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Mount Pulag

Benguet, Philippines

It was at the peak of Mount Pulag where I saw the best Sunrise in my entire life. The peak provided a very great view of the horizon and clouds.

Mount Pulag is the second highest mountain in the Philippines at 2,922 meters above sea level. The mountain is very temperate with rain showers throughout the year. The four trails that you can pass are the Ambangeg, Akiki, Tawangan and the Ambaguio. As you trek the man paths of the mountain, the endemic dwarf bamboo and Benguet pine trees cover you with cool shades and wind. I just loved trekking the mountain forests, and the grassland summit. The weather brings very shivering winds and fog. The experience is very refreshing, and I would like to think of it as a pilgrimage. And by pilgrimage, and the best part...standing at the peak while staring at the sun blessing its rays on a sea of clouds.

permalink written by  On Foot on March 17, 2007 from Benguet, Philippines
from the travel blog: On Foot
tagged Philippines, North, Forests, Summit, Cold and SecondHighestPeak

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Potosi, Bolivia

Potosi is famous for its mines. Once a wealthy city with rich mineral resources, its former glories now exist as souvenirs, in museums and the impressive buildings of the Central Plaza . Much has changed since the days of slavery when the mines were forcibly constructed under the Spanish; now the miners are free to use the government owned mine as they please (paying a certain percentage in taxes of course) and the tunnels are invaded twice daily by tourists bearing gifts if soft drink, coca leaves and dynamite in exchange for being put up with. It sounded a pretty good set up to me and after kitting ourselves out in wellies, waterproofs and rather fetching helmets, our small group each bought gifts and we headed up there to see what was going on.

Along the way we stopped off at the processing factory where lots of complicated separating procedures take place, eventually producing silver, lead and… something else. Obviously I was listening, taking in and fully understanding the science involved but I won’t bore you with the details. The machines were a lot louder than our guide. Basically they crushed up rocks and then took all the nice shiny bits out using machines that went round and made lots of noise. Really though, it was a pretty elaborate looking process and I just enjoyed the crowded collection of machines busily spinning, whirring, grinding and stirring.

Our next stop was the entrance of the mine. We switched on our headlamps and stooped carefully through the tunnels, trying not to hit our heads too many times and listening to the strange hissing of the pipes along the walls. We stopped at a point where the air suddenly turned warm and sickly. A young boy and (I assumed) his father pushed a big metal cart full of rubble along the metal tracks. It was hard to imagine children working in mines despite the prominence of working children across Bolivia . We had been served by children in restaurants, seen them shining shoes in the towns and cities, even been told off in a hostel by one for trying to use the wrong shower! There was a certain charm about it at times- like if a chubby four year old with a chocolatey face brought you your change or something – but this was a bit more disturbing.

We became used to the smells and sensations of the tunnels and soon found ourselves crawling on our bellies through the dust. Josh had been unsure about going into the claustrophobic mines but he didn’t seem too phased now that we were in there – even less so after a drinking session with some miners who we found relaxing at the end of their working day. With dust tickling our throats we climbed up and down spinning trap-like stairs and crawled shuffled and squeezed our way around the rocky tunnels, their wonky wooden beams looking set to collapse.

Eventually we felt a welcome rush of fresh air. We filled our lungs and moved excitedly through the well ventilated corridor to freedom, my helmet rattling happily along the ceiling. Once outside we were given a dynamite demonstration. We all stood silently as the bomb was constructed – it looked pretty harmless at first, like a little round plastic bag full of sweets, but the fuse gave it a menacing touch and, once lit, a sense of imminent destructive power. Oblivious to this, the guide passed the fizzing explosive to Josh who jokingly accepted and then quickly attempted to hand it back. But he wouldn’t take it! He managed to pass it on to an Irish girl whose fleeting moment of enthusiasm was quickly replaced with genuine concern as she failed to find a willing recipient. Eventually the guide took it and ran off onto some wasteland where he planted it before returning to safety. We waited until we started thinking it may not have worked when suddenly a bang shook the ground beneath us. I would not like to be in a mine when one of those goes off. No sir.

Potosi had introduced us to a harsher climate. Although sunny, the wind was bitter and patches of ice testified to freezing nights. We had come prepared – layers of long johns, fleece and alpaca kept us toasty – but as we set of towards Uyuni on a colourful little bus I noticed that we were practically naked compared to the bulky, blanket clad locals who shuffled onto the bus and shuffled sideways down the inadequate aisle.

permalink written by  steve_stamp on July 28, 2009 from Potosi, Bolivia
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged Children, Rocks, Cold, Mines and Explosives

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Cold in the Desert

Uyuni, Bolivia

Uyuni is surrounded by some of the most spectacular and surreal scenery in Bolivia so, like every other gringo who visits the tumbleweed town, we hopped in a jeep for a tour of the nearby salt flats and National Park. We set off on a cloudy Sunday, our first stop was to pay our respects at the train “cemetery” which lies on the outskirts of town. Rows of rusty old trains create an amazing spectacle – abandoned in the baron wasteland, the tired brown relics lean passively, resigned to the slow erosion of the desert. We took photos and climbed all over them before being ferried off to the salt flats.

Both salty and flat, the salt flats were everything I was expecting. The endless white desert was fascinating and, above all, provided the opportunity to take vaguely amusing photos of us treading on each other and swinging on Josh’s beard. Josh’s beard really does deserve a mention. Cultivated since our departure and affectionately known as “The Wedge”, it has received praise and extended stares the world over. It has become a tourist attraction in itself. Now, after almost four months, Josh’s meticulous beauty regime has been extended to include a daily combing of The Wedge, which is habitually twisted and tangled in times of reflection.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, in the middle of a salty nowhere getting back into our jeep. The roads were thin smudges across the landscape and we gazed out of the windows at the blankness until we reached our lunch stop, the Isla Inchahuasi. An island upon the salt covered in cacti, Inchahuasis claim to fame seemed to be the fact that it is so spectacularly out of place. Nevertheless, it is a good place to climb up for a view of the flats and the distant mountains. After lunch and some more time dedicated to the perfect photographic illusion (it’s actually really hard to do if your camera is clever enough to have auto focus) we headed towards these mountains.

Our hotel was located on the edge of the salt flat where the terrain suddenly turned brown and rough. It was fairly comfortable, with hot water and a dining area from which we could see the colourful beams of the sun setting behind the mountains. Its most notable feature however was that it was constructed almost entirely out of salt! The walls, the tables, the chairs, even the beds were carved out of the stuff! If your chips were a bit bland you could simply scratch a bit of table onto them! It was a beautiful looking building, with salt crystal chandeliers illuminating the white uniformity of the rooms. In one corner they had a huge pile of salt and a stack of salt blocks – I like to think they just make anything they find lacking: “No, sorry we don´t have a bar but if you just give me a few minutes…” etc.

That night we got to know the other half of our group, a trio of flatulent Frenchmen who had a mysterious collection of cuts and bruises. They told us that they had just come from La Paz they had been robbed on two separate occasions, once by a fake taxi driver and then again at the hands of some Bolivians they had befriended who had drugged their drinks and beaten them before taking (what was left of) their valuables. To add injury to insult, one of them had also fallen off his bike on the Death Road. It was fair to say that these were an unlucky bunch but it did make me realise how fortunate we were to get out of that place unscathed – particularly considering the risky nature of our adventures. Anyway, we played some poker, drank some palpably cheap wine and retired to our salty beds for a good nights sleep. The pillows, mattresses and sheets were made of more familiar materials.

We set off as the sun came up the next morning. Our first stop, after an hour or so, was unplanned. Our jeep suddenly went quiet and we found ourselves watching hopefully as our driver tinkered with the engine. His toolkit consisted of a screwdriver and a knife, it wasn´t very convincing, but after a helping hand from the driver of another jeep (there were loads, breaking down in this desert was not as dramatic as you may imagine) we continued on our way to see Volcano Ollague, an active volcano which I had heard smokes like a Feltham housewife.

Due to the somewhat dangerous nature of active volcanoes we viewed this one from a distance – the “mirador” an interesting set of rock formations which I found almost as impressive as the distant smoke-tipped spectacle. The rest of the day was spent driving between picturesque lakes where the high mineral content means not only a welcome collection of flamingos but also spectacular variations in colour from deep reds to rich greens and streaks of yellow. Around the edges the lakes were framed with thick ice, this and the icy wind gave us a taste of the freezing night which we had been frequently warned to prepare for. We also visited the surreal and other-worldly landscape known as Salvador Dali Desert because the strange rocks are set to have inspired Dali when he visited the region.

It was an indescribable day of sights and I am well aware that my descriptive language fails to deliver the necessary images – even my photos don’t do the places justice – but to attempt to describe the constant, often baffling, changes in landscape would probably mean me dedicating the remainder of the trip to sitting hunched in various internet cafés across Argentina and Brazil. Thankfully, the hotel we were staying in requires very little description. It was basic and cold. We huddled around a small iron oven for warmth, played cards and the Frenchmen attempted to play the Beverly Hills Cop theme tune on panpipes (their Ipods had, after all, been robbed) – eventually the bitter cold of the night began to set in and we retreated to the warmth of our beds wearing as much as possible. It was the kind of night where you wake up to find an arm has fallen out of your sleeping bag and started collecting icicles but I slept well and, at 5am when we had to get up, was even fairly chirpy.

We set off in darkness, with stars scattered generously across the sky and our bodies still clinging to the warmth of our beds. I joked that breaking down now would be the worst thing ever. Then we did. Our driver tried to restart it but the engine gave nothing but a pained groan and a clangy rattle. We shivered patiently in the back. He tried the screwdriver, then the knife but nothing seemed to work! We tried to roll back to the hotel but we had driven too far and down too many hills – eventually the driver told us to wait while he walked back and got another jeep. By the time we watched the sun rise from the icy windows of our jeep, my chirpy mood had frozen over. We had been sitting in the cold for an hour and my feet were so cold they hurt. Our driver returned in a new and improved jeep and, happily abandoning the frozen corpse of that which had taken us so far, we continued on to the steaming land of the geysers.

Pools of thick, muddy water bubbled furiously and everywhere cracks in the ground shot streams of warm mist which drifted over us and filled our nostrils with its horrifically pungent sulphuric odour. I was amazed at how active the geysers were – there was a constant hissing and bubbling – and we were told that this was the case 24 hours a day. In an attempt to thaw my frozen feet, I stood nonchalantly on one of the smaller holes and immediately hopped off as the scolding steam burnt through my thin shoe! My feet half numb and half burnt, I got back into the jeep. I wasn´t particularly enjoying our last day.

We had breakfast at the nearby hot springs where we were also able to revive our feet. While Josh and I sat on the edge watching our toes come back to life, Niall and the Frenchmen braved partial nudity and went in fully. I was tempted, the water was nice and hot, until I considered that one has also to get out of the springs at some point. I decided to devote all my energy to eating as much breakfast as possible.

Fully defrosted and revitalized, the mornings mishaps were actively repressed and we proceeded to our final stop, Laguna Verde. This was a huge, deserted lake surrounded by red rocky mountains where the sulphur content repels flamingos but demands photography with its brilliant green water. Our driver said something in Spanish about the landscape being similar to Mars and that it is used by NASA for training purposes. That is at least what I decided he was saying – it could have been anything really. I have to confess that despite a tenfold increase in my vocabulary I probably only know about ten words of Spanish and most of them are only of any use when bargaining for alpaca jumpers or looking for a train station which is on the right hand side (I don’t know the word for left).

Anyway, so began our epic drive back to civilisation. It really was epic too; once we had bounced over the surface of Mars we crossed vast stretches of sand, slate, rubble and rock, splashed our way through icy frozen streams which trickled down through the valley from frosted mountaintops and eventually watched the sky changing colour as we roared across the flat, limitless landscapes before Uyuni.

permalink written by  steve_stamp on July 31, 2009 from Uyuni, Bolivia
from the travel blog: The art of being lost
tagged Desert, Photos, Lakes, Ice, Salt, Flamingos, Cold, Springs, Jeep, Breakdowns, Geyzers and Epic

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Arrived! (Econo-luxury flight a reality)

Beijing, China

Dream became reality! Apparently, few people want to enjoy a bitter cold Beijing winter. It's not that cold right now but the wind is strong. I had several naps across the mostly flat bed of three seats. Thank you, Air Canada! I'm mostly settled into my super cheap but pleasant enough dorm. Now to find head scratch and dinner.

permalink written by  prrrrl on February 22, 2012 from Beijing, China
from the travel blog: Beijing I, 2012
tagged Beijing, Nap and Cold

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Frying pan into the fire Frying pan into the fire

Lijiang, China

Going to Lijiang to escape Beijing's bitter cold winter is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Or rather like jumping from the refrigerator into the freezer. No central heating anywhere! It's COLD at night here. The night was saved, however, by a heated mattress pad. Cozy! Can I see the Sunrise from my bed, please?

permalink written by  prrrrl on March 1, 2012 from Lijiang, China
from the travel blog: Yunnan, China
tagged Sunrise, Cold and FryingPanToFire

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TLG III Or, the not so perfect day starts

Qiaotou, China

Day two in the gorge seems so long ago... Today is Thursday, Day two was Tuesday. The plan was to hike to the second guest House away, a 4.5 hour hike that we had all day to do. No rush. Noodle soup for breakfast [I've stopped ordering noodles here as they really are a northern specialty, the noodles down here are just packaged pasta - not the homemade yumminess that they serve in Beijing.] Now for the most challenging part of the hike: 28 Bends, two dozen plus four switch backs [I did not count to confirm] with significant elevation gain. They were not the most fun for me, mostly because I had brought a chest cold with me and the air in my inhalations, under extra pressure of high elevation and under the weight of a backpack, were not finding the membranes of my aveoli as usual. Cough, cough, hack...

I was a bit dismayed to find that when we had accomplished this infamously toughest portion of the trail we immediately descended in altitude. All that gain in elevation was for naught? The rest of the hike was much easier. We made the first guest House [Tea Horse GH] hoping to stop for the hour Thai massage. It was closed! They served us complementary tea and we pressed on.

permalink written by  prrrrl on March 8, 2012 from Qiaotou, China
from the travel blog: Yunnan, China
tagged Tea, Cold, Massage, Elevation, Congestion, Cough, Bends and 28

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TLG IV Or, the not so perfect day gets worse

Qiaotou, China

We had a small lunch of Naxi Ba Ba [the local flat bread] and deep fried bananas. Had we known what was coming we would have loaded up some energy. But we thought we just had 1.5 hours to go to Halfway GuestHouse. We did. But the 1/2 Way had a school group and no en suite rooms. No heating pads on the beds, either. Noisy & cold was not appealing. The beds sans heat pads were in a room with breezy gaps in the windows. The non en suite toilets were down the hall, down the concrete steps and around the corner from the sinks. They were open air squatty potties with awesome views of the moutains [and completely private unless the Mountain goats have binoculars]. Pretty to see but cold to use on a windy Mountain night. We decided to press on 1.5 kilometer to th next guestHouse. We're tired but what's 15 more minutes?

Five Fingers GuestHouse was up - yes, UP off the trail. Stiff legs, just one more hill. We climb to the GH and it looks abandoned. We call out for humans. One responds. Can we have a room? Nope, too busy. To busy with what? Not a single guest there. Not a single remodeling project, though needed, in process. Not a single sound of industry anywhere. I tell her I'm old [I'm past the age of mandatory retirement in China] & sick [cough, cough, hack...]. She refuses to House us.

Go back 15 minutes to the noisy cold place?

permalink written by  prrrrl on March 8, 2012 from Qiaotou, China
from the travel blog: Yunnan, China
tagged Private, Cold, Old, GuestHouse, Retirement, Cough, NaxiBaBa and Bananas

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Just not my day? Just not my two weeks!

Dali, China

I've had a very bad chest & head cold since the start of my vacation. Today is my last day. The coughing and sniffling have tapored off but are still there. So what happens the last day? Emptying of my digestive tract at both ends. I'm 'home' in my hostel bed with an upset tummy. Are vacations suppose to be like this?

permalink written by  prrrrl on March 13, 2012 from Dali, China
from the travel blog: Yunnan, China
tagged Bed, Sick, Cold and Digestive

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I still hear in English

Dali, China

Three new people checked into my room. They were all Chinese from Guang Zhou. We chatted the usual 'where are you from, where are you going, how long have you been traveling' conversation - all in Chinese! I was so proud of myself. They spoke slowly, I spoke slowly. But the communication worked!

Then I heard, "Beijing how long?" "One week," I answered. But he had said, "Beijing hau leng?" which means, 'is it very cold in Beijing?' proving that I'm stuck in English whether I try or not.


permalink written by  prrrrl on March 22, 2012 from Dali, China
from the travel blog: Yunnan, China
tagged Cold, Long, Proud and Mistranslation

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