Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador

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Cotopaxi Volcano (Ecuador)

As I am not a fan of Christmas or New Year I decided to get away and escape it all, choosing the Amazon rainforest for its diversity to do what I love best and spend some time searching for insects, tree frogs, snakes, mammals and other wildlife. On the way through to the Amazon forests, I stopped at the city Quito for a couple of days before embarking on the flight across, and it was in this brief window of time that I decided to look at the volcanos in the area, most notably Cotopaxi.

I worked very hard in order to get the money together for this trip, working as many hours as I could and as I was due to fly out on Christmas day found that there was little public transport available, so booked myself into the Sofitel Hotel at Heathrow for an over nighter on Christmas Eve.

It was Christmas Eve and I got into bed and watched the film Tin Tin on the hotel movie channel, feeling excited about going to the Amazon the next day.

Christmas Morning
Got up at 7:30am, quickly re-checked kit bag, attached labels, skipped breakfast and set off to walk through the tunnel then catch a train to Terminal 3 for the flight.
Following a long flight, then a change in Miami, going through customs, picking up and re-checking bags, the man who took my bags in Miami said to me “well ma’am, you will be lucky to see those bags again!”

This did not fill me with confidence! However, my bags did turn up in Ecuador and I was mighty pleased to see them, there was nothing of value in there of course, however they did contain things such as calamine lotion, plasters, pain killers, insect repellent, walking socks, tripod, a large bottle of Captain Morgans Spiced Rum and such like, all those things you need.

Ecuador in South America is bordered by Colombia, Peru and the Pacific Ocean and Spanish is the main spoken language, Quito is the capital city which is vast at 99,706 square miles.
Quito is North Central Ecuador set in the Guayllatamba river basin and is the highest Capital city in the World at 9,350 feet above sea level, as I got off the plane and ventured outside I felt the altitude almost immediately, a shortness of breath just from walking, I am used to cycling and running and try to keep myself as fit as possible, this felt weird from such little exertion.

I was also relieved to see my name on a hand written sign at the airport, I remember too well Guyana, I was picked up and headed off in the car to Hotel Dann Carlton, Quito, Ecuador.

Before I left for this trip, a friend of mine Andrew St. George said to check out Cotopaxi, one of the Worlds highest volcanos at 5,897 metres high and I was eager to see it.

Devetashka Cave, Bulgaria

Some pictures of the Worlds most interesting caves were being circulated on the Internet and as soon as I saw the beauty of Bulgarias Devetashka cave, I knew that I had to go there.

Inside Devetashka Cave

Earlier in the year, friends of mine Dee and Mika moved to a small village in Bulgaria with their 4-year-old son Sky and it quickly transpired that they are only 30 miles away from the cave that I was so keen to see.

Two more friends Jinny and Liam were already heading out there so I booked a flight out and joined them for a week to see Dee and Mika and of course go for that cave!

The village that they live in is called Dobromirka, it was like going back in time watching men passing through with their horses and carts and the women herding goats and geese, the sound of cow bells tinkled accompanied by the barking of dogs, hundreds and hundreds of dogs in this and the surrounding villages.

Dogs are not treated well here, they are kept out in the yards on short chains and used purely as alarms for their owner’s property and of course as soon as you walk past it sets off not one dog but all of the dogs in the area, like an audio domino effect.

My friends Dee and Mika moved over to Bulgaria not only with their son Sky but also with a three-legged cat called Ziggy who has lived with Dee on a bus and travelled around by bike, moped, car, van, coach, bus, boat and aeroplane, quite extraordinary.

They have now adopted a young Doberman dog called Lola, a Horse called Zoran, a Foal yet to be named, a golden wolf dog called Zucho, a kitten called Sweetie and a three-legged puppy called James.

Being used to camping out such a lot and enjoying the night sounds of crickets, I decided to make myself a camp outside and slept out at night joined by Zucho the dog, James the Puppy and Sweetie the kitten, who all fought for a patch of warmth.

I also had a Praying Mantis that Liam and Mica found on a door that I moved to my camp so that I could observe it, I have always been fascinated by mantids and this one was great to watch as it stalked about looking for potential prey at night and by day became statue like.

My Praying Mantis

I found the villagers to be very friendly as once they get to see you around and know your face they are very accepting and welcoming, taking a photograph of some elderly locals on a village corner, one of the men took off his hat in a sweeping gesture of politeness.

Nepal: Trekking the Foothills of the Himalayas

Following on from India, I travelled from there in our group of 6 friends including my mother, on this tailor-made trip to experience Nepal which is home to eight out of the fourteen highest peaks in the world and trek in the foothills of the Himalayas with views of Mount Everest the mountain I was particularly interested in.

One of my Views flying over Everest in the small plane

Kathmandu seen as a sacred site is a chaotic hustle bustle of a place full of people and pagoda temples, the roads are dusty and bumpy but infused with the smell of ever burning joss sticks, it was originally first discovered as a small settlement during the dark ages at the end of the Licchani period.

These days Kathmandu is seen as a place of worship with its Buddhist temples and statues where incense sticks are burnt continuously and the symbolic colourful flags are hung for protection, many climbers like to visit the flags in the hope it will bring them luck on their climbs.

We went to an older part of Kathmandu which I did not like at all, it had a medieval feel about it and I split from the others as I preferred to explore the area alone, however then walked unwittingly into an area where an animal sacrifice was taking place, it shocked and upset me and I had to run away from it as not only could I not bear to see it I also could not stand hearing it.

It was beyond appalling and cruel.

Further on I came to a temple where there is a Living Goddess, a young girl chosen from the age of around 6 years old for her psychic abilities and a series of other tests, a tradition of Hindu and Buddhism which continues to this day. Once chosen the girl or Goddess as she has now become is given the name Kumari Devi and worshipped on all the religious occasions.

The selection of the Living Goddess is an ancient tantric ritual where she must pass the 32 attributes of perfection test, including the colour of her eyes, the shape of her teeth and the sound of her voice and her horoscope must also be fitting as the first part of selection.

They will then attempt to frighten girls who are being tested by making them confront a goddess in a darkened room with Buffalo heads scattered around, masked dancers made to look like Demons and terrifying noises. The real goddess is unlikely to be frightened, so the one who remains calm throughout the process is the only girl who is entitled to sit on the pedestal for worship as the Living Goddess. Other tests are performed where they are tested for any sign of psychic ability, then as a final test similar to that of the Dalai Lama, the Kumari then chooses items of clothing and decoration worn by her predecessor.

Cambodia – Temples and Sunsets

Cambodia

Following the Vietnam Cave Expedition my friend Jonas from Copenhagen in Denmark and I decided to take some time out to fly across to Cambodia, Siem Reap, which was only 1 hour away by plane and here we experienced the impressive Temples of Angkor along with cycling to Tonle Sap, getting caught in a freak storm and seeing a memorial of the Killing Fields victims.

Here is an account of that trip, including this quick film extract below of Cambodia Water life that I filmed on a hand held camcorder:

After a transit day from Vietnam to Cambodia we arrived at the airport of Siem Reap where we had the unfriendliest Visa check from two seemingly very angry, aggressive and frustrated officials, this was not quite the welcome we had expected when entering a new Country.

We then met up with our guide and headed to the Siddharta Boutique Hotel, which was just a short drive from the airport and there we had the most amazing, friendliest welcome which more than made up for the airport officials. We were both given Cambodian scarfs in a little bag and then had a tropical fruit welcome drink, after a check in we had an evening walk around the grounds and outside the perimeter of the hotel to look for tree frogs and insects, we found some interesting orange coloured toads.

Asian Painted Frog (Kaloula pulchra)

Day 1- Wednesday 25th April
Temples
We had a superb breakfast of fruits, yogurt and toast with Dragon fruit and lime marmalade, then we were collected by the guide and headed out to see our first Temple Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat
We arrived at Angkor Wat at 7am and the sky was pink with the risen sun, this Temple was extremely impressive with a huge moat surrounding it, the name Angkor Wat means City Temple and is steeped in mythology.

Angkor Wat

Outside the Temple there are many statues of ‘Naga’ the seven headed snake which protects it and is a symbolic ‘rainbow bridge’ for man to reach home of the Gods making Angkor Wat a ‘Heaven on Earth.’
What was hilarious was that a group of monks walked past in their colourful orange robes and then stopped and all took a picture of the temple entrance with their Ipads, it looked really funny.

The Monks taking photos with their ipads

Walking Britains oldest road 87 Miles in 4 days

Walking Britain’s Oldest Road

White Horse Hill, Uffington

The Ridgeway has been walked on for at least 5000 years and this ancient track once used by traders, villagers and travellers is rich in history dotted with Bronze and Iron Age Hill Forts, small burial mounds and Long Barrows along the way.

You will see many burial mounds, also called Tumuli along the way, these oblong raised grassy mounds are approximately 4000 years old and are often fenced off or have trees planted around them making them easy to spot should you see evidence of this in an open field.
It is often referred to as Britain’s oldest road and was once used as a route by the invading Danish Viking armies back in the dark ages.

The Enclosures Acts were passed by Parliament which ordered the open land to be divided into privately owned fields which were hedged off thus keeping the passing livestock contained on track and therefore protecting the surrounding local fields. This served to shape the Ridgeway as a singular track which became more and more worn over the years.
The Ridgeway was seen as an important long distance walking route from 1947 and the Ramblers Association became involved acknowledging the route in the 1950s until it finally became recognised as a National Trail in 1973 by the National Trust and these days is enjoyed by walkers from near and far.

The Ridgeway crosses five Counties for the 87 miles and I decided to walk it in the direction starting from Ivanhoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, then going through Hertfordshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and ending up at Avebury in Wiltshire.

It is generally suggested that you walk the route starting at Overton Hill in Avebury and ending at Ivinghoe Beacon in Aylesbury, the main reason for this is that the wind will be behind you, however I chose to walk it the opposite way round and finish at Overton Hill so that I could then head to the Red Lion pub at Avebury and enjoy the view of the stones.

I planned this walk in memory of my boyfriend James Wyse, who died in 2011 as he was so knowledgeable and interested in the history of the Ridgeway, which is Britain’s oldest road, the walk was for charity to raise money for Sobell House Hospice.

Rather than do it in the advised 6 days, I would do it in 4 days instead for a challenge and camp along the route.

After some careful thought I also decided that it would be much better to have company along the route, so I put posters up around the local pubs in my home town and invited friends who knew James to take part in the walk, either in its entirety or in sections and also for any volunteers who may like to get involved.