13-12-10

076 / Peru's Arecuspuno

076 / Peru's Arecuspuno
Dia1.JPG
When my plane arrived in Arequipa the majestic El Misti volcano didn’t leave too much space for doubt, Peru sees things B.I.G. It’s one of the highest countries in the world, and considers the Alps more as Europe’s beer belly, than as worthy mountain range. It’s the urge for extreme height that had driven me in Peru’s arm in the first place, so I shouldn’t complain when I sometimes feel like a 83 years old, chain smoking fish on land because of the low oxygen levels.

To acclimatize, I spend a bit (too little) time in Arequipa, where I decided to visit the world famous Colca Canyon, which is said to be one of the deepest in the world (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon). I thought it’s more a very deep valley (space in between two mountains) than a canyon (made by river erosion over the years). After a discussion of 20 minutes with my guide, I think I’m now blacklisted in the region for attempt to undermine tourist revenues with an inconvenient truth ;-). Another great feature of this valley (…) is that it’s one on the best places in the world to spot condors, the biggest wing span bird in the world. I kindly attempted to convince my suspicious guide that the king’s albatross has larger wings, but deaf man’s ears were my part… Sometimes, I miss the confrontational spirit of Paris, I guess. Unfortunately, the condors we saw were so far away that they could have been painted pigeons with wing extensions, although I didn’t bring up this subject.

Dia2.JPG



On the way back from this two day trip, we passed by a cute, colonial church where a statue inside struck my attention. It’s cool to have a black saint (Yes, they can, too) but guys really, does he has to hold the broom in his hand? A bit too colonial, maybe?

Dia3.JPG


After this first date with 3000m altitude, I spend another day in Arequipa, where I found a German, professional mountain biker who was crazy enough to attempt to climb the 6075m high Chachani volcano with me. After a moderate climb the first day, we set camp at 5200m high for the night. The beautiful sunset made us believe that this place wasn’t so violent after all… That was until we tried to get some sleep around 6.30PM. Impossible! I was almost happy to stop trying at 2.30AM, when we started our stretch for the summit. 6 hours of walking up, fighting for oxygen on a mountain that was covered with volcanic stones, so small, that for every two steps we did, he claimed one step back. It seemed endless, until it wasn’t. At 9AM, we were standing on top of the world.

Dia4.JPG

Dia5.JPG

Dia6.JPG

Dia7.JPG



After being on its head, it was time to go to Peru's belly button: charming Cusco.

Dia8.JPG

 This town has grown big thanks to its exclusive access to Machu Picchu. I decided to participate in an “alternative” Inca Trial, called “Inca Jungle Trial” (Long live marketing), where you spend 4 days reaching Machu Picchu, using various ways of moving along (hiking, mountain bike, rappel lines,…).

Dia9.JPG

 A cool trip. Day 4 was the day where the people who wake up the earliest and do the walk uphill the swiftest get rewarded with an unspoiled picture of the hidden Inca city while the first rays of sunlight find their way through the densely forested mountains. Thanks to my EPO-less 99+ hematocrite level (following my 6000m altitude training), I virtually ran up that mountain, and arrived first. By the time the doors were opened (6AM), I got acquainted with a Canadian photographer who has been to Machu Picchu already for several days and finally discovered the vey best little spot to take “THE picture”. It needs no further explanation, when I tell you that I followed this guy like a baby chicken follows his mammy, straight to picture heaven.

Dia10.JPG

Dia11.JPG

Dia12.JPG



When the sun brushes this deep green mountainous site, this place can simply not disappoint. After the mandatory “aaaaws” and “wooows”, it was time to put the leg machine again to the test, with the invigorating hike up Wayna Picchu.

Dia13.JPG

I left Cusco for Puno, where I was to spend a day at the border of Lake Titicaca, that other superlative greedy highlight of Peru (and Bolivia…). After a short trip to the floating islands, that have the tourist factor of a Disney theme park, I decided to wave Peru goodbye and head off to Bolivia.

Dia15.JPG

Dia16.JPG

Dia17.JPG


wwwouter

22:54 Gepost door Wouter* | Permalink | Commentaren (0) |  Facebook |

26-11-10

075 / City Lost, Favorite country Found

075 / City Lost, Favorite country Found

After a week city tripping (Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena), we realized quickly that urban tourism in this country missed one of Colombia’s vital dimensions, composed of impenetrable jungles, cocaine labs, unpredictable rivers and unknown bites of all sorts. We needed our fix of outdoor adventure, we needed to get our backs sweaty, we needed our boots dirty… There was only one place to go...

We set of for Santa Marta, on the Caribbean coast, to get into one of South America’s most notorious treks, the 5 day hike to Cuidad Perdida (Lost City), deep in the tropical rainforest. Only discovered in the 70’s, this place can actually still give you the impression that YOU are the one who discovered it.

Dia8.JPG

 

 

After a bumpy ride in an old Toyota (who was produced before the Lost City was discovered) of about 2 hours, we arrived at the start of the trip. Our troop looked a bit like the first episode of a Big Brother reality TV show. The stereotypical Irish dude with a big smile, and no equipment. A Mexican couple that was afraid to go over 1km/h. A young Dutch couple in love with being in love. The British lawyer who was surviving the financial crisis pushing his limits. Y. The lot.

During the first hour of the 5 day track, we were naively eager to keep our shoes dry during the numerous river crossings. The one after the other, we realized the uselessness of the risks we were taking when we jumped from rock to rock. Full time wet boots & shoes would be our part for as long as we were submitted to nature’s law in the Colombian jungle.

Dia6.JPG

 

Dia5.JPG

At night, we were fighting mosquitoes with all things imaginable: candles, socks, DEET, special soap, randomly slapping around. Exhausted, we fell in a deep sleep in surprisingly comfortable hammocks. I discovered that in a world without electricity, people do tend to adopt the chicken biorhythm fast: waking up at 5.30AM and going to bed at 8PM. In the morning, our Irish buddy traditionally spent 20 minutes getting the ants out of his shoes before we took off for the day.

Dia2.JPG

 

 

We crossed everybody’s girlfriend favorite animals (mainly spiders and some snakes), every family favorite neighbor (indigenous people) and every Red Bull fish favorite hangout (white water rivers). The main constant was the pack of mud that sticked with the determination gladiators at our boots.

Dia4.JPG

 

Dia3.JPG

During a little side expedition, we were (illegally) taken to a former cocaine laboratory that employed about a 100 families in its hay days. 450kg of coca leaves processed with petrol, potassium, baked soda, dirty water and a dozen of other disgusting chemicals end up in a 90% pure pasta. It’s a crime that something so filthy can look so bright and innocently white in the end. All sniffers, come and have a look… 

Dia1.JPG

 

 

After 3 days walking, we reached the lost city. It was beautiful, however dwarfed by the beauty of the hike towards it. We bargained with our guides to accelerate and do the trip in 4 days, because we wanted to feel some aching muscles, and after a day of speeding, we got what we signed up for, sour feet.

The last days of our Colombia adventure, we spend in a lazy fishing village with the danceable name of Taganga. Getting up in the morning was the challenge, eating fresh grilled fish on the beach the reward. Life here consists of drinking beer, perfecting the art of polygamy, and drinking beer while talking about this love multitasking activity. In the cities, in the jungle or at the beach, I think Colombia is a cool as its ice vendors or senior basketball players. Dunkin'.

Dia12.JPG

Dia9.JPG

wwwouter

 

Dia10.JPG

 

Dia7.JPG

04:37 Gepost door Wouter* | Permalink | Commentaren (1) |  Facebook |

16-11-10

074 / Colom Knowledge

074 / Colom Knowledge

Presentatie1.jpg

Did you know…

… that Colombia is named after Colombus, who never actually visited the place

… that we are more than happy to do this in his place

… that we arrived in this country during one of the wettest wet seasons of the century

… that that also happened to me in Delhi, earlier in September

… that I start to think that it has something to do with me

… that I should apply for a high paid job in the Sahara desert

… that this would help my declining travel liquidity

Dia2.JPG

… that in Colombia nothing is what it seems

… that even innocent statues have a sexual twist

Dia4.JPG

… that the election of Miss Colombia is more important than any other event

… that we were at the official presentation of the 25 celebrated finalists in Cartagena

… that every potential Miss has on average 4 chirurgically enhanced parts on her body

… that even the plastic models in the shop windows receive the same surgery

Dia5.JPG

… that Botero made a statue, that brings sexual fortune if you touch a special (non chirurgically enhanced) part

… that I thought by myself “can never hurt to touch it”

… that a local woman a tad angrily explained that this only applies if women touch it

… that I don’t know how to make up for this mistake

Dia6.JPG

… that in Medellin, once the world’s crime capital, one extension of the subway is a topnotch cable car

… that Pablo Escobar would have been proud of this progress

Dia10.JPG

... that colonial Cartagena makes Bruges looks like a grey suburb of Dusseldorf

… that her buildings are of a brightness that makes you smile, even on a Monday morning

Dia8.JPG

Dia7.JPG

… that we’re leaving for a 5 days jungle hike to the Lost city as of tomorrow

… that you are welcome to call the police if we’re not back in two weeks

... that that won’t be necessary, because Colombia is safer than LA or Clichy

… that this first date with Latin America is as promising as could be

wwwouter

Dia9.JPG

05:14 Gepost door Wouter* | Permalink | Commentaren (0) |  Facebook |

08-11-10

072 / H2wOooow

072 / H2WOOOOW

 I love Water” - No, this is not an illusionary, self-motivational statement an alcoholic whispers to himself while he desperately gazes through the Budweiser mirror in the first bar he visits after rehab.

I love Water” - Nor is this is not a narcissistic claim of Belgian traveler who got used to people who mispronounce his first name.

I love Water” - These three words summarize best my visit to New Zealand… And I’m not discriminating. I love it liquid, I love it icy, and I love it when it’s merely clouds. I love it blue like my little nephew’s eyes, I love it mysteriously black and I love it eye burning white. I love it hot in steamy pools and cold in my face while crossing a musical mountain river. New Zealand naturally masters the art of crafting and showing water in its best and most complete features.

IMG_2126.JPG

 On the West Coast of the South Island, I participated in a daylong trek over and through a centuries old glacier, mighty Franz Joseph. Once our crampons tightly wrapped to our waterproof boots, we explored 60m deep crevasses, dug stairs over its ever-changing ice mountains, we discovered a newly formed ice cave… I had several moments where I had to catch my breath, not exactly knowing if it was because of the enduring effort of climbing or because of the stunning scenery that surrounds you everywhere.

IMG_1675.JPG

IMG_1704.JPG

IMG_1720.JPG

When a couple of days later, we drove further south, we took a sidewalk to visit the notorious mirror lakes. The water is so still, and the bottom so dark, that it reflects perfectly the sky. This event only reaches full impact when the rebellious ducks on the lake don’t move, when there are few clouds and when the photographer is skilled. When these three conditions meet, a picture perfect picture is born. But since I’m not a picture perfect photographer (I can blame some clouds, but not the ducks), I toke an almost perfect picture of the picture perfect picture that was for sale.

IMG_1767.JPG

IMG_1778.JPG

After a brief stop in Queenstown, I took off to Te Anau, to walk one of the Great Walks (cfr. Hong Kong post). The Kepler Track is a 65km, three day hike into NZ’s Southern Alps. To be in line with the country theme, a vicious avalanche (water…) blocked the track halfway, so I could only made a roundtrip to the first base, with an overnight stay in Luxmore hut. The walk was amazing, the view from the top of Mt Luxmore stunning, and my adjectives I use more and more American (heeeelp... I'll leave this as proof of a profound jetlag ;-))

IMG_1866.JPG

IMG_1886.JPG

One of the highlights of the whole down-under episode was the visit of Milford Sound, a full blown fjord in NZ biggest National Park. The place looks unreal, with threatening black waters out of which 1000m high granite monolites rise like extraterrestrial submarines. Waterfalls in all shapes and sizes come down from whatever you lay your eyes upon. This time, even the picture perfect postcard pictures can’t show the majesty and vastness of the place (so I didn’t bother to break copyright laws).

IMG_2057.JPG

IMG_2078.JPG

NZ pulled one last wet trick out of its hat with the name of Lake Tekapo. Its  water is more Turquoise than on the Maldives, Whitsunday Islands and Blankenberge combined. The secret is a special kind of rock on the bottom of the lake (If I a millionaire one day, I want that rock on the bottom of my W-shaped pool ;-)).

IMG_2233.JPG

Now I’m gearing up for the Latin American leg of my trip starting with my Spanish auto-study course, but still NZ-style!

IMG_2159.JPG

I like this country where even the cattle looks like gentle snowflakes, sprinkled around lovely on lush green lands.

IMG_2127.JPG

The only mystery that remains is that one of the Kiwi, NZ’s indigenous bird and symbol of the country. Veni, Ni Vici, So Ni Believci…

 KIWI.jpg

wwwouter

07:52 Gepost door Wouter* | Permalink | Commentaren (0) |  Facebook |

25-10-10

071 / Nice Zealand

071 / Nice Zealand

The first days in New Zealand, I had a feeling that I couldn’t quit explain. Everyday life feels very different here compared to Europe, but I couldn’t put my finger on the reason. I didn’t feel the 19.050 km between Paris and Christchurch when I visited a supermarket (H&S also has the biggest shelf space here…) or when I took a taxi (they feel too expensive everywhere, if you’re not on an expense note) and Ronald McDonald and Nespresso-Clooneys look the same everywhere.
But then it struck me. Most people living in Paris probably remember the day when they took the subway in an extremely good mood. You potentially made the mistake to smile and maybe say “hi” to somebody randomly. The only change you got was an annoyed “Are you crazy”-look. Now that’s exactly where you feel you’re on the other side of the world. Here, people would stop in opposite directions of the motorway to give a high(way) five. Everybody is nice and friendly, without exception. It’s almost worrying… Where are the trouble makers?
When I arrived in Auckland, the public bus made a small detour to drop me off at my hostel. And in my hostel, the owner traded two Lonely Planets because he reckoned they could of better use for me than for him when he heard of my plans. So far so good. Auckland is built on 40 volcanoes, and not all of them are extinct (take that Naples!). That’s probably the only spectacular fact about this city, because besides the harbor, and the surrounding islands, there is not too much to see here. I only stayed one day and took a ferry to Rangitoto Island (I support places with cool names).

IMG_1339.JPG


The next day I took a flight to Christchurch (on the Southern island of NZ). I choose a hostel where I had the best shot of meeting some “bad guys”. I signed up for the Jailhouse, a hostel that used to be a jail until 1999, with a true prison atmosphere.

IMG_1384.JPG

On my way there, I found two consecutive streets that gave me the impression they were calling my name. I’ve received mail in the past where the spelling was worse .;-)

WM.jpg

When I discovered that everybody in the hostel was lovely again, I decided to rent a bike and go discover the city (it’s about 300K people, 2nd city in NZ). To my surprise, there was a huge free concert in the park. Of course it was a charity concert, where the people of Christchurch raised money to restore the city after last September’s earthquake (7.4 on Richter scale). And because New Zealand people are so generous, they don’t organize one concert when they raise funds, they organize two… Show offs.

IMG_1369.JPG


Totally discouraged to find some dark side, I want to cycle home when I found a spark of hope. During the concert, somebody had stolen the saddle of my rented bike. Aha… a crime, in New Zealand.

IMG_1379.JPG

When I clumsily drove home, I was considering my best negotiation option in order not to have to pay too much for the damage. I was ready for some confrontation. Back at the hostel, I showed the bike to the guy at the desk. He smiled in wonder, thinking out loud “who would do something like that”, and then he apologized with me, saying this was obviously not my responsibility, and that he hoped it didn’t cause to much inconvenience for me. I was blown away. These guys are genuinely good, I surrender.
The following day I planned a daytrip with a scenic train to Kaikura (love the name), where 3000m high, snow white mountains end dramatically into the sea. When the free (what else…) shuttle arrived a bit too late, I decided to start walking. All of a sudden there was a guy with a minibus passing by saying “Wouter, is that you? Hop in mate. Sorry for the couple of minutes we’re running late”. Can’t beat them… By the way, Kaikura was amazing.

IMG_1437.JPG

IMG_1434.JPG


Today, it was time to leave Christchurch, and take the train across the Southern Alps to the West coast on the most breathtaking train ride I ever had. When I arrived in Greymounth (not a cool name, so I don’t support ;-) I wanted to go to Punakaiki (now, that’s a name) to check out the famous pancake rocks but the options were rather expensive. A shuttle ride ($60), car rental ($100)… I said they were nice, never said that they were cheap! So I decided to finally use their niceness to my favor and to hitchhike. Final conclusion: I rest my case, they ARE nice. After only seconds people took me the 45 km, both ways, offering me candy, some good stories and some travel advice. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Lifting jpg.jpg

IMG_1571.JPG


wwwouter

IMG_1627.JPG

13:19 Gepost door Wouter* | Permalink | Commentaren (0) |  Facebook |

22-10-10

070 / Bali’s High 5

070 / Bali’s High 5

Normally, one of the most hidden places on my watch is the area around the 5. If possible, I would take off the 5 when I purchase my next watch, and get a second 11 or a double of another sexy number. Since I stopped watching Neighbors (around the age of 5 I guess) I can’t say a lot of exciting things happen around 5PM… And unless there is an army of poisonous snakes in my bed or Jesus is back and he’s throwing an improvised earth warming party, don’t wake me up at 5AM either. It might be the last thing you’ll ever do.

In Bali, a fair part of everyday life happens around the dreaded 5AM and surprisingly, it doesn’t even feel as a criminal offense. Here’s my Bali High 5.

When you want to do some decent surfing, you have to wake up at 5AM. The wind is low, and the waves are perfectly defined in the surf. When I was surfing, I got at the sea around 9AM, that’s probably why there are not spectacular surf pictures to show here. This whole surfing activity is not the calling of my life. Catching a wave makes me think of making love on a riding motor bike. Technically, it’s not impossible, but why all the hassle to have a good time? I gave it a try… the surfing, that is. J  

IMG_0972.JPG

When I went to see the sunrise at Mount Batur, a holy volcano, it happened at 5AM. You have to wake up around 3AM and climb in the dark for about 2 hours. For the ones who make it, the treat is a breathtaking view, a true waaaaw moment.

 IMG_0987.JPG

 

IMG_1013.JPG

In the east of Bali, there are some really good dive spots, but to make it there in time (due to the crazy, unexplainable traffic jams) you have to wake up at… yes 5AM to make it in time. The shipwreck we visited was well worth it. Too bad that around 15.000 other divers had the same idea that day, causing another, underwater, traffic jam. The second dive (down to 29m deep, my personal record), that followed an underwater cliff was nice, and I saw an octopus moon walking over the sea bottom.

 

  DSC01286.JPG

IMG_1257.JPG

When Yon (my cool, Balinese guide) and I went for a overnight camping stay on a deserted mountaintop Hindu monastery, we were woken up by noisy monkeys and cold toes at … 5AM. The free style hike, the religious offering at night and again, the dazzling sunrise were well worth the pain.

 IMG_1091.JPG

IMG_1121.JPG

IMG_1137.JPG

Luckily, 5AM is probably a Gemini, because it has another, late side as well. We celebrated Tom’s birthday in Sky Garden (whoehoe) with an amazing, improbable five some (Betta, Vivie, Fred, Tom & myself). Great night, nice encounters! Thanks guys for tuning my Bali-stay into what it has become!

 

 IMG_0958.JPG

My Bali High 5, like the five points of the eternal Bintang-star.

 IMG_1253.JPG

wwwouter

Ps. I also discoverd why Balenese hairdressers only charge $5 for a hair cut. It's probably because they only leave 5mm of hair on your head, whatever you ask them...

 

HAIRCUT.jpg 

12:07 Gepost door Wouter* | Permalink | Commentaren (0) |  Facebook |

11-10-10

069 / Where’s Waly? In Bali.

069 / Where’s Waly? In Bali.


Asian people are sometimes describe as people without a sense of irony and humor… Everybody knows that stereotyping is a bad thing. Travelling generally makes you aware of the differences, and within a couple of weeks in smelly trains, cold water showers and late night discussion, I’ll be ready to ask everybody to stop stereotyping once and for all. At the same time it is everybody’s responsibility not to reinforce the already existing stereotypes. Otherwise, the vow of non-stereotyping becomes virtually impossible! One story to illustrate my point.

When I just arrived in Jakarta on Wednesday evening, flights for Denpasar (Bali) were finished for the day, so I had to make an overnight stop in Indonesia’s dusty, concrete megalopolis. After a rip off taxi ride to Jalan Jaksa (the only backpacker area in town) and a check-in in the smallest hotel room in my life (3m²), I was ready for some food around midnight. I decide to go into a seriously local eatery: Plastic chairs, white TL lightening, a fan that turn in a three dimensional field, the regulars who think they own the place, menus that outdate the fall of the Iron Curtain... the works. After a couple of minutes, a guy with more moustache then teeth engages in some small talk. After the mandatory saying that I’m from Belgium, that this really is a country, that it’s close to France and that my name is Wouter Wouter Wouter Wouter say again Wouter, he tells me without blinking that he’s eating dog. Very good. Very good.
True, I wasn’t going to change my Nasi Goring order to have a piece of Chihuahua, but it didn’t really shock me too much either. To entertain myself (another skill that being on the road sharpens), I show the guy a picture of Siska (our dog in Belgium, the country close to France) and put on a sad face.

IMG_2243.jpg

My new best friend of the evening started to feel slightly uncomfortable, and shifted around on his chair, wondering to what extend he had broken my heart. I realized that I had to abort my game, and tried to get out of it by saying, obviously joking “20 push-ups”. What happens after left me speechless. The guy got up without looking at me, and started to do the push-ups in the middle of the restaurant… A random dog that was laying on the floor showed only a vague interest in the events. Little did he know I was safeguarding his offspring…

In the morning, Lion Air took me for $50 to Bali, home of the eternal surfer, the Bintang wife beater shirt, 78% of the people of Australia and the memories of a thousand honeymooners. I was happy to go to a place where I was planning on staying for at least a week (a record since the trip started). I arrived in Kuta in the evening, just in time to catch a glimps of the sun’s dazzling eye shadow.

IMG_0691.JPG


The next day, I woke up in a happy mood, I planned on meeting interesting people where I would go surf & party with, and planned on getting a scooter and cruising the island… Mainly planning, I saw it all happening in my head, and I felt excited… It was an odd day where I basically just sat and waited for things to happen, and guess what? They don’t. My babic and Nike were right, you have to make your own day, DO stuff. So I went online (gotta love these modern, wifi travel possibilities) and wrote some locals via Couchsurfing. I luckily stumbled upon Betta, a cool jungle school bamboo guard with an attitude and some time to spend. On Friday, we went for dinner and ended the night in Sky Garden, an overheated notorious nightclub.

 
The day after, we decided to go to Ubud, a small town inland in Bali that has recently been voted “best city in Asia” (and offered the scenery for the movie Eat, Love, Pray). If Fertile was a country, Ubud would be it’s capital. It’s warm, and humid and you have the impression there is so much vegetation, that it almost literally flight in the air. It feels like a tri-athlete doing yoga: zen, powerful, trustworthy, welcoming. It’s the tropics at it’s best. We met with Tom, currently a surf instructor, and Fred, his longtime friend who’s a consultant. Both are German. Together, we formed a quite unlikely and cool squad. We played pool, discovered the best places to drink Balinese coffee and eat all sorts or preparations of pig (Oh, holy Babi Gurung…) and laughed a lot. I slept on Betta’s friend’s house, just next to the river. A beautiful place to wake up in. The Germans and I went for a 10 km hike in the rice fields around Ubud in the morning. We only got lost once, but we were man (i.e. stubborn) enough to not admit it and to try an experimental short cut through the jungle. Off the beaten track. Correction, Off the track altogether.

IMG_0716.JPG

IMG_0745.JPG

IMG_0763.JPG

IMG_0772.JPG

IMG_0786.JPG

IMG_0799.JPG


After lunch we visited the Green School, an award winning, Steiner inspired all natural, all sustainable school that is entirely made out of bamboo, ideology and astronomical tuition rich expats pay to get their children in. Funny detail: The principal’s office offers an excellent view on the mud pool where minor children perform martial arts. Not sure this would still be allowed in Belgium (the country, close to France…)

IMG_0836.JPG

IMG_0839.JPG


wwwouter

18:44 Gepost door Wouter* | Permalink | Commentaren (1) |  Facebook |