For this blog, we asked our friend Jo (Queen Minion if you will) to take the reigns with the writing. So far we’ve only given our view of places and experience and so we wanted to take the opportunity to get a bit of an outside view from someone joining our travels for a short stint. What was it like to travel with us? How was it backpacking (as opposed to a more traditional vacation)? What did she think of the places we visited?
Jo, our guest writer (Queen Minion)
What she’s produced is so much more than what we expected. In fact we’re so happy with it, we are considering outsourcing our blog full time to her. Just the writing mind you. She’s not the best with the technology.
We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did…. Thanks Jo for such a thoughtful piece! Big love from your boys.
Was it really only 3 weeks?
Am I going to compare and contrast the countries? No, I don’t think so. It’s impossible, my impressions are fleeting, and certainly for Ecuador limited to one city. Will I touch upon the places, and the stand-out moments for me? I absolutely hope so!
So the topic? Let’s start with life of a traveller versus the life of a visitor.
I think, having now visited the boys, choosing a life of travel can be alienating. We exclaim in wonderment, smile at the stories, and find joy in their happiness, but quite quickly I realised that they’re wandering down an intrinsically different path to the rest of us.
Real life and immediate conversation for most people is work, bills, family, the gym, running, fitness, hooking up with friends, people we know (and I think that catch up for us was all achieved during the beer they very thoughtfully and oh so typically met me with at the airport!).
Picking up Jo at the airport
And it’s not that these aren’t still real things in the life of Carl and Jeroen, but on occasions I could see the flare of worry when I mentioned work, reflection and in some cases melancholy when talking about family, longing for friends when mentioning the names that aren’t there.
The thing is, these are no longer the things that they’re busy with. Life to them becomes where to go next, how to get there, finding the best hostels, what to do, building in rest days, budgets. In essence that becomes a job. And yet, it has to be done efficiently because let’s not forget the ultimate aim is to see South and Central America, experience them, and build a life of new places, new people, new experiences. And they have this down to a tee. So imagine what happens when someone comes and (not purposefully) upsets that apple cart.
Carl the ultimate planner, Jo the ultimate free-wheeling & whatever girl, Jeroen the elastic band holding it all together
Soul mate he may be, but at more than one point, Carl and I were definitely suffering from ‘kill or be killed’.
Carl – “Jo what do you want to do?” Jo – “Whatever, here to see you two aren’t I”. Wow, helpful Lloyd! This was written on Carl’s face through gritted teeth on more than one occasion.
Jo – “what we doing today, want to do something, are we going somewhere…?”. Carl – “think today will be a bit of a rest day”. Jo – “Oh, ok”… and now, for shits and giggles, even though I know I am annoying you, I will sit and dead-eye you whilst talking utter nonsense to Jeroen for the next 4 hours. Quiet time, unlikely! Perhaps just introduce a naughty step for my next visit?
Because if you think on it, when you’re visiting for 3 weeks, you want to squeeze out every moment you can. Go up a mountain (check), ride a horse (check), swing off the edge (check), ride the cable cars and the funiculurs (check), wander the city and do 3, 4, 5 tours (check), eat out and drink local beers (check), hike the [national] parks and go to the beaches (check), go partying and dancing – the ‘Triangle of Doom’ style (check), dance on a roof-top until morning (check), meet locals, meet travelers, travel on local buses, make travel plans, change travel plans, stay in hostels, moan about hostels, climb a big rock (El Penol), see the colourful town, hunt down the Escobar story, experience a local neighbourhood, run in every new town or city, worry about your life being extinguished in the back of a crazy-assed taxi (check, check, check). But I was visiting. I can sleep on the plane home, I can sleep it off in the weekend I’m home, jeez I to be honest I even slept it off during the week I returned to work!
Experiences of Jo (click pictures to enlarge)
But for the traveler, seasoned they have become, they need their rest days. Because this is their life, it needs to be like a 5 on, 2 off situation otherwise they risk burn-out. And having someone come, who wants 21 days hard at living is a drain as much as it is fun. Having someone else to plan for changes the dynamic as now it’s rooms for 3, travel for 3, finding things to do that you all want to do, and don’t get me started on trying to satisfy the many many MANY food quirks of Jeroen and me, and then 3 became 4 (with Su – a fellow traveler from South Africa, and Kim – another of Carl’s friends from back home, joining us in Quito and Colombia) and the dynamic changes again.
Impressions of Ecuador & Colombia
My impressions of Quito are limited to struggles with altitude, struggles with the high concentration of pollution, many beautiful parks, the sprawling city that is Quito (it simply does spread in every direction in what feels like forever), and some really limited variation for nights out.
Ecuador for me was about being top tourists… and Su. We of course went to the equator 0°,’ 0 , 0, we of course did an amazing city tour (and explored some gorgeous churches whilst hearing about the social and political struggles within Ecuador. We of course went up the mountain on the first of my Teleferico experiences. The stand out thought was the energy and fun that Su brought to our time in Quito. From tourist pictures at the swing, to tourist pictures at the equator, to going to a market 2 hours away only to spend as little as possible dressing each other up as tacky as possible to go be top tourists in the local bars (special thanks to Jeroen for buying me a leash and dog balls to play fetch!), to playing shot-roulette with the ickiest combinations possible. This South African girl is a delight. Funny, chatty, interesting, high energy, gorgeous girl.
Impressions of Quito (click picture to enlarge)
That being said, Quito is a lovely city that just suffers from having its back-side handed to it on a plate by Columbia. Not just visually, but in a way, I felt the Ecuadorians were already slightly over tourism compared to Colombia asking for it with open and friendly arms.
Already having mentioned a lot of activities, maybe more of an overall impression of Colombia is WOW.
Bogota first. Someone in the hostel told me it rains every day in Bogota, and I say, so what! I’m a city lover at heart and even the limited and unexpected visit to this one felt vibrant if you look past the grey buildings and see amazing street art, look past the bricks and see the mountain background, look beyond the armed police and guards (and tear gas!) and just experience the friendly bustling vibe of colonial neighbourhoods. Already Colombia it felt welcoming and friendly.
This was only built upon again and again as we moved north/ west. Next came Medellin, another city but highly contrasting to the capital. You can see the poverty of the Barrios (more on this in a moment), whilst experiencing the greenery of a botanical garden. You can stay in a beautiful neighbourhood in Poblado but within minutes you’re in a locals club listening to local Techno and experiencing Colombian clubbing. Diverse and beautiful and yet a city under transformation.
Onto Guatape, what is the most colorful town I’ve ever seen, with every building painted a different colour, markets and parades in the colonial square, green and lush forestry, clear blue lagoons and sunshine (at last!), and on the periphery, the achievement that is climbing La Piedro El Penol for luscious sights in every direction.
Then even further north, to a seaside town on the Caribbean coast, Santa Marta and the Tayrona National Park, where the sun is blazing, the sea is warm and blue, and despite a 2 hour trek through clammy cavernous inclines and dunes and forestry alike, the beaches are worth every hot, stressful step.
All this aside, it is the Escobar tour and the tour into the Barrio in Medellin that I have taken away with me and will simply never forget. Where we met local people speaking openly and passionately about the countries troubled past, wether it be cartels, paramilitaries, petty crime and poverty – all still prevalent today. But those same people are fighting for regeneration, growth, development – call it what you will. Those same people are asking us as a western world to remember history is just that – history. And are now welcoming us with warmth and a desire to show us, perfect they may not be, but improving, beautiful and a unified country on the move – upwards, they are. Colombia blew my expectations in a way I don’t know how to use words or photographs.
Impressions of Colombia (click picture to enlarge)
Travel and running
So is there anything left to say? Of course, there’s the running. I managed to run in every town and city we visited, even around an airport motel car park (who doesn’t want to make the claim they ran in Rionegra, the birthplace of Escobar?!) but wow was it hard, with heat, my lack of directional ability, not having the proper fuel for distance, and of course the ALTITUDE. That pesky altitude! But I did it, 8 places, 8 runs (including the Miami layover), almost worthy of a medal one might say.
Medals, Medals, Medals!
Of course there were medals. But not for running. And herein lies the joy of best friends. 6 months apart we may have been, but only they would know to get me surprise medals and present them on a cushion with Olympic presentation music. Only they would buy medals to congratulate me for navigating the travel alone, for not moaning up a mountain, for making it to a new country, for hiking a national park, for climbing a flight of stairs (all be it on the side of a mountain). Medals for being Lloyd in essence. From my biggest supporters even from across the world.
An amazing time. My best ever time.
If it’s not already clear, Colombia stole my heart a little. Actually a lot, who am I kidding! And not just the very obvious Medellin, but also the contrasting beauty of Guatape and the contrasting city-scape of Bogota, that’s without ending at a gorgeous national park and series of beaches on the Mediterranean coast.
But here’s the thing for me, whether we’re laughing (an absurd amount as always), wandering aimlessly (standard), crying (oh yes, there were tears too), talking nonsense or debating life and the world and our place in it… it’s us. The same even when different. My heart and soul tethered on a piece of string flying high and living the very best version of themselves.
So here it is, my blog. Little about the countries. They can do that so much better than me. But about the two boys we all know and love. They’re more than ok, they’re living the happiest life of a traveler. So go visit. Because even though there may be a little drama when Carl wants to plan the arse out of how you’re going to navigate from your room to breakfast (I’m kidding Carl, kinda!), be assured Jeroen will negotiate peace (as long as he’s had 12 coffees and 4 cigarettes of course) and bat-shit fun-times will resume. And to be honest, the life of a traveler suits them, even when they have their own self-doubts, so this could go on for a long time… Asia next right?!?!
Ecuador – 1 week, Columbia – 2 weeks, Carl & Jeroen – 3 weeks, and the love for my best boys and the phenomenal experience they shared with me – always and forever.