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.
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.
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.
Deep within the South American continent lays one of the worlds most fascinating and enigmatic environments, the Amazon Jungle. Bizarre creatures roam the dense impenetrable forest with alien-like limbs and fluoro skin full of poison, alongside uncontacted tribes of primitive Indians. The Amazon is like an ecological war zone with every animal, plant, insect and organism defending itself against one another, battling for air, sun, water and a precarious place in this untamed wilderness. We survived twelve days travelling slowly along the Amazon River, now that we had hit dry land we were eager to launch ourselves into the depths of the unknown to learn how this fascinating ecosystem thrives.
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.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to reach the end of the world? Well, look no further than Tierra del Fuego the southernmost province of South America and home to the “southernmost” city in the world Ushuaia, Argentina. Everything here claims “southernmost this” and “end of the world that”, it’s all very gimmicky, a nice way to get tourists excited buying up big in the souvenir stores – all that “end of the world” paraphernalia, but, at the end of the day it’s not even the southernmost point, or the southern most city. Across the Beagle Channel in Chile lies a smaller town, Puerto Williams, which is actually the southernmost settlement, and then there is Cape Horn, the southernmost point, and have we just forgotten Antarctica and the Sub-Antarctic islands, people live there too? Whatever the classification of the city’s location, we had reached as far south as we could travel on our amble about the world…or had we?
Chile is a long long long country, as it thins out towards the most southern tip at Cape Horn the country breaks up into fragments of isolated mountain ranges and icefields separated by spectacular fjords and lakes. This region is almost entirely undeveloped and uninhibited except for small rural towns sparsely scattered along the Carreterra Austral, the long road which travels from Puerto Montt in the Chilean Lake District into the depths of Chilean Patagonia.
“Are you sure you want to go to South America. I hear these countries are very dangerous”, if only mum could see where we are now! With just a jump over the border from “little Germany” in the Chilean Lake District you will land yourself in “little Switzerland” and the city of Bariloche in the Argentine Lake District. Our “little” slice of Europe just grew tenfold. Not only is this part of South America safe and friendly it is a sophisticated – by European standards – tourist mecca in an enchanting setting amongst bountiful lakes and snow capped mountain peaks. The Argentine Lake District has the best of everything; be it hiking, boating, fishing or indulging in some of Argentina’s finest food. We knew straight away that we would be more than able to satisfy our desire to hike within the world renowned Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. And of course in order to gain sustenance for said hike we arrived ready to eat.