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Ladies and gentlemen… this is our FINAL blog.

We spent 18 long hours in Panama City. We arrived at 7:30 am at one of the domestic airports and caught a taxi from there to the international airport. We had hoped that we would be able to check our bags in early and then explore the city a bit. After all, when in Panama City one must see the Panama Canal, right?

Well, we couldn’t. We spent the morning in the airport but there was only one, crappy restaurant to eat at. After experiencing their unappetising breakfast we decided to take all of our bags with us and catch a taxi to a nearby shopping plaza.

The canal was on the other side of the city and it would have been expensive to catch a taxi there which we would have had to do considering our heavy bags. The other problem would then be that once we arrived at the canal we would have to take all of our things with us to walk along it, as leaving them in a waiting taxi is a big no, no!

We found free wifi at the plaza and spent the afternoon taking turns to walk around and look at things while the other person watched everything. We then had a decent meal from the food court before heading back to the airport at 8pm when the plaza closed.

Our flight wasn’t until 2:30am the following morning, so we spent the rest of the time waiting and snoozing on the airport chairs. In hindsight, if we had a stopover that long again we would probably book a cheap room for the day where we could store our things!

So, 18 hours after we arrived in Panama, we boarded a plane bound for Miami, our second stopover on the way to New York. The flight was about four hours long and we arrived at 6:30am to a slightly chaotic scene.

Osama Bin Laden had been shot about two days before we arrived in the US, meaning security was on red alert. Needless to say, it took a while to get through immigration and then through the security gates to catch our connecting flight.

We arrived in New York and headed for the house of some friends we had made while volunteering in Pisco, Peru. Eliot and Gemma were lovely enough to let us stay in their spare room while we explored New York and they made sure we had a great time in their city.

Well… if someone had asked us before we travelled if we wanted to go to New York, the resounding answer would have been “NO!” We had no interest in visiting the city, and were expecting it to be busy and smoggy and full of rude people.

We were so wrong! New York was a very pleasant surprise and we would both definitely visit there again. The people were almost overly polite, the traffic was busy but well directed, the trains ran frequently and were never overcrowded… it was a huge, buzzing city that was organised and worked efficiently in every way.

We did all the usual things while we were there.

We saw the Statue of Liberty.

We didn’t pay for a tour. The Staten Island Ferry is a free ferry that leaves every hour and goes right past the statue, bargain!

As you can see, it was an incredibly windy trip!!!

We walked down Wall Street.

We popped into Tiffany to have a look at the shiny stuff.

And laughed at the classical pianist INSIDE the Mcdonald’s…!

We went to the top of the rock, which is the lookout at the top of the Rockerfeller Centre, to check out the great views.

We went to the Lego Store and looked at the cool lego creations…

 

We made our own, PSF-inspired Lego people…

We went to F.A.O. Shwarz, which is the toy store in the movie Big.

 

That guy was made completely of jelly beans!!!

We walked around the store for ages and, of course, danced on the giant piano!!

We walked around Central Park.

We walked down Broadway and checked out the shows that were on…

Complete with steam rising from the subway… perfect!

And we witnessed the commercial atrocity that is Times Square…

 

We got into the spirit of BIG things while we were there.

We drank giant cans of juice…

We ate giant pizza slices…

And giant pretzels….

We ate NY’s finest bagels at Murrays, saw squirrels and pointed at them like the tourists we were, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, went to see a band at the Brooklyn Bowl (where you can watch a band, drink, eat and ten pin bowl all at the same time!) and had great fun doing it all!

Frank Sinatra was right… it really is up to you, New York, New Yooooooork!

We left NY at 5am on the 11th of May and arrived in Melbourne at 10am on the 13th of May. We flew from NY to LA, LA to Auckland and then Auckland to Melbourne. We spent eight boring hours at LAX Airport. We were inside a plane for 32 hours overall and managed to cross the dateline and lose an entire day…. blurgh.

We came home to rain and wind and a top temperature of 12 degrees…. gotta love Melbourne weather!

The first thing we both did was eat crumpets with vegemite, yum!

We were jetlagged for a few days but got over it reasonably quickly.

And now we’re home…. working again (boring!) trying to save some money to pay back our debts before we can start planning the next adventure!!!

*        *        *        *       *      *

So, there you have it. 14 months worth of travel stories and photos. We have enough memories to last a lifetime!  We made brilliant friends, saw some ridiculously beautiful and not so beautiful things, learned the basics of a new language, gave our time to a worthy cause and made our way through 10 different countries.

Bring on the next adventure!!!

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Welcome to Paradise!

We had to get up early to make our way to the yacht club where we were meeting Captain George and Sandra, as well as the rest of our crew, for our epic five day sailing trip from Cartagena to Panama.

There were ten of us on the 43 foot sail boat called Coolrunning II; Captain George, Sandra and eight backpackers. It was cosy indeed!

There are three main options for people who want to get from Colombia to Panama, or vice versa…

Option 1 – Sail across. It’s not cheap (we paid US$420 each) but food, accommodation and customs formalities are all included. By taking this option you also get to detour through the AMAZING San Blas islands for a couple of days, but we’ll get to that a little later.

Option 2 – Fly. It’s not much cheaper than sailing, due to an insane fuel tax for all planes leaving Colombia.

Option 3 – Make your way by land to the very top of Colombia, which is slow and difficult as there are no bus companies and you have to rely on locals to ferry you. This means you have to have spare time for them to dictate when they are leaving. Once at the top you have to hope someone there has a boat and they are heading towards Panama… odds are it will be a dinghy and your bum will be mighty sore after bumping across the ocean for about 10 hours! Once on the other side, you need to negotiate with locals again to get to one of the larger cities in Panama. This is the cheapest but most painful option. Enough said.

There are other ways, and cheaper ways (as always) but we had heard plenty of scary stories about backpackers kicked off cargo ships, or taken to places they hadn’t negotiated, not to mention being caught on a drug-runner boat… yes, the FARC are well and truly alive and kicking in that area of the world!

Many independent salboat captains take advantage of the lack of options and offer “luxury backpacker cruises” which is what our trip was called.  The prices and types of boats vary greatly. We went with one of the pricier boats after doing our research.

There are stories about cheaper sailboats not having proper navigational equipment, or rescue equipment, or enough food/water/beds, or the captain getting blind drunk/high… after taking all of that into account, we decided to go with a reputable Captain and spend the appropriate amount of money to make sure it was a trip to remember!

We spent the first day, night and most of the second day on open water with the engine running. We rocked and rolled all the way through the Caribbean Sea for a total of 33 hours.

Most of the time we saw nothing but blue water and no other boats.

Occasionally we saw a cargo ship in the distance and once we witnessed a small dinghy racing across the open waters (yep, probably FARC) but other than that the only break in the monotony was when some dolphins found us and had a play with our boat.

Mel really enjoyed the experience but most of the other backpackers felt some level of sea sickness and spent most of the time sleeping.

It was soooo hot as we sailed and there was nowhere to hide except under the boat, which was even hotter because all the windows had to remain closed to stop sea water spraying in. We were constantly lathering sun cream on ourselves and still felt like we were burning.

We saw land for the first time around 3pm on the second day. At first we just saw a few islands in the distance…

Then we got closer…

We moored in a part of the archipelago called the Swimming Pool around 5pm. It was AMAZING! The bottom of the boat was only about three metres from the  ground and the water was crystal clear.

Of course, we all jumped straight in! We had an evening swim before dinner and then retired for the night so we could get up super early the next day and explore the islands.

Our captain ferried us from the sail boat to a few of the islands over the day in his dinghy, picking us up and taking us back to the boat for lunch and dinner.

No point writing much more, we’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us introduce you to PARADISE!

We swam, sunbathed and snorkelled our hearts out. Unfortunately we didn’t have an underwater camera, because the sights down there were absolutely breathtaking!

We swam with schools of fish of every colour imaginable. We swam near sharks, stingrays and other animals we were happy not to touch! There were coral reefs everywhere, all we had to do was wade in about two metres (sometimes not even that far) and much of the time was spent trying not to scratch our knees on the rocks and coral because it was so shallow!

The following day we sailed to an inhabited island, where the Kuni people live.

After seeing so many uninhabited islands it was strange to see that the locals had built ALL OVER the island…

We spent a couple of hours wandering the island and chatting to the locals.

 

 

 

We marvelled at their toilets, a seat on a concrete hole over the water… no swimming in that area thanks!

Mel had a local woman make a bracelet for her, similar to the ones the Kuni women wear.

We slept on the boat again that night and then headed towards our final destination the following morning.

We sailed in the sun for about five hours and were desperate to stay out of the sun. After all, we already had the best tans of our lives…!

Mel used the boom for a little bit of relief!

Captain George showed us his special trick for cooling down… hanging onto the ladder at the back of the boat for dear life while the boat moved through deep, cool waters!

We arrived to Porveir, the island in the San Blas where we completed our immigration formalities and where we were disembarking the boat.

We said goodbye to Captain George and Sandra (and thanked them for the amazing food and hospitality over the last four and half days) and went to investigate how we were getting to the mainland of Panama.

We wanted to fly as it was only $10 more than going by boat and it would be an opportunity to see the islands from the air, bargain!

There were no flights available the following day but we didn’t care – we were in paradise! We booked in for the day after and set about getting comfortable.

The tent came in handy once again, as it was a quarter of the price to camp than to stay in a dorm room.

We spent the next two days relaxing a little more, what a hard life!

We broke up the relaxing with some walking, swimming and shell collecting!

Not a bad place to live for a couple of days!!!

The plane we were flying in was a thirty seater. In other words, it was tiny!

The island was also tiny and the runway literally went from one end to the other!

Bevan is pretending he is a plane, in case you were wondering!

For $70 the “scenic flight” was worth the money, especially if you consider how much a scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef is!

The photos aren’t great, but they give some idea of the views we had…

The plane was very loud and very bumpy, and being able to see the captain through the curtain (yes curtain, not door!) didn’t make us feel better!

But, happily, we made it! However, that also meant that our trip was almost over. We spent a long day at Panama City’s international airport before boarding a plane headed for New York, our final stop on our 14 month adventure.

Goodbye South America. You were eye-opening, always entertaining, full of adventure and new experiences, often sad and sometimes a little scary. We are thankful for the experiences we had with you  and your people and we will definitely remember our time spent with you for the rest of our lives.

We arrived in Cartagena with heavy hearts. We really didn’t get to experience as much of Colombia as we had hoped and were sad to only have two more days in the country.

On the bright side, we were excited to be going on our first sailing trip! We were scheduled to meet Captain George and his partner, Sandra, whose boat we would be sailing on from Colombia to Panama.

We had our meeting and got to know the other backpackers who would be a part of our trip, which made us even more excited. With payments made ($420 each – not cheap for backpackers!) and plans to meet early at the port two mornings from then, we had  the night and one more day to experience the town of Cartagena.

Cartagena is an old port town. It was once the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast and has a rich history. The port was where the Indians stored treasures they had plundered and the town was under siege many times in the past by pirates wanting to get their hands on the riches. To defend themselves from the attacks, the Spaniards built thick walls all around the city (which took many years to complete, while they continued to fight off attacks!)

The walls are so wide that you can walk on them around most of the town!

The city has expanded somewhat since that time but the old town, surrounded by the thick, fortified walls, is an amazing place to wander through.

We spent the following day walking around the town and checking out the sights…

We saw ladies wearing traditional, colourful clothing…

And carrying fruit in bowls on their heads…

There were awesome metal sculptures all over the old town. The sculptures were of traditional Colombian people going about their business.

 

 


There was a man shaving ice just like the last sculpture, and we jumped at the chance to buy something icy cold as Cartagena was so hot and humid.

We had to wake up at ridiculous o’clock the following morning and head to the yacht club for our five day sailing trip through the San Blas Islands in Panama (but you’ll have to wait for the next blog to see all the amazing pictures!) so it was an early night for us, even though we hardly slept as we were so excited!

So, thank you Colombia. Our time together was short but lots of fun!

 

We left the rain and wind of Bogota by plane with only one thing on our minds… Caribbean sun, surf and sand! Mel was really excited to see some of those beautiful beaches we had been dreaming about and Bevan was just happy to not have to wear his thermals anymore!

It was about 15 degrees when we left Bogota and close to 35 when we arrived in Santa Marta… and that’s not even considering the humidity! Needless to say, we stripped off a few layers as soon as we left the plane!

We headed for a hostel that had been recommended by many people, called Dreamer. It was definitely backpacker luxury with a central pool, hammocks, cushions and a great bar set up.

We spent the first night having a few drinks and getting to know some of the other travellers at the hostel. It was Good Friday when we arrived and there were lots of holidaymakers from other parts of Colombia in the town as well.

South America celebrates Easter (they call it Semana Santa) for a week, beginning the Sunday before what we know as Easter Sunday. They have the Thursday and  Good Friday as public holidays but not Easter Monday.

We were invited to a beach party in a nearby town with other people from the hostel so we went along. There was lots of Afro-beat music and people dancing as well as many families enjoying themselves on the wide beach. Unfortunately we didn’t take our camera and the friends who came haven’t uploaded any of the photos yet so you’ll just have to imagine it!

The following day we lazed in hammocks, watched movies and occasionally dipped in the pool (what a hard life!) before getting our drink on again for the Chiva Party Bus, a Colombian specialty. It was organised through the hostel and sounded like a pretty good deal –  all we could drink for $15 (no, Colombians are not worried about drinking in moderation!)

The bus arrived at 9pm and everyone crowded on with our first free drinks in hand. We had to make our way up a rickety, wooden ladder to board and more than a few people commented that  disembarking after a few drinks may not be too easy!

It was an old, wooden bus that looked as though it had been through more than a few parties! There were seats all around the edges and in rows with a space at the front for the ‘dance floor.’ There was a flat screen TV attached to the front wall with a massive sound system and disco lights, as well as ropes hanging from the ceiling (to keep balance while dancing, of course!) There was a roof but no windows; just open spaces that were perfect for drunk people to hang themselves out of. The hosts put an overflowing esky full of spirits and mixers at the front of the bus and another at the back, to allow for self service of course!

Unfortunately we don’t have photos of this either, but here’s a link to a photo of what it looked like…

http://www.flickr.com/photos/santamartacolombia_hotels_tours/4106735162/lightbox/

So off we went… we drove around the streets of the sleepy town dancing to terrible reggaeton (a style of music we had become accustomed to hearing, and almost fond of, at that point!) and drinking cheap alcohol… for FOUR HOURS!

There were a couple of short stops to allow for bathroom breaks and leg stretching as there were more than 50 people on the bus leaving little room for movement and definitely not enough seats.

If you’d like to hear some reggaeton (which was pretty much the ONLY music we had been listening to at clubs, on the streets and coming through the windows of random cars and taxis) check out this link…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lfYNHL0XZQ

The funniest part about the bus was that the sound system pumped the reggaeton while the TV played a concert by a Colombian crooner (something similar to Michael Buble)… strange.

All that said, we had a blast! It was a lovely, warm night and everybody was in good spirits. After the four hour trip, the bus dropped us off at the most popular nightclub in the town to continue the party.

The Chiva bus is unique to Colombia and well worth the $15 we spent for a hilarious party experience!

We went on a day trip to the Tayrona National Park which is famous for La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City.) You can do a trek similar to the Inca Trail through the park to an ancient Indian city that was only discovered recently. We had originally planned to do the trek but didn’t have six days up our sleeve at that point, so had to give it a miss.

We caught the bus to a free beach that was still on the edge of the national park, called Playa de Los Angeles.

We went with a couple we had met at the hostel.

Ah South America… where you can ALWAYS find livestock just wandering around!

We spent the day at the beach but were a little disappointed as we had taken our bathers but, with the crazy current and waves, there was NO WAY we were going swimming!

We walked along the beach and checked out the scenery.

 

 

 

We saw some awesome ants carrying pieces of leaves along the road…

There were millions of them!

Santa Marta was a bit of a disappointment as far as the beach was concerned. Sure, the sand was nice and the water was clean but it wasn’t the picture of blue-green water and white sand that we had in our minds.

We spent Easter Sunday in the town and it was the first Easter where we didn’t eat any chocolate at all! There were no chocolate eggs or hot cross buns to be found sadly… but don’t worry… we emailed Mel’s mum and asked her to buy us some eggs for when got home!

We booked another flight from Bogota to the top of Colombia as it didn’t cost much more than the bus and saved us 15 hours of travel.  The problem was that there were two places in between that we had wanted to see. Because of our time restrictions, we decided to miss one place and do an overnight trip from Bogota and back to see the other.

We caught a minibus to a town about five hours north of Bogota called Villa de Leyva. It was supposed to be the dry season at that time, but La Nina was playing havoc on the country and we found ourselves driving past flooded fields and houses.

We drove past landslides…

We drove past rivers that were almost flowing onto the road…

We drove past rivers that were beginning to flood onto the road…

At times we couldn’t even SEE the road!

Thankfully we made it to Villa de Leyva but were a little worried that we may not make it back to Bogota for our flight in two days!

The town was heritage listed and beautiful.

 

We had a nice dinner and a few drinks in the town square, and even had an opportunity to practise our Spanish with some university students from Bogota!

The town was lovely and we were sad that we only had one night and morning to spend there. There were lots of things to do as a tourist. If we had more time we would have hired bikes and rode around to many of the archaeological sites.  Unfortunately we had to settle for a taxi and only choose two spots to see in the morning.

We found a nice taxi driver who offered us a great deal to drive to two archaeological sites. He told us some facts about the area and even had a tourist information booklet for us to read. He was such a lovely man and we really enjoyed his private ‘tour’!

The first place we went to was called El Fosil. It was a tiny museum dedicated to some dinosaur fossils that had been found in the area.

The most impressive fossil was of a kronosaurus. It was almost complete and had been found in the area in 1977.

The kronosaurus was 9-10 metres long and similar to a crocodile. This is what it looked like when alive.

Scary!

We went to the Estación Astronómica Muisca (El Infiernito) from there, which was an ancient site where the Indians used stone columns to tell the seasons apart. There were more than 30 stones in two rows.

They used the shadows to determine times of the year, for planting and harvesting crops. As the site was close to the equator there would be an equinox (when there was no shadow for a short amount of time every year in March and September) which was a time for great festivities.

The most amusing part of the site for us was their obsession with the fertility of the earth. The Indians would carve the stones into phallic shapes as a way of pleasing Mother Earth, and making the soil more fertile…

There were at least 100 of the carved stones there! It was nice to see all sizes and shapes represented!

We wished we could have spent longer in Villa de Leyva, but had to keep moving towards Cartagena as we had a sailboat booked to take us to Panama.

We caught a minibus back to Bogota that afternoon. Thankfully the flood waters had subsided a bit and we didn’t have any issues on the return trip!

 

Brrrrr… Bogota

We arrived in Bogota and booked into a funky hostel called Musicology. They had ipod and other mp3 docks and instruments available to play.  They also gave free breakfast, which is common, and also a free dinner, which is not common at all!

Bogota was freezing! After spending time in Cali, which was tropically warm, the altitude and constant rain in Bogota felt like we had returned to Melbourne early!

The city was kinda cool, with some great street art.

We caught a bus to a town about two hours away called Zipaquira, to visit a cathedral made completely of salt. The complex was actually a huge mine and they had used an old section that had already been mined to carve huge crucifixes out of salt. Add some pretty lights and you have a pretty cool cathedral…

We spent another chilly night in Bogota before heading on. We only had just over a week left in Colombia and three weeks left of our travels before we would be back on home soil again. Sigh.

We left the jungle and stayed the night in Quito before our border crossing into Colombia. We had heard so many good things about Colombia and were both VERY excited to finally be seeing the country for ourselves.

The crossing was relatively straightforward. We caught a bus from Quito to Tulcan, Ecuador’s border town. We met two lovely Welsh boys, Andy and Jac, on the bus and the four of us decided to brave the crossing together – strength in gringo numbers!

We had to get a taxi from the station to the border and then cross the border by foot. Formalities on both sides were easy. Colombia was actually quite high tech with electronic finger scanning – much different to the paper forms we had become used to!

Once we were in Colombia we needed to get to the Colombian border town of Ipiales, about three kilometres from the border. Doesn’t sound like much, sure, but add the altitude, steep hills and our heavy backpacks and it was an effort! We had all thought that we would be able to change money somewhere near the border but there wasn’t anywhere (aside from dodgy people on the side of the road, no thanks!)  We had also all assumed that, like most South American countries, the border towns on both sides would have accepted both forms of currency… this was not the case in Colombia!

So, with no other option, we trudged along the highway to our destination town.

We arrived and headed for a recommended hostel where we booked beds for the night. We headed out to find somewhere to change our money and get some dinner. Ipiales was the nicest border town we had ever encountered and, if we had more time up our sleeve, we might have stayed another day and had a proper look around.

As we only had two weeks in Colombia we had to keep moving. We were up early in the morning to get the bus to our first official destination in Colombia, the city of Cali. Having two other people with us was great when it came to bargaining for bus tickets and we managed to get a great deal.

The people at the office said the bus would take nine hours. Nine hours later, we were still a long way from Cali and pretty grumpy!

The one thing we had noticed in that time was how GREEN Colombia was compared to the other places we had seen…

We got there twelve hours after we left, at 10pm, tired and hungry as we hadn’t eaten dinner.

The Welsh boys had been recommended a hostel, Jovitas (which means young ones) so we headed straight there. The hostel was great, with free salsa lessons and free yoga classes!

Cali itself didn’t offer much to tourists. It’s known as the salsa capital of the world and a place to go out. We had lots of laughs trying to salsa and spent a day walking around the town.

 

 

 

 


We all went out on the Friday night but the prices were high and we didn’t stay out that long.

Something we noticed early on in Cali was the number of homeless people. There was obviously money in the city as well, but the gap between well off and poor was huge. There was also quite an unsafe feeling in the city for us, as tourists, so we were more careful when walking around than usual (not that we weren’t usually careful!)

We spent three days in Cali and enjoyed our time but were looking forward to leaving and seeing what else Colombia had to offer.

We decided to fly from Cali to the capital, Bogota. Buses in Colombia were quite expensive compared to the rest of South America and flights were actually very cheap. It worked out to $10 more expensive each for a 45 minute flight instead of a 10 hour bus ride – which would you choose?!?!

Next stop, Bogota.

We know, we know. We may already be back in Oz but our blog is still in Ecuador. We have about eight more blogs to write and will try to finish them off in the next couple of weeks so stay tuned!

We finally booked ourselves in for a jungle trip!!!

We had to catch a night bus through the mountains. The fact that the bus had disco lights made it a little more bearable!

We left cold and rainy Quito at 10pm, somehow managed to sleep a bit and arrived in a little town called Lago Agrio. The town was pretty dodgy as it’s not far from the Colombian border and is a place where drug lords and guerrillas can be found.

We made our way to the meeting spot at a hotel in the town where the other six people in our group and our guide were waiting. We boarded the bus and drove to a tiny river town where we had lunch. One of the towns on the way was having a festival and they happily waved at us as we drove past.

We began our adventure by boarding a small river boat and heading into the jungle.

The scenery was absolutely amazing.

We arrived at our lovely jungle lodge which was to be our home for the next five days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Complete with a resident squirrel monkey named Hugo!

 

 

He was bought from a local family by the lodge when they discovered him being kept as a pet. He is free to come and go but doesn’t really know how to fend for himself in the wild, how sad. They hope to one day introduce him back into the wild completely.

He was a naughty little monkey who stole food and used Bevan as a toilet, but he was super cute.

The following day it rained, as you would expect in the jungle! We were going for a hike, so we got kitted out in our super sexy ponchos…

 

We didn’t see many animals that day as it was raining, but did get to see Tarzan flying past on a vine. Or maybe it was Bevan…

 

Over the next few days we went on trips in the motor boat and canoe and saw lots of wildlife.

There were beautiful flowers….

Awesome insects and spiders…

 

Monkeys…

Caiman…

A sloth, sleeping, as sloths do.

All kinds of birds…

Including some strange looking parrots…

And an awesome confrontation between a scorpion and a frog!

We went piranha fishing…

And put them back afterwards, don’t worry!

We paddled through creepy, dark waters…

Past scary sights…

No folks, that was not a blurry photo… look again. Yes, indeed, that is a tree COVERED in spider webs!! Apparently large colonies of spiders get together and create these monstrosities. Glad we didn’t meet them!

After paddling through the creepy stillness we came out to this amazing view…

It was a hidden lagoon, called the Grass Lagoon. Beautiful, secluded and apparently the place to find anacondas. We didn’t, by the way, but we enjoyed the views all the same.

And got stranded in a tree!

We enjoyed swims in the lagoon at sunset…

YES! With the piranhas, caiman, anacondas, electric eels and other assorted scary animals!

The scariest part was that after the last time we swam in the lagoon, we paddled about 50 metres away and found this fella…

Eeeeek!

We had an amazing time over our five days in the jungle. We relaxed, saw abundant wildlife, and just appreciated the serenity and amazing scenery.

The jungle was our final adventure in Ecuador. We were sad to leave as we had enjoyed the country but were looking very forward to our next destination…. Colombia!

 

 

 

Hemisphere hopping

We left Cotopaxi and headed for the capital of Ecuador, Quito.

We had a little trouble getting out of the driveway at the Secret Garden…

But after a lot of revving, swearing, and crossing of fingers we made it out.

The place we stayed at in Cotopaxi, the Secret Garden, have another hostel in Quito so we headed there as it was late when we arrived. We enjoyed our stay in Cotopaxi so much and were expecting a similar service and feel at the Quito hostel. We were disappointed though, as the prices were much higher and the service was crap. They charged for everything, including internet (which is usually free in South America) and breakfast and the prices were high.

The one nice thing about the hostel was the view from the balcony bar.

After paying too much for beds in a dorm for the night we walked half a block down the road in the morning and found a place with a private double room, free internet and a kitchen we could use for half the price. Much better!

Ecuador is situated right on the equator, with half the county in the northern hemisphere and the other half in the southern hemisphere. We went to the Middle of the World park where we took photos standing in both hemispheres at the same time…

We spent a while walking around the ridiculously touristy site before wandering 200 metres up the road to the ACTUAL equatorial line, where there is a dedicated museum. You would think that the government would have made sure they built their touristy monument in the correct place!

The museum was much more interesting than the official government site. There were experiments set up to demonstrate the gravitational pull of the equator.

There was the water test, where water spins anti-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

Clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere.

And goes straight down on the equator line.

Of course, the test was only for show as you need to be at least six kilometres away from the equator on either side for the water to spin. It was interesting all the same.

We tried balancing on the line with our eyes closed.

Learnt about the clock the ancient tribe from the area used to use.

And had a go at balancing an egg on a nail.

Bevan was very good at it!

And of course, we got to stand on the proper line for another photo!

All in all it was a good, and cheap, day out and worth doing.

It’s lucky we’re getting near the end of the trip as Bevan is getting pretty desperate for some new clothes…

And no matter how used to eating strange animal parts Bevan is becoming, having a foot AND a head in the bottom of his soup bowl was a special occasion!!

The rest of our time in Quito was spent getting ready for our jungle trip, which we had been looking forward to for a very long time!

Hopefully the next blog will include anacondas and tarantulas!!

Friends of ours from PSF had told us about a wonderful backpacker luxury accommodation in high in the Andes just outside of Cotopaxi National Park, called The Secret Garden. Our good friend, James, had volunteered there and other friends had stayed there and they all had nothing but good things to say about their time there.

It was kind of pricey at US$40 each a night but everything was included which made the price all the more reasonable.

We arrived there and were shown to our gorgeous little private cabaña. It was two storey, made of adobe and wood.

There was a little living area in the bottom, with a wood fire, as well as a cute toilet under the stairs and a sunken bath. Up the stairs was the bedroom.

The design was perfect as the heat from the fire went up to the top floor, meaning we were warm all night long.

Included in the price was not only the room, but breakfast, lunch, sunset snacks, dinner, coffee, tea, soft drinks and water. The only thing we had to pay for was alcohol if we wanted it, and any tours.

The views from the rooms were amazing. This is the Cotopaxi volcano. It’s the world’s highest active volcano at 5897 metres.

Here are some of the other amazing volcanoes and mountains we could see.

The hostel had a painting of the surrounding volcanoes and their altitudes.

We went on a day trip to Cotopaxi, involving driving through the national park and hiking to the refuge at the bottom of the glacier.

We couldn’t go on the glacier as the weather had been too warm that day and the snow was too soft. We got to walk a little way on the packed snow.

The views from up there were pretty awesome.

The following day we went horse riding. As it was only the second time Mel had ever ridden a horse (the first time being on FLAT ground near Somers, not mountains) she was understandably nervous. Bevan, having ridden horses many times, was excited to get back on one.

Mel’s horse had recently given birth to a foal – so recent in fact that the foal came with us on our ride!

The foal being there was super cute…

But also incredibly annoying as it would step in front of Mel’s horse when she was trotting and make her stop or it would try to have a drink of milk while we were on the move. Mel and her horse spent most of the ride at the back of the group.

We rode for about three hours to the top of Volcán Rumiñahui…

The weather was cold but not bad for a long ride.

When we reached the top we left the horses just below the summit.

And climbed to the top (4712 metres) for a cup of tea, a piece of cake and a great view.

Once we had regained feeling in our legs we returned to the horses ready to ride back down.

It was a great day and Bevan showed his skills by galloping the last few kilometres home. Mel was proud of herself as she cantered for the first time.

The following day we hiked through some untouched forest for about four hours.

And out into the open (in crappy, wet weather.)

All the way to the top of Volcán Pasachoa at 4100 metres.

The weather was terrible so we had no view from the top. We recovered for a few minutes at the top and then headed back down.

We had a lovely time relaxing in the afternoons with a cup of tea or glass of wine, watching the beautiful sunsets.

We enjoyed our time in the mountains of Ecuador and were very thankful our friends had recommended the place to us. It was a lovely way to live a few days in luxury.

****************** PSF Memories ********************

This is the most loved woman in the whole of Pisco (by the volunteers, anyway!)…..

Cake Lady!!!!

Or Fabiola, as she prefers to be known.

Fabiola lives just up the road from the hosue where the PSF volunteers live. When we arrived in Pisco she sold essential items (bottled water, beer and home made cakes) at very low prices and offered a laundry service.

Fabiola is a super smart lady who has worked out that she can live very comfortably by marketing to the volunteers. The volunteers all love her as she has a great big smile and an even bigger laugh. She is patient with gringos speaking Spanglish and open pretty much all day, every day.

We visited Fabiola almost every day in the four and half months that we were in Pisco and formed a strong relationship with her (Mel is even facebook friends with her now!)

Over the time we were in Pisco she branched out to selling rum, juices, wine, cigarettes and anything else that she noticed the volunteers were buying from other places (smart lady!)

She cooked us lunch the day before we left and we all shed a few tears when it was time to say goodbye.

As you can see, she even put a PSF t-shirt on for our photos when we left!

Fabiola is a happy story of Pisco – someone who has worked out how to get herself ahead and live comfortably. We miss you Fabiola!!

We left the horses just below the summit.