England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿: Thames cruise on “De lachende Moor”- mayday, mayday …

I have to turn back the clock quite some years to take me back to the time I lived on a house boat right by tower bridge. With hindsight, it was probably my best time in London and I made some wonderful friendships that last until today.

Paul is one of these friends and without a doubt the biggest character of all as my other friends will happily attest. He lived next door on a steel hulled dutch barge called ‘De lachende Moor’. He skippered his steel monster the way from Holland across the channel. No experience? No problem! A true, full-blood english explorer.

Fast forward to today Paul asked me for help to get his boat into dry dock downriver at Chatham. Sure! It turned out that he picked a beautiful evening to start the trip. The sunset was amazing with vivid colours and lovely, open views of the London skyline courtesy of the river.

He came alone from Barking dock and picked me up at the Thames Clipper pier in Woolwich / Royal Arsenal. Without Paul actually stopping i jumped on the boat to the surprise of folks waiting for the official ‘public’ transport. Off we went into the night…

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It was already late and visibility increasingly poor. However, we wanted to make some way in order to make the next days journey quicker. After i while paul left me to steer and disappeared into the boat. It was really dark by now and hard to tell what is river and what is mud as we approached low tide.

I saw lots of seagulls resting in the shallow waters to my right (starboard) and made sure to keep a distance. Still i misjudged the situation for the birds didn’t sit in shallow water, but in the mud itself. By the time i realised that we had already hit a mudbank. Stop.

There was no getting away and so we prepared dinner waiting cor high tide to lift us off. Eventually a boat from the London Port authority joined us and, once the water levels allowed, pulled us off the mudbank and led us to this nights resting place.

Off to Chatham

We left bright and early (partly to avoid paying a mooring overnight fee) and headed down the river. Paul was up even earlier than i was and prepared a fry-up … the smell tingling my nose and forcing me out of bed despite the bitter morning cold.

Soon after we set off we passed under Dartfort crossing. The weather was miserable at best – rainy, cold, foggy … and no wheel house to hide in. Coffee and snacks kept us going as we headed towards the North Sea.

Late morning another incident, as we tried to cut short the path off the Thames and on the River Medway. We got stuck on mud again. Really hard to see that though this time we managed to free ourselves (as the tide was coming in) and continued our journey.

Conditions got rougher now by the minute and waves became a real challenge forcing the boat to move in corkscrew like patterns. One moment the forces was so strong as to catapult Paul’s tender boat and bicycle off the barge and into the river … bye, bye.

We ended up calling the coast guard for support and while we only requested moral support really, they dispatched one of their boats to guide us into the next harbour. We were well relieved, prepared lunch and headed down to Chatham in much calmer waters where we checked the barge into dry dock. Fingers crossed the survey doesn’t turn out too bad!

Anyway, what a fun two days out. Thanks captain Widdecombe! It was a real adventure.

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Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿: Family trip to Edinburgh & Cairngorms National Park

I remember fondly the time Laura and I spent in Scotland just one year ago. What great memories of the Fringe festival, Jen & Sean’s wedding in Dunkeld or our three week hike on the Scottish national trail. This time we came here to belatedly make good on a birthday present for Bodo … a present we gifted more than one year ago yet group dynamics prevented an earlier trip.

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Checking out Edinburgh: Friday for Future Fun

While the masses of the fringe festival held throughout August had left town, it was still pretty busy with tourists. And there was Greta Thunberg and her climate movement. And it was Friday.

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So amidst ~20,000 of people joining the global Friday for future climate strikes, thus neatly avoiding school, we visited Edinburgh on a mild and sunny late summer day. Castle, Grassmarket, Greyfriar church, Royal mile etc. I used a few notes of last years blog to share the stories of Edinburghs most famous dog Greyfriar Bobby, of Maddie Dickson and how the term “shit-faced” came about (see Edinburgh: Beauty. Tales. Art. Friends.).

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In the afternoon we hiked up to Arthurs seat to enjoy the splendid views of Edinburgh and the North Sea. Many others were likeminded and hence it was quite busy up there.

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Nightlife in Edinburgh is always worthwhile – lots of pubs and bars with life music (and lots of more upmarket options if it tickles your fancy). So we enjoyed everything from Scottish folk songs by a group of brothers from the North of the country, improvised fiddle & accordion music and more.

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Dalwhinnie Whiskey Distillery: Getting the taste of it

Saturday we left the city behind us and headed north into the Highlands and Cairngorms National Park (by now easily the park in visited most on the island). Never-mind the destination, the way up there is lovely with stunning scenery wherever you turn your head. You can even spot deer, pheasants, foxes and rabbits … so mainly dead on the roadside. Sadly.

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After two hours we reached the distillery with its beautiful building and distinct roof construction. Dalwhinnie distillery is the most elevated in Scotland (~400m) and facing the coldest conditions (6 degrees average annual vs. 12 in London and 13 in Dresden).

Scotch single malt – What makes a scotch a scotch

  • Produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (and yeast)
  • No added ingredients
  • Matured in an oak cask for at least 3 years in Scotland
  • Minimum 40% alcohol

The guided tour takes about 75 minutes and is very informative. At Dalwhinnie they produce 1.5m liters of whiskey per year, most of which becomes the trademark 15y Dalwhinnie scotch you can buy in most duty free shops in the world.

There is, however, also a “winter gold” edition. This one is produced, as you might have guessed, in winter times as the chilly conditions from October through March cool down the alcohol vapour in such a way that its not conducive to producing the standard brand. And i guess the owner Diageo didn’t want to have the factory idle half the year!

 

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Hiking the Ruthven & Glen Tromie circuit

It was still only early afternoon and the weather still splendid. So we hit the hiking trail for a 11km circular hike (viewranger link to route) with about 250m ascent. The path, while well visible, is wild and takes you through a range of different scenery. We even briefly got lost. Barren hills, farm land, deserted houses, rivers, forrest… the trail really offers a bit of everything. Start and finish is marked by the Ruthven barracks.

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After 3:40mins we made it back and headed for the nearest pub for refreshments.

 

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Frances rediscovered her love for horses it appears. Male ones mainly.

 

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Kingussie: Mostly quiet with a bit of disco light

Last year Di picked Laura and myself up from the pub in Kingussie and treated us to a lovely dinner in her house (Scottish National Trail: Crossing Cairngorm National Park & Dinner at Di’s (days 9, 10, 11)). This time we had a little time to explore this 1,400 soul village. Well, there is not that much. We enjoyed a dinner in the best rated restaurant (mc Innes) in town (well, partly best rated as they give you 10% off your bill if you review the restaurant before paying … but it was genuinely decent).

We tried the local pub again (which at the time of our visit didn’t serve food) only to find some crazy old Scottish dude entertaining the locals with disco lights and music mostly suited to the older generation (and in a very random order). We didn’t stay long and rather retired to the hotel after an exhausting, but fun day out.

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And Sunday it was time to head home – naturally not without a short hike around Pitlochry and its hydro power station.

 

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Colombia 🇨🇴: Dessert & kites in Cabo de la Vela (La Guajira)

La Guajira is a department of Colombia of which i have only seen a tiny bit when visiting the beaches of Palomino with its crazy waves. This time round we found the time to see the real La Guajira – a peninsula made up of mostly wastelands and desserts not far from the border to Venezuela and (by air) not far from Aruba (Aruba 🇦🇼: Happy Island Life).

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Northernmost tip of Colombia & South America

Long journey: If you ask me, the best way to travel the 300km to Cabo de la Vela is by motorbike (ideally an Enduro, but roadbike works fine too as long as its dry) and probably with a stop. We opted for public transport instead though it is cumbersome and takes 10 hours (!) spread over 4 vehicles (Santa Marta, Riohacha, Quattrovillas, Uribia, Cabo de la Vela). The most interesting part of the journey is the 4×4 from / to Uribia where you share precious little space with lots of people and tons of boxes with ice cubes!

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Hot & dry!

Tough life: Life in this part of Colombia is far from easy. Basic things like water, electricity and road infrastructure are missing or in poor condition. The proximity to Venezuela doesn’t help either other than with cheap petrol contraband that crosses the border in Coca Cola bottles (EUR0,35 / liter vs. EUR0,70 officially).

The people: In Guajira you will find the tribe of the Wayuu with markedly different looks – darker hair, dark skin. They also have their own language and not all speak Spanish including many young people.

Kite tourism: While the village of Cabo de la Vela was pretty empty when we visited (season is June & Nov-Jan when you will struggle to find accomodation), there were quite a few kite surfers around. And quite skillful ones at that. Impressive to say the least.

Overall a great time especially with our two travel companions (Xiomara & Astrid) from Bogota. Generally I am not a huge fan of very hot and dry places, but La Guajira is a place worth seeing. Next time we come for a little longer and get kitesurfing ourselves!

Colombia 🇨🇴: Making coffee from A to Z in Filandia

No, we haven´t suddenly hopped from Colombia to Scandinavia! Rather we took two busses from Salento to get us to another colonial beauty in the coffee zone that is maybe a little less well known to foreigners – the town of Filandia.

Some footage of our day out in Filandia

After a night out in town with some really good Colombian cuisine, we visited a local hostel that rents out bikes and also does tours. For the tour we were late (start like 7.30am to avoid the heat), but for COP40.000 per bike we were soon in the saddle to explore Filandia´s surroundings. First up was Filandia´s mirador – a roman times looking watchtower that offers splendid views of the surrounding hills. Must see!

From there we cycled about 15km to a coffee plantation called Finca El Carriel. We took the off-road path, which is fine given it is all downhill (quite literally). Admittedly, we stopped frequently to marvel at the stunning scenery. Just perfect!

Once at the plantation, two German travellers joined us and we all enjoyed a fantastic tour (COP35.000 each) that explained (and let us do ourselves) the process of coffee making from the seed all the way to freshly grounded coffee from the french press. Impressive (and tasty). Ahh … the fresh oranges were also super juicy.

Probably a little to too self confident we continued to the town of Quimbaya (more downhill) for some food and refreshments. On the way back we paid the price and now the way was ALWAYS uphill for 16km. The sun burning relentlessly. Quite gruesome 2.5h to get back to FIlandia and catch a bus to Perreira … but scenic nonetheless. I guess we both can do with a little more exercise on the legs ;o)

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Colombia 🇨🇴: Exploring Salento & Valle de Cocora

Its already been a few weeks over here in Colombia after I finished my paddle trip early to spend time with Laura instead. I do miss the outdoors at times (and the not so humid weather) and am happy when I receive the occasional update or photo from Harry who continues his tour in Canada. Harry is now is his last month before duty calls back home in Cologne. My rocket-canoe is still being shipped to London and now probably somewhere on the atlantic – maybe it crosses path with Greta Thunberg on her way to the climate conference in New York? Safe journey both!

 

However, its not that adventure has come to a complete standstill over here – quite to the contrary. And while i am hopelessly behind to write up all the things that have been happening in Santa Marta and around, at least I found time now to report on a fabulous trip to the region of coffee and the worlds´ tallest palm trees – first up was Salento.

Salento: Colonial beauty, my type of climate & amazing Valle de Cocora

We didn´t opt for the easy way to reach Salento, a flight to Pereira followed by a short bus ride, but took the first flight into Medellin and a 7h bus from there (not helped by roadworks). However, with comfi seats, good views throughout, on-board toilet and a 30min lunch stop (beans & chicharron for me, chicken soup for Laura) it was not unpleasant at all (and I had plenty of time to improve my quiz talent on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”). Not a cent richer we made it to Salento late afternoon and checked in to Vila Isabel – a great guesthouse with amazing views & lovely staff. Here some drone footage.

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The Salento viewpoint is nearby the hotel and, nestled into the hills close to Los Nevados National Park, it offers spectacular views which we enjoyed alongside an aguapanela (sugar cane drink). The atmosphere in town is a bit touristy, but it is organised, clean and there is a good vibe amidst amazing colonial and well preserved architecture. If you are into shopping, there are lots of shops with handmade stuff (as well as the usual rubbish). Just bring a jacket … temperatures drop below 20 degrees at night (which my little samaria struggled with). I, for my part, loved the moderate temperature and lack of humidity. What a good night sleep I had (well, both of us actually).

Valle de Cocora: Meet the tallest palm tree in the world

The trip already starts well when you book your “Willy” – a jeep that was formerly used to transport coffee around here (now you can take pictures with a few Willy´s dressed up … for a fee of course). They run from 6.30am and an early departure is advisable to avoid hiking in the heat. If you don´t get a seat inside, you stand outside for the 20mins journey to the valley. Hold on tight!

Once arrived you have several options. The most common route is a 4-6 hour round trip including a visit to a hut with mockingbirds. The routes cost COP3&4,000, seeing the mockingbirds another COP5,000. All worthwhile doing. Altitudes reach up to 3,000m – so take your time and drink plenty of water.

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The path is typically pretty and easy to walk. Animals like horses and cattle are commonplace and in the valle de cocora itself you can admire Colombia´s national tree – the wax palm. The trees grow 45m to sometimes 60m tall and were close to extinction (due to the overuse of the palm leaves for palm Sunday proceedings would you believe it) before this sanctuary was created. The scenery is outstanding.

Next stop … Filandia. Vamos!