Tag Archives: Ecuador

Into The Wild: Colombia

Nick Says: After the dreamy paradise of the Galapagos Islands, it was time to get back to reality. Luckily for us, our current reality is backpacking round some of the most exciting environments on the planet. Phew… But thanks to illness and extended time playing with sea lions, we were now distinctly behind schedule. We had to be in Cartagena for Christmas, and to make it there in time plus fit in some of Colombia we decided to fly. Or rather fly 4 times in 2 days, including Friday 13th! First up we bade goodbye to island life, and hopped on a flight back to the mainland. After a brief stop in our beloved Guayaquil (not allowed out for a Sweet & Coffee sadly) we then flew on to Quito.

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We’d heard much about Quito. Sadly none of it was good. However, we’d also heard a lot of bad things about Venezuela and that turned out pretty well for us. We never got the opportunity to see for ourselves as the brand new Quito airport is about 40km away from the city, with no real road yet completed there. We heard horror stories about it taking hours in traffic to travel there and back, and not fancying either the $50 round trip fare or the possibility we’d miss our 6am flight the next day, we made use of what seems to be the only hotel nearby, the Quito Airport suites. Run by a young couple, it seemed a bit of an undiscovered gem. They picked us up and dropped us off hideously early, made us a delicious home-cooked chicken meal, and basically provided us with everything we needed (including a TV that was playing Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift) for our brief one night stop at a cheaper price than travelling into Quito and back.

Early the next day we boarded a flight to the final stop in our South America adventure, Colombia. I’d been most excited about visiting here out of all of South America, and couldn’t wait to see if it lived up to the hype every other backpacker we’d met and who’s been gave it. Landing in Bogota, we were stamped through with one of the stranger border crossing questions I’ve had (‘Are you from Miami?’) and then it was time for a leisurely breakfast. With our flight to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast at 11.05am we had HOURS. More than enough time to slowly eat decadent scones and stroll around. Until we noticed there was no flight to Santa Marta at 11.05am. There was however one at 10.05am. Which was in about 20 minutes… Cue our panicked run through the airport, hurried rush through check-in, a comical lining up in the wrong boarding queue, before finally getting the right gate. And finding our flight was delayed until 11.05am. Of course.

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The first thing we noticed upon landing in Santa Marta was the muggy tropical heat. We hadn’t felt this since Venezuela and Brazil, and within minutes we were sweating those scones off. The second thing we noticed was a tiny bemused looking dog on the luggage carousel, endlessly travelling round and round awaiting collection, her tiny pink bow wilting in the heat. After a break-neck paced ride to the hostel (I think drivers only have one mode of driving in South America, and that’s basically ‘F*ck you other drivers!´… plus maybe this guy had watched Fast & Furious the night before too?) we were able to unwind after our two days of crossing from islands in the Pacific, to the Caribbean Coast. After our months of slowly inching around the map by buses and cars, it felt like some sort of magic we’d stumbled across and harnessed. Then I cracked open a beer and sat by the pool. Santa Marta, little did we know, is home to the worlds best (says us) Christmas lights, so we spent alot of time wandering around them. Our favourite was the giant light-up whale. So festive!

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The next day we set off for the nearby town of Minca. If you’re ever in this part of the world, I highly recommend a visit. Up in the hills of the Sierra Nevada, it’s slightly cooler than the coast and super chilled out. We travelled with a lovely Belgian family (the daughter lived in Medellin, and her parents were visiting for Christmas. Quite a turnaround from their initial statement that she would only go to Colombia over ‘their dead bodies‘) and spent time swimming in cool river spots, driving through scenery familiar to fans of Romancing the Stone (which the Dad delighted in re-enacting scenes from for us), and finally taking a tour of a coffee farm called La Victoria. The place was amazing. Built originally by a British company in the 1890s and named after our then Queen, it still uses the original machinery to sort and produce the very best coffee beans. It was liking stepping into a timewarp where the industrial revolution was still a living memory. I half expected it all to be steam-powered, but hydro-electricity had been harnessed in this forgotten mountain corner of Colombia. Our 21 year old guide was super enthusiastic about showing us the run of the farm and factory, and as always you never appreciate just how much effort goes into something as simple as a cup of joe. However, like most of South America it was quite difficult to actually get nice coffee in Colombia – they seem to prefer instant. At least at the farm we found out a reason for this dearth. The best beans are only sold to Europe – the locals just get all the lesser standard stuff. However, they did save some of their best for a tasting at the end, and it was some of the best coffee I’ve ever had.

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Bee Says: From Santa Marta we got a heaving ramshackle bus our to Palomino, where the only spare seat meant that I had half of my leg stuck out the broken rear door for part of the journey… oh and a huge piece of meat (that belonged to another passanger) wedged beneath my feet. This was also the same bus where a man got on carrying a SWORD. He seemed like a nice enough fellow… but still. Weapons are big news in Colombia, mostly farmers with machetes and policia with guns, but we drove past plenty of military casually aiming rifles at the road. I think this is one thing I will never get used to, and being in such close proximity to all of these items brings me out in an insteant sweat sheen. No one else seems fussed though, so we just have to accept it and be muy tranquilo. Palomino is described in the Lonely Planet as being one of the undiscovered gems of the Caribbean coast, where you can stumble across fishermen grilling their catch on the beachfront. It certainly isn’t that rustic anymore (the signs for yoga and surf lessons are a sure sign that the Gringo trail has reached this sleepy resort); but it still had a lovely remote vibe, with only a handful of hotels and hammock huts, and 3 restaurants to choose from. For our first two nights we treated ourself to a Cabana, a traditional palm-thatch building with an outside bathroom… Check out the view from our morning shower!

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It was shaping up to be an idyllic night of beer, star gazing and after a slap up meal of fresh-caught fish, we walked hand-in-hand back to our cabana. After time in the Andes and Galapagos, we’ve had a welcome break from mozzie bites. However, in Palomino, they were back with a bitey vengeance and makes us irritated. For this reason, before we left for dinner, I had slung up my sacred mozzie net and spent ages pedantically making sure there wasnt a single gap between bed and net, so no pesky mozzies could get trapped inside. Upon our return, Nick got straight into bed. Then I got into bed and spent another protracted 5 minutes messing with the edges of the net and smoothing it down, all the while my big tropics-hair getting caught in the net and generally faffing around. Eventually I settled down, lifted my head, and at eye level was a SCORPION. On the INSIDE of the mosquito net. Yep! I have never seen one in real life and was frozen with fear… watching it with its tail reared, dangling procariously next to my bare body! Nick, who is so  cool as a cucumber in all deadly situations (and we are racking them up on this trip!) suggested helpfully that it might be an earwig? to try and calm me down! Luckily we both rolled gently out of bed without getting jabbed, we sprayed the spikey guy with DEET and then shovelled it into the toilet. I love it when my northern-ness rubs off on Nick and was so proud to hear him exclaim “he’s a hard bastard!” when the scorpion was still alive in the loo. We still have NO idea why the scorpion got inside our mozzie net, and never will, but we have since found a hole where he must have chomped his way in. Anyway we are so lucky that we spotted him… or it could have been a real fright in the night! Safe to say we didn’t sleep so well in our luxury cabana and had that constant “oh my gosh something is crawling on me” feeling and kept setting each other off with the creeps. To get in and out of our cabana we also had to run a gauntlet of sprinklers, which were all pointing at different directions, making merely leaving our room like a challenge from Crystal Maze… where one of us always got drenched.

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We spent our next three nights slumming it in a dorm, but deciding people were a preferable sleep companion than creatures. We had a gorgeous few days of lazing on the beach, drinking cold beer, exploring the local area (and drinking in the beautiful view of the snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains) whilst enjoying the mini safari of less-deadly animals that visited us: huge bats, bright green lizards, mocking birds and my favourite; hummingbirds that gathered at every flower like butterflies. I also got to do my first Yoga of the trip (why was there such a lack of it everywhere else?!) and started off with a nice easy Hatha Yoga class, split into stretches, breathing and meditiation all whilst sat listening to the lapping waves of the sea. I felt fantastic afterwards and signed up for a class the next morning. As I appraoched the class… something was different. There was only two people there and it was a different teacher. All the same she welcomed me over and mentioned something in spanish about Hatha Yoga, but I now realise she said HIGHER yoga. Uh-oh. Queue the most intense hour of my life, where any position I couldn’t get in (most) she man-handled me in and out of!  There was NO meditation, just more and more advanced body-tangling mind-melting stretches. All the while, I was being seriously glared at by the other pupil (tanned Spanish boy with dreads and nose-ring) as I think he had been hoping for a 1-on-1 session with the very beautiful and supple instructor! I crawled back to Nick afterwards and spent the next few days with a distinct hobble. Hardly zen! That night was our last in Palomino paradise, and also happened to be a full moon, so we gatecrashed a beach bonfire and sat for hours staring wideyed at the beautiful night sky. This had certainly been a trip-highlight, and despite Scorpion attacks and loco yoga, we felt like we had just had an absolute taste of tropical movie-tyle beach perfection.

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Nick Says: What to do after spending four days on a beach paradise? Go to another one I guess, except more remote. And so it was that we found ourselves on a bus (spookily the exact same one we caught from Santa Marta to Palomino. We recognised the drivers assistant who had a tendancy to hop out of the moving bus, then return in lightening-quick speed with weirder and more extravagant purchases, water, coconut, ice cream sundae!) 50 minutes down the road about to check out the legendary Parque Nacional Tayrona. I’d been wanting to visit here since I was about 18. I’d read about how it was a undiscovered travel gem, then a top backpacker pick for Colombia, until it’s current status as one of Colombia’s tourism mainstays. It’s one of those places I’d read about countless times, dreamed about visiting, and now was in a state of almost disbelief that I was on its doorstep. We hopped off the bus at the main entrance of El Zaino, and promptly celebrated by eating an ice-cream and eating chill-cheese Dorito’s (perhaps their finest ever flavour). Then it was time to enter the park. After getting our wristbands, we hopped on a taxi-bus for the 10 minute drive to the main ‘town’ of Canaveral. From there we set off on our hour long jungle hike to Arrecifes, where we hoped to find some cheap lodging. Picking up a new travel buddy en-route, a German girl named Anne, we clambered up over rocky paths, though vines, and over beaches as we caught glimpses of the incredible scenery that awaited us. A monkey high above us gently lapped at a coconut, dripping agua de coco over us. It seemed as if we venturing into the complete unknown, until we rounded a corner and met a guy selling ice-creams.

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Tayrona is built for exploring. It’s easy enough to find paths and locations, but big and wild enough to take a few turnings and get totally lost. While Bee spent the day swimming and diving for treasure at la piscina (literally translates to swimming pool as its the only swimmable part of coastline in Tayrona) me and Anne decided to see if we could make it to a jungle location known as Pueblito. After a quick swim in the gold-flecked waters that lapped Tayrona, we left Bee on her beach towel and set off. Still early, we pretty much had the park to ourselves and made it quickly to the main tourist spot of Cabo. While an undeniably beautiful spot, it felt maybe a bit too touristy for our Robinson Crusoe fantasies and so we quickly left. However, we also unwittingly left behind the path to Pueblito. Venturing onto yet another white sanded beach, the crowds began to thin. Wanting to check if we were going the right way, me and Anne approached a sun-bather to ask, and realised we would be addressing our question to his hairy bum and balls. Yep, we’d walked onto the nudist beach. Back into the jungle it was, where apart from occasionally stepping onto the beach to get some light, the air was thick and heavy, and termite nests swayed in the branches above us. Meeting some friendly Colombians, who spent each Christmas visiting the park, we found out that Pueblo was still another 2 hours away, and maybe could be reached on this path, Figuring that Bee might think I’d been eaten by monkeys, who had undoubtedly grown tired of coconuts by now, I headed back, once again at Cabo, Anne turned into the jungle barefoot to conquer Pueblo. Hours later she emerged at our campsite, to tell us Pueblito was just a few huts, and a tough muddy scramble up almost vertical paths. I felt smug drinking a beer at that point.

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Bee Says: I think 7 years of living in London has lit a desire in both Nick and I to find the most inaccessable places to visit. Tayrona is certainly up there, as once you are ensconsed in jungle you can relax in the knowledge that you are hours of hiking away from roads, cars and crowds. We arrived to Arrifices and the first campsite was mega$$$. The classic tip to never stay at the first place you find, massively paid off. Admittedly to find Don Pedro we got lost 3 times, had to hike through 3 rivers and then follow a dirt track into seemingly nowhere for 20 minutes until suddenly! There it was! Don Pedro was an oasis in the middle of the dense green, ok so it was basic but it had everything you need to cosey up to your fellow Tayrona travellers: Cold tins of beer, long tables where basic criollo dishes are served up at night, and hut showers. We had been planning to stay in hammocks, but it was only $2 more to have the luxury of a tent (bite protection is always best) so we made our home in the tent (photo above) which was perfectly comfortable even if it did get alot of night visitors snuffling out food. One night my foot was even nuzzled from the outside by what I think, from the silhoutte, was an armadillo! My favourite thing to do was once the sun had set, head out to the wilds with my head torch on. I’ve never seen anything like the HUNDREDS of eyes gleaming back at me from the dark, relected in my light. The seemingly pitch black wilderness was suddenly glowing with night dwellers. One night, after Nick, Anne and I watched the sunset on the beach, we walked back only to be swooped at  by a vast black creature with blood red eyes! None of us could get a torch on it quick enough to identify the species of our attacker, but it was the stuff of nightmares. Luckily it took one whiff of our stinky hiking selves and bogged off into the black. Of course, like everywhere in South America, there was no cars, no electricity and no wifi… yet somehow there was cable TV (served from a noisy generator) where the campsite crew would huddle to watch cartoons.

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Not being a natural adventurer, the one thing that tempted me into this remote jungle was the TRAVEL LEGEND that somewhere… deep beneath the canopies… was apparently the best pan au chocolate in South America. It’s hinted at in Lonely Planet and people who have visited Tayrona whisper hished directions to the bakery as they pass in hostels and bars. We ended up hitting jackpot with our campsite, as it was a mere 2 minute stroll (follow the irrisitable smell that starts wafting to your tent at 4.30am!) to pick up these giant chocolate loafy beauties, which fill you up all day for hiking and swimming. You could easily walk past the small shack serving up these  unexpected delights, and it seems totally surreal that they existed so far from all other home comforts. Forget yoga, stuffing my face with these is my happy place!

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We actually didn’t want to leave Tayrona. We had so much fun in our jungle existance, and were also enjoying witnessing a blossoming Romeo and Juliet romance between the camp site manager Raphael and our adopted hija Anne. Luckily for us, as he tried to woo her, we benefitted with the occasional free treat from the tuck shop! His seduction techniques paid off when he left a piping hot pan au chocolate outside her tent one morning – surely the way to any ladies heart! By the time we left we had got a bit hike cocky, so trying to get back to Canaveral we took a wrong turn and ended up lost on the horse and mule path! This scenic route took us up and over boulders, clambering cliffs to avoid muddy hoof-trodden bogs and at one point, over a long plank of rickety rotten wood… where if you fell off one side was a spider the size of a dinner plate… the other was a stinky pool of stagnent water. Safe to say, we all made it over in double quick speed. We spent most of the walk alone but every once in a while we’d hear a yell and have to leap to the side, as horses carrying cargo and  food galloped past! Finally we reached Canaveral and from here it was a swift jeep back to the main entrance, then a mini bus, and back to Santa Marta. We felt like different people to the ones who had entered a few days earlier.  The dense jungle, the white sand beaches and the water that literally glitters with gold mineral flecks… it left us in awe.

Nick Says: And so it was we returned to Santa Marta feeling almost like we were going home. In our last time there we had enjoyed the home comforts of an air conditioned mall, watched The Hunger Games at the cinema, and gone to such exotic locales as a supermarket. After a week spent on the less developed coast of Palomino and Tayrona, we returned stinking, dirty and beardy (Bee had let herself go). So perhaps it was no wonder that security guards followed us round any shop we stopped in at… But that didn’t really matter, as we were back in civilisation for one reason – date night at the cinema to watch The Hobbit. Despite having no idea what the elves and orcs were saying (Spanish subtitles), I felt wrapped up in almost a sense of December normalcy, watching an epic on the big screen. However, the next day we would be off to Cartagena for Christmas, and pushing ever closer to Central America, which we hoped to reach by a slightly more adventurous route than the usual plane or sailboat… TBC…

South America Awards: 3 Month Review

    • Time: Three Months
    • Countries Visited: Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador & Colombia
    • Distance Travelled (total from UK): 25,781 km
    • Distance Travelled (in South America): 18,289 km
    • Time Spent On Buses: 7 Days
    • Time Spent On Boats: 10.5 Days
    • Time Spent On Aeroplanes: 1.5 Days
    • Items Lost/Broken/Stolen (Bee): The saddest was a beautiful “guiding star” brooch my sister gave me got pinched when I stupidly left it pinned to a hoody that got packed off for a rare laundry. I also lost my sunglasses (that lasted 10 weeks!) in Galapagos, replaced them, and lost the replacement pair within a day. I also somehow lost a pair of bikini bottoms, a pair of hiking socks and my conditioner.
    • Items Lost/Broken/Stolen (Nick): Still my poor watch, but I’ve also destroyed a second pair of sunglasses. Luckily a man walked up to me in the street in Cusco the following day and sold me a pair of genuine Ray-Bans at an unbelievable price. What do you mean they’re not real? He swore they were… Other than that pretty good so far, just the usual shampoos and shower gels left in hostels.
    • Injuries/Illnesses: 1 long Peru/Poo-ru fest of a nasty sickness that seemed never ending, ruining Nick’s birthday and ending with Bee in A&E in Ecuador. It turns out that everyone we have met since who has been to Peru got poorly at some point there so we are in good company.
    • Changes to Itinerary: 3 – Seeing Chile, taking the plunge and doing the Galapagos and then cutting down our time in Colombia from a month to 2 weeks due to sickness slowing us down.

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Q&A With Bee

Three Months In, How Do You Feel? By this point of the trip I have the best of both worlds. I have hit my stride with the travelling, the language and the accumulated confidence that I can do this and surprise myself with how far I can push my comfort zone. I don’t have any of the anxiety jitters that I still suffered a month in, mainly because we are travelling cautiously and so far have had pretty much entirely positive experiences in every country. It also feels like there is so much left to see, and I definitely am not getting jaded or overloaded by new experiences. Instead I wake up every morning with my mind whirring at what incredible things I will see or do or eat or drink! I guess the only change as we shift from having more time ahead, to more time behind us (sniff!) is that I can’t help but start to cast my mind forwards to how life will change once I get home. Travelling has given me such a precious opportunity to look at how I lived previously with a ton of distance and perspective. I feel like my brain has undergone a major re-shuffle and that I’ll now live differently and with slightly altered goals once I am back in the UK and plunging into the big bad what next. I also have a huge list in my notebook of ideas and plans and projects I hope to embark on once I am back. I think travelling gives you a giddy sense of grabbing the world with both hands and really shaking life up, which in turn makes me believe (whether its true or not) that once I am home... I can have more of an impact in life rather than just living day to day in a rat racey haze. The main concern is how will I cope when I don’t get to hang out with my best friend 24/7?

Biggest Lessons Learnt: That there are pigeons in every country and that more often than not, if you are told a hostel has Aguas Caliente (hot water) it will be an absolute lie. I think hostel owners know its a buzz-word with tourists and bound to lure you in, they then act super surprised when the hose with electric cables stuck to it doesn’t run warm. This happens to us ALL the time!

Best New Skills Aquired: Snorkelling… and the ultimate skill any backpacker needs: how to fit massive objects into tiny packages. Mozzie nets, sleep sheets etc all become huge when unrolled and then somehow need to be fitted back into a bag the size of a postage stamp.

Best Moment: This is such an impossible questions, so I don’t know why I’ve just written it. I will probably go with the snorkelling with a turtle experience. It’s closely rivalled by the hot springs on the salt flats, the amazon boat thunderstorm and crossing the equator on the Galapagos.

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Worst Moment: I think it says alot about the Ecudorian healthcare system that it wasn’t being in A&E! My worst moment was definitely our boat crossing back from Isla Isabela to Puerto Ayora on the Galapagos. The trip over to Isabela had been reasonably choppy (when they hand out sick bags to everyone, including locals, before you set off… it’s never a good sign) but I coped okay and managed to keep my breakfast in my belly. The return journey made the previous trip look like a jaunt on the swans at Alton Towers! From the second we hit the water, the waves were black and crashing over the sides of the boat. As we got deeper out to sea, the ocean only grew fiercer and I have never seen water look so hateful… churning and swirling and tipping our little boat side to side so much that the windows kissed the foam. By halfway, everyone except Nick who has the sea-legs of a pirate, was green. Then the puking started. Then the moaning. Every time the boat was spat out and slapped back down onto the waves, I felt my spine cracking. The only glimmer of good was when a huge wave crashed over the back, taking with it two huge sharks who avoided landing in our laps and leapt over. It was two hours that felt like two days. Back on dry land, I had to take a moment to kiss the ground. On the bright side, we had heard the Galapagos crossings can get choppy, as so many currents meet there, and maybe we wouldn’t have had quite the full experience if we hadn’t braved it for ourselves!

Best Place Stayed: For me it was Hostel Manaus. The atmosphere was just the right amount of boozy, social, inclusive and helpful. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was here we would meet some of the best friends of our trip and people on the most fascinating journeys. We met Eduard, a wonderful Dutch man who’d relocated from setting up a successful business in Rotterdam to move to the middle of the Amazon jungle and build a farm and eco hostel from scratch. We also met Gareth, who was making a documentary about kayaking 9000km around Brazil. We met a French journalist who was in Manuas to cover the progress of the world cup stadium (and whom I imagine life has just got very chaotic for given this weeks tragedy).  Everyone, without exception, was so friendly that all our evenings naturally followed the same routine: a huge cook-out in the communal kitchen with everyone offering up ingredients, followed by a rowdy roam down the road to share giant beers and travel tales. Something that I love about hostel life, and happened in Manaus, is that you can slope up somewhere in the morning, sleepy and unsure what to expect. By nightfall you can be socialising with 2 Brazilians, a French, Dutch, German and Canadian, making friends for life.

Worst Place Stayed: The shed in Galapagos that has no name. We were given the recommendation by our cruise guide when we mentioned we wanted a cheap night somewhere central. We wandered up to a garden gate, with a scrap of paper and the name of a woman. We don’t think we ever actually found her… but ended up sleeping in a shed, with no roof (but a huge plasma tv that didnt work…) that absolutely stank of pickles. Skyler fondly named it “the big mac shack” for us. The weirdest part was that there was an en suite bathroom, but every item such as the mirror, sink and toothbrush holder was CELLOTAPED to the wall. Oh and there were two guard dogs that took an instant dislike to us and terrorised us everytime we attempted to leave or arrive.

Best “Travelator” Moment: We don’t often mock fellow travellers but you do meet the odd person who has fallen down a black hole of dreadlocks, henna tattoos, happy pants and chatting a lot of guff about energy. The KING of the travelators was a man who was staying in Huanchaco at the same time as us. He had all the usual trappings, but also insisted on constantly carrying round a giant conch shell at ALL times… occasionally petting it as if it were a baby. It took a day or so for us both to click that he wasn’t just moving it the conch from one place to another, but that it was a permanent feature. At night he would join a gang of people jamming around a bonfire, and we liked to imagine that he played along on his mournful conch.

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Best Purchase: My alpaca wool jumper in Cusco that has marching alpaca knitted around the collar.

Best Beer: Bogota Brewery Craft Beer: Honey Ale Flavour

Best Pizza: Bodega164 in Cusco. It was blue cheese, mushroom and bacon; and after months of disappointing pizza experiences it was completely mindblowing. Also, Nick chose this night to drink a beer at altitude and have a funny sick moment mid pizza, so I got all his slices too. What a champ!

Best Book Read: The Devil in The White City – Erik Larson (I cannot recommend enough, and instantly downloaded everything else he has written to my kindle and Nick & I have both consumed them at a crazy pace and enjoyed nattering about them after. He is such a talent and writes in a truly unique style)

Soundtrack to the trip: It’s funny how one song becomes a stand out. For me its “Wasting My Young Years” by London Grammar. This song blurs from my old life into the trip, as in my previous job the company I worked for was doing the visual effects on the video and its where I first heard to track. It’s a song that seems to come on my ipod at every big travel moment: arriving on the alien salt flats, flying over the Andes, rocking side to side during a night on the Galapagos cruise or zooming through Colombian coastline at 100km p h. Also, the lyrics are more than a little relevant:

I’m wasting my young years
It doesn’t matter
I’m chasing old ideas
It doesn’t matter

Don’t you know that it’s only fear
I wouldn’t worry, you have all your life
I’ve heard it takes some time to get it right

Things I Miss The Most: Baths, peanut butter, cups of tea, clean clothes, knitting by the TV… wow I sound like a little old lady, so I better add in getting drunk on happy hour with my friends in Soho.

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Q&A With Nick

Best Journey: We’ve taken some truly amazing once-in-a-lifetime trips while we’ve been here, and while sailing across the Equator, busing over the Andes, and hiking through the jungles of Tayrona would win at any other time, for me it’s still the 4-day Amazon river-boat. If someone ever offered the chance to do it again I’d accept in a heartbeat.

Friendliest Local: We’ve had amazing fortune with all the people we’ve met so far. In fact, I’ve only being randomly sworn at once, by a bus driver in Peru. But the king of the friendly locals was the owner of our hostel on Isabela (in the Galapagos), who was completely convinced we could understand his hyper-fast lisping Spanish, and whose answer to any of our queries (including ‘is there a safe?’) was to tell us not to worry, and relax.

Best Beer: I’ve heroically sampled the local beer in every country so far, one of my favourite things about backpacking. All have merits, but for the perfect refreshment to taste ratio, it will have to be Venezuela’s Polar.

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Best Ice-Cream: I’ve also been trying to put back all the weight I lost during my illness by eating ice-cream every day. Although I was doing that before, so not sure what my future excuse will be. Bee likes to say to me she’s finally seeing my unrestrained eating habits. For awhile the pick of the ice-cream litter was the Oreo sundae from Bolivia, but now Colombia has provided the reigning champ – a Mars Bar flavoured scoop covered in dark chocolate sauce (which also fills the cone underneath providing you with a frenzied eating mission at the end to stop it pouring over you).

Worst Meal: We’ve had a few shockers in our time here, but the worst surely has to be sopa del res from Santa Elena’s hungry street. Translating as soup of the beast, it was a disgusting broth of stomach lining and other mystery parts (maybe some sort of jelly marrow?) washed down with a horrible juice. Ugh.

Three Months in? I always think travelling for an extended period distorts time. I feel like the last three months have lasted forever, and happened instantly. We’ve done so much, and are in the middle of doing so much that I have yet to comprehend it all and mentally sort through it. It’s been tough at times definitely, but no more than the other times I’ve been away. On top of that though is the knowledge that me & Bee will probably never get to spend this much extended time in each other’s exclusive company, and that makes every moment really special. Even when I have to ask her to wash her socks in the sink as they’re so disgustingly smelly I can’t even be in the same room as them.

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LIST THE COUNTRIES YOU’VE VISITED IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE! DO IT NOW!!! Ok, ok… It’s a tough one, and with the caveat that we’ve still got a fair bit of Colombia to do, and our Ecuador time was spent mostly on one of the most magical places on Earth… Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile………………………………….Peru.

Bee Says:

My order of preference is a tiny bit different:

Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile…….. Peru too.

The Backstory

WELCOME! Have a look around, be sure to read all about who we are and what we are doingmeet Nick, meet Bee and swat up on where our South & Central American travels will take us. With a month to go until we head up, up and away, we thought we’d start by filling you in on when the plans for this adventure first began…

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Bee says: Ever since we met, Nick & I have been committed to taking a huge adventure. Nick has done quite a bit of backpacking before, and is certainly bitten by the bug. I love visiting foreign lands, but have never had that opportunity to skip out on real life and leave the country for any extended amount of time. For this reason… it would probably surprise all of our friends and family to learn that it was ME who first suggested this trip.

Nick & I first met two years ago (almost exactly) at Media Guardia Edinburgh International Television Festival. We were both a few years into careers in the media, and applied for a scheme called “Ones to Watch” which gives you the training, exposure and access to big TV cheeses to in theory “fast track” your career.  From hundreds of applicants we were both selected to attend. Part of the application had been to pitch an idea for a strand in BBC2’s The Culture Show and out of the 40 delegates, four of us were chosen to then pitch the idea LIVE to a panel of industry experts/commissioners and in front of an audience of 200 wider television festival attendees. So, kind of like Dragon’s Den, but live, and with our entire future media careers and reputations on the line. No pressure! You can probably guess where this is leading… Both Nick & I were selected and had to go head to head, in this super daunting and pressured environment. We love to think about the geeky maths and statistics involved in us meeting – both being selected from 500+, to 40, to 4. It’s strange to the think how many people and processes played a part in our relationship. Rather than becoming sworn rival enemies, we actually helped each other practice and prepare and over post-its, power points and cue cards…  Neither of us won the pitch, but we did win each others hearts (way better than five minutes of fame) and that night we celebrated our blossoming love in that classiest of ways; tequila!

In a Jose Cuervo fuelled haze, at 2am, I asked Nick if he wanted to run away? It’s the first and only time I will ever ask someone this question, and despite only knowing me for about 36 hours at this stage, luckily for me he said yes. It may have taken two years of scrimping, saving (discovering Friday Night Lights and swiftly consuming all five seasons really helped with this part) and then the perfect opportunity landing in our laps to get that one-way flight booked, but here we are teetering on the edge of a month to go and we’ve finally come good on that drunken promise. I can’t wait to drink tequila IN Tequila, Mexico to celebrate…

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Nick says: Bee’s pretty much summed it up right there. Well, at least the reality of how this trip is happening. The truth is that for me, I’ve wanted to go to South America since I was 18. I always knew that I would go back-packing after Uni. With my friend Mark, I planned a grand trip to Australia, South-East Asia and then through Asia, a quick stop back in the UK to say hello, then onto South America. Except it didn’t quite work out like that. Not knowing the world’s greatest recession was just around the corner, I blindly leapt into the unknown in late November 2006, visiting Oz and South-East Asia and returning 9 months later after detouring to South Korea for a month to help teach/have a quick look in North Korea. Broken both financially and physically (thank-you Thai boxer), I needed to get a job.

So I moved to London. And there I struggled to earn a living, pay rent, and have a life. I tried to save, I really did. But my token travel fund never really got above £1000. Then I spent that clearing my credit card debt. All the while, people I knew always asked me if I’d made it to South America, then expressed surprise when I said I hadn’t., ‘Oh, I thought that’s what you told everyone?’. Then they started going over there themselves. While I lived in an over-priced box room in East London. I told myself I only wanted to go there if I could go for months on end, otherwise what was the point? Then I started going to other places instead – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia, Albania, Italy, India, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany. Short trips, but trips all the same. But was I scratching an itch or feeding the beast? South America began to sound like a pipe dream, something you tell yourself, ‘I’ll do that one day for sure’, and then never do.

Then I met Bee. Then we had a tequila fuelled conversation. Then I knew I was going to make it to South America after all.  I’d always planned a solo trip, but truthfully I probably would never have made it without her. We got organised, motivated, and dedicated to saving. I changed career path in order to become freelance and give myself the flexibility to take this trip – and then that paid off when an absolutely brilliant work opportunity came along which enabled us to go ahead of schedule and live the dream (and claim we’re busy dammit!) Now here we are – about to finally reach South and Central America.

// Before we leave the UK, we’ll be blogging about our experience in preparing for something like this – particularly focusing on saving and budget tips, the medical implications (no one can prime you for the news that you need 15 vaccinations!) and packing; given that we have opted for the smallest 35 litre option backpacks, packing for six months will certainly require some sort of miracle.