After 216 days of travelling over 40,000km through 10 countries, on 62 buses, 15 boats and 1 plane we had reached our final destination on our colossal trip around South America. We had arrived in the most beautiful and vibrant city in Colombia, Cartagena. Tucked neatly inside an impressive network of archaic walls, the cobblestone streets of this charming city will romance you in everyway. If colonial architecture, drinking beers in lively plazas or meandering through the colourful streets doesn’t interest you, than a visit to the scintillating tropical beaches of Playa Blanca or the mysterious mound of mud at Totumo Volcano will surely entice your senses.
Who would have thought that at the very tip of South America on the shores of the Caribbean lays a great desert? Endless plains of dust, shrubs, dried up lagoons, and mountains made of dirt sprinkle the northernmost province of South America the Guajira Peninsula, a stark and desolate region we find hard to picture in the tropical north. Back in December we made it to the nearly-southernmost point of South America Ushuaia, so we thought it would be fitting then to venture to the nearly-northernmost point to Cabo de la Vela, an isolated fishing village where tumbleweed rolls freely and there are more goats than people.
Finally we made it to the Caribbean. To the glistening turquoise water, sparkling sand and swaying palm trees on the north coast of Colombia. There is an abundance of stunning beaches to throw your sarong down and relax in the sun, or the Sierra Nevada mountain range where you can stretch your legs and breath in the fresh mountain air. After a very long, frightening bus ride from Medellin – we have decided Colombian bus drivers are the worst in South America – we were ready to hit the mountains and bask in the sun by the sea in the famous Tayrona National Park, the beachside towns of Palomino and Cabo de la Vela and the picturesque mountain village of Minca. We had landed in paradise.
Drugs, guns, and guerrillas. These are the words that come to mind when you think of Colombia and the infamous city of Medellin, once the Cocaine capital of the world. Today, this couldn’t be any further from the truth. At the height of the Medellin Cartels success they were earning $60 million a day creating vast realms of wealth all from the export of Cocaine, helping the Medellin Cartel and Señor Pablo Escobar to become more powerful than the government of Colombia. The 1980s and 1990s saw the world’s bloodiest gang wars in this city that included multiple car bombings, the murdering of thousands, including the presidential candidate of the time Luis Carlos Galan. The peak of this violence in 1991 saw over 6000 recorded killings, double the number of the worlds current murder capital San Pedro Sula in Honduras. The ferocious violence culminated in a military assault on the city with tanks reclaiming the streets for government forces in early 1993. There is a lot more to Colombia than this prolific history, a fact we try very hard to convince our worrying mothers of. Colombia is quickly transforming into a safe and liveable country, most evident in the streets of Medellin, a fascinating city that is thriving off the recent successes of innovative urban regeneration projects. Drugs, guns and guerrillas no more!
We think it is pretty safe to say that about 90% of you can’t live without coffee; the little beans that are roasted, brewed and poured into a cup with perfectly frothed milk for you every day. Coffee is the worlds second most traded commodity after crude oil and the only one in the top ten that is grown purely for the enjoyment of humans. We don’t need it to survive, we want it. We want to feel that kick as the caffeine sets in, lick the foamy froth off the top, and feel the satisfaction and taste of a well made “cuppa” – we live for it. Ever since coffee became such a vital ingredient in the day to day running of our lives it has become the lifeblood of hillside communities throughout the world, communities where this little bean is like gold. Their livelihood relies on it. We visited the Zona Cafetera in Colombia to learn about the beans, and discover a beautiful region of the country that lives and thrives off its cultivation.
There is nothing worse than feeling unwell while backpacking. Creature comforts of home do not exist on the road. Don’t even think about curling up into a ball on the couch to watch marathons of your favourite TV show, or sleeping in quiet solitude as you try and snooze off your ailments. Dorm rooms provide little privacy, and the general comings and goings of hostels will ensure your sleep time is limited. After climbing Cotopaxi Volcano we were sick. We were physically, mentally and emotionally drained. Dehydrated, stomach pains, headaches, muscle aches. We were hurting badly. After travelling for six months in South America it was bound to happen at some point, unfortunately it just had to happen while we were in a beautiful, fascinating place, the chaotic capital city of Ecuador, Quito.
Volcanos are mysterious monsters of nature that conjure up images of bubbling molten rock and conical snow-capped mountains. Ecuador has one of the highest concentrations of volcanos in the world. The majority are extinct or dormant with a large number of active volcanoes resting worryingly close to Quito, the sprawling capital city of Ecuador. The most famous, and second highest active volcano in the world is Cotopaxi, the colossal giant just 28km south of Quito. At the top of our South American hit list was climbing this monster to reach the top of the world, the summit at 5987m above sea level. A challenging climb testing our strength and endurance.
The Ecuadorian Andes will astound you in their beauty; rolling landscapes in every shade of green, jagged gorges, and soaring volcanic peaks. Hiking on this rough terrain is no walk in the park, and at altitudes from 3500m to 5000m above sea level it will literally take your breath away. The Quilotoa Loop is a famous multi-day trek from Quilotoa to Sigchos; a 34km walk over high mountain passes and deep into canyons. This is the best way for getting a glimpse into Andean life in the countryside as you walk through remote mountain villages, passing traditional communities and isolated farmers. After our visit to the captivating town of Otavalo we were excited to be embarking on a three day hike into the wilderness to grasp this quiet, tranquil world beyond the bustling Ecuadorian towns, and to give our legs and lungs a real workout in preparation for climbing Cotopaxi.