Week 30; Mindo, Riobamba, Bogota, Guatape. Ecuador & Colombia

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.

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Bird Watching in Mindo
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A rare sighting of a Tayra animal

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!

 

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Humming birds love the rain
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This was one of my favourites
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Humming bird in Pachu Quindi near Mindo
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Tony filling up the banana supply during a rain storm
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Feeding off bananas

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.

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Riobamba

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.

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Special people

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.

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Myself and the lads
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Powering through the cycling tour

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.

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Paddle boating on the river
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The famous piedra rock in Guatape
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Guatape
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Top of the rock

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.

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Pablo’s watch tower
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Nils’s at Pablo’s pool
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Outside Pablo’s house
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Guatape’s cathedral
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Colourful town of Guatape

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.

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Communa 13
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Communa 13

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.

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Paragliding
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Myself and Bruno watching the paragliders
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Getting ready for the match
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Bruno also getting ready for the world cup!

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.

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Street art communa 13
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Street art Medellin

 

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Nils in Medellin

 

 

 

 

Week 27: Banos, Riobamba & Otavalo. Ecoudor

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.

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Some of the waterfalls on rute de la cascadas
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The route down into the devil’s cauldron. It was almost impossible to take photos here because of the sprays from the waterfall

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.

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Full of optimism for the cycle home

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

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Views en route home in Banos
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The prettiest fruit stands selling only  fruits local to the amazon region
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The gent who gave me these mandarins on the house!

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.

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View of Banos
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The perfect day to wear a dress
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Casa del Arobol ,Banos

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.

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Banos’s massive sugar cane industry

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!

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Stunning views of Ecuador’s highest peak Chimborazo
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It was a baltic one

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.

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They have the most amazing clothes in Otavalo (and of course gold teeth)
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I asked this woman could I take her picture and she agreed only if I bought one of her tops. An excellent business woman
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I couldn’t get enough of this cutie
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A trip to Otavalo isn’t complete without buying one of Ecuador’s famous hats
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Cheese, Ice cream and fruit! I’ve seen it all

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.

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Lago Del Cuy
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You can take a boat around the different islands
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All of this completely to myself!

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!!!