El Viaje

When Justin and I were in Cordoba we went to the Evita Fine Arts Museum. on our way out our heads turned and our attention was drawn to a rather dark painting of a small bus filled with passengers travelling through the dead of night, traulling through empty land depicted by grey speckles. The only color on the painting was from the two yellow headlights beaming out in front. Somehow, we understood what the painter was trying to communicate. And then we saw the title: El Viaje.

It’s now been a week since we finished our Viaje (‘journey’ in Spanish). Our itineraries have slowed down to a virtual stop, Justin staying in Petaluma, CA and me in Bromsgrove, England. The music that entertained us on the streets, in the corner shops, and in the bars has been replaced with birds tweeting, the rumble of lawn mowers, and the friendly chatter amongst the neighbours (which we can now understand fully!). The views of beaches and small, rather sloppily put together red brick houses are now views of the English or Californian countryside with perfectly put together houses and manicured lawns. The temperature has now dropped so that rather than feeling like your brain is about to boil even at 4:00 in the afternoon, you can leisurely bask in the sun at all hours of the day (surprisingly I’m only talking about England right now since it’s been raining in California). And the ever-changing company of fellow travellers and South American locals is now the solid company of family and old friends.

I posted on Facebook before leaving that I was excited, scared and sad about coming home, and I think that relates to Justin as well. We had been saving for over four years to go on the journey of a lifetime, and the fact that it was coming to an end scared us. We wondered how we would adjust to the Western World after eight months in South America; would it be too quiet, would there be too much order, would we become bored with just being in the same familiar place? On the other hand, we were also excited, dreaming of the foods we would eat first, mine a Cornish pasty, his a deep dish pizza with extra sauce, being able to communicate without any effort, having our own beds and mostly seeing our friends and family.

Over this past week I think we can both say that coming back wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be and have fit back into the more orderly way of life pretty quickly. What does seem surprising is how the last eight months seems more like a dream. It’s crazy to think that last month we were at Sambodromo in Rio, the month before we were sailing around the Galapagos, the month before that we were visiting coffee fincas in Colombia (which makes choosing Colombian coffee a little more fun now), and the month before that we were hiking the Inca Trail. The list of adventures, experiences and journeys we’ve had goes on an on, and will be memories that we will cherish for a lifetime. As well as the adventures, the people we’ve met along the way have added so much to our journey, especially the Buus family, whom we lived with in Bariloche, Carina and Carolina our Spanish teachers in Argentina, Elizabeth our Spanish teacher in Bolivia, Fabiano and Lina who took us in over Christmas so we had a family to spend the holiday season with, and numerous inspiring other travellers. The two that stand out the most we met in Patagonia; one who sailed a small boat from France to Ushuaia with his wife, another is a back country skier who went alone to Glacier National Park and had to cross a treacherous avalanche zone to get to the slope he wanted to ski down. While we thought we were cool travelling around the continent, these guys brought adventure to a whole new level. Then there were the friends we made, some of them we may never see again. And this really is the notion of travelling. One day you could be sat in a hostel chatting away with someone from Israel and the next you could be hiking up a mountain with people from Denmark. Travelling not only provides you with fun memories, but also helps you to cease the day and meet people you may normally just pass on the street.  This is one of the reasons we just couldn’t carry out our original idea of having you help us with our journey, and vote on what we should do next. Our itinerary was too spur of the moment.

Along with the good there is the bad. South America is a third world continent and I feel so privileged to come from England where I can have pretty much whatever I want; clothes, a car, a house. Simple things that we expect, rather than hope for. The governments we have in both the States and the UK are more or less for the people, vs. for themselves. Yes we could argue the other way, but we are so lucky to have education, world class health care, well built houses, roads, and a well organized waste disposal system! I have seen poverty before, but have not had time to absorb it like we did in South America. Yes, there are areas where the standard of living is similar to the UK or the US, but the poor areas are much greater with locals living in tiny brick boxes, most with metal supports sticking out of the top while they save up for a second floor. They don’t just throw their washing in the machines but do it by hand and hang it out to dry by a smoggy road. They throw their rubbish on the floor because they don’t have the education to realize what it does to the environment. Sometimes they don’t use soap, because they don’t have the education to understand about germs. And some still live in fear of guerrillas.  It’s a shame that it is still like this now we are in the 21st century, but unfortunately they were part of the new world that had everything taken from them and left to deal with what was left. Hopefully one day they will be able to find their feet and become competing countries. Brazil is showing signs of change with the upcoming Olympics and World Cup and the fact that it is one of the BRIC countries, however they still have a long way to go.

One of the travellers we met described South America as a wonderland and I couldn’t agree more; from a continent long mountain range, to wide, flat salt lakes; from jungles to deserts; from the world’s largest glacier to tiny hot pools; coffee, wine and cachaca; friendly wildlife and unsure tribal people; South America has so much to offer. I hope that Justin and my journey has educated you, inspired you and one day maybe we shall meet somewhere in the world. We only get one life, and we only take with it memories so go Shadow Travellers and explore!


Beach Bumming in Brazil

As the sun sets in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, the sun also sets on our South American adventure and it is now time to re-enter the real world. Well somewhat.

Our last few weeks were spent bumming around on the Brazilian beaches. After the hype and energy of Carnival in Rio, we headed back out to the house my parents had rented for some relaxation, however Carnival still continued in the little town of Ponta Negra. Cars with huge sound systems (really it should be sound systems with cars) blasted out the latest tunes 24 hours a day. Residents of Rio who came to this little village to escape Carnival took over, storming supermarkets, camping in the fields, sunbathing in thong bikinis and speedos and drinking by the river. As we were up on the hill, we were able to get a comfortable mix of joining in with the locals and relaxing by our private pool. Life wasn´t too bad. My brother and I had a fun night at the local fun fair, although we did feel a little old, so went to the bar and watched some slightly uncomfortable Brazilian karaoke. We also celebrated my Mum´s 60th Birthday, where she enjoyed a relaxing pool day, followed by a BBQ of Filet Mignon and many caiphirinias. One of the highlights of the day was the gift my Dad gave to her. Have you ever heard of wing walking and flight acrobatics? He got her a ride, strapped to the top of the plane where she can do different acrobatics should she choose too, at over 10,000 ft in the air and over 100 miles an hour! That is a sight I can´t wait to see!

After Ponta Negra we headed back down south to Ilha Grande, a mountainous island covered in jungle. The boat journey there was picturesque, sailing by other islands with hidden private beaches, yachts floating in the ocean, and mountainous scenery surrounding us.  After the ride, the island didn´t disappoint. Thank god as it was pricey enough after Carnival. There is one main town on the island, which is a little overdeveloped with pousadas built almost on top of each other. When you get out of the town and away from the tourists you are able to really appreciate the island, hiking through the trails, taking in the wildlife and incredible views, and relaxing on the long beaches. We spent a well deserved three nights relaxing and eating some good grub at Biergarten (yeah I know it´s not very Brazilian but it was nice to move away from the typical rice and beans). We also discovered Acai (ass-sci-ee) and have not looked back. It´s a superfood berry found in the jungle in Brazil that is whisked into a tasty thick smoothie that you eat with banana, guarana, honey and granola. However we were a little sad to discover that it is full of calories. We only found this out after eating 300ml per day per person for a week! No wonder why my shorts were feeling a little tight.

In need of some exercise we headed to Paraty, a colonial town made up of colorful houses and cobblestone streets that are a little hard to walk on. Away from town is the famous Penha waterfall. The waterfall is a little unconventional whereby it flows over a huge rock which is fun to slide down. If you´re a local you´re a little crazy and will run, jump and slide down on your feet! We had to see this so met our friend´s James, Ann, Taq and Meg and biked the 9km gradual uphill in over 30 degree heat to go see it. After the bike ride, the cool water was very refreshing and we spent the afternoon acting like kids sliding down the waterfall, followed by some more acai.

A 40 minute bus ride from Paraty is Trindade, a tiny beach side town with dramatic scenery reminiscent of Parque Tyrona in Colombia. The town offers a few restaurants and some hippy shops, but the beaches are what you come for (but beware there are nudist beaches too, just in case this isn´t your thing), and the waterfalls. We stayed at a hostel owned by a Brit (unfortunately the hostel was a little on the grimy side so wouldn’t really recommend) who is extremely excited about showing the locals the area. He ended up taking us to a waterfall where we could hide in a cave, get swallowed up by a rock, and a slide down a small water slide. I think he likes playing like a big kid every day, and it was fun to join in with him. That night we ended up at a bar on the beach looking up at the clear night sky covered in stars.

Ready for some more city life we headed back to Rio for a couple of nights and back to our favorite hostel in the world, Bossa in Rio. I swear this place could be a boutique hotel. This time Rio was much quieter, both for us and the city. One of the nights we headed up into Santa Teresa and dined at Espirito Santa, a lovely little restaurant overlooking the old mansions. Here we had our favorite meal of the trip yet; heart of palm stuffed fish, wrapped in collard greens, and drizzled with banana cream sauce. It´s a dish from the north of brazil and  was to die for! After that and dessert, we were pretty much in a food coma, so went back to our lovely room and passed out. We had grand plans for the following day, until we ended up bumping into our friend Fran whom we spent New Year’s eve with. She is such a comedian and we spent the day laughing ourselves around Ipanema and Copacobana. The beaches in Rio are a whole other story, with men (all without shirts on) exercising at the workout areas, women walking up and down in thong bikinis (doesn´t matter of the size), and both genders always posing. There are stalls set up along the praia´s selling coconut juices, signs with misters to cool you off, and vendors selling colourful sarongs, just in case you feel like covering up. It was definitely some fun people watching.

Sadly after two days our time in Rio ended and we endured our last long bus trip of 30 hours up to Itacare, a small surfer town. This is a town you can get really comfortable in, if you have the time. You can take surf lessons, there are plenty of restaurants and many beaches to check out. At this point our tans were coming along just nicely! Since we were in Brazil, and doing so much beach time, I decided to get a Brazilian…I´ve only had one in the past and forgot how painful it can be. For about 20 minutes the spa lady ripped and giggled at me, as I screamed. Not sure if I´ll be back too soon! But at least I was ready for the beach now!

Also in Itacare you can learn or watch the famous Brazilian dance called capoeira, created by the African slaves. The dance is made up of moves that are somewhat like karate or jujitsu. One night we went to a show and saw them swing their legs up, do somersaults, and move to the beating music. It was an interesting experience, although it didn´t grab me as much as salsa!

Our last beach stop was on Morro do Sao Paulo, which turned out to be a very touristy island with mainly young Israelis who just finished their term of service and are ready to party! We were able to escape the crowds hiking past the fourth beach on the island and chilling out in the hot pools. When the tide goes out, small pools are created between the coral and the water quickly heats up in the 35 degree plus heat. We also walked to Gamboa and on the way found a clay pit. Now men, I know this is the stereotypical dream that never really happens, but about two minutes after we got there a bunch of Argentinian girls came up, started rolling around in it, wrestled and even started climbing on top of each other! True story. Justin got a picture to share with his male friends out there (although he was too shocked to take it while they were wrestling). Back in town we bumped into a friend we met in Itacare and finished off our last night at a beach party, slurping on a delicious juice and vodka drink.

Final stop of the trip was Salvador, Brazil´s third largest city. We checked into a lovely hotel to treat ourselves and took in what the city had to offer, a  UNESCO world heritage site, more beaches, and some good restaurants. Unfortunately, the beauty of the Pelourinho is contrasted by the beggars that surround Praca de Se. Nothing is hidden here and you can see little kids on crack and prostitutes at 7am in the morning. I guess it´s like the Tenderloin of San Francisco. This shouldn´t put you off coming though, as the people are still friendly and there´s so much to see. The first night we arrived (a Tuesday) there was a concert. Apparently this happens every Tuesday in the Pelourinho. We enjoyed seeing the locals dance, and listening to a mixture of music. Just outside of the Pelourinho is the huge elevator that connects the upper city with the lower city. Originally it was built to transport goods from the port, but now is a part of the people´s commute here. From the lower city you can take a bus out to Bon Fim, a church where the locals started tying ribbons to the gate and making three wishes. The brightly colored ribbons look like a skirt surrounding the church. Since it was the end of our trip, we thought it suitable to make some wishes and took part in this tradition. We also checked out the Barra district where the beaches are located (I think we´re turning into beach lovers), and saw some brilliantly made sand sculptures, and took in our last sunset which incorporated an applause from the locals.

Today has been a day of emotions, being the last day, and the day that Justin and I go our separate ways (well for a little while). He is now on his way back to SF and I, in an hour, to London. So now to England where the story will finish…don´t worry, there will be one more blog!


Carnival is a continent-wide celebration that starts on a Saturday and ends on Fat Tuesday.  The most famous Carnival celebrations are in Brazil, with Rio de Janeiro and Salvador de Bahia being the top cities to spend these crazy four days. We chose Rio to spend our Carnival as my Mum wanted to experience it for her 60th Birthday. And boy was it crazy!!

As with everything, there´s always a story, and unfortunately ours was because of accommodation. The house that we had rented, which was meant to be just outside of Rio, turned out to be 2.5 hours away on the bus! Arghh! Fortunately, the location of the house was lovely, on top of a hill with expansive views of curving beaches, the ocean and lagoons, which made my parents happy. Also my brother, Justin and I found a hostel, miraculously, that was in the city, which we stayed at for a few nights so we could get into the vibe of Carnival.

Our first experience was collecting our tickets for Sambodromo. I have never seen such a colourful ticket office, with streamers, and masks and women dressed up in typical Carnival gear. My Dad and Andrew got right in and had a photo taken with one of the women.  You could feel the excitement in the room, ready for the following days of craziness.

I had thought that Carnival was mainly about the Sambodromo, and that the costumes were mainly for the women, who wore head dresses full of feathers and very skimpy clothing. However this is not the case. The streets of Rio are filled with different ´Blocos´, which are block parties or beach parties entertained by bands on huge floats. There are probably about 20 of these that happen each day. People mostly dress up, but the costume tended to just be a hat or a wig, or a mask. To get an idea of what its like, imagine Bay to Breakers throughout the whole of San Francisco for four days straight. It was a PARTY! We went to a couple of Blocos, and a huge beach party down on Ipanema. If I was to come back again (which I proberly will, if anyones interested)  I would research latest Brazilian songs and dances because sometimes it felt like you were an observer, when the crowd started dancing around randomly. However we just got a few more caiphirinas and beers down our neck and carried on dancing.

Also in Rio there are different balls you can go to. We went to the Samba Ball at Scala, which meant a night of dancing for 6 hours again and we didn’t get home till 5 am. We saw three different bands and then the costumed ladies came on at the end to show us their moves. It was so colorful and a night suited for all, even for the older lady that seemed to take a liking to Andrew, and Manuel who kept buying Justin drinks. I think my mask might have scared people away.

As much as the block parties are crazy, and the balls are fun, Sambodromo takes the cake and is something everyone should experience at least once in their life. The dancers and bands parade themselves down the purpose built avenue and bleachers to dancing and singing crowds. The parades start at around 10pm and go until 5am, with each band having an hour to show off their music, different costumes and floats. The music was lively, the costumes were incredible and the floats were unbelievable! If this was done in the western world it just wouldn´t be the same since everyone would be worried about waste. Here they just go all out and you will never see anything so indulgent in your life. If you go, the first parade will be the best, just because of this, however, even as amazing as it is, after the third or fourth parade it does begin to get a little samey. We chose to leave after the fourth so as not to ruin the thrill of it all.

Even though the city offers Carnival, we couldn´t forget about seeing the other sites it had to offer. We headed up to the Christ Redeemer statue and took in the gorgeous views over the city, the surrounding mountains, islands and ocean, drank from coconuts in Ipanema beach, climbed up the mosaic stairs in Lapa, admired the artistic grafity adorning concrete walls and imagined what it would be like to live in one of the beautiful mansions in Santa Teresa during Rio´s hay day. I would have to say that Rio is my favourite city in South America and cannot wait to go back. However now to the beach!

Back to the East Coast

Yet again it´s been a while since I last wrote, and yet again we´ve been busy with our adventure taking us back to Argentina, and on to Uruguay and Brazil. After having a blast with the wedding in Lima, we headed to Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America. Our first impressions were a little hazed. It was windy and rubbish was getting blown in our faces, we had to dodge piles of dog poo on the streets (a big problem in BA), and navigate ourselves around the sly little lily pads, the tiles that were not fully secured and if stepped on would reward you with little splashes of dirty rain water on the back of your leg. Not only did we have to navigate the pavements, we also had to be mindful of those annoying overhanging air conditioner systems that spit little droplets of dirty water on you from above.

All that aside Buenos Aires was a wonderful experience. Walking around the different little neighbourhoods feels like you have been transported out of South America with the sounds of tango music flowing around the Parisian style architecture. Our first night was stereotypical BA, sat in a plaza in San Telmo watching tango dancers provide entertainment to the locals and the tourists. Loving the dance we headed towards La Boca, a working class port neighbourhood where the dance originates. The buildings there are a palette of reds, yellows and blues, providing a vibrant background for the very sensual dance. Also in the La Boca neighbourhood is the home of the not so sensual Boca Juniors football club, where the massive stadium towers over the town. Later in the week we headed back over to the stadium to experience a game and watch Palermo´s last match. We were told that we would have a separate section for tourists to make sure we wouldn´t be in the middle of any riots, but no, we were in the bleachers! Fortunately it was just a friendly so the mood was more relaxed. There were fireworks, bands and chanting. There were even flares, although I have no idea how they got in as you aren´t alowed to bring in lighters! The noise and mood were incredible and we stomped and sang the night away.

Palermo, another district of Buenos Aires is the artsy, trendy district, filled with small boutiques and a smorgasbord of restaurants. We spent the day wandering round the friendly neighbourhood, tasting some of its cuisine (delicious tacos!) and went to the Evita Museum. The museum is well set up, describing her life and how she contributed to the Argentinians. It´s amazing what she accomplished, fighting for healthcare, orphans, and women, all before she passed away at 33. She is buried at Recolleta Cemetery, another place we visited. The cemetery is saved for the famous dignitaries of Argentina and is almost a town in itself. The tombs range in size, usually from medium to XXXL, and are ornately decorated. Imagine a town only compiling of tiny churches and this is Recolleta Cemetery. It was an interesting visit, but almost a little bit creepy too. Back over in Palermo, Justin and I took part in a tango lesson! It turns out that Justin does have some moves, and after a little direction by our teacher he was swinging me around the dance floor (well that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but he was doing well). After the lesson we watched the locals who had been mastering tango for most of their lives seduce their partners. After the tango, the salsa lesson started and I think Justin had enough of dancing for one night so we left. However there will be more dancing to come!

Avenida de Mayo, in the center of BA is also an interesting road, cutting by different government buildings, famous cafes and ending at Plaza de Mayo where the Pink House (President Cristina Fernandez´s house) is located. Close to here is Puerto Madero, which has recently been regenerated with new buildings and the famous Puente de la Mujer, a bridge straddling River Plata. Over here we thought we would give the Argentinian steak another go since the meat we have been tasting hasn´t been the best we´ve ever had. Going to La Cabana, the top place to go for steak in Buenos Aires it didn´t disapoint, however I still think the steak I have had in San Francisco is better. Sorry Argentina!

Finishing up with Buenos Aires, we headed by boat over to Uruguay. Our first stop was Montevideo, which turned out to really be just another big city. We stayed here a night before moving on. We did get to see a couple of movies being filmed, one a period drama and another for a video game. Next stop was out in the Uruguayan countryside that was reminiscent of California, rolling green fields with Eucalyptus trees. We stayed at an estancia and pretty much lazed around for two days and caught up on some sleep. I did get to do some horse riding, which was a fun experience. I went Guacho style riding with the owner. I know how to ride English style, but Guacho is a whole other ball game. I did however get to gallop and the horse I was on was brilliant, listening to my every move. When you see the photos please excuse my bike helmet. They hadn´t ordered the riding helmets yet!

Our last stop in Uruguay was in Colonia do Sacramento. The name says it all really. A beautiful colonial town with little restaurants and boutiques. The historic center is actually a World Heritage Site. Here we spent the afternoon wandering the streets and enjoying some Freddo´s icecream!

Done with cities and architecture, we headed north to Iguazu Falls, Mother Natures work. After another long bus ride, our 16th over-nighter, we arrived in Puerto Iguazu, a tiny town made for the tourists. After checking in to our hostel, we headed to the Brazilian side of the falls. That was a shock, the first time in 6.5 months that we haven´t been able to communicate a thing! We thought that with Spanish and English we would get by, but it turns out they don´t know much of either! Hey ho, it was a warm up before heading across the border for Carnival. This side gives you an incredible panoramic view of the falls and allows you to take in how enormous they actually are.

The next day we met up with my parents, Liz and Adrian and brother, Andrew, who had flown in for my Mum´s 60th birthday. Even though in mostly good spirits, they´d had an arduous journey from England, being told that they were on standby for their flight, most of their luggage being delayed by three days so my Mum only had a turtle neck sweater to wear, and then their landing being aborted when arriving to Iguazu. As you can imagine, they were ready to just chill. The following day we headed to the Argentinian side, which allows you to get up close and personal with the falls. You can even do a boat ride. If you think the Maid of the Mist at Niagra is a waterfall boat ride, you haven´t done the Iguazu Falls boat ride, which literally takes you right under the falls and gives you a proper soaking. Great at the start of the day to give you a break from the intense heat! Over on this side of the falls, you can spend the whole day hiking the different trails to get various perspectives. The most incredible was Diablo de Garganta, which allows you to pretty much stand on top of the strongest part of the falls. This is where you get a real appreciation of how powerful they are, and how you really don´t want to have a go at falling over the edge!

Finishing up our time in Argentina, we went out for another Parilla (a grill) and found that the chicken was extremely tasty.

Now on to Brazil for Carnival!

The Wedding

We’re back in Lima! The reason….for Catie and JuanCarlos’ big day. And what a celebration it was. We arrived last Sunday to spend some time with the happy couple. Like us, their plans are up in the air, so we figured we’d better catch them while we could. It was also a great opportunity to explore the city and its surroundings, and taste some of the delicious food it has to offer. However I still need to try Cuy (guinea pig) before we leave tonight.

The most popular area of Lima is Miraflores and is very up and coming. It’s full of top class hotels, luxury high rise apartment buildings overlooking the ocean and fitness trails running along the cliff. There are also plenty of fine dining restaurants. One of the most popular groups is owned by Gaston Acurio, a famous chef from Lima who actually owns La Mar in San Francisco. One night we went to Madam Tusan, a Chinese restaurant (OK, so not Peruvian, but so worth it) and enjoyed a bountiful display of noodles, sweet and sour chicken and stir fried vegetables. It was delicious and a refreshing change to our usual diet.

We also ventured outside of Miraflores and headed to Barranco. This little region is full of Peruvian charm with colorful architecture, a plaza and small little streets with cafes. We came over here one night to watch the stunning sunset over the ocean. Unfortunately there weren’t as many cuisine options over unless you went to the main touristy restaurants. Another big attraction in Lima is the Parque de la Reserva which holds the Circuito Magico del Agua, a fountain park. This is extremely popular with the locals who are looking for entertainment for their kids or just to cool off during the hot days. The park is filled with all different types of fountains; you can run through them, walk under them in a water tunnel, or just simply watch them. They even have a lazer show and music. Yes it’s a bit cheesy, but good fun too.

If you want to venture out to some nice beaches (the ones in Lima are a little rocky), then you can go south to Punta Hermosa or Rocas. There’s also good surf in that direction so Justin wanted to check it out. We took the bus, which is more or less easy to do, but we got a little confused as to where to go and ended up paying S45 on the way there and only S15 to get back. Whoops! The beaches south of Lima are long and the towns surrounding them seem pretty dead. It’s almost like you’re walking into a ghost town. I think this is different on the weekends. Fortunately we found a nice little spot in Punta Rocas with deck chairs and ceviche!

The rest of our time in Lima was spent on the wedding, getting nails done, renting suits, rehearsals and of course parties! On the Friday night before the wedding the happy couple had a welcome party on the roof top at the Radisson, where we enjoyed a few glasses of champagne and meeting their international friends and familes. However we couldn’t stay out too late because I was a bridesmaid and I had to get up at 5:00am the next day. Ouch!

Then finally it was Saturday. Their big day! Preparations started early with hair and make up. In Peru the tradition of bridesmaids doesn’t exist, so the three of us (Cynthia, Julianna, and I) were getting a few strange looks all morning as people tried to figure out why we were all wearing the same thing. After we were ready it was time to get Catie into her dress, and after about 20 minutes of pushing, pulling and tying her corseted dress she was looking stunning. It’s so funny to think of the bubbly girl I met 8 years ago in Boston, who is now a sophisticated woman (well some times). After photos we left Catie and her mum, and headed to the church. The church is only five years old and is in an unusual modern cone design, however still has the traditional feel on the inside. Nerves were starting to build between us, hoping that no-one  tripped going down the aisle and the timing. Church’s here are very strict on timing. If you are late then they will start without you. So, as a bride, you could be walking down the aisle to only the priest conducting mass, rather than music. Fortunately Catie arrived on time and the ceremony started without a glitch, however half of the guests didn’t get the memo and still arrived in Peruvian style; 30 minutes late.  After the ceremony there is a greeting line. Sometimes the greetings can go on for 1.5 hours! Fortunately their greeting line only lasted 30 minutes. Well with some help from us and the encouragement of champagne we were able to lure a few gringos away from the line. Then it was off to the party.

Catie and JuanCarlos were whisked away in their black Mercedes Benz off to Mamacona, the location of the wedding. We followed in our bus, which got side swiped by another car on the way. Tally of broken down busses, 4. Fortunately we only had to wait 30 minutes on the side of the road and then we were on our way again. Arriving into Mamacona, you start to wonder where the hell you are going. The road is dusty, there isn´t much surrounding it, and the area just seems a bit industrial. But when we pulled into the ranch, we were welcomed by the beautiful open air tent with flowers in abundance, colorfully decorated tables, a huge bar and a relaxing lounge area. In Peru the weddings don’t include a formal sit down dinner, but rather different food stations throughout the day. This also means that the party starts right away, at 2:30! There was also a bottle of whiskey on each table. I knew this party was going to be fun. With our sensible hats on we started with the food and it was delicious, ceviche, cheese, and passed hors d’oeuvres of asparagus and anticucho (cow heart, wasn’t really for me). Later on we had a buffet of shrimp, pork, tamales, rice, and then later on there were pork sandwiches.

The newly weds kicked off the party with a waltz with each other and then their parents, and then the bridesmaids and groomsmen joined in while they played Home by Edward Sharpe. After that I don’t think I left the dance floor. We all pretty much danced for six hours straight. It was so fun to see the mix of cultures on the dance floor, with a mix of rock ‘n’ roll, salsa, and then dance. At around 6:00pm they had a crazy hour. This is typical in Peru to liven up the party (not that it needed it). They had a guy on stilz, a jester, masks and hats for everyone and balloons. And the crowd went crazy! We danced, we did the limbo and we did the conga. Full of energy, the groomsmen were ready for another Peruvian tradition, to throw the bride and groom in the air. Chatting at the bar I see JuanCarlos high up in the air. That can’t be right….and then Catie! Unfortunately I was too shocked and forgot to get my camera out. The day turned into night, the drink kept flowing, the tunes kept playing and we were sad when 10pm rolled around and we had to go home (however I think everyone’s feet were happy).

What a great experience to be a part of. Congratulations Catie and JuanCarlos Estrella! We wish you a lifetime of joy, happiness and love.

Now off to Buenos Aires.

Pachamama’s Gift: The Galapagos

After much partying and a little bit of a hangover, we left our lovely mansion hostel in Cali, Colombia and carried on south for Ecuador. Back on the ice cube with wheels (bus), we had another break down (our third) which put us behind about three hours. Not bad considering we had a blown tire in the middle of nowhere and our driver had to make the change in the pouring rain. However the comparitively short delay, lead to a monsterous delay at the border between Colombia and Ecuador. When crossing borders in South America, you have to actually exit one country before entering another. Because of the time of year (holiday season) and the fact that there was a huge festival in Pasto, Colombia, it meant that what seemed like all of Ecuador were emigrating to Colombia for the party, while the whole of Colombia were escaping for some peace. Hence we were in line for five hours at the Colombian border just to exit the country and then another four hours at the Ecuadorian border to enter. Painful! And even more so when stuck next to a Commi from Austria who argued that someone working at McDonalds should be paid the same as a Surgeon. That was a fun debate. However we did have a rubix cube fanatic on the other side of us who entertained us with his skills for a while. Finally we made it through, then just had to take another three hour bus to Otavalo. OK Ecuador has the award for craziest drivers now.

We stayed in Otavalo for a couple of nights, and enjoyed the tranquil setting. The town is famous for its large markets on Saturdays. Unfortunately we weren’t there on a Saturday, however there are tons of stores where you can buy local crafts, or Hollister and Aeropostal products. I’m sure the latter two are real. After walking round the town, we decided to head up to the famous Cuicocha Lake. Ecuador is full of volcanoes. In Otavalo alone there were four surrounding the town. The Cuicocha Lake is actually a huge crater, about 3km wide and 200 meters deep. On a clear day you can see the top of the volcanoes, islands and the lake.

From Otavalo we headed to Quito to get ready for our Galapagos tour. However little did we know the flights we thought were confirmed, were never actually booked. We found this out at 7pm the night before we were to fly at 9am the next day. Strike 1! After a few swear words, tears, and frustration, we (I) pulled ourselves together and submitted to buying some more flights for the following day at twice the price. Hey ho, it’s only money right? Trying to not let the situation taint our experience in Quito, we started to explore the city and were surprised to see how modern it is. There’s a huge swanky mall, nice restaurants and the architecture in Old Town has been well kept. The Church of the Society of Jesus was incredible. The interior is covered in gold leaf and is gleaming. Apparently it took 160 years to build and I can see why. Finishing our time in Quito, we headed out for some real Ecuadorian food at Mama Calinda, which to be fair was not far from our typical Menu del Dia, however very tasty.

Next morning we woke up early for our 6am flight to the Galapagos. I had butterflies in my stomach like a little kid going to Disneyland. So many people we met had raved about the islands, and now it was our turn to go. We were so excited that we turned up at the airport before I think the airport had even opened. After a couple of hours of waiting, we borded the plane and headed off. The flight out of Quito was dramatic and we flew up in between the mountains and the famous Vulcan Cotapaxi. (Perfect, saves us from doing the 2 day hike up there!) Fortunately this flight was larger than our other mountain bearing flight. They even had TV screens in the back of all of the chairs. We flew with Aerogal which is a lesser known airline but extremely comfortable. Three hours later we arrived at Baltra, the main airport on the Galapagos. To enter the Galapagos tourists need to pay $100. We had asked our travel agent if we needed to bring cash or if there was a cashpoint at the airport. In true South American style we were told the wrong information, and so turned up without cash expecting to find an ATM. And of course they don’t take credit cards. Strike 2! After being made to stand in the corner while everyone else passed us by, looked at like we were stupid and shouted at a bit, they finally took one of our passports and we just had to pay at the Charles Darwin Research Center in Santa Cruz (where the main town is). Apparently this happens all the time, so god knows why they needed to make us feel stupid.

Taking the bus from the Airport to Puerto Ayora, we crossed through the different types of landscape between Baltra and Santa Cruz. It surprised me how dry everything was in the first part of the journey, but then how green it gets in the highlands. The islands are not tropical at all like I had expected, and on a whole are pretty dry and arid. The first wildlife we saw was a huge pelican that greeted us at the dock when crossing the canal between Baltra and Santa Cruz. It amazed me how comfortable he was around humans. I could have probably reached out and touched him (although he would have probably pecked me first). The other amazement, was more of a negative. In my head, I have envisioned the Galapagos Islands as an environmental icon. A place that should be looked up to and copied in tourism and in conservation. However pulling up to Puerto Ayora you still see rubbish in the streets. Santa Cruz isn’t as bad as Isabella (which we visited later on) where there were beer bottles on the beach and rubbish underneath the stones. Unfortunately the South American culture and lack of education is still apparent in the Galapagos, even with the amount of money going into the World Heritage Site. Talking to one of the guides, it seems that, as with all South America, there is a lot of corruption between the organizations. The exorbitant amount of money coming in from tourists every day (the $100 entry fee) and the donations are being embezzled rather than being put to use and educating people. You would think there would also be a visitor center to inform tourists about the park and the discoveries of Charles Darwin, however the Charles Darwin Research Center is just that, and doesn’t really educate the people. I also thought that the islands had remained relatively untouched, however Sailors brought goats and rats, mosquitos came with bananas, and a US Army base was built on Baltra during the Second World War. Fortunately now they have more or less irradicated the rats, and have restricted farming areas. There are still mosquitos however we never had a problem with them.

Whining aside, the islands are still incredible and we were ready to explore them. When we arrived in Puerto Ayora we headed straight to Joybe Tours to try out our luck with a last minute cruise. Although we were lined up for strike 3, we hit the ball out of the park and scored with a four night cruise on a first class boat, The Monserrat. Our boat was spacious, our group was fun and surprisingly all around our age (turns out everyone doing the 4 night deal had booked the day before, like us), the food was delicious, our beds were comfy and the shower was probably one of the best showers we had in our trip. And our itinerary was perfect. We started off at Bachus Beach on Baltra which was our first taste of Galapagos sand, which I have to say is the softest, whitest sand you will ever see. Here we were welcomed by Red Crabs scuttling across the black rocks, Iguanas sunbathing, and Turtles mating in the sea. Apparently turtles can mate for up to an hour! Talk about stamina! We also saw a Blue Heron fishing in a little lagoon. After checking out the land wildlife it was time to get in the water and do a spot of snorkeling, however unfortunately the water was a bit cloudy so we decided to just swim instead. After a while we headed back to the boat to watch the fabulous sunset on deck.

Day two and Justin woke me up bright and early to watch the moon go down and the sun come up over Santiago and Bartolome. These two islands have to be my favorite, number one because of the amazing snorkeling and number two because of the incredible landscapes. This is where you can get the famous shot of the Pinnacle Rock. This was also an incredible experience for us as there were only two boats, which meant there were only 30 people in the whole area. Our daily itinerary was breakfast, walking, snorkeling, rest, lunch, walking, snorkeling and dinner. Our walks this day were up to a view point to take in the breath taking vistas and then over to Santiago to admire the artwork done by the volcano. The rope like patterns of the lave flows mixed in with the colours of the minerals was nothing we had ever seen before. It’s hard to believe that goats were able to live out there. After both of the walks it was good to refresh in the water and explore the life of the sea. On the rocks penguins were relaxing taking in the view, but underneath the water was a colorful array of yellows, blues, purples, pinks, greens all floating, or darting past us. We swam with turtles and followed their movements going down to the sand to nibble some food and then up to the surface to get a quick breath of air. A lone Blue starfish clung to a rock while the King Angel fish swam in rehearsed unison surrounding the corral. A Diamond Stingray hid quietly buried in the sand as a White Tipped Galapagos Shark quickly appeared and then vanished into the depths of the sea. The water was bathtub warm, and immaculately clear. I always freak out a little when submerging myself in open water (Justin takes to it like a fish), but after this experience I didn’t even want to get out.

The next stop, after a rather rocky overnight journey across the equator, was to Genovesa, one of the northern islands. This island is pretty much a sanctuary for birds, although the sea lions are invited too. Here we saw an abundance of Frigate birds, the pirates of the sea, flying around, the famous Blue and Red Footed Boobies (I was tempted to by the very touristy t-shirt ‘I love Boobies’ but I withheld myself), Tropic Birds, Mockingbirds, Pelicans, and the legendary Finches. I can’t believe how the birds are so comfortable with you. You have to be careful you don’t step on them. Especially the Blue Footed Boobies. They seemed as interested in us as we do in them. In the afternoon we went to see the sea lions who seem to just love sunbathing all day and being looked after by their Alpha Male. The poor guy is constantly swimming around his territory, calling out, and having to chase the odd male who dares to try and get into the lare. Snorkeling was an experience this day, swimming in the ocean while birds are dive bombing for fish right next to you. We also had fun jumping off the boat and watching sharks and manta rays swim by.

Our last main day was at a couple of the southern islands, Santa Fe and Plaza. The water at Santa Fe was incredibly clear. You could see the bottom 40 foot below. This is where a huge sea lion colony lives. Arriving on shore we were welcomed by a chorus of sea lion pup vomiting sounds as they were playing with each other in the nursery. The pups don’t make the traditional arghh-arghh sound. Unfortunately, just as everything was seeming happy at the Galapagos, Darwinism was at play and we saw a poor little seal pup crying for its Mum. Unfortunately the Mum was probably attacked by a shark, and the pup wouldn’t last through the night.

Santa Fe is famous for its huge cactus trees, and the Hybrid Iguanas created by male Mairne Iguana and female Land Iguana. Also the Land Iguanas here are yellowish which is diiferent to the normal dark colour. After our walk around the island it was time to jump in the water, however when we went back to the boat to grab our gear, Sammi and Tommy from our group spotted a Bull Shark in the water. Apparently these are more dangerous than Great Whites! So we changed our plans and headed back to shore to snorkel from there. However then we had to deal with the Alpha Male Sea Lion. Justin and I waited on the land while some of the others went in. After about 15 minutes and all was OK, we took the dingy and met them. We swam with a turtle and also watched the sea lions dart passed us.

Plaza Island was our last stop before heading back to Santa Cruz for our last night. The red fauna here, mixed in with the cactus trees was stunning. We enjoyed watching more of the sea lion habits, visited the bachelor pad for the sea lion males, and admired the view. Back in Santa Cruz, we went to shore to enjoy a fairwell drink, and well enjoy a drink since beers were $5 on the boat! The next morning we headed to the Charles Darwin Station where they are breeding turtles and said goodbye to the group.

Justin and I had decided to just stay on the Galapagos rather than heading back to the mainland, so that afternoon took a boat out to Isabella. Here you can see the volcanoes and the second largest crater in the world at Vulcan Sierra Negra. The last eruption was in 2005 and they are waiting for another one to happen here soon. We also did some snorkeling and saw a shark, although it was nothing compared to what we had done on the cruise. We finished our time on the Galapagos back on Santa Cruz, staying at a lovely hostel, and going to Las Grietas, a lava tunnel which is a cool area to go snorkeling, and Bahia Tortuga, which has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

After ten days we were sad to leave the Galapagos, especially when we had to go to Guayaquil, a huge ugly city. However we will be back one day. We are now back in Peru getting ready for the wedding, and have enjoyed surfing in Huanchaco, the beautiful town of Trujillo and catching up with Catie and Juan Carlos in Lima. Two days to go for the wedding!

Colombia: The Fiesta

It’s been a while since I last posted a blog, and while I am sorry, I’m pleased to say that we have been enjoying the fiesta life of Colombia…maybe a little too much!

After travelling through Peru and Bolivia, it was refreshing to arrive in Bogota, the capital of Colombia. While we did not have any luck with the weather (terrential rains in the dry season) we had great experiences with the people and the city. The second of December kicks off Christmas season down here with the turning on of the lights. Justin and I strolled through the elite section of Bogota called Zona Rosa. The modern buildings are filled with trendy clothes stores, restaurants offering high end cuisine and bars packed with Colombians ready for a party. The vibe here, and in all of Colombia is so alive and exciting to be a part of. The people are friendly and have a sincere interest in other travellers. Tourism is still new so they are not sick of us yet! That night we got right into the swing of things and headed on out meeting up with a friend, Alan, who we met in Cusco. He was staying with his friend Fabiano, a Colombian, who, along with his friend Lina ended up being our tour guides while we were in Bogota. They took us to the amazingly colourful eight story salsa club called Andres! This was a melting pot of different generations just having a good time and doing what they do best, Salsa!

As I mentioned above, Fabiano and Lina became our tour guides taking us to see the different Christmas lights in a small town called Usaquen, which has now been swallowed by Bogota’s urban sprawl. The Colombians go all out with the festive decorations, and parks all over the country are full of Alice in Wonderland multicolored lights. They even have fake snow that is sprayed every now and then which both children and adults alike go crazy for. Fabiano also invited us over to his Uncle and Aunt’s house where we enjoyed Onces. Onces happens every Sunday. Family and friends get together and enjoy hot chocolate, cheese and bread. They even enjoy dipping their cheese in the hot chcoloate as we would dunk biscuits. As with all Colombians, the family welcomed us in and we spent the evening chatting away.

While we were in Bogota we also visited Monserat, a cathedral over looking the city.Unfortunately we chose to visit on a Sunday, along with 90% of Bogota. We could only stand the crownds for 15 minutes. We also visited the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira. The cathedral is in a mine which is still functioning today and was initially built as a pilgrimage. The new cathedral was built in 1995 and has an artsy feel to it with well designed lighting. Now the cathderal is mainly a tourist attraction and is part of the Salt Theme Park.

Leaving Bogota we headed north to hit the colonial towns of Bogota.  First stop was Sogamoso, not really a tourist town, but was worth checking out for Lago Tato, the biggest lake in Colombia. The bus route from Sogamoso around the lake takes you out into the country and through all of the onion fields. We stopped at Aquitania, which is full of the pungent smell of onions and men in ponchos and cowboy hats riding around on motobikes. After checking out the lake for a few minutes before the rain hit us again, we headed to Iza the sleepier, prim and proper cousin to Aquitania.

Carrying on the Christmas celebrations the seventh of December was Dia de Las Velitas where families line up little candles in the street and light them at dark. In true Colombian style there is a fiesta consisting of fireworks, a salsa band, aguilla beer and dancing. The larger fiesta is in Villa de Leyva, however we stayed in Sogomoso for the more intimate version.

Our next colonial town was San Gil, further north halfway between Bogota and the coast. To get here we decided to take a day bus, which we regretted after the first ten minutes. I’ve complained about the driving before but Colombia takes it to a whole new level. They really do not care about overtaking on blind bends, overtaking when a semi truck is blundering down the road towards them, or driving right up behind another car or bus so close that they could almost touch. I think I’ve probably grown about another 10 grey hairs in the past month. We have now decided that we will just try and do night buses so you can’t see what is going on. However the night busses are freezing and you typically will need a jumper, a coat, a rain coat and a wooly hat to stay warm.

San Gil is set on a hill meaning the streets are steeper than those of San Francisco. I didn’t think that would be posible! While this is the adventure capital of Colombia we chose to chill out and enjoy some sun! Here, surprisingly, they were fiesta’ing as well . Justin and I shared a few beers with some local linemen (Justin couldn’t help himself) and watched the festivities in the park and across the way in a packed corner shop while the crowd was watching a tense football game.

Finishing off our tour of the Colonial towns we headed to Barichara, a very artsy town a day trip away from San Gil. Here the buildings are a brilliant white, the flowers are stunningly pink, the streets a intricately cobbled. You can tell that the people take pride in their pueblo. We wandered round here for a few hours then headed back to San Gil to get the night bus north. We were heading to the coast!

The next part of our journey were the beaches of Colombia’s carribean coast. We first stopped in Taganga, a growing fishing village. Here life is more tranquilo. Walking down the main strip you see the locals hanging out on the corner chatting with a bottle of Aguila and the beats of salsa music flowing through the air. The beaches here are OK (unfortunately the tranquilo goes a little too far and the beaches and water do have the odd bit of rubbish floating in them), but you really come here to either do the Ciudad Perdida trek  or to go to the beaches of Parque Tayrona. We decided to do the latter option because of time (Ciudad Perdida takes 6 days) and because the idea of more mozzie bites scared us. We joined a couple from San Francisco, Dallas and Peter and headed to the park. They told us it take 2 hours to get to the beach you can camp at, but as usual it took longer. We weren’t complaining as the views of the dense forest, the golden sand and the blue wáter was a nice change to being inland. The easy trail took us through the forest, along the beaches and through the mud pits which I loved! You would probably have top ay $200 for that mud back home. There were ladies selling orange juice and arepas (arepas are like a small corn tortilla and are widely used for breakfast, lunch and dinner in Colombia. I’m now over them!) which curbed our thirst and hunger after the hike. After 4 hours we made it to the Cabo San Juan. We took in the views of the cove, but our dreams of a nice refreshing dip were quickly taken away when the rain started pouring down. We settled in our tents (you can also rent hammocks, but they aren’t such a great idea in the rain) and then went and played cards while we were entertained by the thunderstorm over the ocean.

The next morning was picture perfect and we spent our day swimming in the wáter and sunbathing, well Dallas and I did, while Justin and Peter went on an adventure. Rather than hiking out we decided to get the boat back, which was an adventure in itself. I think we almost tipped it a couple of times!

After roughing it in Parque Tayrona, we were ready for Cartegena, the famous walled city of Colombia. Unfortunately again the rain was on the same itinerary and welcomed us on arrival and was still hanging around to wave us off when we left four days later. Sadly too tourism is a well established industry here and the people are either not so friendly or love to hassle you on the streets trying to sell coral necklaces or the product of the other well established industry. We still made the most of our time walking round the colorful streets, sunbathing over on Isla Pirata, a part of Isla Rosarios, (we only had 40 minutes of rain that day!) and eating some delicious food at a french bakery and La Cevicheria which Anthony Bourdain visited.  We also tried out Vulcan Totumo, a mud volcano. This was a strange but fun experience. The volcano is more of a mound shaped hill. They are very organized and have someone to take your photos while you wallow in the mud, men to give you a rub down and women in the lagoon to wash you off if you so desire. We just went for the photographer. As soon as you arrive, you are told to strip off down to your bathing suits and climb up the wooden stairs to the top of the volcano. At the top there is a pit just a bit bigger than a hot tub, and when we arrived it was filled with giggling geriatrics. After waiting for a while in our swimming cozzies, shivvering as the rain decided to sprinkle again, they were all pulled out and it was our turn to glide in. It was a very weird feeling as you can’t touch the bottom and the staff literally push you around. After twenty minutes, and maybe feeling a few years younger, we headed down to the lagoon for a quick wash off before heading for lunch.

Our last beach stop was in Tulu, a town full of loud Colombian tourists. Fortunaly our hostel was quiet and we were able to make the most of the hammocks. The beaches in Tulu are tiny and are backed up to a road, so we headed to El Calao Beach in Covenas.  To get here, we needed to take a local bus and then a moto-taxi. When we arrived in Tulu we were picked up by a pedicab, so I figured that a moto-taxi was the term they used for a car. Nope…it was a motorbike. I’ve never been on a bike before and here I am clutching on to my driver along the roads with no helmet and wearing only a top and shorts. I mean really, leathers are so last year. Fortunately we made it safe and sound arriving at the beach with no one else in sight. It was a nice change to the beaches of Taganga and Isla Pirata where every 5 minutes you are being bothered about something. We spent a few hours there and then hopped on the bikes back to town.

Next we were off to Medellin, well after a long night bus that broke down for 4 hours and was like the antartic! The city was big, yellow bumper car taxis honked away in the streets, the center was crowded with people getting ready for Christmas. It was all a little overwhelming for us. So we headed to Poblado, again the more upscale side of town and enjoyed some relaxing beers with a couple of other travellers we met in Bolivia. This side of town though may be chill in the day, but at night the bars and clubs are pumping.

In Medellin the big tourist attraction is the Pablo Escobar tour. Pablo Escobar was a famous drug lord and now his family do tours of his house and where he was killed. We decided against it since the money goes to his family, and they probably have enough funding from his drug habit. The other backpackers who have done it have said it was really interesting and worthwhile.

Christmas was drawing close so we decided to head down south. Fabiano and Lina, our friends from Lima had invited us to spend Christmas with their families in Ibague. Fabiano’s family welcomed us with open arms during their traditional celebrations. They celebrate Christmas more so on Christmas eve, going round to see different friends, and practicing Novenas. Novenas are prayers that they read every evening the nine days before Christmas. The Novena we were a part of lasted for about 45 minutes. Afterwards they serve dinner at midnight, which is meats, potato salad and little desserts with peach, and then they open their presents. On Christmas morning we had tamales for breakfast, which are slightly different to the mexican kind and then went to church. It was striking to me how casual the church ceremony felt, probably because they go more than once a year unlike most of us. They didn’t even have a hymn book and everyone knew what was going on. Later on in the day we went round to Linas for lunch and then took a drive out of Ibague where the locals were all partying in the streets and bars. It was a very different experience to our traditions at home and we feel very lucky to have had a real Colombian Christmas.

After Christmas, we decided to head for the Zona del Cafe! We had already experienced the Coffee park, which is a small theme park mainly for kids, but Justin and I enjoyed the rollercoaster and racing each other round in karts. But we were ready for the real coffee park, so we headed to Salento, a beautiful small town right in the heart of it all. The hills here are illuminous green, and the town is decorated with funky coloured buildings. The coffee, they argue here, is the best in the world, and while I am not a major coffee connoisseur it did the trick for me. We did a couple of coffee tours here and watched how they make the coffee by hand from start to finish. Unfortunately for the colombians, while the coffee is produced here the good stuff gets exported, while they are left with the leftover beans that have been damaged in some way. However, in Salento you can find a good cup at a local café.

We also did the hike to Valle De Corcora to see the tallest wax palm trees scattered through the valley. The hike also takes you up to a hummingbird reserve, where you can watch the birds zoom around and listen to their wings beating over a hot chocolate and cheese.

The nightlife in Salento is quite lively despite the size of the town. We were staying at Casona de Lili, along with Lili’s daughter and her friends. One night we bumped into them at a bar and joined in with shots of aguardiente and salsa lessons.

Our last stop in Colombia was Cali, the salsa capital. We arrived to catch the tail end of the salsa festival and for New Year.  We only booked our hostel two days before arriving, not normally a good idea when it’s new years, but lucked out and got a superior suite and an amazing hostel, which is more like a mansión with a pool, sauna and steam room. The owner is also a michelen star chef so we enjoyed a very nice meal the day we arrived for his birthday (we gave him the bumps in return). I think the owner before hand had some dealings with the white stuff based on the black and gold decor choices in our bathroom.

We had three awesome nights out in Cali. The first was a mix of our friend Carmel (who we did the Pampas in Bolivia with) and I in a dressing room trying on salsa costumes, a petrol station with fast and the furious style cars and a random bar. The second we were on a Chiva, which is a Colombian party bus, and then ended up at a bar dancing with a guy and a girl who compete in Salsa until 5 am. And the third was New Years. Again it’s different here, where most people enjoy New Years with their family and then go out after. Everyone at our hostel grouped together and headed on a missión to try and find something open. First we found the Intercontinental, and were tempted but then opted for the tienda on the side of a main street with patio chairs, bottles of Andres champagne and make shift fireworks. It was a hilarious way to ring in the new year and was then followed by, what more than a salsa club till 4 am. As you can imagine we were all wrecked yesterday but fortunately we had a pool to chill out by.

Tonight we head down towards the equator for some fun in Equador! Hope everyone had a great time over the holidays and Happy New Year!