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.
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.
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.
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.
Long before the futuristic city of Brasilia was established, the first capital of colonial Brazil was Salvador, nestled on the shores of the expansive All Saints Bay by the Atlantic Ocean. Today this antiquated city is the capital of the Bahia state of Brazil and is a toy town of colonial splendour melded with the exotic influences of the Afro-Brazilian culture. With a deep-rooted history of industry and slavery, this once illustrious port city of northern Brazil will entice you with its vibrant atmosphere and perfectly restored colonial buildings.
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.