Hiking Cotopaxi – experience the power of height

Some weeks ago, David, the Australien cyclist, planted the idea of climbing the Cotopaxi in my mind – the second highest mountain of Ecuador and the second highest active volcano of the world with 5897 meters of altitude.

image

Three days ago we finally booked a tour in Quito, cause you need special equipment and a guide to go up to the summit. We have been told to be guided by an english-speaking well trained guy around 30 years old, but finally just one aspect of the description was true.
Yesterday we left early in the morning to get a bus to Papa Guay, a landhouse, some kilometers to the south of Quito, where we had to wait for some hours until we met our 51 year old guide, who could only speak Spanish and where we got our equipment. „These shoes are a bit to big, do you have smaller one’s?“ – „No, we only have this size.“ Very suprised about this, cause its included in the tour but we took what was available. We met another couple from France and the Netherlands, who were going to do the hike as well and shared the same car up tho the Refuge. They also weren’t that happy with their hiking clothes, especially her shoes were to small, so that the dutch girl had blisters the next day. So it felt, that the garage off the equipment was more a second hand store during its clearance sell.
However, we got a nice meal in the landhouse Papa Guay before we left to the national park Cotopaxi, where we walked a first 20 minutes uphill from the parking lot to the refuge José Rivas, which is situated on an altitude of 4864 meters. It was cloudy and it rained a bit, but we were all looking forward to good weather during our hike which would start at one in the morning. The accommodation was renovated a short time ago, offered heaps of space and had 3 big bedrooms containing three floor bunks. Even flat Oled Lights were used to alight the rooms.

image

image

image

image

image

The guide of the other group, who could speak english, gave us four a short introduction about the procedure and the told us the rules in the mountain: every two persons always one guide and build one group, which will stay together during the hike; whatever happens we should only be aware that we are humans and according to this treat each other like this; the weather, the mountain and the condition of the persons determine if it could be necessary to abort the hike.
After dinner, which we had at 6 p.m., we went to bed. Everybody was excited about the upcoming hike and got out of their warm clothes to jump as quick as they could into their sleeping bags. And although I had my doubts I fell asleep very quick. But during the night I woke up cause I had to pee (due to the altitude this happens to me every night since we are in the mountains). Unfortunately the toilet was in the neighbor building and it wasn’t that warm outside, so I went out of my warm sleeping back into the cold night, dressed in my long underwear, big trekking boots, my hard-shell rain jacket and a headlight to relieve my bladder.
At midnight we all went out of bed to enjoy a light breakfast and packed ourselves in at least three layers of clothes. In a good mood, David and me, as well as some othergroups stepped out to crest Cotopaxi. The wind was low, the night clear and ceiling above us was star covered, so perfect condition. After some minutes we reached the glacier and put on our crampons, connected each other with a rope and entered the eternal ice, which also here shrink from year to year. With smalk steps we walked slowly to handle the deoxygenated air. It was very steep inbetween and we had to watch out for little crevasses. In the far distance we could see the lights of the southern part of Quito, down the hill the headlights of the other groups, which were all behind us. After quite a while we made a break to drink some water and eat some chocolate to keep high the sugar level. „5100 meters“, we got answered as we asked for the altitude. We expected to already overcome more.

image

We went on and I still have the picture in my mind: the rope in front of me, sometimes loose on the white ground, sometimes more tense which indicated to me to walk a bit faster. It felt like an eternity, step by step up the hill. The whole town of Quito appeared behind the mountain which had hidden it at the beginning. Only lights, snow and ice which accompanied us. Next stop, only 3:40, we shouldn’t ask again, it’s still a long way up. It became colder and David’s hands were freezing, mine as well were getting colder, but still on a bearable level. Since around 5200 meters a weak headache accompanied to my onesided world of going up. The moon appeared. David shook his hand to warm up, but while doing this he slinged away his glove. Luckily we found it, after we searched the slope with our headlights. Step by step up the hill. I still felt fine, but David showed first signs of exhaustion due to the altitude. Some minutes later he fell down on his knees, but stood up again. The wind increased on one side of the mountain and the communication became difficult. David went down on its knees a second time, dizziness and problems with his stomache bothered him and made it a very hard hiking for him. With his strong will he stood up again. It happened over and over again and as we reached the announced black rock, which indicated the last few meters we had to take the decision to finish our expedition or to abort the hike. David was not feeling fine at all, I guess he felt like inside a delirium. We already reached 5600 meters and It started to become light. all the other groups were behind aus and so we waited some more minutes to see if any person had similar  problems with the altitude. Four groups passed by, some hikers weren’t in a good state as well, but all of them still in a sufficient condition to go on and try to reach the summit.
We turned around and with the first sunrays we could se all the objects and the surroundings, we couldn’t see on our way up. We were encircled by fog and the white landscape, it started to snow a tiny bit. The way down took as well an eternity and I started to get tired as well. We reached the end of the glacier and got rid of the crampons and the rope. Free again we trudged ourselves down to the refuge, where we had a warm tea before we felt asleep.

image

image

image

image

image

image

It was a nice experience, my first time on a glacier, my first time on 5600 meters and I totally happy to have done it. I was impressed by the iron will of David, his ambition, which let him stood up several times. The life is more important then any challenging mountain hike. It’s always important to respect the signs of its body and not overdo more then it’s getting too dangerous. And David, believe me, I’m not disappointed to not have reached the top. I learned a lot while hiking Cotopaxi and it was one of my most intensive experiences till I started my travel. And I’m sure that with more time for acclimatization, we would have reached the summit.

image

image

The last days in Colombia

After San Agustín I went back to the Finca in Pitalito, where I left my bike. It wanted to take a ride to Pasto, but it was to late in that day and hardly any car was on the road. I camped again in a garden of a family, right next to the road down south. In the morning I had more luck. A Pickup stopped and offered me a ride to Mocoa, where I was invented for lunch. The way from Mocoa to Pasto didn’t seem to be that far with 130km and so I started to find another possibility of transport, but not without a reason the street to Pasto is called „trampolín de la muerte“. I jumped on a flat bed truck at around 3 in the afternoon at the bottom of the hill and joined a little adventure. I would have loved to ride that path on my bicycle, cause it also offered amazing views into the valley. The path itself is really hard to describe without having experienced it on its own. Over a narrow dirt road, crossing little rivers, next to us a steep precipice we went up and down. The rainy season leads to many landslides and along the way you could see that it happens from time to time.

image

image

image

image
In the valley you can see Mocoa in the left.

image
Some points were controlled and guarded by the military

image

The ride in the car took much more time than expected, about 5 hours. I decided to leave the car near the Lagune de la Cocha. It was already dark and so I was happy to get offered a room, although there was nothing inside.

image

The next morning I went down early to the Lagune and found a beautiful village, the houses all made out of wood, colourful and a river which completed the peaceful atmosphere in the morning.

image

image

image

I started to ride my bike again and it felt great to pedal again and regain the liberty of cycling. I had to climb a small mountain to Pasto and I was delighted by the shadow of the clouds on the streets while I jetting down to the town.

image

image

In the hostel in Pasto I met David and Joanne again, who took the road on the other side of the mountain range. Tobi arrived one day later, a bit exhausted by jumping on he trampolín de la muerte and climbing 5000m in three days.
Just two days from the border, we were getting close to leave Colombia. But the last kilometers had some more delicious views for our sense of seeing. Another slope inside great scenery and in Las Lajas, just some kilometers from the border, an amazing church, which was built into the rock, rounded the 5 1/2 weeks of Colombia!

image

image

image

image

image

image

The time in Colombia was very nice. Their are some prejudices around the world who connect Colombia with Cocaine, Marihuana or Guerilla. I experienced that it’s not fair to reduce this country to this drugs and rioting. First of all the people are super friendly. Furthermore the variety of different landscapes is a feast for one’s eyes and includes the coast, the jungle, the mountains, different areas of agriculture, breathtaking lakes, beautiful small villages or historical excavation sides. They have good coffee, a big range of fruits and  most of the main roads are in very good conditions. It’s the country of bicycles as well, from road bikes to mountain bikes, especially in Medellín and Manizales I saw a lot of them. The economy is growing, although there are some parts where poverty is still a big issue.
Comparable to Panama and Costa Rica there is a lack of consciousness of healthy food and environment.

The South of Colombia

For my travel the bike became an extension of my body and so the man-maschine-interaction has a big influence on my travel. And so if I exert force on my bike, the bike also exert force on me. But in case of any misalignment, I’m the only one who will feel pain.
About 7 years ago I had an an operation on my knee, where a part of meniscus had to be cut away, due to a  crack which harm my cartilage. I recovered quite well, run a marathon, could do all sports again without suffer pain. Very seldom I felt that there ever had been some incident that lead to a potential irreparable weakness.
The crossing of the Cordillera Central to Ibagué dared myself and concerning to my power it was not worth mentioning, but my knee reminded me of being the key part of my body, which was demanded the most on climbing up steep hills with a heavy travel bike. Two days after the increased burden and another 190 km to Neiva I couldn’t even walk properly. So time to slow down to recover my knee! We decided to stay a few days to observe and support the healing process.
We arrived in Neiva and rest in a Café to figure out where to spent the night. We couldn’t find any hostel in town and thought about cycling out of the town again but suddenly we had three possibilities, so how come. I had a look on airbnb and asked for a room, but didn’t expect a fast answer, which I received surprisingly. We were told where to find a camping ground and we got invited by a family. So, we followed the offer and due to a flat tyre had to ride trough the dark city surrounded by heavy traffic to the house of the family, as we thought. But the house was owned by the mother of the man who invited us and it was a bit confusing cause all the people we met in the café weren’t present as we found the place. Well, everything clarified, we slept in the garage and enjoyed the hospitality. The next three nights we spent in a room in the house of two locals, which were very lovely. It was a perfect place to recover and on top I learned about several new fruits and typical dishes of Colombia and the department of Huila. On top, the town was celebrating San Pedro, which lasted over a week. Born from rural customs, this celebration remains as a memory of old traditions, where locals and visitors participate in parades, cavalcades, reigns, competitions, festivals and various cultural and artistic events. Our host showed us around and gave us the advice to the two parades, especially the one with the Chivas, a bus which was first built in Medellín especially considering the mountainous geography of the Andean region. Their colourful design made them famous and a symbol of Colombia and Equador.

image
Local fruits

image
One of the iguanas in the garden of our host, about 40 centimeters

image

image
Street parade with typical clothing

image

image

image
Desfile de Chivas/ street parade of the Chivas

image
And strikingly it was the day of another match in the Copa America, Colombia against Argentina, which was lost by the Colombianos after penalties.
We left Neiva, but not before we went to the local market with our host. More typical fruits and dishes.

image

image

image

image

My knee was not totally recovered, so I started to hitchhike while Tobias was pedaling. On the first day it didn’t work that good, so that I had to cycled a bit until I found a nice spot to camp.

image

image
Camping near Gigante

image

image

The hosts in Neiva own a farm in Pitalito, where I stayed the next night. I got up at 5 a.m. in the morning to milk a cow for the first time, but they were not used to me and therefor to shy, but I had the possibility to observe the process: how to get the cows from the field into the cote, to let the calve start to suck some milk out of the udder before it were tied up during the milking before returning back to its mother animal. a

image

image

image

image

I went on without my bike to San Agustín, where I took part in a Jeep Tour to see some archeological places, a narrowness of the river Magdalena and two waterfalls, one of them falling down uninterrupted of a height of 400 meters. And I got to see how Panela, the famous brown sugar is made, by visiting a small manufacture of cane sugar.

image
Estrecho de Magdalena

image
The sugar cane press

image
Heating up to get out the liquid

image

image

image

image
Salto de Mortiño

image
Salto de Bordónes

Lovely Colombia

Colombia is turning to my favourite country so far. Nice people, beautiful nature and some more great moments on my way south. Lying in the grass,  surrounded by a bunch of colombian kids, who explore all of our stuff and bombard us with heaps of questions, I’m trying to remember the last days to write this blog entry – and finally the kids are gone, so here we go.
We left the friends of Tobias after the breakfast and went down to Medellín again, where I forgot my Towel in a hostel. After a terrific 1000 m descent we had to climb the whole day and ended up in a restaurant on the top, where we met two Australian cyclists, Joanne and David, who is originally from Germany, but moved to Melbourne several years ago. After we talked for a while we decided to camp behind the restaurant on a horse meadow.

image

image

image

The next few days we shared with the two other „viajeros en bici“, which we will meet again in Equador, where I will join David to hike on of the highest mountains in South America. After we left the horses alone on their meadow, we descended another 45 kilometers into the valley of the Rio Cauca, which is the second largest river of Colombia. The view from the mountains were amazing and the speed of our heavy loaded bikes reached their maximum.

image

image

But it took us over and hour to reach La Pintada, the village in the valley, where we enjoyed our daily „Hugo naturales con leche“ (frischer Saft mit Milch). This juices became one of my favourite drinks and now I consume about 4 a day if it’s available. Orange, Guanábana, Banana, Maracuya, Papaya, Strawberry, Lulo, Lemon, Grape, Mango and some more fruits are served ice-cold and give me the necessary power and refreshment during the days. Well, after we enjoyed our drinks we followed the river and tried to make some kilometers, knowing that the next day will be a hard one, climbing up to Manizales. Joanne and David found a super cheap hotel in Irra while Tobias and me drove out the village to camp next to a small tributary river. After a hot day we laid down into the refreshing stream for a while and enjoyed the last sunbeams with a bottle of colombian beer.

image

image

The next day we had to climb 1600 meters and so we started early to have some hours in the cool morning. The mountain seemed to be endless but half the way we were accompanied by a nice girl riding her road bike. Finally we made it and all four cyclists checked in the same hostel to spent three nights in Manizales, which belongs to the famous coffee region of Colombia. An hour by car, two volcanos with an altitude of over 4000 meters stick out in the horizon. I never had been that high, but after been asked of joining a 2000 meter downhill ride by bike I was breathing in the thin air in he next morning. A Austrian guy, David an me went up to 4150 meters by car and got some coca tea, before we were chasing down our mountainbikes. It was an awesome experience in an intense I never felt before on an offroad downhill track.

image

image

After I had been back on solid ground I relaxed a bit and followed the invitation of the girl on the road bike,  we met before while cycling up the hill. The others stayed at the hostel, so it was only me who where collected at the hostel to attend the dinner at the place of the girl and it’s family. It was another intereting evening with a lot of talking only Spanish and by getting to know a wealthy family.
The next day Joanne, Tobias and I discovered the city with all of its churches and parks.

image

image

During the day the colour yellow became the dominant colour in the streets, because Colombia had to play it’s second game in the Copa America against the favourite Brasil. The mood was growing and reached its top in the evening, where a joyful tension was filling the air. The soccer team of the Colombianos made their dream come true and after 14 years of not beating the big rail, they won 1:0 and Alm the town drowned in cheer.
Tobias and I left Manizales in the next morning, while Joanne and David stayed one night more, but the time will come to see each other again. The first few kilometers we flew down the mountain to go to Pereira, where we stayed at a Warmshowers place behind the down in a calm area. The house of the couple was amazing. Full of Fotos and painting, as well as books, records and heaps of well-chosen decoration. A garden with fruits, vegetables, herbs, chicken and coneys gave this beautiful place a complete character. The couple and their son traveled as well down south to Patagonia some months ago and provided us everything a bicycle heart needs to be pleased and feel comfortable.

image

image

image

On the descent to Pereira, Tobias fell of his bike, but luckily nothing bad happens. But on the next day he favored his bruise on his upper leg, so that I went to Filandía alone, while he went ahead to our next stay. Filandía is famous for its beautiful and coloured buildings, as well as having some great Coffee Fincas around. So I enjoyed a coffee as well as a Hugo con leche in nice atmosphere in the center, before I went on to the similar but more touristic village Salento.

image

image

image

image

Arrived there, I couldn’t believe to see a small snack bar with vegetarian and vegan food, burgers, falafel, hummus, guacamole and of course Hugo naturales- wow. It might be nothing special in Germany anymore, but on a continent, where the nearly just only eat carne and where they will tell you in restaurants, not to have any vegetarian meal, in these places it seems to be like a oasis in the desert. Furthermore, some South Americans don’t even know what it means to be Vegetarian – after telling them not to have any kind of mest/carne, they will offer you some pollo/chicken or they will bring you a meal which includes some kind of meat mixed in chickpeas. Salento seems to became adapted to the demands of tourists and the streets were full of international visitors.

image

Anyway, it’s a nice spot as well and it is close to the Valley of Cocora, which descent up to the mountains with a river in its heart and ends in a small village from where you can do several hikes into the mountains. Huge palms adorn the slopes and create a nice view of the surrounding landscape. We camped next to the creek and fell asleep under the lapping of the stream.

image

image

image

image

I did a quick hike at 7 in the morning up the hill to gather another view over the valley, before we rode back to Salento. Nearby I attended a coffee tour, where I got to know the whole process of the growing of coffee plants as well as the procedure of gaining high quality coffee, including the picking of coffee cherries and a delicious coffee at the end of the tour.

image

image

image

image

image

image

On the way back I was given a lift up the steep hill to Salento to meet Tobias again, who relaxed in the park in the meantime. What happened afterwards is to be considered my hardest climb ever. Another 1100 meters, but this time on a gravel road up to 3200 meters over the sea. On top we found abandoned house with a great view, where we stayed over night. The first time I had to wear my winter equipment and the wind was strong as well. At the horizon we could observe a thunderstorm.

image

image

The next day was not much better concerning the up and downs in the road and most of it again on loose ground. On top lonesome cows and horses walked along the path. For the eyes the views were pure joy, but for my knees it became a big challenge.

image

image

image

image

image

We arrived in Ibagué after two physically demanding days and we’re hosted by another warmshower. This time we made Pfannkuchen instead of Spätzle and went together with the father of our host to a short trip into the city center before I fell into a deep sleep.
Today we went on to La espiral and further south to Neiva, the next big town, which is still 120 km away. We asked for a plce to camp along the road at got offered a meadow behind some houses, which we share with cows and goats.

image

image

image

Besieged by four kids, we couldn’t really enjoy a calm afternoon, but the kids seemed to have fun with running around our tents or overwhelming us with questions.
In front of my little home I lie underneath the starry sky about to fall asleep again. To the friends who will attend the Fusion: Enjoy the time, the atmosphere and dance like nobody is watching!

Medellín and the surroundings

First of all, I can say that I totally recovered from my diarrhea, which was caused by tap water. Some European stomachs might be able to be fine, but mine seems to be special.
After leaving the region Santa Marta, I headed to Barranquilla to take the road down south to Medellín. But due to my infection I stayed some more days on the coast. I was hosted again in Puerto Colombia by the warmshower-girl and her lovely family, I stayed with some days before. During theses days I got to know the city a as well as the family of my host and their guests. The city, which was once the most important colonial harbour in South America, lost most of its glamour. The long pier into the water where used to unload the arriving ships and put the goods directly on a train. Along the coast street artists constructed some sculptures three years ago, which embellish the city as well. With another couchsurfing girl from Czech Republic I strolled around a second time and on my last evening we went out to a nearby bar to inhale the atmosphere of the locals enjoying the weekend.

image

image

image

Due to the imminent arrival of Tobias and to recover some more days, I took the night bus to Medellín. The climate on the coast was amazingly hot and so I was looking forward to the pleasant temperatures of the mountains. I arrived early in the morning an spotted a road which was closed for cars and which was full of bicycles and a some inline skaters. So I throw myself into the floods and as usual it didn’t take long to be asked the question of my origin and about my path. I was invited for a drink and to stay in a house of colombian cyclist, but some minutes later another guy accompanied me, showed me around the town the whole day and finally offered me as well to stay in his small apartment in the center of the town, a part which I was warned of to be the most dangerous part of the city. The next day I discovered the city a bit more, went to the market and climbed up a little mountain in the center to enjoy the outlook at the metropolis, which is surrounded by hills covered by houses.

image

image

image

Tobi arrived around noon in Medellín and after a stop in a nice Café in the south, where we met a nice guy from the Staates, we climbed up 1000 meters to Las Palmas, where we were hosted by a former workmate of Tobias and his family. The house where on an altitude of around 2500 meters and for the first time I felt cold on my travel.

We left most of our luggage in Las Palmas and pedaled to Guatapé, where we found a big rock in the middle of a beautiful landscape. Also the way there was worth the excursion, a region shaped by agriculture with their local food, which we tried on our way back: Arepa de Chocolo con Queso. Guatapé itself is situated next to a region dominated by many little islands in a storage reservoir – muy lindo.

image

image

image

image

On our way back, we met a lady in Rionegro, who took us on a discovery tour through the city and introduced as to half of the town. She rode a bicycle, supported by a combustion engine and was jealous about our trip across South America. She loved to accompany ourselfes, but finally she went back to her shared flat to prepare the birthday party of a friend.

image

I already went further down to the south of Colombia, but before telling some more stories about climbing up more mountains, Mountainbike from volcanos, I will leave you with a foto I took in Medellín. A message on a bike which is the counterpart to mine: una bici más – un carro menos! (one more bike – one car less)

image

The first Colombian Days

After 6 days on the boat, one more than expected, due to some technical issues on the boat, we arrived in cartagena, Colombia. Most of the activities during the last few days were done together, so I was happy to have some time on my own again and it felt like a deliverance as I finally could move around again without a time to meet up again.

image

We arrived in the evening when the immigration office was already closed, so that the captain handled everything during the next day, while we could spent some time in Cartagena as illegal immigrants. I took the chance to see the castle San Felipe, a big fort which served the Spanish against the attack of the Britons in 1740.

After two hours in the castle I went on to the old town of Cartagena, which I loved a lot. So far Cartagena can be called the most beautiful town on my path, but I have to admit that I just saw some part of the town. Later on I got to know, that some parts of the city are inhabited by very poor people and that this parts cover most of the city.
On my way to find a Hostal, a Brazilian guy recognized me and my bike and asked where I come from. It turned out that he is travelling on his bike as well, for 5 years through the whole south American continent. So I spontaneously checked in in the same hostel. He told my about the critical mass in Cartagena which was taking place the same evening. So I joined him and around 300 other cyclists for a tour along the coast and back. Although it was a great experience I missed the cohesion of the group. Some of the cyclists seem to mix up the excursion with a race. At the turning point there were 10 minutes between the first and the last cyclists. Anyway, I liked the the idea of the tombola, where different bike articles were given away to the participants.

image

The next few days in Cartagena were somehow determined by the „reparation“ or destruction of my tablet, as well as some other things in a chain of bad luck. I visited the lovely old part of Cartagena, the library and the gold museum, met again the crew from the sailing boat to have some beers on a roof party and celebrate the birthday of the Brazilian Cyclist. I had a few interesting conversations with a guy from Norway, who was staying in the hostal as well.

image

image

Equiped with a new tablet, it was time to leave the town. The accommodation for the next two days was already settled, a warmshower girl in Puerto Colombia and a Couchsurfing Couple in Rodadero, near Santa Marta. In the middle of the first stage I visited a „volcano“, full of mud. Due to the hot weather I already felt as a pig and so I enjoined a bath in the pothole on the top of the volcano. With 120 kilometers, the high temperature and headwind this day was really hard as well as the next one. Around noon I used to make a break to avoid cycling in the hotest time of the day. On my way to Rodadero there were no houses along the street, nearly people and even more no village for a couple of kilometers. In addition hardly places to hide from the sun for a nap. I finally found one and directly fall asleep. As I woke up suddenly two men with their bikes were standing right in front of me, fishermen who catched shrimps the whole night long. They were hard to understand in comparison to the people from Cartagena. After they passed I decided to go on but I parked my bike on some plants with prickles, which resulted in a flat tyre. I fixed it in the usual matter, while another fisherman arrived and helped me. Ready to go, the tyre was flat again – another hole in my inner tube, a new task. The fourth fisherman arrived and after some minutes a guy from Argentinia, who stopped his car to see if he can help. He invited me to come to his apartment and so I did one day later, cause I already demanded a couch for that night.

image

As civilisation approached again it was a very sad picture. Not comparable to the trash I had seen in Panama or Costa Rica. The amount of waste exceeded all my imagination, a poor village drowning in plastics and other kind of rubbish.
In Santa Marta I took the day to relax. Besides two hard days of cycling an infection started to drain power from my body. In the evening I followed the invitation of the Argentinian guy, who stayed together with his girlfriend and a friend in an apartment of a hotel. A holiday resort with a pool on top of the roof where I enjoyed the fresh water, before we cooked some Spätzle together and spent an pleasant evening.
The next days the infection robbed more power and so I’m forced to recover some more time. Hopefully I will regain my power again to go in south to Medellin, where I will meat Tobias!

Thwarted to readjust (Ausgebremst um sich neu zu orientieren)

It took quite a long time until I finally have the peace and time to sum up the last two weeks. The story starts on my way to Portobelo, where I arrived at around noon. On my way I met a couple of Canadians (Shift happens), riding their bicycles as well, giving myself some advices for the trip on a boat, what I was in search of to get to Colombia. On my arrival in the hostal Captain Jack’s I bumped into a group, who where just about to visit a sailing boat to Cartagena, Colombia – perfect timing. The tourist guide, who took care of several activities took us to the pretty Calypsa, a sailing boat made of wood with two masts. The captain a Italian with some years of experience, so that I had a good impression and good freling that I will not drown in the Carribean Sea. The departure delayed by one day, so that their was plenty time to discover the small place Portobelo, which was discovered by Christoph Kolumbus in 1502 and whose name means beautiful harbour. A canoe tour to the nearby rivers with the tour guide Franscesco, and a two Swiss was a beautiful experience, especially the calmness and the presence of local birds. We saved a falcon, which was unable to fly and seemed to be very weak. So we took him to the village, where an animal doctor arrived one day later.

image

image

The first few hours on the boat: I never had been on a sailing before, so I didn’t know what to expect. What I definitely not expected was the intense swing. And I was lucky that I choose the bed in the front of the boat, where there the moving was so intense, that had the feeling of falling down after a steep rise. Waves up to 5 meters hugh let me feel to be on a rollercoaster 24/7. Although I didn’t feel that bad, I had to feed the fishes twice. But later on I got used to it.
On our way we passed the San Blas Islands or KunaYala, which are controlled by the Kuna,  indigenous people, who were able to defend their territory against the Spanish invaders and still are an autonomous region as a part of Panama. The islands can be called Paradis because of the beautiful beaches and the clear water. We stayed there for three days and enjoyed swimming, snorkeling and just the beautiful atmosphere. The day we went snorkeling and we were just walking along the beach to find a good spot to discover the sealife, suddenly the crew, who remained on the boat screamed something. Due to tan upcoming thunderstorm, we though they wanted us to come back to the boat. But that wasn’t the message they wanted to transfer to us. They saw a shark and wanted us to stay out of the water. Fortunately we got to sea something big moving close to the beach, so that we finally got the message.
One night, after having a barbecue on the beach, I decided to stay on the island for the night while the others went back to the boat.

I was told to be picked up the next morning, but nobody appeared. I had no water, no breakfast no place to go a lavatory, but I had plenty of time. So, what to do on a lonely island which is as big as a soccer field. Throwing stones in the water, taking pictures,  observe little creatures on the beach, walk around the island, pack my stuff, think about some stuff, throw more stones in the water. After three other guys from the boat came to the island to snorkel I decided to swim back to the boat in my normal clothes. Just 4 hours alone on an island gave me a glimpse on the life of the Kuna. They maybe fish, produce some clothes or wristbands for tourists or pick coconuts but I guess there is not much more. I guess most of them don’t even read books, but still they seems to have a happy life. So what does a human need to be happy? For me it seemed to be pretty boring, but maybe just a thing of habit.
Some more hours we spent on the open sea, nearly 50 hours, surrounded by the sea, 10 people on the boat. I read a lot and could reflect some of my experience I gained over the last days. One thing,
which conquered my mind was the importance of people affecting the time I spent at certain places. People can inspire you and this gained inspiration is the basis of my motivation. Some people really have a big character, they can tell you something what really matters and which I never heard of. Some days later in Cartagena I deepen this thoughts by having several conversation with a guy from Norway. 
Time is passing fast sometimes and so now. I will leave the fancy Café Lulo in Santa Marta to meet a group of Argentinos, which invited me yesterday, while I was fixing another flat tyre. But more of this and more about my first days in Colombia with a new run of bad luck in the next entry.
More pictures on Flickr and Facebook.

Panamá City and the National Park Soberania

The loud noises of the city accompanied my in the city. Although Panama City is just as big as cologne it seems much bigger. Several skyscrapers dominate the picture of downtown. But this is just one face of the capital. The areas just behind the big bridge  are very poor. Some of the buildings in these areas are still quite high but not with much glamour. People were trying to sell sweets or drinks along the inner city highways, carrying their stuff in buggies. And then there is Casco Veijo, which carries the history of the colonial time in their streets, ruins and churches, museums and narrow streets. About 4 years ago, it was the part of the city, where artists and creative people lived. But with the renovation of this district, rich people came to settle there. The rents rose and the former inhabitants moved to other parts of the city. We know this by some other German cities like Berlin or Hamburg. In Casco Veijo, the charme of this areas remained and the difference of the former and the new center of the old time is pretty interesting within the time of change.

image

image

image

After too many days in the city, I went on to go to the Caribbean Sea. From this day on I’m cycling alone.
Early in the morning I went a second time to the Mirraflores Docks, cause there weren’t any big ships during the first time we went there. (You have to know that the switch the direction for the big container ships in the middle of the day and that it takes a while until they passed the whole path between the two seas). The second time I was pretty much 2 hours to early, and so the security whistled back myself. I went on to the next docks in San Pedro, where there was no entrance for visitors but still a spot where I could get s glimpse.

image

2 kilometers further I stopped in the bridge to observe the big container ship goin through the canal.

image

At around 9 I arrived at the border of the national park Soberania, where I left my luggage to do a hole in the camino de plantación, a path trough the jungle, which was build during the construction of the canal for the transportation of goods. It ended a the the camino de crises, which was one of the major path during that time. I enjoyed my walk in between the big trees and the diversified vegetation. Along the path I could see various animals, like monkeys, lizards, frogs and some more which I couldn’t define.

image
image

image

The next day was the first day full of rain. Before there were some days with some more or less heavy showers, but in this day it was raining all day through. On the way to Portobelo I met Jeff and Roselind from Canada ( Shift happens) . After a short but nice conversation with sharing some tips, I arrived in
Portobelo in the middle of the day. Perfect timing, because just after I had taken a shower, I went on a sailing boat which will bring me across the Caribbean Sea over the San Blas Islands to Cartagena. When everything works fine, the Calypsa (calypsatours.com) will leave Monday afternoon.

From Garden Eden to the big town Panama City

Some days ago I uploaded some pictures of the Garten Eden without telling you about this place, whee we met Patrick, who lived in Leipzig and owned an organic shop before he left Germany. Finally he settled down in Uvita, a little village at the Pacific. After managing a hostel, he began to build the Garden Eden. Two German girls and one american guy stayed at this place as well and because of having a nice atmosphere at this place and inspiring conversations, we stayed there for three nights. All the guests helped him during the morning to build up a roof in the front of its house, clean up the house, water the garden and do some other tasks. Therefore we could it ate and sleep at his place. During our stay we only ate raw food, so vegan and nothing cooked. But we always conjure tasty stuff like Guacamole, hummus, smoothies and different kinds of salads. The house itself was an open house, so most of the „rooms“ had no walls around. I slept in a hammock for the first time and felt quite comfortable. On our last afternoon the visit of the nearby waterfall was beautiful as well and refreshing compared to the temperature of the warm ocean.
image

The trip had to go on and we went on to pedal down south. The next two nights we slept in the backyard of locals, whose hospitality is amazing. They offered us juice as well as fruits and water. Using their bathroom seemed to be the most common thing on earth. Well, this is how it should be, right?
In between we had to cross the first border and so we were curious if all things will work. After we had to pay the exit tax, we had to get the exit stamp on the side of Costa Rica. With this we went to the border, where they wanted us to show them a proof, that we will leave the country. Neither we had a flight ticket, nor any other proof. So they wanted us to show them our credit card or 500 $. We were prepared and so we could pass to Panama without any bigger problems.
image

One of the highlights in Panama, were the stay in Gualaca and the visit of the surrounding area. We stayed at a german woman, who one lived in Remscheid. She took us on a tour to her favourite places. A little canyon, a waterfall and two suspension bridges as well as a resort with rented houses and a tree house, operated by an old American guy with his young well-trained partner from Panama.

image

image

The next day we slept in a police station right next to the Panamericana, and as a present we got a pineapple right according to the motto of the police „protect & serve“.
image

One day before reaching Panama City we asked again at a police station near Coronado and again the served us. A policeman drove through the town to ask for an accommodation for us, returned and escorted us to the place. What a service.
Today we reached Panama City and it was really amazing to cross el Puente de las Américas, very impressive and one of the highlights so far.
image

The next days we will spent in the city before we will go up the channel to Portobello, where we want to catch a boat to Cartagena.

Well, how is it goin with my tyres, I got asked. One day after I wrote my entry about all the breakdowns, it became better,BUT it was not the end of this episode. A thunderstorm was going to show up and so it was the perfect time to have another flat tyre. Unfortunately Paula also didn’t realized that my misfortune pounced on me again. This time nails of a stapler wanted to have a look into my outer tyre to greet the tube. I found three of them stucked in the outer tyre. And although the procedure of getting out the tube, close the leak and reset my tyre became a ritual during these days, the rain came faster then I could get back on my bike. But I was lucky, cause I found a shelter before an intense rain in combination with thunderbolt began to rage. So, I needed a new repair kit and from that day on the fortne find its way back to me. 🙂

image

I updated the map with the marks of our night stops, which you can find here.

More pictures can be found on my Flickr Account.