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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Geocaching in Quito

On my way from Honduras to Galapagos I had to stop over in Quito. The first day I dedicated to Geocaching because I discovered that Quito has a big park which is chock full of Caches.

Equipped with a map I made my way to the park using the public bus, my feet and my sense of direction. And even though I didn't exactly know where the entry to the park was (it is a big park after all and there is only one main entrance), I did find it after only a short detour.

Very close to the entrance I found the first Cache of the day (Brandon's TB Boarding House) where I dropped off the Travel Bug I had with me from Roatan. From there on the afternoon progressed smoothly, I always checked which Cache was closest to my location and after hiking for 300 to 1'100 metres along big and small trails as well as cross country, I was able to log another Cache.

Most of the Caches were very easy to find, only two gave me trouble. The first Cache where I had to look for a bit longer was Adkins Diet, there I circled the target area three times before I spotted something which didn't belong there. Metro Park SE was even tougher. I was poking around the undergrowth for a long time and didn't find anything. I already gave up and decided to take a short break before heading to the next Cache, when I spotted an opening which looked suspicious and indeed, there it was :).

After three hours of hiking and caching I logged my 11th Cache for the day and decided to head back. Noteworthy is, that I found all 11 Caches I set out to find, I've never had such a good success rate!

So if you find yourself in Quito and have half a day to spare: Take your GPS along and go Caching! It was a truly great experience hiking through this nice park :)

If you are interested here is the order I did the Caches:
  1. Brandon's TB Boarding House (GC1K4MD)
  2. Karen's Caper (GC182AC)
  3. Hole in the Wall (GC238MC)
  4. Adkins Diet (GC2C32F)
  5. El Memoria de Giovanni (GC18HYC)
  6. Metro Park SE (GC15JCC)
  7. Log Man (GC2MHQ7)
  8. Picadillo (GC2B17C)
  9. Support Power (GC2QCN3)
  10. Ropa Vieja (GC1Y8HP)
  11. Cuy (GC2MHJY)
My second day in Quito I spent visiting the old town, looking at the old houses, the churches and climbing all the way up to the Monumento a la Virgen de Quito. It just so happened that this day a Down Hill (Bicycle) Race took place from the Monument all the way down, so I spent my hike uphill observing the race and I can tell you this was a breathtaking course with hundreds of steps.

You can find some pictures of Quito in my web album.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Caribbean Reef Sharks and Nurse Shark in Roatan

Even though it was also low season in Roatan, there were a couple of Divemasters and Instructors in Training, so even if we were only two fun divers, there were always enough people around to fill the boat and visit cool dive sites.

The first highlight was on the second day, when we visited the El Aguila Wreck. Similarly to the Halliburton in Utila, this wreck was also sunk on purpose, however shortly after it was sunk, Hurricane Mitch came through and broke the ship into three parts so that it now looks like a real wreck ;). The wreck offered several options for penetration and we visited them all. Strangest was penetrating at the back, where the ship was 45° tilted and after entering everything was askew which did challenge my orientation sense :).

Already back in Utila I saw advertisements for Shark Diving in Roatan and so I booked this dive for Wednesday, it was offered by a company in Coxen Hole, but a short cab ride took me there. We went down to 20m and were able to sit/stand in front of 2m high corals, which ensured that no Sharks would turn up behind us. At first we just watched the Sharks, there were about 15 female Caribbean Reef Sharks present, but since there was no current, we were allowed to swim around after a while. And that was a breathtaking experience, every way I looked, I saw at least one Shark :). At the end we went back to the Corrals and the Sharks received the fish they came for, after a short frenzy everything was eaten and the Sharks disappeared. We then had the opportunity to look around the bottom for Shark teeth, and even though I was more interested in looking at the remaining Sharks, my roommate gave me one of the teeth he found :).

Another highlight in Roatan was, when we discovered a sleeping Nurse Shark, he wasn't bothered by us and so we had the opportunity to take a couple of pictures.

Diving in Roatan was very nice, even though the visibility was at times quite murky. In my humble opinion, the diving in Roatan was better than in Utila. On the other hand, Roatan is much more touristy, with cruise ship passengers coming through several times a week, and thus the cost of food was more expensive. But the real high point of diving in Roatan was Coconut Tree Divers, with its cool people and commradery. Every evening we met up for a beer and a chat and sometimes a small group even continued for dinner.

After ten days it was time to say good-bye and I took the ferry back to La Ceiba, the ferry from Roatan is much larger than the one to Utila and so the crossing was much more comfortable, and then the bus back to San Pedro Sula, where I stayed the night to catch an early morning flight to Quito through Miami.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Whale Shark in Utila

My first stop was Utila, a small island in the Carribean Sea, famous for its Whale Shark sightings. Getting to Utila took two days, first flying to San Pedro Sula through Madrid and Miami, which was easier than anticipated, getting through immigration took only a couple of minutes and I didn't even need to pick up my bag, as is normal in the US, because it got processed directly, unfortunately, no one told me this so I only found out when my bag didn't show up and an official asked to see our bag tags. The next morning I took a bus, with Hedman Alas, to La Ceiba and there the Utila Princess to Utila.

I quickly got settled at Pirates Bay Inn, the brand new hotel belonging to Captain Morgan's dive shop, and started diving. The best sites of Utila are on the North side of the island, which is on the other side, and on the first site we went to CJ's Drop Off, an amazing cliff where you can "free fall" to 30 meters (or beyond). But from the second day on, I was the only customer left, which had the advantage that I had a private dive master and boat, but unfortunately meant that diving had to be limited to the closer sites in the South. I did this for two days and saw some very cool things, such as the Halliburton Wreck, a boat which was sunk on purpose in 1991 to form a natural reef, and Airport Caves which offered dozens of sometimes very tight swimmthroughs and small caves.

Since no other guests arrived, I figured this the perfect opportunity to do the Wreck Diver Specialty. Over the next three days I learned what has to be considered when diving on and penetrating into wrecks and practiced those skills in four dives. In the last dive I could pick a spot to penetrate the ship using a line and reel. I picked the cabins on the ground floor and so I could explore three rooms and see down into the cargo hold, before we had to turn back. I really enjoyed this experience and look forward to exploring other wrecks :).

Almost every day we heard tales that other people spotted Whale Sharks while they were north side, and since it didn't seem likely that I'd be diving there with Captain Morgan's, I jumped at the opportunity when the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center offered a Whale Shark trip Wednesday afternoon. We were eight people on the boat and got extremely lucky, only 15 minutes after reaching the north side, the captain spotted a boil, which is a turbulence in the water caused from many fish being chased by a Whale Shark. We got to jump into the water 6 times and saw the Whale Shark every time. The last time the Whale Shark swam directly towards me and after taking a quick picture, I quickly got out of the way! That was a truly incredible experience! :)

One day I decided to dive with Parrots Dive Center, because they advertised to go north side that day, unfortunately there was some problem with the boat which delayed us and thus we only went to the East side, however, we dove there at Black Hills, wich is one of the best diving spots in Utila and we saw lots of fish, a turtle and a Stingray and during the surface interval we could even snorkel with dolphins! So I was quite happy with the outcome :)

By that time business at Captain Morgan's has finally picked up again, there were a couple of Open Water Students and another fundiver, so I signed up for one last trip going to the North side. We went all the way around the island diving at Blackish Point and Spotted Bay, two very nice dive sites.

After nine days it was time for a change of scenery, so I booked a ticket on Captain Vernon's Catamaran which took me to Roatan.

I might go back to Utila one day, but then it would be April which is the bigger Whale Shark season than September and also part of high season, so there should be more people there. I would definitely stay at Captain Morgan's again, because everyone was very friendly and I found them the most relaxed dive shop on the islands (in other places you had to sign a paper stating that you would not go deeper than 30 metres without a Deep Specialty...).

More pictures can  be found in my web album.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Middle Earth Festival (MEF) 12

After a five year break the Middle Earth Festival returned for the 6th time to Leuk last July and I couldn't miss this.

One day before the event officially started, I met up with about 100 others for a costumed hike to the Gemmi pass. This time the weather was perfect and we only had to cross a couple of small snow fields.
After an enjoyable evening and a refreshing bath in Leukerbad we were ready to conquer Leuk :).

One of the first events on Thursday was Jugger, a game a bit like Rugby where a ball had to be carried into a goal, but almost all players were equipped with cushioned weapons with which other players could be temporarily taken out of the game.
The evening program started with the traditional torchlight procession followed by a concert by An Lár. I was very much looking forward to this concert because An Lár were also playing in 2003, the first time I attended a MEF, and their concert was wonderful. They did not disappoint, playing for more than 2 hours everyone was properly exhausted when An Lár finally left the stage :).

Friday's highlight for me was the concert by Koenix, but this doesn't mean that I didn't do anything else all day long, far from it, there were so many things to watch and participate that I hardly had a free minute.

Koenix played a great concert and were followed by the main act, Letzte Instanz. This was the first concert of theirs I saw, and I wasn't thrilled, somehow it didn't fit into the atmosphere and then it even started to rain, so I retreated into the tower and waited for the bar to open. During the night there were many more concerts in the bar (by Duivelspack, Qui mal y pense and Koenix) and I ended up staying till 3am.

The main event on Saturday was the big Hobbit Feast, fortunately the weather cleared up and it could be held outside on the castle lawn. The fantastic meal was interspersed by entertainment from Forzarello and other Jugglers. The main concert of the evening was by Faun, and even though in the past I was not always taken by their non-acoustic sets, I felt that this time it fit wonderfully into the atmosphere and it was very enjoyable.

Another highlight of the last day was the big Firework choreographed to music by the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, due to the strong winds, the firework had to be aborted, but the part that we did see was breathtaking!

After everything settled down it was time to return to the bars, listen to more concerts and hanging around with friends. This time it was 5am until I finally found my way back to bed ;).

The Middle Earth Festival 2012 was wonderful, it felt like coming home and there were so many friends I hadn't seen in a while that it was sad it had to end so soon.

I would like to mention a huge thanks to the organizers, who put in so much work to make this a reality, as well as everyone who helped that everything ran smoothly. Should there be another MEF in the future, I will definitely be part of it again :).

All my pictures can be found in my web album.

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