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!
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.
Burrowed between jagged rocky peaks and voluptuous mountains, covered in dense, luscious green jungle, is the spectacular city of Rio de Janeiro. Rio is the pulsating heart of Brazil, with an irresistible culture of music, parties, and sun seeking. By day and night it will lure you in and leave you begging for more. Our sojourn in the city coincided with the end of the Carnaval festivities, despite the legendary parade being over the streets were still full of revellers persisting on making the party live on. We came to Rio, like all backpackers, ready to embrace the sun and the Brazilian way of having fun in what is one of the world’s most magnetic cities.