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!
Landing safely on the tarmac at Toronto Airport in Canada, we breathed a big sigh of relief. We had made it to the western world, no injuries, nothing lost, our bodies and bags intact. Finally we could drop our guard, turn off our radars that were keeping us alert to danger and thieves constantly during the 248 days we spent travelling through South America. Not only were we excited to be catching up with Treeny’s excitable MammaLou , her wonderful grandad Brian (Pops), and his adorable partner Annie, we were thrilled at the prospect of eating some normal food, no more rice and beans, hurrah! Canada is a ginormous and diverse country requiring months of travel to grasp it, instead with our two weeks we concentrated our time in the state where it all happens, Ontario, home to Pops and Annie in Prince Edward County, the countries capital Ottawa, the state capital of Toronto and the mightiest waterfall in North America, Niagara Falls.
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.
If you hadn’t already noticed we love boats. During our journey around South America we caught a whopping sixteen, six of which were long distance. It would be no surprise then that when we realized we were venturing to Panama we would jump on the opportunity to watch ginormous hulks of floating steel navigate their way through a very narrow canal. The Panama Canal is one of the world’s most enduring engineering feats. Masses of earth were exhumed from the jungle to form this 80km transit channel linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There is more concrete and steel in this thing than you can begin to imagine, and the logistics that are required to run this operation are astounding. And what made our visit to the Canal even more exciting was that Mickey and Minnie Mouse were there!
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.