When a Hill Feels Like a Mountain: Hiking in Connemara National Park

If you follow this blog with any regularity, you may have noticed how outdoorsy we seem while on vacation. This in no way reflects our day-to-day life living in Accra, Ghana, where it’s too hot to comfortably be out during the day and you’re too likely to get malaria if you go out at night.

So, when vacationing, we like to spend some time outdoors. But when I say “outdoors,” I don’t mean just any outdoor space. I mean carefully curated and groomed spaces. Like parks and nice beaches and eco lodges. Even city squares.

But, inevitably, at least once a trip, things get a little too outdoorsy for us.

On our first day out of Dublin we went to Connemara National Park. We had read about different hikes, both inside the park and around it, and had decided on the Diamond Hill Walk. Classified as “strenuous,” the entirety of it is paved, which seemed a lot easier than clomping around on an “easy” hike through bogland.

We started on the Lower Diamond Hill Walk, the first quarter of which was flat, paved, and had gorgeous views like the one below. How “strenuous” could this get, we asked ourselves.

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Next, we came across a noticeable incline, but the path was still smooth and the views still gorgeous. We lost our hiking buddies from time to time (Chandler’s mother, Lesia, and our friend, Erica), but they were never far behind.

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Halfway through the Lower Diamond Hill Hike, we found the base of the Upper Diamond Hill Hike. Lesia and Erica, prepared for a hike, but not necessarily a climb, decided to follow the horizontal path back to the visitor center.

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We, however, had made the decision to start our ascent.

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Hiking to the Monastery + The Views Along the Way That Make It So Worthwhile

Coming down from the Al-Khubtha Trail, you have to walk along the Colonnaded Street to get to the trail that will eventually take you to Ad-Deir, also known as the Monastery. Originally Nabataean, the road was refurbished during the Roman occupation:

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It was a wonderful place to find some shade and devour our lunches (packed from our continental breakfast! – There are limited options within Petra proper).

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Sated and ready to begin our short but steep hike, we said goodbye to the Colonnaded Street, Great Temple, and all of its Roman influences.

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Soon we were back in the natural landscape of Petra. The lower levels were bathed in light, enhancing the golden shades of the sandstone. The higher we traveled, the more muted the colors as the Ad-Deir (Monastery) Trail was luckily covered in shadows for the afternoon.

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Just like the Al-Khubtha Trail, while easy to follow, the steps did have a tendency to fall into disarray. We started to see more visitors on donkeys (while plenty of people take the Al-Khubtha Trail, the trail to the Monastery is much more frequented), but they always looked more nervous and less secure than those of us who decided to take on the 800 steps by foot.

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Vegetarians eat ham, right?

Moving on from Paris, we made our way to Leysin via train. Now I have to say, trains are my favorite way to travel…to most places. We did take a pretty terrifying sleeper train from Hanoi to Dong Hoi back in 2014 on our way to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam. I’m pretty sure I shared a bunk with a rat – a top bunk that I somehow got placed in even after paying the upgrade for the bottom bunk. So that train sucked.

But European trains are incredible. Especially when traveling first class, something we were forced to do when purchasing our Eurail passes. At the time, we thought the train passes were a little pricey – $812 for both of us to take trains on 5 separate days anywhere in France, Switzerland, and Italy (next year it will be $900, because I’ll be 28 and no longer considered a European “youth”).

After that initial fee, anytime you travel between countries you have to pay a reservation fee of $20-$50, it was starting to feel ridiculous. Until we traveled round-trip from Leysin to Zurich and learned that those tickets alone would have cost almost $800. That was when we realized that Eurail is actually quite reasonable! But more on that in my next post.

First things first, we settled into life in Leysin. Chandler had grad school classes Monday-Friday, usually from 8:30-5:00, with homework half the nights during the week. Needless to say, we didn’t see a lot of each other.

While he was gone, I was in my Swiss paradise. An Airbnb that was nice & cozy with a great view of the mountains.

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But as lovely as the apartment was, I didn’t want to spend all of my time there. Our first full weekend in Leysin (after Chandler’s first week of classes), a colleague from our school in Accra was in town on her way to the Montreaux Jazz Festival. Another colleague from Accra was also in the program with Chandler and so the four of us set off on a morning hike.

Lazy things that we are, we took the cable car to the mountain peak and planned a hike that wound around and back down. I should also probably admit that the route was chosen very specifically because it passed a fromagerie that we had every intention of stopping in when we came across it.

The views from the top were stunning, but a bit limited due to the fog/clouds that surrounded us during our hike. That said, it made the temperature quite enjoyable for the four hours we spent strolling along.

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We finally made it to the fromagerie about two hours in and were pretty hungry. We looked at their chalkboard menu and one thing stood out: Fondue. But no matter what we said, they wouldn’t serve it to us.

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Happy Holidays from Fiche

Last year, I spent Christmas in Yirgalem with 10 other volunteers, and then I traveled a day and a half to spend New Year’s Eve in Bedele with my boyfriend and a few other friends. This year, my holidays were pretty chill.

I went to Fiche for the first time to see Chandler’s new site and we spent Christmas Eve/Christmas holed up in his house drinking hot chocolate and watching Christmas films. We only ventured out to buy supplies like bread and eggs – because Chandler had thought everything through except meals…sort of important, right? : )

The day after Christmas found us a couple of miles down the road at a bridge carved hundreds of years ago. But it was the surrounding scenery that was really captivating.

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Gorgeous, right? We got ourselves a coke at the little cafe perched on this lookout and spent a good while enjoying the view.

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And then we were off exploring. There were hundreds of these little puddles as we made our way down to the lagoon just below.

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Chandler claims this was an actual waterfall when he first came a couple of months ago (instead of the water trickle it had become) – but I guess that’s the difference between rainy and dry season. Either way, it was incredibly beautiful. Though we did nix our initial idea to go swimming due to the stagnant water – no one wants schisto.

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An Ethiopian Thanksgiving: Take two

This year, there was no training to bring all of us together. So instead of having 70 volunteers swarm Addis, we were left to our own devices.

I decided to take part in a Peace Corps Ethiopia tradition – an Assela Thanksgiving. Assela is the hub town all of our training sites were based around, and I hadn’t been back since I left, last August. So I caught an early minibus and began the trek.

Only the first 30 minutes were done solo. I was soon in Shashemene where I switched buses and joined up with a fellow G7 volunteer. We made our way to the next bus station – in Assasa. Another quick transfer and we were finally in the home stretch, only another two hours to Assela.

We arrived, joined some other PCVs and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon in the lobby of the hotel that hosted all our trainings a year ago – they had gotten wifi and were seriously moving up in the world! The food off the menu was even tolerable (I don’t think I ate much more than bread and bananas on the days we were forced to lunch there).

That evening we all joined together (there were probably 15 of us) to watch the traditional awesomely bad sci-fi film. This year’s gem? Sharknado…classic. From the moment it started I knew we had struck gold, but what really solidified it was when *SPOILER* Lauren (from Make It Or Break It – don’t know her real name) was pulled out of shark after another cast member had been swallowed whole by the same shark and had used a chainsaw to free himself from the inside out. Awesome.

That night we all went to bed quite content, seriously looking forward to the spread of food we’d have before us the following day. A few of the volunteers used the morning to slave away and cook the food. That, however, included slaughtering a sheep, so my boyfriend and I decided to go for a hike instead.

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Miraculously, we managed to find our way back to this tree, a good 30 minutes uphill from Assela proper. You’re probably wondering why it was so important we find this tree specifically. Well, this tree happened to witness our first kiss, and Chandler, being the more romantic of us two, wanted to hike back up to it. It was an incredibly sweet moment.

Then began the hike back down – much easier : ) It was filled with waves of amber…something we didn’t notice on our way up, due to our preoccupation with finding that tree!

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