coen van den akker

Coen van den Akker loves to hike in the surroundings of Mexico City

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This story is written for the Dutch newspaper De Stentor.

NEVADO DE TOLUCA – ,,Honestly: a hike like this is now really a piece of cake for me”, shouts Coen van den Akker (45), and continues with a firm stride. We are on top of the Mexican volcano Nevado de Toluca, at more than 4600 meters altitude. The thin air makes breathing difficult, but the views make up for it and are literally breathtaking. Van den Akker, from Groot Dochteren near Lochem, is a tour guide at his own Naranja Tours. And is located in Mexico City.

Coen van den Akker’s orange 1986 VW Combi arrives at 4 a.m. in Parque México, near the trendy Condesa district. Soon several people appear, packed and bagged. Van den Akker jumps energetically out of the van and welcomes everyone in a cheerful tone. Some of them he knows from previous tours, others are new to him too. Today: two Dutch, a Norwegian, an American, two English, and a Guatemalan.

,,We are with an international group today, so the official language will be English”, he announces. The tall Dutchman Marco is allowed in the front, 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. With for dessert the two beautiful lakes Laguna del Sol and Laguna de la Luna are located there. The distance from Parque Mexico is about a four-hour drive. The six in the back nodding soon.

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A dog kept us company the total hike

,,I do think that this will be the last time we go here”, says Coen van den Akker. The reason for him is that the volcano has become too touristy. Both lakes have been made easily accessible so that literally busloads of people go there. Van den Akker wants his tours to be special. ,,My goal is that people remember such a day or weekend. That it is an unforgettable adventure.”

Van den Akker turns out to be an enthusiastic and decisive guy, ideal as a guide. He spends his childhood in Lochem and here he discovers his love for hiking. He often goes out, through the fields and forests in the area. Think of Diekink, the Lochemse Berg and Velhorst.

Coen van den Akker

He studies commercial economics in Enschedé, without actually studying. Yet as a 23-year-old he enters the banking industry, but notices that he wants to organize his life differently from his peers here. The little house tree-beast that they have mapped out is a life path that Van den Akker wants to stay far from. He will work as a project manager and in this way will travel throughout the Netherlands, with significantly more freedom.

After five years, he goes on a long world trip with his then-girlfriend. Once back, he sets up a project office in Amsterdam with two friends and business is going great until the credit crisis hits. Van den Akker decides to leave and make a long dream come true: solo with a motorcycle a big tour of South America, from Buenos Aires to Buenos Aires.

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A group right before departure a hike

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. Van den Akker soon 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 continues to bubble up. On weekends, he takes friends or family on hikes.

Van den Akker arranges everything for them and already calls himself 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, to volcanoes.

Coen van den Akker has now become the father of Alec (3), Naranja Tours is a real company and several times a month he goes out into nature with tourists, foreigners residing in Mexico or simply Mexicans themselves.

This time Nevado de Toluca. Van den Akker does everything he can 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 coat and a hat are not an unnecessary luxury and are in stark contrast to the high temperatures these weeks in the city. Although the tour promises to be tough, it doesn’t actually require any training.

When we pass the tree line, the mountains are covered 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 will quickly become sweltering hot. I especially hope that the lakes will be visible soon”, he tells the group, because that promises to be the ultimate dessert.

While walking, Coen van den Akker tells enthusiastically and full of bravadoe his life story, while the rest of the group pants, puffs and almost battles the elements. It ensures that the group quickly becomes one, that contacts are made.

“You really meet people on tours like this. Friendships and relationships develop. Soon our first Naranja Tours baby will be born”, it sounds proud. As the summit comes into view and the clouds clear, the excitement builds. Laguna del Sol and Laguna de la Luna are beautiful. On the other side, tourist buses drive back and forth to enjoy this same view. But in this place, high in the mountains and in an almost inaccessible place, the ultimate silence reigns. The seven hikers look at it with open mouths. “This is why I do it”, Van den Akker grins.

Also read: how Dutch Ben Gall build a house of garbage in San Miguel de Allende

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