Monday, 27 June 2016

On the road

 It has been some time since I wrote the last post and the reason was, to tell the truth, that I was quite tired from traveling. So many impressions were still to be processed, and after Quito the main plan was to get to Bogota in time to pick up my friend at the airport, so the things I saw inbetween felt more like occupational therapy, even if they were beautiful, and less like the kind of adventure I am seeking when traveling. I did visit Otavalo with many lakes and waterfalls in the surrounding area, the Santuario de las Layas in Ipiales and Popayan which is also known as the white city.

At some point, at an 8-hour-bustrip through the mountains, when I just ate one piece of bread the whole day and felt like starving, I really started questioning why am I doing all this. What I mean is, I actually pay money for going out, not knowing where to sleep next night, where to eat the next meal which might lead to experiencing the worst hunger in a long time, for sitting in uncomfortable busses, sleeping in uncomfortable beds with lots of background noise, carrying the heaviest backpack you can imagine and having your arms ache everytime after you have to pick it up. For experiencing one of the worst sunburns and the worst muscle aches in your life, feeling like your legs are about to give in while climbing up a mountain higher than you have ever been, meeting dangerous animals in the wild, having to deal with the trouble of missing your flight, losing or breaking your stuff you really grew fond of, feeling your lips rip painfully from the dry climate on the mountains. For having sand everywhere in your stuff, needing to shower cold even while freezing because hot water is not available, eating things you really don't want to eat just because you are hungry, having to puke on the boat, feeling sick a whole busride because of the bad shape of the street, missing your dearest ones, sleeping in the same room with one of the animals you fear the most (which would be a big hairy spider for me) and in general having to deal with problems you never needed to face before.

I could go on endless with the list of downsides of traveling. So the question is: Why are there so many travelers that actually still enjoy traveling? Isn't that somehow crazy? And obviously I am one of those crazy people, because I am already looking forward to continue traveling with my friend that I am picking up from the airport in Bogota tomorrow!

I guess the answer is different for everyone, but for me one big part is the feeling of accomplishment. When getting into a difficult situation and managing to get out of it easily makes me feel proud of the solution, content with myself and happy with the accomplishment. This goes as far as when it gets too easy, I start looking for challenges. Like when I arrived at Quilotoa Laguna, the bus dropped me off almost at the top of the lagoon, so I could go there, take my pictures and be gone within half an hour if I had wanted to. But this was just too easy. So, to tell the truth, I had really no choice about going down to the seashore even if I knew it would be a hard climb up again. Because I always feel like I have to earn the right to tell "I was there".

Second, of course, are the amazing experiences one can make when abandoning his comfort zone. Like the one time I had to get over my fear of crabs to watch the penguin diving for food - totally worth it! And if you just get over yourself and start talking you might meet really great people, of if you just try to eat something new, you might be surprised how great it might taste. This is one of the reasons I abandoned my travel guide and started doing just what people recommended me to do. Especially in a culture where people are so open about getting in contact with you, you would be stupid not to profit from it. And if you don't take some new paths sometimes you will always be bored and won't feel like accomplishing anything which takes me back to what I already wrote above. Really, one of my greatest fears is to end up rotting at home.

And of course, if you keep your eye open, you will find the most stunning views you would have never imagined to experience. This is especially important for me because I am really a visual kind of person, therefore almost nothing gives me more joy than something great I can look at (the smell is quite important for me as well). For some reason, especially seeing water somehow beautifully arranged, like on a waterfall or at a nice lake is one of the most beautiful things I can imagine and when I am tired I just need some view of water to get some new energy.

In the end. traveling makes you feel like understanding the world better. It gives you perspective on your own troubles that mostly are really not that important. I mean okay I might be hungry today but the old lady on the street is probably hungry every day. And my arms might hurt from carrying my stuff, but there are people that have no stuff. So, another positive aspect is getting grateful for really simple things. I still don't know how I will be able to keep it up when back in Austria, but I do think it would be healthy for everybody to experience such a trip at least once in their life just to be more grateful and less embittered of the world. And for my really bad hunger on the busride when my stomach already felt like digesting itself, it got resolved by some street sellers that sold me potato chips on the next busstop - probably the potato chips I was most grateful for in my whole life.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016


I once read, that Quito is considered the most beautiful capital city of South America. Therefore, as soon as I knew I will be in Colombia, I was sure I had to visit Quito as well, which in the end lead to the decision to travel through Ecuador. Because, as I soon found out and you probably already read in my other posts, Ecuador has lots of beautiful spots, not just Quito. But nevertheless, I was really impressed by the capital.

To truly discover all the city has to offer, I took some more days for it is a quite big city. Normally, every city bigger than Vienna (1,7 mio inhabitants) makes me kind of uneasy because I am just not the big city kind of girl. I always feel a little lost, especially when I can't figure out the public transport (no idea how people here actually manage it), and too crowded because of all that people everywhere. But Quito has the advantage that it's shaped quite narrow and long and therefore when being somewhere, you are always guided by the mountains left and right limiting the space for buildings.

My first impression when just walking along the streets of the historic center was being stunned by its beauty. Unlike what I experienced in Cuenca, almost all the houses still were perfectly restored and really nice to look at. There were so many beautiful plazas and colourful buildings in typical colonial style, I walked around more than 5 hours on the first day and still discovered something new everytime I turned around a corner.

And everywhere there were churches, I guess there are even more than in the historic center of any austrian city - which is quite a lot. The most impressing one was the basilica, mostly because it had a different style than all the other churches. The basilica kind of set a limit for the historic center, not far behind the commercial center started.

So on my second day, I was accompanied by a friend I met on the Galapagos Islands who lives and workes here in Quito and offered to show me around. Therefore, he did not just show me the typical touristic spots but also where people who actually live in the city go to relax (which I always find most interesting). That was when I found out Quito consists of many many parks, most of them really huge and made to perfectly meet the needs of the cities inhabitants.

While many trees enabled you to relax in the shadow, there were not as many so you couldn't enjoy the sun as well. And the whole park was filled with leisure activites, like riding a pedal boat, doing sports on one of the various sports grounds or even visiting the botanic garden inbetween.

Additionally, there is of course the Teleferico (cable car) that goes on the nearest volcano at 4000m. From here people can walk up to the top of the vulcano on almost 4700m or simply enjoy the view over Quito that is indeed impressing, because it shows how the mountains around shape the form of the city and how much space would have been for a city just one valley farther.

I did walk up onto a certain point - now after so many days at this altitude and several hiking trips it became considerably easier to hike - but then the whole mountain disappeared in the clouds and I could hardly see the way so I decided after waiting whether it would clear again to better turn around. Which was a good choice, because on my way back it started to rain. It's really a pity that now when I finally grew accostumed to the height, I would soon leave it again and it probably would be my last vulcano hiking trip on this vacation.

Also quite special of Quito is the nearness to the Equator, which is just about 20km north of the city. Of course I had to visit the monument they placed on the point they measured the Equator in the 18th century after they proved the earth to be round. As you might imagine, these measurements were not exact and therefore they now know that the Equator is about 240m further in the north, but that doesn't diminish the feeling to be on both sides of the world at the same time.

But, to tell the truth, the wow-effect was missing. In the end it was just a yellow line on the ground used to pose for photos with the midad del mundo monument inbetween. The only difference I actually experienced was that the stars look different here. I still manage to find the "big dipper" constellation most of the nights, the only constellation I know, but other than that it does not seem familiar.

I now really understand why Quito is listed to be one of the cities attracting the most Europeans that want to escape the pressure to perform - it really is gorgeous (I just searched for a better synonym and did you know that "the cat's pyjamas" means great as well?). I even found my favourite place to be - as long as it's sunny - so maybe someday I will come back and visit this place again, and maybe then I will manage to hike on top of the vulcano! I do hope I get the opportunity someday.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Quilotoa Laguna

Yesterday I visited the most perfect crater lake of a vulcano ever! And I did my research, all the others are just not that perfectly round, don't have that perfect turquise colour in the sun or are simply not entirely inside a crater. Just look at it. The crater is huge, you need more than 5 hours just to walk around, it's on about 4000m and if you want to go down, you need half an hour, while getting up again might even take you two hours.

I absolutely wanted to go down, because, first, it was really really windy up on the top which made it quite cold and not really relaxing. You must know, when going somewhere, I always look for the perfect place - to read. I am kind of an addict, from arriving to Colombia until now I have read more than 30 books - I am SO glad I have an e-book-reader with all my books on it because else I would be lost. The criteria for finding the perfect reading spot are simple: I have to be comfortable without feeling cold or hot or being somehow disturbed, and when I look up I have to look at something stunning.

It was a sunny day, therefore the perfect conditions for finding a good reading spot, only the wind was somehow a problem, which was one of the main reasons I wanted to go down to the shore of the lake. The only problem I didn't consider was that when going up a mountain, first there is normally something I want to reach up on top so therefore a good motivation. Second, if I am tired, I can turn around anywhere and just go down again. That didn't work, because I had to go down first, and then up again.

And even while I knew it's half an hour down, I was still surprised it was such a long way and that was when I first considered if it might not have been better just to stay on top. Furthermore, I didn't really have much time because they told me the last bus goes quite early and the bus took (again) longer than they estimated to get there. And I met a girl that just spoke spanish with me, which was quite rare to find here because most of the tourists just speak english and I really need to keep practicing my spanish, and she didn't want to go down to the shore because she considered two hours climb too much at 4000m.

Also, she told me she always gets headache when getting into higher altitudes - which is exactly the same problem I am facing. But all of that wouldn't keep me from exploring. If there's somewhere I haven't already been, and I can reach it, why should I stop? And how can I find the perfect reading spot if not through looking for it?

To tell the truth, it was still quite cold down there, but I did really enjoy the silence and the beautiful water of the lake. You could even rent a boat and go paddling around in the lake. There were some really friendly dogs that I decided chilling next to the lake is really the best you can do and accompanied me while I was reading my book. Unfortunately, there was really little time and I was kind of worried I would need too much time up - which was completely wrong, because I made it up in a little bit more than an hour. But I enjoyed every minute reading down at the lake. And as soon as I found the perfect reading spot I will tell you!

Tuesday, 14 June 2016


When I decided to go to Ecuador, the first picture I found was a really high mountain with snow on top and in front an Alpaca. It took me some research to find out which mountain that was and where I had to go to take this picture. It turned out it was the Chimborazo, a vulcano and the highest mountain of Ecuador with more than 6300m altitude. They also informed me that due to being located near the equator (the earth is not perfectly round), it actually is the highest mountain measured from the middle of the earth.

So I totally wanted to go there and take this picture. I found out there's a bus to the entrance to the volcano at 4400m with another street going up to the first refuge where you might be able to be picked up by a car so you don't have to walk. So when I reached that entrance, it was rainy, cloudy and really cold and I couldn't see more than maybe three meters ahead. Therefore I was really glad I could go up in a car, together with some japanese people also hoping for a transport.

I really hoped we could get over the clouds so I could see something of the mountaintop. And I was lucky. The sky partly cleared on top and it was even sunny sometimes. So on 4800m, at the first refuge, I already really felt the altitude. I never imagined it would be that bad. Walking down - no problem,  but everytime I took some steps up, to the second refuge at 5000m which you might see on the previous foto, my heart started beating really fast. But nevertheless, of course I got there.

Up there it was really, really windy and cold. When continuing the way up to some lake that should be there, I thought the wind will freeze my nose. That didn't happen, but I did get a nice sunburn, especially on my nose. So when reaching the lake, in the middle of snow at 5100m,, feeling cold and fighting against the wind, I did the only rational thing that could be done: I built a snowman.

After that, for some reason, probably because I was going down again, the altitude suddenly didn't bother me anymore. So I decided to walk back down to the main street where I could catch a bus. This allowed me to see some vicunas (no idea what's the difference to alpacas) that live here on the vulcano and also two wolves I first mistook for street dogs - and even when one of them stopped to stare at me, I didn't feel as afraid as when I saw that tarantula. Fortunately I wasn't that interesting for them.

So after getting back, I was really euphoric, because it was really really impressing. I do have this theory that people are getting so euphoric about mountains that high because of the altitude that causes them to feel kind of high. But nevertheless, it was really great and I am really glad I did the trip, because who knows when I will be that high again?

Monday, 13 June 2016


My first stop on the mainland was Cuenca, a city with a beautiful historical center that reminded me somehow of Graz, but I haven't figured out why. Maybe it was just the same size. But I really enjoyed walking around because there were so many beautiful buildings. Still, it was not the classic beauty, one might recognize that lots of the buildings need a do-over, and that they are currently building a tramway through the city, therefore construction areas take up whole streets, did not help either. Still, there was something about the city that really made me enjoy it.

It could be that I just like compact city centers, so you could see how it grew over the time. Or it was the river directly next to the center that offered enough space to sit down and hang out in the "nature".  It felt like some kind of narrow, very long park all along the city center.

I was really impressed how beautiful the grass was besides the river. I haven't seen a beautiful natural lawn since leaving Austria. But then, they also had wild growing flowers like clover and dandelion, which was really weird for me because I didn't expect to encounter the same flora so far from home. But then, even the mountains sometimes seemed the same.

Sure, everything is bigger here, but I still had some moments when I looked out of the window of the bus and felt kind of disappointed because there wasn't anything new to discover, just some mountains with coniferous forests and lots of fields inbetween. Not even some cliffs or anything spectacular. But still, the houses are quite different. While there are some really beautiful ones, the most seem quite simple and rustic, just covering the basic needs.

I also visited some surrounding towns because I read the are really beautiful and have a lot to offer. They really were beautiful. One of them, Chordeleg) was known for their silver and gold jewellery, so I thought I could buy some small presents, but of course I only ended up buying stuff for myself. I just couldn't think of anybody being as happy about some beautiful earrings as me.

One other of the towns, Sigsig, was known to have some archeological site from the Incas, and my brochure said it's close. So when I didn't find it after three hours of walking (in several directions - there were some street signs but they all shortly disappeared) it was already to late so I just enjoyed the nature around and the nice center of the village. I really just should have taken a taxi there but some voice inside my head told me "you can't just let the taxi take you around, you have to walk to some places by yourself!"

So, like I mentioned I took the stupid decision just to discover it by walking, which wasn't really my brightest moment because my legs were still sore from the trip to the national park. It would have helped, too, if I hadn't decided to go out dancing on the day of my worst muscle ache in years, maybe without all those action my legs would have recovered sooner. But then, I knew I would be visiting another archeological site from the Incas, actually the most important one of Ecuador on the next day.

The site is called Ingapirka and it's more like a mixture of Inca and Canari, because the Inca couldn't defeat the Canari so they cooperated. Like most of the Inca leftovers, it was destroyed by the people from Spain coming in 15something to conquer South America. So all that's left are some walls and one temple where they did their ceremonies for the sun and the moon. In this region, they also speak another indigenous language which is also on every street sign and so on.

One thing I had to learn was never to trust time indications, especially not when dealing with going by bus. When they say it's half an hour, I am in the bus for one and a half hours. When it's one hour, it's more like two hours or more. Also, they always show those freaky movies on the busses in a volume that high you can't simply ignore it. Fortunately, I already adapted to going by bus until now (I sometimes suffer from motion sickness) and therefore my mp3 and my e-book-reader are my best friend for those long bus trips. If I am not simply staring out of the window and admiring the beautiful landscape combined with a beautiful city like Cuenca.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Parque Nacional Las Cajas

I might have done something stupid yesterday. You heard about how it could affect you when staying on a higher altitude, like when you are used to sea level and suddenly you are in a city at 2000 meters above sea level? I read about that many times, I even heard stories how people suddenly felt so weak on the first days - that's why I planned four days here in Cuenca at 2500m when arriving directly from the Galapagos Islands because I should really take it slow.

But then I met another girl at the hostel, Rotem from Israel, that told me she will visit the National Park next day and if I would like to accompany her because it's always better in company and the route seems quite easy. She guesses it's at about 3000 meters. So, I couldn't help myself but take that opportunity to go with her. Because that's what really excites me about traveling, taking unplanned opportunities when they come along.

Turned out the starting point was at 3900 meters, the route went over a mountain top of 4270 meters and the whole trail was so slippery most of the time I just clung onto the grass next to the trail not to take the fast lane down. I never encountered a hiking path so slippery.

Unfortunately, I also never felt so weak when hiking. I never ever needed so many breaks and at some point down I even no longer trusted my legs to stay steady without holding on to the grass. What didn't mean I couldn't continue. I am quite tought (if I want to be), I can always push myself a little farther when others already might have stopped. So I did manage this four-hour trail up more than 300 meters and back down, even when at the end of the trail I wasn't really sure how to get up some stairs. When coming back to Cuenca, I could even do a two hour city walk to use the hours still left before sunset. But I already knew it would hurt a lot the following day.

And so it does. And not just the legs but also my arms (from clinging onto the grass). The legs are not a problem, because like I wrote, I am tough and if I can push myself to get up to that mountain, I can push myself to walk all day in the city as well. But everytime I see a bench, I really just want to sit down. And I really have to withstand that temptation, because my legs even hurt more when getting up again. And I really do have trouble to lift stuff because my arms just hurt so much.

I guess next time I won't do a hiking trip on my first day in the mountains. But also, I guess I am just really good dealing with heights, because others might have not managed that. And, the national park was really beautiful. Lakes everywhere and quite distinctive plants, and mountain tops in all directions. Also, it was my first time above 4000 meters, therefore quite an experience!