NEVADO DE TOLUCA – ,,Honestly: a hike like this is now really easy for me”, says Coen van den Akker (45), and continues walking firmly. We are on top of the Mexican volcano Nevado de Toluca, at an altitude of over 4600 meters. The thin air makes breathing difficult, but the views make up for it and are literally breathtaking. Van den Akker, who comes from Groot Dochteren near Lochem, is a tour guide at his own Naranja Tours. And is located in Mexico City.
(This article was published in Dutch newspaper De Stentor)
Van den Akker's orange 1986 VW Combi arrives at 4 a.m. in Parque México, near the hip neighborhood Condesa. Soon several people emerge, packed with their bags. Van den Akker energetically jumps out of the van and welcomes everyone in a cheerful tone. Some of them he already knows from previous tours, others are also new to him.
On a hike with Naranja Tours
Today: two Dutchmen, a Norwegian, an American, two Englishmen, and a Guatemalan. ,,We are with an international group today, so the working language will be English”, he announces. The very tall Dutchman Marco is allowed in the front, and the other six hikers take place in the old van. And soon we leave for Nevado de Toluca, one of the highest volcanoes in Latin America. The goal is the two beautiful lakes Laguna del Sol and Laguna de la Luna, which are located there. The distance from Parque Mexico is about four hours. The six people in the back soon are nodding.
“I think this will be the last time we go here,” says Van den Akker. The reason for this is that the volcano has become too touristy. Both lakes have been made easily accessible, so busloads of people go there. Van den Akker wants his tours to be special. “My goal is for people to remember such a day or weekend. That it is an unforgettable adventure.”
Tourguide Coen van den Akker
Van den Akker turns out to be an enthusiastic and thorough fellow, ideal as a guide. He spends his youth in Lochem and here he discovers his love for hiking. He often goes out, through the farmlands and forests in the area. Places like Diekink, the Lochemse Berg and Velhorst.
He studies commercial economics in Enschedé, without actually studying. Yet he enters the banking industry at the age of 23 but notices that he wants to organize his life differently. The normal life his fellow students have mapped out is a life path that Van den Akker wants to stay far from. He starts working as a project manager and in this way, he travels throughout the Netherlands, with significantly more freedom.
After five years he goes on a long trip around the world with his girlfriend at the time. Once back, he set up a project office in Amsterdam with two friends and business went very well until the credit crisis came. Van den Akker decides to leave and fulfill a long-standing dream: solo with a motorcycle a grand tour of South America, from Buenos Aires to Buenos Aires.
After a year and a half he returns to Amsterdam, where he becomes a city survival guide with kayaks; his first steps as a tourist guide. Soon Van den Akker meets a Colombian and moves with her to Spain, where he starts working for a German pharmaceutical company. At that moment the love for hiking returns more and more. On weekends he takes friends or family on hikes. Van den Akker arranges everything for them and then already calls itself Naranja Tours.
His relationship with the Colombian ends and a few months later he meets the Mexican Ana. They visit Mexico City and in 2017 they decide to live here together. However, Van den Akker does not like big cities and flees the city as often as possible. In this way, he discovers the beautiful nature in the distant surroundings of the city. In states such as Hidalgo, Puebla, Querétaro and Estado de México. From waterfalls to the desert, from mountain peaks to valleys, traditional Pueblos Magicos high in the mountains, and vulcanos.
Van den Akker has now become the father of Alec (3), Naranja Tours is a real company and several times a month he goes into nature with tourists, foreigners residing in Mexico, or simply Mexicans themselves.
This time Nevado de Toluca. Van den Akker does everything to make everyone happy. Already on arrival, he distributes the bottles of water, fruit, and food in all backpacks. It's freezing cold in the morning. Gloves, a warm jacket, and a hat are not a superfluous luxury and are in sharp contrast to the high temperatures in the city these weeks.
Although the tour promises to be tough, it doesn't really require any training. When we pass the tree line, the mountains are shrouded in a thick fog and you can see no more than ten meters further. Breathing is also more difficult. “The weather in the mountains is very changeable. It could just start raining, or it could get very hot very quickly. I especially hope that the lakes will soon be visible”, he tells the group, because that promises to be the ultimate view.
While walking, Van den Akker enthusiastically and proudly tells his life story, while the rest of the group gasps, puffs, and almost battles with the elements. It ensures that the group quickly becomes one, and that contacts are made. “On tours like this, you really meet people. Form friendships and relationships. Soon our first Naranja Tours baby will be born”, it sounds proud.
As the top comes into view and the clouds clear, excitement builds. Laguna del Sol and Laguna de la Luna are beautiful. On the other side, tourist buses drive back and forth to enjoy the same image. But in this place, high in the mountains and in an almost inaccessible place, the ultimate silence reigns. The seven hikers look at it open-mouthed. “This is what I do it for”, Van den Akker grins.