Back to civilization after spending one magical week in El Chorro, one of Spain’s and southern Europe’s biggest rock climbing meccas. Great people, good food, amazing views and some fantastic climbing. Pushed myself into new levels and can’t wait till the next time I’ll be fighting gravity in great company, wherever that’ll be. I’ll let this photo of my temporary casa for the week sum it all up.
Bogotá. The sole thought of entering this mega city gave me anxiety long before I had to face it (I was born in a forest). It was gonna be just another enormous, busy city I would have to cross on my way to more appealing destinations further north. My plan was to rush through as fast as possible, to basically just spend the night and then be off early the next morning.
But that was before I met Edward. The young local doctor who opened up his nice home for me, which he shared with his equally nice and sweet mother Doris. He saved me like 12 years of time by taking me straight to all these hidden spots and highlights, and bit by bit the city started to seduce me. For a moment I could even picture myself living there… That was a bit too weird though, and I began to speculate what kind of pharmaceutical drug(s?) Edward had put in my morning tea.
Anyway, lesson learnt – Never judge a place before giving it a chance. And the by far best way to do so is with a local pro by your side.
Catedral Primada in La Candelaria, the old part of the city
Catedral Primada, with Cerro de Monserrate (the hill) in the background
Rush hour in and around one of many TransMetro stations – a successful public transport system that helps keeping the already over-packed streets of Bogotá less packed.
Oscar sharing some skills
Doris, Edward’s sweet and extremely sporty mum who pulled me out of bed at 6am to go climb a mountain
View from Cerro de Monserrate – One of the biggest urban landscapes I’ve ever seen spreading out in front of me, home to about 9 million people. That’s like the entire population of Sweden, only a wee bit more cramped together… perspective?
Salento. I don’t remember how I first found out about this place, but once I heard what it was about – organic coffee, rolling green hills, a lovely climate, rivers and good hiking – it turned into a mandatory stop on my journey up through Colombia. For Oscar it was a non-explored spot of his own country so he was happy to check it out. We had to overnight in the bigger and not near as welcoming city of Armenia before we got there though, as it had gotten pitch dark and pretty dodgy outside after leaving Cali.
If you’re on a very tight budget when traveling, artesanos are like the best travel companion you could imagine. Often, the money they make in a day is what most westerners would spend on parking fees that same day, and thus they have to keep their expenses low. And they know how to.
Anyway, not wanting to be dependent on me to cover his part of the hotel cost for the night, he took off to the nearest busy traffic light to earn a few pesos. I tagged along and soon found myself sitting in the middle of the street watching and documenting his actions.
Not long after a local woman pulled up next to me, rolled her window down and asked me with a troubled face if I had a place to stay for the night. I smiled and said I indeed did and that she didn’t have to worry about me. As far as I can remember I never got mistaken for a homeless person before, but I suppose me sitting there on the concrete with big holes in my jeans and shoes, unshowered and all hooded up, kind of gave that impression that night. I was slightly touched by her concern.
The next morning we were once again standing along the road with our thumbs in the air. A few cars passed until this young Colombian lady and an older couple, coming from the opposite direction, pulled up next to us and asked where we were going. We told them we were unfortunately going to Salento in the other direction. They nodded, drove off a bit, turned around and then stopped next to us again, saying “Well, let’s go then!”
Marcela and her parents, that constituted the older couple, were more than happy to take the half an hour detour back to Salento to help us out. They fed us and then invited us to come and stay with them or contact them if we ever got a problem. Or if I wanted a job teaching English or so, Marcela, a teacher herself, promised to help out with that too. To me, this is Colombian goodwill in a nutshell.
The week that followed in Salento, I collected many good memories. A highlight on my journey through this enchanting country.
Since I know from previous experiences that I’m capable of getting into no Christmas spirits whatsoever if I’m not in a white winter wonderland, I figured I could just go all in and spend Christmas in the Amazon. The timing worked out perfect so two days before the holidays started I took an overcrowded bus from Quito for a few million hours, then changed to a smaller one until I finally jumped into a canoe that carried me away from civilization.
Here is a collection of photos that came out of it.
After all the hiking and mountain climbing my toes were craving some sand in between them again, so I took off to the Pacific coast. Also because I wanted to see Isabel. Our paths had randomly been crossed for the first time in Gothenburg, three months earlier when I wanted to sell my old laptop before moving out of my apartment. It soon stood clear that we both were going to be in Ecuador at about the same time, a coincidence too funny to ignore. It’s interesting how destiny works sometimes.
I was staying with Isabel and her boyfriend’s family in Sua, a small fishing village only a ten minute bus ride south from the bigger, more touristy Atacames. Atacemes got some great beach night life which I got pretty familiar with, while Sua is the place to be if you’re looking for a way slower pace of life.
One afternoon we explored Jonathan’s back garden. So full of fruits. Mangos and cacao for example. Yum.
Another ten minutes to the south you will find Same, another small village but under exploitation of rich people building big mansions on the beach… A great place to enjoy the sunset though.
In December 2010 I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It was an extraordinary experience and I’m very happy I made that decision to try once I got to the foot of the volcano in Moshi, where the snow-covered peak somehow seemed to be calling my name.
To watch the sun rise over the savanna when I finally reached the summit at 5895 meter above sea level, on the fourth day of climbing, was the kind of reward that makes you forget all the pain and overwhelming lack of energy for the moment and just think that it was all so incredibly worth it. Because it was, and I loved every second at the top of Africa. But then, eventually, you realize you have to make it all the way down. Too. Hehe. It was during this part of the trek I promised myself not to put myself through that kind of suffer again. That promise lasted for quite exactly two years, until I got to the foot of yet another spellbinding volcano…
This time it was Cotopaxi in central Ecuador who I can almost swear repeatedly whispered my name, as soon as I got the first glimpse of it… I hooked up with Alex, a happy, British teacher, (over?)full of energy, and in the end we took off as a group of nine guys, five mountain guides, and me.
Packed like sardines in a box while trying to “sleep” before the midnight ascent. That was five interesting hours, lying listening to different sorts of noice, giggling and fighting for the space (we all averaged on around an impressive 2 minutes of sleep).
Cotopaxi is a lot more technical than Kilimanjaro as you reach the glaciated area already after an hour or so. However, once again; painful, e x h a u s t i n g, frrreezing, but so worth it – a totally stunning hike.
As we reached the summit in the early morning light we got greeted by a huge ash plume on the horizon, coming from the neighboring volcano of Tunghurangua near Baños (where I’d been mountain biking a few days earlier..). The eruption had been starting only one or two hours before we got up there. Quite a reward. I forgot the feeling of being near collapse and smiled. Giggled. Then laughed out load. Gave Alex a big victory hug. And THEN collapsed for a while (while admiring the view)
Observe the ash plume behind us!!
About three hours, one hamburger and a shower later I was standing at the roof top of my hostel in Latacunga, looking at the summit from the distance, feeling nothing but satisfaction and happiness. It’s amazing what the human body can accomplish, and how fast it can recover.
PS. The summit of Cotopaxi is to be found at 5897 meters above sea level, thus I beat my previous record with a thrilling 2 meters, woho, victory…
Enough for now.
In Baños I got told about a seemingly magic place hidden away in a mountain village, quite far from the Pan-American highway. So well, driven by my always so present curiosity I jumped on a bus with destination Quilotoa. Once again, a ride with wonderful views.
Three hours later the pickup truck that took me the last few kilometers to my final destination dropped me off in front of the first best building (there aren’t many in Quilotoa) that offered some sort of accommodation. I got greeted by a sweet woman dressed the way that’s so very typical for this area. She showed me to my room where I dropped my bag and immediately took off to a slightly higher altitude, eager to get a glimpse of what attracts most people to the area, before the last bit of sunlight faded out that day. Five minutes of walking later I was standing at the edge of this, and the physical geographer inside me died a little from excitement.
About 800 years ago the volcano of Quilotoa had a massive eruption which caused the whole crater to explode and collapse. Since then, water has been accumulating within the caldera, slash the old crater, and created this emerald green lake, over 200 m deep.
The following day I tagged along with my new roomie Mike from Pennsylvania to complete a hike around the caldera, following the rollercoaster trail on the rim. While standing on the edge in the morning, we looked at each other and agreed people must have been wrong when they’d told us it was going take as much as five hours to get around. Five and a half hours later we had confirmed that they weren’t – this caldera is huge!!! But oh so pretty.
The lady above was a very smiley and happy person, something I really wanted to capture on a photograph. Not to be rude I politely asked if I could take her picture, whereupon she answered “si” with a smile. But. Two seconds later the smile was gone and replaced by a super serious face, stiff and expressionless. I managed to make her look a wee bit happier, but it can’t even compare to what I would have been able to capture if she would have been unaware of my camera. That’s what you get for being polite ; )
Three days later I returned to civilization. The chilly nights had given me a pretty unfriendly cold, but I didn’t care much. A small price to pay to get to see the result of that big bang. And a tiny bit of preparation for what was to come……..
After eventually leaving Cuenca behind I found myself on a bus towards Ambato, and died a little from looking through my window (bonito). Approximately 3249 times I felt like just grabbing my backpack, jump off the bus and start walking instead, to be able to take in more. In Ambato some excellent Ecuadorian hospitality was waiting for me though, so I resisted… Even though Ecuadorians tend not to take time too seriously, I figured arriving five weeks too late would have been a bit rude.
Next I was off to Baños, a small town tucked in between high green hills, at the foot of the big Tunguranghua volcano. This place draws a lot of tourists due to its reputation of being Ecuador’s adventure destination number one. I mostly drank (real!) coffee though, except from flying around on a mountain bike one afternoon, and spent the nights clubbing with new found friends. Good fun.
Above: my bike two seconds before the wind caught it, threw it off the edge and messed up the back wheel. I got to experience the hard way that if you have a problem it really is your problem on the road between Baños and Puyo. Not like the good old days back in Australia when all you had to do was to step out of your vehicle, look generally blond and helpless and have a handy man standing next to you within five minutes, eager to show off his skills. This time I was alone!!! I figured it out though, for those who wonder, eventually : )
There was a big parade one of the days, to celebrate the anniversary of the city. It turned the place into a temporary ghost town, except from where the action was at the moment.
It started to rain through the sun as these crazy dancers passed me, it’s all about timing, ey?
Over and out.
There are few things I enjoy as much as the simplicity in hiking. To stroll around in your own pace, randomly bump in to some wildlife, cross rivers and stop for a well deserved snack wherever u feel like it. The physical challenge, the often very rewarding views… It makes me feel muy bien.
Two days before my hike in Cajas National Park in Ecuador I had no idea of its existence. Neither the city of Cuenca, half an hour bus ride away. (Eh, no, I did not do too much research before I left home, but honestly, how much more exciting doesn’t travelling get when you don’t really know what will be around the next corner?) I was hanging out with this Swiss girl in Mancora who told me about the place so I decided to make it a stopover on my way north. Located at 2800m above sea level, Cuenca like no city I’ve come across so far on this trip. So nice and tidy. Beautiful old architecture and plenty of cafes with GOOD (real) bloody coffee.
Because yes, ironically enough it’s pretty damn hard to find a good cup of coffee in this part of the world – the part of the world that actually produces the raw material to that delicious hot beverage we so often can enjoy in Europe. Instead of keeping some for themselves it is more or less all exported and what’s left is the instant shit. Or a weird liquid version of the instant shit… But who can blame a poor part of the world when the rich countries pay so much better for those little lovely beans?
Thanks to Urmas, an Estonian guy staying at my hostel, I also became a frequent guest at one vegetarian restaurant with the best fruit salads ever. So. Good. And the surroundings… ahh. Massive green hills, totally dwarfing the villages at the bottom of the valleys. Fresh air and cattle and lamas strolling around seemingly free….
What was meant to be more or less just an overnight stop on my way to Ambato and Banõs quickly turned into three days… ops : )
The entire Peruvian coast is like one big, stretched out desert. The ground is so arid that in some locations nothing at all seems to grow on this land. Isn’t it fascinating how on one side of the Andes we have the super extremely lush rainforests of the Amazon, and on the other side an environment that supports like five thousand billion fewer life forms? Hehe. Four years of geography studies at uni have turned me into a bit of a geek, indeed. It has to do with a cold ocean current and a wee bit of rain shadow however, for those who’s still reading ;)
Aaanywho, this doesn’t mean the beaches aren’t an excellent location to hang out with new friends at sunset, with a cold beer in your hand. To laugh at shitty surfers (I suck myself but whatever, minor detail) and secretly admire the professional ones. To explore old, sandy Inca ruins, get food poisoned, collect sea shells and blow soap bubbles.
Ryan and Lovisa, and the beer.
Riding the last waves of the day
A surfer with fan club in Mancora, Peru.
Fishermen in Mancora.
Sweet Lovisa, tired but happy.