Reflections and images from my travels

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Otavalo and Cotacachi

May 10th we visited both Otavalo and Cotacachi, cities located relatively close to Quito. It was another early start and finally all of our Galapagos group had arrived. Several of our group members had a delayed transfer in Houston the previous day due to poor weather in Dallas and finally arrived in Quito at our hotel at approximately 3 AM the morning of May 11th. I was very impressed that they made it to breakfast that morning and joined us on this tour!

After breakfast, we again boarded the bus with our guide and proceeded to Otavalo. Otavalo, capital of Otavalo Canton, is a largely indigenous town in the Imbabura Province of Ecuador. The town has about 90,000 inhabitants [1] and is surrounded by the peaks of Imbabura (4,630 metres (15,190 ft)), Cotacachi (4,995 metres (16,388 ft)), and Mojanda volcanoes. They are famous for weaving textiles, usually made of wool (that is sometimes as black as a raven), which are sold at the famous Saturday market. Although the largest market is on Saturday, there is a very wide range of wares available throughout the week in the Plaza de los Ponchos, and the many local shops. The shops sell textiles such as handmade blankets, tablecloths, and much more.The Otavalo market consists of ninety mushroom-shaped concrete umbrellas with benches. The market was designed and built-in 1970 by Dutch architect Tonny Zwollo. During the market’s peak, almost one-third of the town becomes full of stalls selling textiles, tagua nut jewelry, musical instruments, dream catchers, leather goods, fake shrunken heads, indigenous costumes, hand-painted platters and trays, purses, clothing, spices, raw foods and spools of wool. Prior to visiting the handicraft market, we also visited the animal market. This was an interesting experience. Let’s just say that the SPCA would have had a field day here with cramped enclosures, rough handling, all manner of animals for purchase and consumption and even rooster fights for “entertainment”. I am not sure what Richard’s kids made of it all. We then proceeded to the main market by foot and then split up to photograph and/or shop. The market was MUCH bigger than I remember it from 2008. I guess business has been good! Anna, Amy and I had lunch at a very Americanized restaurant and then met up with the others- with Anna and Amy’s shopping bags bulging and each of them possessing very satisfied smiles- at 1 PM on one corner of the market as the rain started to fall heavily. We got drenched on the short walk back to the bus and because of the weather had to delay our trip to Cotacachi by visiting a local weaver indoors for a demonstration of this ancient art and of course to shop!

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We then proceeded on to Cotacachi. This city is located five miles northwest of the artisan city of Otavalo, about 3 miles west of the Pan-American Highway (Route 35). It lies in the valley between the volcanos of Imbabura and Cotacachi. There are two main entrances to the city, both off the Pan-American Highway. The first entrance feeds directly into the city’s main square, while the other turns into the famed Calle 10 de Agosto (locally known as Leather Street). Cotacachi  boasts one of the highest concentrations of indigenous people in the country of Ecuador. Due to its location close to the metropolitan areas of Ibarra and Quito, as well as it’s proximity to the coastal province of Esmeraldas, it is also home to great diversity. Many mestizo people (coming from Quito) and many Afro-Ecuadorians (coming from Esmeraldas) live in and around the city. In recent years, the demographic has shifted to include many foreign retirees. On a recent census, the number of resident foreigners totaled more than 500. A definite option for retirement! Most of our group was interested in shopping for leather goods at great prices. I simply enjoyed walking around and looking for an actual cafe for an espresso! It was quite funny as I had developed this craving as soon as I got off the bus in Cotacachi (maybe it had been all of those early mornings) and spent the next ninety minutes searching for a place to get my fix. I had given up all hope and was heading back to the parked bus when I noticed a great little cafe and pastry shop literally 10 m from where the bus had dropped us off. Clearly, I needed that joe! I was joined by Darren and Pat, and eventually Janet, who all agreed they could make a great espresso!


It was a quiet and relaxing bus ride back to Quito as we got back about ninety minutes later than expected due to the earlier weather delay. It was time to re-pack (again) as we would depart for the “Enchanted Islands” early the next morning. It would be great to return to the Galapagos and share this with Anna who had never been there before. Sleep came easily.

Back to Cusco!

We awoke very early the morning of May 6th and were provided breakfast at the resort before we left in the van to Puno (funny no one joined us at that hour). We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Lago Titilaka Resort- it is a world-class resort. Lake Titicaca is definitely a place anyone should visit if they are coming to Peru. It retains much more of a traditional feel and is extremely peaceful and relaxing. The expansive views are in a word… calming! We were looking for solace after our trek and we found it. To be honest, I was not looking forward to the 10 hour bus ride back to Cusco. However, it proved to be quite an enjoyable and informative trip. It was well organized and we had an excellent guide along the way. Several stops were planned breaking up the monotony of the bus ride.

1). Pukara 3900 m:

Pukara was the first regional population center in the northern Lake Titicaca Basin during the Late Formative Period (500 BC- AD 200), providing valuable insights into the origins of Andean civilization in the highlands. During its peak it covered over a square kilometer and housed thousands of bureaucrats, priests, artisans, farmers, herders, and possibly warriors. The Pukara style is identified by impressive monolithic sculptures with a variety of geometric, zoomorphic, and anthropomorphic images plus intricate, multi-colored pottery in a variety of ritual and domestic forms. We stopped at a very interesting museum which gave us a much better appreciation of pre-Inca civilization. There was also a beautiful church to take photographs of (inside and out).

2). Raya Pass 4335 m:

Abra La Raya (La Raya Pass) is the watershed between the valley that drains into Lake Titicaca and the valley that leads down to Cusco and to the Sacred Valley. The altitude is 4335 m (14,232 feet). We stopped briefly and Anna got her fix with the numerous vendors waiting for the buses at the crest of the pass. I grabbed a quick shot of the snow covered mountains.

3). Sicuani Lunch Buffet 3552 m:

Sicuani is a relatively large highland town. The town is a major intersection, with the road to Puno/Arequipa passing through here. This town is surrounded by some very pretty hills. Upon stopping we had a buffet lunch in an exclusive restaurant with family atmosphere. Again, there was more shopping.

4). Raqchi “the Temple of Wiracocha” 3450 m:

The most important building inside the complex is the “Wiracocha temple” that according to the old chroniclers was built by the Inca Wiracocha in honour to the Superior God invisible for the Andean people: “Apu Kon Titi Wiracocha”. The “temple of Wiracocha” is a great example of architecture for that age. Architectonically it is classified as “Kallanka”, that is, a high building completely covered with straw (wood and “ichu”). Externally it is 92 meters long (302 feet) and 25.25 meter wide (83 feet). This was a fascinating area and we took the opportunity to grab some photographs of the amazing architectural structures.

5). Andahuaylillas “The Sistine Chapel of America” 3122 m:

The church of San Pedro Apostol de Andahuaylillas, built by the Jesuits in the 16th century is found here. Like other Spanish and religious constructions of the time, it was built on top of a huaca, or sacred place for the Incas. Made out of adobe and brick, the church is a small structure consisting of one nave, apse and bell tower. But there’s a reason why it’s known as the Sistine Chapel of America. The inside of this church is perhaps the most beautiful I have ever seen. Unfortunately pictures were not allowed so if you wish to see it you will just have to make your own way here. Trust me, it is worth it! Anna was able to pick up some wall art from a painter who was in attendance.

Just prior to coming into Cusco I was able to grab a quick photograph of the Inca gates of Cusco from the bus. The grandeur of the Inca civilization continued to amaze us. The scale of these gates was massive and it was amazing to witness the dying sunset light streaming through as we descended into Cusco. After being dropped off at the bus station we were thankful that a representative from our hotel was waiting to pick us up. We ate dinner in the hotel that evening so that we could re-pack (yet again) as we were departing Peru for Ecuador in the morning. Our experience in Peru was fantastic (personally, I am so glad I decided to come back to visit this wonderful country). What we both experienced will remain with us forever.

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Lake Titicaca Day 3- Taquile Island and the Uros Floating Islands

May 5th was going to be a busy day. We had two separate half-day excursions that day. Taquile Island in the morning and the Uros Floating Islands in the afternoon. Thankfully, the weather was beautiful. The resort provided a boat right from their pier for our excursion to Taquile Island. For the afternoon, we would have to travel by van to Puno and then board a boat to take us to the Uros Floating Islands.

Taquile Island is a living museum, a secluded island of weavers whose textiles have been held as heritage masterpieces by UNESCO. Part of the uniqueness of the island culture comes from the traditional social structure which is reflected in their dress, traditions and greetings. We departed from Titilaka’s pier and traveled by boat for about an hour to Taquile Island. Beautiful terraces were visible from the boat as we approached. We docked on the southern part of Taquile which is furthest from the city of Puno and therefore less frequented. This would allow us to have a much more intimate experience of the island. I would describe the island as peaceful and tranquil. We had a very leisurely hike and along the way stopped at an elderly man’s home. He was absolutely thrilled to receive a gift of coca leaves from one member of our tour. We were able to look inside his home at his very “rustic” kitchen (see included picture). Despite having very little these people are very content and welcoming. Even though their lives are difficult I would certainly not consider them stressed in any way. They simply coast along according to the rhythm of the day. They are not completely isolated and do have contact with the mainland. Media and television have influenced the island. As an example, as we were walking our guide was talking to one of the young women who recently had had a child (the slang name for a infant in the local dialect was “wawa” which seemed very appropriate) and he inquired of her as to the name of her child. We were expecting a very traditional name so we were quite surprised when she called out “Frank”. I guess no one is safe from the influence of television! We then carried on to a flat plateau where several villagers had gathered in traditional dress and had various handmade crafts for sale. They demonstrated their technique for cleaning and washing wool using a local plant for “soap” and some of their spinning and weaving techniques. They were very open to us taking pictures. Of course, we had to purchase a few items. Their textiles were absolutely exquisite and many of the pieces that they made, especially in courtship, took up to six months to complete. We were very glad of UNESCO’s decision to honour and protect their artistic skills. We then hiked up to the high point on the island for beautiful views of surrounding Lake Titicaca. We then had a beautiful descent to a beach where some locals were fishing. After boarding our boat we had a very pleasant sail back to our resort for a delicious lunch. I had the opportunity to take a few pictures of our beautiful resort.

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At approximately 2:30 PM that afternoon we got ready for our trip to the Uros Floating Islands. We got into the van and drove approximately one hour to Puno. Puno is the major “resort town” of Lake Titicaca. It does not have an airport and that is why we had to fly into Juilaca which is located another one hour distant. We didn’t spend much time in Puno but immediately went to the local dock in order to board our boat. You can tell that this is a major tourist town and that many tourists board boats for excursions as there were numerous boats for hire. You cannot see the Floating Islands from Puno. Soon after leaving the bay just outside Puno you begin to see the reeds from which the Floating Islands are constructed. Numerous waterbirds were visible from our boat in these reeds. We also passed small rowboats that served as the “taxis” of the Floating Islands. As we approached the islands we had to stop at a small structure which represented a “tollbooth” for the islands. Our guide then took us to one particular floating island which housed 3 women and one man. I was surprised at how small their particular island was. On the island they had several structures that served as their living quarters and bedrooms. One of the advantages, according to the guide, of the floating islands is that if you have any problems with your neighbours you can just float away and park your island somewhere else. They also pay no tax here! Our guide also told us that the inhabitants of these islands tend to be heavier than the mainlanders because they do not get much exercise! This appeared to be the case. I was surprised at how stable the island was walking on it. We were given a demonstration by a local woman of how the islands are constructed. Fascinating. We were then shown into her sleeping quarters for a personal demonstration of the structure but in reality it was a clever ruse to sell us textiles that were apparently handmade (Anna pointed out on a different day at another market that one of the unique “handmade” textiles was also for sale at that market- we suspect a local sweatshop is responsible for most of the textiles that are sold around Lake Titicaca). This was a slightly disappointing experience as we really felt trapped in that small structure with one of the other local women blocking the doorway until we purchased something (the mafia could learn something from these women). After extricating ourselves we were then offered a ride on a very interesting boat structure that was made by the locals and was very ornate and colourful (once we boarded we were made aware of an extra cost for the cruise- 10 soles). The locals refer to them as their “Mercedes-Benz”. Before we got on board, we were serenaded by the woman with a traditional song (nice) followed by a song in English they had learned phonetically (believe it or not it was “Row Row Row your boat”). It was a little kitschy but we had to laugh. Anna and I felt a little guilty as one of the more elderly women and her similarly aged husband rowed us down a stretch of the Floating Islands. The sun was going down and the light was beautiful and we simply enjoyed the experience, in other words, we got over it! We were then dropped off at another much larger island which had cafés, restaurants as well as the Internet! I think the owner was a little bit disappointed we did not purchase anything. Our motorized boat then picked us up and we had a pleasant sail back to Puno. We got back into the van and returned to our beautiful resort for a fantastic meal, re-packing and then a pleasant slumber. We would be leaving very early the next day in order to catch a tourist bus from Puno which would take us back to Cusco. We were initially going to fly back however no flights were available on that day to Cusco when we arranged our adventure. Our tour operator was then going to have us take a train-which I think would’ve been really amazing- however, this did not pan out either. A 10 hour bus ride instead leaving at 6:30 AM! Would we survive?

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Lake Titicaca Day 2

We awoke Sunday May 4th better refreshed and ready to start our first day of excursions in the surrounding areas of Lake Titicaca.

Our first stop was the barter market in Acora. In the Peruvian altiplano trade is still an important method of paying for goods that one needs for their households. On Saturday mornings, villagers need to barter livestock and Sunday they engage in a lively barter market with other goods. Livestock, as well as potatoes, quinoa and chuno, an Andean dried potato product, are inspected and traded. We had a quick visit on Sunday to observe the bartering of fresh produce, vegetables and other goods as well as the bartering process carried out mainly by the women dressed in traditional costumes of the local Highland people. Fascinating.

Following this, we traveled to the impressive Chullpas of Molloco. These are tremendous funerary relics jutting out from a vibrant green field. They are impressive stone structures expertly made and previously housed approximately 3 to 4 mummies of well-to-do families. They always had a small opening facing east. The structures were either conical or cubical depending on the sex of those interred. Amazing structures.

We then proceeded along the Archaeological Aymara Route with a visit to Amaru Muro. This is located in a series of red coloured rock hills very reminiscent of the southwest USA. It involved a longer hike than expected with a few tricky sections trying to get up some relatively slick rock. It led to an absolutely stunning viewpoint with Lake Titicaca in the distance. Anna watched as I ventured out onto the viewpoint as there was a very narrow section with precipitous drops on either side that did not appeal to her (funny that). We then descended by an alternative route and came upon a most amazing site. This was the doorway of Amaru Muro, an absolutely massive structure, believed to be an inter-dimensional portal by local shamans. In the middle of the doorway at the base is a kneeling area where you can place your forehead into a small depression in the doorway as well as your hands on the sides. Anna was able to get a picture of me in this pose but I was not able to pass into the next dimension (thankfully). While we were there, there were two locals who were performing an ancient Andean ceremony at the site. It was a privilege to observe this very special ceremony. Even though most of the population is Roman Catholic, many of the locals still practice the ancient Aymara religion.

On our way back to the resort we attempted to stop in to see a local traditional weaver in the community of Copamaya. Unfortunately, he was not in. However, his sheep were (they were not weaving in his absence). We were also able to visit his home despite his absence. He apparently makes many of the textile products that are proudly used in the resort that we were staying in. The resort tries to support local communities and artisans which is admirable. Just prior to the resort we stopped at an outlook to view a beautiful castle-like structure at a resort that has been built by a prominent Belgian. We then returned to the resort for lunch.

That afternoon Anna enjoyed a relaxing half day spa with a massage and I went for a mountain-bike through the fields of Plateria. That evening we enjoyed an absolutely spectacular meal (all of the meals at this resort were world-class) and simply enjoyed the ambience of this beautiful resort.

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Salkantay Trek Pictures Day 4-7

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Salkantay Trek Pictures Days 1-3

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Maras/Moray and Chinchero

Today’s posting will be relatively short. Unfortunately, I seem to have come down with nausea, fatigue and lack of appetite. I do not know if it was related to something I ate yesterday. I was able to participate in today’s tour, but, felt somewhat compromised at the end of the day so I am going to quickly complete this posting and get to sleep early to see if I can get over this prior to our departure for the much harder trek.

We left our hotel at 8:30 AM with Leo and a new driver and proceeded to Moray.  Moray is a site located on a high plateau consisting of unusual but interesting Inca ruins: several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is about 30 m (98 ft) deep. The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but the temperature differences between the top and bottom caused by this type of construction and its sophisticated irrigation system indicate that Moray was perhaps used by the Incas for conducting agricultural experiments. We were able to circumvent the entire structure in order to appreciate its intricacies from all sides.

We hopped back into the van and then proceeded through the town of Maras and eventually reached the salt plateaus jointly owned by the Maras townspeople and another town at the bottom closer to the Sacred Valley. These salt plateaus are owned by individuals from these towns. They are given approximately 10 plots to manage. They can inherit these plots and pass them on to their children only: if they wish to get rid of them in some other way they must give them back to the cooperative who then decides who will farm them. A true cooperative. It also had an extremely interesting and intricate set of mud aqueducts in order to provide the salty spring water to the individual plots. Some of these intricate aqueduct structures may have been first engineered and utilized by the Incas. What an amazing people! We had a very pleasant hike down the one side of the plateau and were able to appreciate how difficult it must be in order to do this work. It takes months of filling up the individual plots and then allowing evaporation to do it’s work. They generally wait until there is between 5 to 10 inches of salt and then they have a special tool to harvest it. 50 pound bags are then filled and have to be carried out manually from some of the plots to storage sheds. A truck then transports these bags to a high point but not to the top. Donkeys are then used as beasts of burden to take the bags the rest of the way back to their town. The salt is world-famous and there is also a pink variety. Anna was able to purchase some.

We found a quicker way back to the main road and then proceeded back towards Cusco. Along the way we spent some time exploring some architectural ruins in the town of Chichero. The people are very friendly and very industrious. They are still completely connected to the land for their agricultural goods and also produce beautiful textiles and other cultural items.

After a nice boxed lunch, we were given a demonstration of the natural insects and plants they utilize in order to get natural dye colours which they then stain sheep’s wool as well as alpaca’s wool with.   The ability to spin thread onto spools is something to behold as well as the actual weaving. This is certainly a very complex and technical art and the native women made it look easy. The demonstration was held at the woman’s cooperative so, of course, we had to buy a few items.

After Chincero we drove back to Cusco and visited the local market. Amazing selection with items too numerous to mention here. Everything you could possibly want was available and the vast majority of it is grown locally. I wish we had such a market. We then walked back to our hotel with Leo. We actually got back early which was a good thing considering how I was feeling.  Anna was going to go to dinner alone tonight and I hope she doesn’t hook up with some sexy Peruvian man!  As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Before dinner, she decoded to go to mass but only realized at the end it was a funeral mass. She certainly knows how to party! I will be the boring one staying at the hotel trying to recover with some pharmacology, electrolyte solution and hopefully plenty of rest.

Tomorrow is our final tour day in Cusco. We start early at 8 AM and will be touring some of the sites in this amazing mountainous city. It will be a busy day as we have to meet with our tour operator for our pre-trek orientation meeting after the city tour. We then have to repack our gear into smaller bags to take on the trek. Here’s hoping I am feeling up to the challenge.


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Amazing Hong Kong

As I write this post, it is December 3, 2011. I arrived in Hong Kong yesterday early in the morning. What a difference compared to Kathmandu. Kathmandu has many challenges but over time I grew to appreciate some of it’s charms. In contrast, I immediately loved Hong Kong. So much action, activity, polite people and despite its size an extremely clean city. I am amazed at the number of cleaners they have out for example in Kowloon Park continually sprucing up the place. If you love shopping (I do not personally) this is surely heaven. The number of stores is overwhelming. Everything from inexpensive bakeries all the way up to extremely high-end shops selling the most exclusive goods. Even though there are many people you hardly ever hear any car horns unlike Kathmandu. Everything is orderly and everything works. This is another distinct difference compared to Kathmandu. There was an underlying sense of brokenness and decay in Kathmandu. Hong Kong exudes energy and enthusiasm. The other thing that became immediately obvious was that it was Xmas shopping season. Decorations and Xmas music blaring out everywhere. I left Canada mid-October so I guess Xmas is a coming and mighty soon.

I arrived yesterday, as mentioned, quite early and could not check into my room until 2 PM. This afforded me the perfect opportunity to cruise downtown Kowloon on foot since I had so much practice walking over the previous six weeks. Everyone in Kathmandu is trying to sell you all manner of goods. In Hong Kong the only people who try to sell you goods in the streets are the tailors. There must be thousands of tailors in Hong Kong. It seems everyone wanted to sell me a new custom-made suit. During my morning I visited the beautiful centrally located Kowloon Park. What a mecca of peacefulness in the centre of this busy city. It had a wonderful aviary, beautiful sculptures and many people practicing tai chi, martial arts and swordsmanship. The weather was warm (about 23 C) and beautiful with blue skies. It is amazing how cheaply one can eat in Hong Kong. Taxis are always available to take you anywhere you want to go for a reasonable price. It seems the only type of taxi available is a Toyota Crown Custom LPG automobile (in Kathmandu it was broken down and barely legal Suzuki Maruti’s). Not all of the taxi drivers have a good command of English so it is a good idea to be aware of major landmarks around where you want to go or where you are coming from. As an example, on December 3 traveling back from a hike on Dragon’s Back I asked the taxi driver to take me to the YMCA on Salisbury Road. After driving through the expensive districts of Refuse Bay and Stanley (both lovely by the way) he happily stopped and wanted to drop me off at South Gate Way. After a lot of confusion, I decided it was best he just drop me off at the Star Ferry near Kowloon which he seemed to understand. In his broken English he was very apologetic.

After getting back to my hotel at 2 PM, I was informed that because the hotel was so booked with an open house they were having the next day that they were upgrading my room. Excellent. The room was absolutely palatial compared to what I had experienced over the previous six weeks. The upgraded room had a separate suite and a beautiful view over the downtown area. It was extremely comfortable. Needless to say I had a wonderful sleep to make up for the lack of sleep the previous night on the flight over.

I actually slept in on December 3 and finally got out of bed at 10:30 AM! Wow I guess I needed that sleep. I then had a quick breakfast and took a taxi drive out to the Dragon’s Back Trail. This is a wonderful hike if you find you have time and are in Hong Kong. Within 25 to 30 minutes it’s like you have left the city. It is so quiet and the views are panoramic. The weather was perfect. Certainly all my high altitude hiking helped over the previous six weeks as this hike seemed very easy. You basically get up to a high point of approximately 284 m over undulating hiking trail hence the name of Dragon’s “Back”. I have attached the elevation profile because I have finally figured out how to do this from my GPS!  One must do something with the data from these tech-toys!

Dragon’s Back Elevation Profile

When I completed half of the hike I decided to completely descend to a lovely village on the beach which was very quiet and a great place just to reflect on the experiences I have had over the previous six weeks. I then double-backed on the same trail and along the way watched a paraglider take off from the slopes and gently ride the thermals and when I got back to the start point I took a cab back to my hotel. Overall, a nice little hike- total distance 11.6 km and total ascent cumulative 542 m. I had a fantastic dinner and will go out to walk around downtown to simply soak the ambience of this fantastic city this evening. My plan tomorrow morning is to get up early and to do a run along the nearby promenade. I try to do a long-distance run in every city that I visit. The mornings are generally very quiet and it is a wonderful way to explore a city. I regret to say I did not do this in Kathmandu. It just didn’t seem like it was a safe , healthy or particularly pleasurable thing to do in that particular city.

After my run I plan to have a leisurely breakfast and again simply walk along the promenade enjoying my final hours in the city. I fly out of Hong Kong International at about 4:30 PM December 4 and will arrive back in Calgary December 4 as well late afternoon.

What a fantastic trip this has been. So many wonderful experiences and wonderful people. I hope this blog was able to communicate to you some of the experiences that I had on this wonderful journey. I hope you enjoyed the photographs and also the narrative. I tried to be as entertaining and brief as I could. Certainly with many of you I will further expand on my experiences when I am back in Calgary. Who knows where the next adventure will take me. Certainly Patagonia in Chile is one place that I really want to visit, hike and camp in. Perhaps that will be where you will next find me. For now I sign off, however, I plan to keep the blog active even for some of my local adventures so check back often. Goodbye for now. As always, a few pictures for you to enjoy.

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Langtang Trek- Part 4

We left Thadepati Pass November 25, 2011 and had a steep descent down a beautiful forest trail under brilliant blue skies and then crossed a suspension bridge over a river and climbed up to Melamchigaon, 2530 m. We had a quick water break and then proceeded onwards to Tarkeghyang at 2600 m. At times we crossed a road which was the first evidence of a return to civilization. The guesthouse at Tarkeghyang was quite large. It was also very busy. We arrived in the early afternoon and the sun was very warm and I enjoyed a lovely afternoon chatting with Anna, a lovely German woman who was trekking on her own but had been to Nepal 30 years previously. She was revisiting some of the areas she had seen before. She was most interesting to talk to. Before we arrived at Tarkeghyang there was an absolutely beautiful Buddhist monastery and temple that we visited. It was in a beautiful location and very peaceful. I had a relatively early evening in order to continue the therapeutic process of improving my cough. It was starting to settle.

November 26, 2011 was a relatively easy day traveling to Sermathang, 2590 m. It was nice not to have massive elevation gains or losses. I think I had reached my fill of trekking and was looking forward to winding down. We arrived quite early in Sermathang and again stayed at a wonderful guesthouse. At this guesthouse I met Julie, a retired British schoolteacher who was doing volunteer work at the local school. To my delight Anna also showed up at the same guesthouse later that afternoon which made for a wonderful evening full of conversation and fantastic kitchen dining. The food was superb. The remainder of that afternoon I spent walking around the village and just enjoying myself and taking a few photographs. It was a very relaxing day.

November 27, 2011 we had the final leg of the Langtang trek. Our destination was Melamchi a relatively large town at 870 m. This final day did involve quite a bit of trekking on a road which seemed shocking after all of the trail we had been on. I perhaps would’ve chosen a different route down which did not involve this stretch but I think my tour organizer wanted to add distance and increase days to match the duration of the missed Everest trek. It was very hot on the descent and I was happy to reach Melamchi. I swear I was the only Caucasian tourist in this particular town. We stayed at a relatively comfortable hotel that was advertised as a beachfront hotel. I am not sure why they did this because all we had for views was a large construction area surrounding the hotel and a distant view of the Melamchi Khola. I enjoyed another wonderful Nepalese lunch meal eaten with my hands with the guide and the porter of Dal Bhat. I then walked around the town and enjoyed an afternoon exploring and taking a few photographs. At the river I was enthralled with two homeless men fishing for their dinner. That evening we had a quiet dinner and then settled into a peaceful slumber. The Langtang trek, and in fact all of my trekking, was completed. What a rewarding experience overall. This was a much quieter, more remote and in many ways more rewarding trek than Annapurna. The trek was approximately 187 km in duration with a total ascent of 12,417 m (yes, that is correct!) and a total descent of 14,059 m!  It was was a lot longer than Annapurna and more challenging.

Langtang Trek Elevation Profile

We got up early November 28, 2011 and after a simple breakfast proceeded to the bus stop and took the local bus back to Kathmandu. There were no tourist buses in this area due to its more remote location. If I thought the tourist bus from Pokhara was bad it was nothing compared to the local bus. This trip was actual torture. The bus was very old, eventually absolutely packed with people to unsafe levels and in it’s condition should have been condemned. Most of the seats were ripped and had no cushioning. The ride was bone jarring again. It took approximately 4 hours to get back to Kathmandu. I was never as happy to get off a bus as I was on this occasion. Through six weeks of trekking with massive elevation gains and losses I had no pain or discomfort. However, after this bus ride I had an extremely painful right shoulder and right lower back pain. 4 hours on this bus accomplished what six weeks of trekking could not do. Thank God for anti-inflammatories. I arrived back in Kathmandu and stayed at my original hotel The Eco-Resort in Thamel. it was a wonderful experience to have a hot shower, get a haircut and shave and sleep in a comfortable bed that evening. Ah… we do like our creature comforts!

My final tour in Kathmandu was on November 29, 2011 when I visited the local tertiary Kanti Children’s Hospital for approximately 3 1/2 hours. I spent so much time there I was unable to make it to the leprosy clinic afterwards. It was a fascinating experience and I met some very committed and wonderful Nepalese physicians who were able to speak to me about their experiences trying to provide care. A relatively fascinating individual was the head oncologist who had trained in Los Angeles between 2007-2010 but had returned to Nepal to provide oncology care for the local children. He was having a direct positive impact with relatively good outcomes despite having very poor financial support and limited pathology support including blood cultures. With induction chemotherapy he often had to guess what was producing fever because certain cultures for common organisms fungal and otherwise were not available. I also had the opportunity to meet with a British nurse who was here providing volunteer training on central venous line placement for chemotherapy. This would make a big difference to the comfort of the children during their treatment protocols. The sanitation and infection control in the hospital were challenging issues. It was an eye-opening experience and again I am so thankful to be living in Canada. It would be interesting to come back and provide some volunteer medical time in the hospital teaching or providing service. I will have to consider this in the future. The need is so great here.

The evening of November 29, 2011, the entire day of November 30, 2011 and December 1, 2011 were spent relaxing, touring the tourist areas of Thamel and catching up on the blog. I am now relatively caught up- yeah! As I dictate today it is December 1, 2011 and I leave Kathmandu at 11:30 PM this evening to fly to Hong Kong and will arrive December 2, 2011 at approximately 6 AM in the morning. I will spend a few days in Hong Kong before I return back to Canada. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time both in Bhutan as well as Nepal. I grew to enjoy in Nepal after my initial reservations and I must say that the people of Nepal are extremely generous, warm and very gentle. I am so impressed with them. They are passionate about their children and providing education and adequate health care to them. However the government does not really support them in this regard. There are so many challenges in Nepal. Many of the Nepalese also have a passion to learn English as they realize this provides a gateway to better paying jobs usually in the tourist industry. I will continue to add a few more blogs about Nepal while I am in Hong Kong. For now I will say “Namaste” packing awaits.

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Langtang Trek- Part 3

November 22, 2011 was the third massive trekking day in a row. Our goal was to get to Laurebina, 3910 m which would put us on the Gosainkund trek. Over the previous 18 hours we had a cumulative elevation gain of 3100 m. Unbelievable! It is amazing where your two feet can take you. However, my cough was worsening and I realized with the massive elevation gain that I would just have to slow down my pace in order to prevent any progression to pneumonia. I would really have to pace myself in order to get through the remainder of this very long trek without incident. From Landslide we had a relatively steep climb back to Thulo and then a very steep climb, which was exhausting, up to a viewpoint on a ridge where a lovely tea shop was located. We stopped here for lunch. We then continued a more gradual climb through beautiful forest on the ridge until we reached Cholangpati, 3654 m. This was supposed to be our destination however we could see Laurebina just above us on a relatively steep slope. We proceeded up the additional 300 m and arrived at the first guesthouse which was quite large. I was quite tired and wanted to stay at this guesthouse but the guide stated it would be better to climb an additional 50 m to the next guesthouse. Despite my reservations I learned from Annapurna to trust him. The next guesthouse looked extremely small and in much worse shape then the guesthouse we had passed on. I wondered about his logic. However, after staying there I understood. He informed me that as a solo trekker large guesthouses do not provide good service. They seem to cater to larger groups. The smaller guesthouses were often empty run by small families and provided much more personal service and better food for the solo trekker. This proved to be the case. I absolutely loved the smaller guesthouses and they treated me royally. I must say I had a wonderful sleep but this was certainly also due to the exhaustion with the previous three days of trekking. I think my aging body was starting to feel the cumulative effects of five weeks of gruelling trekking.

November 23, 2011 was supposed to be a relatively short day and climb to Gosainkund, 4165 m. This would be a day to catch up on rest. However, on arriving at the small village the guide informed me that because I was a solo trekker they were going to charge double the regular room rate. I felt this was quite unfair. We decided to hike onwards to Phedi. So much for the short day. This area was extremely wild, remote and with very few trekkers. Excellent. It was very rocky and we passed several Kunds or small lakes which added to the beauty of the trek. There was also a holy man who lived in the rocks with a very basic shelter at one of the larger Kunds which a small Buddhist temple. He apparently had lived there for the last 18 months and was committed to living there for another three years! He apparently was waiting for Vishnu to arise from the lake and tell him his life’s purpose. Apparently smoking hash made the wait more tolerable. What an interesting individual! We passed through Laurebina Pass at 4610 m and also reached the highest point at a cairn at 4770 m. We took a few photographs at this point. The sky was clear but it was relatively cold and windy. This did not help my cough. We then had a very rocky descent to Phedi at 3780 m. That evening we witnessed an absolutely spectacular sunset which I was able to photograph. There was no other habitation in this area except for the occasional guesthouse. It was really wild. The guesthouse was relatively loud and busy but I was able to get a reasonable sleep.

November 24, 2011 our goal was to reach Thadepati Pass, 3690 m. It was a rocky descent with a stop at Ghopte, 3430 m for a water break. We continued to trek and just prior to our final ascent to Thadepati Pass as I was going to take a picture I realized that I had lost my detachable electronic viewfinder for my camera. I typically carry my camera on an external holster attached to my backpack which makes it easier to take photographs on the fly. I had no trouble throughout the entire 5 1/2 weeks. Unfortunately the electronic viewfinder does not have a lock mechanism when it fits into the hot shoe. We went back about 1 km to look for it but to no avail. We decided the chances of finding it were slim so proceeded on to our destination. We arrived at Thadepati Pass which provided a wonderful view on top of the ridge and we were able to look back on the backend of the white-capped Dorje Himal range which extends all the way to the Tibet border. Fantastic views. I also had the pleasure of meeting another Canadian couple at this guesthouse who just happened to be from Calgary! What are the chances? We had a very pleasant afternoon relaxing and chatting in the warm sun. This was very therapeutic and started to have a positive effect on my cough. That evening at dinner a Spanish trekker showed up at our guesthouse and asked if anyone had lost an electronic viewfinder?  Apparently he had found it on the trail shortly after Ghopte where we had stopped for a water break. What luck! I was thrilled I would not have to purchase this camera accessory again. I told our guide good luck had followed us from the prayers he had made at the Kund where the holy man was located which had a series of prayer wheels and Buddhist temple. Even though my guide was Hindu whenever he passed any Buddhist temples or prayer wheels he always rang the bells and spun the prayer wheels. Would our good luck continue?

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