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Safari!

Just two weeks in Tanzania over the New Year break, but soooo many impressions! And you, dear blog readers, are only half-way through those impressions…

After coming back down Kilimanjaro to the plains below, before we had time to utter ‘acclimatization’, we were whisked off… on an African safari!

Initially, the colonial meaning of the term ‘safari’ meant ‘to go and shoot wild animals in Africa’, not necessarily to later eat them or even use their hides for whatever; just like at a shooting gallery – only with live targets. Time has passed and mores have changed for the better, and now the term means ‘to look at wild animals in Africa (from a car or jeep)’… and take photos of them in all their wild poses.

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Read on: Hakuna matata!…

Ho, ho, ho: Kilimanjaro!

At Christmastime (“ho, ho, ho”), what better to do than… climb a volcano in Africa? That’s what I asked myself in November of last year… 

…Wind forward six weeks, and there I was, at the summit of Kilimanjaro!

“The first stage of altitude sickness is euphoria: the individual becomes animated, excited, amiable, chatty… almost ecstatic. The second stage is lethargy: the person becomes despondent, sad, bored, subdued and sluggish, with no wish to converse and no appetite.”

Those are the notes I wrote based on the talk our guide in Tanzania, O.R., gave us not long after our arrival in the country. But I think she left the next stage out (she didn’t want to frighten us, after all); so let me add it: The third stage is fatal: a swift worsening of one’s physical and mental state and… hmmm, like O.R., I’d prefer not to go into it. Let me just mention what you’d need if approaching this third stage: oxygen mask, injected medicine, and a call to an SOS medical helicopter service – all ASAP.

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Read on: Oh my Google Maps! What an adventure we had…

The Valley of Nine Villages.

Next stop on the route of my hidden China vacation – the Valley of Nine Villages, aka, the Jiuzhaigou (九寨沟) nature reserve and national park: Yet ANOTHER absurdly astounding Chinese natural beauty!

Cascades of lakes and waterfalls, crystal clear – albeit fluorescent turquoise! – water in lakes, and a freakish forest of horizontally growing trees under that same crazy colored water, and all that set in the most picturesque of mountainous landscapes. And in the fall there’s a bonus: the blends of reds and yellows and oranges of autumn leaves. Oh my gigabytes.

#No filter – no, really!#No filter – no, really!

Read on: Jiuzhaigou walkthrough…

You can’t go wrong in Huanglong.

Half an hour away on a plane from the not-so small (14-million-peopled!) Sichuan capital, Chengdu, in Southwest China, there’s yet another masterpiece of Chinese natural beauty: Huanglong. Basically it’s a cascade of brightly colored lakes and waterfalls made up of highly mineralized (calcareous) water. But that’s enough words. Better just check out the pics…

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Read on: Bewildering beauty…

Sunset in Zhangye.

Attention!

The below pics haven’t been doctored with Photoshop. Well, the colors were brightened just a little, but that’s not full-on Photoshopping really – more like putting Polaroid sunglasses on. Incidentally, such sunglasses are advised to be worn when looking at these here views in the flesh. Everything’s a little brighter, fuller, sharper and more contrasting. Like so:

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Read on: From dusk till dawn in Danxia…

On the Avatar set – in China.

Believe me – in China there’s plenty to look at. I gave myself  a present for my for 50th B-Day and spent a few days there recently. Get ready to say ‘wow!’ when you see some of the upcoming must-see spots!

As I’ve said before on these here cyberpages, the funny thing is – most of that ‘plenty‘ is practically unknown to non-Chinese folks. The conspicuous historical monuments that were lucky enough to have survived the Cultural Revolution are known about, like those in Beijing and around, like the Great Wall of China, Lhasa and plenty more. But there’s a lot more besides, most of it unheard of outside the country. Just ask around – you’ll be met with blank stares. Maybe a few folks know about, say, Mount Kailash but that will be about it!

Oops. Yes, I’m certain I’m repeating myself somewhat here. I’ve already bemoaned this state of affairs not long ago. Accordingly, without more of ado, let me get on with another bit of Unknown China!…

Today’s bit of Unknown China shouldn’t be referred to as a mere bit. For it could well be one of the Top-20 most beautiful places in the world. It’s Wulingyuan – a ‘scenic are that comprises several national parks, one of which is the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park‘.

From somewhere out of sight waaaaay down below rise up huge rock columns. Jagged, naked sheer sides, with green vegetation on top. Utterly mind-blowing and jaw-dropping, moreover – in any weather: can’t say that for many similar natural installations, especially those in Kamchatka.

In overcast murkiness these stone columns get wrapped in a white fog. The actual scale and distances involved get totally lost, with the brain just giving up attempting to gauge them. They can’t be viewed with the rational mind; only with emotions. Then all of a sudden the sun will come out and the scene is transformed: all the detail and colors come to the fore, but still the brain isn’t able to cognize! Check out these contrasts in some of the pics below…

The heights of these columns are just silly: hundreds of meters tall they are. This one in the next pic is a whopping 1080 meters tall – more than a kilometer! Incidentally, it’s called Avatar Hallelujah Mountain, but more about that later. And the stone arch in the pics – that’s also daft-high: around 1000 meters up. You can walk across it too, if you’re brave enough.

Gulp!Gulp!

Read on: Gulp!…

Chillin’ in Shillin.

China is a fascinating country, and I’d say also a mostly untapped country in terms of tourism for the average non-Chinese: it’s full of world-class tourist attractions, but most outside the country have never heard of them, let alone visited them. Oh, of course, it’s also a huge country, so it can be visited time and time again, and there’ll always be something still left for you to see and marvel at. Nice.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before on these here cyber-pages that the Chinese tend to ‘stew in their own juices’. By that I mean their domestic tourism industry doesn’t orientate itself to foreigners much at all. Of course there are the obvious tourist traps here which are widely promoted abroad – like the Great Wall of China and the larger cities – but, ironically, those places don’t really need any promo – the whole world knows full well about them already; it’s the not-so obvious spots that could do with promoting. However, in the meantime, there’s a good upshot to this lopsided tourism situation: for a foreigner, the less obvious spots are all the more exciting to discover – as you’re normally the first person among your friends and colleagues, or maybe the whole city you live in (whole country?:), to have ever visited them. Well, with the exception of Austrian bikers.

I say that tourism isn’t geared towards foreigners. That doesn’t mean to say it isn’t well developed in other ways. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that all of the smaller, lesser-known-to-foreigners places in the country are classified into five categories and described in minute detail, here. The top category (four As, or five As, I didn’t quite work out) is full of must-see places, and I was pleasantly surprised once more to find out that there are more than 50 spots in the top category (AAAAA). That’s a lot of must-sees. Means only one thing: must get back here again and again.

On my recent trip to the Yunnan province I made a start in crossing off some of the places on the AAAAA list as visited. Well, got to start some time, and some where.

One of these was Shilin, aka, the Stone Forest, near Kunming (Shilin means literally ‘stone forest’). And thank you I Heart China. The place was simply awesome…

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Read on: Ancient aqueous rocks pushed to the earth’s surface…

Kamchatka-2015 – warm-up.

My Kamchatka-2015 vacation began in the town of Paratunka. This is a location commonly used by tourists for spending the first night on the peninsula after flying in from afar, before setting off for their first full-fledged destination the next day.

To the south of Paratunka are conveniently located two volcanoes, both of which are must-sees/climbs: Mutnovsky and Gorely. So this year, somewhat logically, we decided to start An-Kam (Annual Kamchatka) with visits thereto – kind of as a warm-up.

It’s just a 50-kilometer drive to get to the volcanoes; however the ‘road’ sure ain’t no smooth autobahn – it’s more a gravel track. Google claims it takes 50 minutes to get them, but in fact it’s more like two hours in a regular all-terrain vehicle – longer with stops. I guess 50 minutes is possible in one of those outsized off-roaders with the massive wheels – or a turbo-driven tank perhaps – but you’d have trouble keeping your breakfast inside you with all the violent jolting about.

After our two-hour cruise we finally arrived at Mutnovsky volcano: beautnovsky volcano.

Though this old volcano remains very active, it’s still possible to walk around the rim of its colossal crater. The sheer scale of the panoramic views, the colors, the rocks and cliffs, the glaciers and snow – fantastic. And there’s constant splashing and hissing to be heard – hot water spurting or hot steam blasting – and everywhere it stinks to high heaven low hell of sulfur. Infernally hellish beauty!

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Read on: The fabness of the sunny days…

Kamchatka-2015 – aperitif.

“Further [vertically] up there, there’s a path!”

– Our guide, Fyodr.

 

Hi all!

Phew! Back to civilization from the harsh wilds of Kamchatka, and beginning the slow acclimatization back to modern city life and all its creature comforts.

In all we trekked 315km on foot, and probably traveled thousands of kilometers in all-terrain vehicles and caterpillar-track transporters, helicopters and snowmobiles (cars aren’t much use in Kamchatka:), and on the vertical axis we covered around 7000 meters on foot too.

We got up close to six or so volcanoes, sizzled in six hot springs, and saw untold numbers of bears!

Alas, the weather spoiled approximately a quarter of our route around the peninsula: we had to miss a couple of volcanoes (there was little point walking around in the dense cloud they were shrouded in), plus some of our intended on-foot route became part of the chopper route. Apart from that though, mercifully – for the there’s no climate in the world more unpredictable than Kamchatka’s – everything worked out superbly!

Stay tuned for the starter – Kamchatkan borsch, of course :)…

 

Iceland: Niceland.

I’d long dreamed of one day getting to the very volcanic island of Iceland for a spot of sightseeing, trekking and leisurely driving. I’d heard great things from friends and colleagues, seen some awesome pics of the scenery there, and heard some of the island’s music, but only recently did I finally find myself spending a few days there after doing some business in the country.

Iceland waterfalls

Sweeping, grandiose, lush, monumental – just a few of the adjectives that spring to mind when attempting to describe this island after having been there. And now, IMHO, I consider it to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet; and as you know, I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places on the planet. Of course the weather and climate situation here can be difficult, but that’s to be expected when the polar ice cap isn’t that far away… And anyway, it’s a minor drawback given the awesomeness of the island’s volcanoes, geysers and hot springs, glaciers and waterfalls, tectonism (a new word in my lexicon; will tell you more about it later on) and other natural beauty.

So stock up on the popcorn, for today and in coming days a series of photo-textual-travelogue posts is coming your way. For starters, a small selection of photographic masterpieces highlighting some of the best bits from the trip.

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Read on: The ‘greatest hits’ of Iceland…