Tag Archives: National Parks

Colombia

Colombia was the last stop on our round-the-world adventure, and it did not disappoint.   Jen’s friend, Anne, met us in Bogota, and we were all amazed by the modern and colonial parts of the city surrounded by a pretty mountain.  The financial district where we stayed even felt a little like Washington, D.C.!  We spent a few days at the museums around town, and poking into a few emerald shops along the way.  Best of all, Colombia was inexpensive – a nice treat on our budget after costly Brazil.

Next, we flew to touristy but picturesque Cartagena.   We loved wandering the colorful streets and old city walls, as well as the fun nightlife in the old city.  We also got out of town to see the turquoise waters of Playa Blanca and the beautiful fish in the coral reef near the Rosario Islands.  To get there, however, we had to brave a boat ride which involved flying five feet airborne over some rather large waves for about an hour straight, making us wonder we had gotten ourselves into.  All a part of the adventure.

Sadly, Anne had to head back to work, so Jon and Jen finished the 9 1/2 month journey on the beaches east of Cartagena.  First, we stopped at a surf camp called Costeno Beach, with miles of quiet beach, delicious communal dinners, and a chilled-out vibe.   Jon was ecstatic to be able to surf, skateboard, and slack line every day.  We spent our days in the hammocks while the waves and the hours rolled on by.

Our final beach stop was a camping trip in Tayrona National Park, where we hiked in to gorgeous turquoise water and big rocks on the shore line.  If we didn’t already think we were in paradise, the sand in Tayrona even sparkles with fools gold!

Our very last stop on our trip was a visit with Jon’s college friend, Eric, and his beautiful wife, Kristin, in Baranquilla.  They were wonderful hosts and we loved meeting their cute family and eating some great meals with them.

Sadly for Jon and Jen, our journey has come to an end, and we have returned to Denver.   We will post one last post with some favorites.

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Patagonia: Incredible mountains and glaciers

We flew from Buenos Aires to El Calafate, the jumping off point to see the illustrious Perito Moreno glacier.  El Calafate also had a lake with a nice marsh for birds including flamingos!  Seeing the flamingos in their natural habitat was a nice surprise.

After our day tour to the glacier, we headed for El Chaltan for some hiking.  Driving into El Chaltan, we were struck by Mount Fitz Roy and the surrounding mountains, which looked like a natural castle.  We spent the next few days hiking around, and Jen did a day tour to the Viedma glacier to go ice climbing!  Jen got lucky with good weather and a small group, but unfortunately a back injury from falling in Bariloche prevented her from really getting after the ice.  Jen got to go on this expensive adventure while Jon enjoyed another hike, since he had used up his adventure cash mountain biking.

Next, we were really excited to meet up with friends from Boulder:  Jenn (who also met us in Beijing!), Andrea, her husband Ryan, and Harlan.  They were joining us to hike the famous W track in Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia!  We had already had a few winter ski hut adventures with Andrea, Ryan and Harlan, so this was not our first backcountry adventure together.

We arrived in Chile a few days early to plan, buy food, and pack.  We hiked in to the first campsite on our own, and headed up the hill to try to see the gorges “Los Torres” peaks while the weather held out.  Torres del Paine is famous for severe and changeable weather, so any sun is a blessing!   We waited and waited for our friends to arrive at the Refugio, and they finally made it around 9 pm due to some South American antics.  Since they were on a shorter (and more luxurious) vacation, they opted for staying in the refugios and paying for cooked meals, while we camped and cooked for ourselves.

The next morning, the rest of the group hiked up to the Los Torres peaks, and later we all took off for our next campsite at Los Cuernos.   The next day, we hiked up the French Valley to some of the most amazing views of the hike.  Unfortunately, the photos from this part of the hike did not turn out due to some snow and low lighting, but we could hear either glacier calving or avalanches thundering as we hiked towards the glaciers hanging off of the huge mountains.  That night, we relaxed by joining our friends in their backcountry hot tub that came with the cabins that they booked.  Unfortunately, we did not make it up to the glacier at the end of the lake (to complete the W) due to 80 km/hr winds which kept us up all night by literally slapping us with the tent.  We will be back to hike in this park again!  Patagonia with its granite rock formations was probably the most stunning scenery of the trip.

We had an amazing time with our friends, but they were heading to Buenos Aires and we headed to Brazil in time for CARNAVAL!

Goodbye for now, New Zealand

After our big walk, we headed for Milford Sound on a bus & boat tour.   It was truly incredible; the photos don’t do it justice.  I’ll let them speak for the beauty themselves.

We stopped in Dunedin for  a night to check out some Blue Penguins.  They are the smallest penguins on earth (approximately 1 kg), so they’re extra adorable.  They rushed to shore in packs and ran up the hill to their nests at dusk, around 11 pm – midnight!

We spent Christmas in Kaikoura, a cute town on the coast, known for it’s wildlife.  We spent a gorgeous and sunny Christmas Eve kayaking to a seal hangout, and made lamb for Christmas dinner.  We also visited some baby seals on the coast.   During the winter they apparently hang out in a waterfall pool, in a kind of baby-seal daycare, while the female seals are out hunting.  We saw them while they were still on the rocky coast with their Mamas.  They were ridiculously cute!

We stopped in a pretty French-style town on a peninsula off of Christchurch on our way out of town.   We even got to catch up with some friends that we met in Thailand during a stop in Auckland in between flights!  We loved NZ and can’t wait to visit the  South Island again!

Java and Borneo

We flew to Jakarta and used some hotel points at the Marriott.  We were confused to arrive to metal detectors and bomb dogs at the hotel.  Apparently the Marriott in Jakarta was a victim of terrorist bombing in 2009.  Jon visited a few sites in town while Jen relaxed.

We flew to Borneo (Indonesian Island of Kalimintan) via Tragana Airlines – known for being late and at times taking off early!  We were a few hours late, but we made it into the jungle in Tanjung Puting National Park in our klotok, a boat that glides through the jungle in Indonesia.  We had the boat to ourselves, as well as a captain, assistant, cook, and guide!  We visited orangutans at a rehabilitation center in the jungle.  At one point, a mama orangutan grabbed our guide’s arm, hoping for food!  We also saw proboscis monkeys and a gibbon!  It was truly awe inspiring to see the giant mammals move about the trees and feed.

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We headed to Yogjakarta to visit two ancient temples:  Prambanan, Southeast Asia’s largest Hindu temple, and Bodobudur, a huge Buddhist temple, both built in the 9th century.

We had planned to visit a Volcano, but fate struck, with a nasty case of conjunctivitis.  (We believe picked up from a fellow traveler in Myanmar.)  We named it EYE-bola, and we had to visit an Indonesian eye doctor and cancel the trip.  We opted to fly to BALI instead!

Zimbabwe

For us, Zimbabwe was an afterthought, really.  We hadn’t planned to tour through, but we had to travel south somehow to complete our grand loop of Southern Africa from Cape Town to Jo’Burg.  Because public transport through Botswana is basically nonexistent aside from the treacherous mini buses, we headed through Zimbabwe.  We were bussing through anyway, so we figured we should explore.  After all, we aren’t likely to be back.

Not surprisingly, travel here is much more difficult than in South Africa, or Namibia, or Botswana.   Those countries seemed like a well-running dream compared to Zimbabwe, rocked by years of war, recent famine, and decaying infrastructure.  It is clear that every building, hotel, etc was built in the 1950s or 60s and remains as it was without much upkeep, like a society locked in time, but trudging on.  Everything is relatively very expensive here as well; I have no idea how the people here can afford anything.  Somehow though, the Zimbabwean people are the warmest and gentlest that we’ve come across in Southern Africa.  How they maintain their sunny demeanor in the face of hardship is truly amazing.

It was our first country we’ve visited where criticism of the government is illegal.  ‘Stay away from political subjects altogether,’ says our guidebook.  Quietly, we wondered how Robert Mugabe feels about Zimbabwe’s use of the US dollar in its (almost) all cash economy.

Victoria Falls area is more accommodating to tourists, being a tourist destination since the early 1900s, aside from the periods when travel here wasn’t really possible.  Travel outside of Vic Falls was more trying, but we did manage to see some impressive sites.

Great Zimbabwe is a World Heritage Site and a fascinating site of ruins, built around the 13th century.  The hill complex is a maze of old steps and tiny passageways, set between giant boulders.  There is also the “Great Enclosure,” thought to be the royal compound, with huge walls and a conical tower.  The ruins are not well known, but suggest an advanced society not attributed to this area by earlier scholars.  Unfortunately, years of looting, suggestions that the society couldn’t have been African, and lack of government funding have resulted in limited information about the life of the 10-20,000 people who lived here between the 11th and 15th centuries.  The country was named after this area after imperial Rhodesia was no more.

The travel to and from Great Zimbabwe required two 5-hour bus trips on “chicken buses,” or local buses.   After we jumped on the first bus with our backpacks, we were told the packed bus was too full, but as we turned around to exit, the bus pulled away suddenly to our surprise.  Somehow, the locals on the bus made room for us and weren’t too annoyed with our giant packs.  We did get to meet some nice locals on the bus, but the bumps, lack of room, and smells on the bus made for a long 5 hours.

View pulling up to the "bus station" in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.  We took the bus on the right :)
View pulling up to the “bus station” in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. We ended up on the bus on the far right!

We also camped in Matobo National Park, the “spiritual heart” of Zimbabwe, where we enjoyed views of balancing boulders and 60,000 year old cave paintings.  We made friends with our drivers, who opened up to us about their life in Zimbabwe and the struggles they face.

IfOur guest house in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe - we loved it there!

Our guest house in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – we loved it there!