Precariously placed on the edge of a steep gorge, and beneath the ominous monster that is Tungurahua Volcano, lays the bustling Andean mountain village, and adventure Capital of Ecuador, named Baños de Agua Santa. With over 60 waterfalls in close proximity, the mountain town has become a hot spot for tourists – people seem to be attracted to water like flies to people on a hot summers day. Modern day Baños has developed into a lively town of coffee shops, bars and adventure companies ready to push you down a waterfall or over a gorge on a rope. The gushing torrents of mountain water set the perfect scene for watery adventures from canyoning to white water rafting, whilst helping to fill the surrounding mountainsides with steep lush green vegetation. And, at just 60km from the threshold between the Amazon jungle and the Andean mountains, Baños is also the gateway to trips into the Amazon and a viewpoint to see where these two unique environments converge.
The Andes is a magical place. With striking landscapes and traditional communities that live and thrive here, it is the heart of indigenous South America. Nowhere quite compares to the mountain villages nestled between the looming volcanoes in Ecuador and the picturesque town of Otavalo, home to one of the largest handicraft markets and the most beautifully dressed locals on the continent. Our last visit to the Andes was at the tip of South America in Argentina, and the last time we had experienced such colourful cultural customs was in Bolivia and Peru back in October 2012. It was a refreshing change of scenery to arrive back in the Andes. We were so excited to be a part of this world all over again.
Although being geographical neighbors, the Andes and the Amazon couldn’t be any further removed from one another; two extremely different environments where the jungle lowlands push upwards to the dry plains of the high altitude Altiplano. The animals, plants and people couldn’t be any more diverse. The stark contrast between these two worlds was a shock to our system after landing in Bogotá some 2600 metres above sea level from Leticia, in the heart of the Amazon, at an elevation of only 90m. The air was cold and fresh, we felt like we had landed on another planet, with barren jagged mountains peering around the imposing skyscrapers of this unusually placed city, the capital of the provocative country of Colombia.
Deep within the South American continent lays one of the worlds most fascinating and enigmatic environments, the Amazon Jungle. Bizarre creatures roam the dense impenetrable forest with alien-like limbs and fluoro skin full of poison, alongside uncontacted tribes of primitive Indians. The Amazon is like an ecological war zone with every animal, plant, insect and organism defending itself against one another, battling for air, sun, water and a precarious place in this untamed wilderness. We survived twelve days travelling slowly along the Amazon River, now that we had hit dry land we were eager to launch ourselves into the depths of the unknown to learn how this fascinating ecosystem thrives.
If we told you we were going to take a boat up the mighty AMAZON River you would most likely begin concocting images in your head of a boat passing through narrow river passages, dense jungle teeming with monkey’s, birds and snakes jumping in the boat, and the murky mysterious water where giant anaconda’s and man eating Piranha’s lurk. The reality is the Amazon River is MASSIVE, and quite the contrary to your ‘wild’ imagination. We spent twelve tranquil days travelling some 6000km on two boats along the worlds second longest river from the Atlantic Ocean to near it’s headwaters in the Tri-border region of Brazil, Peru and Colombia, and even our imaginations were taken aback by the harsh reality of this now heavily populated and over-worked region.