Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Into Ecuador

After taking a brief respite from life on the road, Matt and I bid farewell to Colombia's coffee region and approached what we were warned was one of the most dangerous borders on the planet.  After many police checkpoints and luggage searches, rerouting of the bus route due to a possible car bomb, and the usual incredibly confusing bus terminal changes, we arrived exhausted but safe in Ecuador.  The first stop was Odovallo, a high mountain indiginious town that hosts the largest market in the continent every Saturday.  A morning spent honing my bartering skills in the midst of countless food, artisan crafts, and livestock sales, and I soon had filled my backpack completely.  No more markets for me!

From there, we spent a day in Quito, before escaping the sprawling chaos of the capitol city for the more remote mountain town of Latatunga.  Surrounded by active and inactive volcanoes, we got a few days of great trekking in.  Next, we´re planning on checking out the thermal springs in Banos and possibly volunteering on a farm for a few days before heading to Peru.

It´s hard to believe the trip is already half over.  Time certainly flies, except for during this morning´s endless and over crowded bus ride which found me paying a terrible price for the folly of ingesting some questionable food items for breakfast.  I have been quite cavalier about eating just about everything up to this point, so I guess I deserved it.  Lessons learned: south american busses require an empty stomach and little to no regard for personal safety or space.

Colonial architecture is a trademark of Colombian towns
Picking up some steak for dinner
What looks funnier than a gringo walking around latin America in blue jeans, t shirt, and flip flops? A gringo walking around in blue jeans and native Ecuadorian clothing, of course.
All sorts of fruit and vegetables on offer at the market
View of Quito´s Basilica from our hostel
Hiking around the rim of a 12,000 + foot tall extint volcano
Getting our Indiana Jones on with some river crossings
A market speciality, extremely fresh (and grinning) roasted pork, cut and served to order
Unbeknownst to me, Ecuadorian dogs can fly
Despite being originally turned away for arriving after hours, a friendly security guard let Matt and I in to see the Natural History museam of Popayan, giving us a high speed personalized tour
The Santuario Las Lojas, just before the Colombian Ecuador border.
A small llama farmer´s shelter inside the volcano crater

Sunday, October 21, 2012


After leaving Cartagena and the Caribbean coast behind, Matt and I have been making tracks south towards the Ecuador border.  After a stop in Medellin, where we took a tour of the famous drug wars of the 80s and 90s led by the Cocaine King, Pablo Escobar, we are now in the center of the Colombian coffee region.
Stairs climbing out of Salento


New Friends!

Medellin building car-bombed by the Cali Cartel during the cocaine wars of Pablo Escobar

Magazine article about recent violence in Villa de Leyva.  That was the first town we visited after Bogota

Ever wonder what ripe coffee beans look like?

Don Elias showing us the coffee making process on his farm

And a fresh cup of coffee at the plantation!

Soccer practice getting started between the old Spanish fortress and the Caribbean in Cartagena
Graffiti in a poor neighborhood of Medellin
^Tribute to the community victims of the conflict^

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Some updates since my last post down here in South America:  Although the general idea is to be heading south to Peru, one month in Matt and I are north of our starting point in the old Colonial city of Cartagena.  Hopefully, we will be able to find a night bus tonight and begin heading south.  Other than that, we don´t have a whole lot the way of plans; perhaps and Amazon boat ride to Peru is in order?  Some of the highlights so far have been:                                                                                                                      El Cocuy National Park Trek.  After taking a 10 hour bus ride on dirt roads until the road ended, we stepped out of the bus to a cold crisp morning in a tiny village high in the mountains.  Following a day spent talking to various guides, we set off early the next morning to begin the trek.  First, we had to get to the park, which meant hitching a ride on the milk truck as it made the rounds to the high mountain farms.  Then, we set out on six days of the most amazing backpacking I have ever seen.  Snow fields, soaring mountain peaks, ghostly plants, awe inspiring waterfalls, mountain lakes, and unearthly landscapes greeted us through the intermittent rainy mists and bright sunlight that swept through the mountains.  Meanwhile, Matt and I both struggled to acclimate the lack of oxygen and extremely cold nights that accompanied the 14,000 to 16,000 feet of elevation.  Thankfully, our guide, Edwin, kept up a steady supply of soup and Coca tea for us in camp and kept us from wondering off into the mist from the trail.  In a moment of inspiration, I realized that by skinning the furry bark off of dead high altitude frilejone plants (hundreds of years old), I was able to create another level of insulation for the cold nights in the tent.  All in all, one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences of my life!                                                                          After that, we made swift tracks north to the Carribean coast to recover among the palms and white sands near Santa Marta.  After trying an intro to Scuba diving class among the coral, we found a beach side backpacker and surfer campground where we spent a couple days enjoying fresh coconuts and playing beach volleyball with new friends.  Between hammock time, I was able to get a surfing lesson.  I only managed to successfully stand up for a second or two, but it was loads of fun!       After that, we headed to Cartagena, the Spanish colonial town straight out of a Pirates of the Carribean set (interestingly enough, it´s trademark walls and forts are a result of the multiple pirate attacks over the years).  After spending a couple days wandering the old streets and eating gelatto, we´re ready to hit the road again and begin heading south.  Here´s some of the photos I´ve taken so far, though there are far better ones on Matt´s photo blog at  bogotatolima.tumblr.com

Colombian adventures continued

Old colonial town of Cartagena
And the new city of Cartagena, as viewed from the 17th century fortress guarding the port
trying out some latino flair and style
The small Carribean coastal village of Taganga
Some tunnel exploration
perfecting my coconut husking technique to enjoy a refreshing drink on the beach
never to early for Christmas bears here in Colombia!
hanging out with the local kids in the tiny village of Guyane
The San Filipe fortress in Cartagena
what appears to be large cow tongues in the grocery store, should I try it?
Enjoying a much needed all american breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and eggs after six days of camp food in El Cocuy
Trying scuba diving for the first time, so much fun!
Sun going down over Cartagena, Panama is out there somewhere!
Getting some altitude in the El Cocuy national park with expert local guide, Edwin
A high altitude hidden valley