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.
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.