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Mount Vitosha

Mount Vitosha


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This morning Dave and I did something I'd been wanting to do since I first got to Bulgaria; we took a cable car up Mount Vitosha, the mountain overlooking Sofia. The cable car trip alone was worth the 10 leva it cost for a return ticket, because it was the longest I've ever been on and we were surrounded by beautiful forested slopes most of the time. Needless to say, the view of Sofia laid out before us in the distance was a grand sight as well; it reminded me of our view of Quito from the top of Pichincha Volcano.

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The cable car didn't take us all the way to the top of any of the peaks (there were at least three peaks of the mountains), but where it dropped us off was lovely, so we didn't feel the need to continue further - we just fancied a lovely stroll around, rather than an extremely strenuous hike in the manner of our Ben Nevis and Cotopaxi Volcano ascents.

Unfortunately, after only five minutes in one direction a man came sprinting past us at full pelt; after we'd continued for five minutes further we saw why. A man was lying on the ground, unconscious, with a small group of people around him trying to bring him to. We really hoped that he'd just fainted (maybe due to the altitude), or maybe tripped over and knocked himself out, rather than anything worse. He was right by the edge of the path ahead of us. As we got closer, we looked back and saw two Bulgarian paramedics come running up the path through the wood, so we got out of the way sharpish. There was clearly nothing we could personally do to help, so we continued, hoping though that the man would be OK.

The scenery was beautiful, with lots of large flattish rocks in piles, rhododendrons, bushes with very fluffy, cotton-like seed clumps, what looked like very large and fleshy-looking thistles and the occasional grove of pine or fir trees.

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The trail was well signposted. After about twenty minutes we reached a plateau of long-grassed heath, with more groves of trees further down the slope on our right hand side and a very high ridge/ peak on our left.

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We looked round for a bit before heading back the way we'd come. The man at the side of the path had now disappeared.

Once we got back to where the cable car had landed, we set off on a trail in the other direction. We had even better views from here than on the other one.

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The sun was still shining and it wasn't very windy at all considering we were very high up a mountain. On our return from there it was now lunchtime, so we stopped at a café and in Bulgarian I ordered us kyufte, kebapche, shopska salad and some chips for us to share, before we took the cable car back down again.

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Posted by 3Traveller 11:27 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains dave bulgaria butterflies bulgarian_cuisine mount_vitosha Comments (0)

Mindo: Cloud forest, butterflies, waterfalls and ziplining

Mindo


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Sunday 20th July

Bus journey from Quito to Mindo. Mindo is a tiny village surrounded by mountains covered in cloud forest, which makes up one of the most biodiverse areas on Earth. This setting is certainly dramatic.

My hostel was very quiet. I'd booked a bed in a 2-bed dorm, which along with the other dorms was within the owner's house, but nobody else arrived to take the other bed. In fact I seemed to be the only person booked into a dorm the whole time I was there! This meant it was very quiet, peaceful and relaxing.

For dinner I had a whole steamed tilapia fish, learning through the process of ordering that the Spanish word for steamed is 'al vapor'... makes sense considering what the process of steaming is. I'd never come across steamed food on a menu in Ecuador before.

Monday 21st July

At breakfast I saw hummingbirds for the first time since Dave and I did the Inca Trail in Peru five years ago!

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After some scrambled eggs, pineapple juice, melon slices, toast, jam and coffee I looked round the little orchid garden attached to the hostel, but it evidently wasn't the right time of year to see them because not very many were in flower. It was still nice to wander round though.

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After that I booked a ziplining trip for the afternoon and walked to a butterfly farm. It was very hot and sunny and I soon left paved roads behind; as I walked along the whitish dirt road in the middle of lush greenery, with the sun beating down on my head, I got a sudden image in my head of the cover of my copy of 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning', which shows the back of Laurie Lee as he walks by himself along a road in the middle of nowhere in Spain.

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At the butterfly farm I saw some bright shiny silver jewel-like chrysalises that are designed to look like water drops, a butterfly in the process of breaking out of a normal-coloured chrysalis, and lots of brightly coloured butterflies! I especially liked the ones that were grey, brown and black on one side of their wings but then electric blue on the other side when they opened them. There were bowls of overripe bananas around, food for the butterflies, and when I dipped my finger in the juice, butterflies would then land on it.

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My afternoon ziplining trip was an exhiliarating experience, zipping between beautiful valleys and mountains within the cloud forest. There were ten lines. I was put with two small groups of Germans and one of Ecuadorians. We saw two toucans in the branches of a tree at one point - I was so happy! I love toucans and I hadn't seen any since Dave and I saw some in Brazil on the same trip five years ago that I just mentioned above.

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On the way back I started walking but was then given a lift the rest of the way by a group of girls who'd been in my group. It had clouded over by the time the ziplining had begun, and just as they dropped me off at the end of my road it started pouring with rain.

A couple of hours later, when I went out for dinner, the rain had stopped. I went to a café known for its brownies, though I didn't have room for one after I'd had my main. They didn't actually have any hot main dishes left by that time, only salads and sandwiches, so I had a really thick tuna sandwich with a side of yuca chips and a chocolate milkshake. I made a mental note to come back the next day for lunch.

Tuesday 22nd July

First thing this morning I went on a cable car over a forested gorge to a protected forest, where there was a long walking trail leading to and past six different waterfalls. I was one of the first people there so I had a lovely peaceful walk with nobody else around for the majority of the time. It was very sunny again this morning.

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It took a couple of hours to do the main walk, which went past five of the waterfalls. Then there was a shorter, separate path to the sixth waterfall, which was also the biggest. I swam in the pool and river beneath it - the water was so refreshing and cool - very very welcome considering how hot and sweaty I was after my long hike! The current was very strong so when I tried to swim to the waterfall itself to get underneath it, I couldn't because the current pushed me back so hard. I was trying to swim forwards but ended up just swimming on the spot.

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I wanted to stay in there for hours but eventually dragged myself out, got changed and hiked back to the cable car station. Then I walked the 4 km back to the hostel (I'd got a taxi on the way there in the morning). It was all downhill but because I was already tired from the long hike, I arrived pretty exhausted.

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It was about 3pm when I arrived back, so as soon as I'd dumped my stuff I went straight back out again for some lunch at the same café I'd been to for dinner the night before. This time I went for the soup of the day (cream of broccoli and asparagus), a chocolate milkshake, Fanta and one of their famous chocolate brownies. I was stuffed by the time I finished.

I then went back to the hostel for a bit before going to an internet café for a couple of hours. I wasn't particularly hungry for dinner because of how late I'd had lunch, so I left dinner as late as I could and then only had a plate of chips.

Posted by 3Traveller 15:23 Archived in Ecuador Tagged waterfalls mountains birds spanish hostel butterflies ecuador mindo ziplining hummingbirds explorations toucans ecuadorian_cuisine freshwater_swimming Comments (0)

Vilcabamba

Loja and Vilcabamba


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On Tuesday morning, a walk to the bronze statue of La Virgen at the top of a little hill in Loja and a look inside the cathedral was followed by a bus journey to a village called Vilcabamba.

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Vilcabamba is quite touristy, a contrast to Loja which is not particularly touristy for such a cultured and (in places) historic city. A few decades ago Vilcabamba became known for its unusually large amount of centenarians; due to this, plus the extremely pleasant climate and beautiful scenery, lots of hippies then moved in. Although nowadays the number of centenarians is no higher there than anywhere else, Vilcabamba still remains known throughout the country for the longevity of its people. Several students have mentioned this to me, totally unprompted. There also remains a distinct New Age vibe.

I fly to Quito tomorrow. Over the last couple of days in Vilcabamba, I have;

- been on some lovely walks in the local countryside. The setting of Vilcabamba really is stunning.

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- relaxed and not done very much. The hostel I'm staying in (Le Rendez-Vous Hostal Guesthouse) has a lovely courtyard filled with greenery and colourful flowers. It also offers great homemade bread at breakfast.

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- looked inside the modern but still beautiful church in the main square

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- applied for two teaching jobs starting in September; one in Krakow, Poland, and one in Tenerife
- had quinoa soup for the first time in Ecuador
- been told by the American owner of the café where I had the quinoa soup that the idea that unpasteurised milk is dangerous is not in fact true and is something that 'the mainstream' would have me believe...

Posted by 3Traveller 12:09 Archived in Ecuador Tagged hostel butterflies andes ecuador vilcabamba explorations ecuadorian_cuisine loja Comments (0)

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