Seduced by the concrete jungle

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.

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Catedral Primada in La Candelaria, the old part of the city

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Catedral Primada, with Cerro de Monserrate (the hill) in the background

Rush hour

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.

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Oscar sharing some skills

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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

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?

Urban sprawl

Lost in coconut land

High palm trees, reaching towards the sky… Most people, like myself, picture sandy tropical beaches by the thought of that. However, this is not the case when it comes to Valle de Cocora, Colombia.

Couldn’t help but feel like I was walking around in alien land when I finally got there, because in a way the trees seemed so misplaced… But, regardless how it makes you feel, it’s a place that shouldn’t be missed out if you ever make it anywhere near Salento in the central part of the country.

The start of the trail, that makes a nice day hike, can be found a short pickup truck ride away from central Salento. If you read your maps and follow the signs more carefully than me, it might even be a pretty short and pleasant trek! After detouring past a point where hummingbirds can be seen from a close distance, I started to follow a trail that was taking me up a steep mountain – all according to my map. Eh…

45 minutes later I found myself at the top of the hill, sweating like a pig in the hot afternoon sun. I remember thinking how great the timing was gonna be. According to my calculations I would reach the actual palm tree valley on the other side just in time for the golden light before sunset. That was before I realized I’d climbed the wrong mountain of course. A brutal 10-minute-speed descend later I was back on track and by moving fast I still made it in time.

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IMG_0540One of those humming hummingbirds.

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To be more specific, the trees, native to Colombia, are called Wax Palms and are among the tallest species of palm trees to be found on the globe. Apparently, they can grow as high as 60 meters and reach an age of 100 years. The fact that grassy farmlands are all that cover the hillsides they grow on, kind of adds to the feeling of them being t a l l .

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Over and out.

My Colombian vision of paradise

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.

OscarNot 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.

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IMG_0859IMG_0853IMG_0851IMG_0667Good old Don Elias has been producing organic coffee for many, many years

IMG_0669Coffee blooming

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IMG_0685Coffee beans drying

IMG_0691IMG_0696Coffee beans roasted

IMG_0698Roasted coffee beans being grounded. The result? Maybe the best cup of coffee I ever had.

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Coffee hills

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IMG_0763IMG_0657IMG_0808IMG_0331IMG_0814Sunset, doggy style….. classy.

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Sorry for falling off the edge of the Earth…

That didn’t happen though, because the Earth is round.

HOW-ever. One cool and rainy night in Quito, one bus trip, one border crossing and one stolen camera later I found myself in Popayan, Colombia.

I ended up in a lovely little hostel, run by this Spanish guy Borja, his Romanian girlfriend. It is located right at a park in the center of town, where pretty old white colonial buildings dominates the scene. As soon as the sun started to set the first day I realized I had ended up in a street food paradise. One night quickly turned into four while I enjoyed excellent Colombian coffee, got familiar with the Colombian night life together with staff and fellow travelers at the hostel, and, well, overfed myself with this super tasty street food.. etc. etc.

I find Colombians absolutely awesome. It’s the kind of people that sit down next to you on the bus and immediately starts a conversation, ask you to join their table to share a bottle of Aguardiente in the bar (a kind of local vodka) or enthusiastically try to teach you salsa, even though you’re a hopeless case. All with a big, fat smile.

Then destiny took me to Cali, the third biggest city in the country. I had now been without camera for almost a week which had turned into a pretty painful experience with so many interesting things going on around me.

The amount of DSLR cameras (and lenses) to be found in Colombia impresses no one. Neither the variety. However, I was lucky enough to find something very similar to what I had lost, even though my dear lens that was attached to it will be difficult to replace in a while. But I was happy – not much else you can be in a country so full of smiles.

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(Playing around with my new buddy)

The purchase was done the very last day of 2012 (ehh yeah, I should indeed try to speed up my updates). That night I joined the New Year’s celebration at my hostel in San Antonio. The end of the year and the start of a new is really no big deal in Colombia, and most natives celebrate with a calm family dinner at home. Being a city with over a million inhabitants I had expected some pretty impressive fireworks, but… no. I’ve seen more mind-blowing fireworks in my quiet little home town deep in the forests of northern Sweden.

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Watching the non-excistent fireworks in the streets of San Antonio

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IMG_0119Party people

IMG_0101Anyway, in the middle of the cheering and hugging, of reasons I can’t remember, I felt like I needed to get away from the crowd for a while which brought me to a little park above the hostel. There I randomly bumped into Oscar – the Colombian artesano guy who had left the Amazon to try his luck in the big cities by selling self braided bracelets and the more dangerous possession of joggling and doing tricks in traffic lights. He only spoke a few words of English and my Spanish was still really crappy, but somehow we ended up sitting there on a park bench, communicating nonstop in a weird mix of different languages and gestures until the sun rose.

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Oscar and his art

IMG_0203xApperantly it’s a tradition to burn furniture on New Year’s eve, a way of getting rid of old bad memories from people who died, if I got it right (no guarantee though, I was pretty tipsy after all, eh)

I now had my camera and was gonna get out of that concrete jungle the next day. Oscar admitted he was kinda sick of Cali and asked if he could tag along, destination wasn’t that important and with my mind wide open I said yes. Por que no?! So, the next day we stood there with our backpacks on our backs and out thumbs in the air once we reached the highway and eventually took off – the very first day of the brand new year.

Jungly Christmas joys

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.

 

Fruits and sand

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.

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Jonathan.

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IMG_2764IMG_2702IMG_2711Isabel in action.

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.

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Good times.

Thin air and a broken promise

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.

IMG_2196Packed 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).

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Crampons on.

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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.

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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)

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Observe the ash plume behind us!!

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To keep the story about the way back short, I can say we made it down……… eventually. Dead but yet so alive.

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IMG_2319IMG_2332IMG_2318IMG_2366IMG_2374IMG_2377IMG_2381IMG_2387Alex in pain. The refuge (yellow building) so close but still so far!!

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.

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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.

The big bang

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.

The crater lakeAbout 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.

Mike living on the edge

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 trail

Quilotoa surroundsThe trailMikeMike

The trail

I was there...Some Swedish weirdo, half way around.

Crater potatoesPotatoes were growing high up, all over the rim. These locals don’t mind a bit of physical exercise..

Quilotoa surrounds

Quilotoa surroundsSome construction work going on in the distance.

SheepTraditional womanThe 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 ; )

Lady in shopThis nice señora in her small grocery shop was slightly easier to crack up. Slightly…

Popcorn soupIn Ecuador you are allowed to have popcorn for dinner. Big bonus.

Caballo out for a walkKayakingLocal kids kayaking in the lagoon.

PuppyBeing a puppy in the mountains can be an exhausting undertaking. And it definitely requires a blue pyjama.

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……..

Ecuador, chapter one

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.

Cajas NP Drunken forest, Cajas NP Cajas NP Cajas NP

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.

Cuenca Cuenca

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?

Coffee beanies

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….

Lama in Cuenca NP

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 : )

With sand between my toes and a beer in my hand

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 ;)

Nils, Floor and Lovisa

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.

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Huanchaco, Peru.

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Ryan and Lovisa, and the beer.

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Riding the last waves of the day

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Bold puppy

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A surfer with fan club in Mancora, Peru.

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Fishermen in Mancora.

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Sweet Lovisa, tired but happy.

Once upon a time in the Peruvian Andes

The hospitality of people around the world never stops to amaze me. How some people simply can be so full of goodwill towards someone that starts off as more or less a complete stranger. In Lima I met Eric, a happy and energetic mountain guide from Huaraz. One long bus trip, a bumpy car ride and a 3000 meter rise in elevation later, we arrived in his home village in the Andes.

Eric :)

Indigenous mountain people still make up a big part of the population living up there, including Eric and his family who speak Quechua and still practice a pretty traditional way of life. The way the women dress adds a lovely touch of color to the scene, and the surroundings are absolutely stunning with several white 6000m+ mountain peaks rising towards the sky. I fell in love within about two seconds.

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I was ridiculously lucky to have brilliant weather almost every day since it’s in the middle of the rainy season, with no guarantees of a blue sky whatsoever. I was also lucky enough to get to spend one week in this rural home, as well as to get to know a bunch of additional awesome people through friends of Eric.

However, I always thought photographs say more than words, so here we go:

Hello Latino world

November 15, 2012.

Made it to Madrid, after losing and later reuniting with my backpack in Stockholm. Driven by boredom and several hours to kill I took the metro into central Madrid where I found a city centre more or less occupied by policemen due to massive riots the day before, in the wake of the economic crisis. Street artists in every corner, the one more creative than the other. I spoke fluently in Spanish to one of the locals. She was an infant. After almost getting attacked by SpongeBob and having some weird Asian food that made me wanna puke I took off to the airport again. A liiittle bit too late as usual. But I made it.

November 16.

Lima. After five minutes of walking around in Miraflores, the area where I stayed (together with about 200 percent of all other gringos) I was sun burnt. Check. The rest of the weekend consisted of great food, great people, many cervezas, a rooftop birthday party and much more. But the traffic and pollution soon reminded me it was time to move on. I could hear the mountains calling.