Abseiling, Maersk Deliverer

10:00 I go through the medical inventory.  This may takes several hours, and I perform one inventory per month. The autoclave failed the testing and it has been decided to replace it. I briefly go down to check some ordering issues with the MatMan.

11:00 Several crew members pass by and ask for seasickness medicine. It is crew change day for many of the Angolan employees who crew change by boat. They transfer from the rig via a basket to the boat, which then takes them onshore. Unfortunately I have never tried this basket transfer myself as I always transfer by helicopter.

12:00 Lunch is served in the galley from 11-13. There is actually a choice of healthy food, vegetables and salad next to the deep-fried foods. I make a sandwich.

13:00 The bimonthly Safety Meeting is held in the TV room. The Safety Officer presents the safety data and one topic is singled out for discussion. Today it was about wearing the correct PPE.  A monthly safety award is presented to a crew member who has made a significant contribution toward safety. 

Maersk Deliverer in Port Elizabeth
Maersk Deliverer in Port Elizabeth for the 5-yearly yard stay

15:00 Time for the daily afternoon coffee again with the Camp Boss and Chief Cook. The TV screen on the wall displays some of the key safety performance indicators such as days since last LTI (Lost Time Incident).

15:30-18:00 Time for the weekly safety inspection, which takes me all around the rig checking the various first aid equipment.

15:30 I am called on the PA system. It turns out one of the crew members have a headache.

18:00 I go down to the gym and run 8 km on the treadmill.

Casings, Maersk Deliverer
Casings, Maersk Deliverer

19:00 Dinner. Lasagne, my favorite dish. I asked the cook if he could make it.

21:00 Time for the weekly safety drill. This week the scenario was fire on the main deck. The four crew members acting as stretcher team and assistants to me are called to the site, to transport and move a dummy. After the drill, the team leaders meet for a debriefing on the bridge.

22:00 I take a walk on the helideck. Everyone around the deck is busy assisting the drilling operations and the PA system goes off every 20 minutes. The rig is active 24-hours, no difference between night and day.

General information: The basic things one should know about the job of an offshore medic.
Photogallery of my time as an offshore rig medic on the Maersk Deliverer is available on flickr.

New Zealand top hikes

Emerald Lakes, Tongariro Crossing
Emerald Lakes, Tongariro Crossing

Top multi day hikes:

  1. The Routeburn Track. A glorious walk through meadows, ancient forests, waterfalls and lakes including a high mountain pass.
  2. The Tongariro Northern Circuit. Walk through active volcanic scenery passing craters and steamy lakes with the possibility of climbing Mt Doom.
  3. Lake Waikaremoana Track. A very atmospheric walk around a remote lake.The Milford Track. Unique animal and vegetation as well as wonderful waterfalls on the way to Milford Sound.
  4. The Milford Track. Unique animal and vegetation as well as wonderful waterfalls on the way to Milford Sound. It is located close to the Routeburn Track, which I would walk instead of the Milford if not possible to secure a space.

    The Pacific coastline between Heaphy Hut and Kohaihai
    The Pacific coastline between Heaphy Hut and Kohaihai

Top day hikes:

  1. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I walked this as part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit. This is a spectacular walk through volcanic craters and lakes next to Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom) with steam coming up from underneath.
  2. Pacific Coast walk between Heaphy Hut and Kohaihai. Spectacular walk along the Pacific Coastline. Is also the last day of the Heaphy Track but can be walked as a day walk up to Heaphy Hut.
  3. Mount Taranaki Summit Track. The toughest hike I did in New Zealand, much tougher than any of the Great Walks, crossing a snow-filled crater and with fabulous views from the summit
  4. The Mueller Hut Track. Great hike with views of hanging glaciers and Mt Cook.
  5. Avalanche Peak. Once above the treeline the views of the neighboring snowcapped peaks in the Arthur´s Pass National Park is glorious.

    Lake Harris on the Routeburn Track
    Lake Harris on the Routeburn Track

List of New Zealand walks I have walked:

Multiday walks:

Great Walks:
Abel Tasman Coast Track, New Zealand (2015)
Heaphy Track, New Zealand (2016)
Kepler Track, New Zealand (2015)
Lake Waikaremoana Track, New Zealand (2016)
Milford Track, New Zealand (2015)
Routeburn Track, New Zealand (2015)
Tongariro Northern Circuit, New Zealand (2016)

Other multi day walks:
Angelus Hut Track, New Zealand (2016)
Queen Charlotte Track, New Zealand (2016)
Tarawera Trail, New Zealand (2016)

Day walks:
Avalanche Peak Track, New Zealand (2016)
Mount Taranaki Summit Track, New Zealand (2016)
Mueller Hut Track, New Zealand (2016)
St Arnaud Ranges Track, New Zealand (2016)

Panekire Bluff
Panekire Bluff, Lake Waikaremoana

New Zealand Great Walks

In 2015 and 2015 I walked all seven of the mainland New Zealand Great Walks that are actual walks. Thus, the only two I did not walk were the Rakiura Track on Stewart Island and the Whanganui Journey (on the mainland, but a canoe trip, not a walk).

Sutherland Falls, Milford Track
Sutherland Falls, Milford Track

The Great Walks are all relatively easy walks, with no scrambling required, thus appealing to people of average fitness and average hiking experience. They have also been chosen to represent the variations in scenery and ecosystems offered. The drawback to these walks are that all camping and hut spaces must be booked in advance via the DOC (online or in person), meaning that some of the most popular tracks sell out months in advance, most notably the Milford Track. I succeeded in getting tickets to all of the below walks a couple of days before departure, except the Milford Track (I finally booked with a commercial agency) and the Routeburn Track (I walked it in one long day).
There are plenty other hikes just as beautiful as the well-marketed Great Walks, some of them significantly more difficult. Unfortunately, I have, as of now, only walked a few of them.

Lake MacKenzie on the Routeburn Track
Lake MacKenzie on the Routeburn Track

Below a brief characteristic of each walk linking to an in-depth post:

Abel Tasman Coastal Track, New Zealand (2015)
Golden beaches and tropical vegetation. A very easy walk.
Heaphy Track, New Zealand (2016)
Pleasant walk through meadow and forest ending in a glorious walk along the Pacific coastline.
Kepler Track, New Zealand (2015)
Ascending to a ridge with fine views, the a pleasant walk through forest.
Lake Waikaremoana Track, New Zealand (2016)
A very atmospheric walk around a remote lake.
Milford Track, New Zealand (2015)
Unique animal and vegetation as well as wonderful waterfalls on the way to Milford Sound.
Routeburn Track, New Zealand (2015)
A glorious walk through meadows, ancient forests, waterfalls and lakes including a high mountain pass.
Tongariro Northern Circuit, New Zealand (2016)
Walk through active volacanic scenery passing craters and steamy lakes with the possibility of climbing Mt Doom.

Information: Department of Conservation information on the Great Walks.