Three days on the Condor.

My pals and I love a spot of trekking in remote places around the globe. Just two or three days normally does the trick: enough to get in plenty of gawping at luscious landscapes, plenty of exercise, plenty of curiosity satisfaction, and of course plenty of pretty photography.

And our New Year trip to Ecuador proved no exception. With small rucksacks on our backs (and accompanied by horses carrying the larger items like tents and so on) we walked along a lengthy stretch of the Condor Trek.

Read on…

A qilometer inside Quilotoa.

As I’m sure you’ll know, Ecuador has plenty of volcanism. Right down the middle of the country from top to bottom there’s a section of the mountain range that goes be the name of the Andes, along which are not less than ~three dozen volcanoes, many of which are situated in the ‘Alley of the Volcanoes’ – a valley with mountain ridges and volcanic cones on each side.

Not only is the quantity of volcanoes very impressive; the quality is too: attractive though unusual; monumental and hypnotic, with lush (and perfectly round) lakes in considerable craters, sheer cliffs, and assorted other OMG panoramic views. The first one we inspected like that was Quilotoa:

This is how it looks from a satellite:

Read on…

A little snow in Lille.

Bonjour folks!

Here I am in the northern French city of Lille, one of France’s largest urbanizations. Officially its population stands at around 230,000; however, if you add to that the city’s surrounding suburban areas that number shoots up to around 1.2 million.

I was there the other week and, upon waking there in the morning after having arrived late the night before, I looked out the window and… thought I was back in Moscow! Have a look to see what I mean:

Read on…

New Year – even further from the center.

Hi folks!

A promised, herewith begin my tales from the Ecuadorian side. I’ve lots and lots to tell, and lots and lots of pics to show. So, as per tradition: popcorn, comfortably seated… off we go…

This mini-series on our trip will generally simply follow the route and the events that occurred on it in chronological order as they actually happened. But first I must tell you this:

How best to see in the New Year.

Some prefer taking it easy over the Christmas and New Year period (some even dread it!). Others – like moi and posse in recent years – don’t take it easy for one second, and instead jet off to a far-away hot clime for some untraditional festive celebrations of our own devices – further from the center. Once – further on Kilimanjaro, last year – in Indonesia. For our own devices have shown us how Christmas/New Year happiness and contentment doesn’t come from doing not much at all sat at home, but from bathing in the velvety hot waters of hot springs on the other side of the globe. And Ecuador happens to have velvety hot waters in its hot springs. It was a no brainer: off we zip to Ecuador!…

Read on…

Ecuadorian equatorial: warm-up.

Hi folks!

I think I’ve found myself the perfect avatar:

That’s just one of the zillion pics we took in Ecuador recently, one of the billion I’ll be uploading here to this here blog of mine over the next week or so.

Ecuador? Yes – Ecuador, which is where pals and I spent the New Year holidays. No armchair-based Christmas period – drinking too much (tea with honey and lemon, of course), eating too much, and watching telly too much at home. Noooo. Not us. Not our cup of sherry.

So, why Ecuador? Well, the weather in Moscow leaves a lot to be desired around New Year, as you probably know. So said pals and I, IMHO quite logically, like to jet off somewhere very hot and very sunny. But the hot and sunny place must have a few others features, preferably in abundance, including any of the following: mountains, volcanoes, hot springs, hot lakes, ocean, islands, beaches, altitude sickness (!), and a nearby equator. Last New Year it was Indonesia – which ticked practically all those boxes. This year: Ecuador and the nearby Ecuadorian Galápagos Islands, which apparently also pack in the just-listed; especially: beautiful indigenous birds, seals, and turtles, and of course much exquisite Ecuadorial-equatorial scenery.

Good time? Check.

Unforgettable impressions? Check.

Tales to tell? Check – coming right up in a mini-series on these here blog pages.

Photos to show you? Check, as mentioned.

On the photo-front, I was helped out tons by my frequent-fellow-traveler-and-photographer, DZ, who’s been kind enough – and efficient enough – to have edited his trillion pics already. I haven’t even started mine! So for your aperitif before your multi-course feast, here are some of the highlights – exactly 100 pics, btw! – from DZ’s Ecuadorian collection. Ready? Off we pop…

Read on…

Rubik-therapeutic in the Pacific.

Over the New Year holidays a group of friends and I headed down to Ecuador for our traditional festive portion of unusual/active/exotic trekking/volcanism/photography. As usual, it was ‘active tourism until you drop’, cramming in as much we possibly could. Anyway, I’ll be writing blogposts on the trip – coming up shortly, but in the meantime I’d like to share with you a personal achievement I’m rather proud of – one completing a certain puzzle…

First: rewind…

Games/puzzles/toys. They come; they go. Some come and then disappear very quickly. Remember Tamagotchis? They were the biggest toy fad of the 1990s – early 2000s. Kids got so attached to their ‘digital pets’ that some were even driven to suicide when they suddenly broke. No, really.

More recently there was Pokémon. Once all the rage; now – all but disappeared. But there is another category of games that come – and stay. These are the timeless games that are just so darn good they’re not going anywhere. Chess, cards, dominoes… – been around centuries if not millennia, and will be around for millennia to come. Some modern-day games fall into this category of ‘stayers’ too. Not many, but some. Tetris, for example. It came, it became a fad-craze, interest died down a bit, but it didn’t go away. (I remember playing for hours on end on one… until one day I saw ‘blocks’ falling down in front of me in the street; that was when I realized it was time to quit:). The same thing happened with the Rubik’s Cube

I used to complete this cube-riddle using the standard cross method. Then I mislaid my Rubik’s Cube and mostly forgot about it (like many others did) – for 35 years! Then, just recently, while isle-hopping around the Galápagos – as you do – I recalled I’d packed some Rubik’s Cubes after recently finding them in a store somewhere and purchasing them, so one evening on the boat with not much to do I had a trip down memory lane and solved them. And not just the standard 3×3 model; also the 4×4 and the 5×5:

Really glad I packed them. I got at least five other fellow adventurers hooked on the 3×3, while a Rubik’s expert among us told me of a ‘secret’ method for solving the 3×3. Meanwhile, I learned how to do the 4×4 and 5×5. An engrossing, enthralling, entrancing exercise. Highly recommended! Especially in Ecuador!…

Top-100: North America.

Hi folks!

Next up on this world tour of the Top-100 Must-See Places in the World – North America…

1. Alaska.

Southern Alaska is a land of mountains, waterfalls, lakes and glaciers. More salmon than you can shake a fishing rod at, whopping whales in the ocean, and all sorts of other interesting beasts. Northern Alaska is all about harsh Klondike Gold Rush scenes straight out of Call of the Wild or White Fang. I was there in August and all it did was pour it down. I need to get back there in June or July, which they say are the best times. Details – here.

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Read on…

Top-100: Central America.

Another week – another peek… – at the next regional update to my Top-100 Must-See Most Beautiful Places in the World: Central America.

13. Teotihuacan.

The ancient city and pyramids of the Aztecs. A completely separate branch of the modern history of mankind. A climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun to gaze at the sunset (or sunrise) – simply obligatory.

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Read on…

Top-100: South America.

Hi folks!

And so we reach the next world region in my Top-100 Must-See Places in the World – South America.

And, not surprisingly, there’s plenty to must-see here too. So without more of a do, let’s get on with this!…

21. Angel Falls, Venezuela.

The highest waterfall in the world; almost a kilometer of free-falling water. Haven’t been myself, but have heard rave reports and seen prodigious pics.

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Read on…

Top-100: Russia.

Hi folks!

On we go with my journey around what are to me the 100 most beautiful places in the world, all of which I reckon need visiting at least once in a lifetime without fail – so as not to live the rest of that lifetime with regret!

Next up, the world’s largest country!…

Russia.

Russia’s East European Plain doesn’t have anything outstandingly must-see when it comes to natural beauty. Of course, there are beautiful places – and many of them, but none quite make their way onto my Top-100. Then, east of the Urals there’s the West Siberian Plain – a rather plain… plain, this time all tundra/taiga/steppe (from north to south, respectively), marshes, rivers, lakes, oil extraction and mosquitoes. Things only start getting Top-100-worthy still further east. But I’ll get to that in a bit. For now though…

39. Red Square and the Kremlin.

Many foreign friends who come visit us here in Moscow tell us that Red Square – with St. Basil’s Cathedral at one end, the Kremlin to one side and GUM on the other – is the most beautiful spot in Europe, especially at night when lit up. And who am I to argue? I too am a big fan.

Note: St. Petersburg is in the Cities section of the Top-100 series.

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Read on…