Time runs by me
it runs through me
and it stays the same.
Time drops by drop by drop.
There is an ever expanding emptiness inside of me,
the contours of my body contain it as it unfolds infinitely towards the inside.
It drips down my body like a thick cold goo.
It drips down heavy full of stars and full of longing.
It drips down and pulls my body down, its weight thick as mud.
Thick as swamp.
Thick as cold as that time when the eyes of death looked at the eyes of love with longing and his gaze sank deep in love's soul and he melted slowly but love was light and so it floated and death's gaze could not weigh it down. Love floated above and death melted down deep under the ocean into the dark wet earth and it seeped through into earth's crust and it sat there expanding towards the inside, expanding within me with its cold damp ever-shinning stars that sine with longing at the love that held its eyes and held its soul and held its heart and did't let go.


Laguna de Cubilche

It was the end of the week and it had been a couple of months since my last mountain, but it felt like it had been ages. This mountain season started with a fairly easy hike up a lesser volcano that is part of the Imbabura volcano complex. We started the day at a small "town" called Ugshos which is really a small cluster of small farm houses and their respective fields. The sky was grayish but it wasn't cold and after some minutes of walking uphill we had to stop to take off some of our layers of clothing. 

The walk was pretty painless even if walking up a mountain at more than 3,000 meters after two months of relative inactivity is not exactly easy. 

climbing up the Cubilche Volcano

The flanks of the Cubilche volcano are covered with tall paramo grass. There was no real trail so we had to create it with our own footsteps. This was was fun, especially on the way back down to the bus since it was slippery. The trail we had created managed to turn into a grass slide that we used just as we would have when we were kids. When falling over to a side or slipping the grass created a soft plush pillow for you to fall in. One of the most comfortable things you can do is throw yourself into the grass and just sit there contemplating the surrounding mountains.

The other "lakes"

Finally on top of the volcano there are three small lakes. Actually, now there is only one lake left, the Cubilche lake, since the other two dried out. Sadly, the Cubilche lake will probably dry up as well leaving only a bright green concave spot where it used to be. 

Laguna de Cubilche



 The north side of the city were you could always see airplanes landing

If you listen carefully you can still hear the planes flying thousands of meters above the city. Its a soft distant roar that doesn't compare to what we heard all of our lives. 

During almost 26 years I lived in this city, a city where it was normal to hear planes landing right in the middle of the city.  Named after the Venezuelan-born independence hero Antonio Jose de Sucre, the Aeropuerto Mariscal Sucre began its operations in 1960. It was one of the highest airports in the world (at 2,800 meters), and it was located in the northern part of the city, 10 minutes away from Quito's financial center, but most importantly for me, less than 5 minutes away from my house. 

A satellite picture from google maps showing the Old Mariscal Sucre Airport right in the middle of the city

Landing in Quito was a wonderful spectacle; If it was a clear summer day you saw the whole city expanding beneath you and surrounded by mountains. If the plane came from the south side of the city you could catch a glimpse of the city center and the Virgen del Panecillo. Sometimes, when the city was covered with fog if you were lucky enough to land the city would appear magically out of a sea of whiteness, however, when there was too much fog it was most likely that your flight would not land in Quito and they would send you to Guayaquil to spend the night. Landing on a clear night instead was a show of lights. The city glimmers like gold jewels at night. 

The issue is that an international airport in the middle of a city, especially a city at high altitude which is surrounded by mountains, poses a lot of problems. The airport has a history of at least 6 serious accidents and several minor incidents. Some planes have crashed into buildings, others seemed not to have enough space to land and slipped off the runway. Apart from that, the increasing air traffic needed a larger airport for larger planes, but because it was in the middle of the city it was virtually impossible to expand the airport. For all of these reasons a couple of days ago, on February 19, Iberia operated the final flight coming out of the Old Mariscal Sucre Airport, and the next day all operations began in the New Mariscal Sucre Airport, approximately an hour away from the city, at least two hours away if you count the traffic. 

I found this picture using Google Images. You could always find people standing out of the airport watching planes land and leave. 

Another Google Images picture, the airplane in the city

Now Quito is a quieter city. I am sure some people are happy, especially the people who live right next to the airport, the people who live near the Gonzales Suarez area, and especially the teachers and students in the Alianza Francesa who had to stop lessons every time a plane landed because the noise made it impossible to hear anyone speaking. On the other hand, there are many of us who miss the sound of the airplanes landing, to me it was the sound of Quito. The city seems a bit empty, as if the music had been turned off. 

I will always remember the sight of airplanes landing in the city, the sight of a plane passing directly above me at a close distance, the smell of the city when you landed in the afternoons, the city glimmering like starlight right below you at night and my grandmother who loved standing by my window whenever she came to visit us when we were young. She always stood there, fascinated, watching the planes fly in and fly out. 

And finally a quieter city, where you can no longer see planes coming in the horizon


0 mountains and 4 months later

Sometimes you have to turn things upside down just for fun.

the lake from the mirador

The Quilotoa, is a crater lake that was formed after an eruption around 800 years ago. It is a very popular tourist spot where people go to peek into the crater to see the bright green water. The mountain itself is approximately 4,000 meters high at its highest peak. One of the most popular activities is to around the caldera, which is 10km in diameter, and then to descend 400 meters to the lake. Of course once you walk down you have to walk back up to get out.

Our day with Zona Verde, the mountaineering group I do most of my walks with, started pretty early. We left Quito at 4am since the Quilotoa is not exactly close to Quito. We passed by the small andean town Zumbahua and started hiking at around 10am. Our guide, Jaime, has a predilection for adventure and always likes to explore new paths, so instead of circling the caldera counter-clock wise as most people do (and as the path is signaled), he decided we should circle it clock-wise, just for fun. And the truth is it was fun, there was a moment where we off the path for a while and started descending down the outer side of the mountain, which is not what you are supposed to do, but it wasn't too bad. The Quilotoa is a really easy mountain to hike and you can do it without a guide, but I believe it is more fun to climb mountains with more people. I also love hiking with Zona Verde, it might be an acquired taste,  Jaime is not exactly the guide for everyone. He is very demanding and most walks with him last at least 6 hours. He loves taking detours and exploring new paths which sometimes leads to getting "lost" and walking a little bit longer on rougher terrains, but that is exactly what makes it more exciting.

at the highest point of Quilotoa

We reached the highest peak at around 2:30 pm and continued towards our starting point. Most people go back to the mirador and then climb down to the lake, we of course didn't do this. Instead Jaime had seen an alternate path that went down to the lake and possibly connected with the most used path. Some of us decided to follow Jaime in this adventure, knowing that this new path might not meet the most used one and we might have to walk a lot more to get to the end of our hike and back on the bus. It was a lovely walk and we reached the lake just in time for the last rays of sun, since after that clouds filled the sky and it got a bit cooler. A couple of people jumped in the lake for a short refreshening splash. I stayed outside because I can never handle the idea of jumping into cold water, not even when I am pretty hot from walking for almost 5 hours.

some of the guys enjoying the incredibly cool water

Although the hike around the Quilotoa was fairly simple, by the time we reached the lake I was completely tired. It had been about 4 months since I did any sort of physical activity, so the climb back out of the crater was hard on me. I felt as if my lungs weren't big enough for all the oxygen my body was asking for. However, I made it out of the mountain and into the bus, concluding our lovely trip to this mountain. I am glad I went to this volcano, it was the perfect way of starting this climbing season.



Its hard to grasp how fast time goes by. 
It is the beginning of a new year. A year that will be full of change and movement, full of great projects, obstacles and problems. It will be a great year indeed. 


Descent into the Crater of Guagua Pichincha

Legends say that thousands of years ago two of the greatest warriors of the Andes, Cotopaxi and Chimborazo, fell in love with the beautiful Tungurahua. For many years they battled constantly through violent eruptions and seismic activity until Chimborazo proved to be the strongest warrior. He won the heart of Tungurahua, married her and together they had Guagua Pichincha (guagua means child in quechua). It is said that when the Guagua cries his mother wakes up to see what is wrong with him. 
Back in 1999 the Guagua Pichincha became active; it covered our city with of ashes many times over the following years. And a couple of months after its activity started the Tungurahua also became active and has been ever since. 

The beginning of our climb up to the Guagua Pichincha

The Guagua Pichincha, is part of a large volcanic complex that lies approximately 10km west from Quito's city center. The Guagua, the highest peak of the complex is an old stratovolcano that is currently active. The summit is 4,784 meters high, but that was not where we were headed. We started our walk at about 4,000 meters and instead of taking the easy way up through the dirt road, we climbed through the mountain side. We climbed up for a couple of hours until we reached a fork where you can either go to the right and arrive at the Refugio at 4,500 meters, that is the path you should take if you are attempting to reach the summit. However, we weren't going to the summit, so we turned left through a path that takes you to approximately 4,600 meters. This path reaches the rim of the Caldera and it is a popular spot for people who want to see the inside of the volcano. 

The Caldera is approximately 6 km wide and shaped as a horseshoe, as one of its walls collapsed after one of its eruptions more than 50,000 years ago. Inside you can easily spot an old lava dome that remains from the 1660 eruption. This was the last major eruption, it lasted 12 hours and left Quito covered in 30cm of ash. Near the dome there is a large crater created in the 1981 eruption and besides that one a smaller crater that was left from its latest eruption in 2002. Inside you can also see a very active fumarole that has a constant stream of water vapor and other gasses coming out of it. Our plan for this trip was to reach this fumarole. The climb down into the volcano was not exactly easy, in fact what started out as a a pleasant walk up a mountain turned into one of the hardest climbs of the year for me. 

The inner walls of the volcano are steep, sharp and scary looking. They are a mix of large stable rocks with smaller loose rocks and a very fine and slippery sand-pebble mix. Not only was it scary and hard, it took us almost 4 hours to climb down the 600 meters needed to reach the fumarole. Once we reached our final destination it was 2 in the afternoon and I felt completely worn out. I had fallen a couple of times so I was a bit bruised, I was covered in dirt, and my enthusiasm was pretty much gone. I might have even shed a tear or two. And the worst part was knowing that I still had to climb back out of the volcano. 

Usually our climbs up the mountains are "easy" because you climb to the summit and once you are up there and tired all you have to do is walk back down, and walking down a mountain takes a lot less effort than climbing up. This time we climbed up a mountain, down into a crater, back up to the top and back down to the bus. The truth is I felt like giving up more than once. But in cases like these, you can't  give up, it is not an option, you have to continue because you can't stay inside of a volcano for ever, and no one is going to send a helicopter to pick you up unless you are gravely injured. So you have to put all your fear, all your insecurities, and all the pain in your muscles aside. You have to put all that in the back of your head and find a way to keep on going. 

In the end it is worth it. It pushes you out of your comfort zone. It breaks you down. But after it you are left with the satisfaction of knowing that you made it. 

standing on the rim of the caldera

The inner part of the caldera, you can see a larger crater from the 1981 explosion and right next to it a smaller crater from 2002

Climbing down the inner walls of the Volcano

This is what the walls of the caldera look like from the fumarole...the red line is the route we took to reach the craters

Standing right next to the fumarole, probably not the safest or smartest thing to do

Climbing back up the steep and unstable walls of the Volcano

The beautifully sharp peaks that form the walls of the volcano's caldera

The 1999 eruption that darkened our day, covered us with ashes and filled us with fear. I did not take this picture. 

Chuquiragua flowers, found only above 2,600 meters and endemic to Ecuador


Wonderful Cities: Shanghai

I landed in Shanghai on a saturday night, tired, after two days of traveling, to find a city that was not exactly what i had pictured. 

     Instead of the incessant rivers of people crowding the streets I found wide spaces with less people than I thought there would be. The modern city I had heard of was only half there, mixed among older buildings, temples, two floor highways and small alleys. 
     I also learned that the sun set early in the night, at around 6pm, but it also rose early the next day, giving the city dwellers approximately 12 hours of sunlight. In the mornings, as the sun came up, elderly people came out of their apartments and filled parks and plazas. I saw them everywhere doing tai-chi, practicing their instruments, walking and stretching out. 
     As the day goes by in Shanghai, the city starts to wake up; bicycles and motorcycles crowd every intersection and fill every available parking space on the sidewalks. None of these vehicles seemed new, in fact many seemed rusty and held together by magical forces. Some of them were so loaded with boxes and sacks of fruit and vegetables, that I wondered how their riders managed to keep their balance. 
     There were less cars than I expected. 

     The city is huge, and from its highest easily accessible viewpoint, at 474 meters, on the 100th floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center, I could see the city expanding endlessly in every direction. 
Shanghai is believed to have a population of 23million people, but rumors say that it can grow up to 40million during certain times of the year if you count chinese tourists and the illegal immigrants that come from the countryside looking for an opportunity of making it in the city. However you don't really see them on the streets. I believe that this city was planned so that all its inhabitants could get by smoothly without it feeling too crowded, because of this everything seems vast and sort of desolate for such a large city. 
     However the people are there and although the streets are wide, the living and working spaces are small. People's lives pour out into the sidewalks. They hang their clothes to dry out on the streets; sometimes on trees, sometimes on clothes racks placed in the middle of the sidewalks and sometimes even on light posts. In some areas of the cities people's work also happens on the streets, and so you find tailors with their old sewing machines fixing clothes outside of their shops and restaurants cooking right out of their doors. 
     Shanghai is a city of contrasts where rich mix with poor, modern urban locals with countryside immigrants, modern offices in skyscrapers with older residential buildings, atheists with believers; ultimately the old and the new.