wildlife

London wears many personalities. It’s quirky, glamorous, grumpy, lazy, competitive and adventurous. And even though I understand when friends tell me that they could never live in this city, a part of me can’t avoid thinking that they simply haven’t discovered their London yet.

Moving to London was my ultimate challenge. Having grown up in Europe’s mildest climate, a mere 10 minute walk from the beach – it has been a constant push for me to adapt to the changing seasons in Madrid, the cold, snow and punctuality in Switzerland, and the anonymity, large distances and sudden never-ending choices of London. I am now close to celebrating 2.5 years in a city that has been nicknamed the old smoke. A city that, to me, is rough, grumpy and chaotic, but equally stimulating, exciting and strangely familiar.

It’s cozy but trendy; vibrant and ambitious. All to be expected by a cosmopolitan capital. But then, it’s also local, green and wild.

I don’t need to go far to land in a park or even a forest – Richmond Park being one of my favourites.

Richmond Park, London (UK)

Richmond Park is a Natural Reserve and English Heritage located south west London. Back in 1634, Charles I created the space to become a deer park to satisfy his hunting. Today it has become the second largest urban walled park in Britain with over 600 deers that call this park home.

Richmond Park, London (UK)

Richmond Park, London (UK)

What I absolurely love about this open space is how far it transports you from all the hustle and nuzzle of the big city. Even though I occasionally spotted other visitors (Richmond is a popular destination for runners), I hardly crossed paths with anyone else. Well, except for these cuties!

Richmond Park, London (UK)

The park stretches over 2.300 acres with a perimeter of over 20 km and has an ancient forest with nearly 1.000 oak trees. I ventured into the woods, fascinated by the warm leaf colours. I could only hear the sound of a light breeze through the trees, rustling the leaves.

Richmond Park, London (UK)

I didn’t stay long in the forest because, well, I had read too many thrillers. To compensate, I left to search for the red deer herds that can be found in the park. It’s great to be able to get up so close to them, although this requires a certain degree of patience and ingenuity – and a lot of memory space on your camera!

Richmond Park, London (UK)

So, while for many London is busy, chaotic and expensive – I like to think of London as open, wild and diverse. That’s my London. It’s what I go back to whenever I feel the city is fighting against me. It’s what kind of makes it feel like home.

Have you been to Richmond Park? Which would be the 3 words that define London to you?

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Today has been a tough day, but I’ve learned a lesson: Never expect too much from me before 9am – I’m simply not a morning person, and if faced with important tasks at unbearable hours, chances are, I will get it all wrong. I’m pretty sure I’ve been sleep walking in the airport this morning. At least this could explain why I thought I had read North Terminal where it actually said South Terminal and why I was pretty sure my ticket stated 7:15am check in closure and not 7:00am (not that those 15 minutes would have made any difference, given that I was queuing at the wrong terminal).

Whenever I have a day like this, I like to go through my collection of best travel memories to lift up my mood (it really works!). One of the moments that always brings a smile to my face was the hour I spent surrounded by penguins in Isla Margarita (Chile). Besides for the over 100 pictures I took in that short time, I shot a few videos. I never really had figured out how to use iMovie to create a clip before, but hey, I proclaimed 2012 the year of first times, so why not add creating videos to the list

Click here to watch it on Youtube.

What do you do to lift up your mood?

Guanaco in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Guanacos are fascinating creatures. They often live in herds mostly composed of females, their chulengos and one dominant male, who needs to continually fight against other bachelor males that want to take over his position. He protects his herd from predators by carefully scanning the surroundings from the top and, when he feels a threat, he’ll alert with a high-pitched trill.

A though job, being a guardian of so many females and vulnerable new borns – luckily there are very few pumas in Torres del Paine National Park.

Shortly after waving goodbye to a colony of Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena, we arrived at our last stop: Punta Arenas. From there, a mere 5 and a half hours ride took us into one of the World’s most impressive landscapes: the Torres del Paine National Park.

Torres del Paine National Park is takes it name from three impressive granite towers (torres) that, together with the horns (cuernos), rise more than 3,000 meters above the Patagonian steppe. It’s beauty and uniqueness was officially recognized in 1975, when it was declared World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

What makes this place so special?

The Mountains

Mountains in Torres del Paine, Chile

Those of you who know me, know that I love mountainous landscapes., which is a bit unusual from someone who’s spent her teens in a bikini.

That Torres del Paine National Park is considered a paradise for hikers and climbers and overall mountaineers was no surprise – its many valleys and peaks form a fantastic playground for any adventurer seeking for unspoiled allure!

I took the above picture of one of the Cuernos del Paine while hiking in Valle Francés.

The Lakes

Lake in Torres del Paine, Chile

Although I had spent two years living next to a beautiful lake in Switzerland, I held my breath as I saw the shades of blue of the lakes in the park.

Shouldn’t this color belong in the Caribbean?

I took this picture was taken from Puente Weber, overlooking Rio Paine and the Paine Massif.

The Flora

Flowers in Torres del Paine, Chile

The best months to travel to Torres del Paine is between October and April – not only because of the milder temperatures and longer hours of sunlight, but to appreciate the diverse flora that colors the ground of the park.

I soon learned that looking down can be as rewarding as looking up!

The picture above is of a bed of lupins, one of the iconic wildflowers in the Andean region in Patagonia.

The Waterfalls

Waterfall in Torres del Paine, Chile

The Park has two waterfalls – Salto Grande (pictured above) and Cascada del Rio Paine, which exhibit very different attractions. Salto Grande caught my eye due to the tremendous power used to drain the water from Lake Nordenskjöld to Lake Pehoé. Cascada del Rio Paine, although less powerful, had a perfect setting – in front of the dramatic Torres.

Although one can get closer to Salto Grande by walking down a few steps, I am certain that the best view was from the top of the Mirador, from where I shot this photograph.

The Fauna

Eagle in Torres del Paine, Chile

Torres del Paine is the perfect place for those, like me, enjoy getting closer to the regional wildlife. During my time in the park, I walked with guanacos and ñandús (darwin’s rhea), spotted a family of cute grey foxes, flamingos, condors and this majestic eagle – just to name a few!

I spotted this eagle during our lunch break, close to Lago Azul.

The Glaciers

Glaciers in Torres del Paine, Chile

The region we now know as Patagonia is said to have been once covered under a thick volume of ice. Millions of years have passed and still we find hundreds of (smaller) moving bodies of ice. Glaciar Grey is probably the most famous of the park’s glaciers, attracting a considerable number of tourists each year that want to experience ice trekking or get a closer look to the walls of ice from one of cruises. The large pieces that fall off the glacier slowly drift towards the stone beach, creating what is commonly known as a Cementerio de Tempanos (ice floes cementery).

In the picture: Lake Grey with a big ice floe and in the Grey Glacier in the background.

Isla Magdalena, Chile

Penguins are simply adorable, aren’t they?

Before disembarking at a floating dock on Isla Magdalena (Chile), I had only watched them behind a glass in the Zoo, where a couple of dozens occupied the fake islands and saw their days pass by staring to each other and, from time to time, having a short dive into the water.

The Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena had nothing to do with the picture I had from the Zoo. thousands of penguins were waddling down the hills towards the sea to go and catch lunch for their family, while their partners took care of their furry chicks. Some of them wandered in groups of friends, while others stood by them selves calling out for their life partners.

Isla Magdalena, Chile

Yes, that’s right. Penguins mate for life.

Not only are they loyal, but build a relationship based on teamwork – they build their nest together and then make shifts on catching fish and raising their chicks. Year after year, male penguins search for their female partners, who recognize them through the male’s calls. I spotted a few of them hoping to reconnect with their beloved ones!

Isla Magdalena, Chile

Isla Magdalena, Chile

Isla Magdalena is not as easy to access as the smaller colony in Seno Otway, about an hour drive from Punta Arenas.

Despite receiving far less visitors than Otway, the birds were curious about us – some of them even seemed to enjoyed standing in front of a camera!

Isla Magdalena, Chile

Isla Magdalena, Chile

Although our visit was short – about an hour on land -, the visit is most definitely worth it! I managed to use up my camera’s battery, but returned with at least 60 unique postcards.

I could have stayed the whole day watching them.

Isla Magdalena, Chile

“One sight of such a coast is enough to make a landsman dream for a week about shipwrecks, peril and death.”
Charles Darwin, 1834

Arriving at Cape Horn, Chile

Cape Horn has been for centuries the nightmare of all seamen, as well as the dream of adventurous travelers. The waters that surround this sinister rock are some of the roughest and unruly ones Worldwide. Its waves can often reach heights of over 20 meters, crashing violently against the rocks. Wind blows in all directions with enough speed and force to through you overboard and every second day of the year, it’s likely to get caught in a storm. The Cape Horn route is, in fact, one of the most dangerous nautical passages in the World.

Before the construction of the Panama Canal, the only nautical route to cross between the Atlantic and the Pacific was to dare the southern route bypassing Cape Horn. There are an estimated 800 shipwrecks near this black rock!

Planning Our Arrival to Cape Horn, Chile

On our first evening on the Stella Australis, the expedition cruise that would take us from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas, we were warned about the possibility of experiencing significant shakes and unrest when approaching the cape. Crew members advised that, as weather changes radically, we might even not be able to disembark on Cape Horn. We would only by the next morning.

At 6:00am we woke up to a grey sky but a surprisingly calm sea. It was time to get ready to get on our zodiacs to explore the cape!

Arriving at Cape Horn, Chile

Cape Horn, Chile

Cape Horn, Chile

Once on Cape Horn, I realized how sinister and dramatic it landscape is. Besides for the Albatross statue (pictured above on the left side of the picture), which is a monument to the many sailors who have lost their lives surrounding the rock, the cape houses a lighthouse. A lighthouse that shelters a seaman from the chilean Navy together with his supporting family, living in this harsh climate and isolated from civilization for a whole year.

Chilean Flag on Cape Horn, Chile

Cape Horn, Chile

On our way back to the cruise, we were surprised that our zodiac gave a sudden turn to follow the coastline… to watch a colony of sea lions!

Cape Horn, Chile

Sea Lions in Cape Horn, Chile

Whale Watching in Los Gigantes, Tenerife (Spain)

We are obsessed with discovering the World.

We aim to step on land that no one or only few of us have visited before. We want individuality. Uniqueness. Experiences that will be recorded in our memory until we grow old. We travel around the globe by train, bus, plane and/or taxi (often using a combination of all of these) in a surprisingly short time span, only to visit somewhere we define as exotic.

The funny thing is – Sometimes the most unique and exotic experiences are right in front of our door step.

This is a continuation of my day hiking from Belalp to Riederalp, in the Bernese Alps. Don’t miss the first part of the 14 kms hike!

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At the time I placed my feet on the suspension bridge, adrenaline sarted to rush through my veins. I was walking on a gridded floor, and 80 meters beneath, the Massa river carried freezing meltwater coming straight from the glaciers.

As I approached the center of the bridge, I took a moment to admire the landscape. Impressive mountains on both sides, a furious river rushing below, and Europe’s largest glacier appearing in the back of the narrow valley.

20110823-094538.jpgMy view to the left.

20110823-095537.jpgMy view to the right.

After we had crossed the suspension bridge and climbed up a sandy path, we reached a small lake, the Gruensee (in english, Green lake).

It was surprising to read that, only 80 years ago, this area was still covered under the Aletsch glacier.

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What a difference has global warming made.

It’s scary to think that, in only one year (from 2005 to 2006), the Aletsch glacier lost 100 meters. According to scientists, the glaciers are retreating at an average rate of 3% per year – based on this rate, it is highly probable that our grand children won’t get to see Europe’s glaciers. Bloodcurdling, right?

When we entered the forest, we were greatful for the shadows its old trees were creating. Hiking at 2,000 meers altitude hadn’t been as refreshing as we had initially thought!

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The Aletschwald (in english, Aletsch Forest) stretches on the northern slope of the Hohfluh and Moosfluh mountains, beween 1,600 and 2,200 meters altitude and collects some of the oldest trees of Switzerland. Tests have shown that the swiss stone pines located in the forest are at least 600 to 700 years old!

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But it wasn’t only the flora that rewarded us for the (challenging) walk up to Riederfurka. Besides for enchanted trees and a variety of mushrooms, we were lucky to pass close to a pair of curious alpine ibex.

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After 3 hours of continuously walking uphill, we finally reached civilization – a pretty little hotel in Riederfurka, with breathtaking views over the forest, the glaciers and the path on which, one by one, exhaused but satisfied hikers emerged from the forest. A perfect place to rest ones feet, drink cold water and do some serious hikers watching.

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It took us 20 minutes to arrive to Riederalp, from were we took the cable car to Moerel – the closest train station. However, we couldn’t leave the swiss mountains without one last whim:

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A Valisian platter with local dried meat and cheese!

Practical Information

Route: From Belalp to Riederfurka (around the Aletsch Glacier in the Bernese Alps, Switzerland)
Elevation gain uphill: 475m
Elevation gain downhill: 479m
Length: 14 km
Duration: 4 – 4.5 hrs (including admiration stops!)
Difficulty: Moderate
Wikiloc: Aletsch Glacier. Note that this loc goes past Riederfurka further to Bettmeralp.

Hiking in Aletsch, Switzerland

The weather forecast promised a sunny weekend with temperatures reaching over 30C and so we decided to escape into the Bernese Alps, in the swiss canton of Valais. Having our doubts about the cooling effect that 1,500 meters difference in altitude could produce, we thought it would be best to reach towards the source of all freshness – a glacier.

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Switzerland has more than 1,800 glaciers, starting at just a few meters up to 23 kms length. The Grosser Aletschgletscher (in english: Great Aletsch Glacier) is the longest glacier in Europe and made it to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2001. It covers more than 120 square kilometers of the Bernese Alps, which is considered to be the largest glaciated area in western Eurasia.

Some people would choose to jump into the lake – we chose to hike around the Great Aletsch Glacier.

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Our hike started at the Belalp Hotel, which is a 20 minute walk from the cable car station and rests right on the edge of the Aleschbord. From there, we hiked down a steep path down to Aletschji. During most of the 2.5 hours down, we had a breathtaking view over the glacier. Frankly, I could get tired of looking at it. At some point, I started to feel anxious, following an internal debate on whether I should or should not keep on taking pictures every 2 minutes and risk missing the last train to return home that day. I couldn’t resist myself, and decided that this risk was worth taking.

We came across some of Valais’ Blackneck goats. Their forequarters are black and their hindquarters white, and have long wavy hair. Aren’t they extremely cute?

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Every time we could, we drank and cooled our skin with glacier water – it taste so pure and refreshing!

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After descending 500 meters, we reached a 124 meters long suspension bridge that runs across a 80 meter deep ravine. Underneath, the Massa river flowed, charged with freezing water coming straight from the glaciers…

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As the title suggests, I’ve divided this post into two parts – one for each side of the Massa River. Please click here to move on to part II

Fernando de Noronha is Brazil’s best kept secret. Still pure and simple, with little touristic influence, this archipelago has been declared UNESCO World Heritage Center back in 2001 and it’s described as the most beautiful marine park in the World. To avoid the masses, the Government limits the number of visitors to 460 at one time, which together with the 3.500 locals living there permanently, makes it really cozy. Additionally, visitors have to pay an Environmental Preservation Tax that increases progressively with the length of the visit – so the average time people stay is 3-5 days.

I visited the archipelago for 5 days about 3 years (although I wish it had stayed longer!). The highlight of the the trip – besides for the breathtaking beaches and colourful sunsets – was its underwater world.

A couple of years ago, we obtained our Scuba Diving license and, since then, attempt to dive in each of our travel destinations. It’s a lovely way to experience the place from a completely different angle!

Diving with sea turtles in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

… Dive with sea turtles in a strong current…

Diving in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

… See colorful fish and exotic rock formations …

Scuba diving in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

… And meet a friendly shark! Well, he kind of looked friendly – but I didn’t want to check out. Instead, I swam towards a group of large fish I had spotted from far away until they all turned to me and I realised they were barracudas.

Maybe the shark was a better idea after all.

Which is your favourite place to go scuba diving?