Return to Minnesota

It has been over 3 years since I first hopped off the plane in Minneapolis/St Paul airport and I was excited to be back. I have so many great memories from this special place and Minnesota will always hold a special place in my heart. My friend Allison suprised me by meeting me at baggage claim and I hastily pulled a happy birthday banner out of my bag, my arrival coincided with her birthday and I think she appreciated her kiwi birthday present. We lugged my ever growing bags to her car and drove to a Mexican restaurant for lunch and then went for a walk around lake before sampling some cider at Sociable Cider Works (seems like cider is finally becoming a thing in the states!). There was a mobile blood drive parked at SCW’s and they had partnered with them to give donors a free drink (at a later date) – I like their style! Later that night we met up with some of Allison’s uni friends for her birthday dinner and then drove back to her parents place in Sartell where we were staying. I was very very thankful to be staying in my own room, in my own bed for the first time in over 2 weeks.

The next morning we headed to Savers to do some thrift shopping. Op shops are amazing in the states, they are filled with so many cool find and we spent a couple of hours searching through the store. I only walked away with a couple of items due to my limited bag space. We went back to the Ley’s for lunch and on the way we spotted a few garage sales. Garage sales are a big thing in Minnesota it seems. They start on Thursdays andn through the weekend. We went to 6 just in one small area of Sartell that day. My favourite one was an estate sale that had a lot of cool old items, like old medicine bottles and soda cans. We went back to the Ley’s for a delicious dinner and then headed out for cheap drinks with Allison’s flatmate Krista.

The next morning we headed back to the cities to pick up my friend Erena who had flown in from Colorado for the weekend to visit. After a quick stop in Sartell for lunch we headed to Nisswa, which is where the summer camp we all worked at is. We checked into our motel that stunk of cigarettes (in our non smoking room) and then headed into the town, wandering through the many gift shop and getting some of the famous Chocolate Ox icecream. For dinner we had another walk down memory lane with Rafferty’s Pizza and then headed to Ye Olde Pickle Factory for drinks. It was a very fun day and very reminiscent of days off spent during camp.

Erena and Allison enjoying some Chocolate Ox

After a truly awful motel breakfast the following day, we headed back into Nisswa where we met up with another camp friend Kate and then drove out to camp. It was very weird being back, nothing had really changed except all the people were different. We stayed for lunch and had one of the exact meals (cesar salad with biscuits) that we used to have 3 years ago – athough the salad bar had got significantly better. After lunch we walked around the grounds and reminisced a bit before heading to Grandview Lodge for some more Chocolate Ox. That night we went to another old haunt for dinner, Zorbaz. Zorbaz was packed and we had a great night, joined later by another camp friend Patty, who was actually in the same cabin as me.The following morning we headed into town for breakfast as we weren’t willing to put ourselves through the motel breakfast again. After breakfast we went for a walk to the Nisswa lake and along part of the Paul Bunyan trail (Paul Bunyan is a giant who has a pet Ox named babe, his footprints are what shaped all the lakes in Minnesota…or so the story goes). We then met up with Kate again and she took Erena back to the cities to catch her flight while Allison and I drove back to Sartell and had dinner with her family.

On the shores of Bass Lake where I spent many hours in canoeing or kayaking classes

The infamous Camp Lake Hubert sign

The next day was the 3rd of July, so Allison’s friends had the day off. We drove to a nearby “beach” with her friends Emily and Mallory and spent the day there sunbathing and swimming. That night we drove to the next town over where they were having a festival. We Hing out with some more of her friends, listened to music and watched the fireworks display.

The 4th of July, or Independence Day, is a big deal in the states, so I was excited to be in the country for it. We were spending the day with Allison’s extended family at their lake house. Our first stop was to the town of Crosby where they always go watch the local parade. This was a very small town parade, where the polce, fire brigade and local businesses drive past and hand out lollies. After the parade we headed to Allison’s uncle’s cabin on Dam Lake for lunch. Dam Lake was really pretty and there were a whole lot of humming birds buzzing around. We also took the pontoon boat out onto the lake and went swimming before a thunderstorm rolled in. We had to head back reasonably early as Allison’s dad had to work the next day. When we got back we drove to Emily’s house in St Cloud to watch the fireworks display. Before the fireworks started there was an awesome Minnesotan lightning storm. I love the storms in Minnesota, they have awesome for lightning and are very dramatic. The fireworks displays in the States are also pretty epic though.

Typical small town parade float

The view from Allison’s uncle’s lakehouse

Allison’s mum had the following day of, so we hung out with her for the morning and headed into St Cloud to go shopping and run errands. Later that afternoon our friend Becca arrived from Iowa. We had dinner with Allison’s family that night and then headed to a bar in St Cloud with Mallory and Jeff to try their famous Buffalo drinks.

Sadly, the next day was my last full day in Minnesota. We got up early and drove to a place called Taylor’s Falls. When we got there we had lunch in a drive in restaurant where the waitresses serve you in your car. It was a pretty cool experience, but I think I prefer eating at a table. Afterwards we killed some time looking at some glacial potholes before renting a canoe and canoeing down the river. The canoeing was a lot of fun, we sang songs the whole way. Unfortunately when we got to the pick up point the company forgot about us and we ended up waiting an hour in the heat to be picked up. Because of this we didn’t get back to Sartell til later so we ordered some food (which was also an hour late) and went outside to have a campfire with some of the Ley’s neighbours.

Canoeing down the Croix river

We had to leave reasonably early to catch my flight the next day, so that was the end of my time in Minnesota. It was so great to go back and even better to see some of my friends who I talk to all the time on Skype but hadn’t seen in person for 2-3 years.

But it was time to move on to the third phase of my trip, next stop…California!



The peru-bolivia border is the first I’ve seen with an actual marker separating the countries,  not just a control point, but a big arch signifying the line between the two countries. From the border it was a quick 15 minutes to the holiday town of Copacobana on the shores of Lake Titicaca. From here we took a boat to Isla del Sol, an island in the south of the lake. We’d decided to stay the night on the island so left the rest of our Bolivia Hop group and found a cute Hospedaje to stay in, overlooking the lake.
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, sitting at 3800m above sealevel and covering 58000 sq km. This is almost as high as the top of dead woman’s pass on the inca trail, and lugging our bags up the hill was definitely a challenge!

There is not a lot to do on Isla Del Sol, but it is such a beautiful relaxing place. We spent our day there exploring and getting very sunburnt in the patches we’d missed with sunblock. The majority of the island is farmland, with a few houses and a lot of pizzerias. My favourite spot was a patch of gum trees (definitely not native) surrounded by rock walls, i read in the sun here for quite a while (hence the sunburn).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReed boat on Lake Titicaca

We hopped back on the Bolivia Hop bus in the late afternoon to continue to La Paz. At one point, to save around two hours of driving, our bus was put on a barge and ferried across part of the lake (we went in a separate water taxi).

La Paz is a big dirty city with not a lot of charm, the traffic is chaotic (even more so than the normal chaotic traffic of Latin America) and while there were some beautiful old gothic buildings, there was no real historic centre like other big cities in this area (that I saw anyway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey did have something called the Witch’s Market, which was basically like every other market in South America except that along side the alpaca clothing/llamasutra tee-shirts/llama keyrings there were also things like foetal llamas you could buy.

The highlight of La Paz was definitely mountain biking down the death road. This isn’t actually as scary as it sounds. While this was once named the “World’s Most Dangerous Road” (and rightly so with 300 deaths a year, including whole buses plunging off cliffs) it is nowadays rarely used by cars. The Death Road used to be the only road from the North of Bolivia to La Paz. This lead to large numbers of people driving down this twisting road  which is barely (and sometimes isn’t at all) wide enough to squeeze two cars past one another – with a cliff on one side and a very long drop on the other. This is the only road in Bolivia where the legal side of the road to drive on is the left – this is so drivers can see just how close to the edge or the cliff they are. Thankfully another road was built in the 2000s and the Death Road is used only by a very few daredevil drivers and a whole lot of mountain bikers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPart of the new road

Our death road experience didn’t start off so great. There was snow at the top of the New Road which meant we were stuck in  the back of a van for 2 hours waiting for the road to open. We finally made it to the new road though, and the snowy peaks made for a pretty spectacular view. To get used to the bikes, the first part of the ride is on the sealed new road (which is a lot faster but not nearly as fun as the death road). During our safety briefing (in which we had to repeat the mantra “I promise not to be a fucking idiot”)  in began to rain. It was so cold, the pants they gave me were too short so my ankles were numb and my hands were struggling to brake. In the end I got back in the van to warm up. Once we got to the actual Death Road (which is at a lower elevation) it was much warmer and the weather began to clear up. The ride was a lot of fun, and as long as you avoided the  big rocks (baby heads) and didn’t brake to suddenly it wasn’t too scary. The views were incredible and I had to keep reminding myself to concentrate on the road and not on the pretty flowers/coolest butterfly I have seen. My whole  group go to the bottom without any mishaps. They do happen though, around 20 people have died mountain biking on the road and an Irish guy we met showed us a video from his go pro of the guy in front of him clipping the tire of the bike in front and sending both of them painfully onto the ground.

IMGP3404Safety briefing

IMGP3455Don’t wanna fall off here!

Our next stop after La Paz was to the town of Uyuni, the gateway to Bolivia’s Salt Flats. Salar de Uyuni is the largest Salt Flat in the world, covering 10000 sq km. None of this salt is exported though, as after the war with Chile Bolivia became land locked and the cost of exporting it would drive the price of salt to un-marketable levels. For this reason the salt here is all obtained without the use of machinery, in order to ensure there is not an oversupply in the Bolivian market. From Uyini we were doing a 3 day tour of the area. The first day was incredible and packed full of stuff.

IMG_1912We started by visiting a place called the Train Cemetery

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe then learned about their processes for making salt and had lunch in a hotel made of salt.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe visited a few monuments on the salt flats.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe then had a go at taking perspective photos (our guide was really unhelpful though so unlike the other groups most of our photos didn’t turn out great)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd finally we went to a random cactus island in the middle of the salt flats.

The second day involved a lot of driving with short stops for photo-ops.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe flamingos of the colorada lagoon were my favourite stop.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stayed in a hostel that night beside these hotsprings.

The final day was mostly driving as it was 7 or so hours to get back to Uyuni. While I did enjoy the tour, in retrospect I would definitely just do a one day tour, as the first day was by far the best. Our guide was also quite disappointing and barely spoke to us (our driver Edwin on the other hand was awesome but only spoke Spanish).

Next up was the capital of Bolivia, Sucre. Sucre was much nicer than La Paz and felt a lot safer and smaller. There were lots of nice parks and great street food. Sucre is also the site of one of the best examples of dinosaur footprints. Over time, they have been verticalised and there are a dozen or so different tracks running up and along a cliff wall. As a minor dinosaur geek I though it was pretty awesome!



Sucre was my last stop with Maddy and Julie as they were continuing south while I needed to get back to Peru  to fly home. I took a night bus to La Paz, stayed a night there and then took another night bus to Arequipa in Peru.

Next stop.. Peru (again)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAView from the La Paz cable car in my last day there

Peru take one

My journey to Lima began with a very long bus ride. What do you do on a 28 29 1/2 hour bus ride? The answer is not a whole lot, you watch a lot of bad movies (each one progressively worse as you run out of the mildly good ones), you eat a lot of snacks (because the ¨meals¨are inedible) and you sleep a lot. You also spend a seemingly unnecessary amount of time (several hours) at border control and police check points. While most of the journey was at night, during the day, a large portion of the road was through barren dessert, which after a few hours dropped stunningly into the sea. We then drove along the top of steep sand dunes until we arrived in the city of Lima, Peru. Lima is a huge city, with a population of almost 10 million but most of the hostels are in the area of Miraflores. This meant that even though I couldn’t book the same hostel as them I was only a few minutes away from Julie (my old flatmate) and Maddy (Julie´s high school friend who I hung out with in Honduras) and after nearly a year I finally got to see a face from home! We only had one day in Lima before we flew to Cusco and we spent it walking around the historic centre and the foreshore.

20150313_134142Julie and Maddy


Cusco is a pretty tourist town with a few too many street hawkers to be able to peacefully enjoy it. It is the gateway to Machu Picchu and, because 2500 people visit the site everyday it is packed with foreigners. This also means that there is a lot of incredible food on offer. We had a mixture of Peruvian and International food while we were there and it was all incredible. Peruvian food is really good and is probably the nicest cultural food I have had since Mexico. Aji de Gallina (chicken in a spicy yellow sauce), Rocoto Relleno (stuffed peppers) an Lomo Saltado (beef stiryfry) were my favourites. We also tried Alpaca (still haven´t tried guinea pig!) and I finally found somewhere selling cider!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcuscos’s main plaza

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne day in Cusco we were in the main plaza when a street parade of dancers in traditional regalia started

Of course, the main reason for our being in cusco was to get to Machu Picchu. We’d organised to do the classic (and expensive) Inka trail, a 4 day, 42km journey right into the heart of Machu Picchu. Our Inka trail journey began bright and early with a 2 hour bus ride to the town of Olaytantambo where we stopped for breakfast. We then drove a little bit further until we reached the start of the classic Inka Trail, a place known as kilometer 82. The first day was fairly easy, and was what our guide referred to as Inka Flat – or gently undulating. The only issue I had was that my pack is a travel pack and is not designed for hiking, this meant it wouldn’t sit on my hips, and after several hours of walking my shoulders were very sore (unlike most people who had hired porters, we were carrying our own stuff). On the way to our camp we stopped at a few outlooks over other inka site and at one got to try the Prickly Pear Cactus fruit. After around 6 or so hours we arrived at our first campsite and had lunch. The food on the whole trail was incredible – especially considering it all had to be carried in. On that first day we had corn chips and guacamole, soup and fried trout. One day they even baked a cake! After lunch we got introduced to our porters. This was a bit awkward with the 15 of us standing in one line and the 22 porters standing in another, introducing ourselves one by one. The poor porters looked so uncomfortable, and to make it more awkward there was a distracting 3-against-one doggy mating session going on next to us. Dinner followed not long after and then we headed to bed, ready for our early start.



Day two began in the dark with a cup of coca tea brought to our tents. In our briefing back in Cusco we had been quite intimidated with what to expect on day 2, I’d also heard from other travelers that day 2 was the horrible. Combined with my pack issues, this convinced me to hire a porter to take some of my stuff for the second day. As it turned out, day 2 was nowhere near as bad as they had made out. I took it pretty slow, and it was great not having all the stuff in my pack. But I found it quite easy, the only really tough bit was the last few minutes until the top of the highest point of the trek, Dead Woman’s Pass (4200m). This was a lot of steep steps and you started to really notice the altitude. Once we got to the top a couple of poor porters were waiting in the cold to give us cheese sandwiches and Julie, Maddy and I celebrated with a snickers. After this it was a lot of (slow) down hill until I reached that nights camp. The guide told us a story about a girl who had been shot by her boyfriend at this campsite and was said to haunt it – we thought it best to have all 3 of us in our tent that night.



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the top of Dead Woman’s Pass

Day three was the hardest day for me, I had my pack back and we started straight into steep uphill. Also, unlike the rest of trek the weather was not on our side and rained constantly the whole day. However, once we got to the top of the pass it was mostly Inka flat until we stopped for lunch. On this day there would have been fantastic views of mountains and glaciers but unfortunately the weather never cleared up. We did pass through some cool tunnels and explore some ruins on the way though. After lunch on the trail, it was a long steep decent (known as the Gringo Killer) until we got to our last campsite. Our camp was located next to the ruins of Winay Wayna.



We got up at 3.30 on the last day, not so we could get to the sungate for sunrise, as the control gate didn’t open until to 5.30am. But so the porters could get down to meet the only train they were able to catch. The poor porters really get the raw end of the stick, you would think that they would find it easy doing it every day, but their loads are just to heavy and their equipment not appropriate. It is common to see them collapsing there packs against a hill, drenched in sweat. And then to top it off they have to run down to the tracks on the last day or risk missing the train.

We waited at the control point for an hour or so, and then made our way to the sungate. When we got there it was pretty foggy, but we stayed a little bit longer than the rest of the group and actually got a quick glimpse of Machu Picchu below. Machu Picchu was full of people, and while I expected that I wasn’t quite prepared for the sheer number. It was still pretty spectacular though and well worth the four day trek.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnot much of a view

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then it cleared a bit



Afterwards we made our way to the town of Aguas Calliente where we were staying a night and met some of the rest of our group at the hot pools before going for a well earned drink. The following day Julie and I got a manicure and massage before taking the train back in Cusco.

It was then time to make our way to Bolivia and we decided to try a new hop-on/hop-off bus running in Peru. This wasn’t the most comfy bus but it was nice being able to stop for excursions on the way. After a night on the bus we arrived at the town  of Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and took a boat to visit the floating islands. The Uros are people who live on Lake Titicaca on a series of islands made of reeds. It was interesting to see the way they made the islands, but the whole thing felt like a bit of a tourist trap.



Next stop.. Bolivia

(I’ve had terrible internet for the last month hence the delay!)

Cotopaxi, Baños, Cuenca and Montañita

The terrace of my hostel in Quito was covered in photos of their sister hostel in the Cotopaxi region, with spectacular views of the volcano. After starting at them for quite a few nights, there was no way I couldn’t check out this magical looking place. It was a lot more expensive than I’m used to, and definitely out of the way, but I am so so glad I went.

When I arrived at the Secret Garden Cotopaxi the mountain was obscured by clouds but the rest of the outlook showed beautiful farmland. We were greeted with a mug of mulled wine and shown to our electricity free dorm with a huge fireplace in the centre. The altitude was really getting to me though (the hostel is at 3500m), and I was feeling very dizzy. I skipped the afternoon waterfall hike and spent the rest of the day relaxing and reading. Because the hostel is so far from anywhere (about 1hr from the closest town) all your meals are included in the price, so everyone staying would eat together at a long table – and the food was really good. When you weren’t out on adventures there wasn’t a lot to do but relax. So afternoons and evenings were spent reading, sitting by the fire chatting, playing cards, lying in hammocks, drinking wine, using the hot tub or playing corn hole. It was so peaceful and relaxing and definitely my favourite hostel of the trip.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAView from the hostel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHot tub with a view!

My first full day I signed up to go horse riding. There was a group of 5 of us and we rode along the road for a bit until we made it to some farmland at the base of the National Park. This was a really beautiful area to ride through, with tussock and scrubby wildflowers  everywhere. I really enjoyed the first part of my ride, but once we got to the open areas my horse stopped listening to me. Clearly this was the area he was allowed to run in and he resented me for trying to stop him. I don’t mind running for short periods and when I know that the horse will stop. But he wasn’t listening to me at all, and I started to freak out a bit. By this stage I had trailed behind the rest of the group and just wanted to get off – but the guide was at the front with the others. By time I caught up to them I was pretty distraught, but the guide said we were stopping for a break in 5 minutes so I figured I could last. After some sweet, hot tea and cake we started off again but my horse bolted and I completely lost it and had the guide tie my horse to his until we got back to the road. With the exception of the middle part, I did really enjoy the ride. Although the next day I was very sore.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhere we went riding


That afternoon I went on the waterfall hike that I’d missed the day before. A whole lot of new people had turned up, including a group I’d met in Quito and a girl, Tricia, who I had met in Mindo. The hike was fun and we spent a lot of scrambling up the creek bed.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the two waterfalls

The next day I hiked to the glacier on Cotopaxi. Volcan Cotopaxi is said to be the highest active volcano in the world (unless you live in Argentina, not Ecuador, and then it is likely you consider the highest active volcano to be there). The carpark is at 4500m, from here we walked up to the refuge which is at 4800m and then to the glacier at 5000m. It was very hard to breathe, but the views were incredible and definitely worth it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe road to cotopaxi

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we got to the car park there was a wolf!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAView from the refuge


My last full day at Cotopaxi I did nothing, I walked around the property, talked to the animals and played games.


The day I left there were 5 others leaving as well, 4 were going to do the Quilatoa loop, and Tricia and I were trying to get to Banos. We got dropped off at thee side of the Pan Americana to catch a bus. But all the buses were full and none were stopping. After around an hour wo of the guys decided to try hitchhiking but the rest of us weren’t so keen. We’d just given up and decided to try and get a taxi to the next town when a bus pulled up. We quickly climbed on and it wasn’t until I got on that I realised there were only 2 people on the bus and they were in military uniform – we’d basically hitchhiked with the military (although they still charged us)

After a long day of bus travel we made it to Banos. We went out to dinner at a local brewing company and I got really excited when they had cider on the menu…and then really disappointed when they were all out. I´m just going to have to wait until I get home for my cider fix.

The first day in Banos, Tricia and I decided to go hiking on the Los Sauces trail near the town. We got lost on the way there and ended up doing it backwards – which meant a lot of steep, hot up hill. There was a great view of Banos from the top though. That night we went to watch the sunset from a cafe in the hills. The sunset was a non-event, but afterwards we made our way to the El Refugio spa for a steam bath. We were shut in a wooden box with only our head poking out and the box filled with hot steam. After 5 minutes of this a guy opened up the box and threw cold water on us. This was repeated several times, although with variations like being dropped backwards into a tub of cold water and being hosed with cold water. I screamed like a little girl everytime. I did feel very relaxed afterwards though.



Day two in Banos I went canyoning. This is basically abseiling down waterfalls. There were two guys on my trip, Mike and James and it was a lot of fun (and maybe just a little but scary at points. My favourite waterfall was the last one we went down, I think by that stage I´d got the hang of it a bit more perhaps. At the very end we had to slide down a waterfall. That was the only time I screamed.


In the afternoon decided last minute to go rafting. It didn’t start off well, with the company being 1 hour late. And the rafting itself just wasn’t as fun as in Honduras. I didn’t scream at all so it can´t have been too scary!!


That night Tricia, James and I went to the thermal baths that give Banos its name. These were packed and you had to hire these weird little swimming caps. They were also insanely hot, you could only spend a few minutes in it at a time. I think the idea was to go from the hot pool to the freezing cold pool continuously, I decided I´d had enough of this hot-cold combo though!

We had one more day in Banos before Tricia, James and I caught a night bus to Cuenca. We left reasonably early for Casa de Arbol which is a treehouse above Banos. It was a fantastic decision and we were the only ones in what we´d heard was quite a packed  place. There is a swing here that swings out over the edge of the hill, and if you get the right angle it looks like you are insanely high.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot so bad from this angle!

Later that day Tricia and James decided they wanted do a bridge swing. I volunteered to watch.


That night we caught a bus to Riobamba and then had to wait until 11.30 to catch our next bus to Cuenca. The bus ended up arriving in Cuenca at 5.30am so we begged our hostel to let us crash on there couch (we had to pick the hostel with only wooden furniture! – the one couch they had was insanely comfy though)

There wasn´t a whole lot to do in Cuenca, but it was a very pretty town with good food. Someone told me that it is becoming the new Panama City for retiring Americans. We mostly just walked around, although we take a double decker bus tour one day. Tricia and I decided to get pedicures as a birthday treat. It was the most terrible job ever, it took hours and Tricia ended up re-doing hers in the shop. Tricia also shouted me a slice of cake as a treat and later that night the hostel gave me one as well!


From Cuenca I took a bus to Montanita. Montanita is a beach town with a party reputation and I decided I wanted to be somewhere fun to turn 25. My dorm had 3 other girls (Miriam, Amalie and Ferida) in it and we all hung out the whole time. On my birthday we went out for brunch and then tried our luck at surfing. We were all pretty terrible and I only managed to stand up for a second. We went out for dinner that night and then made the mistake of having a nap before going out. In the end only Ferida and I managed to drag ourselves out of bed to go out. The town was packed with people and there were street stalls selling cocktails.

20150307_161236Surfs up!

20150307_213659The streets were lines with these

20150308_114907or food ones during the day

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMontanita beach getting ready for a party

From Montanita, Ferida and I went back to Guayaquil so I could get my bus to Lima and she could get a flight. We went to the movies that night (something I haven’t done since the States) which was a nice change. The movie Theory Of  Everything was really good by the way. The next day I went to the bus station to get a 28 (or 29 1/2 hour) bus to Lima. I’m very glad I payed the extra for VIP seats, but even so it was a very very long way.

Next stop… Peru!!

Quito, Mindo and the Amazon

Ecuador is definitely shaping up to be one of my favourite countries so far, for such a small country it is incredibly varied with the Amazon, the Andes and the coast only a few hours away from each other.

From the Galapagos Islands I made my way to Ecuador´s capital, Quito. Quito is the highest ´official capital´ in the world, sitting at 2800m above sea level. This is the highest altitude I have been at (Bogota being around 2600m and Mexico City 2200m) and while the effect of the altitude is not too bad, I am definitely noticing it. I´m not sleeping so great and having digestion issues which are apparently both symptoms of high altitude (not to mention walking up stairs is a bitch). I´ll have to get used to it soon though, because I´m only going to get higher!

The hostel I am staying in is 3 stories high and has a roof top terrace bar that overlooks the city. It´s gets pretty cold at night (especially after being in Central America and Colombia for the past few months) but the view is spectacular. It is a really nice, relaxed hostel and they serve dinners which has so far been most foods I am missing from home (I even saw Pavlova on the menu one day! – sadly the day I was leaving).

My first day in Quito I went to the ´Centre of the World´ with a guy (Ian) I had shared a taxi with from the airport and his friend Lindsey. We ended up getting a taxi driver to take us there and he stopped first at this volcano..


Then at the real equator (as determined by GPS). Here there was a little museum and we were shown things like the process to making shrunken heads (cut off the head, scalp it, boil it basically) before we were taken to the equator line. Here the guide showed us experiments, and while there is some debate as to whether they were legit or not (basically it was all lies), I was still fascinated. He filled up a sink with water and showed us it draining in the southern hemisphere (clockwise), the northern hemisphere (anticlockwise) and then over the equator (straight down). He also tested our resistance on the equator vs. off it and got us to walk in a straight line along it with our eyes closed (you are supposed to veer to the hemisphere you are from – I stayed on the line though, which we decided was because I´m from the South but have been in the North for a while). I´m not sure how I feel about them embracing the mis-beliefs people have about the way water drains, but it was still pretty cool.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApparently you can also jump higher at the equator!

The last stop was where all the equator monuments are…240m from the actual equator.



The following day I flew to the town of Lago Agrio to get a 2hr bus and then 2hr boat ride to the Cuyabeno reserve. Unfortunately I left my only warm jumper (my trusty flannel!) and my hat on the bus (they said ´you can leave your things on the bus for now´ while we had lunch and they, and the bus disappeared. The trip started off great, jungle was really beautiful and the water so dark it reflected everything. It was such a beautiful day and we stopped along the way to watch monkeys, snakes and birds. We even saw a flash of a Giant Otter. When we were about 20 minutes from the lodge it started absolutely pouring with rain so the rest of the journey was spent huddling under ponchos.


My room at the lodge was a little hut, I´d been hoping to find a tarantula in my room, but sadly there was only a frog who hung out the whole time I was there. There was only two other people in my group, two French girls. They didn´t speak much English, so along with the guide (who also spoke only a little English) conversation was a little strained the whole time I was there and meant it got a little bit boring just hanging out by yourself sometimes!


In the afternoon we were supposed to go looking for Pink River Dolphins, but it was still raining and the other two decided not to come. I decided to brave the rain (they gave us really good ponchos to use), unfortunately, I didn´t zip up my camera case and when I was getting into the canoe my camera fell out into the puddle of water in the bottom of the boat (at least it wasn´t the lake!!). I quickly rushed back to the lodge to try and dry it but it still had water in it and the screen was flickering and the camera not taking photos during the boat ride. To top it off we didn´t even see any dolphins! We did see a sloth, but he was a sleep and just looked like a round blob. The following day my camera was still being funny but I spent a long time on one of the boat rides trying to dry it fully and it seems to be working fine now thankfully!!

We got up early the next day to visit a local community. On the way we managed to get a glimpse of a young river dolphin before it swam away.We visted relatives of our guide Veronica, who is a memeber of the Siona community. Here we made bread called Casabi from Yuca plants.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFirst we pulled up some roots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen we peeled the yuca.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen we grated it (and for all you naysayers, this wasn´t a staged photo, we grated they whole lot).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen we squeezed out the moisture.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was cooked and made into bread.

The bread was really good and afterwards I played hopscotch with Ariel (the guide Veronica´s son who was with us the whole trip) and his cousin David, i didn´t win.


That afternoon we went looking for dolphins again and didn´t see any again, but did see a huge Anaconda!!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also saw this baby bird who was pretending to be a tree.

We then went to another lake to watch a really pretty sunset before we went looking for Camians. We spent a long time looking for them before the guide gave me the torch and I actually managed to find one (I am not very good at spotting animals it turns out, people would be pointing and I couldn´t see a thing). Once again though, we only got a glimpse before it was gone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe water is so reflective!


The following day we went for a walk through the jungle, with Veronica pointing out different plants and there uses in jungle medicine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you hit this tree it makes a big booming sound that can be heard 1km away.

That night we went for another dolphin search, and actually saw one (very briefly) before returing to the lodge where we found a Caiman lurking right beside the lodge. Once it got dark, we went on a night walk to look for spiders. Sadly no tarantulas – but we did see a wolf spider!


The last morning we got up super early to go bird watching on the lake. We spent a couple of hours out here and didn´t see a single bird (except Jungle Chickens).


I have mixed feelings about my stay in the Amazon. I did really enjoy it, but I had hoped to see more animals. The ones we did see were very far away or were gone in a second. I´m not sure if we were just really unlucky or if that is pretty standard for the area. Either way, I will have to go back into the Amazon one day with a good pair of binoculars and a good zoom!

I flew back to Quito for a couple of nights and then caught the bus to the town of Mindo. My main reason for going here was to see hummingbirds and I was not dissapointed. The garden of my hostel had several feeders and there were hummingbirds everywhere!


I met a girl from England here called Sarah and we hung out for the afternoon. We had planned to go to a butterfly house but were told it would be better earlier in the day so decided just to relax for the afternoon and went out for dinner that night with a group of people. The next day it started raining. it cleared up a bit midday and a group of five of us braved the butterfly house. There were lots of the beautiful blue butterflies I had seen in the Amazon, but they close there wings to a camouflage pattern when they land.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALook at the cool old cocoons!

That night we went out to dinner with a Swis and a German guy Fabian and Timon for Fabian´s birthday.

It was still raining the next day which put a damper on our plans to walk to some waterfalls. Instead we hung out at the hostel and someone pulled out a ukelele and we had a bif sing along. In the afternoon we were getting a bit of cabin fever so Sarah and I decided to walk to the waterfalls (around 8km up hill), we actually made pretty good time, but the cable car thing you need to cross to the waterfalls closed about 15 minutes before we got there. It was a nice walk though and we had a friendly little dog accompany us most of the way.

Of course the next day, the day I left, was beautifully sunny. Despite the weather, and the fact I didn´t do much, I still really enjoyed Mindo. It was so nice and relaxing, with a fantastic group of people and lots of hummingbirds.


From Mindo I went back to Quito to do a series of day trips. I thought I wouldn´t have enough time to stay at these places but in retrospect it would´ve been a lot cheaper and easier to stay there there was a lot of driving for not much activity.

The first trip was to the Otavalo markets, the biggest in Ecuador. We stopped at an animal market first. Here there was a section for cows, a section for pigs and a section for small animals. There were animals everywhere and all just chilling on leashes and people were walking around holding their sacks of live ducks or their new chicken purchases by its feet.



The Otavalo market was really big, but by the time you looked at a few stalls everything started to look the same. I got an Alpaca jersey here for $15 and it is so cozy and warm!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also stopped at a waterfall

The next day was a trip to the Quilatoa Lake, a crater lake at 3800m above sea level. We stopped first at another market (I have found my exotic fruit tasting tour has come in very handy over the last few days, being able to tell people what certain fruits are!).


We then stopped at the house of indigenous man Jose Julian. His home was made of mud and inside there were guinea pigs everywhere (guinea pigs are commonly eater over here). The family was very welcoming and the little baby loved making faces at me.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJose Julian and is wife


Quilatoa Lake was very beautiful, the walk down was very steep and slippery and when we got to the bottom we basically turned around and walked back up. A lot of the group paid for a mule to take them back up but I decided to walk. The altitude here was really tough, but the guide and I walked with a lady who was struggling up the hill so I found it really easy.


Last night in the hostel a guy pulled out his mandolin and we all sat around singing for hours. I love people that travel with instruments! Today I have been trying to post a parcel home without my passport on me which took a very long time and involved running back and forwards trying to download my passport copy before my battery died. I got it done in the end and have been walking around the historic centre which is very nice. Currently I am in an internet cafe because I can´t cope with my lack of G and H and backspace right now.

Next stop… Cotopaxi!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAView from the hostel – of course I keep forgetting to take my camera to the terrace, and now it is pouring with rain. I had to take refuge in that church (note that refuge now costs $2)

The Galapagos Islands

I am in love. The past 10 9 days I spent in the Galapagos Islands have been the highlight of my journey so far. This place is truly unique. In a day you can go from lush highlands, to barren desert, to volcanic rock, to tropical beaches. The animals have not yet been tainted in their experiences with man and are unafraid and inquisitive. I WANT TO GO BACK!

Due to my flight mess up I ended up flying in to the island of Santa Cruz. The airport is actually on the nearby island of Baltra,  which is completely barren, containing nothing but the airport and a few cacti. From ere you catch a quick boat across to Santa Cruz and then a taxi the 42km to the main town of Puerto Ayora. I convinced an Australian couple to share a taxi and the taxi driver offered (for a little bit extra) to show us some of the sights on the way. Our first stop was Los Gemelos (the Twins),  which are two holes caused by the collapse of magma chambers. This area had an almost fairy like feel to it, with lush forest covered in vines and Darwin’s Finches hopping about.



Our next stop was a farm that had a lot of Galapagos Tortoises on it, the driver laughed at us when we insisted on stopping at the first tortoise we saw on the side of the road – when we got to the farm they were everywhere.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGiant Tortoise, They are such funny animals. I love the noises they make, I couldn’t stop laughing while I was watching them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI then tried on a tortoise shell.

Our last stop was to walk and crawl through a lava tunnel.


Id been told that Santa Cruz was the best island for seeing hammerheads while diving, so my first port of call in Puerto Ayora was to book in a dive (I was convinced at this stage I was getting sick so wanted to at least get one dive in). The company I decided to go with wasn’t going to a good spot for hammerheads until the Wednesday (it being Sunday), but I really wanted to see hammerheads so I booked it in. I  then went to a travel agency to find something to do for the next two days (there are very few things you can do in the islands without a guide). The guy in the agency convinced me to do an overnight trip to Isabela island and (even though I had been adamant I wasn’t doing one) a 3 night cruise.

So the next day I set out for Isabela. It didn’t start so well, with the boat ferrying us breaking down, causing a one and a half our delay. That whole trip felt very unorganised and was a bit of a let down. I had no idea what was going on most of the time and was the only person doing that particular trip it seemed. After I finally got to the hotel the first activity didn’t start for 3 hours, so I went for a walk through the town. There was a really beautiful beach here and it was here I saw my first (of many many) Iguana.


I then set out on a trip to the islet of Tintorella.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe dock at Isabela is covered in Sealions

First up was  a cruise around the bay where we saw Herons, Pelicans, Penguins (the only penguins to live north of the equator), Sealions and blue footed boobies! I have wanted to see blue footed boobies ever since I we were shown a video of their mating dance in Mr Seawright’s bio class (and Natalie Rens and I used to imitate it during boring hockey games).  Sadly, without a zoom lens I wasn’t able to get any good photos of them.






We then made our way onto the islet. This was covered in Marine Iguanas. There were literally piles of them. We also saw the Tintorella shark which is active at night in one of the crevices where it comes to rest during the day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMarine Iguanas



Our last part of the excursion was to go snorkeling. I saw turtles, lots  of fish and got to snorkel with the penguins. I had an awesome photo of a penguin on my underwater camera, but unfortunately that met an untimely death on another snorkeling trip. The following day I climbed up one of the Volcanos on Isabela, Sierra Negra. It was very misty and rainy when we set off and didn’t really clear up until we reached the top. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the top it was like being on MarsThat afternoon I went back to Santa Cruz and the following day I went DIVING! We dove at two sites, the first near an island called Mosquera and the second near North Seymore. The diving was amazing, normally on a dive you get excited to see a turtle or a shark or a ray – on these dives everywhere you look there are sharks and rays and turtles. One of my favourite parts was when we waited outside a little cave as half a dozen white tips milled around inside. Oh and I got to see hammerheads!!IMG_5715IMG_6341IMG_5773During the break between dives there were sealions next to our boat, so we hopped in and went swimming with them. They were so playful and friendly!

I had the whole of Thursday to kill before my cruise started at 6pm. I decided to first walk to Las Grietas, which is a deep crevasse with crystal clear water. If you swam to the far side of the first pool you could clamber over some rocks and th6ere was another one with nobody in it. Unfortunately I managed to slip off the rocks wile i was waiting my turn to get in. I think it looked worse than it was, because everyone was very concerned, but i manged to only hurt my bum which bares a few long scrapes on it now.


Afterwards I made the long, hot walk to Tortuga Bay. At the end you were greeted by a really beautiful lagoon and I spent a while swimming (no turtles though) before need for water forced me back to Puerto Ayora.


If the first trip I had booked was a mistake, the cruise definitely was not. The boat was beautiful, the food fantastic and the people great. I had been prepared to be on a boat full of “grey haired bird watchers” but this was not the case at all. Besides an awesome retired couple, a father and his ten year old son and a woman in her 40s, the other 9 people on the boat were all under 30.


The first day we traveled to the island of Floreana. Our first stop here was a place called Post Office Bay. For the past 200 years sailors have had a wooden barrel here that they put letters in for other sailors to pick up and deliver home. Today it is filled with postcards, and you go through it and find ones near to where you are traveling to hand deliver.


Later that day we went to another spot on Floreana called Punta Cormorant, where we went for a walk to see a swamp with Flamingos in it and went into another lava tunnel. Our final spot for the day was Devils Crown, a really awesome snorkeling spot.

The second day of the cruise was based on the island of Espanola. First we went to Suarez Point where we saw nesting Nazca Boobies, really colourful Marine Iguanas and an Albatross. This spot was incredible and a definite highlight!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANazca Booby feeding a chick


Marine Iguana



Espanola really is an incredible island, and our last stop for the day was probably the most beautiful beach in the entire world. I only wish we could have stayed longer.


The last day of the cruise was very short, starting with a 7am snorkel at the best snorkeling site of the trip – Kicker Rock. I lost count of th6e turtles and sharks we saw, there would have been close to 100 turtles though. Everywhere you looked there was something. We left the boat at 9.30 am and most of us hung out for the rest of the day, pretty exhausted from some very full on days.

I tried to get onto a tour to a place called Punta Pitt for the following day, but there were none going. So instead I got up early and climbed up Frigate Hill in the hope of seeing a male Frigate bird (they ave 6huge red pouches, Id seen one from far away when diving but none up close). I did see Frigates but none with the red pouch. I then went to the beach with a girl from  the cruise for t6he rest of the afternoon. On our way out a sealion came up to some peoples stuff. I tried clapping to get it to leave, as Id been told that would work, but she wasn’t having a bar of it and just looked at me and plopped down onto the towel.


The whole experience really was amazing, it was like a holiday from my holiday. The Galapagos has  a number of accommodation options called “hostals” but they are actually just cheap hotels. So I had to put up with the luxury of a private room during most of my time there. I really want to go back, there are still a few things I would like to see, and I would like to do a longer cruise and see more of the islands…one day.

Next stop…the Amazon!

P.S. I appologise if there are Gs and Hs missing from my posts, those keys ave decided to stop working (along with the backspace) and it is most frustrating to type and then go back and add them in with the onscreen keyboard!!

Cartagena & Medellin

As my shuttle drove through the streets of Cartagena I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, tall white towers lined an almost grey ocean. No different to any resort town anywhere else in the world. Then the shuttle pulled into the walled city. Clearly all you need to make me like a town is beautifully restored Spanish Colonial buildings and quaint public spaces. The walled city of Cartagena is all that and more, and my hostel was right in the heart of it. Walls and fortresses were built around the original city to protect from pirates and all within the walled city today remains true to it’s Colonial past.


I made friends with an Aussie girl named Steph on my first night in Cartagena and we decided to go to town with some Dutch guys. I didn’t last very long (still being on Ciudad Perdida time) and when the others were walking me home we got stopped by the police. After searching the two guys let us go only to be stopped a few minutes later by the same cops (and two more) who this time went straight for Steph. They found her carrying something she shouldn’t have been, pulled out the handcuffs and insisted we pay them or the were taking her to the station. Obviously both parties were in the wrong, but it does make me miss non-corrupt NZ (one of the policemen did tell me my Spanish was good though). In the end we only ended up paying around $40, but there were stories at the hostel of people being taken to the ATM and made to pay $500 (1 million pesos).

The following day I relaxed at the hostel, went out for lunch with Steph and one of the Dutch guys and walked along the wall. The wall doesn’t go the whole way around and when I tried to get back to the hostel I ended up getting hopelessly lost.


The hostel was definitely one of the hardest to sleep in, it was a mixture of long term travelers and groups of South American and American people on 3-4 week summer holidays. These groups don’t tend to follow what is known as hostel etiquette (not turning on the light when people are sleeping, not chatting in the room when people are sleeping etc.) so you would have a group come into the hostel turning on the lights at 3 in the morning and another couple at 4 and then some more getting up at 6 and coming in and out of the room until 7.30.

My second day I ended up going on a sailing trip to an island in the harbour. One of the Dutch guys was also on the trip along with Steph’s ex-boyfriend who she had planned to travel Colombia with but then had broken up (long-distance) with a month earlier (and then accidentally ended up in the same hostel as – bit awkward!). The sailing trip was really nice. We motored to the island and relaxed for a few hours and had lunch. In the afternoon we sailed around the harbour and the crew had us helping to tack and steer. We sailed back into Cartagena to a beautiful sunset.



On the way back to the hostel our taxi was slowed in traffic and we saw two woman start to fight, they were going crazy and it was pretty intense. People were trying to stop it but getting caught in the crossfire, and then one of the ladies picked up a knife off her fruit stand. Finally the taxi was able to move and we waved down a nearby policeman to go help.

When I got back to the hostel I found my friend Elly from Santa Marta was there! We went out for a Mojito that night and then spent the following day exploring the city, window shopping, watching the sunset from the wall ,and getting amazing street food burgers – a great end to my last day in Cartagena.



My next stop was the City of Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city. As much as I was disappointed by Bogota, Medellin exceeded my expectations. It is a vibrant, interesting and truly awesome city – a far cry from the World’s Most Violent City, a title it held only 15 or so years ago.

The Metro is a great source of pride amongst the people of Medellin, and indeed it is like no other Metro I’ve been on. It is shockingly clean, both the stations and the trains themselves – not a piece of litter, a scratch or mark of graffiti or even a cigarette but to be seen. In 2013 Medellin won an award for being the most innovative city in the world. Not through some great new invention, but rather from using conventional ideas in a non-conventional way. An example of this is the Metro itself, which alongside the traditional trains, also links onto two lines of cable cars which go into the hilly suburbs. They also identified at risk-suburbs, underprivileged neighbourhoods with high crime rates and built libraries there and created many beautiful public spaces. And all the projects link back to the Metro system.


Another one of the innovations of Medellin is a series of escalators used as a means of public transport up a steep hill in a poor neighbourhood. Someone told me how cool this neighbourhood was with colourful houses and street art surrounding the escalators, so one afternoon I went and checked it out. It was possibly a little bit sketchy, most of the people were really lovely and friendly but there were a few characters I wasn’t quite sure about. The neighbourhood was really cool though, so colourful and funky.



One of the first things I did in Medellin was go on the free walking tour that everyone I’d met earlier in Colombia had told me to do. This was truly a one of a kind tour. Our guide, Pablo, was incredible. He didn’t sugar coat it, he showed you the good and bad sides to Medellin and did so using an extremely effective and interesting method of storytelling. He kept us captivated for the entire four hour tour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur guide in action!

We saw all the touristy areas, but also the areas Colombians don’t want you to see, my favourites were a pedestrian street full of street vendors that still had traffic lights – the street vendors had slowly taken over the street until the government gave up and let them have it; and a park in which everything from homemade roulette to guinea pig races took place.

Fernando Botero is a big deal in Medellin. He is from there and has donated a significant number of sculptures and paintings to the city of both his own and other artist’s work. His work plays with volume, horses with tiny heads and overly voluptuous women. He donated a whole lot of sculptures (each worth around 2 million each) to the city, which are proudly displayed in a plaza.

One of these sculptures was the final point of the walking tour. This one was of a bird and a bomb had been placed under it in 1995 during a festival killing 20 innocent people. It was Botero’s idea that the statue should stay. He built a new one to be displayed beside it, as a symbol of hope, as a symbol of the new Colombia. Pablo told us that we were part of this new Colombia. That 15 years ago we would not have been there. That the very presence of tourists in the city shows just how far Medellin and Colombia have come. Colombia definitely still has its problems, with guirillas and paramilitaries still in action against each other and the government, but there is no doubting that is a beautiful and special country.


The old and new statues

Medellin is known best internationally not for the massive changes it has made, or for Botero, but sadly for the criminal who ruled, and traumatized the city for 20 years – Pablo Escobar.. Escobar was the head of the infamous Medellin Cartel when it was at its height of power. During his rule he was virtually untouchable, killing all who got in his way and taking out innocent civilians in the process. More innocent people were killed in the war between the Medellin and Cali Cartels. Escobar even got elected into congress at one point to avoid being extradited to the States. It was all this that made Medellin the most dangerous city in the world for a long time, wit people too afraid to leave their houses. I was a bit hesitant about going on a Pablo Escobar tour, a lot of the travelers you meet almost glorify him, telling stories of the time he got his planes to take a party full of people to circle the city so that his wife wouldn’t find out when she got home, or how when he was denied membership to a country club built his mansion opposite it. They often seem to forget the horrific and despicable things he did and I didn’t want to take part in something that would gloss over the horrendous acts of his past. I definitely chose the right tour – my guide was almost too biased in the other direction and was quite cynical in describing the good things Escobar had done (he was very popular with the poor, known as the Colombian Robin Hood he built several low income housing projects). The tour itself reminded me a bit of a Homes of the Stars tour – here we have the house he used to live in, here we have where he was shot, here we have his grave. But it was really informative and the tour guide really passionate.She ended with an interesting point – that the drug war is an international problem, with the users having just as much a part. Colombia just gets stuck with the very worst part.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe house Escobar was killed at – apparently the realtor didn’t tell the current owners what had happened here until after the deal ad closed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABotero’s – the death of Pablo Escobar (from the Botero exhibit I went to)

My final day in Medellin started of great. I went on possibly the most unusual sounding tour I had come across, but also one of those things you can’t believe someone hadn’t thought of earlier – an exotic fruits tour. Colombia is home to many weird and wonderful fruits, and despite spying them on the supermarket shelves or hearing their names called by street sellers I hadn’t been brave enough to try many yet. The group of us and our guide went to a local market and she selected a wide variety of fruits for us to try. I was quite surprised how many I had actually tried before (or indeed how many are actually grown by someone in my family). The fruits I had tasted before included

Tomate de Arbol (Tree Tomato/Tamarillo – don’t like them in NZ don’t like them in Colombia),

Cherimoya (Custard Apple – very sweet, but nice – did we try these at Grandma’s?

Uchuva (Cape Gooseberry – actually pretty good, I don’t normally eat them when we had them at home.

Curuba (Banana Passion fruit – my second favourite passion fruit)

Gulupa (Passion fruit – still as delicious in Colombia)

Feijoa (Guavasteen in English apparently – I just can’t see this as an exotic fruit, it’ll always be a delicious kiwi staple)

Of the fruits that I hadn’t tried before (and some not even heard of before)


Chontaduro (Peach Palm – kind of like potato and pretty good with a bit of salt!)


Lulo (Little Orange – Yum and sour and delicious in juice form)

Guayaba (Guava – different to the guava tree we had as kids but equally delicious)

Maracuya (Yellow Passion Fruit – not as good as regular passion fruit but amazing in

juice form)

Granadilla (another type of passion fruit, but not to my liking)


Pitahaya (Dragon Fruit, not super flavourful, but nice)

Tamarindo (Tamarind – I think Tamarindo juice in Honduras may have put me off these)


Algarroba (West Indian Locust – hard to get past the smell of dirty socks and the weird texture)


Nisporo (Loquat – nothing like ones at home, I can’t remember tasting this one at all…just that it was one of my least favourites)


Mangostino (Mangosteen – slimy and delicious!)

The market was really busy and we were constantly in people’s way, but everyone was friendly and welcoming and it really was a fantastic idea for a tour.

Leaving the market was pretty much when the day started to go wrong. I’d had my heart set on going to Parque Arvi since my first day in Medellin, but hadn’t managed to fit it in. My last chance was to go after the exotic fruit tour and when this finished almost an hour and a half later than I’d anticipated I thought I might still be able to fit it in. To get to Parque Arvi you take the metro, and then a cable car, and then another cable car – I thought I’d be able to make it, look around for 15 minutes or so, and get back to the hostel in time to catch my flight (maybe 10 minutes or so later than planned). It was about 5 minutes into the last cable car ride that I realised my mistake – instead of taking 5 minutes or so like the other ones, this one showed no signs of stopping anytime soon. Infact, it took 20 minutes to get to the other end. Knowing I was seriously running out of time, I didn’t even get off at the other end, just road the 20 minutes back down. It was a really beautiful ride, canopy level through a forest for half of it and views of the city for the other half, but I was too stressed to enjoy it properly. I finally got off that cable car at 2.25 – I’d planned on being back at 2.30. I then had to take the next cable car which now seemed painfully slow and stressed me out some more. The metro too seemed to take so much longer than usual and when it came time to swap lines I found I’d just missed a train. Instead of waiting the few minutes for the next one to come I decided to get a Taxi. Big mistake. There was so much traffic the combination of walking and the Metro would’ve been much faster. I finally got back to the hostel around 3.40, thankfully the guy I was supposed to share a taxi with was still waiting for me and my stress levels dropped during the taxi ride. The taxi driver was really chatty and told us that he used to work for Pablo Escobar in the labs. He said that while he made a lot of money, he didn’t think it was worth it due to all the violence and fear. We made it to the airport with more than enough time to spare. However, while the guy I was with was upgraded to Premium Economy I was told that the flight to Guayaquil was overbooked and I would have to catch a later flight with Avianca via Bogota. I was already arriving late in Guayaquill so I wasn’t very keen to have even less sleep at the hostel but as there was no other option I had to agree. I was waiting patiently at the gate for my flight, which should’ve been boarding any moment when “Cancelado” came up on the screen. The flight was cancelled, apparently due to “bad weather” – although a Viva Colombia flight left for Bogota not long after our one was supposed to. Noone was really telling us what was going on, and not knowing what was going on, whether I was going to make my connecting flight and having no one speaking English was incredibly stressful. Eventually we got a flight at 10.40, which I think was a combination of 2 or 3 flights and surprisingly no one had doubled up seats using our original passes so I think that was the real reason it was cancelled. My connecting flight was at 11 though, so there was no way I was going to make it. Which also meant I would miss the following mornings flight, the only one that actually mattered. Arriving in Bogota I went straight to the Avianca counter to see if anything could be done. They couldn’t do anything but said they would put me in a hotel for the night (although I think I annoyed the lady because she took over half an hour to process this while about 4 other people had similar arrangements made by the lady next to her). By the time I got to the hotel there was 5 hours until I had to leave for my next flight. I would’ve loved to luxuriate in the pleasure of having my own, non-bunk bed for the night but I was so exhausted. I waited for room service (because I was going to get as much as I could from Avianca), consumed the most amount of meat I’ve had in a very long time, and collapsed into bed. Today I got my flight with no hassles and managed to change the TAME flight I’d missed this morning to tomorrow with the first truly helpful person I’d met since I arrived at the Medellin Airport. But, I can’t dwell on it, for though my trip will be one day shorter, tomorrow I GO TO THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAButterfly in the Botanic Gardens.

sorry the formatting keeps screwing round, ill try fix it tomorrow

Santa Marta, Ciudad Perdida & Parque Tayrona

The weather when I got to Santa Marta was quite a shock, after the almost cold Bogota , Santa Marta was HOT. The hostel I was stayed in was an old Cartel mansion and apparently it has lots of secret passages and hiding spots. Santa Marta itself wasn’t anything special, it is just a great location to so many amazing places. I hung out with an Aussie girl and a Kiwi guy the first few days there, not doing a lot, just shopping and going to the beach. The Kiwi guy happened to have the same camera as me and was incredibly stoked to be able to use my charger as his had been stolen in Nicaragua, and I can vouch that it is impossible to find Olympus suppliers over here!

The main reason for going to Santa Marta for me, was to do the trek to Ciudad Perdida or the Lost City. Ciudad Perdida is a pre-Colombian archeological site that is thought to date back to 800AD. It was abandoned during the Spanish conquest, likely due to disease, and wasn’t re-discovered until 1972 when treasure hunters stumbled upon it. They kept it to themselves for a while until infighting led to the government being informed and in 1976 and excavation and reconstruction began. Nowadays, the Lost City is reached by a 44km return hike into the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

This trek was truly one of the best things I have done. Ciudad Perdida itself isn’t that amazing, nowhere near as spectacular as some others I have seen, but the walk to get there is exhausting, challenging and incredible.


There were around two dozen people in my group, which was a combined mix of those doing the 4-day and 5-day hike.


We got to the starting point around midday and set off, the first half hour or so was a really pleasant undulating walk beside a stream. We stopped for a quick dip at a swimming hole and after that things got a whole lot harder. It was even hotter than in Santa Marta and incredibly humid. I don’t think I’ve ever been so sweaty, walking an hour and a half of steep uphill (and a little bit of downhill) to get to our campsite. The Sierra Nevada mountain range is the highest coastal mountain range in the world. The trek itself is a 44km return trip tat reaches its highest point at around 1200m (starting at 200m).

The first camp was quite a surprise. I’d expected a slightly more rugged version of an NZ tramping hut – long drop toilets, no electricity but with hammocks instead of bunks. But no, this camp had electricity, flushing toilets,  mosquito netted bunk beds and even showers!  It was still pretty basic, but a lot more than you needed or expected..


The second day of the trek was probably the hardest, and definitely the longest. We spent 7 or 8 hours slugging our way up to the final camp before the city. We had lunch along the way at a camp situated by a beautiful and much appreciated swimming hole. On the way we passed some Kogui homes, who are the indigenous people of the area. The kids were really cute and they all wore white clothing and long uncut hair.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis girl we actually met on the way back, she wanted to trade jewellery with us.

The third day was the day we finally made it to the Ciudad Perdida. It was only a km away, but took an hour of clambering including climbing up 1200 steps. Our guides spent several hours showing us around the site and telling us a bit of the history and culture of the Lost City. There was actually wifi and a phone booth at the site which was a bit of a surprise. But the Army are stationed there after tourists were kidnapped a few years ago so I guess they have to have some communication. After the city we made our way back to the camp we had eaten lunch at the previous day.



The fourth day was when we split up from the 4 day walkers. After getting up at 5.30am every day it was nice to have a small sleep in. Although it was sad to say goodbye to a big portion of our group. We only had to walk back to our very first camp that day, which meant we also had more time to explore our surroundings when we got there, stopping for a drink with a random guy who lives up there on the way. While I didn’t see any mammals (except the farm animals often blocking the track) the walk had been full of beautiful butterflies and we decided to go frog spotting that evening (a bit of a change from our usual few games of cards before falling exhausted  into bed at 8.30). There were hundreds in the river, it was actually a little bit creepy how many there were (we even saw one frog clinging on to what we think was a dead frog and riding it down the river).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGuess I will go around

A few of us came down with a stomach  bug on the fourth night, while for me the worst was over that night, for one poor guy he had to do the walk out feeling horrid. So that, in combination with a lot of down hill which really exasperated my knee which I’d twisted a few days earlier slipping over, meant the walk was not the most enjoyable. Despite this, the whole trip had been an incredible experience, with fantastic people, fantastic guides and spectacular scenery.

After a day of recovery in Santa Marta I headed to the coffee town of Minca in the Sierra Nevada for the day. Here a visited La Victoria coffee factory which was started in the 1800s. The tour was interesting but I was disappointed we didn’t get to see the coffee plantations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcoffee beans drying in the sun

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the way back we stopped  at a waterfall for a swim

I then headed for Parque Tayrona ,which is a National Park that is bordered by the Caribbean. This was a very beautiful park, you are hiking through jungle and then all of a sudden get a glimpse of white sand and turquoise water. I would really love to go back in low season, when the beach is less crowded and the lines a bit  quicker (I spent over an hour waiting in a 20 person line to get into the park – gotta love Colombian efficiency!). I spent the night in the park and then headed back to Santa Marta for one final night.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAView of a beach from the track

 Next up is Cartagena and Medellin!!

Panama City and Bogota

I left Leon for La Ceiba at 2am on the 23rd. Unfortunately, at 2 in the morning I am not as careful as I normally and when I got to the border, realised I had left my purse behind. Luckily, I only had my debit card, my travel card and my licence in it. The hostel did find it (after telling me it was definitely not there), but a couple weeks have passed since they said they would send it to me – so I’m not holding out hope.

On Christmas eve I went rafting again and fell out, it wasn’t even in a good rapid! I managed to avoid a boulder and go over a tiny waterfall without injuring myself, but when I was back holding on to the raft I we went over a shallow rock and my leg slammed into it. It was incredibly painful. I think I had a really deep tissue bruise or something. I couldn’t bend my leg at all for a couple of days, and even now it still hurts if I bend down. Needless to say, I didn’t get up to much at all on Christmas Day. Christmas in the tropics definitely wasn’t very Christmasy, and made me miss home a lot. We did however, do stockings with Karen and she appreciated the Nicaraguan beer I’d bought back for her. New Years didn’t fare much better as I got a stomach bug on the afternoon of the 30th and spent the night throwing up and the 31st feeling very drained. The fabulous Tia Karen let me convalesce in one of the rooms in her B&B. It was amazing to have a luxurious bed with nice sheets and a private bathroom – definitely the most comfortable bed I’ve been in since I left home. Karen also made an amazing meal, and although I couldn’t eat much that night it made for fantastic leftovers the next day! I worked a couple of days between Christmas and New Years, and instead of the quiet, peaceful, early closing nights I’d had last time in Honduras there were a group of 7 South African and English accountants who kept on partying until early in the morning. They were a lot of fun even if they were hard work, and they even had me inventing shots for them.

On the 2nd of January I flew to Panama City. While the flight time itself is only a couple of hours I flew via Tegucigalpa and San Salvador for a total of 16 hours travel time. I crossed back through immigration in Tegucigalpa and went to a nearby mall and passed the rest of the time listening to the Serial podcast (which is really good!).  I got into my hostel about midnight absolutely exhausted. However, sleep wasn’t to be had, with drunk American tourists coming into the dorm every 20 minutes, turning the lights on and chatting until 6 in the morning. I  changed hostels the next day to a much more peaceful (and cheaper!) one.

Panama City is a very cool place. Only around 700,000 people there but it seems much bigger. The city has put a lot of effort into making beautiful public spaces. I decided to be a proper tourist, and got a ticket for the hop on/hop off double decker bus.


The first stop I got off at was the Miraflores lock, one of the three locks on the canal. Here there was a visitors’ centre which told of the history of the canal and I saw a couple of ships passing through. It was pretty impressive, especially when you consider construction finished in 1914.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShip passing through the lock.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see there is quite a difference between the water level before and after the lock.

The next place I went to was the Biomuseo which is on the Armador causeway. A manmade stretch of land that connects the city to  3 islands and shelters the canal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Biomuseo was designed by a famous architect (Frank Gehry), it was all about biodiversity and had some cool displays.

I had lunch in a nice Marina area at the end of the causeway and then went shopping in the afternoon. The following day I got off at the end of the causeway and walked back towards the city, with a view towards the canal and the Bridge of The Americas. I then got the bus to the old centre of Panama City, Casca Viejo. This was such a beautiful part of the city. There is an ongoing project to restore the area which makes for beautiful old buildings surrounding paved streets. Definitely one of my favourite colonial towns!


My last day in Panama city I went to the even older Panama Viejo. This was the original site of Panama City, but was largely burnt to the ground when pirate Henry Morgan attacked in 1671.


I then walked up Cerro Ancon, a hill that overlooks the city.

I then flew to the city of Bogota in Colombia. I didn’t like Bogota nearly as much as Panama City, it is a lot bigger and dirtier and there is not that much to do. The old town here has a sketchy feeling about it.

I met a fellow Kiwi named Luke on my first night there and we decided to check out Catedral Del Sal, which is an underground Cathedral in a salt mine. It wasn’t quite what we expected, it was a definite tourist gimmick with a cheesy light show at the end and a line of souvineer shops. But it was still really pretty with the lighting.


The only other touristy things I did in Bogota was to go up Monseratte, a hill overlooking the city, in a cable car and visit the gold museum which had an interesting collection of pre-Colombian artifacts. At the very end of the museum, there is a room where the wall opens up and then shuts behind you. You end up in a dark room and all of a sudden this weird music and lighting starts. I was in the room by myself and didn’t have a clue what was going on!



Right now I am in the Caribbean city of Santa Marta, tomorrow I am going into the jungle for a 5 day trek to Ciudad Perdida!


I left Utila bright and early to catch the 6.30 ferry to La Ceiba. I then spent a very long shuttle ride, arriving in Leon Nicaragua at around 11pm. Luckily the shuttle had a group of people on it, including one the people I’d been hanging out in Utila with, and parts of the journey were actually pretty fun.

Leon is a town of crumbling colonial buildings that, despite the number of tourists there, doesn’t feel touristy at all. The climate here was quite a shock, 35 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, quite a change from Honduras!

My first day there I explored the town and then had dinner with my friend Miriam (from Utila).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI just asked the hostel guy what this is and he said it’s traditional thing showing a tall Spanish lady and a short local.

Probably the thing Leon is most known for is volcano boarding on Cerro Negro. Cerro Negro, or black hill, is the youngest volcano in Central America and the most active, erupting 23 times since i formed in 1850. Apparently some Aussie guy decided a few years ago that it would be ideal to slide down, and, after much trial and error deciding that toboggans were the way to do it. Since then, thousands of people have slid down the volcano at speeds as high as 95kph and two land speed records have been set (on bikes). The walk up the volcano takes about 45 minutes and they way down only a couple. It was pretty scary, I was trying to not go too fast, but I was still going way faster than was comfortable. The company I went with has a speed scanner and clocks your speed near the bottom. The fastest guy in my group got 80kph…I only got 30kph, but I wasn’t the slowest!!


The following day I set out for Granada, here I discovered that in the month I’d been in Honduras low season had ended and high season had well and truly begun. This meant pretty much all the hostels were booked out. I only had one night in Granada, people had told me that it was more than enough, that the “jewel of Granada” was overrated and that Leon was cooler. But I loved it. Yes, it was quite tourist orientated compared to the more unassuming Leon, but it is a really beautiful city with public spaces and lovingly restored buildings that would rival any town’s. It also had the best European food in Central America so far.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAView from the bell tower looking over the catherdral

The amazing weather in Leon had made me long for a tropical beach to truly appreciate it, so I spontaneously booked flights to the Caribbean Corn Islands. It didn’t start off well, as we were taxiing to the runway I looked out and saw my bag sitting on the tarmac still. Luckily my bag turned up on the next plane 20 minutes later. However, the tropical paradise I’d imagined was not to be. I’d flown to Big Corn Island but had planned on staying on Little Corn Island, which you can only get to by boat. Big Corn was very windy and stormy when I arrived and no boats were going to Little Corn that day. I ended up in a taxi with an Austrian and German girl and went to a guesthouse that they had heard was nice. The guesthouse turned out to be a bit pricey (by my standards – $40/room) and I said to the girls I didn’t mind sharing if they wanted to. They discussed it for a bit and then said they thought that would be okay for one night. I thought this was a bit odd at the time, but it made sense later when I asked them how they new each other and it turned out they were a couple! Whoops, may have gatecrashed there romantic get away a bit! The following morning I heard that a fishing boat was going to Little Corn. The usual Pangas (small, low speedboat things) still weren’t allowed to run so this was my only shot of getting to the island any time soon. The boat was supposed to leave at 10 but didn’t end up leaving until 1. It arrived at Little Corn 2 hours later, one of the worst two hours of my life later. The  sea was so rough I spent the majority of the trip throwing up, every few minutes a wave would break onto the boat, drenching us and a couple of times the boat lurched sideways nearly capsizing. Those who were watching the waves (and not concentrating on being sick) told me it was absolutely terrifying, and they were convinced the rusty boat would capsize. Later on I found out a similar fishing boat had capsized a couple of days prior with 18 people lost at sea.

20141213_125153I wanted to get a photo of the boat when I got off, but I was in no state – so this is it (before we left the dock)

Unfortunately the weather didn’t improve much the whole time I was on Little Corn.I ended up staying a couple of extra nights in the hope that the weather would improve so I could go diving and lounge on the beach (and not have to go back on the boat for a while). The weather didn’t really improve, but I did get to go diving in the end, although the sea was still rough which meant the visibility was pretty crap and I got seasick again. Despite the weather, I did really like Little Corn and I can see that it would be even more amazing with good weather. One day I decided to walk around the island, it turned out this wasn’t possible (the beach has disappeared several meters in the last few years thanks to global warming) but I still had a great time exploring and clambering up cliffs trying to find a way around. I the end it got to rocky and there was no obvious way around so I bushbashed for a bit until I found a path that lead me back to the other side of the island.



Another day I was eating dinner with a Kiwi named Julia and a Brit named Claire that I’d been hanging out with when a local lady came up to us and offered to cook for us the next night. We agreed and the next day we turned up to what was essentially a dinner party of strangers. It was a lot of fun and the food was good. Afterwards we entered into a pub quiz and ended up coming second!

20141216_192022Dinner party crew

20141216_192145Where Darina lives

  I woke up on the morning I was supposed to leave to pouring  rain, and went back to bed. Later that day though it did clear up and I this time I took the 25 minute Panga ride back to Big Corn. While my position on the boat meant I still got drenched, this boat ride was very pleasant in comparison. My troubles weren’t quite over though. The flight I’d booked was for 2 days earlier and I hadn’t had any luck changing it using the online system. This meant I had to fly standby as the afternoon flight was full. By this stage I just wanted to get the hell off the island. Luckily, after a couple of hours of waiting and about 10 minutes before the plane was due to take off I got a seat and finally got back to the mainland.

Originally I’d planned to go to Ometepe that night, but because I’d gotten the afternoon flight I decided to stay another night in Granada and get a shuttle the following day. Ometepe is an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua and is made up of two volcanoes. I met 3 people on the shuttle and we met a few more people on the ferry and decided to head to a hostel called Little Morgan’s in the town of Santa Cruz. I was quite surprised when the taxi took around 40 minutes to get there, turns out Ometepe is quite a big island. The hostel was very cool, I was staying in a tree house structure and the gardens were beautiful, they even had a couple of adorable pet deer. The downside was that it was a party hostel and on the first night I was there the music didn’t stop until 4.30am.


Because of the delays in the Corn Islands I ended up only having one full day on Omotepe, but it was one of my favourite days so far. A group of us decided to rent scooters and motorbikes to explore the island. A Sweedish girl named Maja and I were sharing a scooted and the others were all on bikes. We’d decided to go to a waterfall, but it became pretty clear early on that the scooter wasn’t going to hack those roads. So Maja and I turned back and spent the day exploring. We got stopped by the police early on for a licence check (and I dropped the scooter!) and we stopped at a place where you were supposed to be able to make it look like you were walking on water (I think the water was too high), a beautiful swimming spot and some nice beaches. At one point we stopped to discuss whether we should fill up with petrol before or after the swimming spot as we only had 1/4 of a tank left. We decided to do it beforehand and then drove about 20m down the road before we ran out of petrol. There was a dairy down the road that could sell us some fortunately. It was such a fun day zipping around on the little scooter and it would’ve been great to see more of the island.We topped it off by watching the sunset from the top of the tree house.



I spent yet another night in Granada before staying a night at Laguna de Apoyo. This beautiful lake is where I finally got to swim in the sunshine! Tonight I am getting the long shuttle back to La Ceiba.


While Nicaragua wasn’t my favourite country so far – it is not as beautiful as Guatemala and lacks the spark of Mexico – it definitely has a lot going for it and I can see why it is becoming the big place to travel. I think I came just at the right time – the rest of Central America has been populated by long term travelers but in Nicaragua I started to see a lot more American travelers, only visiting Nicaragua and only for a week or two. I think in a few years it will go the way of Costa Rica, becoming more and more expensive as the vacationers continue to flock. You can already see it in the price of food, while the accommodation is still cheap restaurant food was definitely some of the most expensive I’ve encountered. This, along with the dirty big canal they are planning on putting through the middle of country, almost guarantees this amazing country will not be the same in 10 years.

I’m looking forward to Christmas in Honduras, although it won’t be the same and I’m missing everyone back home.

Have a fantastic Christmas and I will see you all next year!