Switzerland: Scenery and Food

Switzerland is famous for its mountains, crystal clear lakes, chocolate, cuckoo clocks and yodelling. The majority of this trip was undertaken in April 2012 with a small group of friends, taking in a number of the iconic towns, spectacular mountain scenery with a visit to a cheese (Gruyère) and chocolate (Cailler) factories. Enjoy!

The best ways to see Switzerland is by public transport with trains seamlessly connected to buses, boats and cable cars. The Golden Pass route goes between Lucerne and Montreux, which was our main mode of transport, at certain times, the route has panoramic coaches which has extended height windows, while at other times, there are the standard intercity or local Swiss trains.


We arrived in Lucerne via the main airport in Zurich and connected to Lucerne via a train (which was unusual in that was 30 minutes later than scheduled!)

Lucerne is a small and beautiful city (population-718,000), with two wooden bridges, (originally built in the 14th century) spanning the river and linking the two sides of the town. The old town (Altstadt) is picture-postcard Switzerland with a backdrop of a lake, mountain and bridge.

Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) is a covered wooden footbridge spanning the river Reuss diagonally, it dates back to the 14th century and in its 17th-century roof panels (Painter: Hans Heinrich Wägmann) has important events from Swiss history and mythology.

Löwendenkmal (Lion Monument) is a 10-m long sculpture of a dying lion (Sculptor: Lukas Ahorn) to commerate the Swiss soldiers who died defending King Louis XVI during the French Revolution

Lake Lucerne has a number of villages/towns dotted along the shoreline with the snow-capped mountains providing numerous classic Switzerland photographic opportunities, A boat trip on the Lake was a great (if slightly chilly) way of absorbing the scenery of mountains and lakes.

One caution, it the number of day-trippers that seem to flood the chocolate and souvenir
shops in the afternoon.

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Interlaken and Ringgenberg

We travelled from Lucerne to Interlaken by train (part of the Golden Pass route). it is best to
sit on the right-hand side of train; as this has the spectacular views of the lakes.

From Interlaken, we went to Ringgenberg (approximately 20 minutes by bus from Interlaken station). Ringgenberg overlooks Lake Brienz (Brienzersee), another crystal clear and beautiful lake. We visited Ringgenberg Church, built-in 1670 in the ruins of Ringgenberg Castle (first built 1230) and we’re lucky to have it all to ourselves.

The pictures below were captured using a variety of camera modes and anchored to the castle walls! My heart stopped more than once trying to anchor the camera; so I hope you enjoy the results!

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Lauterbrunnen and Staubbachfall

Lauterbrunnen (population 2,452) is a small village, nestled in a valley with 72 waterfalls. With late April, between its winter and summer tourist seasons; it was quieter than we expected.

Our hotel room balcony had a view of Jungfrau, which would have been a great way to spend a lovely spring afternoon and evening if it wasn’t for the strong smell of cow manure!

Staubbach Falls (Staubbachfall) is a 297-m waterfall which has a beautiful ultra-mist spray that drifts across the cliff face, up close it is a much more solid body of water,

At Hotel Oberland, we were able to enjoy the Swiss favourite, the fondue complete with
garlic, mushrooms and onions.

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Jungfraujoch and Kleine Scheidegg

Dressed in our warmest clothes, we purchased our tickets up to Jungfraujoch; which in the end totalled 137 CHF (or 100 GBP)! We then boarded the trains to the highest station in Europe from 796 m (Interlaken) to 3,454m (Jungfraujoch). The journey takes about 2 hours; despite being able to see Jungfrau from our hotel balcony!

2012 was the 100 year anniversary of the opening of Jungfraujoch, with the train passing through tunnels deep inside the Eiger mountain. Designed as a tourist attraction and took over 16 years to build. Although, I’m sure that with today’s environmental impact statements it would never be built!

Jungfraujoch is in the Bernese Alps, connecting the peaks Jungfrau and Mönch, at an elevation of 3,466 metres (11,371 ft) above sea level. It is a glacier saddle, on the upper snows of the Aletsch Glacier. It is an amazing feeling to sit on a series of 3 warm trains and suddenly emerge at the edge of a glacier.

From the Inside (i.e. warm) viewing platforms, it is possible to get sweeping views of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and Aletsch Glacier fields, the meteorological station called the Sphinx and the valleys of Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald.

We braved the snow, cold winds to walk on the terraces despite some being closed due to snowfalls. The Ice Palace had ice sculptures carved in small caves within the main complex!

After a hearty lunch of wurst and rosti at Kleine Scheidegg (2,061-m), we attempted to down the mountain to Grindelwald. However, the paths were closed due to the volume of snow so it was to be the train back instead.

Grindelwald is a small town (population 3,740), though larger than Lauterbrunnen. We indulged in the chocolate shop of Läderach was still open! I definitely suggest the Champagne and Cognac batons if you are anywhere in Switzerland.

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Mürren and Gimmewald

Mürren is a traditional village, with views of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau which has no public road which leads to it. While it has a population of 450, it has 2,000 hotel beds!

The cable car took us to Grütschalp (1,487m), then the train to Mürren (1,684 m). With the cable car to Schilthorn closed due to the strong winds, we changed our destination to Gimmewald.

The walk between Mürren and Gmmewald is a beautiful one, with snow-covered front gardens, waterfalls, avalanche defences, grazing cows, countless pinecones and of course a snow
capped mountain or two!

After a picnic lunch at Gimmewald with against a background of the Swiss Alps; we took the cable car to Stechelberg (922m). One of the most spectacular cable-car rides, with a single pylon and a sheer drop of about 500m against with the roar of waterfalls and the wind tossing the
cable car; it was definitely a memorable 10 minutes!

The walk back to Lauterbrunnen followed the river and involved crossing a stream, note to self for next time; bring and wear waterproof shoes!

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The journey from Lauterbrunnen to Gruyères took approximately 4 hours and involved 4 different trains with all the connections seamless.

Gruyères is a town (population 1,789) set on a hill with cobbled streets. It has a picturesque castle surrounded by green pastures dotted with grazing cows.

Dinner was a fantastic fondue, with only cheese being Vacherin and was topped off with the other Gruyères staple of meringue served with double cream and fresh strawberries. Sorry, no pictures as we were too hungry this time!

Breakfast was described as “hearty” by the hotel, what they omitted to mention was that it included the specialities of Gruyere cheese and meringue! In the interest of research, we had to sample the various aged Gruyere on offer and the meringue with fresh strawberries and “yoghurt”, which looked surprisingly like the double cream we had the previous

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Gruyère Cheese – La Maison du Gruyère

The tour of the cheese factory at La Maison du Guyère was an audio tour with Cherry the cow as our “guide”, some interesting facts that we learn:
– Each cow eats 100kg of grass and 85L of water a day to produce 25L of milk
– 12 litres of milk is used to produce 1kg of cheese
– 5.7 million litres of milk is the certified AOC production of Gruyere, of which two thirds are consumed within Switzerland

We were able to see the cheesemakers at work through the various stages of production and the sample at the end was 3 small pieces of 6, 8 and 10 months Gruyere. We couldn’t agree on a favourite, so you will just have to try all of them and make your own mind up!

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Chocolate Factory – Cailler Broc

Next stop, the chocolate factory of Cailler (at Broc Fabrique), the oldest brand in Switzerland, owned by Nestle since 1929. Our tour included a history of chocolate, Cailler and a glimpse into the production process.

The highlight of the tour was, of course, the tastings at the end. Cailler offered unlimited samples of some of the chocolates that they make, a tip when you next visit; hold off until get to the Ambassador range – they are by far the best………..

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The train journey from Broc to Montreux is spectacular, going along and through the mountains before descending to Lake Geneva and Montreux; this time sit on the left-hand side!

Lausanne’s old town was a solid climb from the train station; after we almost got to Old Town; we found at least 3 different metro stations! There is a panoramic view of the city from just outside the Cathedral.

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Montreux and Château de Chillon

After a breakfast of bakery treats and coffee on the shores of Lake Geneva, we strolled along the famed Chemin Fleuri (Floral Path) along the shores of Lake Geneva.

Château de Chillon dates back to the Bronze Age and made famous by the Romantic poets including Lord Byron in the 19th century. The castle has a stunning position on Lake Geneva, with a 13th-century fortress with a maze of courtyards, towers, and halls with armoury, furniture and artwork.

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Travel Dates: 24 April to 30 April 2012

#travel, #nature, #landscapes, #adventure, #travelmore, #cheese, #chocolate

Ecuador: Quito City

Quito – Bus Tour

The Quito City Tour with its live commentary in Spanish and English was a great backdrop as we drove through the downtown districts of La Mariscal (country homes of the rich in the 19th Century, now full of restaurants and bars), Americas in the Old Town (so named for the streets named for American cities and countries).

Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco
Alexandre Pétion Statue
Statue, Old Town
Quito – The Modern section
Old Town looking towards Mirador el Panecillo
Traffic crossing the city

Our bus ride up to the 41-metre tall statue of La Virgen de Quito (complete with a crown of stars, angel wings and a chained dragon) at Mirador el Panecillo, involved our double-deck bus having to do a slight reverse and a sharp right onto oncoming traffic to go up the hill. There were houses on the hillside with corrugated iron walls and an outdoor laundry room.

La Virgen de Quito
La Virgen de Quito

From Mirador el Panecillo, the viewing platform gave a spectacular view of the city especially the old town. La Virgen de Quito is one of the largest aluminium statues in the world it made for a beautiful and towering backdrop.

Old Town and Basilica del Voto Nacional
La Virgen de Quito

As we made our way through the old town (particularly on Calle Paseo De la 24 de Mayo and Calle de La Muralla de San Francisco), we were caught in a traffic jam for the next 45 minutes. It was a great opportunity to observe how people live, a large range of items could be done purchased without leaving the footpath with fruit (cherries, grapes, watermelons and papayas), snacks (sweet rice balls, empanadas, nuts with lime and chilli), ice cream vendors with push-carts (who churned by hand and kept cool using large blocks). One-piece monkey suits, tracksuits, keys and cigarettes, clothes and footballs were all on offer.

Christmas parade, Old Town
Old Town traffic jam
Taking in the sunshine
A traditional “backpack”
Vegetable stand
Fruit Stand
Tea towels, anyone?
Clothes stall
Sweet treats
Grapes and cherries re-seller
Citrus re-seller
Snack seller
Hand churned ice-cream, on a giant ice block
Quito street food
Old Town traffic jam
Old Town traffic jam

The residents of the Old Town had a variety of uses for their narrow balconies including a garden of flowering plants, yard for a small dog to run around, balcony for the grandchild to watch the traffic jam go past and a way to get into the Christmas spirit.

The streets as a playground
Christmas spirit
Doggy day-care

The cause of the traffic jam was the last day of school before Christmas, with each child leaving with a free lunch courtesy of the school, some of which was eaten at the school gate.

School’s out
Free Christmas lunch

Ecuadorian Lunch

We had a traditional Ecuadorian lunch at Mama Clorinda.

Starter: Shrimp and fish ceviche: full of lime, chilli and onion – delicious!

Main: Grilled chicken had the smashed fried potato, beetroot and avocado – yum!

Shrimp and fish ceviche
Grilled chicken with smashed fried potato, beetroot and avocado

Centro de Arts Contemporáneo

Centro de Arts Contemporáneo is a beautifully resorted formerly military hospital modernised with glass while retaining the courtyard and stunning arches.

Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo
Centro de Arts Contemporáneo

Basilica del Voto Nacional

Basilica del Voto Nacional (Iglesia La Basilica), a huge Gothic church visible from El Panecillo (lookout); it has beautiful stained glass and a highly decorated chapel which was closed. The exterior of the church is decorated with turtles, iguanas, monkeys and pelicans.

Basilica del Voto Nacional
Basilica del Voto Nacional
Basilica del Voto Nacional
Stained glass, Basilica del Voto Nacional
Basilica del Voto Nacional
Gargoyle, Basilica del Voto Nacional
Iguana gargoyle, Basilica del Voto Nacional
Aardvark gargoyle, Basilica del Voto Nacional
Tortoise gargoyle, Basilica del Voto Nacional
Monkey gargoyle, Basilica del Voto Nacional

Travel date: 22 December 2018

Sydney: Streets of Newton

In October 2017, I ventured into the streets of Sydney as part of a community college course on Urban Street Photography. Newtown is a diverse, bohemian neighbourhood that bustles with activity day and night. There are independent shops, cinemas, second-hand shops, a craft brewery and on Saturday a flea market. Newton is also famous for its street art, colourful characters and cafe scene. Hope you enjoy the famous Newton vibe.

Street Art

Street art in Newton

People of Newton

Cafe scene in Newton

Adani Protest

In 2017, there were a number of protests organised throughout Australia to put pressure on the government to stop the proposed Carmichael coal mine in the north of the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland, Australia.

Local personality

Date: 07 October 2017

Ecuador: Galapagos Photo Gallery

Galapagos Landscapes

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Galapagos Sea Lions

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Galapagos Land Birds

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Galapagos Sea Birds

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Galapagos Marine Life

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Galapagos Reptiles

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Fish Market – Isla Santa Cruz

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#buckletlist; #Galapagos; #travel; #nature; #landscape; #adventure; #intrepidtravel

Travel dates: 23 December 2018 to 02 January 2019

Peru: Hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu

Introducing Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is one of the most famous sights in South America and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is a 15th-century Inca citadel, located in southern Peru, around 80 kilometres northwest of Cusco. It sits on a 2,430 metre (7,970 ft) mountain ridge, close to the Urubamba River which has created a canyon with a tropical mountain climate.

Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). It was built around 1450 but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish conquest. While known by the local Quechua people, it was not known to the Spanish during the colonial period and remained unknown to the outside world until American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention in 1911.

Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its three primary structures are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. Most of the outlying buildings have been reconstructed in order to give visitors a better idea of how they originally appeared.

Why hike to Machu Picchu?

The most popular hiking trail leading to it (commonly called the Inca trail) is also one of the most iconic hikes in the world. There are other ways to reach Machu Picchu including The Salcantay Route (5 – 8 day hike), the Lares Route (3 – 5 days hike) and the relaxed option (train and bus from Cusco, a 3 hr and 20 minute train ride and 15 minute bus ride).

I chose to undertake the multi-day hike, to challenge my boundaries. I had never hiked for more than 1 day or at altitude! In order to have a good chance of making in one piece, I had to undertake several months of preparation in the form of treadmills and stairclimbing at the gym. While I didn’t manage to be completely diligent in preparing for the hike, I was still glad for the preparation that I managed and happy that the tour had included some time at altitude.

The Inca Trail – Day 1 (Piskacuchu to Wayllabamba)

My hiking adventure started with a 3.30 am wake up call in Cusco and a bag check. Each hiker is allowed a duffel bag which must contain a sleeping bag and any personal items with to a maximum of 7 kilograms; which carried by the porters. Anything needed for that day and any additional weight is carried by the hiker. At 4.30 am, the bus started to wind its way through the pitch-black mountain roads with only the occasional shack visible through the diffused beam of the bus’ headlights.

Our first destination of the day was the last provision shops that we would see for the next few days, a chance to pick up that last chocolate bar, a packet of chips or a bottle of soft drink.

Before we could begin the hike, it was necessary to brief the hikers and porters and organise the supplies. For our group of 16 hikers, we had 2 guides, 3 cooks and 16 porters! The duffle bags, individual, communal and kitchen tens, tables, chairs, food and cooking gas had to be weighted and distributed among the 16 porters with each carrying a maximum of 25 kilograms. The porters were from the same local village, their main job was farming and to supplement their household income, they would complete the Inca trail hike once a month.

As the Inca Trail has a maximum of 500 people are allowed on the trail each day, (200 trekkers, the rest being guides and porters), the starting point was a hike of activity with all the different groups of porters and hikers getting organised and National Park officials checking each package.

Finally, around 10 am, we finally ready to kick off the Inca Trail hike!

Our starting point was the 82-kilometre mark Piscacucho at 2,600 metres (8,500 ft) altitude; where our passports were checked by the National Parks staff.

At the start of the Inca trail hike
Donkeys and railway lines
Donkeys taking a break
Hut along the Inca trail

The trail wound its way through farmland, rising and falling with the contours of the land. We shared the trail with donkeys laden with produce on its way to the market or returning with the farmer from the nearest village.

Rio Urubamba – Inca trail, Day 1
Rio Urubamba – Inca trail, Day 1

After a few hours of hiking, we stopped for lunch in a small village. The cooks and porters had overtaken us on the trail and prepared our lunch which we ate in a dining tent… Now let’s be clear, lunch was not a sandwich which had seen better days after being transported on a porter’s bag, it was pan-fried fish with rice and vegetables! After lunch, cutlery and crockery were washed and packed and we set off for our overnight camp.

Patallaqta (also called Llaqtapata)

Patallaqta (or Llaqtapata) is a site used for religious and ceremonial functions, crop production, and housing for soldiers from the nearby hilltop site of Willkaraqay, an ancient pre-Inca site first inhabited around 500 B.C.

I was the last to arrive at camp, around 5 pm… The porters had of course, not only overtaken the group but had set up our tents as well as the dining tent (which they would later sleep in). A pitched and dry tent was certainly a welcome sight and when I took off my hiking shoes; I could almost hear my feet thanking me!

We camped under the shadow of the mountain we were climbing the next morning, the famous Warmi Wañusqa (“Dead Woman’s Pass”). At 4,215 meters above sea level, it would be the highest point I had ever hiked at and was definitely in the altitude sickness territory, not an experience I was looking forward to.

Donkey feeding on the trail
Donkey feeding on the trail

Eventually, I summed up the courage to brave the toilet facilities, a “long drop” toilet (a facility without the benefit of solid floors, walls, lighting and running water)… I will leave you to imagine the rest.

The Inca Trail – Day 2 (Wayllabamba to Paqaymayo)

The second day started at 5 am, with a gentle tap on the tent flap. The porters were up long before us and provided us with a pan of hot water and a warm breakfast before starting just before 6 am on the hike. The day’s objective was to ascend just over 1,000 metres, cross Warmi Wañusqa and descend approximately 600 metres to Pakaymayu.

Warmi Wañusqa (“Dead Woman’s Pass”) from Wayllabamba
Warmi Wañusqa (“Dead Woman’s Pass”)
Waterfall – Inca trail Day 2

Initially, it was possible to just walk up slowly without getting too out of breath, then it became harder and harder. With the power over the mind becoming more important than the legs and lungs, I forced myself to count the steps, only allowing myself to only stop when I got to 50. About a hundred metres below the pass, this dropped to 20.

Steps towards Warmi Wañusqa (“Dead Woman’s Pass”)

Finally, after 5 hours of a constant and steady uphill climb, I finally made it up to Warmi Wañusqa (“Dead Woman’s Pass”)! It was an achievement that I am proud of the highest that I ever climbed on foot, and one I remind myself of when a city street feels a bit steep….

At Warmi Wañusqa (“Dead Woman’s Pass”)
Warmi Wañusqa (“Dead Woman’s Pass”) at 4,215 metres above sea level
View from At Warmi Wañusqa (“Dead Woman’s Pass”)
View from At Warmi Wañusqa (“Dead Woman’s Pass”)

Almost immediately, the 600m vertical descent began. The way down was via large stone steps dating from the Inca period around 1400. While the hiking poles were useful, my knees (and two blackened toenails) have never been the same since.

That night, the cooks managed to “bake” a gluten-free birthday cake for one of the hikers with the rudimentary cooking equipment. It was delicious and one something I expected to eat on the Inca trail.

The Inca Trail – Day 3 (Paqaymayo to Wiñay Wayna)

The third day of the hike was to be the longest, around 15 kilometres; ascending and descending across a number of valleys, high cloud forests, passing a number of Inca era towns and tambos (Quechua: tampu). A tambo was an Incan structure built for administrative and military purposes which contained supplies, served as lodging for itinerant state personnel and were depositories of quipu-based accounting records.

Quchapata (Lake)
View from Quchapata (Lake)
Sayaqmarka (“steep-place town”)
Sayaqmarka (“steep-place town”)
Ruins – Paqaymayo to Winaywayna
Flowers – Day 3 Inca trail

The lunch stop of Day 3, was a viewpoint from which we could see Agua Calientes and the mountain which hid Macchu Pichu; so near and yet so far!

Viewing point overlooking Agua Calientas

As you can imagine, it was a popular stop for lunch with quite a few other hiking groups also sharing the lookout; which makes for a temporary and bustling place.

Quecha village and our Day 3 lunch stop
Day 3 lunch stop for all hiking groups

I took the opportunity to carry the porter’s 25 kilograms pack, just standing up and walking a few steps was a challenge; one of the girls stood up and instantly fell backwards with the weight! The shoulder straps were slightly padded with no strap around the waist to distribute the weight and towered above. Most of the porters did the hike with flip flops or second-hand trainers with little or no sole.

Just managing to lift the porter’s load
The guys managed a hike up a few steps with their packs
Carved Inca Steps – Day 3, Inca trail
Flowers – Day 3, Inca trail
Narrow opening carved into the rock
A flat bit! – Day 3, Inca trail

Wiñay Wayna

Wiñay Wayna (2650 m) (Quechua for “forever young”, Hispanicized spelling Huiñay Huayna) is just 3 kilometres before Machu Picchu. It is built into a steep hillside overlooking the Urubamba River and consists of upper and lower house complexes connected by a staircase and fountain structures. Above and below the houses the people built areas of agricultural terraces or andenes, which are still visible.

Agricultural terraces at Wiñay Wayna
Upper housing complex – Wiñay Wayna
Wiñay Wayna

While Wiñay Wayna was on a much smaller scale than Macchu Picchu, we had the place all to ourselves and were able to wander through the buildings at will.

The campsite at Wiñay Wayna was the most populated and busiest, with access to alcohol and a hot shower!

The Inca Trail – The Final Push!

After a short sleep and a 4 am wake up call, we queued up, in the chilly early morning air with thermals. hat and gloves waiting for the gates to open at 5.30 a.m. As soon as the gates opened, there was a surge towards the Inti Punku or Sun Gate. There were some reckless people trying to pass us on the narrow path which had a rock face on one side and a several hundred-metre drop on the other.

The final push to The Sun Gate
The final push to The Sun Gate
Machu Picchu is visible at the Inti Punku or Sun Gate. Finally!!!

The view of Machu Picchu from above was amazing! Even though Machu Picchu looks small in distance and I look as if I was photoshopped it, I can assure you it is really is me!

The previous three days of hiking, the months of training before really made the first glimpse of it in the soft morning light a truly magical experience. Although, it was one of the most physically challenging experiences in my life it was totally worth it!

I did it! I completed the Inca Trail!

From the Inti Punku or Sun Gate, it was a relaxed downhill stroll to the actual site of Machu Picchu. Being a hiker, meant that we were one of the first on-site and got to enjoy some of the buildings before it got too crowded.

Machu Picchu
Residential section – Machu Picchu
llamas at Machu Picchu
llama overseeing their kingdom at Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu
Residential section – Machu Picchu
Residential section – Machu Picchu
Residential section – Machu Picchu
Residential section – Machu Picchu
llama at Machu Picchu
llama at Machu Picchu
Residential building at Machu Picchu
Tower at Machu Picchu
llama at Machu Picchu

#buckletlist; #Incatrail; #Machu Picchu; #travel; #nature; #landscape; #adventure; #intrepidtravel

Travel date: 05 – 08 May 2011

Isla Espanola

Isla Espanola landscape © Jin Liew

Isla Espanola is a dramatic island with cliffs rising in the south and its position in the south-east of the archipelago. It is one of the oldest, dating to approximately four million years and due to the flatness of the island, it is the driest of these islands, with only a few inches of rain per year.

Isla Espanola © Linda Hartskeerl
Isla Espanola © Linda Hartskeerl
Isla Espanola – the high ground on the island

A group of young sea lions playing in the shallows of the harbour were guarded by a large (and loud) male in the deeper water.

Sea lions playing in the shallows – Isla Espanola

Due to its location and age, the animals on Isla Espanola have different characteristics to those on other islands. Isla Espanola’s marine iguanas are coloured red and green and love to gather in larger groups in order to share body heat and the morning sunlight.

Marine iguanas warming up – Isla Espanola © Linda Hartskeerl
Marine iguana – Isla Espanola © Linda Hartskeerl

Despite being late in the season there were a few groups of waved albatross which were nesting on the cliff tops. We spotted a protective mum guarding her infant and an individual shaking their feathers out.

Waved albatross – Isla Espanola
Waved albatross – Isla Espanola
Waved albatross – Isla Espanola © Linda Hartskeerl

With new bird identification skills, we spotted Nazca boobies (mother and chick), a Galapagos hawk (on the ground and in-flight), a brown ground finch and Hood mockingbird.

Brown pelican – Isla Espanola
American oyster catcher – Isla Espanola
Lava lizard – Isla Espanola
Sally light foot crab – Isla Espanola © Linda Hartskeerl

Bahia Gardner is the perfect picture postcard! It has a white sand beach with beautiful crystal clear waters, sea lions basking in the sand. The sand was small and wonderful underfoot, free of shells, seaweed and plastic. It quickly changes with large volcanic rocks halfway along the beach represented the limits of access.

Bahia Gardner – Isla Espanola © Linda Hartskeerl

The strict rules of the National Park were brought to life when a few members of our group unknowingly wandered beyond the marked area. Our guide had to radio back to the boat’s zodiac which was then dispatched to guide them back to the permissible area. This incident would then end up in the weekly report to the National Park from our guide and another guide who were also on the beach with us.

Bahia Gardner – Isla Espanola

While snorkelling off Isla Espanola we were close to a group of sea lions, a large male sea lion sent a clear message that we were too close and took a cheeky nip on the arm of group member. Watching a sea lion play underwater is really special, they are able to dive almost to the sea-floor, spin and quickly rise in a truly elegant display of underwater gymnastics!

Bahia Gardner – Isla Espanola

There were also sea turtles feeding on the seaweed near the bottom of the sea. We saw different types of fish in a few hundred meters depending on how close we were to the cliffs, the caves or the depth of the seafloor.

Bahia Gardner, Isla Espanola © Jin Liew

Sailing on in the evening, we were followed by a group of frigate birds, who were more than happy when the boat released some food scraps into the ocean.

#buckletlist; #Galapagos; #travel; #nature; #landscape; #adventure; #intrepidtravel

Travel date: 28 December 2018

Ecuador: Climbing Cotopaxi

Introducing Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi is an active stratovolcano in the Andes Mountains, located in the Latacunga canton of Cotopaxi Province, about 50 km (31 miles) south of Quito, Ecuador. On a clear day, Cotopaxi is visible on the skyline from Quito. It is the second-highest summit in Ecuador, reaching a height of 5,897 m (19,347 ft), it is one of the world’s highest volcanoes and is part of the chain of volcanoes around the Pacific plate known as the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Cotopaxi has an almost symmetrical cone that rises from a highland plain of about 3,800 m (12,470 ft), with a width at its base of about 23 km (14 mi). Although situated at the equator, it is one of the few mountains with a glacier, which starts at 5,000 m (16,400 ft). According to local Quechua language, “coto” means moon and “paxi” means neck. The mountain was honoured as a “Sacred Mountain” by local Andean people, even before the Inca invasion in the 15th century.

Since 1738, Cotopaxi has erupted more than 50 times, resulting in the creation of numerous valleys formed by lahars (mudflows) around the volcano. The last eruption lasted from August 2015 to January 2016, re-opening to climbers in October 2017.

Getting from Quito to Cotopaxi

Our journey from Quito, started with a 7 am meeting when our driver and guide checked that we had enough warm clothing as had seen snow a couple of days before on the mountain. Using the tried and tested method of layering, I managed to put together two t-shirts, a long sleeve shirt, a light puffy jacket, Gortex and a scarf (aka a beach sarong) for the hike up.

Unlike London or Sydney, it wasn’t the peak hour traffic across town that was the problem rather the traffic jam leaving the city which caused the gridlock; there were countless buses (they are in the process of building the metro system) and people were changing buses in the middle of intersections.

Cotopaxi National Park
Horses at Cotopaxi National Park
Cotopaxi National Park

From the national park entrance to the car park of Volcán Cotopaxi, it was a 7 km long winding and the partially paved road ended at 4,600 m (above sea level); from there the walk would continue on foot. Taking into consideration the lack of altitude hiking and equipment, reaching the summit was never a realistic objective for that day. My goal for the day was the Refugio José Rivas which at 4,864 m (above sea level); which is the point from which hikers start off at midnight to reach the summit for sunrise.

With my only previous experience of hiking at altitude being Macchu Picchu where I was able to acclimatise to being at altitude over a couple of weeks; the hike up to Refugio after being at altitude for less than 24 hours was always going to be a stretch. Although we tried to counteract some of the effects of the altitude with Diamox about 36 hours before it definitely was not enough.

Summit of Cotopaxi
View of Refugio José Rivas and Cotopaxi from the carpark

The journey towards the Refugio was a slow and careful one, the recent (2015/16) volcanic eruption deposited a lot of loose rock, which meant that for each step up; you would slide back a couple of centimetres. Using the same method that had got me through the Inca trail, I would count out 50 steps and steps before allowing myself to stop; and would be overtaken by mountain bikers who were hiking with their bike in one hand. I also met a group of Ecuadorians who were practising for a summit in 6 weeks and had already run/hiked from the lake about 2 hours away and several hundred metres in altitude without water and in gym wear (rather than hiking wear).

Mountain biking – the hard way up Cotopaxi
Looking up at Refugio José Rivas and Cotopaxi summit © Linda Hartskeerl

Although I didn’t reach the Refugio, I probably got about 2/3 of the way up from the carpark, so probably just under 4,800 m (above sea level) and it was the highest altitude that I have ever been! There was still a magnificent view of the snow-covered top of Cotopaxi. I will have to make it back and attempt the climb with more preparation and the right gear!

Almost the highest point that I got to on Cotopaxi, © Linda Hartskeerl
Looking down Cotopaxi, © Linda Hartskeerl

A 30-minute drive down the mountain to Laguna de Limpiopungo (3,800 m above sea level), was a great way to properly see Volcán Cotopaxi in context; the shifting clouds made it quite tricky to get a decent picture. The lake itself was calm with wildflowers and birdlife just off the paths and mercifully free of other tourists and hikers.

Wild flower at Laguna de Limpiopungo
Wild flower at Laguna de Limpiopungo
Bird on Laguna de Limpiopungo © Linda Hartskeerl
View of Laguna de Limpiopungo © Linda Hartskeerl

Lunch at La Posada del Chagra in Machachi; a traditional Ecuadorian restaurant was a definite highlight. My first course was a traditional potato soup with pig organs garnished with dried pig’s blood, avocado, tomato and onion topped off with a homemade hot sauce. While the main course was pork with smashed potato, fried plantain, large white corn and pork crackling.

Traditional Ecuadorian potato soup
Side salad garnished with dried pig’s blood
Pork with smashed potato, fried plantain, large white corn and pork crackling

In sharp contrast was dinner, where we carried on with the Ecuadorian theme but this time ended up with a “Caesar Salad” with lettuce, grated plastic cheese, half a slice of bread and what tasted like a cup of cheap white vinegar (definitely not vinaigrette dressing).

#travel; #nature; #landscape; #adventure; #hiking

Travel date: 21 December 2018