Rancho Pint - The Mexico Page

Text and Photos ©2013 by J. Pint

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"Swami" Cam Honan, hiking in Jalisco, Mexico
Cam Honan hiking in Jalisco Mexico's Primavera Forest. ”If I’m out in nature with everything I need in the world on my back,” he says, “chances are my smile is wide and my thoughts are clear.” Photo by J Pint

Photo courtesy of Cam Honan, Thehikinglife.com

 The Wave, Coyote Buttes, AZ, Southwestern Horseshoe, 2012, Photo by Cam Honan, taken from his extraordinary website, The Hiking Life.

Photo courtesy of Cam Honan, Thehikinglife.com

Descent from Frozen Lake Pass, Sierra High Route, 2011 ,  Photo by Cam Honan, who probably has trekked farther than anyone else on earth.

Photo courtesy of Cam Honan, Thehikinglife.com

Final Morning, Pacific Crest Trail, 2012 ,  Photo by Cam Honan


Caves beneath the dunes? Check out our Saudicaves page:







Chatting with one of the world’s greatest long-distance hikers

By John Pint

"Swami" Cam Honan relaxing at Rio Caliente Spa, MexicoWhile soaking in a pool of hot mineralized water at famous Río Caliente in Jalisco, Mexico, I was introduced to a remarkable man. “I’d like you to meet Cam Honan,” said my friend Diarmuid Milligan. “Like you, he enjoys hiking.”
What an understatement! I soon discovered that this tall, quiet, often smiling Australian has circled the globe, hiking along most of the world’s most beautiful trails, walking so much that he has covered over 80,467 kilometers in 55 countries and is thought by many to hold the world’s distance record for hiking.

Far more importantly, during all those hours of walking, Honan’s mind was always working and I found his reflections on what he was doing fascinating:

“One foot in front of the other. Everything you need in the world on your back. Wake up with the sun. Go to sleep when it gets dark. Walk, listen and observe in between: The Hiking Life.”

So much experience trekking along the world’s trails also gave Honan a chance to refine and perfect the art of backpacking.  Most of what people carry is unnecessary, he argues, pointing out that staggering under the weight of a 20-kilo backpack ruins the beauty and joy of the overall camping experience and turns off many people.

Cam Honan spent many years living in Ajijic,Mexico, on the shore of Lake Chapala, where he collected and exported Mexican artesanías to Australia. His business left him plenty of free time which he dedicated to walking. Over the years, he visited exotic countries like Iceland, Nepal and Pakistan where he hiked along fabled trails.

His most recently completed project he calls The Twelve Long Walks. These are routes through some of the most spectacular areas of the USA and Canada, some of them well known and others created by Honan, some established trails and others cross country treks (no path). “These 12 walks range in length from 195 to 2700 miles,” he told me. “The final three trails, namely the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian Trail, constitute the Triple Crown of American hiking. These are the three longest hikes, and in the case of the former two, cross the United States longitudinally from Canada to Mexico, while the Appalachian Trail falls just shy.”

This north-American challenge had him walking 14,300 miles over a period of 18 months, averaging 28 miles per day and wearing out 28 pairs of shoes. By the time he finished, he had gathered quite a reputation among US and Canadian hikers, who gave him the nickname Swami (because he does Yoga). As Appalachian trekker “Dogwood” exclaimed about “Swami”: “That’s a long, long, long distance hiker!”

Although he has covered over 80,000 kilometers during the last two decades and is now on the “high, as opposed to wrong” side of 40, he is far from ready to hang up his boots and says that this coming fall he plans yet another hike through Mexico’s Copper Canyon, which is really a series of canyons longer and deeper than the celebrated Grand Canyon in the USA.

 Although the distance he plans to cover will “only” be around 300 to 500 total kilometers, he says “In some ways the route I  have in mind could be one of the most challenging. It will be a combination of canyoneering, bushwhacks, scrambling, wading, hiking and hopefully avoiding drug fields and cartel henchmen.”

For backpacking, Cam Honan carries only three kilos of equipment—plus food and water. Instead of a tent, he uses a specially designed poncho which turns into a tarp/tent when propped up by a hiking pole and weighs only ten ounces. Instead of a sleeping bag, he has a quilt which also weighs practically nothing. 

Campsite above Barpu Glacier, Rush Phari Track, Pakistan, 2008 Photo by Cam Honan

Campsite above Barpu Glacier, Rush Phari Track, Pakistan, 2008 Photo by Cam Honan. You'll find more outstanding photos at Thehikinglife.com

This “Going Light” philosophy, he says, manifests itself in two ways; tangibly and intangibly. “In regards to the former, innovative designs combined with increasingly lightweight, yet still durable materials, have meant that manufacturers can now produce incredibly lightweight equipment, without unduly sacrificing performance or safety.  Intangibly speaking, it constitutes a change of mindset. A reassessment of what we ‘actually’ need, as opposed to what we think or have been told we need.” I asked him to elaborate on what he calls “going light.”

“I wish I could say that I started the Going Light Revolution,” he said with a laugh, “but unfortunately, I can’t. If you look back a millennium, you had people like the aboriginals of Australia, the Kalahari Bushmen in Africa, the Native American population, people who traveled huge distances but did so traveling very lightly, with an emphasis on the necessities rather than superfluous luxuries. For me, the principle behind it all is having an uncluttered approach, a focus on simplicity.”

As for encounters with wild animals while hiking and camping, Honan had no horror stories to tell, although he has had a few interesting encounters with grizzly bears and snakes. On the contrary, he treasures moments like the morning in Montana when he opened his eyes and found a wolf staring at him from a distance of seven meters. “Another night, in Minnesota, I had a moose run right by where I was sleeping. I don’t think he even saw me.”

It is a sheer delight to explore Honan’s website, called Thehikinglife.com . First of all, the pictures he’s taken while trekking around the most beautiful parts of some 55 countries are breathtaking, even though he carries with him only a small point-and-shoot. Then you will find comments and reflections on life and nature which are often inspirational:

“Much of my non-working life is spent hiking. Deserts, jungles, mountains or coast; I don’t really have a preference. If I’m out in nature with everything I need in the world on my back, chances are my smile is wide and my thoughts are clear.”
   Hidden away here and there are unexpected gems, like this description of a meal in the mountains of Pakistan:

“There is a timeless quality to the Shimshal Pamir, which can be attributed in equal parts to its natural beauty as well as the fact that no one seems to wear a watch. Situated in the Karakorum Range of the Pakistani Himalaya, the inhabitants of this region are a herding people. ..  We gratefully accepted an invitation to join one of the families for supper. Chalpindok was on the menu, a traditional Shimshali dish which consists of a type of chapati bread, combined with a thick cheesy sauce and a liquidy butter. Sounds basic, but the food was delicious.”

I asked Honan about this meal. He said, “We spoke different languages, we had different cultures, but I found them to be some of the nicest people I have ever met. The lady who was hosting us had only three teeth, but she had the biggest, broadest grin the whole time. I remember as we were leaving, she gave us all this cheese to take with us and as we walked out the door the sun was setting. It was one of those memorable times.”

Also memorable were some “I can’t believe I ate that” meals:

“Hakarl is fermented or rotten shark, an Icelandic delicacy. One of the most disgusting foods I have ever tasted. Whilst on a day hike in Stafafell National Park on the SE coast of Iceland, I ran into a hippyesque local farmer and somehow struck up a conversation about Bob Dylan and Miles Davis. After chatting for some time, he invited me back to his nearby residence, where family and friends had gathered and Hakarl was part of the menu. How was it? Smells like ammonia and tastes like a spongy, chewy, gritty urinal cake that’s seen one too many big Saturday nights. Thankfully when washed down with liberal quantities of Brennivin (a popular Icelandic Schnapps), the after taste soon disappears and becomes nothing more than a disturbing memory.”

Cam Honan gives presentations to groups and organizations. At the moment, he has three talks: World’s Greatest Hiking Destinations, Going Light without Compromising Safety, and Twelve Long Walks through the USA and Canada.  If you can book him, yuou are in for a treat! Contact him through www.thehikinglife.com


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