Exploring the World by Sail from A to Z

Jeff and Zia's adventures aboard the catamaran Hekla

12 January 2015 | 62 31'S:59 47'W, Antarctic Peninsual
09 January 2015 | 65 54'S:62 52'W, Antarctic Peninsual
07 January 2015 | 65 15'S:64 16'W, Antarctic Peninsual
04 January 2015 | 64 19'S:62 55'W, Antarctic peninsula
31 December 2014 | 54 48'S:68 19'W, Ushuaia
27 December 2014 | It's 6am must be Miami...
26 December 2014 | Guatemala
09 June 2013 | 17 35'N:80 42'W, Caribbean sea
06 June 2013 | Jamaica
04 June 2013 | 18 28'N:77 57'W, Montego Bay
02 June 2013 | 19 20'N:78 49'W, on passage Cayman-Jamaica
23 May 2013 | 19 43'N:82 58'W, south of Cuba, NW of Cayman
19 May 2013 | 24 34'N:81 49'W, Key West, Florida
30 April 2013 | 23 25'N:85 38'W, Gulf of Mexico
27 April 2013 | 21 15'N:86 45'W, Isla Mujeras
19 April 2013 | 18 17'N:87 50'W, Xcalak
17 April 2013 | 15 34'N:89 12'W, Lago Izabal, Guatemala
10 April 2013 | Rio Dulce
10 April 2013 | 15 39'N:88 'W, Rio Dulce
01 April 2013 | 16 05'N:88 32'W, Southern Belize

last day in Europe

16 September 2011 | Gaschurn, Austria
by Jeff
We made a lot of time in the last few days for hiking. We picked up a book on alpine huts located in the Italian Tyrollean region, which includes the Dolomites and the area where we have been driving. The book lists 80 some huts just in that area, all with food service and most with overnight accommodations, and with walking times from the parking areas of 1 to 5 hours. It was hard to choose! We picked one that listed regional food specialties and was convenient for fun driving. The hike in was spectacular again, through green pastures of grazing cattle, small private farm homes and log huts, and a cross-valley view of the entire, dramatic Dolomite range. It was hard to imagine a more stunning and serene place. We arrived at the hut at sunset, and were served beer and dinner. The next day we walked a long route out, passing by two more huts, one where we had lunch. It is possible to string several of these huts together for a multi-day hike, carrying little more than a toothbrush, rain jacket and extra clothes. Many are also open in late winter for ski touring.

Today is our last day in Europe. We make our way back to Stuttgart, drop off the car for shipment to Fort Collins, and fly to Chile. We spent most of our time in northeastern Italy, where the mountains are beautiful but not too extreme, and there is a high concentration of fun roads to drive. It is a beautiful place, easy to find a place to stay, lots of recreation, and the local summer fashion is high top hiking boots and walking sticks. Now on our way back to Germany we passed through Austria and crossed the beautiful Silvretta Pass, a 40-something hairpin turn road with smooth pavement and an absolute joy to drive. It was pass number 26 for us and the last for this visit. The main Alps mountains are more severe than the Italian mountains we were in, making for fewer roads crossing the high passes. We loved our time in Italy, and can easily envision spending a longer time there. Yet there is similar hiking and mountain culture in Austria, Switzerland, and France, places we have barely touched on this trip and are worth exploring.

I want to close out this blog chapter by saying “you can do this!” If you want a simple trip to Europe, exploring charming villages and mountain towns, hiking with the sheep and cows, cable car lifts to high and wild places, then simply fly to Innsbruck or somewhere nearby in late summer, get a rental car, drive a couple hours south, and start exploring. Bring a mid size backpack, comfy hiking shoes, and the Michelin map Northeast Italy in scale of 1:400,000. All of the small roads and ski lifts are shown on this map. Maybe you can find a hut and hiking guide book stateside, too. No need to have hotel reservations or any sort of detailed itinerary, just go! The Euro is very strong against the dollar now, so things can be expensive, but it is possible to make a nice trip for under $250 per day for two.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Local color

12 September 2011 | NW Italy
by Jeff
The only plan we have for this trip is drive and hike in the mountains for fun. We are still experimenting with a strategy that maximizes the fun and minimizes the crowds. Our stop in Ortesei was on the major Bolzano-Cortina route and rather crowded, so we thought we might try a different strategy, to drive to the end of a valley without an exit but with a ski lift; therefore no through traffic but some resources. By chance we picked the Val Senales with the town of Maso Corto (or Kurzran in German) that I wrote about two days ago. It was really a spectacular stroke of luck. The day we planned to hike was also the day planned to bring the sheep flocks from Austria to Maso Corto over the pass Hochjoch, which is a special local event and festival. So we hiked the 2.5 hours to the Schoene Aussicht hut on that pass well above treeline, had lunch and a beer, during which time the flock arrived and was held below the hut a bit while the drive bosses came into the hut for their lunch and beer. We joined a small crowd of locals that was gathered near the hut waiting for the sheep drive. Many were dressed for the part, pointy felt hats, knickers, hiking boots. Eventually the trail bosses came out and said in their local german dialect something like “bring ‘em up” and the flock of over 1000 sheep climbed the last little hill to where we were all gathered, with lots of bleating and their neck bells clanging. There was a pinch point on the trail, and the flock just kept flowing (not quite a stampede, these are sheep after all) and completely engulfed all the spectators gathered around. I was seated on a rock taking a video, and had lots of eye to eye time with the sheep.

Afterwards we climbed further up, along side a glacier to a small hotel and terminus for a ski lift cable car, which we rode down. Four thousand feet of descent in 4 minutes, no sore knees! We arrived back in town at about the same time as the sheep. The festival was also starting. It was not large, just a few hundred people. Even though this town is in Italy, the culture is thoroughly German, so this festival included a brass band, lederhosen dancing, lots of beer and sausages, bavarian clothing, etc. We are leaving Germany on Friday, the day before the Munich Oktoberfest begins, which is an event I have no interest in going to ever again, though I was hoping to find a more local end-of-summer festival somewhere; this was it. Here was a celebration surrounding an important, annual agricultural event, with lots of local color, and free of international marketing hype. Love it!

Today we drove further west, approaching Switzerland. We crossed Stelvio Pass, perhaps one of the most beautiful in the area, with huge glaciers and towering peaks visible on the east side ascent, and the highest so far at 2850 meters. The road was a construction marvel, laying this serpentine pavement on a steep alpine slope; 40-some hairpins on each side. From a driver’s viewpoint it is not that spectacular, short straightaways followed by supertight, first gear turns and too much traffic.

We are starting to plan our exit. Long abandoned are the thoughts of doing all of the classic passes all the way to southern France, there is just not enough time. Also further west the passes are farther apart and closer to population centers, which leaves me concerned that fun ratio will suffer substantially. So from tomorrow we are backtracking to the areas I know to be the best, and planning to drive less and hike more. We also will try to spend one or two nights at alpine huts. More on that in a couple of days.

Zia weighs in

10 September 2011 | Maso Corto, Italy
by Zia
Laura asked me if I am having fun. Having lots of fun is one way to put it. The biking is over for now. The adventure we are currently experiencing is the Porsche driving. Whew, it's scary and exhilarating at the same time. Jeff is a great driver, but these roads are tight twisty and steep it is not uncommon for other cars to be across the centerline when you round the bend, oh and of course they are not visible until you make the corner, I ye ye! And on one high alpine twisty road way above tree line, we rounded a corner, only to see a couple of sheep or goats, I couldn't tell which in the road. I was trying to catch my breathe and we passed them rather swiftly. I have been practicing deep breathing and staying centered while being a passenger in a Porsche being driven aggressively for sport. Nick, why didn't you do this with your dad, I think you may have rather liked the thrill of it all.

It's weird to see so many heads turn when we go past, mostly boys and men. Maybe it's the tropical green poison dart frog color? The scenery is stunningly beautiful here in the Dolomites. We have been listening to classical shuffle on the ipod and its fun how often the music and scenery correspond in a mutually enhancing way. Just today Mozart's symphony no. 25 & 29 clarinet concerto by the Vienna Philharmonic played Allegro con spirito while we twisted and turned over Passeo Giau getting glimpses of tall rocky mountain peaks in between patches of dense green forests with the peaks appearing at the peaks in the music. I love it when that happens.

Its odd for me with the German and Italian mixed in this region and the very cultivated landscapes everywhere and the cow bells ringing constantly. We did take yesterday to hike a famous trail in the Dolomites. Simply stunning day; the scenery like scenes out of Lord of the Rings, the intense blue sky almost like Colorado, the physical rhythmic movement after a few days of sitting in a small vehicle whirling through space incredibly faster than I can take it all in.

There are colorful flowers, mostly geraniums and petunias hanging from almost every window and even from boxes on the sides of every bridge. There are tidy gardens with neat rows of cabbages, beans, lettuces, flowers, and such. There are lots of apple trees, and huge fields of apples and grapes. This is the land of vegetables, quite a relief after seeing so many lovely vegetable gardens in Belgium, but not having many available in the restaurants. There is a limit to how many frites even I can eat, especially now that I am a passenger and not an active participant. This of course is not entirely true. My body is getting quite the core strengthening trying to stay in my seat around those steep switchbacks. Jeff says that racing seat belts or five point belts would help hold us in place and require less effort, but I rather like the feel of bracing myself as we go swiftly into a turn then the next. What is a little less pleasant for me is the unknown factor, that is, what is around the blind corner; a goat or two, a car way over the center line, a bicyclist going up, one coming down and a car? Or as is often the case on these roads, several motorcyclists leaned way over in making the turn. Jeff has been very good at erring on the side of caution, yet often that means we are hugging a tight turn by the slimmest margin, where one moment of less than 100% attention would mean that rock wall would have a nice new smudge of tree frog green paint, and we would, well, I'd rather not go into details.

I have taken to being another set of eyes for Jeff as he drives, giving him information that he doesn't get as quickly as I do. For instance, from my passenger seat I often have an advantage of seeing farther down the road than Jeff does. I warn him if I see a car, bike, motorcycle, goat or logs being dragged across the road as happened today which reminded me of Glendevey and our summer work there with a bit of wistfulness and longing. I also check the mirrors that are placed at really sharp corners to let Jeff know how much room he has for negotiating the turn. Did you know that "tornante" means hairpin curve in Italian. One pass we drove down today had 27 of them on the downside! For awhile I thought they meant "caution torturous curve ahead" but I have since gotten used to the unexpected possibilities, severe turns, the way my head hits the back of the seat as we slow down to make the turn after the sharp acceleration in the straight aways of course.

So this is the fun I'm having. I might be inclined to move over for our friend Neil who says he is quite jealous of me getting to ride along with Jeff, but I rather think he would prefer to trade places with the driver. Seeing all the tidy high altitude gardens is wonderful and reminds me of Susan and Charles and their lovely garden complete with wasabi arugula. Their parting gift of Ibex wool hoodies for us, saved me during the first few several rainy days on the Belgium biking trip. I wore mine under my biking jersey, the Oerbier one of course, that Peter gave me, and was warm in spite of being completely soaked. It turned out that my waterproof jacket was only water resistant! Good thing for wool and dear friends. It comes in quite handy in our high altitude hikes too.

Belgium, especially around Bruges, was the land of Z's. I saw them everywhere. And the land of owls, which I also spotted more frequently than by chance. I developed a fascination with these birds a few months before leaving on this big journey. Why? I can't say, but nevertheless here I am seeing more owls than I ever have in my entire life. Today we drove past some huge carved wooden ones, much too fast for a photo I am sorry to say. In Bulllion, Belgium we went to tour a castle where they happened to have a falconry show featuring a snowy owl. I see owls on shirts, on signs, as carved trinkets, as bronze, wood, or concrete sculptures, or as edible chocolate owls. They appear in gardens, in town centers, in museums, in display windows, on advertisements. I get excited just thinking about the next one I will see. By the way, Jeff has only seen the owls I've pointed out to him, except for the finger puppet one he surprised me with, and we will have to save that story for a different post. Time for dinner.
Vessel Name: Hekla
Vessel Make/Model: Atlantic 57, Chris White Designs
Hailing Port: Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
Crew: Jeff Lebesch, Zia Zybko
About: Jeff has been sailing for 11 years, and has completed two singlehanded TransPac races on his former trimaran Hecla. Zia is enthusiastic about adventure-exploration by sail

S/V Hekla

Who: Jeff Lebesch, Zia Zybko
Port: Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
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