Thursday, 24 January 2013

Living the High Life: Wining and Wading at 3000m Altitude

On a recent adventure to Colombia, our travel bible, the Lonely Planet, made a brief understated reference to the small city of Sogamoso, situated in the state of Boyacá, in the Valley of the Sun. Just under three hours from Villa De Leyva, our first stop, we decided to beat our way off to the Gringo Trail and enjoy the delights of the highest lake in Colombia, Lago de Tota and some local wine production at Punta Larga, the ‘highest’ vineyard in the world. If considering something a little bit different in 2013, Colombia far exceeded expectations and Sogamoso was a gem. 

After Lake Titicaca in Bolivia/Peru and at a lofty 3015m, Lago de Tota is the second highest navigable lake in South America. The freshwater beach of Playa Blanca charms you into believing you are lying on the shores of the Maldives or Mauritius with its white sands, watersports, jet skis and tempting oceanic water. Of course, we were frozen back to reality when we waded into the roughly 8°C water and very swiftly back out. Whilst it is a tourist hot spot for Colombians, who bravely endure the icy waves to enjoy a swim, it remains largely unexplored by international tourists. Maybe the less than desirable swimming conditions are a deterrent but it is relaxing and hot, with a cool refreshing breeze and at that altitude you are basically next-door to the sun so tanning conditions are ideal. 

Punta Larga is another highlight of Sogamoso. As soon as we arrived at vineyard we were introduced to the chief wine-maker/owner who is Colombian-born and German-bred and was delighted to host international tourists. He explained his operations and how he aimed to whisk European Viticulture traditions with Southern American flavours into his wine making mix. Imported Pinot Grigio and Riesling grape varieties among a few that came from the French Beaujolais region are harvested on site, with additional varieties purchased from growers in the surrounding villages who provide the Colombian twist and support local economies. 

 Allegedly this tropical wine production is at the highest altitude in the world and you are certainly convinced of this due to the panoramic views of valleys offered in every direction.  Numerous sources, however, dispute this fact quoting that there are higher production points in regions of Argentina but the owner blew these off as ‘fake’ and argued that their rivals were not a true vineyard – they only produced the wine and did not cultivate and harvest the grapes at the high altitudes. Wining at 3000m in such exquisite sunny surroundings was a pleasure! The wine unfortunately is not yet at a stage where it can compete with Chilean competitors or with their dear friends in Argentina but hopefully in the next few years the Euro-Colombia fusion can find its balance so the wine will be well-matched to the experience.

During our stay in Sogamoso the charming Finca san Pedro was the chosen place to rest our heads – family-run, authentic and recommended. It is a shame time did not grant us the pleasure of staying more than one evening as numerous other unique activities are offered in the area including hikes to Salto de Candelas Waterfall (second highest in Colombia), Páramo de Oceta and Siscunsi Páramo – which are practically unknown to the traditional tourist, horse riding, fishing or even a game of tejo which is Colombia’s somewhat unconventional national sport. 

 Well worth a spot on the 2013 bucket list!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

New Year's Resolutions

With the New Year of 2013 duly upon us, and having not been wiped out by the Mayan apocalypse I guess it’s that time of year when we have to look at the successes and shortcomings of the previous year and plan to make this year more successful than the last! 

So for Dunira, you can see that we are resolving to resurrect our blog and fill it with more snapshots of the travel and tourism industry. 

I know that my resolutions always revolve around travel and adventures, so one month at a time, a little more frivolous than usual, I want to explore some alternative and unconventional travel opportunities and maybe inspire a holiday of a different kind. One of my favourite pastimes is to browse travel blogs for inspiration and advice on travel planning, many of which are run by eternal travellers who have lots of experience under their belt. So if you, like me, are making travel resolutions, each post will include some of my favourite ideas for travel inspirations for a whole calendar of adventures for a new year!

Why not start the year with something a bit crazy - The Rickshaw Run
It’s hard to describe exactly what this is, but its creators The Adventurists describe it as:

“A 3,500km pan-Indian adventure in a 7 horsepower glorified lawnmower, the Rickshaw Run is easily the least sensible thing to do with two weeks.”

They are 10 days in to the current run, but you can sign up to take part in September 2013 or April 2014. Definitely one for the list if you’re keen for an adventure and something different, you’ll definitely have lots of tales to tell by the end of it for sure. In particular, I’ve been following Rickshaw Run Diaries for the account of three independent female travel bloggers who have united to take part, and their experience of this unique event. Good old social media is used by most teams to document their eventful journeys.
The event aims to raise lots of money for charities at the same time, with the entry requirements being that you raise at least £1,000 for charity, £500 of which goes to their official charity Cool Earth, who work with local rainforest communities to protect rainforests from being cut down.
For me, my environmental conscience hits in however - the long haul flight(s) to India, and the 3,500km overland journey in a rickshaw?! If I was to do it, I would personally choose another environmental charity ideally involved in carbon offsetting, then I'd be able to race around on my rickshaw guilt-free. Well, almost.

Ideally, you could combine the start and end dates of the ‘race’ with extra travel in India. And whilst the January “unroute”, as they’re known, is in the West of India, each is different and so each ‘race’ would give different travel opportunities; maybe the Taj Mahal, or heading out to Nepal, or maybe you could check out some work that Dunira has been carrying out at the same time with co-operative travel through Edge of India, which offers homestays and tours in West Bengal and Uttarakhand, run by the local community working towards a sustainable tourism network.
Importantly, travel responsibly. Make sure that your adventure doesn’t jeopardise local businesses –try delicious food of the region in local restaurants, stay in local guest houses or homestays with an Indian family. Responsible travel is about experiencing authenticity, support the local communities along your route and this will be more than just a journey of a lifetime, it will be an experience of a lifetime.

A bit of an ambitious one for the start of the year, but if you’re keen for adventure and always want to do something a bit different, then this is brilliant. And The Adventurists haven’t stopped there, with several other crazy Adventures if you want something different. Motorcycling 2,500km across a frozen Siberia? Maybe 2014...