A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: TheNomadWay.com

Colombia - Popayan

25 °C

After our stop over we braved the winding road and 8hr bus journey to Popayan. We chose to travel during the day as the road is dangerous at night due to guerilla presence. Our bus was searched by police several times during out trip. My favourite being when a policeman jumped onto the bus to check ID´s and balanced the barrel of his giant shotgun perfectly on Paul´s knee!

Popayan was lovely, a clean city centre, with whitewashed colonial buildings, and at our hostel (Park Life) we had a room overlooking the buzzing central plaza. Paul and Pete (a fellow Aussie) had the AFL Grand Final up on the hostel TV, and with a supply of cold 'Poker' (Colombian beer) began to teach a group of Europeans, Americans and anyone else who would listen, about a 'real' sport...


The three boys Paul, Pete and Stefan, went on a daytrip to the Purace National Park, where they encountered gurgling sulphur hot springs, kilometres of walking through rainforest and paramo landscapes at 4000m altitude, and eventually thumbed ride back to town... managing to persuade the driver he could fit another 3 men into the back of his already overflowing pickup truck (11 in total).


We also experienced our first earthquake in Popayan. Whilst sitting in the hostel mid-morning enjoying a nice cup of coffee, everything started to rock. It lasted for about a minute with wall and light hangings just holding on! Paul, just out of the shower, was faced with the dilemma of whether it was worse to run outside into the plaza in his towel or stay inside and get dressed.. Luckily there was no damage caused, but a reminder they can happen at any time! Loving the warmer weather and the constant availability of tasty coffee in Colombia!

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Colombia - Las Lajas

We travelled 6hrs from Quito to the border, with food sellers jumping on the bus at every stop desperate to make some money...with anything from home made ice creams, to fried pork on offer! We met some other travellers at the border and formed a happy bunch of 5. The road into Colombia is pretty dangerous at night due to guerillas in the area, who hijack busses and relieve everyone of their valuables fairly frequently, even when the buses travel under police convoy!


So as it was nearing dark we chose to stay near the border town of Ipiales, next to the spectacular Las Lajas Cathedral. The Cathedral was completed in 1949, built on a bridge spanning a spectacularly valley. There are waterfalls spurting from the surrounding lush cliff sides and a river running underneath. We sat back an enjoyed a drink and the view as the sun went down, feeling pretty happy to be in Colombia.

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Ecuador - Mindo

25 °C

We were on the road with a couple of other travellers and decided to head to the Mindo 'cloud forest' in northern Ecuador. As we drove in we felt the temperature climb, the air was filled with moisture and the rolling hills were shrouded with clouds...hence the name. A gorgeous spot to spend a few days, although we confess to not doing much at all during our time here! Paul went to visit the waterfalls in the Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest, a beautiful place to hike and explore 6 waterfalls. All went really well until they decided to walk the 2 hour road back into town...instead of walking back to town, they walked for an hour in the wrong direction! It was raining, getting dark and they are lucky the road came to a dead end or they'd still be walking. Just by chance an Ecuadorian film crew was driving past (as often happens in the middle of nowhere!) and gave them a lift. Meanwhile I had a trip to the doctor, who gave me some antibiotics to treat several days of stomach pain. All for free, thank you Ecuadorian government!


We stayed at the very nice Casa de Cecilia, perched on the riverbank, with a variety of rooms. We started off in a dark cave-like room, then lucked out for our last couple of nights when we moved to a room with a view out over the river and lush green cloud forest. Although a little dangerous for the waistline, the chocolate brownies sold at the chocolate shops around town are also not to be missed!! We spent a few peaceful hours at a butterfly sanctury, where we walked through a butterfly filled greenhouse, saw some crazy Orchids, some shaped like shoes, others like angels, Ecuador has thousands of endemic species of Orchids. Then we relaxed in hammocks and watched hummingbirds feeding in front of us!


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Ecuador - Otavalo

22 °C

Paul's Brazil visa application was to take a few days in Quito so we decided to head two hours north to Otavalo, home to South America's largest market. We went on a Friday afternoon in readiness for the early Saturday mornings animal market. What a treat. Cows, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits, puppies and kittens...all being bought, sold or traded. The other market, full of artesinals (hand made products), arts, crafts, food and more flowed out from the main square along the town's central streets...so much to explore.


After some haggling, we made a few purchses and headed back to our accommodation, Rose Cottage. It is about 4 kms out of town, set magnificently on a hill top, surrounded by deep valleys and green mountains, with a view down across the town. We definately recommend this place to anyone coming to Otavalo. (Plus you can stay in a cubbyhouse! Well, pretty much). We de-stressed from the market mayhem with a few days of relaxation in hammocks, taking in the views, and watching some movies from Rose Cottage's never ending DVD collection.


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Ecuador - Quito

22 °C

We have heard a number of unfriendly stories about Quito from other travellers, someone even told us it is a 'right of passage' to have your bag stolen or get mugged whilst staying here!

With our secret money belts in action and our bags all locked up we bused into town. After a smooth journey into our accommodation, Hostel Chicago, in between the New and Old parts of town we were able to relax. Quito is divided into two parts, the Old Town which is full of beautiful buildings, big plazas and spotless streets, with shops and restaurants catering to locals. And the New Town, which doesn't have the charm of the Old, but sits close to some big parks and caters very well to the tourist crowd with numerous cafes, bars, and tour agencies. So for us our hostel was in a perfect spot, between the two, and it also had a fantastic deck from which we could see out across the city!

We exlpored the stunning old town, which was filled with vibrant people and headed into 'Calle La Ronda', to see Quito's version of a Saturday night. An old laneway completely buzzing with locals, live music, good food and jugs of cañelazo ~ hot rum and fruit drink, which come served with giant empenadas (fried dough). We enjoyed seeing the locals up dancing to live salsa music having a good time, and finished the night off with some tasty pizza sold through a window. And we met a couple from the UK, as it turns out we've been following each other around the continent for the last 7 months!


The Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the word = Equator) is just a few kilometres north of Quito, so we headed there the next day. There's a giant monument on the equator 'line' although there's a bit of debate about exactly where the equator is, the place next door claiming it's actually there! Being Sunday it was a big family day, with salsa music and more dancing in the plaza nearby, and perfect weather to enjoy a beer in the sunshine.


Our next few days were filled in with sightseeing and exploring the New and Old parts of Quito, and taking in the fantastic view from our top deck!

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Ecuador - Latacunga & Quilotoa

21 °C

It is refreshing, in Ecuador, to reach a new place after a short 1 or 2 hour bus ride, compared with the massive distances covered in other South American countries, often on night buses. We arrived in Latacunga early afternoon, and were greeted by some stray urine that got whipped up in the wind from an old guy releiving himself on the main bridge...hmm. We stayed at the very good Hostel Tiana, who gave us heaps of tourist info about trips from town.

We'd arrived in perfect timing to visit the nearby town of Saquisili, which goes market crazy on Thursdays. We managed to make it through 6 of the giant markets, and there are 8 in total! Selling everything from live animals, electronics, fresh food, handmade textiles and more... One market was called the 'potato market'..which had an astonishing amount of potatoes, as you can imagine, amongst onions and other things which had crept their way in!


Latacunga doesn't have loads going for it but it's the best base to venture out to the impressive Quilotoa crater. The next day we did the 3 hour journey to the giant volcano crater, which sits at 3,919m above sea level and houses a beautiful lake. We peered over the craters edge and then walked/slid our way down to the water, over steep, dry and dusty terrain. The lake had super clear water, complete with row boats and a small hostel. There is a myth amoungst local people that the lake has no bottom...but we weren't game to find out. Strangely, it's $40 US to see this place on a tour, or around $8 if you go as the locals do, on busses then the back of a pick up truck...a little more interesting.


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Ecuador - Baños

21 °C

Argentina has Bariloche, Chile has Pucon, Peru has Huaraz and Ecuador? Baños, famous for all things adventure. Rafting, hiking, biking, buggy riding, zip lining and bungy jumping...all set in a stunning valley, huge waterfalls and towered over by the 5016m high active Volcán Tungurahua. Touristy? Yes, but for good reason, and we loved it.


Our highlight was hiring a 2 seater buggy and cruzing down the Ruta de las Cascadas (road with loads of waterfalls) along a winding river with huge cliffs, zip lines and cable cars, that culminates at the gob smacking Cascada Del Diablo with enormous amounts of water gushing over a cliff top. When you get close you get drenched in water, this didn't stop us, or all the locals. And just when it couldn't get any better, we climbed through a narrow rock crevace and emerged BEHIND the waterfall, with gallons of water exploding in front of us!!


A hike around the mountains surrounding the town, a cable 'cage' swinging across the top of 2 waterfalls (which Lucy thought were her last few minutes on Earth as it hung mid canyon swinging in the wind...lucky we didn't go for the ziplines!). Coupled with some great Pizza at 'Pappardelle' and hanging out with a nice Austrian couple in the our clean and homely hostel 'Princesa Maria,' we loved our time here, despite the regular rain!

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Ecuador - Guaranda

22 °C

Our bus trip to Guaranda climbed and climbed, until all vegetation disappeared, as our breathing got a little tough we knew we were getting pretty high up. Turns out we were cruising along at over 4,000m. Soon we were almost level with the monsterous Volcán Chimborazo, masked in clouds and towering over us to our right. You might be suprised to hear that at 6310m high it is actually the furthest point away from the centre of the Earth, due to the bulge of the Equator (take that Himalayas)!


We breathed a sigh of relief as we cruised down into Guaranda, at a mere 2,650m we could breath easy. It was a typical Ecuadorian town, friendly locals, nearly no tourists and surrounded by lush green mountains. We stayed in the nice Casa Grande hostel and tried some tasty morachas at the market...hot milk and rice drink, flavoured with spices and of course lots of sugar (we're in South America after all, sugar is their bread and butter).

We took a day trip to Salinas, a small town an hour away set amoungst rolling hills, famous for their production of cheese, chocolate, salami and textiles amongst other things. After we overloaded on cheese and some chocolate covered coffee beans, Lucy found a woolen handmade cardigan, and after the textile lady whipped out her knitting needles and tailored it to fit, it was of course 'the perfect cardigan I couldn't do without!' Sold.


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Ecuador - Alausi & the Nariz del Diablo

22 °C

Our guidebook described the Nariz del Diablo, (The Devil's Nose) train ride as hair raising, a 500m descent in only a few kilometres, with 2 switchbacks on cliff edges. Tourists used to take the journey on cargo trains, hence they crammed on the roof, but 4 years ago there was a nasty incident with a low hung TV cable, needless to say roof-riding has been banned. We decided to go and check it out!

The train ride, and mountain were given the name 'The Devil's Nose' due to the thousands of lives that were claimed during its construction over 100 years ago. In the last few years since the incident, the Ecuadorian government has invested loads of cash into the area, so it is now a tame tourist attraction complete with modern train, guide, museum and local dancers. We hung out with cashed up older toursits who were en route to the Galapoas.

It was a great experience, as train rides are hard to come by in South America. Alausi, a nice town and Ventura Hostel seemed to be the pick of the pricey accommodation bunch.


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Ecuador - Cuenca

19 °C

From Loja another short bus ride and we arrived in Cuenca, a much larger city. Staying on the outscirts of the CBD we felt immediately at home in the great Hostel Alternative, which was spotlessly clean. We were there just in time to head to the Sunday markets in the surrounding villages of Gualaceo, Chlordeleg & Sigsig. What a treat that was. Local dress, many different top hats and colourful wraps on the women. We sampled some rico (tasty) and fresh fruit juices, in a giant food market, which took over an entire plaza in Gualaceo! Checked out the jewellery shops in Chlordeleg. Then had lunch in the food market, where to Paul's delight they were rows of whole pigs cooking on a spit, complete with ladies crisping up the crackling with blow torches! The day was finished off with a moracha ~ hot milk and rice drink, flavoured with star anise amoungst other things, and a lot of sugar!


Our next couple of days in Cuenca were shrouded in a constant drizzle, so wrapped up in jackets we braved the colourful cobblestone streets, colonial buildings and impressive churches. Handmade Panama hats are a pride and joy of the town, with many shops selling them. Also not to be missed were the shrunken heads in the museum 'Pumapungo' where Ecuadorian tribes used to cut off the heads of their enemies and shrink them down to the size of a fist to keep as a momento. On our last night we made the most of the 2x1 coctails on offer at a nearby bar, with some other travellers we'd met.


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Ecuador - Loja

19 °C

Loja was an overnight stop-off on our way north, and being the first Ecudorian city we had seen, we were very impressed. Mercedes and VW's zipping through the spotless streets, and shops for everything you may need from hardware to jewellery, bakeries and clothes shops.


There are many coffee farms in this lush area of Ecuador and therefore coffee shops galore, the aroma of freshly ground coffee drifting out into the narrow streets...mmm! Lucy was super happy to find a 'coffee strainer' a great S. American invention to make a cup of freshly ground coffee on the go ~ perfect for travellers, no plunger required! Loja was a great city to wander through for an afternoon, including a visit to the Puerta de la Ciudad - gate of the city.


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Ecuador - Vilcabamba

20 °C

Vilcabamba, set in the so called 'Valley of Longevity', where people live forever thanks to the ideal surroundings, climate, food and a stress free lifestyle. It's actually full of western hippies young and old, yoga and meditation camps. Still, the setting is beautiful and Vilcabamba was a great place to rest and hippie'it up. It was a welcome change to our last few days of rural travel.

We washed off the layer of dust and stayed at the fantastic Le Rendez-Vous garden retreat, on the edge of the small town. Surrounded by leafy plants, hammocks and home made bread for breakfast we had no trouble relaxing straight away. Our 3 days were easily filled with some of the many walks on offer, a visit to the 'mini zoo', and discovering some of the delicious restaurants and cafes. We took in the fantastic view at Izhcayluma which serves up great food, wine and has a dayspa (life was complete for Lucy), and the pizza at Shantas Bar, was as good as it gets in South America!

Loving Ecuador so far...


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Peru to Ecuador - Journey from Chachapoyas to Vilcabamba

22 °C

The most popular crossing from Peru to Ecuador is along the coast via Mancora..as we were in Chachapoyas, we tackled the furthest inland border crossing, renowned for being a scenic rural crossing with bad roads and many vehicle changes!

We headed north to Bagua Grande in an 'auto' which works like a shared taxi, picking people up and dropping them off along the way and despite an hour pit stop when our driver decided to have lunch, it was a smooth and very scenic drive along a river winding through green mountains. The first change wasn't a change at all, our smiling driver continued on our chosen route to Jaen, chewing some tasty sugar cane along the way, from some children selling it through the car window. The climate changed dramatically to became much more humid. After a quick tuk tuk to another taxi terminal in Jaen we were swiftly rounded into another 'auto' to San Ignasio where we spent the night in the pretty fancy Gran Hotel. All up about 9 hours and the scenery was magic.


The next morning we choaked on dust for 2 hours along the 47k strech to La Balsa at the Ecuador border..yeah the road was pretty bad but they are doing a lot of work to improve it, which meant it had cut down our travel time from the expected 3hrs. Immigration in 5 mins and at 10:30am, we were in Ecuador!


Just when everything was going smoothly it turned out we couldn't leave La Balsa until 6pm that night as there was a festival procession of thousands of people from Zumba walking down the only road out of town! Hmmm 7 hours twiddling our thumbs stuck at the border..luckily there were loads of people coming into town for the festival which gave it a buzz and plenty of music and street food on offer. Instead of heading all the way to Vilcabamba, we stayed the night in Zumba (1.5 hours away) with 3 other travellers who also got held up. They are travelling through the continent on motorbikes..two of them heading overland all the way to Vancouver!


On our third day, we caught a 6 hours bus which cut its way over cliff edges, and into Vilcabamba ~ The Valley of Longevity. All in all a great trip and if it weren't for the once a year procession, easy to do.

For those contemplating the trip, all the info you need from the tourist office in Chachapoyas, is on here: www.thenomadway.com/chachapoyas-vilcabamba.php

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Peru - Chachapoyas (an unmissable corner of Peru!)

19 °C

Back on our first overnight bus in a couple of months and we swung into Chachapoyas in the middle of a festival! Locals were lining the road of the main square with a carpet of dyed sawdust creating elaborate pictures...all to be stamped over a few hours later by a large procession for the Virgin Mary. We managed to find a great bakery with coffee (Cafe San Jose) to wake ourselves up before we spent the day exploring the cute colonial style village. Not only were there celebrations for the Virgin Mary but also a carnival, so we couldn't resist taking a ride on the ferris wheel as the sun went down and digging our teeth into some 'toffee grapes'...the Peruvian version of a toffee apple..tasty! We stayed at the nice Hostal Rumi Wasi, just off the plaza which was recommended by some friends.


The next three days were full of some of the most fantastic things we've seen during our time in Peru. We started off with the Kuelap ruins, built between 400A.D. and 1400A.D. modified by each indigenous settlement inhabiting them. A giant outer wall surrounds the ruins which are perched on a hilltop protrusion, surrounded by spectacular lush green hills, not far off Machu Picchu but minus the hoardes of tourists! As Kuelap was more recently discovered and not as well known, there has been little reconstrucion and remains a very rustic site, with a lot of the ruins sitting amoungst trees and undergrowth. We then took a 3hr walk down 1000m to a small village where we got to take in some of the spectacular scenery and met the bus on it's way back to Chachapoyas.


The next day we headed to Huancas only 20mins away from Chachapoyas and were absolutely amazed to find a giant canyon just on the edge of the town! Canyon del Sonche wasn't mentioned in any guidebooks, or even in the info brochures we were given, the tourist information guy just happened to mention it as we were on our way out of the door. If this was anywhere else in the world it'd be a giant tourist attraction! We took in the stunning view from the lookout tower and paths around the top, where you can see all the way down (about 1000m) to a river running through the base of the canyon.


Discovered by the outside world in 2006 where it was rated as the worlds third tallest waterfall, Gocta couldn't be missed while we were in this magical corner of Peru. Dropped of by the bus on the side of the road, we soon realised we were stranded no where near the start of the 5 hour walk! We madly waved at the only vehicle we'd seen coming up the dirt track, which turned out to be a private van belonging to a big family, who we ended up hanging out with for the day. Gocta Waterfall was breath taking and the walk into the base was beautiful, winding through farm settlements then down into lush undergrowth. It's hard to describe the magnitude of the 771m of water falling down a cliff face, and the stunning jagged green hills surrounding. Dropped back at our door by our adopted family, the day was complete after dinner at Polleria Mayrita for a massive plate of tasty chicken, chips and salad...a welcome change to rice!

Hardly touched by tourists, Chachapoyas is a must see if you head to Peru!

Check out the small red blur in the image on the right, it's Paul!

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Peru - Huanchaco & Trujillo (Our home for 6 weeks!)

22 °C

An overnight bus and taxi sent us to Huanchaco in Northern Peru, a small surfing and fishing town which is 15 minutes from Trujillo, Peru`s third largest city. Well known as a gringo trap, we fell straight into it, and after only planning a 3 night stop, we have ended up staying for 6 weeks!

During our first few days we sampled more ceviche, which is a dish made with raw fish, lime juice and chilli, delicious, but we always cross our fingers and hope it´s not going to make us sick!! Watched many spectacular sunsets, as the sun turns into a big orange fireball on the hazy horizon. Checked out Trujillo city centre, which is full of colourful buildings and a plaza, of couse! We also took a few surfing lessons, choosing the very good Muchik surf school from the bounty of surf schools available in town, although somehow we´re not really any better than when we started! It didn´t help that one lesson was cut short by Paul turning geen and bolting in to the toilet to struggle with the full body wetsuit..!


There´s a great swell, but the beach is not quite up to the Australian standard we´re used to. Once you dodge the many rocks, sea urchins and jellyfish it does the job. We have been pretty shocked by the amount of litter strewn across it, and even locals strolling up, unzipping and using it as a toilet! But all this aside it is a gorgeous beach, we´re just a little bit spoilt back home! Plus it´s lined with traditional reed fishing boats, Caballitos de totora, used by the locals to get a fresh catch fish early in the mornings.

So once we got our act together, and decided we needed to do more with our time than visit the bakery for their lemon merangue pie, we signed up to do some voluneering with an organisation based in Hunchaco called Otra Cosa. Paul´s joined the office to help out with the marketing side of things, and I´m helping out at a wawa wasi, which means daycare centre in Quechan, one of the traditional indian languages of Peru. There are 8 childen aged betwen 1-4yrs cared for by one madre (mother) from 8am to 5pm in a room in her house. Pretty big job, so they are always thankful for volunteers. The wawa wasi is in a shanty town and the children are selected as being those most in need of help, and the meals they get in the wawa wasi may be the only meals they have for the day. It´s certainly been an eye opener and has tested my spanish, but the children are just gorgeous and my madre is a pleasure to work with.


We have also moved into a house in town, which was such a find, we have a massive room and bathroom and access to kitchen etc it´s so nice to have our own space after 6 months in hostels. We also have some great housemates, lots of Aussies, one is a yoga teacher across the road (Lucy´s happy) and there´s a dog. So this is our new family for the next few weeks as we settle into life in Peru.

If anyone is thinking of doing volunteering in Peru, get in touch with Otra Cosa: www.otracosa.org

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