Quiet days

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View of the Floodplain with dark clouds approaching

Lately this blog has become quiet and so has my life. Helping at Mukolo Camp, a newly developing campsite in the Zambezi region, has been nice but uneventful. With a view of the Kawango floodplain we are visited daily by a variety of birds and sometimes even otters and crocodiles, but not a lot of people. For the first time in Namibia there are many trees and countless shades of green, but the temperatures have dropped and and most days now are rainy and grey.

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Unfortunately I don’t often get to use the swimming pool

My days are usually spent ironing linen, painting signs or (my favorite activity) working with wood to help build furniture for the self-catering cabins. Slowly, Henni is realizing that even as a woman I can be  trusted with tools and his wife Veronica is making sure we get fed well. Lately though the southafrican volunteer Travis and me have started to take turns preparing dinner every now and then which is nice for a change.

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One of my first jobs: writing on a Mukolo (wooden canoe)

The evenings end early and are filled with the constant noise of countless frogs. If we get lucky, the hippos even come to visit us and we can watch them from the terrace. But after dinner there is a habit of everyone taking up a book or their phone and this is starting to bore me. I am missing lively chats and new people, slowly realizing just how important having a social life is for me! I love nature and it has been lovely here, but I think it is getting time to move on. I need to be on the road again, hopefully meeting lots of people along the way. Luckily there is only a week left of my visa and time here until I cross the border to Botswana and I am already excited to see what new experiences this country will bring…

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One of the smaller but nonetheless beautiful animals here

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It wouldn’t be Namibia if there weren’t colorful sunsets

Four things that surprised me about Namibia

It’s been over a month since I have landed in Windhoek, the modern capital of this dusty country and so many things have happened since then that I barely know where to start. I went on an insane road trip with my family, spent some lovely days couchsurfing in the capital, lived through a turbulent week at my fist workaway host and moved on to another place where I now help to keep the kids of a summer holiday camp busy. I could tell you a lot about the adventures with my family, my workaway trouble or the fun we are having at the camp, but I think I’ll save that for later.

Because when I came to Namibia I didn’t know too much about the country and though I read up a bit about its nature and climate, history and current state my image of the country was very blurry and there were many thing that turned out to be different than expected. So here are four of the things that surprised me quite a bit:

How sparsely it is populated

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No car coming anyways…

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The vastness of Namibia is impressive

Have you ever wanted to put your name on a map? Fancy founding a village all by yourself? Move to Namibia to make your dream come true! Although I knew before that Namibia only had 2.3 million inhabitance I really didn’t realize what that meant for a country this size. From travelling in South America I am already used to bus rides of many hours without seeing any trace of human life, but in Nalibia this was taken to a whole other level. Driving with my parents we would look on the tourist map (scale 1:2 000 000) thinking the next village would be of a decent size – why else would its name be printed bold and underlined? Furthermore is was marked to have a gas station and shops. Well. Turns out a gas station (with a tiny shop inside) is pretty much what makes a village in Namibia.

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Village shop in Damaraland

Add a lodge or a house for the workers and there you have your village. Maybe the closest farms and lodges officially belong to this village, but in reality they are probably quite far away. Just to give you an idea, my first workaway host owned 17 000 hectare land – and this is normal outside of cities and villages. In Peru and Bolivia you will find small shops and markets that sell you almost anything in the middle of nowhere, but in Namibia a lot of people have to drive more than 100km to do their weekly grocery shopping – on roads that only allow you to drive about 50km per hour. So yes – Namibia is about as vast and unpopulated as it gets.

How many animals you can see

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A small antelope watching us in Etosha

Naturally I expected to see some game – it’s Namibia after all, but I totally underestimated the amount of animals you see on a regular basis here. Just driving along any road you may spot oryx, springbock, zebras, giraffes, monkeys and many other mamals. One evening when we were having dinner a desert fox walked up and watched us for a long time – probably hoping to get some of our grilled meat. Another day I had to learn the hard way not to leave my shoes outside when a wild cat bit my trekking sandals in two while I was sleeping. It definitely adds a whole new aspect to camping (exciting and slightly scary) to know that wild animals might walk past your tent at night! And in the national parks wildlife reaches a whole different level: we spotted elephants, rhinos, buffalos, lions and even a cheetah with her baby. In Etosha there are so many animals that after a few days you almost start looking at herds of zebra with the same indifference as cows. If there is one thing the guidebooks are right about it’s that this country is incredible to spot wildlife!

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Two of about a million zebras we saw on our way through Namibia

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Sometimes small animals are just as impressive as big ones

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We were lucky enough to spot the lion king in Etosha

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These two Elephants were taking their time at the Okaukuejo water hole

How much land is fenced off

One of my favorite things to do when travelling is to explore cities, villages and especially nature by foot. Taking short walks or watching the sunset on top of a hill you just climbed. On long bus journeys in south America I often felt the urge to stop on the way and go explore and I was looking forward to do exactly that with our rental car. What I didn’t take into account were all the fences! Of course this partly has to do with people trying to keep animals and wild game on their land, but having a fence on both sides of the road definitely takes a bit of fun out of a road trip. From what I have seen so far it seems like most of the land is privately owned or managed as a national park. Of course once you’re on private land you don’t notice all the fences because single people own insane amounts of land, but when you drive from one place to another fences are omnipresent – hindering spontaneous explorations, picturesque lunchbreaks and good pictures of nearby game. So even though Namibia has hardly any inhabitance and a lot of incredible nature it is difficult to explore by yourself or get off the beaten path.

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Look at these beautiful mountains and the lovely fence in the front

How popular cycling is

In one of the driest countries in the world, where temperatures over 40 degrees are an almost daily occurrence, distances between villages are long and natural shade is basically non existent there is one thing I didn’t expect to see often: bicycles. Surprisingly though cycling is  super popular in Namibia. During the time with my family I counted five people travelling on their bikes – about the same amount I saw in 5 months in Southamerica. There were also countless locals cycling in full gear on dusty roads in the middle of nowhere. Cycling definitely is more of a sport than a means of transport here – but a popular one. A few days ago my Workaway host Ben took the summer camp children, other volunteers and me to see thousands of cyclists pass by on the two day FNB Desert Dash from Windhoek to Swakopmund. Crazy!

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Some of the crazy cyclists – don’t be fooled by the clouds, it was a super hot day!

 

Walking to Machu Picchu

It has been a while since my last blog post and there is a good reason for it: lots and lots of trekking. Though I have been in the Cuzco area for more than two weeks it feels like I only ever spend a day or two in the city to organize the next trek. My first trek in the area was the Salkantay and I started just one day after my arrival. In the hostel kitchen I met Thomas, Daniel and Camille who were preparing a delicous looking meal and when they told me about their plans to do both the Salkantay (on a dead cheap tour) and the Ausangate trail by themselves right after I instantly decided to join them.

The Salkantay turned out to be a nice and easy warm up for our further trekking plans and we ended up in a wonderfull group of people. The first two days were amazing with spectacular landscapes and despite hords of tourists with selfie sticks I see the reason why Machu Picchu is so popular. However, there were long parts walking on dirt roads to get there and I would not say that Machu Picchu was “the cherry on top of my journey”. I also realized that I much prefer trekking without a tour, although it was nice to only carry a daypack and not have to worry about food.

If you would like to get an impression of the Salkantay I recommend Isabels blog post. She was part of our group and writes about sustainable travel. Though she might have experienced a few things different than me she takes incredible pictures and you’ll get an impression of the trail in general.

 

Another day in the djungle

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The only way to our camp: a three hour boat ride

I wake up to the buzzing noise of the amazon djungle. Birds are singing, howler monkeys screaming in the distance and millions of diffenent insects humming in the woods surrounding me.  Although the bed is is only protected by a simple wooden structure and palm leaf roof I am safe from any bloodsuckers under my green moskito net. It’s been unusually cold in the last few days, so I am wraped up in two sleeping bags  and wearing my favourite lama wool socks.

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My temporary home in the djungle

I have no clue what time it is and haven’t looked at a clock for days, but as the first light of the day is shinging through thick green leafs I figure it is time to get up. I make my way to the kitchen and prepare a coffe – that is powdered milk, choclate powder and Nescafe with hot water. Jani, our cook and only other woman in the camp has already been up for hours  frying empanadas, pancakes and other delicious things for the tour groups. I hope the tourists aren’t too hungy today so I can steal some fruits from their buffet, because our breakfast is more typical for Bolivia and consists of meat and rice.

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“Dining room” and hammocks – the heart of the camp

Slowly the kitchen is filling up with tour guides and other people from the Max team. Though my spanish has become quite good by now it is difficult to follow all the inside jokes and people takling at the same time. Still I feel welcome and have learned most peoples names by now. After helping with the dishes and chilling in the hammocks for a bit I am told to work with Krieter. We start painting wooden chairs, but hardly 10 minutes later he grinns and proclaims that we are going fishing. The work can wait. We walk through the dense djungle with its immense mahogany trees – thick lianas hanging from their branches. Crossing coutless antroads we make our way to the river and look for a nice sunny place to comfortably sit down and wait for the fishes to bite.

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Krieter preparing the hook

The hooks are big and the pieces of meat seem exaggerated to me, but Krieter tells me the story of how he once caught a 25kg fish and he is determined to repeat the story today. I on the other hand don’t think that I’ll catch something, but it is nice to enjoy the sun and listen to Krieters tales. Despite being only 23 and a school education of less than two years he has seen and done a lot in his life. After growing up in a Tacana community in the djungel he left his family at only nine years of age to work on a farm and make some money. Like the other indigenous guides he knows his way well around the djungel and has an incredible gift of finding animals. We talk about travelling, other german volunteers he has met, relationships and obviously that time he saw a jaguar. In Rurrenabaque amongst travellers and guides alike this is the ultimate goal and popular topic of conversations. At this point in the conversation my attention for fishing is almost nonexistant, so I casually pull my string out of the water. To my surprise it is quite difficult and suddenly I realize that there is something pulling back. Something big! Krieter takes over and tells me to get my camera ready. I pull one last time and out comes – a turtle.

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My accidental catch

Krieter thinks this is hillarious while I start to feel sorry for the poor animal. The hook is deep in its throuat and turtles can bite fingers off so it takes Krieter quite a while to free the creature with a kitchen knife. After about 10 minutes it is finally free and we send the little fellow (he is “only” about 10 years old) back into the river.

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Krieter freeing the turtle with a kitchen knife and lots of patience

 I am done with fishing for now and we decide to head back for lunch. With the food another nice surprise awaits us: Lennard, another german volunteer has arrived. We instantly get along well, but sadly he steals the best job of the afternoon from me: clearing paths with a machete. Nevermind. I help Alvero make the beds in the beautiful tree houses and again most of our time is spent taking breaks and chatting. When it takes us 30 minutes to make four beds Alvero is convinced we are working too hard.

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The treehouse my tourgroup stayed in when I arrived

Although Alvero has been working is both the Pampas and the Selva (djungel) for years, he is still crazy about taking pictures. If I wouldn’t know better I would think he is the tourist! So I help take pictures of him in the djungle, in fron of a tree house, making the beds… After a while I get tired of being his personal photographer, but dinnertime comes and he helps me look for seeds to make jewelery.

We join up with Krieter and Lennard and despite my earlier fishing-fail the two convince me to try my luck again. And night fishing turns out to be a lot of fun! It already stars when Krieter stops a baby-boa hanging from a branch. Of course I don’t have my camera with me, but the little snake hangs still so we can observe it from all angles. At the beach we have a great view of the night sky while the river is flowing in front of us – aligator eyes reflecting the light of our headlamps. While fishing Lennard and me get to the topic of festivals (he has a Boom ticket too) and Krieter jokingly complains that we are turning into Israelis. Our chatter is interrupted though when Lennard pulls his string out of the water. He has caught a big fish with jaguar-like skin. This will stay the yield for today.

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The only picture I was able to take of Lennards fish before it got taken apart

Krieter says that the fish is delicious and that we’ll prepare it for breakfast – and I think how strange it is that we will be eating this beautiful fish that could be the hilight of any zoo aquarium in Germany. I have to admit though that I am curious how it will taste (spoiler: very good and non-fishy) and so we leave the big catch in the kitchen and happily head back to our beds where each of us crawls under their moskito net.

The amazon truly is amazing and there are new things to discover and animals to spot each day. We will see what the next day brings…

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A turtle I didn’t catch, but found on the ground another day

The Pampas – safari for lazy people

Djungle or pampas? This is the question most travellers ask when arriving in Rurrenabaque. Fortunately I am bad at making decisions, so when Melina and me arrived in the village we just went for both tours.

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This is how we spent three days: relaxing on a boat

While I totally fell in love with the amazon djungle and even returned to volunteer for a week (more about that in my next blog post), I have to admit that it takes patience and luck to see animals up closer there. In the pampas on the other hand you will even see tons of animals if you contantly scream or stupidly try to touch them as the israelis in our tourgroup proved.

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Pedro our aligator friend chilling by the boat

There were many activities like (unsucessfull) piranha fishing and anaconda searching, but the real attraction were the many animals everywhere. Most of our time was spent on a boat – watching animals, watching the sunset, watching the sunrise… We saw aligators, turtles, parrots and countless other beautiful birds, monkeys, carpinchos and even pink dolphins! I had to learn the hard way that swimming with dolphins is not as romantic as I thought when they bit my toe, but still it was amazing to have them accompany our boat and just float through this animal paradise.

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We got really close to some of the birds

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Proud eagle on a tree

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There were also some smaller animals – unfortunately including moskitos

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The many different monkeys were my personal hilight

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Yet another cute monkey

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The standard comment of our guide was: and this bird likes to eat fish

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The biggest bird we saw – it was easily as tall as a small human

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Crazy bird in the afternoon sun

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Sunrise over the pampas

Licancabur, wir kommen! [guest post by Melina]

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Blick auf den Licancabur hinter der smaragdgrünen Laguna Verde

Es klopft sacht an unsere Tür. Unser verschlafenes Gemurmel scheint nicht zu überzeugen, es klopft lauter. Es ist 2 Uhr nachts. Angesichts der Tatsache, dass wir gerade einmal  5 Stunden vorher schlafen gegangen sind frage ich mich, wer zur Hölle die Idee hatte auf diesen bescheuerten Vulkan zu klettern und wer zur Hölle beschlossen hat, dass das um 3 Uhr nachts passieren soll. Im ersten Fall gibt es 4 Verdächtige: Lea, Adrian, Ivan und mich! Zweiteres haben unsere beiden Guides Alvaro und Luis uns nahe gelegt….

Also gut, raus aus den Federn – im warsten Sinne des Wortes! Bei -10 Grad Aussentemperatur macht sich mein Daunenschlafsack im unbeheizten Hotel echt bezahlt. Unsere Köchin ist ein Schatz: Pfannkuchen mit Caramelcreme (Dulce de Leche) gehen selbst um 2.30 Uhr runter. Wasser und Obst stehen auch für alle bereit, ausserdem ein spezieller Kräutertee und Koka-Blätter gegen die Höhenkrankheit.

Das Objekt unserer Begierde, der Licancabur, misst stolze 5.920 Meter (in der Höhe, versteht sich). Ergänzt wird unsere Reisegruppe dann noch von zwei netten Schweizern, die aus Mangel an anderen Guides (die sie dann eh nicht gebraucht hätten) bei uns aufgenommen werden. Los geht`s!!! Ich finde es ganz schön kalt, habe ja keine Ahnung was uns noch erwartet…. Im Auto laufen die grössten Hits der 90er: Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys und Blink 182 sorgen für gute Laune, Vorfreude und Aufregung liegen in der Luft. Nach kurzer Fahrt erreichen wir den Fuss des Vulkanes auf ca. 4.300m Höhe.

Ausser einem spektakulären Sternenhimmel ist noch nicht viel zu sehen, alles liegt im Dunkeln. Das macht aber nix, dann können wir wenigstens nicht daran verzweifeln wie weit es noch ist, sondern uns schön auf die nächsten Schritte konzentrieren. Wie ein leuchtender Wurm schrauben wir uns Stück fuer Stück den Berg hinauf – das muss lustig aussehen aus der Ferne. Anfangs verläuft der Weg noch recht angenehm, dann wird er steiler, die Serpentinen enger. Noch sind wir optimistisch den Gipfel in den vorgesehenen 6 Stunden zu erreichen. Dann spaltet sich unsere Gruppe. Ivan fühlt sich der Höhe und der körperlichen Anstrengung nicht gewachsen und beschliesst mit einem unserer Guides abzusteigen. Unser zweiter Guide stapft weiter mit kleinen Schritten voran, verlässlich wie ein Uhrwerk!

Je höher wir kommen und je näher der Sonnenaufgang rückt, desto kälter wird es. Leas Trinkwassersystem gefriert und ich kriege trotz dicker Handschuhe, die mir die nette Schweizerin geliehen hat, dermassen kalte und steife Finger, dass ich meine Wasserflasche weder auf- noch zudrehen kann. Das Naseputzen habe ich mittlerweile mangels Taschentücher und motorischer Fähigkeiten auch aufgegeben…. Einfach laufen lassen! Gefriert eh sofort alles zu Eis!

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Nach dem Sonnenaufgang ein erster spektakulärer Ausblick

Lea und ich trotten schnaufend hinter den anderen her. Adrian, der gestern noch Magen-Darm hatte tippelt scheinbar leichtfüssig bergauf. Wie zur Hölle macht der das?!? Die Schweizer haben sich mittlerweile vom Guide die Erlaubnis geholt alleine weiter zu laufen. Bei unserem “Tempo” und der Anzahl benötigter Pausen, frieren die zwei sich halb zu tode. Ich dachte mal ich wäre sportlich… Naja, auf dem Gipfel werden wir sie wiedertreffen. Mittlerweile stellen wir fest, dass zwischen den fast 5.000m auf denen wir schon mal waren und fast 6.000m, denen wir Schritt für Schritt näher rücken, doch beachtliche Unterschiede zu verzeichnen sind. Nein, der Licancabur wird es uns nicht leichter machen, als wir anfangs frohlockt hatten!

Die letzten 200 Hoehenmeter werden zu Qual: unser Pfad verwandelt sich in ein sehr steiles Geröllfeld mit riesigen Brocken, die wir nur noch mit Hilfe unserer Hände überwinden können. Ausserdem beschliessen unsere Körper trotz Kräutertee und gekauten Koka-Blättern in den Wangen, dass es jetzt auch mal reicht. Kopfschmerzen, Schwindel und Atemlosigkeit zwingen uns alle 10m anzuhalten und nach Luft zu schnappen. Die Sonne scheint zwar mittlerweile, aber gegen den eisigen Wind, der uns um die gefühlt halb erfrorenen Nasen weht, kommen ihre Strahlen leider nicht an. Die Kälte zwingt uns also leider immer wieder viel zu schnell, die nächsten 10m in Angriff zu nehmen…

Kurz darauf ist mein persönlicher Tiefpunkt erreicht. Mehr als erreicht! Warum auch immer beschliesst meine linke Hand wieder aufzutauen. Und das auf so unangenehme Weise, dass ich vor Schmerzen nur noch heulen könnte! Mit Erschöpfung hatte ich gerechnet, damit kann ich irgendwie umgehen. Aber die Schmerzen in der Hand rauben mir die letzten Nerven und jegliches fitzelchen Durchhaltevermögen, dass bis dahin noch vorhanden war. Ich überlege ernsthaft, ob das der Punkt ist, an dem ich mir eingestehen sollte, dass die Tour einfach zu krass für mich ist. Sollte ich absteigen und der Sache ein Ende bereiten?

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Melina – nicht mehr ganz so frisch

Massage und Anpusten sei Dank beruhigt sich die Hand irgendwann wieder. Der Guide ist so nett und tauscht seine vorgewaermten Handschuhe gegen meine Eisklötze, mein  genetisch veranlagter Dickkopf taut auch auf…. Und… eigentlich ist es auch gar nicht mehr sooo weit… Also: Auf geht’s! Allez! Und veeeeenga!

Lea stapft voran, ich versuche Schritt zu halten. Und wenigstens sieht unser Guide auch nicht mehr ganz frisch aus. Das beruhigt mich etwas. Die letzen 30m bis zum Gipfel schaffen wir dann sogar ohne Pause – zwar mehr torkelnd als laufend, aber egal! Oben angekommen sind dann alle Mühen kurz vergessen. Wir stehen auf dem Rand eines riesigen Kraters, in dessen Mitte uns ein grüner, halb zugefrorener See entgegenblinzelt. Der höchste See der Welt, angeblich.

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Der Krater (und irgendwo im Bild hat sich Lea versteckt)

Die Schweizer empfangen uns mit Applaus, alle liegen sich kurz in den Armen. Das beste an der Sache: der 360Grad-Rundum-Panoramablick auf die bolivianisch-chilenische Grenzregion. Dutzende von Vulkanen, manche weiss/orange/rot gefärbt, andere Schneebedeckt, erweisen uns die Ehre. Die blaue und die weisse Lagune glitzern in der Sonne. Wow! Wir haben es tatsächlich geschafft! (Zwar in 8, statt in 6 Stunden, aber wen interessiert das schon). Der Versuch uns ins Gipfelbuch einzutragen scheitert daran, dass es gefroren ist und sich nicht öffnen lässt. Naja, macht nix!

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Gruppenfoto auf dem Gipfel: die Schweizer, Adrian, Lea, unser Guide Luis und Melina

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Statt Gipfelkreuz ein Gipfgelaltar – der Licancabur war den Inkas heilig

Allzu lange hält die Euphorie nicht an, uns steht ja schliesslich noch der Abstieg bevor und auch der eisige Wind lädt wirklich nicht zum Verweilen ein. Schnell noch ein paar Erinnerungsfotos geschossen und weiter geht`s, mal wieder… Statt den geplanten 2 Stunden brauchen wir 4. Unser armer Guide! Innerhalb dieser 4 Stunden verliere ich jegliche Angst vor rutschigem Untergrund und Sand-/Geroellfeldern. Wir surfen an der gefühlt steilsten Stelle den Berg hinunter! Einfach rutschen lassen und weiter laufen. Und Gleichgewicht halten. Und falls das nicht klappt, dann landet man halt auf dem Po und stoppt ein kurzes Stück später, also auch kein Problem! Lea wirkt nicht ganz so begeistert… sondern eher so, als ob sie gerade gegen ihren absoluten Tiefpunkt des Tages ankaempft…

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Lea hat nicht mehr ganz so viel Spass, denn jetzt sieht man wie steil es tatsächlich ist

Die Erleichterung, als dann irgendwann unser Jeep in Sichtweite gerät, lässt sich wohl kaum in Worte fassen. Jetzt ist es also wirklich ganz geschafft, alle heile, alle völlig erschöpft, auch Adrian. Licancabur, du bist besiegt!!!!!! Also bezwungen!

Meine Bilanz des Tages:

  1. Es gibt gute Gründe warum man normalerweise nicht in Höhen von 6.000m unterwegs ist… Alles ab 5.000 ist echt ungemütlich!
  2. Ich bin wohl eher das, was man einen “Genusswanderer” nennen wuerde
  3. Das Glücksgefühl einen so hohen Gipfel mit den eigenen 2 Beinen erklommen zu haben ist einfach unbeschreiblich!!!

 

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Trotz aller Anstrengung: der Ausblick war unglaublich!

 

Cerro Kari Kari

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View from the peak, complete with lakes, Cerro Rico and the city in the background

Cerro Kari Kari is 4965 meters high and overlooks the fascinating city of Potosi, once the largest and richest city in the Americas because of its silver. Of course this richness only helped the Spanish while millions of indigenous people died in the mines. It is said that all the silver extracted from the mines could have built a bridge to Spain, but that another bridge could have been built from the bones of the slaves who died in the process of extracting it. If you would like to see how colonialism fucked up Latin-America Potosi is the place to go. To this day many people, including children, are working in the mines under horrible conditions earning hardly enough money to survive.

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Potosi with its many churches and colonial buildings

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Entrance to the mines of Cerro Rico

Despite Potosis dark history however, the city is surrounded by beautiful nature and untouched mountains. So after visiting the Casa de la Moneda Museum and learning about the cities history, Melina and I decided to climb our first real mountain. We had met in Samaipata where we instantly bonded over having the same (unreliable) trekking book and shared plans to discover the Bolivian mountains without a guide. So after meeting up again in Sucre and starting with an easy trek to the seven waterfalls nearby, we decided to take on Cerro Kari Kari.

On our way to the peak we passed countless lama flocks and went a little crazy chasing them for the ideal picture.

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Lama looking surprised at two german travellers 

We walked along several artificial lakes build by 20 000 slaves to provide water for the city and passed green valleys and small streams. Incredible views of the exploited Cerro Rico with its hundreds of mines accompanied us along the way.

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Laguna San Sebastian with Cerro Rico in the background

When the path ended we searched our own way up the steep mountain, stuffing our cheeks full of coca leaves to help with altitude and exhaustion. When we were almost at the top and taking a little break enjoying the incredible view, a single hiker appeared out of nowhere and passed us at an incredible speed. As we finally reached the top he had already continued to other, higher mountains although it was already afternoon and he only carried a tiny backpack. We never saw him again but really hope he made it back home safely!

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Yeah – I made it to 4965 meters

As to us, we slowly made our way to the city again, going down to yet another green valley and passing even more lamas, streams and lakes in the warm afternoon sun.

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Melina was crazy about the little river

Finally we watched the sun set behind the Cerro Rico before we walked the last 200 meters to take a bus back into the city full of history and run-down colonial buildings. Crazy how such beautiful nature can be found side by side to the evidence of horrible crimes and the exploitation of a whole continent.

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Sunset at the end of our hike

 

Samaipata the beautiful hippie trap

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Wild mountains near Samaipata

If I had to split my journey up to this point into chapters I would probably devide it into the time before and after Samaipata. Both chapters would be amazing and full or experiences, but Samaipata was somewhat of a turning point. Not only did I spend some of my best days in Bolivia here, I also formed amazing connections with people I would now call friends and slowly my way of travelling changed as well.

It all started with my workaway in Paredones, just 20 minutes from Samaipata, where I met Marie. I instantly liked her and once I left the ‘espiral de luz’ joined her in the Hostal Jardin. This now favourite hostel of mine reflects pretty well what makes people stay for much longer than initially planned in Samaipata. The dorms are little artsy eco-construction houses framing a huge green garden used for camping.

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The garden with fireplace and kitchen in the middle

Heart of the hostel is a central fireplace and big open kitchen. There you will always find travellers playing music, teaching each other handicrafts or cooking delicious meals. With children running around on the lawn, people chilling in hammocks and everyone sharing their food the place felt more like a shared home than a hostel from the first day. No wonder some travellers stay there for months. Or years. Or forever.

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Rare sight of the kitchen being empty

In fact, Samaipata is full of expats who mostly started as travellers and found their new home in the small village at the edge of Amboro National Park. So while Samaipata is definitely a Bolivian village with its typical market, many loud mototaxis and central chilled plaza it also offers almost any product one could possibly miss while travelling: wholegrain bread, good yogurt, natural cosmetics, organic honey… Many of these things are sold by people who lead a simple life somewhere in the surrounding mountains, living in self-built huts and happily inviting volunteers into their houses.

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Local women at the market sorting potatoes

Life is slow and relaxed and although most people (both travelling through and permanently living there) don’t have a lot of money, there is always something fun to do and certainly many great people to meet. Often my days would consist of little more than cooking or going to the river to swim, but still I was never bored.

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Chilling by the river – I wonder what Marie was talking about…

One day we felt especially adventurous and hitchhiked to some nearby waterfalls, but mostly my days were spent in the village and hostel walking around to buy food, chilling and talking to people.

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Hitchhiking into the afternoon sun on top of a big truck

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Bathing in the waterfalls

After a couple of days I got invited to a hut in the mountains with a few friends where we built a dry toilet in a day, learned to sing Manu Chao songs and cooked the most delicious empanadas from scratch. I met people travelling with literally no money, was inspired to try to live in a bus and really started cooking again – something I had not done much in the last month. I also almost entirely spoke Spanish as there were many latino travellers and learned a bit about the Maya calendar.

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Our compost toilet – you have to climb on top to do your business

It is difficult to sum up my experiences in Samaipata because what stuck with me most were the people I met. After a little more than two weeks it was weird to leave this wonderful hippie trap of a village behind. Luckily I left Samaipata to go to a Goa / Trance festival accompanied by a bunch of friends from the jardin, so I was a lot more excited than sad, but since then I had to say goodbye to many lovely people.

Still, a lot of Samaipata and its people are still with me in that they influenced me and my travel style. I am even slower, more relaxed and staying a lot at artesano* hostels, ditching tours almost entirely. I have also found Milena, my new travel companion who is just as excited as I am about hiking – so I am sure there are many great things to come and am thankful that I found this village. So if you ever go to Bolivia don’t miss out on this place, but beware! You might get stuck there, possibly forever…

* Artesanos are travellers who make their living by selling handmade goods (like macramé bracelets) or playing music / juggling in the streets. They are also incredible at finding the cheapest hostel in town with a kitchen.

 

El Choro trek

71 kilometers, 3 days and 3600 meters of altitude difference – just looking at these numbers should have told me that El Choro would be a challenge for me. However when Emma told me she was doing a multi-day hike with her tent and still looking for people to join in I didn’t think twice and not 10 minutes later we were buying food supplies. A third member was added when I was told about Matthias, a swiss biologist who was planning to start the trek on the same day as us. And so we went to his hostel and arranged for a taxi to bring us to the start of the hike the next morning.

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Where it all started

The special thing about El Choro is how many different vegetation zones the trek passes in just three days. Starting at 4900 meters up in the bald mountains and ending at 1300 meters in the humid djungle I was made to believe that except for the first hour we’d only be going down. And for the first day this was actually true. Thick coulds surrounded us and made for a dramatic atmosphere, permitting spectacular views of the mountains every now and then.

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View from the highest point of the trek

As we started going down and the dry stones were slowly replaced by green grass we passed several ancient ruins, lamas grazing beside the path. The small stream slowly turned into a decent river as the landscape kept turning greener.

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Walking in the clouds

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One of the many lamas, curiously watching me

And though my backpack was heavy, the main challenge that day was not to slipp on the wet stones and grass while going steep into the valley. Even falling back behind the others I felt I did a good job when we arrived at the campsite that afternoon. The spot was gorgeous and after cooking on our gas stoves and chatting for a while we all retired to our tents.

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View from Challapampa, our first campsite

On the second day the cloudforest turned into a full blown djungle! Waterfalls and streams crossed the path, occasionally turning the path itelf into a small current. Carefully minding my steps in order not to fall or wet my feet I really couldn’t keep up with Emma and Matthias any more and we mostly met up at nice viewpoints to take little breaks together. For the first half of the day the beautiful nature made me forget all about my hurting shoulders and back. Butterflies surrounded me and I spotted at least half a dozen hummingbirds, not to mention the rich green plants.

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As the stream kept growing so did the plants around us

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Some of the smaller butterflies

Then however it really strated to bug me that I was so slow. Despite my hiking boots and socks I developed a huge blister on my right foot and my hurting legs and back made me go slower and slower. It really didn’t help that the path kept leading us down to the river only to go steep up on the other side after crossing. When we finally arrived at our campsite I was so relieved! This place was even more remote that the previous one, with an amazing view of the valley and the moon shone so bright that night that we didn’t even need our headlamps.

On the final day we woke up to pouring rain. Luckily it stopped after a short while, but the rain had made the picturesque waterfalls and streams overflow so much that I slipped off a piece of wood after what must have been 20 minutes of walking and from that point onwards my feet were soaking wet.

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Emma crossing the river with much more success than me

This morning was a constant up and down the hills and both my strengh and my self esteem started crumbling under the conditions. While the other two securely crossed rivers and climbed the paths at an amazing speed I stepped into puddles and cursed myself for being in such bad shape. I thought I had gotten to an age where I stopped comparing myself to others, focussing on my own needs and strenghts instead, but I guess realizing my own lack of fitness has always been a sure way to make me feel bad about myself. Gladly Emma and Matthias were nice and understanding. Though they’d go at their own pace, leaving me far behind, they patiently waited at nice spots and viewpoints to take breaks together, share food and good conversations. For a couple of hours I was in a bad place, but when I finally decided to go as slow as I needed, taking plenty of extra breaks, my mood started to change again.

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A bridge – unfortunately this always meant going up again after crossing

I began taking in my surroundings again, the flowers and wildlife, spotting a tiny snake, a big green lizard and two bright blue butterflies as big as my hand. Though I was too tired to chase them with my camera my mood finally lit up again and from our lunchbreak onwards I really enjoyed the last couple of hours of our hike. Still I was happy and exhausted when I reached Chairo where the others were already waiting for me.

To finish off our little three day adventure we now only had to get a ride to Coroico where we had planned to relax in hammocks for a day or two before heading back to la Paz. And this is where my post would end, had we not bargained so hard in the village that we ended up in a tiny old car that wouldn’t start unless it already moved. Driving along the uneven dirtroad was already a challenge for my stomack that was craving real food, but when a big truck passed us on the narrow street the real dilemma happened. Two of our car wheels got stuck deep in the mud. Tired as we were we now had to push, pull and lift the car together while our driver tried to place several big stones under the wheels.

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Matthias inspecting our drivers attempt to free the wheel

At least we were already so smelly and dirty that leaning against a muddy car couldn’t make a difference any more. After pushing and pulling for several minutes we attempted a last try. Slowly the car moved, but then whith a sudden noise of shattering glass it rolled back into the mud – our driver had pushed against the car window which was now in pieces all over the place. Luckily I had somer plasters on me and he only suffered some minor cuts, but just minutes later he stuck his injured hand into the mud again. Finally a car arrived and pulled us out of the mud so we could continue our ride in the now windowless vehicle. We were so happy to finally get going that we didn’t even care about the pieces of glass all over the car or the fact that for the last 20 minutes we had to take the infamous deathroad (nowadays only used by mountainbikers) because the new road was closed for maintenence.

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Emma finally relaxing in the well deserved and much anticipated hammock

In the end we made it safely to the beautiful guesthouse Valle Bonita where we treated ourselves with hammocks, yoga classes and the best breakfast I’ve had in over a month. So despite all the ups and downs of this trip I would say that my first multi day trek carrying food and equipment was a success. I am glad I spontaneously said yes to it. Maybe next time I should look for equally unsporty people to join me, but then I really enjoyed Emmas and Matthias company and maybe this is also a great opportunity to learn to ceare less about others and just take my time.

Nocturnal adventures

He should have mentioned it. But then, how did I ever think that I could trust information I got at the tiny tourist information office in Cabanaconde? By now I should have learned to double check information. But let me start where it all began.

The remote village of Cabanaconde deep in the Colca Cañon has been my home for a couple of days now and I already learned that things work a little different here. From the weird opening hours (8am to 1pm and 4pm to 8pm) of the restaurant I cluelessly run together with Laura and Alex, the two other volunteers, to the fact that the kitchen staff seems to consider it normal to buy fruits from the store whenever someone orders a juice chaos has been a constant since my arrival. At the same time the pace of living is slow here, which I quite enjoy. With the next city being 6 hours by bus from here, there is not much to do other than enjoying the spectacular scenery of high mountains and deep valleys, read in the sun and get together on the street for an improvised game of volleyball or football.

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Passing time in Cabanaconde

On my free day however I decided to finally go on a real hike with Laura, an impressively smart full-blood traveller and pastry chef from the states who happened to turn 20 that same day. So we packed lots of water, some fruits and cake and walked off into the wilderness. We had planned a full day hike to the village of Llahuar and I was scheduled to work the next day, but as there was a bus at 5am which would get me to Cabanaconde hours before my shift I didn’t worry too much. And so we walked down steep into the canyon, passing fragile bridges and washed away paths while discussing politics, travel and life in general.

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Lau casually passing a landslip

Eventually the sun started burning and while we were craving shade, we felt like explorers retracing the paths that had probably connected the tiny villages for centuries.* After a few more bridges and steamy geysers we finally reached Llahuar, which turned out to be no village, but a single guesthouse and restaurant with a beautiful view of the river.

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Views of the stunning Colca Canyon

The homemade lemonade felt more than deserved after walking 5 hours and passing 1267m of altitude difference. We went on to take a bath in the 38 degree hot natural springs right by the river, surrounded by beautiful landscape, before retiring to the lovely hut that would be our home for the night.

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A much deserved bath

Dinner was great and we even treated ourselves with a glass of Pisco Sour, Peru’s famous cocktail, while meeting the other guests. What a great day! There was obnly one problem: the bus at 5am! When the man at the tourist info had told me about the bus it had somehow slipped his mind to mention that the dirt road was about a 40 minute hike from the guest house. A hike crossing the river and going up a steep mountain in serpentines. Even worse: I was told the bus could pass anytime between 4:30 and 5:30am. Fortunately a german girl lent me her headlamp (thanks Theresa, you’ll never be forgotten) so I wouldn’t break both of my legs.

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Our little home for the night

I set my alarm at 3:30am and when it went off the real adventure started. The night was pitch black with the only light coming from the half moon in the sky and my flashlight. Walking down to the river the only sounds I could hear were flowing water and the clicking stones under my feet. Crossing the swinging bridge at the bottom of the valley felt surreal with the stars above me and the mountains reaching high into the sky in different shades of black and grey.

Going up on the other side of the stream was a challenge. My hreat was pounding hiking up in the thin air and an inexplicable anxiety was creeping in the back of my head. I was thankfull for the donkeyshit on the path leading me in the right direction when in doubt. When I reached the start of the dirt road I was relieved, but the reakl shock was yet to come. I confidently walked towards the tiny farm we had passed on the day before and had thought to be deserted. Turns out it was not. In the dark of the night, a dog was barking at me from the middle of the path, his eyes reflecting the light of my headlamp. It was clearly defending his territory I needed to pass in order to get to my bus. I cursed myself for not getting a rabies shot. Should I turn around and walk back to Llahuar? Should I search a way around the farm? I was praying for the dogs owners to wake up – but they didn’t. Then suddenly I was given a brief chance. The dog, still barking loudly and showing his teeth, ran off to one of the houses seemingly trying to waker the farmer. Without thinking I quickly walked past the farm, cursing myself for the whole plan of taking a 5am bus and just seconds after I had passed the huts the dog reappeared, now running in my direction. i remembered Jasons story of dealing with grizzly bears and attempted to bark back at the dog while walking backwards in the direction of the “bus stop”. Eventually the dog stopped and in great relieve I reached the dirt road to Cabanaconde 5 minutes later.

For the next 40 minutes I lay on the ground watching the stars, my senses still so sharpened that I sensed every tiny stone rolling down the steep hillside and every faint light in the distance. Lying there in the middle of nowhere with the mountains surrounding me, listening to the pouring river in the valley and watching the night sky must have been one ofg the most stunning moments of my journey so far. Still I was happy when the honking bus picked me up and I didn’t much care about the cold, the rough driving style and the bad roads. Surely this was both the nicest and scariest night walk of my life!

*I later found out the dirt road was only built one year ago, so all goods were actually trasported via foot or mule before that, using the exact same hinking paths.