Author: cora and cw

:: staring into the deep ::

Are we going down there? Even the donkeys seem to be struggling. Standing atop the crater rim and looking down at the mineral infused water there were only three options – down, around, or back to the car. Though the waters beckoned, the whipping wind and impatient toddler led us back to the car. A well-measured decision.

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Quilotoa stands on the western edge of the Andes and its crater lake is hypnotic. Looking down on the green waters and pondering the depth of over 250 meters, all the while surrounded by the parched rocky soil at the top, makes you realize the violent history of this place.

It is yet another place drastically affected by the seismic and volcanic upheavals under the earth’s surface. In 1280, Quilotoa erupted for the last time, further carving out the existing crater and creating the nearly symmetrical expanse of the current lake. Now you can swim, kayak, and wade into the peaceful waters. Some believe Quilotoa is the last resting place of Inca Atahualpa, so to some indigenous peoples it is sacred.

We didn’t spend much time right at the crater, but rather made our way to the cozy little retreat of Black Sheep Inn. There we settled into a diet of delicious brownies, cookies, endless tea and coffee, and the best high-altitude pancake recipe. The room was cozy, the fire powered sauna was warming, and the views were stunning.

It wasn’t all over-indulgence however, as we enjoyed the Skywalk – a hiking route around the surrounding crumbly hillsides that takes in much of the ever-changing scenery. We started in near sunshine and ended in fog, but thoroughly enjoyed the scrambling, climbing, and insight into the countryside.

On another hike, we explored a little known queseria, or ‘cheese factory’, hidden in the hillsides above Chugchilan. Here a couple of men were working hard, using traditional cheese making techniques learned by some Swiss missionaries. We explored the three room house that was the cheese factory and learned a bit about their process. We left with a round of cheese that we thoroughly enjoyed on our other hikes.

Cora returned again to Quilotoa with Piper and our good friend Ruth from the UK and was treated to a much kinder day in terms of weather, at least initially. The three of them climbed down into the depths of the crater and relaxed in the Ecuadorian sun along the turquoise waters. The hour long climb back up on foot was grueling, especially with a 30lb pack, but it was worth it to feel so close to this magnificent crater lake.

Many people do long distance hikes in this region – travelling from village to village – and it is easy to see why. Quilotoa is the main draw but the rolling hills, interspersed with rocky mountain outcrops, lend themselves to exploration. Little homesteads tucked away in forgotten nooks and crannies give evidence of a lifestyle unchanged over the centuries.

Quilotoa is the perfect place to unplug, unwind, and detach from the hustle of modern life. Bring your energy for the strenuous hikes, and your appetite for a decadent brownie to finish!

:: charming cuenca ::

If there was any doubt about Ecuador’s Spanish colonial history, all you need do is look at the squares that dominate every city, town, and village across the country. The curving paths around fountains, lush trees and blossoming flowers, colorful buildings with cast iron balconies and large windows, countless domes and archways are reminiscent of the many cities of Spain.

Nestled in the southern spine of the Ecuadorian Andes, Cuenca is a city of spires, squares, and exquisite colonial architecture. It is smaller and more laid back than either Quito or Guayaquil but still a bustling place in its own way.  It’s a wonderful place to stay a few days, or even years as is the case of many expats who have decided to stay. With a nice and compact city centre that is easily walkable, Cuenca lends itself to aimless meandering walks.

If you give yourself to the freedom of having no where to be, then Cuenca exposes great little wonders from the cobbled alleyways to the small artisanal shops and colorful street decor. The simple pleasure of an ice cream cone in the park can be fully appreciated for the slower pace of life. It is what travelling is meant to expose.

We admittedly didn’t spend a lot of time in the city itself, preferring to explore the wilds of Cajas National Park and the surrounding artisanal villages, but it was clear how one could find a quiet peace in the city; and stay.

 

 

:: notes from lesotho ::

We love to spread the news about how wonderful Lesotho is.  Thanks to the wonderful network of Foreign Service bloggers, we were able to do just that.  Ania at The New Diplomat’s Wife blog has a great little side feature called Notes from the Field in which she highlights a different post around the world every so often.

Cora reached out about featuring Maseru and Lesotho, and Ania was more than happy to give us a slot.  It was great to be able to write about this fantastic place that we love so much and hopefully help other people, both in and out of the Foreign Service, to learn a little more about this hidden gem!

Check out our feature on her blog here: http://www.thenewdiplomatswife.com/2015/10/notes-from-the-field-maseru-lesotho.html

:: visions of namibia ::

For two weeks we ventured through the vast expanse of Namibia and though we covered around 5000 kilometres of the country, we still don’t feel like we really saw the place.  This is a country that takes your breath away at nearly every turn and will leave your brain desperately trying to make sense of the awesome size, beauty and richness of the environment.  Two weeks, two months, two years, none would be sufficient to truly experience this vast country.  All we really know is that we will find a way back here to find new adventures out in this awesome wilderness.

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Search our blog for keyword Namibia to read about some amazing adventures in this gorgeous country.

:: to the edge of the abyss ::

If there is anywhere that truly encapsulates the awesome expanse of nature in Namibia, it is Fish River Canyon. Standing on the edge of the world’s second largest canyon, you can only stare out with wonder over the chasm stretching before you.  There is little vegetation, or water most of the time, and therefore all you see is the curving gash of the earth below rocky plains and ancient mountains.

All the way in the far southern part of the country, the Fish River, like many rivers in Namibia, only flows when there are heavy or persistent rainfalls.  This was not always the case obviously and much of the canyon was formed millions of years ago when the African and South American continents split apart, causing a massive shift in the topography of this part of Namibia and allowing the then very full Fish River to carve its way through the terrain.  Standing atop the rim near the tastefully designed visitor centre, you can’t help but gaze into the open space and wonder at the power of water to affect the natural environment.

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Not far from the visitor centre is the start of a four day hike through the canyon, a rite of passage for many hard core distance trekkers as once you descend, there is no way out until you reach the end 85 kilometres later (unless you want a helicopter evac!).  We did hike into the canyon from the end point of this monstrous hike, the Ai-Ais hot springs, and literally just going a couple of kilometres into the sandy, sun-baked terrain made us appreciate the achievement of the full hike.

Our campsite at Hobas was quiet and had lovely little pitches nestled under a few trees, perfect for escaping the harsh daytime sun.  Plus it had a swimming pool, perfect for cooling off and meeting people.  We had the good fortune to spend a few hours with Peter and Marijke, a Dutch couple with a similar spirit of adventure.  It is amazing how you can meet people from far flung corners of the world in other far flung corners and have similar interests, especially having both decided to venture off into the wild.

Fish River isn’t as popular a destination as many of Namibia’s other sites, but that makes the experience all the more incredible.  You aren’t jostling people out of the way to see nature at its finest.  You are there, almost alone, with nothing much to do other than sit and stare out at something that makes you feel truly insignificant.

As the sun sets over the canyon and the light turns from the deepest gold to the darkest of night, you wish that the moment could last forever…

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:: sands of time ::

Nature is unrelenting.  Wind, sun and sand never stop their detrimental efforts to erode, erase and retake space humans have altered.  Sometimes we only see the after effects centuries later and can’t fully comprehend the process of nature’s will.  But sometimes, we can have an audience with the power of Mother Nature and see exactly how she works her magic.  Kolmanskop is such a place. 

Not far from the Namibian coastal town of Luderitz, Kolmanskop is an old mining town, once home to wealthy diamond miners and the families of the mine workers.  It was built during the German colonial era and therefore has the architectural and cultural influences of Germany, including a ballroom, theatre, skittle alley and casino.  

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Today the clapboard houses and buildings are being inexorably overwhelmed by the sands of the desert surrounding it.  Everything from the grand mansions to the tiny row houses of the workers have sand, wind and sun damage.  Walls have holes, floors have caved in and sand dunes reach up to ceilings. 

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It is a surreal experience to walk into a room through a perfectly normal doorway, albeit a little worse for wear, and see a slopping pile of sand filling up one whole corner of the space.  There are even reminders of the life left behind, with bathtubs, bed frames and other pieces of everyday life left scattered through the ruined houses. 

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For us it was a dream to wander through these unique spaces and take photos of changing light, shifting sands and fading colours on pock marked walls.  Neither of us have a lot of experience with locations of decaying manmade structures like this, and it was truly magical to spend a whole morning investigating this mesmerising location.

 

 

:: wild horses ::

In the middle of extremely arid plains in the centre of the Namib Desert is a herd of wild horses of Namibia. These wonderful creatures are thought to have their origins from horses released from nearby farms and camps during World War I. Regardless of where they come from, these hardy survivors still exist in a herd that ranges from 80 to 150 members depending on conditions. They are left to roam free, but they like to congregate near a man made watering hole close to Garub, on the road to Luderitz. 

Standing there, blissfully in the shade of an observation hut, it is hard not to be amazed at these animals’ ability to survive in the suffocating heat of the desert. But there they are, acting like any other type of horse we have encountered. We gave them a a bit of love and took some photos before moving on, feeling amazed at how so many animals have found a way to survive in this arid corner of the world.