Colombia: take 2 (the meltdown diaries)

It’s taken us a while to get around to writing this blog post.  Not because we haven’t had the time, but more because it’s taken some time to really give a place to our feelings about our second trip to Colombia.

We’d decided to go back to Colombia months ago as we hadn’t spent much time there the first time around and wanted to explore it a bit more.  Especially Medellin, for which we’d felt a spark when we visited with Jo & Kim.  We stayed in Medellin for 5 weeks, incorporating a few smaller trips in the middle and finished with 6 days to explore more of Bogota.

In the end the experience wasn’t really what we were expecting.  Hence the point about ‘finding a place for our feelings’.

A combination of things left us feeling a quite low during the 1 ½ months we spent in Colombia.  Missing our friends and family back home.  Missing Amsterdam.  Even missing work, for crying out loud (although that was a bit of a stretch)!  We felt a bit claustrophobic – particularly in Medellin, which as a city I think we struggled with sometimes as it’s not really the place where you can easily spend day after day walking and exploring (albeit a beautiful city, it’s very spread out with concentrations of activity in certain places, and also very hilly!)  We felt without purpose, now that we’d taken a break from the more hectic travel schedule, and given how tricky it ended up being trying to get some volunteer work.  Even taking full time Spanish classes didn’t really help to alleviate this.  All of this ultimately led us to be a bit reclusive (spending a lot of time in our accommodation) and, for the first time, to really start to question what we were doing; almost to the point of us feeling guilty about being on this trip and considering canceling the rest of our plans and going home.  At some point these feelings kind of became a bit of a vicious circle; the more we felt this way, the more reclusive we became, the harder it was to get energized or enthusiastic about things and the more we seemed to feel guilty, question everything and doubt ourselves.  It’s fair to say we had a bit of a mini-meltdown (verging on pity party) going on for a while.

We realize how ridiculous this must sound to most people.  ‘Poor Carl & Jeroen feeling down and homesick after a 12 month, once in a lifetime trip.’  And to be honest, looking back we’d be inclined to agree (somewhat).  It is kind of ridiculous.  Although, it’s also probably not that strange that at some point we might have such a period.  Ultimately, it just kind of caught us off guard and we struggled to pull ourselves out of it for quite a while.

With hindsight (and a few ‘pull yourself together’ talks from Carl’s bestie, Jo) there are definitely a few things we learned from that period.  Most importantly – accept whatever feelings you are having and move on from them – don’t let them consume your time and risk ruining it.  After all, when we look back on it, our second trip to Colombia was actually a great experience!

We met some wonderful people who took us into their lives and treated us like we were part of the family, from the folks we met at the Spanish school to the guys we met on some of our nights out.  Carlos & Jose were particularly special; two of the nicest, sweetest people we have met on our travels!  They really made us feel at home in Medellin; taking us to great restaurants, bars, parties with their friends and even getting us involved in some of their game nights at home.  Without them we wouldn’t have had half as good a time.

Friends and nightlife (click picture to enlarge)

We got to experience the culture of two of Colombia’s major cities in way more depth than we had before when we only stayed for 2-3 days.  Medellin, which really came alive at night – with it’s great restaurants, cool cultural centers, pretty decent underground techno and one of the best queer gay scenes we’ve encountered in Latin America.  Bogota, which we loved most during the day – wandering the streets of the Chapinero and Candelaria neighbourhoods, taking in the abundance of street art and visiting loads of the different museums and galleries in the city.

Medellin and Bogota (click picture to enlarge)

Finally, we got to visit some more of the beautiful smaller towns (Santa Fe de Antioquia and Guatape again) around Medellin to experience the more relaxed, laid back side of Colombian life.  As a side-note, we also learned that it is not the best idea to drive in Colombia, unless you have a death wish!

Antioquia and Guatape (click picture to enlarge)

Our final thought on it.  Some sort of meltdown was always bound to happen at some point.  Some would probably predict that it was only gonna be Carl that had the episode as opposed to both of us, but this trip is often full of surprises.  Looking back on it, we’re glad it happened in Colombia; a place where we had great people around us, where we could feel at home and where we didn’t need to be busy doing things all the time – giving us some space to work through what we were feeling and figure out what to do next.  As for what’s next – more on that to come…

Until next time.

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Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 14
  • Cities visited: 74
  • Distance travelled: 46.993 km 
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (20),
    • Night-bus (14),
    • Day bus (36),
    • Boat (10),
    • 4×4 (1),
    • Trekking (2),
    • Taxi (8),
    • Road trip (16)

Mexico

Our saviour in Central America

Going through Central America we’d been starting to feel a bit like we were treading water – almost starting to feel a bit bored.  Sure, we had amazing times in the different countries in Central America, but after a while it felt like we were seeing the same things over and over again.  Not that surprising after traveling for so long.  Also, we were missing a dose of culture and city life – something lacking in most of the countries from Panama upwards.  This feeling finally came to a head when we were in Belize.  We were quite disappointed with the place; super high prices, and a lack of anything that special to justify them, meant that we decided to leave there after 5 days.

On we went to Mexico in search of something different.  Something to revive our excitement in the trip.  And Mexico did not disappoint!

To start with, we got a great dose of the aforementioned city life and culture.  Bacalar with its cute colonial charm.  Palenque which was a bit rougher round the edges but still had a bit of a buzz about it.  The beautiful San Christobal, higher up in the mountains with any number of great cafes, bars and restaurants keeping us occupied into the evenings.  The more contemporary Oaxaca boasting dozens of beautiful art galleries and hipster coffee places.  And of course, the vast metropolis that was Mexico City; needless to say we developed a big soft spot for this place – spending our days wandering different neighborhoods and museums, and our nights at rooftop bars, terraces and some cool parties (our favorite being Pervert party – a monthly queer party held at amazing venues – the party we went to was in an old convent).

 

Impressions of Mexico (click picture to enlarge)

And of course, the food.  Oh the food!  We can’t talk about life in Mexican cities without talking about the food, given that the lives of most people there seemed to revolve around it (whether it be grabbing snacks from any one of the dozens of food stalls along the daily commute, eating out for breakfast, lunch AND dinner or joining mile-long queues for the hotspot eateries).  And, having sampled our fair share of Mexican cuisine whilst we were there (for most people it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that we like our food), we can understand why their lives revolve around it!  The food we experienced in Mexico was some of the best we’ve ever tasted.  The pastries (bakeries here were out of this world), the soups, the tacos, the nachos, the enchiladas, the mole, the guacamole, the salsas (especially some of the more spicy ones).  We had it all.  Often topped off with margaritas of course.  Yes, Mexico definitely found the way to our hearts (and our waistlines)!

 

Real Mexican food (click picture to enlarge)

Anyway, we digress (and not gonna lie – also started drooling a bit).

For all of the city life, culture and over-eating that we enjoyed, our true love for Mexico came from somewhere more surprising – Playa del Carmen.  Surprising as we aren’t normally beach people; especially when it comes to beach resort-type places.  As we’ve mentioned many times before we are generally city boys.  But there was something about Playa that we were taken with.  Or more to the point – multiple things.  The cosmopolitan feel of the the town; with everything from fancy bars and restaurants to ‘mom & pop’ places.  The buzzing nightlife; with some of the better nights out we’ve had on the trip (from techno parties to bar nights and shows).  The beautiful beaches which, despite having the issue of sargazo (super smelly seaweed type stuff in the water), were so much fun to hang out at.  The surrounding areas on the Yucatán peninsula; with so many stunning cenotes to explore, the more hippy (or maybe now hipster) Tulum just a stones throw away and cool Maya ruins to explore.  The breathtaking scuba diving options, with beautiful coral reefs and hundreds of species of sea life to discover – so much that it’s convinced Carl to take his diving to the next level and go for his PADI Dive Master qualification.  And finally, some of the best people we’ve met on the trip so far; all of whom welcomed us into their town with open arms (especially Gabriel, who we are indebted to as without him we wouldn’t have experienced half as much as we did!).  Even better is that we got to experience all of this with Carl’s parents who joined us for part of the trip.

 

Playa del Carmen and surroundings (click picture to enlarge)

So, no question Mexico was a game changer for us as far as Central America goes.  After being so sure that we wouldn’t find anywhere that we liked as much as Argentina and Colombia, we are left now with the question of how soon we can return to Mexico (in particular Playa del Carmen), and whether we might want to consider staying for an extended period (perhaps for Carl to do his Dive Master there).  Something we for sure will be thinking about over the coming couple of months.  Let’s see where it goes.

Until next time.

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Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 14
  • Cities visited: 73
  • Distance travelled:  44.419 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (18),
    • Night-bus (14),
    • Day bus (36),
    • Boat (10),
    • 4×4 (1),
    • Trekking (2),
    • Taxi (8),
    • Road trip (15)

2minionsontour backpacking escapades: Happy 1 year anniversary!

It´s been a while since we last posted in the blog. We´ve spent the past couple of months relaxing a bit more so haven´t got round to our Mexico blog yet. But it’ll be coming soon. First though, we wanted to indulge a bit and celebrate love – writing about a big thing for us – our first wedding anniversary.

15th September 2018 marked the start of a chain of events which, if we’d have predicted a couple of years ago, we’d have thought we were crazy. 15th September 2018 was the day we walked down the aisle to Kylie’s ‘Lightyears’ (very camp, we know!) and said “I do” in front of our friends and family.

Our wedding day (click picture to enlarge)

Two weeks later we quit our jobs. Five days later we completed the sale of our apartment and put all our stuff (apart from our backpacks of course) into storage. And four days after that we set off on the journey of a lifetime, backpacking around South & Central America. To be honest we never planned it to be this way. We were initially planning to take the trip (as boyfriends) for just a few months, returning afterwards to the apartment we’d spent the past few years together living in and going back to our normal work. A few major life decisions later (Carl asking Jeroen to marry, accepting that we really weren’t enjoy our work and deciding that we didn’t want home ownership hanging over our heads whilst traveling) and our initial plan had totally changed.

What a whirlwind those few weeks were! The rollercoaster of emotions; from elation, to sadness, to nervousness and ultimately excitement about what lay ahead. If we’re being honest we also encountered a few stressful points as we tried to get everything organized. As we said in our wedding speeches – we don’t like to do things by halves!

All of this led us to where we are today. So, what’s it been like spending our first year as husband & husband on this journey?

To sum it up on a word – magical!

Experiencing what we have would’ve been special if we’d have experienced it alone. The fact that we’ve been able to experience this together is beyond special! New places, new people and their cultures, and new activities; all things we’ll treasure for a long time.

We’ve loved getting to know each other even more than we did before. We’ve also learned how to be there for each other when you have nobody else around. To be fair, it’s been challenging sometimes. We went from spending 3-4 days together, because of Carl working away, to being together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! We also went from having friends or family (who know us well) around us, to essentially having nobody except the other travelers we meet along the way. To paraphrase something Jo mentioned in her previous post – Carl the super-planner and Jeroen who’s so laid back he’s almost horizontal, what could go wrong? Whatever the challenge though, we’ve always looked after each other and come out stronger on the other side.

1 year of travelling together (click pictures to enlarge)

How about introducing ourselves as husabands, whilst traveling through inherently religious, macho and, lets be honest, somewhat homophobic continents? We’d be lying if we said we hadn’t discussed this point before we started the trip. We decided before we left that we wouldn’t hide anything from people if the topic of our relationship came up on the trip. And we haven’t. To be fair, overall it hasn’t been a major issue. There’s been a few times when we’ve been aware of people’s response (our favorite has to have been in La Serena, Chile when the hostel manager (a small religious lady in her 70s) looked like she was about to spontaneously combust upon realising that Carl and Jeroen would be sharing a room instead of Carl and Susan). But overal nothing major. Plus, for every one person we’ve encountered who may not be comfortable or accepting of us, There’s been ten others who’ve embraced us! At the end of it all we’ve become even more proud and who and what we are.

So yes, it’s been magical; one of the best experiences we could’ve wished for, both with each other as well as others along the way.  Our next challenge might be more – how will we get over the magic once we have to return to the real world?

Something for another day.  In the meantime, happy anniversary to us!

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2minionsontour backpacking escapades: Bordering on insanity

With 19 border crossings across 14 countries under our belt it’s safe to say they’ve been a staple for us in the last ten months. We never really thought too much about them when we were planning the trip, other than to double check visa requirements and potential costs. To be honest we were pretty blasé about it all. After all we’d travelled loads before. How different could it be? Turns out – very.

Now, for the most part, our initial feeling has always been excitement when crossing into another country. Perhaps sadness when we were leaving a couple of them (Argentina, Colombia and Honduras spring to mind). And definitely relief for some (Bolivia is definitely the front runner here). But mainly excitement. After all, we’d be getting to go and experience somewhere new; new landscapes, new architecture, new people, new culture. Moreover (Jeroen might argue more importantly) we’d be getting new stamps in our passports. Our badges of honor – ‘Carl & Jeroen woz ere’.

Stamps stamps stamps!

Anyway, the excitement, often turned to other emotions along the way; driving us insane with confusion, frustration and a bit of stress.

Here’s a lowdown of some of our most challenging experiences of the 6 airport crossings, 3 seaport crossings, and 10 land crossings we’ve encountered on the trip so far.

Proof of onward travel please’…
Everything we researched beforehand suggested that the immigration officials in most countries rarely ask for this. It proved true for the first 7 months of the trip; in South America, where we were never asked to provide anything. To be honest most of the officials barely spoke enough to request it.

Cue Central America; where we  decided to (or in some cases had to, as with Ecuador – Colombia where there were riots going on on at the border) take some flights between countries. More specifically, cue the few airlines; who declined our check in until we could prove onward travel. Finally, cue us; rushing around to try and get internet connection in the airport to find the cheapest means of transport and ticket that we could book online (which we ultimately didn’t end up using), whilst having a little domestic argument in the middle of departures (as we tend to do in pressure situations).

Thankfully we got our flights in the end.  The irony of it is though – just like in South America, the Central American immigration officers never even bothered themselves for the information in the end!

‘No hablamos Español’…
Or at least we don’t speak whatever Spanish you’re giving your instructions in! This seemed to happen most often when we were taking a land crossing by bus, where we were pretty much only surrounded by either other non-Spanish speaking travelers, or other Spanish-speaking (not a word of English speaking) locals (to be honest at many points we were even wondering if the locals had fully understood what was said).

In the end, after spending a few minutes having a small domestic arguing with each other over the fact that neither of us understood Spanish well enough to know what had been said (it’s the pressure!), we’d just follow the crowd and hoped for the best.

For the most part this worked out OK for us, except with the Argentina – Bolivia land crossing, which was the only land crossing that we did ourselves (without a bus company). On this occasion we misunderstood what we were told by the lady at Argentinian immigration and ended up standing in the locals’ immigration queue on the Bolivian side, not realizing that aforementioned Argentinian immigration lady had already given us our Bolivian tourist pass so we could just headed straight on through. We’d wondered why locals kept pushing in front of us. We just thought they were being rude (obviously we didn’t say anything as we couldn’t muster up the Spanish to argue with them).

One hour later, after standing in the baking heat with our backpacks, we finally reached the front and had a small domestic when we were told we didn’t need to wait and could pass straight through.

‘You shall not pass (without paying what we want)’…
On quite a few occasions we were asked to pay fees that we weren’t sure we should be paying. Or at the very least we’re fairly certain we were being overcharged. It was never an issue in South America as most of the land crossings didn’t carry fees. And as for airports – their fees were always included in flight tickets so we didn’t notice them. But once we hit Central America that all changed.

We tried our best in our Spanglish to challenge the fees.  But it never worked.  The amounts weren’t huge – a few dollars here and there, but (and many of you might be able to hear Carl now) it was the principle of the matter.  In the end we came to the conclusion that if we wanted to enter the country we pretty much just have to pay and do whatever was asked of us; no arguing, no questions asked. It’s either that or be stranded in a border town in the middle of nowhere.

Border crossing madness

‘Cambio, comidas, bebidas, souvenirs, SIM chips, electrónicas. Cambio, comidas, SIM chips, souvenirs, electronicas. Cambio, comidas’…
One of the main reasons you wouldn’t want to be stuck in said border town is that you’ll either go insane from being approached by the hoards of salesmen and women with the same bellowing voices; enticing you to buy everything from currency, to food and drinks, SIM cards, electronics – you name it. Or you’ll be broke because you’ll buy whatever they are selling just to get them to give you a break. And there’s every chance you will be sad after buying at the border, as much of what is on offer all looks a bit dodgy, and there is no money-back guarantee on offer in these places.

The *if we have to stay here all day then so do you* approach…
It can’t be said that South & Central America are the most efficient places in the world, that’s for sure.

From queuing for hours at the Honduras border in stifling 35 degree heat, to the long waits at the Argentina crossing in the Andes with freezing temperatures (and only wearing shorts and a T-shirt). From the pointless customs checks in Nicaragua, Peru and Ecuador (with them either not bothering to check the bags or ‘checking them’ and then allowing us to pass back through to the main square again to place our bags back on the bus without any tracking), to the ridiculous queuing systems in almost every country with no process for allocating the queues.

The ice-cold chili Argentina border crossing

It always seemed to be that they were worst when we’d been traveling for 10+ hours. We definitely had to grit our teeth and bear it on a number of occasions, with Jeroen having to hold Carl back from giving them some advice on their processes (old habits die hard)!C6EEFB97-9E80-4663-A897-44B0A358638E

Green = go.  Red = busted!

The only one who seemed to make some fun of it was Mexico, with their traffic light system for determining who gets their entire bags checked. At least this made it feel like a bit of a game.

‘Declare everything now, or forever hold your peace. Oh, and face huge fines’…
We knew this would be something we needed to be careful with. Not that different from crossing into most countries across the world. Although the customs forms seemed quite archaic for most countries (you are allowed one calculator, one transistor radio, one fax machine (WTF?!), etc.) For the most part we were careful. Although this didn’t prevent us from having a few encounters with customs.

The most common one was trying to explain to customs officials on numerous occasions that the extra lenses for the camera are not cameras themselves (you’re also only allowed one camera).

The second most common was being asked if we have $10,000 in cash. Uhmmm we wish!

The funniest encounter though, has to’ve been the crossing from Argentina. we weren’t sure whether we had to declare a bag of chili flakes at the Chile border (yes, we realize the irony). After debating it (although some might class this as having been a small domestic argument too), we opted for not marking them on the form thinking it was unlikely that they’d be found. Until we arrived and realized that they take every bag out of the bus to be searched by sniffer dogs. There was a moment where we were asking the customs officer for the form back in a panic; trying to explain we needed to declare the chili flakes. He had no idea what we were talking about, kept the form and left us to stand for 30 minutes; waiting to see if the dog was going to find them and have a few hundred dollars fine slapped on us. There was a girl standing with us who also seemed a bit on edge. We didn’t really understand why. Then it all became clear. In the end they didn’t find our chili flakes. They did however find the herbs and spices in her bag and hauled her into the customs office, from which she emerged 20 minutes later looking very sad and sheepish.

That was the last time we took anything remotely related to food or drink across a border.

‘Thanks you can pass through’ *hands passport back without stamp*
Given our desire to collect as many stamps as possible and fill up our passports, this one speaks for itself. Not getting our badge of honor at some crossing was just the cherry on the cake after having to endure one or more of the above things!

Thankfully we’ve been able to make up for it with extra stamps from Machu Picchu, Ushuaia, Galápagos Islands, the Equator in Ecuador, and Utila.

Some extra stamps please!

So, quite the experience we’ve had. Par for the course with backpacking we guess. Especially in an area renowned for illegal immigration and smuggling.

Plus, looking back, although it might not have seemed it at the time, it has added to the fun.

For future reference, though:

  1. Always have proof of onward travel when flying. To be fair, you should probably have it just in case anyway, but definitely when flying.
  2. Make more effort learning the language. Or always try and find an English-speaking person to go through with (unless they look dodgy like that girl in Chile, in which case stay away – you’ll have enough fun getting through as it is without being deemed guilty by association).
  3. Pay whatever you’re asked and let your principles go.
  4. Don’t bring any foods across borders. Nothing. Not even if you are sure it never originated from an animal, plant (although not sure what that leaves you with to eat). It’s just not worth the worry that you’re gonna be slapped with a fine.
  5. Accept the inefficiencies. Embrace them (not to get away with smuggling anything dodgy mind you).
  6. Bring a fan. Or long pants and a sweater depending on the weather. You could be in for quite a wait.
  7. Do not have domestic arguments at the border. You’re only going to draw more attention you yourself and raise suspicion from the officials.
  8. Finally, smile at the officials. They do have to stay there the whole day so are probably having a much worst time that you. Besides, they are the difference between you getting in and being stuck around the echoes of ‘Cambio, comidas, bebidas, souvenirs, SIM chips, electrónicas. Cambio, comidas, SIM chips, souvenirs, electronicas…’.

Until next time…

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Honduras

Three little lies

First off, we should come clean up front that although we titled this blog post ‘Honduras’, it really should be called ‘Utila, Bay Islands Honduras’ as it’s the only place we really stayed in Honduras. That’s if you don’t count a planned overnight stay in the capital, Tegucigalpa (and by ‘stay’ we mean from the bus to the hostel, the hostel to McDonald’s, back to the hostel and then back to the bus the next morning – we weren’t really that interested to explore another dodgy Central American capital), an unplanned overnight stay in La Ceiba (a bit of a hole if we’re being honest – we ended up having to stay there overnight because we missed the ferry to Utila by 3 minutes despite adding in 3 hours of contingency for the bus ride – apparently the anti-government protestors weren’t interested in moving their road block along to let us through), and another unscheduled overnight stay on the island of Roatan (Utila’s bigger, badder sister, aforementioned protestors still hadn’t moved along so we thought it a safer bet to fly out of Honduras instead of taking the bus and risking being stuck in La Ceiba indefinitely).

Utila really made an impression on us.  Being self confessed city boys we never thought we would feel so at home on a small island in the middle of nowhere (well, if you can call the middle of the Caribbean ‘nowhere’).

The melting pot of people; local or visitors (although many ‘visitors’ have stayed on the island so long that the lines were often blurred). The sense of community – with everyone looking out for one another. The social atmosphere and activities that come along with said community (read: family dinner nights, good old drinking nights, with a dash of decent techno parties thrown in for good measure). All the family owned businesses – with not a big brand store in sight. The cute side streets, leading off one main road along the entire island, with no cars and little pollution – only bikes, golf buggies, rickshaws and mopeds, co-existing together with such ease. The laid back approach to life – with island time replacing any world clock.

Bring it together and we couldn’t help but be swept off our feet and feel instantly part of the island family. It’s something that we’ve never felt so strongly in most places we’ve visited so far.

Impressions of Utila (click picture to enlarge)

Then there’s the diving. The backbone of the island.  The thing that almost everything and everyone revolves around. The thing that bonds everyone there; their passion for it contagious.

Carl went from being afraid of almost every element of diving (from simply stepping into the water, to breathing underwater, opening his eyes under water without a mask, the irrational fear that he would either sink and not be able to ascend again or on the flip side, ascend too fast and get the bends), to getting his Advanced PADI.  Jeroen conquered his nerves for doing night diving and deep dives.

We got to swim with turtles, rays, nurse sharks, barracudas, octopus.  We got to witness bioluminescence, followed by the most magnificent star-lit sky when we got to the surface.

Experiencing this, catching the bug and developing our own passion for diving (we said it was contagious) made us fall in love with Utila even more.

Diving on Utila (click picture to enlarge)

Locals we met on the island kept telling us that there are three common lies on Utila:

1. I’m not drinking today;
2. I love you;
3. I’m only staying a few days.

We won’t even go into number 1 – you can imagine how well we kept to it. About number 2, I think we’ve said enough above – it’s not a lie if you really are in love! And as for number 3… well we already failed at this once (staying nearly two weeks instead of the few days we’d planned), and we’re fairly certain we’ll fail it again as we are almost sure to return in the future.

A tip from us, for anyone considering learning to dive, become a Dive Master or instructor, or just looking for a cool place to go diving – choose Utila – it will be one of the best decisions you make!

Until next time…

Carl & Jeroen

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Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 12
  • Cities visited: 63
  • Distance travelled: 40.136 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (16),
    • Night-bus (11),
    • Day bus (34),
    • Boat (8),
    • 4×4 (1),
    • Trekking (2),
    • Taxi (7),
    • Road trip (11)

 

Nicaragua

Down but by no means out

When we first started the trip back in October last year, we weren’t even sure if we’d make it to Nicaragua. Due to the political situation it was still on the ‘all but essential travel’ list for both the Netherlands and UK. So we added it (cautiously) to our rough planning and opted to keep an eye on the situation and decide closer to the time whether or not to go.  We were both pretty disappointed at the prospect of not being able to go as it was a place Jeroen had talked very fondly of from his visit 19 (!!!) years ago and we were looking forward to (re) exploring it together and seeing how it had changed over two decades.

Good news finally came.  Just before we got to Costa Rica, we were super happy to hear from fellow travelers that the warning had been downgraded and they had just come from traveling there. Granada, Managua, Matagalpa and Leon were now firmly in our plan as we make our way north towards Mexico!  We were excited to experience experience the vibrancy of city life for a while, especially having spent the previous month being a bit overloaded with nature in Costa Rica.

So, how was it? In the end we didn’t quite get what we expected.

Sure, Granada and Leon gave us some beautiful colonial-style architecture, Nicaraguan history and stunning volcano views, much like Jeroen had remembered (albeit a bit more strewn with pollution than before).

Colonial architecture (Click picture to enlarge)

We loved exploring the coffee farms of Matagalpa, as well as sampling much of the merchandise. In fact we loved seeing the entire farming industry as we drove through the Nicaraguan countryside. And as for Managua, it gave us a a bit of an insight into Nicaraguan city life today; in particular the nightlife, which was cool to experience (even with local drag shows, which we weren’t really expecting from there).

Landscapes & Coffee farm (Click picture to enlarge)

But overall Nicaragua ended up not quite being the vibrant country we’d hoped to find. If anything it felt kind of subdued and sombre. Hostels, bars and restaurants were for the most part fairly empty, guided activities were few and far between (often not even running) and the streets often had little going on in them (especially at night). For Jeroen it almost felt as though nothing had progressed since 20 years ago (perhaps even regressed).

So, what happened? It’s a question that we asked often in Nicaragua, with every local we encountered. In summary, every story we heard from the locals we spoke with came round to the same thing – politics. Turns out we’d not really considered that despite it coming off the ‘list’, Nicaragua was still reeling from what had taken place the years before. With the country being described to us as a dictatorship of sorts (albeit on paper it is not seen as such), with a single political party seemingly controlling most branches of law and government with little room for opposition.

We’d also underestimated the magnitude of what had taken place in the last 12 months; with tensions coming to boiling point resulting in mass riots, anarchy and lives and livelihoods lost. As a result, the political situation has impacted the tour guides, the hostel owners, cafes, bars and restaurants as tourists have stopped coming. Not great for a country that has a big reliance on the tourist economy. Dig a little deeper though and it’s also impacted many other kinds of businesses who are either boycotted (if they are seen as government sympathizers) or face issues with local authorities (if they are seen as government defectors). It’s impacted the feeling on the streets, with constant police patrols in most areas; not because it’s unsafe, but more in order to quash any unrest quickly, leading to a strong sense of oppression in most cities. And to top it all off the events of the past year have supposedly strengthened said ‘dictatorship’ (at least for the moment).

Political Statements (both sides) (click picture to enlarge)

Now, we’re not going to go into taking sides on the rights or wrongs with the current politics in Nicaragua. This is a travel blog, not a political one. Besides, Nicaragua’s political history is a very checkered, complicated one which goes beyond what happened in the past few years (their political cycle seems to be defined by revolutions, followed by regimes promising the earth and not delivering, said regimes falling out of favor leading to further revolutions, and so on).

But, what we will say is that it’s a crying shame the impact this has had on the country!

The Nicaragua we witnessed didn’t seem to be the Nicaragua that it could be (or perhaps was in recent years). Such a shame given the stunning landscapes across the country (the volcanos, the lakes, the countryside); the abundance of cool activities you can do there; the welcoming, kind, open (with some really interesting stories to tell) and miraculously optimistic people we encountered; the cities filled with so much history on the one hand and promise for the future on the other. And despite what our governments might tell us, it was not a dangerous place to be in at all (or at least no more dangerous than any other).

When we say it’s a shame.  We mean for the people there, not for us… albeit we said earlier that we didn’t quite get what we expected – we actually got more in the end. We got to experience first hand (and much more closely than we have in other countries) what happens when politics is unstable (in whatever form that might be) in some of these countries we’ve been visiting. What happens when people try to initiate change. And albeit the overall atmosphere seemed subdued, on a personal level with the people we encountered, we got to witness how hope and resilience will help a people out of difficult times; every person we spoke with repeatedly stating that the Nicaraguan people were strong and would eventually come out of this and rise again – a hope we share for this beautiful place. Most importantly – for the first time we really got to realize how important a role we play as travelers in supporting the journey of these countries; bringing outside experiences, views, culture and essentially investment, all of which help towards rebuilding for them.

People & Nightlife (Click picture to enlarge)

Definitely a defining moment for us on our the trip so far and something we will take with us.  In the meantime, we look forward to keeping an eye on how things change in Nicaragua and visiting it again some time to hopefully see it flourishing again; we won’t leave it 20 years this time though!

(As for our other fellow travelers… our advice – go to Nicaragua and see for yourself this beautiful place!  Help get it back to what it was.  You won’t regret it!)

Till next time…

Carl & Jeroen

Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 11
  • Cities visited: 59
  • Distance travelled: 38.750 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (16),
    • Night-bus (11),
    • Day bus (32),
    • Boat (6),
    • 4×4 (1),
    • Trekking (2),
    • Taxi (7),
    • Road trip (11)

 

Costa Rica

It’s not easy being green

Turns out Kermit was wrong. For Costa Rica at least, which has to have been one of the greenest countries we’ve visited on the trip so far.  As we traveled this small country we couldn’t help but be in constant awe of its beauty.  Something that Jeroen’s parents (who were traveling with us) felt too.

First off there’s the vast amount of national park and protected areas. So many for such a small country. From the beach-front rainforest of Cahuita National Park, to the El Arenal Volcano National Park and thermal baths in La Fortuna, to the cloud forests of Monteverde, to the rainforest areas at the beaches of Playa el Coco and finally (our favorite) Manuel Antonio National Park and the surrounding area; no matter where we were in the country we didn’t have to look very far for lush areas to explore. To top it off, as we drove the (1600 km) around the country (trying not to be killed by the crazy Costa Rican drivers we might add) we were surrounded by tree covered mountains, sweeping green valleys, banana farms, palm tree farms, pineapple farms, coffee farms. Really stunning to see; especially during rain season when every brief downpour (we had them almost daily although never for very long) seemed to enhance the beauty even more.

National Parks in Costa Rica (click picture to enlarge)

Then you have the animals. It was like being up close on a David Attenborough show (except with Jeroen’s parents giving the background commentary much of the time). Two fingered sloths, three fingered sloths (totally different apparently), white faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, Jesus Christ lizards, humming birds, Central America whiptail lizards, iguanas, toucans, macaws, snakes (although Carl was not so pleased with this when walking from our hotel at night and one went over his foot – naturally he chose a different route back to the hotel!), crocodiles, frogs, coatis, bats and any number of different creepy crawlies (not such a fan). And no doubt more that we can’t quite remember. Many of these we’d just see in the trees surrounding our hotel room; in particular the monkeys (Carl’s spirit animals we decided) who would travel back and forth with their troop to find a home for the night and the sloths (definitely Jeroen’s spirit animal) who would slowly go about their business. At a certain point it became so commonplace that it was like “oh, another animal, so what else is new?” (albeit still getting excited at the sight).

Animals of Costa Rica (click picture to enlarge)

Finally there’s the people. There’s a phrase in Costa Rica, ‘pura vida’, loosely translated as ‘pure life’. Except it hasn’t really got a direct translation. And it’s more than just a phrase for the people there. It’s a greeting (used to say hello and goodbye). It’s a thank you. It’s a way of showing happiness or contentment. It’s a mindset. It’s a way of life. And wherever you are in the country you see this (from the eco-friendly tour guides we did river tubing and zip lining with, to the eco-friendly owners of the properties we stayed at, to all the locals we met along the way). People generally (and genuinely) care about having a good environment around them, about making sure that their nature and wildlife are respected and taken care of and about having a simple and relatively healthy life. And as a visitor it definitely rubs off (although we did get a bit frustrated at some point with their super strict smoking laws). Without this mantra we’re sure that Costa Rica wouldn’t be half as beautiful as it is.

Experiences in Costa Rica (click picture to enlarge)

Jeroen’s mum & dad summed it up well in a message (In English and Dutch) they sent to us after the trip:

[NL]
Costa Rica mei, 2019

Na een geweldig huwelijksweekend van Carl & Jeroen, 7 maanden voorbereiding, en een vliegreis van 12 uur konden we eindelijk de jongens weer in onze armen sluiten. Wat een fantastische ervaring!

Voor ons, een geweldige, indrukwekkende, intensieve reis en vooral de dankbaarheid om dit avontuur met je kinderen aan te gaan. Voor Carl & Jeroen; de knop omzetten en zeker een verstoring van hun normale reisritme, budget (overschrijding), accommodatie keuzes en vooral een ander reisgezelschap (ouders).

Maar het was het allemaal zeker waard; de steile zeer hobbelige bergwegen, de plensbuien tijdens de boottocht de klimtochten naar de lava van de vulkaan Arenal en de hete wandelingen in de bush met apen en luiaards. Costa Rica: wat een prachtig vriendelijk land met vele niet te beschrijven (zie foto’s) mooie uitzichten en stranden. Eindelijk 1 grote groene dierentuin overal uitmondend in de Caribische Zee of Stille Oceaan. De prachtige foto’s van apen, luiaards, wasberen, vogels, krokodillen alle andere prachtige dieren het bewijs dat zij daar in vrijheid mogen leven.

Maar met als hoogtepunt, het 3 weken te mogen rondtrekken met 2 prachtige mannen (Carl & Jeroen); van San Jose tot Manuel Antonio. Het afscheid was veel zwaarder dan 7 maanden geleden maar ook dit went wel weer. Nu rest ons nog dank voor alles en geniet verder van jullie prachtige onderneming.

Veel liefs, Ed & Ria

[ENG]
Costa Rica May, 2019

After a great wedding weekend of Carl & Jeroen, 7 months of preparation and anticipation, and a 12 hour flight we were finally able to hug the boys again. What a fantastic experience!

For us an amazing, impressive, intense journey filled with gratitude to be able to share this adventure with your children. For Carl & Jeroen they had to flip a switch and change their normal travel rhythm, budget (overrunning), accommodation choices and get used to different travel companions (their parents).

But it was certainly worth it; the steep, very bumpy mountain roads, the rainshowers during the boat trip, the climbing trips to the lavafields of Volcano Arenal and the very hot hikes through the tropics with monkeys and sloths. Costa Rica: what a beautiful and friendly country with its many undiscribable (see photos) beautiful views and beaches. In the end it’s just one big green zoo all leading into the Caribbean Sea or Pacific Ocean. The beautiful pictures of monkeys, sloths, raccoons, birds, crocodiles and all other beautiful animals prove that they can live their in freedom.

But the highlight of all was being allowed to travel for 3 weeks with two beautiful men (Carl & Jeroen); starting in San Jose all the way to Manuel Antonio. The farewell was much heavier than 7 months ago, but we will get used to it again. Ending this with a thank you for everything and enjoy the rest of your wonderful expedition.

Much love, Ed & Ria.

So there you have it. One of the most wonderful months in nature we’ve had. Seconding what Jeroen’s parents said; what made it even more amazing was to experience it with them.

With that said, we were happy to get back to a bit more urban life for a while. There’s only so many weeks of jungle and wildlife we can take. We are city boys after all; more adapted to a different kind of jungle. More on that and our time in Nicaragua’s cities next time.

Pura vida Costa Rica!

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Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 10
  • Cities visited: 54
  • Distance travelled: 37.836 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (16),
    • Night-bus (11),
    • Day bus (30),
    • Boat (6),
    • 4×4 (1),
    • Trekking (2),
    • Taxi (5),
    • Road trip (8)

 

2minionsontour backpacking escapades: Insights of a guest minion

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.

Or:

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!

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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.

Ecuador

It’s been a while since our last blog as we’ve spent the last few weeks with our friends, Jo and Kim, visiting from the UK; spending most days packed with some sort of activity and most nights in bed by 9 or 10 o’clock. More to come on that in future blogs.

For now, we wanted to talk a bit about our experience in Ecuador, where we spent around 3 weeks (staying in Montanita, Galapagos & Quito). It’s been a bit of a difficult one trying to come up with the theme or structure for this blog. Perhaps because we’re 7 months in now and so many of the places we’ve seen start to merge a bit. Perhaps because they all have many similarities (the history, the landscapes, the cities, the activities). What we don’t want is for it all to become a bit samey, uninteresting and also unfair to the various countries as they do all have some unique elements. So, if someone had to ask us to name just a couple of highlights of Ecuador we’d have to say – Galapagos, beaches and horses.

Galápagos Islands
It’s fair to say we had high expectations of the Galápagos Islands. It was one of the main things we had planned in Ecuador. Loads of people said beforehand that it would be one of the most expensive parts of the trip. But also one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences. They were not lying on either count.

We’ll skim over the expense part, as frankly it’s boring and we don’t really care about the cost given the experience we had. As for the experience, it’s difficult to summarise how it was. Imagine a place in the middle of nowhere. With so many diverse landscapes (beaches, jungle, volcanos, beautiful rock formations, coral reefs). With beautiful weather. Where you can witness, walk with and swim with so many beautiful animals (turtles, sea lions, iguanas, sharks, fish, blue footed boobies), many of which you will only ever see on Lonely Planet or such shows. With such friendly and warm people. Who also care about said landscapes and animals (one of the few places we’ve seen in South America to be so environmentally friendly). Imagine all of this and you have the Galápagos Islands. The week we spent there (with a few days exploring Santa Cruz, some days snorkeling around Isabela and a boat trip to Plazas) was like a dream. The highlight has to have been swimming with sharks, turtles and seahorses, followed closely by having to vavigate past dozing sea lions and dead still iguanas on almost every walkway on the islands (and carl crapping himself each time). The lowlight was only spending a week there (we could’ve easily spent more time exploring even more islands). Perhaps we’ll make it a twice in a lifetime experience.

 

(Click picture to enlarge)

Beaches
Leaving Peru, we were kind of a bit disappointed as far as beaches were concerned. Despite having a sprawling coastline, Perus beaches were generally not up to much. Run down and lacking soul. This is where Ecuador could not have been more different. Such stunning beaches and beautiful vibes; from spending our days enjoying the beautiful beaches and warm Pacific waters around Montanita at one of the best hotels we’ve stayed in (Kamala Backpacker & Surf), to spending our nights spent in true beach bum style laying in hammocks, having a smoke and drinking some beers, to daily walks exploring some of the desert island beaches around Santa Cruz and Isabella in the Galápagos Islands. Definitely some of the nicest beaches we’ve been to in South America (behind Brazil of course). As an added bonus, Monatanita even managed to give us one of the best gifts we’d had in a long time – a night of great techno music at the Lost Beach Club – needless to say a fun night was had by all. The perfect cherry on the cake.

 

(Click picture to enlarge)

Horses
Now, this may be a strange one to list. We’re not the horse type normally. But they featured quite frequently in our three weeks in Ecuador. And it wasn’t just horses – donkeys too. We couldn’t finish the blog without giving a shout out to the horses and donkeys at the Kamal Backpacker & Surf hostel. Such friendly cheeky chaps spending their days strolling around the hostel grounds, terrorizing anyone eating a meal and eating anything they came across. We loved hanging out with them. Then there was Manuel & Jose (the names we gave them at least). The horses who managed to carry Jo & Carl’s arses around the mountains above Quito as we both took in the awesome views of the city below. Such an amazing experience, made even better by Jose (Carl’s horse) who kept going rogue towards the edge of the mountain, and Manuel (Jo’s horse) who kept getting left behind as he stopped for a bite to eat. If llamas and alpacas were our spirit animals in Bolivia and Peru, it was horses and donkeys in Ecuador. If we do decide to open up our own hostel after this trip we know for sure we want all of these animals there!

 

(Click picture to enlarge)

On that note, we’ll trot along now. Thanks for the memories Ecuador!

Until next time.

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Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 7
  • Cities visited: 42
  • Distance travelled: 33.300 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (11),
    • Night-bus (11),
    • Day bus (26),
    • Boat (6),
    • 4×4 (1),
    • Trekking (2),
    • Taxi (2)

Peru

 

The country that broke us

Physically, mentally, spiritually and financially. Although, we have to say, not in a bad way; with loads of amazing hiking and partying, we had so much fun being broken in Peru.

Trekking
From the Inca ruins around the city, to Laguna Humantay and finally doing the Lares Trek to Machu Picchu. We loved each of them in different ways.

The Inca ruins around Cusco were impressive because of the sheer number of them, the views they offered over the city, as well as the ease of accessing them (an hour walk from the center and you were already on a trail to at least four of them). They also gave a great insight into how Cusco was established as the capital of the Inca empire back before the Spanish arrived.

Cusco (Click on picture to enlarge)

Lake Humantay demonstrated to us how much of a bitch the weather can be. We’d spoken with people who’d done the trek on the days before we did and got spectacular views across the lake and of the mountain glaciers. Our trek was somewhat different, with pouring rain and almost zero visibility when we got to the top. That’s the thing with the weather during rain season – it changes at the drop of a hat. What we loved about this experience though, was local people’s response to such weather. Rather than complain about it (which both the British and Dutch are inclined to do), they take a much more philosophical view. To quote our guide: “remember, we might not have seen the sun today, but it is always there.” If we can attain such an outlook following this trip, we’ll of done something right.

Lake Humantay Trek (click on picture to enlarge)

Hands down, our favorite trek has to of been the Lares Trek. 4 days spent with local Indigenous guides and their families as they took us on a 35km hike ascending to 4,650m (including stops via the Lares Hot Springs, lunch with the local Quiswarani community, camping near the Blue Lagoon, a visit to the salt mines and local towns of Calca and Huaran), culminating with the train to Aguas Calientes and of course a day spent roaming the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu. One of the most intense trekking tours we’ve ever done. Unfortunately the intensity proved too much for Jeroen’s body as he suffered badly again from altitude sickness; this time affecting his sight and balance really badly. Not the best thing when climbing a mountain. As a result, we only made it to 3,900m before having to take a bit of a detour to lower ground before continuing the rest of the tour. In the end, it was so worth it though. Spending time with local mountain folk and getting a small glimpse into their lives was truly humbling. And Machu Picchu… well, it’s difficult to put into words. Awesome (in the truest sense of the word), majestic, beautiful, inspiring. This imposing ancient city, hidden away in the mountains, deserted by the Incas when the Spanish took over. It’s too much for the brain to comprehend how such a place could have even been built, let alone how people could have lived there or how it could be preserved so beautifully after all this time (a testament to the skills of the Inca people). One of the best days we have had on the trip so far, finished off with the grueling 1,000m climb up Machu Picchu mountain to sit above the clouds and take it all in). Insane.

Lares Trek & Machu Picchu (click on pictures to enlarge )

Partying
We did this more than in any other country we’ve been to so far. Now, we’d love to be able to say that this was the (bad) influence of Su and Dave. Two wonderful people we met in Bariloche with whom we traveled around Peru. But on reflection we realize that we are just as bad influences as they are. Perfect partners in crime.

Cusco; with bars galore on the main square (our favorites being Mushroom Bar with it’s surprise techno party and Mama Africa which gave us a dose of more mainstream backpacker parties), and an abundance of party hostels (we loved our stay at Pariwana). Huacachina; a serene oasis in the middle of nowhere with even more party hostels and fun activities (we stayed at Banana Adventures which included BBQ night, sand surfing and a pisco tasting tour in the price). Lima; with so many amazing restaurants, bars and clubs (we loved the ValeTodo gay club so much we kept going back). Even in the slightly more relaxed beach towns of Paracas and Mancora we managed managed to throw some of our own little house parties. It’s fair to say Peru definitely offers some great partying opportunities. And boy did we take advantage of them.

To be fair, we’ve been relatively reserved on the trip so far so we were bound to have a blow out at some point (and our challenges with Bolivia probably expedited the need for this). Aside from the dent to our budget and our livers, we don’t regret a moment.

Huacachina, Lima & Mancora (click picture to enlarge)

It wouldn’t be fair not to mention some of the other parts of Peru that we liked (it wasn’t all about the trekking and partying). So here they are: great bus journeys throughout the country (experiencing our first lie flat bed overnighter), great organization of tours, amazing food (although Carl chickened out of trying roasted guiena pig), sweet people (not on the food menu of course) and tons of interesting Inca history.

A really (surprisingly for us) amazing country. Peru, you broke us in the best way possible! And have definitely made it difficult to choose where we will go back to later in the trip.

Until next time.

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Travel stats

  • Countries visited: 6
  • Cities visited: 36
  • Distance travelled: 29.463 km
  • Modes of transport:
    • Plane (8),
    • Night-bus (10),
    • Day bus (22),
    • Boat (2), 4×4 (1),
    • Trekking (2),
    • Taxi (1)