Travel

54 Days, 6 Countries, 4 Continents, 18 Flights, and a lot more.

My travels have concluded. I made a good run, traveling a total of 54 days. I’ve kept some stats on the journey. But instead of just expecting you to read boring stats, I’ve tried to spice shit up a bit. (Shit is much better when it is spicy.)

So, the Earth’s Circumference is 24,859.82 miles (40,008 km). Maybe you forgot that, but most of us learned it when we were kids. Throughout my journey, I traveled approximately 42,097 miles  (67,748.6 km), which means, I could have traveled around the earth, if I wanted to. Truth is, I have a spaceship, and I do it every Sunday.

I took a lot of flights on my trip. What is “a lot?” For me, I’m calling that number 18. That’s 18 times that I got on a plane and thought during take-off, “hey, I hope the engines don’t die mid-flight.” And during landing, I was just pleased that the brakes worked, 18 times. Below are the flights I took, and a comment associated with each one, and sometimes a photo.

Total Flights (Getting on an Airplane and Landing)

  1. New York City (JFK) to Rome Fiumicino (FCO) … Had a layover, which is better than a hangover.
  2. Rome (FCO) to Cairo (CAI) … Walked out of the airport and thought, “where are the pyramids?!?!” and, “why am I sweating already?”

    Found.

  3. Cairo (FCO) to Paris, Charles de Gaulle (CDG) … Give me an expensive macaroon from that store with the name I can never Ladureeeeeeeeee-say, thanks.
  4. Paris (CDG) to New York City (JFK) … It’s still hot here, this is bullshit.
  5. Newark (EWR) to Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) … Newark at 6 a.m. (painful), but Minneapolis has a beautiful Delta terminal.
  6. Minneapolis/St. Paul to Portland International (PDX) … Portland, ah yes. Time for some skiing at Mt. Hood. Yes, I’m well aware that it’s July.

    Skiing with my bro at Mt. Hood.

  7. Portland International (PDX) to New York City (JFK) … My cab driver drove a race car, I mean, like he had a race car.
  8. La Guardia (LGA) to Miami International (MIA) … I had a chicken pita wrap for breakfast; it was actually quite disgusting.
  9. Miami International (MIA) to Bogota (BOG) … Last time I was here, everyone had a machine gun. This time, everyone expects that, as an American, I’m carrying one.
  10. Bogota (BOG) to Cartagena (CTG) … I had jeans on. This was a mistake. By the time I got to the hostel, it looked like someone pushed me in a pool.

    See the sweat on my shirt?

  11. Cartagena (CTG) to Bogota (BOG) … I had a Coke Zero. That’s it.
  12. Bogota (BOG) to Cali (CLO) … Only flying through, I bought an orange juice. I was feeling sick – probably from drinking half a liter of rum the night before and not washing my hands with soap for the past 36 hours. (No one had soap in Playa Blanca. Or did they?)
  13. Cali (CLO) to Quito (UIO) … Found my mom. It was easy; she’s white and has grey hair. Other people in Quito don’t share these qualities.
  14. Quito (UIO) to Guayaquil (GYE) … When the airplane landed, people clapped. Nobody claps for me when I land my spaceship.
  15. Guayaquil (GYE) to New York City (JFK) … Was only in NYC for 17 hours, or something absurd, before flying to Europe.
  16. New York City (JFK) to Amsterdam (AMS) … There were so many signs in this airport that I just stopped reading them. I cried in the bathroom. (That’s not true.)
  17. Berlin, Tegel Airport (TXL) to Charles de Gaulle (CDG) … I made my connection with 20 minutes to spare. People in the customs line were missing their flights. Someone who works for Merriam-Webster Dictionary would call this a “shit-show.”
  18. Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to New York City (JFK) … The plane didn’t go down. This pleased me.

Trains

(I also took some trains on this trip. Comments included.)

  1. Cairo Station to Aswan Station …I peed on my leg while on this train. It sucked.
  2. Aswan Station to Cairo Station … I was sick to my stomach on this train. It sucked even more.
  3. Amsterdam Centraal Station to Frankfurt Main Station … I had a seat and I read 200 pages of a book. I was making up for brain cells lost in Amsterdam.
  4. Frankfurt Main Station to Munich Main Station … I was running from Frankfurt because I was traumatized from being sexually harassed the night before.
  5. Schongau to Munich Main Station … It was so cold in my seat that I stopped, dropped, and rolled. I was trying to start a fire.
  6. Munich Main Station to Berlin Main Station … I only spent 20 minutes in Munich. Just enough time to pretend to speak German while ordering a sandwich. “Kann ich ein sandwich have-in-my-mouth-en? DANKE!”

Cars

(Yup, I rode in cars.)

I got to drive on the Autobahn. I took a little SmartCar all the way to 170 km/h. A few people passed us, but that’s only because I let them.

Zooooooooooooooming along on the autobahn.

Hotels/Hostels/Homes

(I had to sleep somewhere.)

  1. Some random hostel in Cairo … The driver took me to a hostel that I didn’t book. I thought that I was going to get murdered.
  2. Brother’s Hostel Cairo … My real hostel, I remember some 20-year-old American girl was hooking up with one of the guys working there. She talked a lot about her conquests. I pretended to listen.
  3. Nuba Nila Hotel, Aswan … They called it a 3-star hotel. I called that bullshit.
  4. Collin’s Lake Resort, Oregon … This place had nice wooden floors. I remember sleeping forever, as I was coming from Egypt.
  5. Cranky Croc Hostel, Bogota … One of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at. Some very, very, blurry nights.

    Random photo: Simon Bolivar Square in Bogota.

  6. Makako Chill Out Hostel, Cartagena … Shit hostel. Met great people. Two random girls from Colombia sleeping on the couches. Fact: they were annoying.
  7. ANY Hostel, Playa Blanca … Crazy caretaker woman spoke like she was possessed with demons. Correction, she was possessed with demons.
  8. The Chill House Backpackers Hostel, Cartagena … It was hard to sleep because it felt like ants were crawling all over my body.
  9. La Casa Sol, Quito …They said they had WiFi, but it was broken. The room smelled like stinky feet.
  10. The Traveler’s Inn, Quito … Solid breakfast. My private room was smaller than a jail cell. I could basically pee in the toilet from the bed. I should have tried.
  11. Cabanas, Cotopaxi National Park … No heater. No shower. No toilet paper. But, yes to running water. This was a warm-up for the Jose Rivas Refuge.

    One of the views of Ruminahui, 15 minutes from the Cabanas.

  12. Jose Rivas Refuge, Cotopaxi National Park … No heater and higher altitude. No toilet paper. No shower. I mean, no running water. This was a warm-up for the top of Cotopaxi, which is billed as: “just views, yo!”

    One of those “just views, yo.”

  13. Mom’s House, Quito … Amenities and a mother to do your laundry. HOLY AMAZING.
  14. My apartment, New York … My sheets were dirty. I dumped all of my clothes off, packed, and left 17 hours later.
  15. Frankfurt Hostel, Frankfurt … The shower was conceived by a small-minded individual, and it was constructed by a shaky-handed one. Chinua Achebe wrote a book about this, I think it was called “Things Fall Apart.”
  16. Wombats Hostel, Munich … They decided to give everyone a wake-up call at 10 a.m. to announce checkout. You weren’t checking out that day? No problem, you got the wake-up call anyway.
  17. A house, Schongau … Amenities +1, including fantastic meals. Superb decorations, company, and music included. Also included: a hair dryer for when you have cold feet.
  18. The Heart of Gold Hostel, Berlin … Cool bar and solid internet. I was too tired to get drunk – maybe I was burnt out after 54 days of traveling.

The Cities

Here’s a list of the cities/places I visited, where visited means spending 24 hours or more there: Cairo, Aswan, Portland, Bogota, Cartagena, Playa Blanca, Quito, Latacunga, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Schongau, Munich, Berlin.

The Countries

Egypt, USA, Colombia, Ecuador, the Netherlands, Germany

The Trip Highlights

And now, for my favorite highlights? Cue the ESPN Sportscenter music…

10.  Let’s begin with the pyramids, which were spectacular. But let’s be honest, the only reason I liked them was because I built them.

Easy as 1-2-3.

9.  Going from Egypt in the summer to Oregon in the summer, and donning ski boots, well, that was an experience. I also got to see my cousins’ twin boys. Apparently, babies grow when you aren’t around (is that like the tree falling in the woods?).

They’re swimmin’!

8.  That one night of drinking in Bogota. I can say that we started by, well, just drinking at the hostel; there were six of us. I can say that when we returned to the hostel, the sun was up, and there were only three of us.

7.  That other night of drinking in Bogota. We started at the hostel. Then we went to the bars. Then? Some locals’ apartments. After getting kicked out, we got in a cab and the first question we asked was: “Where are the open bars?” It was 3 a.m.

6.  The one night in Playa Blanca was quite spectacular due to the group of people I spent it with. But hey, swimming in water that lights up to your movement wasn’t too shabby, either.

Half of the awesome group seen here.

5.  Leaving Playa Blanca, this was the “Bon Voyage” I received

I felt pretty cool. No, I am cool.

4.  Climbing Cotopaxi in Ecuador for the second time and being there for a clear day was breathtaking. When I reached the top, I was above the clouds, triumphant. It’s nice to feel triumphant. Also, seeing my mother was good – it had been two years.

Me at the refuge in 2010.

Me at the refuge in 2012.

3.  On a whim, I went to Germany and met up with the very same Germans I had met in Cartagena. They brought me a birthday cake and alcohol. I felt right at home, even though I was around 4,000 miles away.

2.  One set of brown eyes that I saw. One had a hint of green. I looked for a longggggggggg time.

1.  The people and the places. The world is big. People speak different languages, and eat different food, but they’re still people. They’re fun to talk to. They’re fun to meet. And the places can offer some similar sights, but always plenty different. I have no idea how I am going to see them all before I die.

That’s all I’ve got for you. Now that I won’t be traveling, and I’m going to have less time, I’m not sure what will become of the blog. But with any luck, the inspiration won’t die. The last 54 days have been the most productive for me in my writing over the last two years. Note: I said nothing about quality.

Thanks for reading.

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Travel

Climbing Cotopaxi, That Volcano In Ecuador

A view of Cotopaxi from the top of Ruminahui.

Two years ago I was in Quito when I heard about Cotopaxi (5,897 meters, or, 19,347 feet). I booked the trip and successfully climbed it. My camera froze at the top, however, and I didn’t have any photos of my victory. I like having photos of my victories. So, to spite the wickedness of the world, I decided I would climb it again.

For the straight-forward stuff about Cotopaxi, go the “Straight-forward Stuff About Cotopaxi” section at the end of this post. For the exciting story with fun photos, read along.

Story Time!

With two weeks in Quito to visit my mom, I had some time to kill. So, I joined a gym. After the second day at the gym, I concluded that I should climb Cotopaxi again. It would make going to the gym purposeful.

The gym is kinda retro, but cool.

I worked out 5 days in a row and called that “good enough.” I skipped the weekend. On Monday, I went to Condor Trekk, the agency I used two years prior and I booked the trip. They asked me if I wanted to join a hike of Ruminahui, a 4721 meter peak. (I knew it would be good for acclimatization, something I neglected for my first hike, which gave me an ear-splitter of a headache.) The trip would be on Tuesday, leaving Quito at 8am. I was in.

Next day, we drove to some random Hacienda to pick up some other people who were hiking with Condor Trekk. The hacienda happened to be around 300 years old.

The view as you drive up to the Hacienda.

Fast forward, this is Ruminahui:

On the way up Ruminahui.

This is me sitting on top of Ruminahui:

And this is me standing on top of Ruminahui:

It took 3.5 hours to climb up and 1.5 hours to climb down. Climbing mountains is obviously easier with proper trekking shoes and pants, but to hell with proper. There was a fun section of the mountain that was soft sand, which you could run down as fast as you wanted, leaping down 10+ feet at a time.

End result: lots of dirt in shoes and an equitable amount of fun.

For the evening, we stayed at cabanas in the Cotopaxi National Park. The bathroom facilities were second to none:

I think that white stuff is toilet paper. Used?

The food was good though, and our group went back to the cabana for sleepy time. The next morning, it was time to pack our bags for the Cotopaxi excursion which would begin at 12:00 a.m. on Thursday. Don’t forget the toilet paper:

Then we drove to Cotopaxi. It’s a dirt road. There’s a lot of dirt everywhere. If you are smart, you’ll have something to cover your nose and mouth with. When dust kicked up, I tried to hold my breath until it settled. Sometimes it takes dust a long time to settle. It’s easy to see the mountain:

Driving towards our destination.

Now, Cotopaxi

When you go to climb Cotopaxi, tour companies will drive you to the Jose Rivas Refuge camp at 4,810 meters (15,780.8 feet). In fact, they will drop you off at the parking lot, which is about 200 to 250 meters below the actual Refuge building. This is a good warmup for Cotopaxi, hauling all of your gear (ice axe, sleeping bag, Beach Barbie Doll and baseball hat) up a dirt hill for 200+ meters. It’s good that it’s a warmup, though, because there is no heater in the Jose Rivas Refuge Camp. There is also no running water. This is Sparta (minus the abs).

Outside of the refuge.

Once at the refuge in the early afternoon, the guides will load you up on food, which includes a guaranteed serving (x 5) of starch. Did your food digest? No? “Perfect, ‘cause we’re going to go hike 30 minutes to the glacier to practice using crampons and ice axe.” So, you’re hiking to go practice. Keep in mind, you already hiked up 200+ meters with all of your gear about an hour ago. In addition, in roughly 9 hours, you will be waking up at 12:00 a.m. to begin climbing Cotopaxi at 1:00 a.m.  It’s a tough itinerary – made more challenging because of the altitude.

Congratulations, you passed, and now you know how to perform a self-arrest with an ice axe, which isn’t totally irrelevant if you are walking around gaping crevasses like this one:

By the time we got back to the refuge, it was dinner time. I ate, not necessarily because I was hungry, but because I wanted to stockpile energy. I went to bed around 7:00 p.m., along with 20 other people. The refuge doesn’t have heat, and they have dorm-style cots in two large rooms upstairs. The place can sleep around 90 people. As you can imagine, it can be quite difficult to sleep in this type of environment with the wind also howling. I managed to get about 4 hours of sleep and woke up at 11:30 a.m.

I unzipped my sleeping bag and started getting ready for the climb. Our group of 4 met downstairs for breakfast. I skipped anything big and just had two pieces of bread. I didn’t want to feel stuffed for the next hour or so.

We left at 1:00 a.m. First, you must hike up through dirt until you get to the glacier. Once there, you attach your crampons and get roped up to your guide via your harness. It makes you feel safer. Then the guides take the lead, walking up the snow/ice in the dark.

At times, they say “cuidado” or “careful,” and they look back at a crevasse they just stepped over – where you’ll be walking next. The sizes of the crevasses you pass over range from 6 inches to 2.5 feet. Pretend you are a cat. Do not meow.

Climb. Climb. Climb. Up above, hundreds of meters, you can see the glow of headlamps of individuals who left an hour before you. They look like stars.

Raul, my guide, and I passed many people around the fourth hour of the climb and we were going to be first to summit. For some reason, he then said to me and pointed, “nosotros vamos por aca, en el hielo.” Translation: We are going to go there, in the ice. He took me into an ice field, which was a wind-blown section of hundreds of cone-shaped, pointy mounds throughout it. He was using his ice axe to climb up. It was time to put the training to use. I smashed my axe into the ice, it didn’t stick. I smashed it again, harder; it made a happier sound: success. I pulled down on it, testing the hold. It felt good.

And I crawled out into the field of ice, surrounded in darkness everywhere my headlamp did not illuminate. I jammed the sharp edges of my crampons into the ice. This is probably how Spiderman feels, I thought. The guide then moved up to new positions and I would follow him, using my ice axe and crampons to shimmy up the hardened face. Already exhausted, this was a test of my endurance, in addition to my balls. Good thing I packed them.

We get out of the ice face and continued hiking up. By now, people had passed us by going a separate route. I didn’t care that much about being first this time around – going through that icy face was exhilarating. This is what it looks like during the day:

No problem for Spiderman, that dick.

And then, there was first sign of light, peaking over the clouds:

With 20 minutes left to the summit, we were moving quickly. It was clear out and I didn’t want to miss the window.

When we reached the top, I was elated.

I had been there once before, but the top was covered in thick clouds. On this day, I could see many of the nearby mountains. I was surrounded in natural beauty. And I took plenty of photos.

Raul and I at the top.

The volcano crater.

Victory.

After spending 10-15 minutes at the top, we started to head down. This is arguably the hardest part of the climb because you are exhausted. Walking downhill on snow and ice while exhausted is dangerous.

We stopped for more photos.

Near the ice field.

Cool icicles.

Inside a “crevasse.”

Raul looks comfortable.

I spy something pretty.

Chillin’ above the clouds.

And as far as interesting things go, that’s about it. That’s Cotopaxi.

Straight-forward Stuff About Cotopaxi

  • $200-220 to climb with a partner and guide. $300-350 to climb solo with a guide. If your partner has to go down, you have to go with them.
  • Acclimatization is important if you want to experience less pain. Headaches happen. Some people get sick and vomit from the altitude. It depends on the person.
  • I booked my trip (both times) with Condor Trekk, located on Reina Victoria and Cordero — in the Mariscal District of Quito
  • Jose Rivas Refuge: 4,810 meters. Cotopaxi Summit: 5,897 meters.
  • Bring sunscreen for the way down; the sun can be brutal and it can take 3 hours to get down.
  • Physical condition is not to be taken lightly. I was running 3.4 kilometers in about 15 minutes before I went on the trip. That translates to about 2 miles in 15 minutes. I was training in Quito, at an altitude of 2,850 meters. That’s not exactly fast, but it was enough training for this trip.
  • Ask me about anything else.
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