It has taken me almost six months to be able to write this, partly because I cannot physically put into words what the trip meant to me and in a way writing this officially ends the best year of my life (I am also guilty of being v lazy). But here I want to reflect on what I learnt from travelling solo for one year and a few of my favourite photographic memories and maybe even inspire one or two of you to book that scary one way flight into the unknown!
Trying to settle back into ‘normal life’ after 12 months on the road has been challenging to say the least. Living in a travel bubble for one year completely separated from reality changes your priorities and your entire perspective on life. This bubble is both uncomfortable, scary, exciting and dangerously addictive. Travelling solo as a female around Latin America is definitely a challenge but is one of the most liberating and exhilarating things I have ever done. Anyone nervous especially girls just do it. I think everyone should experience solo travel at least once in their life.
I have gotten better at embracing the here and now even if it is a two hour commute on a bicycle to Tallaght. I am a sucker for a challenge. This commute often feels like backpacking (or cycling Bolivia’s death road aka the Greenhills road in Walksintown)!
Since starting I have had 4 punctures, been hit by a car (luckily I was okay the woman thought I was a wheely bin), ended up hitch hiking to a presentation (that’s a v long story), cried for an entire hour en route home pretty convinced I had frost bite (I did not!!), almost got blown away during multiple storms. Admittedly it is usually quite bleak but there is the rare day where the wind is behind my back, sun is shining and I am listening to the Beach Boys and I feel invincible. The quick morale of the story, cycling in Dublin is a joke but better than public transport!! Our bodies can do so much more than we give them credit for.
During my trip someone once told me I was a magnet for problems and disasters. Maybe that is true these disasters have subsequently followed me to Dublin and most likely will follow me wherever I end up next. Only last week I set my hair on fire in a restaurant in Berlin while roller blading a Half Marathon!!!!! Sometimes you might feel like crying and whenever you do try your best to laugh! No joke, literally everyday of the trip there was some kind of a disaster in store both major and minor. I look back now and can honestly smile about them all.
I find it difficult to describe how I feel after the year away but it is without a doubt an emotional roller coaster consisting of indescribable joy, loneliness, guilt, sadness, isolation and fear. A year of camping, hitchhiking, sleeping on mountains, caves and couchsurfing went by in the flash of an eye. I was broke, homeless, lost, robbed, held up at knife point and violently sick (on numerous occasions). You do stupid things and all rationale goes out the window. A perfect example of this is me buying a motorbike in Brazil with the plan of biking through the Amazon into Colombia?! In my defense I had been on a bus for almost 3 days so I was little delirious (as opposed to normal!). It is still there in case anyone reading this in headed to Brazil!?
Just a few of my photographic highlights
Some parting advice;
Don’t always take the easy option get on that bike, book that flight, step into the unknown and who knows what might happen you may even be lucky enough to pick up a hot German in the airport. Life can pass us by in the blink of an eye so speak to that stranger, be open-minded and curious. Everyone has an untold story waiting to be heard.
I completely get that hitchhiking, couch surfing and sleeping in tents isn’t everyone’s gig but it’s always good to put yourself out of your comfort zone every now and again (no need to be as extreme as me aka 8 weeks straight in a tent). The experiences you will have will be authentic, exciting and unforgettable. You think you can’t do it but you absolutely can!
Money seriously comes and goes and ultimately can be replaced. Some of my happiest memories are when I didn’t have any. Material things are so un-important but memories will last forever. I know its v cheesy but it’s true. I became so much better at accpeting at dealing with things that got lost, broken and robbed and believe me there were a record amount of things.
The best thing I did on the trip? becoming fluent in Spanish. I will never forget Christmas was spent with a group of Chilanos who hadn’t a word of English and after everyone pissing themselves at my Spanish attempts I persevered and months later I landed myself a job in a hostel in Cusco and was able to lap away to every randomer who came through the doors in Spanish. Progress!! It’s hard work at the beginning but just power through it is so so worth it. The whole point about travelling is obviously seeing amazing places but for me it is more about connecting with the people. Doing both is a glorious combo.
Life is a series of peaks and valleys and just like traveling it is not always going to be Instagram perfect but wherever you are living learn to live in the moment is the best thing we can do. No matter how grim, how cold, how tired or how fed up you are there is always a solution, put a smile on your face and power through. Even a 25 hour bus can have its up sides! Some of my most challenging moments of the trip are now my best stories and fondest memories but at the time I clearly remember thinking I had hit rock bottom (sleeping in a cave alone is perfect example of this).
A final thank you to all of the amazing people I met on the trip, the strangers who took me in, fed me, the couch surfing community and those who picked me up off the sides of the street. I am also so grateful to everyone who spared the time to read about some of my trip.Your comments and messages meant the world to me.
This quote perfectly summarises what travelling means to me
”Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” Anthony Bourdain
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.
Week two on the Galapagos started off with my German friend Nils leaving for Quito. I was so lucky the guy he was couch surfing with, Robert said I could stay for free once he left. I ended up staying in the mother’s bed room (she was mia at the time). I decided to spend a few more days on the Santa Cruz Island. I made great friends with the biggest legend on the Island, Vicky, a lovely girl from Venezuela. I used to camp out in the agency where she worked eating sea food empanadas and ice creams doing the odd bit of English translation.
Robert, kindly gave me his bike one day so I decided to cycle to a nearby beach called Garietera (only 15km!!! away). Broke the bike en route so had to get a local to fix it and eventually reached the beach (drenched in sweat). It was pretty secluded so most people don’t bother coming here (unless by taxi). I immediately went swimming. This beach is more famous for its beauty rather than its snorkeling. However as always, I ended up swimming far out and bumped into huge stingrays and a few sharks. I know most of the sharks in the Galapagos aren’t dangerous but when you bump into them alone without a group I kind of freaked out. Anyway after the initial shock I was delighted with my discovery. Back on the beach I went for a bit of shut-eye before the dreaded cycle home.
One of the other days I went to the Charles Darwin Centre which is one of the few free things to do on the Island. It’s really interesting and talks about the conservation of a lot of the endemic animals on the island especially the tortoises. Near here there are stunning beaches with amazing snorkeling. I got chatting to a few locals who brought me quite far out to see sea turtles and lots of sea lions. The people on the Island are absolute gems and really friendly. Dinner that night was with the Americans in our usual spot consisting of an array of freshly grilled fish and a few lobsters for good measure. No expenses spared!
I wanted to explore another Island so I went to Isabella which is the largest on the Galapagos. You take a two-hour ferry (this time I had no issues with the police and brought only apples with me; guava and blackberries are the only illegal fruits). Isabella is stunning and has amazing sandy beaches. It is home to lots of flamingos and penguins. The penguins are unique to the Galapagos and found no where else in the world. I spent 3 days here where one of the days I cycled to the wall of tears which is the remains of an ancient prison on the island where they used to send slaves. During the cycle there are stunning hidden beaches that you can stop off at. Idiot here forgot to bring her bikini (to a beach!!!) but lucky me it was so quiet I almost got away with swimming in the nip. I wore this see through dress while snorkeling but didn’t realise my arse was completely on show. It was only when I got out that I was greeted by an Italian photography club. They were there taking photos of pelicans at sunset and evidently my arse too. Mortified!! Anyway I picked up a few photography tips from the hard-core photographers and a free pack of stale oreos off their guide. Happy out I made my way home in my see through dress in time for a glorious sunset.
The next day I went on Los Túneles tour where I bumped into the legendary Rosemary once again (the 70-year-old backpacker with hairy legs). This was my favourite snorkeling of my entire trip. You snorkel through under water tunnels made out of lava and amazing coral. We saw absolutely everything loads of sharks, sea turtles, gigantic sting rays, penguins and sea horses. This particular area is home to lots of the blue footed boobies ( amazing birds) definitely one of my favourite animals and I was dying to see them up close.The blue footed boobie isn’t born with blue feet they only develop as they become older. They use their feet as a way of attracting the females. The bluer the feet the sexier the bird.
The captain of the boat couldn’t get over how pale I was and thought I was from a different planet. This resulted in an invitation to sit with him on the roof of the boat for the entire journey. This was incredible. He even gave me his 300 dollar sun glasses so I could spot all of the amazing sea life underwater. If only he knew my track record with sunglasses but obviously I said nada (still a little petrified of breaking/losing the expensive glasses). En route home the boat abruptly stopped where the captain immediately told us all to jump in for a chance to see 2 metre wide sting rays this was the highlight of the day amazing!!!!! Hard to believe these animals even exist.
Before catching the ferry home I squeezed in one final snorkel in a beautiful coral area in Concha de Perla where I had a final dance with the playful sea lions. Very sad to be saying goodbye to these legends.
Back in Santa Cruz I went back to Robert’s Mothers house to see if I could stay another night before my flight home. But Robert had left the Island and instead I found a really hairy hippy in my bed so I decided to look else where. I went back to the travel agency to catch up with Vicky. After some 1 dollar ice creams and cameron empanadas (2$), the most stunning food on the Island. The owner asked me if I fancied a job in her agency that she was looking for someone who liked talking to randomers and who had some basic Spanish. She even offered me free accommodation in her house, Seriously tempted I told her I’d be on to her in the future. Instead she said I could sleep in the agency that night on the couch after hearing about the hairy man in the bed!!Happy Days!
So the Galapagos was never on my agenda but what an amazing experience. I met some of the best people and experienced the most unique wildlife. It’s almost impossible to be sad on the Galapagos because in ever corner are exotic animals. Having no plan is the best plan of all ( Germany might not agree with me on this one) but I love the freedom of it and not knowing what is around the corner. I will certainly be back and who knows maybe as an employee I could think of worse places to work.
Arriving back to Quito was depressing to say the least and I was greeted to the most horrific storm. I had to make my way back to Hennessy’s house (the Venezuelan girl minding my backpack). I eventually negotiated the public transport to her neighborhood, an extremely dangerous part of Quito. A group of women told me I shouldn’t go there that robberies were rampant. A kind stranger eventually made contact with Hennessy and brought me directly to the house. I didn’t want to sleep there again because it was quite obviously a dangerous part of town but Hennessy insisted on me staying. I bought a cake as a thank you but it almost resulted in a physical fight because there wasn’t enough cake to go around for the expanding crowd living in the house aka room (It was 16 that night including me). Apparently, earlier that day there had been a shooting on the street . So the night was quite terrifying with people banging on their ‘windows’ which were made out of card board and constant sirens. I didn’t sleep a wink terrified of what might appear in the room. As per usual I was serenaded by the 8 Venezuelans snoring. On this occasion I had to share a bed with the one-legged man. A fairly rough night and quite the contrast from the Galapagos but a genuine insight into the lives of lots of Venezuelans at the moment. I really hope their situation improves soon and I would love to visit their country some day. The following morning Hennessy was up at the crack of down boiling pots of water for my ‘shower’ and making me chicken soup and sugary coffee. I eventually gathered my bits said goodbye and made my way to the Quilotoa Laguna looking like a wreck.
The Quilotoa Laguna is one of Ecuador’s highlights. It is a collapsed volcano which is filled with water. You can walk around the entire crater or walk down into the volcano. The colour is incredible because of the high sulfate content. Lots of people do multiple day trekking around here but I decided to just go to the Laguna because the weather was fairly bad at the time. Making my way back to the bus I got chatting to a guy called Rodrigo who offered me a lift back to Quito as he was headed in that direction. We had a great chat and he invited me for a steak. 8$ for a filet mignon. It was sensational and my first steak in 3 months. I got a tour of Quito by night and Rodrigo kindly offered me a place to stay, an absolute gent. The next days plans was to go bird watching in Mindo.
So with last-minute flights booked to the Galapagos I had to make my way back to Quito. I ended up missing the last bus because I was browsing the street food stalls for dinner and obviously got carried away. I was told at the terminal if I wanted to make it to Quito that night I would have to go to the motor way to try to flag a bus down. A pain in the arse with my ever exploding backpack but at least it was an option. I ended up meeting a girl from Venezuela doing the same.
After chatting to the gal from Venezuela named Hennessy she immediately invited me to her house in Quito to stay before my flight. We were chatting for hours and it turns out Hennessy has been living in Quito for the past 6 months while her mother and 3 children are still in Venezuela, where the situation is really volatile and dangerous at the moment with lots of the country fleeing for safety. She is trying to secure a permanent visa so that her children can come to live with her. Sadly her brother, a policeman, was killed last year. He was stabbed during a protest. Hennessy was in Otavalo for the day helping a friend of hers (also from Venezuela ) to find a job. This poor man lost one of his legs last year also in a protest in Venezuela where a car ran over him. I couldn’t have felt more guilty about saying I was off to the Galapagos Islands the next day. We have no idea how lucky we are to be able leave our country yet alone travel. There are so many people here who will never have this opportunity and they want to do everything to help us.
When I arrived at Hennessy’s house there were 8 other Venezuelan men all sharing one tiny floor. The area was quite obviously dodgy and the taxi man was worried about letting us out of the car because there were some dangerous characters around. I was immediately treated to a Venezuelan delicacy of some flat breads and cold tuna pate. It was disgusting but the nicest gesture. The sleeping situation was a bit rough to say the least but I was so grateful to be there because I left all of my tent, sleeping bag etc…..so that I could travel to the Galapagos lightly. In the middle of the night I felt ants and spiders all over my body now I’m not sure if it was bed bugs (never experienced them) or potentially there is something dodgy living in my sleeping bag. I was serenaded by 7 different Venezuelans snoring their heads off for the night but I didn’t care I was far too excited for the Islands. Everyday I appreciate how lucky I am it’s honestly only when you physically meet these humble people who have fled from their countries and families that you realise how blessed we are.
The following morning was a little stressful I wanted to give myself loads of time at the airport and contrary to normal I wanted to be organised. But Hennessy had other ideas she was up at 5am making more of these Venezuelan flat breads and boiling pots of water so that I could wash myself. I know I’ve been living rough but this was incredible. I insisted I could find a taxi alone but Hennessy was having none of it and wouldn’t let me go alone as a result I barely made the flight. This was partly caused by me getting v delayed at a FREE chocolate tasting en route to the terminal
On the flight I got chatting to my neighbor Wilson who is working in the Galapagos for the next 3 months. We got on great and before I knew it he was offering me a couch to stay on with his friend Carlos. Free accommodation in the Galapagos is a rarity so I was v v lucky. Security stopped me en route in as I accindently had a leaf in my backpack which is a big no no and they were not impressed. They are really strict about entry to the Island. Day 1 on the Islands I had no idea what to do/expect so lucky me I found a really organised German who I met on the plane who had itineraries coming out of his ears so needless to sy I tagged along.
The Galapagos is one of the most unique places I have ever seen there is exotic wildlife wherever you turn with lots of the species only found on this Island. It is notoriously expensive and a place I had never planned on going to but worth every penny.
Myself and Germany on our first day did some gorgeous snorkelling in an enclosed cave called Las Grietas. We finished the day by going to Tortuga bay a stunning beach where you see lots of marine Iguanas, an endemic species that can only be found on the Galapagos. Swimming here we could also see lots of baby sharks. The government are extremely strict about conserving the nature in the Galpagos so all beaches close at 6pm.
Santa Cruz Island has the most amazing kiosk street with the freshest exotic fish you can imagine. Naturally they are all gagging for your business. We ended up finding the best restuarant on the island and went there basically everynight. A group of American men recognised my loud voice from the plane and called us over claiming Irish ancestry which deserved a few celebratory beers. The sea food here is all freshly grilled for you and is out of this world and a whole grilled fish for 7$ is a steal (including salad, rice, plantains, coconut, chili and garlic sauce). The Americans were legends and we ended up having dinner with them most nights (mostly on the house, v v generous people). One night we had a random gathering of people including a opera singer who sang me a personalised version of Ave Maria I almost chocked on my fish trying not to laugh.
On our first night together myself and Nils were starving even after finishing dinner. We were ease dropping on the couple next to us who didn’t finish their lobster. Gagging for a taste I asked the waiter could I finish their left overs. A little taken aback he gave them to me. Myself and Nils sucked the leftover lobster dry. Divine. The Gallaghers would be proud especially my uncle Joe who wouldn’t waste a crumb. I have learned never to have any shame when it comes to good food and luckily Nils was on the same page.
The only way to see lots of the exotic animals on the Island is to take daily tours. This is obviously really pricey and tours range from 100-200$ just for a day trip. The next day Nils was doing a tour and I decided to rent a bike with 3 other guys to go explore the Island’s lava tunnels, volcanic craters and visit the tortoise reserve. This was an amazing day just hanging out with giant tortoises, unique to the Island and the largest reptile on earth. They believe that up to 20,000 tortoises have been removed from the Island since the arrival of humans. Today only 10% of the original Galapagos tortoises remains. The tortoises feed off a local fruit tree called Guava which is delicious but the islands are having huge issues with this fruit (and blackberry) as they are spreading rapidly which is effecting the growth of other animals/ species. An interesting fact 1 pile of Galapagos tortoise poo can contain thousands of seeds which is spreading the Guava all over the Island.
One of the days myself and Nils went snorkelling to a place called Pinzon which was absolutely incredible. We got to swim with loads of sea turtles, marine iguans, sharks, playful sea lions and lots of amazing exotic fish and star fish. I didn’t want it to end. Lunch was fresh tuna fish on the boat.
So when we got back to the Island we both decided we wanted to change our flights to stay longer. The first thing that happens when you arrive in the Galapagos is you get overwhelmed and want to do everything. There are lots of free things to do but if you want to reach some more remote places you need to go on a cruise or take the tours. The tours aren’t cheap so you have to be selective and really think about what you want to see and what you can afford. I was chatting to a chap who said you can change your flights for 16 dollars and it was v easy. When I went to the flight agency they told me that normally it is only 16 dollars but somehow I managed to book my flight as an Ecuadorian citizen so it would be 135 dollars. God only knows how I managed that. I didn’t need much convincing and decided it was worth the extra few dollars to extend my stay to 2 weeks on the Island.
Most people who come to the Galapagos split their stay between the 3 islands. So we set off for the ferry to San Cristobal ons of the days. The journey is renowned for pukers! Idiot here didn’t realise that I had Gauva fruit in my bag that I had picked on my cycle the previous day. Anyway carrying this fruit is taken very seriously because it is threatening species. The security on the boats took me aside saying it was illegal to transport this fruit. I asked them could I eat them before boarding not wanting to waste the delicious fruit. Strangely enough they let me eat them but I then had to fill out an incident report, the fruit skins were weighed my passport was taken a big hulabilu. The security people thought my name was Irish Roisin. Loving my new name! Anyway after all the fuss the boat was waiting for me to leave we eventually got going and a pretty turbulent 2 hour trip. Luckily I was able to keep the puking at bay if you will pardon the pun.
We were greeted by crowds of sea lions in San Cristobal they are definitely one of my favourite animals on the Island. They love humans especially when you are snorkelling with them in the water. For the day we hiked to some lovely view points and went to a spot where there was free snorkelling where we saw more sea turtles. It was here that we met legendary Rosemary a 70-year-old Canadian who has been backpacking for the past 10 years since the death of her husband. She too extended her flights. We instantly bonded over having hairy legs and not caring although Rosemary may have taken it to the extreme. Myself and Nils were starving and lucky for us Rosemary produced the goods; cucumber slices with mountains of salt all cut on her hairy thighs. We spend ages chatting about rosemarys fondness for smoking weed and how she has landed herself into more than a few hairy situations (if you will pardon the pun). A legend to say the least.
Banos is a gorgeous town surrounded by volcanos, mountains and waterfalls. There are lots of action sports you can do here zip lining, canyoning and rafting. Having done these before I opted for the reliable rothar. I rented a bike to cycle the famous ruta de la cascadas where you stop off at lots of different waterfalls. It was so good to be back on the bike after months. The first stop was to see “Cauldron of the Devil” an amazing waterfall in the Rio Verde area. This waterfall was seriously impressive and you hike down to get to some gorgeous viewpoints. We got absolutely drenched during the hike.
Afterwards I was the guts of 1/2 hour trying to unlock my bike. When I managed to unlock the bike it 100% was not mine it was a huge mans bike. I have no idea how I managed to do it anyway I was secretly delira it was miles better than the ladies bike I started off with.
I continued on the stunning route viewing lots more waterfalls. I went as fair as Rio Negro which is the official start of the amazon and where most people start jungle treks. I got lost in the most amazing place and that’s where I stopped for lunch. A kind American found me and got me back on the main route. The route is almost entirely down hill on the way it’s so much fun as you are basically free-falling the whole way. The way home on the other hand is no easy task. For that reason most people get the bus back with their bikes. I was urged not to cycle back saying it was too hard. When someone tells me I can’t do something it makes me want to do it more so the tough cycle home was happening regardless.
The uphills were torture but it was great to be back exercising as I’ve become pretty lazy lately. Carrying the backpack has become the new gym. I stopped off to buy some fruit and the lad felt so sorry for me that the oranges were on the house. A gent! I’ve noticed here whenever you say you are planning on walking or cycling somewhere the locals really try to discourage you! I asked him how long I had to go and he said 35km and I’d easily cover it in less than 1 hour. Now maybe he thought he was dealing with Lance Armstrong but a good rule of thumb is never ask someone is South America how long left because there estimations of time are outrageous. The 1 hour turned into a torturous 3 1/2 hours. It was tough, nothing compared to the hellish ring of Kerry but then again nothing ever will be. But it was worth it, the sun shone on the way home and the views were gorgeous. Despite some mechanical bike issues en route home I managed to make it back to Banos before dark not feeling my arse. I treated myself to pizza and beer that night and slept for 12 hours. MAGICAL
The iconic images of Banos’s are people on the swing (in a cool tree house). Most people opt for the bus up to the top and the hotel owner urged me not to walk that is was too tough. People here really hate exercising! The walk was rough I made it to some holy statue where I saw two kids and asked them how long left. They responded by saying no more than 10 minutes and that they were going in that direction too. Happy days, well not so happy days they’re ridiculous estimation of 10 minutes turned into 2 1/2 hours. Outrageous. Anyway the weather turned for the worst and there was a storm on top. Weather was really atrocious I mean it couldn’t have been worse. Sure you win some you lose some. Luckily the swing was still operating and it was pretty cool being flung through the thundery clouds. I stupidly wore a dress so ended up flashing the poor chap pushing me. En route up I picked up a German and American teenager. The trek down in the storm was way too dangerous so we camped out at the top by the fire drinking the most delicious hot chocolates and eating empanadas.
We hitched a ride back with a party bus which included a visit to the local sweet factory! Banos is really famous for its sweet production to due the vast amount of sugar cane in the area. The jelly sweets are made out of a local fruit (can’t remember name). Dinner that night was half a chicken carcass, potatoes and salad.
Next day off to Riobamba where I had a very good couch surfing with an eccentric man called Holger who has hosted 2,800 people he even has his mother hosting people. When I arrived he was in the middle of making homemade ravioli (my favourite but unfortunately not for me). There isn’t much happening in Riobamba it’s a good base for climbing Chimborazo volcano (6,263m). Up until recently it is compulsory to go with a guide if you want to summit because apparently it’s quite dangerous. So I decided to trek up at far as 5,000 m which is free. There were only 3 us trekking and lucky me got stuck with the strangest Columbian man for the trek. He was giving out to me for wearing sun glasses because apparently I was blocking out the natural forces. He then was encouraging me to drink the water on rocks to help with the altitude sickness. I then told him I was sick and would prefer to walk alone no such luck the kind stranger insisted on staying with me. So lots of deep Spanish conversation were to be un avoided for the next few hours. Even the topic of aliens was covered. I needed a stiff drink after listening to his rigmarole!
En route home to the crazy chef I got severely lost and ended up walking like a headless chicken for 2 hours. Luckily though, I found the most amazing Mexican restaurant where the owner was nice to me and told me I could spend all night there while I waited for my bus to Quito which was at 2 am. The people in Ecuador so far have been amazing. Next stop was Otavalo which is known for its famous Saturday market. I arrived feeling/looking pretty rough having spent the night in the bus terminal. You forget about how tired you are when you are here the market is amazing you see the most amazing crafts and clothes. I loved it here.
Just north of Otavalo there is the amazing Cotacchi Volcano. This was an amazing day. The hike is a 14km loop around the most stunning lake. I met a few grumpy Englishmen at the beginning and then after that I had the place to myself. It is a crater at the foot of the volcano. It is called Lago del Cuy or Guinea Pig Laguna because the islands resemble guinea pigs? After the hike I met a lovely guy who treated me to a traditional Ecuadorian snack of choclo (corn), toasted banana chips, onion, tomato and limes. This is eaten by all of the locals as a snack and its so delicious and only 50c. We had a hot fruit drink made out of a local fruit (can’t remember the name), maize and pineapple.
Dinner that night was on the streets. It consisted of cow’s foot soup. Once I removed the cow’s foot it tasted delicious and had a lovely flavour of peanuts. The next thing was the star of the show I wasn’t even hungry but there was a little old woman selling bags of maize and cheese and the people couldn’t get enough of it so I had to try it. This was sensational and only 50c. The cheese melted into the maize and it was topped off with a spicy chili sauce. I could live off this stuff so good.
That night I was in one of my impulsive moods and when I got back to the hotel to collect my bag to leave for Quito I started looking up flights to the Galapagos Islands. And before I knew it I was booked onto a flight for the following morning. This place was never on my list because it’s so so expensive but every backpacker you meet says it’s really worth it. I think one of my better impulsive decisions. I didn’t sleep a wink with the excitement of it all. I CANNOT WAIT!!!
I decided to stay in Cachapoyas longer than expected it’s such a gem of a place. It is home to Gocta waterfall, classed as the third highest in the world at 771 m high. The highest in the world are Angel Falls in Venezuela and the second highest are Tugela Falls in South Africa. Claudia who I was couch surfing with is a guide in the area so took me to the non touristy trail (even though this entire area does not see many tourists…yet). This waterfall has been known to the locals for centuries but it was only in 2002 that they were discovered by a German tourist who noticed them on google maps . Crazy how many un discovered beauties are potentially still out there.
Myself, Claudia and Tibet the dog headed off to Gocta. The route was stunning with hundreds or fruit and coffee trees and the best thing there wasn’t a sinner there. We hiked for about 5 hours uphill until you get to the top of the waterfall. The photo’s don’t even nearly justify this place it was spectacular. As per usual I had a fall on top trying to get a picture because the water from the falls is so strong. Very sad a tourist died at these falls last year because he swam in a forbidden area. Beautiful yet dangerous place.
After the highest point you descend to the bottom where you can swim, an incredible (albeit freezing) experience. Having the world’s third largest waterfall completely to yourself was one of my highlights of the trip so far. Next time I want to camp here I didn’t want to leave this stunning place. Everyone needs to go here, seriously cool.
Fedo (the other Argentinian couch surfer) didn’t join us on this occasion and I was kind of glad. It transpired that Fedo has no money and hasn’t had a debit card for 9 months. He has been just couch surfing and occasionally going to Western Union. I’ve no idea how he has survived. Well actually I do…..he scabs off everyone else. So completely emphatising with someone loosing their card and having no money I lent him money. For breakfasts and lunches he was eating all of Claudia’s food (who was too nice to say anything) and soon enough all of my food. Now I was happy to share because I can’t physically carry all of my food but he was taking it a step too far when he started eating my chocolate!! He got fed and watered for 1 week without spending a penny. I got annoyed when I saw him lashing into Claudia’s good Italian olive oil and asking for the parmesan I wanted to knock him out with the cheese. Not even an utter of thanks, unbelievable. On my last night we went out for pisco sours as I wanted to thank Cluadia little did I know I would be thanking Fedo too because once again he had no money!
A lesson to us all if you have no money you don’t go for pisco sour no matter how delicious they are!!!! Myself and Claudia had a ball together one of the best couch surfing experiences to date. We are both massive foodies so I have half promised to return to open up an Italian cafe with her in Cachapoyas. Our last dinner was probably the nicest food I’ve eaten in 6 months. An insane and extremely understated salad of; chicken, potatoes, lettuce, tomato, onions, avocado, cucumber, sunflower seeds, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, basil and huge chunks of parmesan, We calculated and the whole dish cost 1 euro in the local market. O mo dhia it was divine all it missed was a large glass of red. Dessert was this almond nought from Italy and ice cream and then off to the bus station to try to make my way to Ecuador.
Peru has been amazing and I’m so glad I finished off in the north. I love the freedom of having absolutely no plans it’s the way to go you never know where your going to end up. The food in Peru has been a highlight with the stand outs being ceviche and just in general the food is so flavorsome and dirt cheap. If they could sort out their wine situation then we would be laughing (it’s sickingly sweet). Peru has it all ; beaches, jungle, desert and incredible trekking. It’s the third largest country in SA so 2 months here didn’t cover the half of it.
The journey to Ecuador involved two night buses in a row so this was always going to be a rough one. The first one was v v comfy but I didn’t sleep a wink with excitement. I arrived in Chiclayo and had the day to kill and spend the last of my pesos. So no expenses spared I had a fabulous breakie of pineapple juice, mixed exotic fruit salad with chia seed porridge and brown bread with avocado, cheese and toms and excellent coffee (a rarity when backpacking).
Lunch was not so fabulous. Really sleep deprived and extremely hot ( I was wearing half the wardrobe and it was over 30 degrees). I researched this place a lot deciding to treat myself to Chiclayo’s most famous dish arroz con Pato (rice and duck). The restaurant was buzzing and packed with locals which is always a great sign. When my duck arrived it was a devastation. What it was, was a mountain of greasy rice and a lump of cold duck. The best thing about the dish was the side of onions and chilis. I ordered a frozen Chica (typical Peruvian drink made out of maize). Anyway not one to waste anything I packed up the left over rice for the bus journey that night. I spent all of my remaining money on that muck, my most expensive meal in Peru.
The mauldy rice made the journey with me to Ecuador and we both endured the next night bus together. This bus was also v comfy Una you’ll be glad to know I splurged on the expensive ticket. Once again I couldn’t sleep I think the smell of the duck and rice was nauseating me. When we arrived at the border I was a complete disaster. I ended up queuing for 1 hour in the Peruvian que and didn’t notice there was a que especially for foreigners. A kind lady pointed me in the right direction. I spent ages trying to find a pen to fill in the customs form when I eventually handed it in the Peruvian customs said they didn’t want it so I put it in the bin (naturally). I made my way back to the bus and before I knew there was a guard chasing after me. I forgot to go to the Ecuador customs (a minor detail). They needed the form I had put in the bin. I then went back to the loo to try to find it with the guard escorting me But to no avail, I filled out another and had the whole bus waiting for me . In my defense this whole operation was happening at 3 am in the morning!
Anyway back on the bus we eventually made it to Guayaquil in Ecuador where I had to catch yet another bus (only 3 hours) to Montanita. The beach! During this whole operation I managed to lose my greasy rice somewhere between Peru and Ecoudor I was raging having lugged it around for the past 2 days. When I arrived at the hostel I got stuck into a hammock and couldn’t move expect for food and loo breaks. I looked like scene from a horror movie. This was me for the next 3 days absolute bliss. Montanita is a party place and has gorgeous beaches and is a popular spot for surfing. It is a little bit touristy for my liking but for a few days it was perfect. Swimming here was a little tough going because the waves are pretty crazy but it was still so good to be back in the water.
One afternoon while walking in the town who do I find but my box of Peruvian rice and duck sitting on a hedge. I know a bit disgusting but I couldn’t leave it behind. We had been through a lot together. So dinner that night was stir fried rice! I cooked the life out of it to kill any dodgy bacteria and it actually didn’t taste half bad! This is typical Gallagher behaviour and reminded me of my Uncle Joe; a lunatic but a legend.
Next stop was Banos known as the gateway to the amazon. It started out as a bit of a disaster. I organised couch surfing with a guy. I firstly told him the wrong time because I thought the bus was 3 hours it turned out it was 10 hours (an easy mistake), the second major issue is there are apparently two Banos in Ecuador so idiot here ended up at the wrong Banos, So the poor lad was waiting for me at the bus station. Anyway potentially a blessing in disguise I ended up in a private room in a hotel for 7 dollars a night. A delightful change from my usual sleep set up!