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Early winter in Canada at its finest 

Two lone hikers heading for the summit of Tent Ridge in Kananaskis Country, dwarfed by the stunning rock massif in the background. This was snapped shortly after a heavy snow fall in the Rockies back in early October. Only a few weeks later we were back rock climbing in t-shirts for a good couple of weeks before temperatures dropped rapidly again. #explorealberta

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Rock Climbing Under A Spanish Sky

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.

El Chorro

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

IMG_0670Coffee growing

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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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 two

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.

Ambato and TungurahuaAmbato

Hungry lamaHungry lama in Ambato

Julio, and some Ecuadorian yummiesLocals know the best – Julio introducing me to some Ecuadorian yummies.

BañosBañosNext 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.

IMG_2123Bike with a viewAbove: 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 : )

Dancing chica

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.

Dancing in the rain

It started to rain through the sun as these crazy dancers passed me, it’s all about timing, ey?

Dancing in the rain

Over and out.