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The deep, emotional stuff Travels & Trips

Colombia – an encounter with Leadership

Today I went hiking in Colombia – just two hours drive from Bogota you can find wonderful nature!

Laguna verde (“green lake”) was the destination. After getting out of the car, we walked through a high altitude plateau (3300-3700 m) with rare plants, the beautiful colours and the relieving fresh air that you only get in the mountains.

After around 2 hours hike we had chatted with each other and former strangers had become friends – the bizarre scenary made it possible.

Approaching Laguna Verde we saw a group of tents on the shore. A group of around 15 people in hiking gear were starting to pull down their tents. A bit late, we thought – how far can they reach if they start their day’s hike at 1pm?

We passed them with a few greetings and climbed up the mountain behind the lake to get the full panoramic view. Our guide decides to stay behind with a lady that got tired, but the majority of us wouldn’t return home without reaching the peak!

Of we go, climbing up around 200 steep metres. Just a few metres below the peak we couldn’t trace the path. High scrubs everywhere. “No hay un camino claro!” was mumbled by a lady. (“There is no clear path!”)

Of course we made it somehow – I lead the group upwards, to me the direction “to the peak” is clear enough when climbing a mountain. I remember the inspiring statement about leadership that I heard so often… About leaving a trail where is no path. I am not satisfied by the extend of my leadership, my impact – so I drop the thought quickly.

A stunning view and the well-deserved lunch break awaited us. Sandwiches and fruits were unpacked and munched… until a sudden rain hit us and we jumped in our rainjackets and hurried down the hill to find a shelter.

“Scrubs?” I am thinking.

Until we reached the campers, the rain had subsided and become a drizzle.

They shouted at us and waved us over to their camp. They had a pot of soup that they wanted to share with us. Moving closer I saw that the cook who was wearing shorts had only one leg – the other one had a prosthesis. Looking around I saw more of the campers with leg prostheses – many had two!

We are in the middle of wild nature. I see people wearing high-tech hiking wear. I see branded hiking boots. I see metal connecting the two. I am deeply disturbed. I can’t make it work in my head. I can’t even accept the soup that I am offered.

Nobody else seems to be bothered. The campers are fitting the last tent equipment back in their backpacks. My group mates are chatting and eating. They are teasing me that I don’t eat the soup – is it that I don’t like the intestines it includes?

The language barrier makes me shut up even more.

I remember: Colombia is the country with the highest amount of landmines victims worldwide.

The leader of the group himself has one prothesis. He explained to us that this is a group of former soldiers who are preparing to climb Kilimanjaro in August. A team of mechanics, psychologists and doctors will accompany them. They have been fundraising for the trip for long.

What big an inspiration can this group be to thousands of landmine victims?

What faces will they encounter in Tanzania’s airport?

Is it physically possible for them to reach the peak?

What looks will they attract from other hikers?

How many protheses could be fitted with the money that is donated for this trip?

Many questions could be asked. I don’t ask. I can see:

This man is a leader. He has the goal clear.

Go where there is no path – and leave a trail!

More about the hike: http://www.caminantesdelretorno.com/eng/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=110:the-green-lake-tausa&catid=11:short-hikes&Itemid=2

More about landmines: http://www.the-monitor.org/index.php/publications/display?url=lm/2004/colombia.html

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Travels & Trips

Scotland – West Highland Way

A week of walking in rough and beautiful nature… Last week I hiked the West Highlands Way in Scotland. The famous Lochs, the foggy valleys, volcanic hills, the food and culture. A great time off from London and its buzz!

Preparations:

The Way is a famous tourist attraction and there is quite some infrastructure around it. We made reservations for all our accommodation beforehand (which was not necessary in April, but is well advised in the high season from May). We had a map, which is not required for the well-marked way, but nice because it gives you an idea of the distances and the names of rivers and mountains around you!

We only had 6 days, so we had to skip a couple of days (the hike can take 6-9 days).

There is a bus and train pretty much every day to give you a short cut of 4-7 hours walk, so it’s good to print the bus plan of C8 and 916. Also if you know your return date, have the train return ticket booked before to save money.

Regards Luggage you want to be prepared for any weather (snow through hail and rain to sunshine). We had Travel Lite transport our luggage from every hostel to the next (40 GBP, book here) and only carried our day pack with rain coat and food. What a luxury, but a great delight, especially on the hills!

Day 1: Arrival to Glasgow on train where we had a walk around the river and city centre. Then we took the 6pm bus to Drymen (we skipped the first Day from Glasgow/Milngravie to Drymen). We stayed in a pretty B&B (Elmbank), and had dinner from the supermarket.

Day 2 Our first actual hiking day from Drymen via Conic Hill to Rowardennan. You get to climb the Hill from the less steep behind and through pretty valleys filled with the famous sheep. After lunch on the hill with great views on the loch, we took a shortcut down the hills straight to lake (cutting out Balmaha) and spent the rest of the afternoon walking on the shores of the lake to the Rowardennan Youth Hostel. We stretched the 24 kms over nearly 8 hours, because we took all opportunities for photo taking, picnics and stops on the beaches of Loch Lommond.

Day 3: From the Youth hostel we took the first ferry to the other side of the Loch, an amazing 30 minutes which stunning views over the lake and the slopes. Then we got a bus to Inverarnan, where we had a quick lunch at the Drovers Inn (great pub!). From there we just had to finish a 3-hour through another valley walk until we got to the Youth Hostel in Crianlarich. We met Highland cattle, which can be frightening, especially as they are taking well care of their fresh offspring.

Day 4: A nice surprise waited for us: It has snowed overnight and our walk to Bridge of Orchy started in fresh white. After a warming lunch in Tyndrym we finished the 21-km-leg through light rain: A simple walk through a long valley with steep slopes on both sides and near the railway tracks. The old military road (build in 17xx) on which we were walking is held by an old wall and there are nice views to the wide river at the valley bottom. We also tasted the fresh spring water. The railway has an exciting horse-show form at some point, but we weren’t lucky enough to catch the train in this corner. On arrival in Bridge of Orchy we stayed at the Bunkhouse and had great dinner in the restaurant of the (one) hotel in the place.

Day 5: The next lag is a 5-8 hour hike over the moor, which we summed up in a 20-minute bus ride. Having gotten off at Kingshouse Hotel, we walked an hour or so until we crossed the Devil’s Staircase, which lead into another valley. The descend to Kinglochleven was as beautiful as diverse.  We reached Blackwater Hostel at 2pm and stocked up at the Supermarked, then relaxed there. With a bit more courage, we could have done the whole hike without the bus, just as most others who arrived at 7pm, had 🙂

Day 6 marked already our last day of the West Highland Way with a final lap of 24kms to Fort William. This was actually the most beautiful day and somehow the summary of the whole walk: starting with a nice climb and amazing views out of the valley to another long valley, through forests and volcanic moor until reaching the snow gaped mountains close to Ben Nevis and down to Fort William through the rain on (guess what… boring) car-wide tracks. After a photo at the official end of the track we had dinner on the High Street (Alexandra Restaurant has amazing BBQ chicken, what a meal after 5 days of hike!)

On Day 7 we went shopping for souvenirs, then walked to the old castle and visiting the distillery. Another alternative is climbing Ben Nevis, if the weather is fine.

The highlight and summary was the 4-hour train ride from Fort William back to Glasgow, which showed us the whole hike backwards and many more views over the moor that we had not seen before!

Full cost: 430 GBP incl. train return trip from London, a great deal that we achieved by making our own food and using hostels and early booked transport. You can save more by carrying your luggage, and sticking to hostels or camping.

Full experience: While the way is not too exciting for an experienced hiker in terms of its appearance and not technically demanding, it is highly rewarding for it’s beautiful landscape and the views are amazing every single hour!

An amazing holiday!

(And for some silly reason Channel 5 is showing Water Horse right now… the legend of the Monster of Loch Ness!)

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Hastings

 

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Seven Sisters

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Box Hill

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Kent Coast

The moment when you realize how long you have not seen the sea!

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Guildford

 

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Frensham

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Chilworth Cementary – “Live is for living”

So I just took this random guess on google “Hike near London” and ended up on a website for “Surrey Hills”, downloaded the first hike and went…. after some weeks in London it felt great to get some fresh air!

One of the inscriptions on Chilworth Cementary read “Live is for living” and I could not agree more.

 

 

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World topics

London and the Need for Talking

This article will make some of you smile others frown. It is about returning to Western Europe, highly industrialized countries, “the first world”. I stayed in Africa during the last three years. I was often asked whether I am not scared of losing my IT knowledge or becoming “slow” or how I can live in “such” conditions. Obviously such questions already show the asker’s low understanding of my motivations. But even more does it give insight into the image that exists of “Africans” (I really have to put this into quotes having experienced the diversity that exists in the continent). Africans take their time, talk a lot with their neighbors and family, are never in a hurry to get something done and talk about difficulties rather than solving them. So far we “know”. This post focuses on the talking bit of the African culture and the importance of togetherness. Actually this post is about the absence of the two in London… Let’s look at your typical day. Waking up in your room, no sharing needed, you deserve privacy and your salary can afford it! Lights and shower work perfectly, no reason to complain. Your smart phone synchronizes the news and your mail, now just a quick Coffee to go in the corner shop. The shop attendant talks in Hindi with the Guy filling the shelves. “1,20″ really doesn’t require an answer, but your coffee is done before you arrive at the bus stop. You “touch in” your oyster card, but the loud beep and the driver’s shaking head tells you that your ticket expired and, yeah, you can’t buy bus tickets on the bus. You decide you can walk the two stops, at the tube station you extend your weekly transport pass on the machine. At least the touch screen doesn’t look at you compassionately like the old lady when you had to get off the bus. Half an hour later your day seems to have stabilized. Nothing really exciting on the news, so you start scrolling through your mail. You are used to the pushing and polite “excuse me”s on the tube. On entering the office building, this girl greets you on the corridor, she must be new here. Work is going good, emails, reports and one team meeting. A bit annoying is Anna’s new ringtone, she seems to be using her 1000 free texts well. During lunch break you head for a quick shopping tour through Sainsbury’s, these self-checkout terminals are much faster than the usual cashiers! At 5.30pm the cleaning lady looks at you with tired eyes. Finally home, you watch some soaps, the catch-up of the television is cool but ordering movies on Sky is cheap and convenient. You decide to shop for birthday presents on Amazon before you sleep… This summary of my 3 weeks in London shows how technology facilitates life here and also the process-orientation that has taken over: People are used to fitting into the process and the process makes the world go round. If you don’t force it, every day will look like the other and you will not need to talk a single word in 24 hours. Maybe I became slow… But give yourself a break, a small reason to talk and return my greeting on the corridor tomorrow! Oh, and the first sentence that was directed at me today was the “I just wanted to tell you that I like your hairstyle” of a shop assistant. He was black.