Thursday, December 12, 2013

The GrandER Canyon

The Grand Canyon in Arizona, U.S of A is pretty grand.

BUT Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, the United States of Mexico is even grander!

Here are some pics to whet your interest:

That's me, near the town of Creel.

Can you see me at the edge of the precipice?  This was taken near Divisadero.
Copper Canyon (Barranca de Cobre in Spanish)  is a group of 6 canyons that, when taken together, are larger in area and at times deeper than the Grand Canyon.  When not so covered with trees and grass as in my photos (very unusual for the normally dry Chihuahuan Desert) you can see a greenish copper color in the rock walls, thus the name for the canyon.

The six rivers that formed Copper Canyon flow through the Sierra Madre Occidental and merge into the Rio Fuerte which empties into the Sea of Cortez.

It is along the Rio Fuerte that you can enjoy one of the world's most scenic train rides on "Chepe", the Copper Canyon railroad beginning in the lovely mountain town of Creel and ending at El Fuerte.

Map of train route.
Here are some of the views you can enjoy if you book a ticket on the Chepe train:

Don't ask me who this woman is...But I like her regal nose. ;)

Not only can you enjoy a wonderfully scenic train ride in Copper Canyon, you can also see Mexico's tallest permanent waterfall--Basaseachi--at a grand height of 246 meters:

In addition, you can meet the Tarahumara people.  They actually call themselves the Rarámuri which in their language means "those who run fast", and they are famous for running long distances (up to 200 miles/ 320 km) without rest!

The Raramuri people often live in caves or under rock outcroppings as seen here:

Note the handmade baskets on the shelf.  Great souvenirs.  :)

And you often see them selling their hand-woven baskets beside the train tracks of the Chepe train:

If you do take the Copper Canyon railway (the Chepe) you will most likely end your journey at the small but pleasant town of El Fuerte:

It was close to Independence Day when I visited.  Hence the banners everywhere.

You definitely don't want to miss Copper Canyon in Chihuahua, Mexico!

Too see even more great photos of Copper Canyon, the Raramuri people and Basaseachi waterfall click here

To help you plan your trip to Copper Canyon, here are some helpful links:

1. Official Mexico Tourist Website on Copper Canyon

2. CHEPE Copper Canyon's Railway

3. YouTube video about Tarahumara

4. National Geographic Article about Tarahumara

5.  A Great Video Slideshow about Mexico

Thanks for visiting Kolin's Travels!  See you next time! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Birthplace of the Gods

Let's take a little quiz:

1.  What is the 2nd most visited country in the Americas?
2.  What is the 12th most visited country in the world?
3.  What is the 11th most populous country and the 14th largest country in the world?
4.  What country boasts 32 UNESCO World Heritage Sites?
5. The U.S. of A is not the only United States in North America.  What is the another United States?

The answer to all these questions is los Estados Unidos de México!  The stupendously scenic and intriguing country of Mexico!


Please put aside your qualms about kidnapping and drug cartels.  Let me personally assure you that Mexico is a fantastic country to visit and, if you use common sense, it is very unlikely that you will run into trouble.  

I traveled in Mexico for 3 months from late August to mid November of 2008 and I had a marvelous time!

Initially, I planned to spend those 3 months traveling through Mexico and Central America. But when I began to discover all the wondrous sights of Mexico, I stayed there the whole 3 months, traveling to over 50 destinations from the Chihuahuan desert to the Yucatan peninsula.

This month I will focus on 4 great and perhaps little known destinations in Mexico.  The first one is the "Birthplace of the Gods."  Here's a peak at this awe-inspiring attraction:

This expansive and ancient (from 100 B.C) temple complex is known as Teotihuacan.  It is a mystery who made these magnificent temples. The name Teōtīhuacān meaning "Birthplace of the Gods" was given by the Nahuatl speaking Aztecs who "re-discovered" the ruins centuries after the creating civilization had disappeared!

Teotihuacan, at its zenith around 450 A.D., contained perhaps up to 125,000 people and was the largest city in MesoAmerica!

The most imposing structures are the Pyramid of the Moon:

The Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl--the Feathered Serpent God:

The Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl has some unique stone heads adorning it:

A Jaguar

I have no clue. :)

Quetzalcoatl is on the right.
And finally, the 7th largest pyramid in the world with a volume of 1.2 million cubic meters, the Pyramid of the Sun:

That's me!  :)

Yes, those are ant-sized people at the top.

Here is a map of Teotihuacan to give you an idea of how these pyramids were situated in relation to each other:

The site is aligned perfectly at 15.5 degrees east of North, supposedly because the sun rose at that angle predictably on the same summer day each year.

In case you were wondering...yes, human sacrifices did occur here; animal and human remains were found during excavations of these pyramids.  Oh, you know....the usual...heads chopped off, hearts ripped out, people buried alive...all to ensure the prosperity of the city.

Here is a final view from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun:

Wikipedia photo

Mexico is full of amazing ruins: Bonampak, Yaxchilan, Palenque, Monte Alban, Chichen Itza and my favorite-- Calakmul

I really can't end this post without saying that my visit to Calakmul was a dream come true.  I always wanted to climb the steps of a remote, little-visited, crumbling, jungle-enshrouded Mayan pyramid and only Calakmul met all of these criteria!

It was an unforgettable experience to be the only one in this ancient civilization for an afternoon. To be alone with the spider monkeys and to watch a pair of toucans fly by at eye level while I stood at the top of Calakmul's pyramid brought a tear of joy to my eye.  

Here are a couple of shots of Calakmul:

If Mayan ruins aren't your thing, don't worry!  

Mexico has so many other great sights, sounds, tastes and experiences to offer!

Mexico has gorgeous beaches (Cozumel and Tulum), diving and snorkeling (cenotes of the Yucatan, Isla Espiritu Santo), Copper Canyon which is larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon of the U.S.A, and most importantly--great food and friendly people!

So what are you waiting for?  Visit Mexico!


See you next week at Kolin's Travels!  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Amazing Andorra: Hiking Paradise in the Pyrenees

TO SEE AN HD VIDEO OF ANDORRA'S GORGEOUS NATURE CLICK HERE (Please use Google Chrome for best playback.)

"Andorra?" you may ask.  "Where's that?"  

If you aren't familiar with Europe, then perhaps these are the questions  running through your mind.

Andorra is the sixth smallest European country at 468 square kilometers, was founded in 988 A.D,  and it is sandwiched between the borders of Spain and France, as seen here:

Its capital, Andorra la Vella, is the highest capital in Europe at 1,023 meters.  Another claim to fame is the long life expectancy of Andorrans, ranked close to the highest in the world at an average age of 82 years. Only Japan, Switzerland and San Marino can claim a longer overall life expectancy.

"Why do they live so long?" you may wonder.  "Is it the good food, fresh air, what ?"

Yes!  I would say it has something to do with both of those which I enjoyed during my one week visit.  

Andorrans enjoy their good food while living in such quaint villages such as Llorts...

The village of Llorts

...and they enjoy their fresh air while surrounded by stunning mountain scenery such as this:

Angonella Lake Trail

View above Angonella Lakes

Angonella Lake Trail

Reflection in one of the Angonella Lakes

Hut above Arinsal

I wouldn't mind settling down to enjoy the view from the above hut for the rest of my life.  :)

Though Andorra is considered a microstate, it is a small country with BIG VIEWS and should not be overlooked! 

For me, Andorra's most attractive quality is that it is nestled smack dab in the middle of the rugged Pyrenees mountains making it a hiker's paradise!  

There are several hiking routes that criss-cross and circumnavigate Andorra... addition to well-marked day hikes ranging in colored stages of difficulty from green (easy) to black (difficult).  Buy the boxed set of 50 excellent maps from a tourist office in any city once you get to Andorra. 

This box of maps is a great deal at only 6 Euros!  and it looks like this:

My favorite hike was the Vall del Madriu ("The Mother Valley") whose name alone implies the significance the Andorrans of yore attributed to this gorgeous place.  In fact, it is so unique that it has been given World Heritage status by UNESCO as a cultural landscape exhibiting the "persistence of pastoralism and a strong mountain culture" (see UNESCO link at bottom).

In my mind, the beauty of Vall del Madriu alone would be reason enough to qualify it as a world treasure. Take a look!

If you need any more convincing that Andorra is a hiking paradise in the Pyrenees, let me leave you with these photos of another great hike called El Pessons:

If you do plan to go to Andorra and need to fly there, the closest main airport is Barcelona El Prat, from where I rented a car and drove the 200 scenic kilometers into Andorra.  

Here are other helpful links about this hiker's paradise:

1. HD VIDEO: "Amazing Andorra: Hiking Paradise in the Pyrenees"
    (Please use Google Chrome for best playback.)

Please visit Andorra!  You won't regret it!

Thanks for visiting Kolin's Travels.  Next week we will delve into the wonders of Mexico!  

Saturday, November 2, 2013

I'm a Fish!

When I first thought of this title, it reminded me of the Chinese pop song titled "I'm a Fish" which I sang (in Chinese, of course!) at a party for my students at Changchun Normal University.  

In this song, the singer says that he is like a "fish out of water" without the one he loves.

To watch the music video by the original artist Ren xian qi, click here.

Unlike Ren xian qi, I was elated to feel like a fish in the waters of Bonito in Brazil!  

Bonito is a town in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, blessed with totally transparent rivers clearer than a swimming pool!  

Take a look! (Photos not mine.)

The unbelievable clarity of these rivers makes Bonito a mecca for snorkelers who want to commune with the fishes!  

Here's a great view of some snorkelers:

Ha!  Who's observing who in the above photo?  It looks like the fish are following the snorkelers, and the snorkelers might be wondering, "Where are all the fish?"  :)

How did the water get so clear?  Well, the abundant limestone in the area serves as an amazing filter for all the rainwater that feeds these rivers.  All the sediment falls to the bottom leaving practically ZERO particles in the water.

My most memorable moment of snorkeling in Bonito was floating through a small waterfall on Rio da Prata ("River of Silver").  After emerging from a maelstrom of bubbles, I came face to face with one of these:

...a rather menacing dourado.  Our eyeballs were six inches away from each other!  Before the fish could react, I lunged with my left hand and stroked the dourado's side.  Fantastic!  

Want to see a video I edited of my snorkeling experience on Rio Sucuri?  Then click here.

In addition to snorkeling, you can take some fabulous jungle walks such as Boca da Onça ("Mouth of the Jaguar") where you can marvel at 11 waterfalls including the states highest--the Boca da Onça waterfall-- at 156 meters tall!

Check out my video of Bonito's above-ground wonders including Boca da Onça Ecotour here.

If you want an unforgettable, fish-filled snorkeling adventure in amazing rivers set in a lush jungle settting, then Bonito is the place for you!

Helpful Links:

Come back next week as we explore Amazing Andorra!  

Thanks for visiting Kolin's Travels!