[Guest post] Crown Mountain – the taste of conquering a crown

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Since I’ve arrived in Vancouver, I’ve been hiking a couple of mountains, lakes and parks. What started as a touristy activity, fortunately became part of my new life-style, a real passion. I’ve found in nature the peace I had been looking for and in addition, the certainty that I’m always going to live a unique adventure as the challenges are always going to appear in different ways on the trails. Therefore, I’ve started searching for more challenging trails, instead of easy and mainstream ones. That’s when I discovered Crown Mountain, the hardest challenge for me so far.

What makes this trail so difficult is you have to hike down a very steep trail into Crown Pass before hiking up the steep side of Crown Mountain, then return the same route. The elevation change is therefore misleading compared to other hikes as you have to essentially hike the elevation change twice. (Vancouver Trails)

After two unsuccessfully attempts to reach the top of Crown Mountain, a friend and I decided we should try it once again. In both, we’ve supposed to be stronger than the nature trying to face a bad weather condition. But our third attempt should be a success, thus we thought about our mistakes in order to prepare ourselves better and waited for the day with the best weather conditions. There wouldn’t be anything able to discourage us to reach the Crown’s top. We had made up our minds and were focused on reaching that.

Cloudy and rainy weather have pushed us off the mountain in our very first attempt.

In order to save energy for the Crown trail, we ascended the Grouse Grind in 1h27m. An average of 20 minutes above the time we had done the last times. Then we stopped at the Grouse restaurant for a quick coffee and later on headed to the Crown trail. At the Grouse top, the staff were already making arrangements for the ski season, throwing snow with some machines and covering all the ground. The landscape and the environment were completely different from some weeks ago.

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Two photos at the same place in a four-week span.

The trail was also looking quite different from our last attempts. There were ice and snow on some places, which turned the path slippery and a little bit dangerous. Some parts of the trail looked like an ice skating rink, we didn’t have another choice but slide over the ice from one point to the other. And when we were neither sliding nor walking, we had to climb. We often stopped for a couple of minutes staring at the frozen rocks and the water draining beneath the ice, trying to figure out a way to go forward on the blocked path on the trail. The risk of falling and rolling down the slope was imminent. The adrenaline is always inherent in the mountain.

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Ice skating was sometimes the only option to go forward on the trail.

Despite all the obstacles and risks presented on our way, we headed up on a good pace. That was when we got at the point we had stopped in our very first hike. From there on, everything would be new. We double-checked our map and saw that we were close to the summit. The anxiety increased after each footstep. The feeling of being so close of a tough conquer was relieving.

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Stalactites that looked like ice spears.

The last footsteps till the summit seemed the longest. The mountain somehow seemed to push me up, giving me strength when I had none left. And the summit’s sight preview was stunning. Every breath filled up my lungs with a cold and light air. The feeling of happiness was unique, generated by an incredible sight of the snowy mountain-tops and endless valleys full of trees.

Shortly afterwards, we spotted a crow on the summit. Our goal was to get to the spot where it was sitting, but it seemed to reign there, showing to be the mountain’s owner when it looked at us. As if it was saying to us that it gets there way faster and with a lot less effort than us, whenever it wanted. However, the king of the mountain was generous and flew subtly over a stone beside and conceived us some room, so we could feel like kings for a while as well.

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The last footsteps till the summit. The king was already there.

Sitting on a stone at 1,504 meters high left me speechless. Any neglect or loss of balance could cost my life. There wasn’t anything below to hold me if I slipped down. A 360-degree spin gave me a real notion of how high we were. It was possible to see Squamish and Whistler mountain ranges northwards, the Coquitlam region mountain range and Chilliwack eastwards, the Vancouver Island westwards and even a couple of mountains from the USA border southwards. I didn’t know where to look at. At this point it became clear to me why the crow felt like the king sitting on that stone, privileged to be able to have that sight whenever it wanted.

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The numerous valleys and the snowy mountains from the Squamish and Whistler area.

I started counting with my friend the quantity of valleys that we could see eastwards and we count 8. Between one valley and another, there were mountains full of pine trees still green and some of them even with snow at the top. That sequence, whimsically sculpted by the nature, gave me the impression that the mountains were like the waves of the sea and were in constant movement taking us far away. However the most impressive was in fact the uninterrupted silence, that gave me a felling of being in another dimension. The silence would only be broken every now and then by the cry of a crow or the wind bypassing the mountain. It was a mysterious silence, that didn’t bother us at all. It seemed to have so much going on down there in the forest, but at the same time we seemed to be far from any living being. A rare silence full of peace, impossible to be felt in the city.

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The Goat Mountain featured and all the grandeur of Mount Baker in the background, with its 3,286 m altitude and the 116km away in a straight line, already in American territory.

The English Bay ships looked like toys, as if somebody had put them with the fingers and left them there stopped for hours. The city buildings, trees and parks seemed a scene of the game The Sims, and for sure, as if I was there playing it. I saw the city but the city didn’t see me. I didn’t hear the city and nobody heard me as well. I was close to everything and far away at the same time. I was on the mountain, but the world continued to happen.

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The mirror, the model and the ship toys.

At a mountain-top, the sun is the only thing that makes us realize that time hasn’t stopped. And the autumn Sun always far on the horizon illuminated English Bay and the sea, reflecting the sun’s light like a mirror. The valleys located behind the high mountains shouldn’t had received a single sun light for days, and sure enough, will stay like this for the next few months. Its warmth, which almost didn’t reach us, wasn’t enough to keep us warm. Luckily there was no wind and we were well bundled up this time. Moreover, the temperature at the top of the Crown should be nearing 0° C. As the sun was going down, we remembered then that it was time to go, after all it was an autumn day and there was just over 8 hours of daylight. We couldn’t ignore the time, otherwise the descent in the dark could be even harder.

The way back wasn’t worse because we rested and relaxed our legs at the top of the mountain. We came back slowly, but in a constant pace, with that wonderful sensation of a conquered goal. Even though, between one climb and another on the trail, I would feel the thigh muscle pulling off and begging to me to stop. Of course that I would ignore it and kept on walking. However, some stops were inevitable so we could appreciate the beauty of the sunset, shyly shinning between the pines, with the city lighting up and preparing itself for the night. And before returning to the city, we still stopped for a while at the beginning of the trail to appreciate the last rays of sun on the horizon and the uncountable stars starting to show up in the clear sky.

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The city lighting up with the arrival of dusk.

The bigger the challenge, the bigger the will to conquer it. It might be a mountain-top or all the challenges that show up in life, we should never give up our dreams and goals, it doesn’t matter how many times we’ll have to attempt or how hard they’ll be, if we believe we can do it, so we really can. The Crown Mountain was one of the biggest psychological tests I’ve ever had in my life. However, it made me discover that I’m stronger that I thought I was. And such as in life, the mountain had set up rules and had determined tough obstacles to reach it. As if it was a queen and had given us a message: “I’ll make you think about quitting from start to finish, but if you persist you won’t regret conquering my crown.”. Do I still need to say whether it was worth it or not?

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All the time the Sun is always down for some and rising for others. Challenges that come to an end, new challenges that arise.

The Abode of Chaos, an unique museum in Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d’Or

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If you ever find yourself in Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d’Or without having heard of it before, you may at first think it’s just one of those small and beautiful French villages. Its narrow streets, cosy restaurants and fancy old houses made of stones with golden colours will give you this impression.
Eventually you will face the Abode of Chaos (Demeure du Chaos), a museum of contemporary art that includes more than 3500 artworks, and will realize that this little village in the mountains near Lyon is much more than just another regular French village.

Welcome to the Abode of Chaos!

The museum was created by Thierry Ehrmann in his own house back in 1999, according to the museum’s website.

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The Abode of Chaos celebrates 14 years of fight and resistance.

He invited artists to work with him in-loco, so they could share ideas and create art connecting different countries and cultures. Since its creation, the inhabitants of the village together with the town council have been trying to shut Ehrmann’s museum down. His battle with the town council has gone to the European Court of Human Rights, where the case is being analysed.

Are you free?

While I can understand the ones against it, you gotta admit this museum is somehow unique and would be a shame to have it shut down, turning it back to just a regular and boring old house. Its art carried with political messages makes us stop and reflect about the problems of our societies and governments nowadays.

In case you want to understand a bit more about the case, I’d recommend checking this Wall Street Journal’s post. If you’d like to help Ehrmann in his fight against the town council, you can show your support signing up his petition here. I’ve already signed it up.

What’d you think about Ehrmann’s museum? Have you ever found an unique museum around the world?

[Photography] Refuge du Fond d’Aussois, France

On mid-August we had the chance to explore a bit the French Alps and here you’ll find a couple of pictures we took while visiting the Refuge du Fond d’Aussois. More to follow on a full post soon.

No meio de agosto tivemos a chance de explorar um pouco os Alpes Franceses e aqui você encontrará algumas fotos que tiramos durante a nossa visita ao Refuge du Fond d’Aussois. Post completo em breve.

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[Photography] Refuge des Évettes, France

On mid-August we had the chance to explore a bit the French Alps and here you’ll find a couple of pictures we took while hiking up to the Refuge des Évettes in France. More to follow on a full post soon.

No meio de agosto tivemos a chance de explorar um pouco os Alpes Franceses e aqui você encontrará algumas fotos que tiramos subindo a trilha até o Refúgio dos Évettes. Post completo em breve.

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[Photography] Lyon and its wall art

One of the greatest attractions of Lyon is its wall art. All over the city you can find out walls like those in the gallery above. These are just a couple of wall I have stumble across since I moved in here and I keep looking for more.

Uma das principais atrações de Lyon é sua “arte na parede”. Espalhadas pela cidade inteira você pode encontrar pinturas em paredes como essas na galeria abaixo. Essas são apenas algumas que eu “esbarrei” desde que me mudei pra cá e continua na busca de outras.

Find out more about these walls here.

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Les calanques de Marseilles, Cassis and La Ciotat: one of France’s natural wonders

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In the last days of May we went on a road trip down to the south of France. It was the beginning of summer and we wanted to enjoy it.

Marseilles

The beautiful old port of Marseilles.

The beautiful old port of Marseilles.

The second biggest city in France and the capital of Pétanque and Pastis, Marseilles is a beautiful city located a bit more than 300 km south of Lyon. It was historically the most important trade center in the region and functioned as the main trade port of the French Empire. Nowadays it seems to have a bad reputation (that’s what I heard from French people) regarding safety. We spent the day going around there and frankly I saw nothing bad. I guess like in all cities, you just have to be street aware and no need to paranoia. We visited the old port, the MuCEM (an impressive Museum that’s worth checking. Free entrance.), Marseilles’ Cathedral and went up to the beautiful Basilica Notre-Dame of the Garde.

Les calanques

The first open view of calanque de sugiton and its short beach.

The first open view of calanque de sugiton and its short beach.

After a good night sleep we went exploring the beautiful calanques along Marseilles’s coast. Starting in Marseilles its range extends 20 km in length going through Cassis until La Ciotat.

Map of the Calanques between Marseilles and La Ciotat.

Map of the Calanques between Marseilles and La Ciotat.

We started with the calanque de Sugiton that can be reached from Luminy University Campus. It’s a fairly easy hike and it won’t take you more than 1 hour to reach the small beach between the mountains. Parts of the way is paved so you’ll find lots of families hiking with their kids.

Going back to the trail you will find another path heading to the calanque de Morgiou. Hiking along the path you’ll find signs for a belvedere in the top of the mountain. We stopped there to take a look and it’s impressive.

After this belvedere you can go back on the trail and go all the way down to find a little beach. It’s a long walk and as we were a bit tired and still had to go all the way back to where our car was parked (near the University), we decided to skip that. However I think it’s totally worth it if you got time.

We took the road again heading to the calanque de Sormiou. You will reach a parking lot where you can start your hike. It’s a long paved way down to a beach and we decided to stop in a place where we had an amazing view and enjoyed the sunset, rather than go all the way down.

A beautiful view of the calanque de Sormiou.

A beautiful view of the calanque de Sormiou.

La ciotat, Cassis and Route des Crêtes

We had the small village of Ceyreste as our base, as we were staying at the Camping de Ceyreste. Village is pretty small and we were very glad that the only restaurant opened by the time we went back to spend the night was a pizzeria (yes, I love pizza :P).

Some mushroom, ham and cheese. It was delicious!

Some mushroom, ham and cheese. It was delicious!

Next day we took to visit the small cities of La Ciotat and Cassis. They’re both nice cities by the sea. Where we chilled out and relaxed after a busy day going all over the calanques. The best thing about those cities is the road between them. The route des crêtes has some scenic views and passes through the beautiful Parc Naturel Régional des Ballons des Vosges.

Once in Cassis, we skipped the touristy restaurants in front of the old port and walked around some narrow streets away from the port to find the Le Bonapart restaurant, where we had some fresh fish. Delicious meal and least expensive than the touristy restaurants. 

Once in the south of France do as the southern people and have some pastis (an anise-flavored liqueur and apéritif from France, typically containing 40–45% ABV (alcohol by volume)).

Once in the south of France do as the southern people and have some pastis (an anise-flavored liqueur and apéritif from France, typically containing 40–45% ABV (alcohol by volume)).

After lunch we enjoyed the afternoon by The beach of the Cassis’ bay

That’s it. Time to take the road again and go back home.

On our way back to Lyon.

On our way back to Lyon.

Hope it was useful in case you’re planning on spending some time on the south of France.

Click in this picture for more pictures of this area :D

Click in this picture for more pictures of this area 😀

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[Photography] Lyon, France – 07/2014

A couple of pictures we took during the week that we made a special about Lyon on our instagram.

Algumas fotos que tiramos durante a semana que fizemos um special sobre Lyon no nosso instagram. Para fotos com descrição em Português, acesse o instagram da RBBV.

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Preparing our trip to the Amazon rainforest and a bit of Manaus

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Last March, Jessica and I, flew to Manaus and made it our base to explore the Amazon rainforest. It wasn’t an easy decision though, as the forest is huge and can be explored for several different starting points.
Just so you know, its territory is part of nine countries. The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 60% of the rainforest, followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. Thus not very easy to decide where to start, however as our base would be definitely in Brazil, our options were basically Manaus, Santarém, Belém or Porto Velho.

A couple of years ago I heard about this amazing boat trip from Porto Velho to Manaus. It’s basically the only options locals have when they need to make this trip, as roads are shitty and flights expensive. It would be amazing, however the trip can take up to 5 days, and you can’t know for sure when the boats are leaving, so you might have to stick around in Porto Velho longer than you expected waiting for a boat to leave. The thing is that Jessica only had 3 weeks in Brazil, and we wanted to see a bit of everywhere. We decided to spend 7 days in Amazon, so the idea to take the boat was left behind, as we wanted to do several activities. I’ll definitely be back to Amazon to make this trip, probably stopping in Manaus, taking another boat heading to Santarém, and then another one to Belém. This must be an amazing trip, being in touch with locals for a long time, getting to know more about them and I look forward to having time to do it.

Having dinner with our "host family"

I also want to go back to Amazon to spend more time with its people. Such amazing and humble people. This picture was taken during dinner with a family who hosted us for one night. We learnt how they cultivate cassava and other things about their life.

But let’s get back to our trip. Knowing that we didn’t have too much time to spend there, the best idea was to find a travel agency that offers tours around the Amazon rainforest. We got excited with the idea of visiting Manaus, a “big” city in the middle of the rainforest, so we decided to take Manaus as our base.
We heard about many things you could do by yourself to explore the area, but again, as we didn’t have too much time, we decided to look for a travel agency that would show us around. If you find yourself looking for a travel agencies offering tours based in Manaus, you’ll find out that most of them offer similar packages. The activities are basically the same, but what can change your experience might be how far and in which direction you’re heading from Manaus.

Spotting caimans at night is one of the highlights of the tour.

Spotting caimans at night is one of the highlights of the tour.

We had been talking with different a travel agencies and in the end we chose Iguana Tour, by that time they had a pretty good deal with GOL Backpackers and we got two nights for free because we booked the “survival packaged“.

They would take us up to their lodge in the Juma reserve, by the Juma river. Here’s what I mentioned that can make your experience different. Firstly, the Juma reserve is located south of Manaus, some 70km away in a straight line. When exploring Amazon south of Manaus, you’ll have a better experience exploring the aquatic life, specially if going during the rainy season. As this regions is mostly flooded by the rivers around, it’s difficult to spot Jaguars for instance. So if that’s the kind of experience you want to have, you should go up north, and you’ll have more chance to spot such type of animal life.

Distance between Manaus and Juma Lake

Distance between Manaus and Juma Lake

Secondly, Juma isn’t that far away from Manaus. Ok, it’s difficult to get there. You’ll have to take two different boats, drive more than 40 minutes in some shitty roads, but once you arrive there, you will be able to see the lights from Manaus at night. It’s still a very peaceful place, no cellphone sign or internet connection, however there are already too much noise, light and people for the animals and isn’t that easy to spot them anymore. We were able to see caimans, grey and pink dolphins, monkeys, several different types of birds and a sloth. Even though for us it was a lot (although only caimans and dolphins were close from us) our guide told us that it wasn’t even close to as much as we could have seen in more isolated places, or even there, but some decades ago.

Selfie with our guide and part of the group with whom we explored Amazon.

The guide and I were the only Brazilians among a group with an Australian, Portuguese, French and Germans.

Finally, you should also bare in mind that these companies that won’t take you too far from Manaus, and are least expensive than others, will have more people going. Even though we were the only ones that had booked the “survival package”, we did most of the activities with other people who had bought different packages that include one or more of the activities that were included in our package. We enjoyed having different people around and had fun with them. But some activities requires you to be quiet, so you have more chances to find animals, and you can imagine that the bigger the group, the louder it is. So we felt that sometimes we could have used more silence to spot more animals.

The only activity we did alone. We took our time paddling through small rivers and lakes and only by being very quiet, we were able to spot monkeys, beautiful birds, grey and pink dauphins.

The only activity we did alone. We took our time paddling through small rivers and lakes and only by being very quiet, we were able to spot monkeys, beautiful birds, grey and pink dolphins.

So if you’re using Manaus as your base and ask as many questions as you can to the company you’re planning on booking your tour, so you don’t get higher expectations and later get frustrated with what they will really show you.

We had an amazing time, were very impressed by everything we say and I wouldn’t change a bit if I had to do it again.

Here you have the list of activities of the “survival package” that I’ll be writing about in the following posts:
Take a boat crossing the meeting of the waters (junction of the Negro river and Solimões river), paddling, watching dolphins/birds/monkeys/tarantulas (very hard to find), fishing piranhas, spotting caimans, jungle trekking, visit a local family to learn about their life and how they cultivate cassava, sleeping (in hammocks) in the local family house, overnight (sleeping in hammocks too) in the forest and trekking in the forest to learn about the rubber process and see how they did to extract rubber years ago. We also had spear fishing in our package, but due to weather conditions we couldn’t do it.

Manaus

We spent two days there and honestly, there isn’t much to do and see. Our hostel was located right beside the main square, where you will find the amazing Amazon Theatre. It’s an impressive building that shows how rich the city was back in the time when people made fortunes with the rubber boom.

Beautiful Amazon Theatre

Beautiful Amazon Theatre

This square is really nice at night, where people gather around to have a drink or eat. There were even a Cinema Festival when we were there, with some movies being shown in big screens outdoors.

Manaus' main square by night.

Manaus’ main square by night.

We also heard about a market near the port, which seemed to be nice, but we couldn’t visited as it was raining a lot during the free time we had.

Palace of Justice in the back of the Amazon Theatre

Palace of Justice behind the Amazon Theatre

Eating

We found two good places to eat around there. First of them is Skina dos sucos, where we had amazing juices from fruits that even I, being a Brazilian, had never heard of. Some of them were really good, and some were a bit strange, but I guess it depends on one’s taste. Jessica liked some that I didn’t and vice-versa. You should definitely stop by and try some. They also have good Açai, some sandwiches and pastries.

The other place I found in a website I love and you should really use them if you’re looking for good places to eat in Brazil. The restaurant is called Peixaria Gabinete Jokka Loureiro. We had an amazing fish there, with a great view of the Negro River. The meal was so good and we were so hungry that we forgot to take pictures. But you can see pictures on the link I shared. We had exactly the same thing that they did.

Well, I hope I could help a bit in case your planning your trip to the Amazon rainforest or Manaus.

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