Mindo was my last stop in Ecuador. It is a mountainous region with a subtropical climate famous for butterfly and bird watching. I met a couple who recommended to go to a place called Pacha Quindi near Mindo to see humming birds. I got off the bus early thinking I could walk the rest, turns out it was a 6 hour hike up a mountain. I figured I could grab a taxi (no such luck). I walked for an hour in the heat with my backpack and eventually I managed to hitchhike to the hidden bird sanctuary.
The bird sanctuary experience wasn’t exactly what I expected. It turns out it’s run by an American guy from Mississippi and a German woman. The only way to get into this place is to hike down this trail there is no sign so you have to find a local who knows the way. This place has the most species of humming birds in all of Ecuador (a total of 42). The National Geographic and BBC visit the place every year to document the unique species. It was incredible and I’ve never seen anything like it. Bird watching sounds boring but it’s the opposite. I was addicted from the minute I arrived. It is really hard to take photos because they are so sensitive to movement. Tony the owner was saying he goes through 18,000 bananas a year just for the birds! He was an eccentric character. We spent hours chatting mainly about his previous drug addictions and his experiences with being homeless for years and how he turned his life around and became a very successful bird watcher. I think he is fairly famous in the bird watching community (such a thing exists!). The conversation soon turned from birds to talking about jehovah’s witness’s and the bible (just my cup of tea). I ended up hitching a ride back to Quito with their house keeper delira not to have to tackle the 6 hour hike!
My original travel plan keeps changing but I had considered going to Brazil after Ecuador but after meeting Nils (the German) on the Galapagos Islands he begged me to go to Colombia with him. So with a change of plan, I booked a last-minute flight to Bogota to meet him. I keep saying it but having no plan is the best plan of all I love not knowing where I’m going to end up. We are planning on travelling together for a couple of weeks around Colombia. The poor divil has no idea what he has let himself in for. I’m looking forward to having a travelling partner for a while especially in Colombia. An organized German is just what the Doctor ordered and hopefully my disastrous travel stories will be kept at bay for a while anyway….
My last day in Ecuador was a stressful one. A very long story but I ended up complaining to Doite the tent company in Chile about their dreadful tents and explained in detail about my disastrous experiences of sleeping on mountains and in caves etc…. In short, they said they would send me a brand new tent and inflatable mattress as an apology! Happy fecking days. The only issues was it arriving on time…. The agenda of the day was to go to Riobamba to pick it up which was a 5 hour journey (I was getting it sent to a random lad’s house I met in a restaurant a few weeks earlier). When I arrived to collect it they said it was actually in a different region in Ecuador (at the other side of the country). Fedex said I would have to pay 80$ to release it and it would take 3 days.
It was all looking a bit grim but after about 50 Spanish e-mails and numerous phone calls I managed to get Fedex to agree to get a private courier to ship it to Quito. It arrived in a random bus terminal 1 hour before my flight left. Chuffed with my new house and very excited for some new camping adventures. I then made my way to the airport to stock up on free chocie and perfume samples.
Lots of people I met decided to skip Ecuador. It is a tiny country for South American standards but offers so much and I loved my time here. An obvious highlight was the Galapagos Islands which is a place I will never forget. Food was also pretty good and I’m still salivating over Ibarra’s famous ice creams and Otavalo’s maize and cheese delights. Also I can’t forget the really special people I met along the way.
I met Nils at the airport laden down with a mountain of stuff (including 2 tents and a mattress!). He was also picking up 4 of his Austrian friends who he traveled with for a few weeks. We all decided to go to Bogota’s famous techno club Baum where we managed to survive the party until 8am. Very Berlin feel to this place there is a huge tree in the middle of the dance floor and a glass roof so you can see the stars. V cool. Feeling v rough the next day we did a cycling tour of the city. It was fairly heavy on the history and politics bit (not my strongest suit on the best of days). I had a bit of shut-eye for this part but perked up for the second half of the tour where the freebies were introduced. This included Colombia’s famous Arepa (a disgusting flatbread made out of maize), juices and ice creams made out of exotic fruits. So that perked me up a bit. After some hummus and flatbreads myself and Nils caught a bus to Guatape and we said goodbye to the Austrians.
Guatape is a stunning place built entirely on an artificial lake. It is home to lots of Pablo Escobar’s estates (he had a total of 500 houses). We walked up to the famous piedra where you have stunning views of the lake. That afternoon we rented paddle boats. A wild night with Nils in bed at 4pm still recovering from the party! I practiced my Spanish with a few Colombians and a smelly French Man who was stinking up our dorm room.
The next day we did a really interesting tour to one of Pablo Escobar’s holiday homes. Interestingly all of the house keepers inherited Pablo’s estate when he died. We met the owner of the property who spoke to us in Spanish about Pablo. He started working with him when he was 12 and worked for him for a total of 27 years. Initially he was Pablo’s house keeper and then became head of security of the property. We finished our trip with Colombia’s famous dished called Bandeja paisa which is OK. The food in Colombia is renowned for being fairly bland. This dish is definitely not on the light side and consists of fried pork, chorizo, bacon powder, plantain, egg, beans, avocado and of course the god awful arepas. It’s alright to taste once but you defo wouldn’t be craving this feed.
We made our way to Medellin and checked into our hostel (The Garden of Blues) in the hip area of Pueblito which has really cool cafes and bars. We did an amazing free walking tour of the communa 13 area. This place has such a sad history and its only recently that this place is safe for tourists to visit. Unfortunately, the guide who lives there told us that there are still random shootings in this area. While we were there having a few beers we saw the locals do amazing street dancing and rapping. We stayed too long and ended up walking home in the dark which felt scary. It was definitely my favourite place in Medellin.
That night we went to a compulsory salsa bar El Eslabon Prendido which is famous with the locals on a Tuesday night for its live music. It was amazing but needless to say we stood out like sore thumbs trying to master the moves. The colombians are ridiculously good at dancing. After a few shots of aquadiente with some random Indians we picked up on the street we were ready for round two of dancing. Aquadiente is a disgusting liquor similar to sambuca that the Colombian’s go wild for! They only drink it straight!!!
Medellin has so much to offer and we planned 5 days there but you could easily spend more. A popular activity is paragliding over the city. An amazing experience! It’s really chilled and so relaxing. We couldn’t have picked a better time to be in Colombia and the locals are going crazy for the world cup. Literally every street corner is selling jerseys and flags so we obviously jumped on the band wagon and bought all of the merch in anticipation for the first match.
I chose the salsa bar so Nils got to chose the next club and opted for an open bar night club. When we arrived the ques were out the door which is always a good sign until you realise they are 15 years old. Anyway Nils adamant to try the free bar and insisted to go in. Thankfully it was ladies night so I paid 20,000 still a rip off and Nils paid a whopper 40,000. The ‘open bar’ was not opened when we went in and turned out the free bar consisted of all you can drink bottles of the undrinkable aquadiente and some diluted beer. It was interesting to be part of a Colombian teenage disco and was definitely reminiscent of our days in Wez (minus the blaring regatone)!! I endured an hour of the aquadiente hoping it would ease the situation. We moved on and I choose the next club an excellent salsa bar with amazing music and dance with no entry charge!!!
The next few days were spent drinking in gorgeous coffee shops, visiting the stunning nearby parks, taking the cable car and doing the free walking tour (one of the best I have ever done). Medellin was amazing and I will be back. Next stop Cartagena.