My best guided tours

Jens Assmann on Uluru, Australia; Ayers Rock

Climbing Ayers Rock, Australia, August 2001

You can easily see that these pictures at the start of my list are the oldest. They are film and diapositives from 2001 in Australia. We spent six weeks down under in Australia and New Zealand with a field trip from university and kicked it off with the red centre before joining the group. We climbed Ayers Rock (or "Uluru" as the Aborigines call it) on an early and very windy morning. Afterwards the sun came out and we circled the famous Australian inselberg. A stunning place to stand on top off and the first example for my best guided tours.

Window of Great Wall of China

Walking the Great Wall of China, P.R. China, April 2005 and April 2009

I have been to China five times up until today mostly due to my former job. I visited the People's Republic of China in 2005 for the first time together with my father and stayed for three weeks. In 2005 as well as in 2009 I payed a visit to the Great Wall of China, my first of the New7Wonders and the only one I visited more than once. There are a few touristy spots of the Great Wall that are easily accessible from Beijing within an hour or two. I was in Badaling as well as Mutianyu. During that time we were the absolute minority of non Chinese guests there.

Camino de la Muerte in Bolivia

 Mountainbiking Camino de la Muerte, Bolivia, October 2005

Camino de la Muerte - Road of Death, the most dangerous road in the world. The North Yungas Road between La Paz (you start the tour at 4.600 m at La Cumbre Pass) and Coroico (you finish it at about 1.200 m) is 56 km long and a one lone road, though not a one way street! We downhill biked this road in 2005 starting at the Altiplano (4.600 m was the highest point in my life so far) and quickly descended into the rainforest through many climate zones. The road features quite some drop-offs (up to 600 m) and offers lots of blind corners and hairpin bends. At some corners there a men to direct traffic and give way for a few Boliviano. Although you have to generally drive on the right side in Bolivia, the downhill driver on this road never has the right of way and must move to the outer edge of the road. And in between all the truck, bus and car traffic there is plenty of downhill bikers enjoying the ride through magnificent nature and along breathtaking lookouts. It is dangerous, but manageble in a group with qualified guides. During our trip we saw construction of a new asphalt road to be openend in 2006. Since then, most truck drivers aviod the Camino de la Muerte for good reason. We stayed for one night at Coroico and on the next day we "enjoyed" a full bus ride with 13 people in a 9-seater back to La Paz up the very same road on the left side.

Cerro Rico in Potosi, Bolivia

Visiting the Cerro Rico silver mine, Bolivia, October 2005 

Bolivia in 2005 was full of adventures. We went to Potosi to visit the famous Cerro Rico - the "rich mountain". It is a silver mine that is exploited from the age of the New World Spanish empire for more than 500 years now. Due to the silver ore Potosi became one of the largest and richest cities in the new world. We booked a tour and went into the mountain. This tour would neither be possible nor allowed anywhere in Europe for good reason. After descending lots of rickety ladders it became hotter and hotter while the air filled with fine dust. Due to poor worker conditions, such as a lack of protective equipment against the constant inhalation of dust, many of the miners get silicosis and have a life expectancy of only around 40 years. We spoke to one of the mineros. Most of them have four to six children to feed and start their 12 hour shift by eating two plates of rice with veggies and meat in order to have enough energy through the day. They are still skinny though because of the hard physical work. A concrete reinforcement rod, a hammer and a bucket is all the equipment they have to hammer out the silver ore of the rock. The buckets get weight, pulled up and ends in a waggon on rails to be pushed by men outside the mine. Belive it or not, the silver ore still gets extracted with mercury that partly evaporates in the air and can get in your lungs. A realy fascinating tour that I will never forget in my life! Devastating conditions to work in, but still some 15.000 mineros work at Cerro Rico and live in Potosi. Our guides told us to bring some gifts down to the mineros. Coca leaves and dynamite rods (you heard it right!) are well received amongst them. Coca leaves to be chewed on to numb the pain and dynamite rods to blast the next part of the rock at the end of the shift for tomorrow to come back.

Machu Picchu in Peru

Seeing Machu Picchu,

Peru, October 2005

Machu Picchu is a 15th century Inca site in the Peruvian rain forest. During a three weeks trip with two colleagues of mine to Bolivia we spent five days in Peru to visit Cusco and Machu Picchu. We took the train from Cusco and I got really sick during the ride to Machu Picchu due to the so called "Soroche" (altitude sickness). You can easily tell that I wasn't feeling too well from my selfie down below. I spent the day at Machu Picchu basically sitting in the sun enjoying the view. The Inca site is situated on a mountain top at 2400 m. A stunning place with some excellent views and a well-deserved New7Wonders of the World. 

Snorkling at Silva, Iceland

Snorkling between Europe and America at Silfa, Iceland, June 2007

I am neither a diver nor a friend of very cold water. My buddy Axel is a dive master and told me about the clearest spot to dive in in the world. A diameter of 120 m with continuous sight in Iceland. And swimming between the tectonic plates of Europe and America. We put our dry suits on (the body stays dry, but hands and the face still get plenty of cold water) and off we were. He diving and I snorkeling at 2 °C in the Icelandic summer. A stunning place to go since you really have excellent visibililty. The water flows so fast through the cracks that no fish or plant can get hold of the area. Two dives were scheduled, but I finished after the first round of snorkeling. It was way to cold for me as you can see from the pictures below. If you want to see more of my Iceland trips check this collection.

Landscape in Wadi Rum, Jordan

No sleep at Wadi Rum, Jordan, February 2010

Shortly after the rise of the Arab spring we went to Jordan for a ten day road trip. Wadi Rum was on our list for the second part of the trip. We booked a tour in the desert including an overnight stay in a tent. Wadi Rum is also known as "The Valley of the Moon" and cut into the sandstone and granite rock in southern Jordan. We drove to several arches with our 4x4 and experienced some beautiful landscapes of intense orange sand combined with clear blue skies. Our jeep broke down once due to overheating, but our guide managed to cool it down with half of our water supply. We got some tea and snacks at a bonfire and stayed until sunset. Unfortunately, we did not get any sleep in Wadi Rum because the spot got quite some rain during the week and was not useable for an overnight stay. Nevertheless, a stunning landscape with some caves and Nabatean rock carvings that is definitely worth a trip. So still, sleeping in the desert stays on our bucket list.

Walking on Stromboli volcano, Italy

Climbing an erupting volcano, Stromboli, Italy, April 2012

A five day trip to Sicily also brought us to the island of Stromboli north of the island of Sicily. Stromboli is an active and daily erupting volcano that basically makes for the whole island (0-900 m hight). We joined a sunset tour and walked up the mountain with our tripods and helmets. Just below the summit there is a natural vent of the volcano that erupts every ten minutes or so. Seeing this towards a pitch black sky is an experience of a lifetime. Especially for a geographer. The descent in the dark wasn't a piece of cake anymore... Check here for more pictures.

Kanu ride in the Everglades, Florida

Canoeing the Everglades, Florida, USA, May 2013

After visiting the Florida Keys we went to the Everglades, near Everglade City and booked a guided canoe tour via Tripadvisor. Our guide was extremely well rated and I got a bit sceptical about the honesty. My wife and I got a canoe each and him as our private guide. Half a day a cruising the Everglades, taking pictures of birds and gators, calmly driving through mangroves and enjoying the nature around us. At the end of the trip I knew that all the 5-star-ratings were well deserved and I also gave him 5 stars. More of my Florida images here.

Sign of Ranthambore National Park, India

Searching for tigers in Ranthambore National Park, India, November 2014

A spontaneous change of plans in the pursuit of tigers brought us to Ranthambore National Park in India. After a very bumpy and dangerous drive and a very shabby hostel for the night we started next morning with some glorious light and a morning game drive in the park. Same trip again in the afternoon. To make a long story short: We didn't see a tiger, but plenty of spotted deer, blue deer, monkeys, birds and some incredible landscape. Still so worth the detour. We heard a sad story of a park ranger being killed by a tiger two month ago in this park. Ranthambore is one of the few parks where you can at least occasionally spot tigers in India. When we departed for the next spot we saw a picture of a tiger behind one of the large tourist trucks going for the park. The tiger was in the village and the very street we stayed! Check this link for more India pictures.

Meerkat enjoying sunrise in Oudtshoorn

Sunrise with Meerkats, near Oudtshoorn, South Africa, February 2014

I found a leaflet of Meerkat Adventures during our stay in Oudtshoorn, South Africa. I set the alarm for 4.30 am next morning for a sunrise with meerkat. It was one of the best animal tours I was part of in my life! You sit only 5 m away from the meerkat's burrow and enjoy their morning routine (which is basically getting their belly warmed up by the sun before going off in hunt for food for the rest of the day). Afterwards they go foraging and you would not be able to find them during the day anymore due to the cover of the bushes. The guide who runs this spot made this very family used to his voice for over three months. Meerkats have a natural flight initiation distance of about 300 m. So he started 300 m away from their burrow and read the bible. On the next day he went a few meters towards the burrow and read another chapter. After three months he alone was able to sit next to them and talk. First step done, next step: making the family get used to plenty of people, their chairs, camera clicks and more noise. It is strange that you sit in a camping chair next to them and they seem to not even recognise, but definitely don't care about your presence. Every evening a team member checks which of the burrows the family uses to "check in" and sleep. Imagine positioning a group of tourists before sunrise at an empty burrow while 50 m left the family starts their morning routine. The "check out" in the morning starts with the spotter being the first to control the area from a high vantage point and check the skies for bird of prey. When he is chilled the rest of the pack joines for a common "warm the belly" routine. Needless to say that meerkat are amongst the most cute animals ever. There is no spot in the world to get a similar experience that close without disturbing them. Find out more about my South Africa trip via this link

Two camels standing in front of the Pyramids of Giza

Visiting the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt, November 2014

Our Egypt road trip back in 2014 started with a highlight. The visit of the pyramids of Sakkara and Giza, the latter is the last remaining wonder of the world. The Great Pyramid of Giza was built 2560 AD and is as of today still one of the most fascinating buildings of the world. Since Egypt was heavily hit by a crisis in tourism it wasn't too crowded that day. For sure this place had to become a place in my best guided tours. Surrounding the pyramids and even going in is special. If you want to see more of my Egypt trip click here.

Balloon from the inside in Egypt

Balloon ride into the sunrise, Thebes, Egypt, November 2014

During the second half of our Egypt road trip we stayed in Luxor and planned a balloon ride on the other side of the Nile river. After an early start by boat and car we arrived at Thebes and the balloons were already getting heated in the dark. My first ever balloon ride was a memorable experience especially due to the epic light before and during sunrise and the location we drove over. Flying past the Hatshepsut temple and seeing the sun rise above the foggy Nile valley was definitely a bucket list item.

Male lion at Schotia Game Reserve, South Africa

Game driving at Schotia Game Reserve and Addo Elephant Park,  South Africa, March 2016 

We started our second time in South Africa with two game drives in Schotia Game Reserve and the Addo Elephant Park. It was my birthday when we were in Schotia and although I rained we managed to see quite some animals. Addo Elephant Park is way larger and full of elephants. Two really nice guided tours that ended with an epic sunset over an amazing landscape north of Port Elizabeth. Check here for more.

On board a container ship on Elbe river towards sunset

With the Elbe pilots towards sunset, Elbe, Germany, May 2016 

I always wanted to go on a container vessel down the Elbe river. The Elbe pilots were kind enough to give me an opportunity to join. I just had to call a shipowner regarding the schedule for their next Ultra Large Container Vessel (ULCV) and off I was. Well, it was not that easy... Since I wanted to take one of the biggest vessels calling the Port of Hamburg I had to be very flexible timewise. These ships mainly start from China and call many harbours on route to Europe. And even within Europe you do not really know what day they will call Hamburg. China Shipping sent me the draft schedule of their big vessels calling Hamburg. But my contact did not forget to mention that this list was not too reliable. Some phone calls later I arrived at Container Terminal Eurogate Hamburg on May 6, 2016. With this blogpost I would like to give you an idea of what it is like to go on a very large container vessel down the river Elbe. Besides shooting pictures I also shot some video that day. I hope you also like my video about the trip. Make sure to check this, too.


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