Words cannot begin to describe how chaotic, energetic and diverse the epic city of New York is. You have to experience it to understand; you must visit at least once in your lifetime to embrace all that makes this city so awesome. The dense streets of this concrete jungle encapsulate more cultures, art, entertainment, business, money, and food than anywhere else. The thought of how to fit everything there is to do here into our measly four day stay was beyond overwhelming. From the bright lights of Broadway, visiting iconic buildings, cruising the rivers, shopping, drinking, eating, there is so much to learn and explore in this great city. Where do you start? In the centre of it all, Manhattan!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to jump back in time? Look no further than Cuba, the mysterious and controversial country where in 1959 the clock literally stopped. While the world progressed into a sophisticated hi-tech future, Cuba came to a halt. Technology, architecture, business, and infrastructure ceased to develop, the people almost virtually shut out from the rest of the world. As one of the last remaining Socialist States in the world, Cuba is a curious country with stringent living conditions and oppressive regulations under the rigorous totalitarian rule of their omnipotent leaders Fidel and Raul Castro. No where else in the world will you find predominantly original 1950’s cars on the road, antiquated stores to shop in, and an an eclectic array of pre-1960’s architecture slowly decaying as the world moves forward and Cuba stands still. Havana is the pulsating political and cultural capital of this extraordinary country, and a haven for absorbing and learning about this unusual communist world.
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.
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.
Never would one imagine that in the tropical hills of Brazil lies a traditional Portuguese hillside village of postcard perfect, rustic, whitewashed houses on steep cobblestone streets, alongside fantastically decorated Baroque churches. Ouro Preto is a rare historical gem in the heart of Brazil. This is where one can get a glimpse of the grandeur of Portuguese colonialism over five centuries old.
As a land locked country Paraguay certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of water. Lying to the north-east of the country, and shared with Brazil, is the world’s largest wetland, the Pantanal. Dissecting Paraguay in half is the immense Paraguay River, the great drainage system of the Pantanal which empties its waters thousands of kilometres away in the Atlantic Ocean. The Rio Paragauy is the lifeblood of this isolated region of northern Paraguay, acting as the primary source of transportation for people, animals, food and goods to the communities spread along the river banks. To experience this alternative way of life we jumped onboard an old, very slow, rickety river boat called the ‘Aquidaban’, the only commercial trade and passenger boat which traverses these remote waters, to visit a small community called Fuerte Olimpo. The days ahead would require patience and a cool head in an otherwise steaming hot environment – a challenge of our resolve to travel like locals.
The northern-most province in Argentina, Misiones, extends up the map like an arm reaching out and terminates at a natural border, and triple frontier, with both Brazil and Paraguay formed by two mighty rivers, the Rio Parana and Rio Iguazu. A short trip up the Iguazu River is the world famous Iguazu Falls, a thunderous waterfall of unimaginable power. The small border town of Puerto Iguazu was to be our last stop in Argentina. After over a month in the country we were sad to have reached our last stop but excited at the prospect of seeing yet another natural wonder in this incredibly diverse country.
Set at the base of Campo Del Hielo Sur, The Great Southern Ice field, Torres Del Paine National Park is considered by many as the mecca of hiking in Patagonia and has been high on our travel hit list since the very beginning. The Park offers well over 100km of hiking trails to be conquered, and has a reputation for having Patagonia’s most extreme weather, with hikers often experiencing all four seasons in one day; baking hot sun, flurries of snow, horizontal rain, and hurricane force winds. A daunting four to five day hike, battling the elements, lay ahead. This was going to be tough mentally and physically and we new it, we just didn’t know just how tough. We were ready for the Challenge.