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.

Life at the foot of Cotopaxi

While awaiting my attempt to conquer Cotopaxi I spent one morning observing life in a food market in Saquisilí. Here are some impressions.

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The brutal destiny of one of many pigs.

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Also spent a fair bit of time simply enjoying the view from the roof top at Hostal Tijana.

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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.

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 : )

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: