Our bus journeys in the world: from hell to heaven! 

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Funny enough it seems like yesterday when M and I embarked on an exciting adventure to explore 9 Latin American countries together. It is very hard for us to believe that we are now on a complete different chapter, exploring the magical African continent. After many laughs, doubts, tears and incredible encounters, we left Latin America. Fast forward 13 months and we were again on another bus journey… which was interesting! As I am a fanatic of listing things (#sorrynotsorry), we realized that M and I had discovered 30 countries together, which meant: many local buses, chicken buses, shuttle buses, long distance buses and the least we can say is that we had our fair share of emotions and stories to tell! Our experiences were at times close to a disaster but mostly quite entertaining. Those stories are what make us love riding with locals while backpacking. Here are our most memorable moments:

  • Uganda / Rwanda: Our driver furiously overtook hundreds of car and trucks in the middle of the night, excessively using his funky honk. For those who have read my blog or have been to Uganda, you know the road conditions: potholes after potholes. Driving dangerously over 100 km an hour, our bus shaking in every curve and any overtaking action, our very own “Fangio” flew us from Kampala to Kigali
  • Rwanda: certainly the most embarrassing! I had decided to have some Indian leftovers and as it appeared, the restaurant didn’t close the doggy bag properly… Stuck in the back of a crowded bus, smelling like Byriani, ruining clothes and seats, certainly a good way to make friends with locals… not! Well done muzungu!
  • Colombia: We got stuck for hours due to a trucker strike. We had already started making ourselves comfortable, thinking we stick for the night but the police arrived and let us drive through
  • Bolivia: The most romantic one: when we discovered the love we both had (have) for traveling / Bolivia
  • Colombia: We thought that we were going to die between Medellin and Neva – sitting in the front row was a mistake!
  • El Salvador: We were entertained by a clown and a preacher. Both were pretty creepy
  • Belize: We (read: I – my idea of heaven but hell for M) loved the sound proofers, screaming erm singing 80’s love songs on a very early Sunday morning
  • Honduras: We got to sit tight with locals where a 2-seater bench welcomed 4 people. Definitely a good way to get acquainted
  • El Salvador: We stood on overcrowded buses, getting pretty intimate with our immediate neighbors
  • Peru: We felt like we were on a plane, it was so comfortable and spacious. With a 25-hour journey ahead of us, we were definitely happy to travel in style
  • Indonesia: It smelled like onions and cigarettes. They apparently didn’t ban smoking in buses. At least we didn’t have to be embarrassed by being sweaty and smelly

Karma has been good to us and we are grateful that no French nor Swiss was hurt in the “bussing” process around the world. There is no adventure without adventure and for those funny, awkward or scary situations, we are thankful! To many more!

Next: our Rwandan exploration starts!

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

Our intensive culinary exploration from Peru to Brazil 

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So yeah I mentioned a long story in my previous post to explain why we had to go all the way to São Paulo but it is actually a very short one. M and I decided to fly back to Europe (where I’ll  attend the wedding of the year! Gosh I cannot wait tho it is going to be emotional! Tissues? Check!) from São Paulo. It was indeed a zillion times cheaper than flying back from Colombia, Ecuador and Argentina. Pretty simple and straightforward, we thought. We only (only?! Really?!) had to travel from Peru to Brazil. What seemed simple at the time of our booking became a financial and logistics challenge. But who doesn’t like a good challenge?! We only needed to figure out how to make it to Brazil from Peru without wasting too much time and without exploding our budget. Believe it or not, we did it and since we wouldn’t have much time in one country, we decided to turn this transit journey into a culinary exploration. Instead of visiting like crazy and run around like fools, we would use our time to try local food (read: eat a lot of meat and fish) as much as possible. We had to spend long hours on (mostly overnight and rarely direct) buses, went on a ferry ride, had to have an overnight layover in a Chilean airport and got stuck for what became a long funny night in a petrol station in Brazil where we played Swiss cards with stuck Ecuadorian travelers (as you do!). So we clearly deserved to eat and drink long the way, no?

But let’s start from the beginning, shall we? We left Ecuador with a heavy heart and after an administrative hiccup were let into Peru. We expected Tumbes to be a dirty border town and were surprised by its cool vibe. On August 3rd, we celebrated M’s first year on the road and Tumbes gave us one of the best date nights in a while: some incredible ceviche sold on the street, hardboiled quail eggs, a sirloin steak, perfectly cooked and a ‘to die for’ pisco sour! Our overnight bus ride to Lima was incredible. It felt like we were on a plane, no sorry, better than a plane! Comfortable seats that turned into beds and individual screens with thousands of movies = dream of any traveler! Before we knew it we were on a plane to Santiago de Chile for an (it sunk the price of our plane ticket so we cannot complaint) overnight layover. Ready to sleep on a bench at the airport, we checked anyway a few lounges (who could say no to free food, free wifi and comfortable armchairs) and a wonderful lady made us an offer we couldn’t refuse! Treat to an airport lounge? Check! 

After a layover that went unfortunately way too fast, we reached Buenos Aires for day and night of Carpe diem! This city was as beautiful as I remembered and so full of life! We treated ourselves to a delicious meal at La Brigada where we were served a wonderful sirloin! Eat, drink, repeat became our beloved motto and the food and drinks never tasted so good. We discovered Colonia in Uruguay and while strolling through its tiny old town, we tasted some local cheese. In Montevideo, we were joined by M’s friend (she was as crazy as us… or slightly crazier than us) for the last 2’000 km. This was one of our highlights to our trip as a lot of laughter was involved! We might not have explored Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil the way we did the other 9 countries but it made us happy. This culinary tourism was fulfilling: we loved being served a delicious sirloin in Buenos Aires, Argentina, trying Brasero (an indecent pile of meat served in a pan) in a parrillada in Montevideo, Uruguay, eating fresh fish (a fabulicious bluefish grilled with basil) on the Barra de Lagoa beach in Brazil,sampling rissole and coxhinas (stuffed and breaded dough) and drinking wonderful caipirinhas in São Paulo, Brazil. 

This culinary break with amazing people was awesome and it is now time for me to fly home for my “layover” on my way to Indonesia. Next stop: home! 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

Cuenca: a pleasant city I could live in! 

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Our first “Cuencan” hour was lived with mixed feelings… Ok…no mixed feelings at all, M and I completely disliked it. We considered jumping back on a bus and skip Cuenca all at once. To start with, we arrived on a grey Sunday and the streets were literally empty. This made Cuenca’s town center look pretty sinister. On top of this, a rude taxi driver tried to rip us off, the town center seemed to be a war zone (for their defense, they are building for a better future, implementating a tram network) and we were struggling to find a decent and affordable hostel. Many places were named hostels but were applying hotel prices. Confused and very tired, we walked around a lot, entered many ho(s)tels but couldn’t find what we were looking for. Funny enough (almost want to say as usual), when we were about to give up, we found a place that looked nice enough to be called home for a night. They were offering free pizza for dinner (you gotta love Sundays at Bauhouse) and the staff was very friendly. We weren’t leaving Cuenca after all. Fast-forward 2 days, we were glad we didn’t! 

The city with 70 churches came to life the next day and on that sunny Monday we took a free tour which was recommended by many travelers. Since the tour guide was 45 minutes late, most of the tourists had given up and we ended up having a private tour. We went through many neighborhoods, learnt about Cuenca’s churches and laid a visit to its wonderful cathedral (my favorite so far among the 9 countries we visited the last 4 months). This free tour became even better when our tour guide took us to the market (a wonderful place filled with fresh veggies, fruits, meat and fish where delicious affordable meals are served on the first floor) and treated us to some local food. Wait… It was free and we were given some. free. food? We tried Ecuadorian tamales (as you do in Latin America) called humitas and drank mora juice. After our satisfying culinary break at the market, we went to visit a Panama hat factory and I must say it was surprisingly interesting! The tour itself was not as good as our free tour in Medellín but we were grateful that our tour guide showed us a beautiful Cuenca. Its Cañari ruins, river promenade and shady parks charmed us and we knew then that it would have been a shame to miss Cuenca! 

While in Cuenca, it seemed almost mandatory to take a day trip to Ingapirca, the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador. Located two hours away from Cuenca, it was really easy to reach. Since the entrance included a guide, after an hour, the ruins had no more secret to us and we had conquered the temple of the Sun. Our Spanish speaking guide was very knowledgable. We were surprised to learn that the Inca (invaders) and the Cañari had found a way to peacefully live along each other. Sun and moon were equally worshipped and the two peoples were smart enough to respect each other’s believes. This is something that some leaders and nutters around the world might want to look into. Ingapirca was definitely an inspiring place to take a day trip to – even tho the bus ride took longer than the visit itself. 

With two interesting archeological and cultural days spent in cuenca, the time to say goodbye to Ecuador was unfortunately upon us. We were nowhere near ready to start our journey to São Paulo (long story!) but I guess it had to be done: Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil in 13 days… Let’s do it… Next stop: Tumbes.

 Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem! 

Baños, a city with millions (or so it seems) thermal baths

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In some (most) places, I cannot stop taking pictures (borderline compulsive)… The light and the composition are simply perfect… Then you have some places (this remains rare!) where we have a lovely time but don’t get a chance to take any picture. For my defense though 1) Baños’ weather was outrageously horrible and light was not picture friendly 2) we were (consequently) unable to do any outdoor activity that would have been great to do while in Baños. While biking 20 km to the waterfalls seemed exciting, the risk of a land slide that would most likely occur along the way due to the heavy rains slightly less 3) take a bus to a crazy swing (literally hanging in the empty space) seemed pointless as there was a significant (99% was mentioned and seemed pretty accurate to us) chance that there would be no view due to rain and fog. So see? Even if I had wanted to take pictures, I wasn’t allowed by the universe itself (blame it on the universe? Check!). It was for sure a shame that we ended up with no picture but to be fair, this was the perfect weather to justify most-wanted sleep ins, late breakfasts and lunches at the market, hours at the thermal baths, catch up over pizza and mojito with Irene and James who also happened to be in town.

Meeting local people and discover new places have definitely been rewarding but one of our favorite activities remains local food sampling. Along the way, with a 30$ budget a day, it might have been tricky at times to do so but Colombia and Ecuador have been kind enough to keep their authentic and simple kitchen. Served in little stalls at the markets those meals have been affordable, tasty and probably one of the best we have eaten. You gotta love a cheap “menu del dia”. With (generally) a soup, a main and a juice, we have been generously fed by wonderful Colombian and Ecuadorian women, at a backpacker-friendly price. Win win! Baños was certainly no exception and we enjoyed our culinary break over there! With no expensive activity to spend our money on, we went pretty wild on fresh pressed juices!

Life could have been worse… Eat, sleep and treat ourselves to thermal baths (repeat). Baños seemed to have a million of the latter and since it is always tough to pick a place when confronted to so many choices, we were grateful to our landlord for recommending the Virgin Mary one (sounded promising) to us. This is where the locals hang out an we drivers to give it a try. We braved the rain to walk to the other side of the town (ok sounds dramatic but it was less than a kilometer) and we were rewarded by a lovely view on the town waterfalls. We had access to two pools, a very hot one (around 40 degrees Celsius – some swearing might have been involved while attempting to go in the first time) and a warm one (invaded by family with kids, who didn’t quite understand the concept of a thermal bath and instead of relaxing, were splashing around. Arggggh). To make our experience more painful, erm I mean enjoyable, we were “invited” to proceed under a glacial outdoor shower whose water directly came from the waterfall. Yes, this was painful but surprisingly fantastically satisfying and we might have gone back a few times! The facilities were not the cleanest and the place could do with a makeover but we had a cool time there anyway even tho we were asked to wear what we call a “head condom”. 

We would have called in a night if it wasn’t for James and Irene but instead we dragged our old butts out of our warm bed. We ended up in a not so Irish bar (how do they dare calling the pub ‘leprechaun’?!) sipping… pisco sour… After almost 4 years, pisco sour and I finally met again! It made our Peruvian “soon-to-be-transit” episode very real. We were getting closer and closer to the end of our Latin exploration, to start our journey to the east coast. Where from we would jump on a plane towards Asia (with a layover at home for a very dear friend’s wedding. Exciting and emotional times ahead!). We didn’t stay out too late as day 2 promised to be challenging: eat, sleep and thermal baths require a lot of energy, no? For our second thermal baths treat, we decided to try the nocturnal version… An additional bath was opened: even hotter – 43 degrees! For Christ sake, how do you enter this, we wondered?! Well thanks to friendly locals, who giggled at the look on our face, we were carefully instructed to do as follow 1) you jump first in a bath at 5 or 6 degrees. Say whaaaat? 2) you simply rush into the hot tub tight after. 3) No hesitation 4) Once inside, no movement as every single movement hurts. Ahhh THAT easy (not)! You stay and relax for a few seconds, brave souls (I’d like to affectionally call them nutters) like M stayed in for a few minutes. But the nocturnal version also meant a lot more people than the previous day and therefore a lot (lot lot) of unwanted contact. Arrrrrrrgh!

Our last night in Baños, happily relaxed from the baths, we decided to try the best pizza place in town, following James’ lead and it was a success. It was definitely one of the best pizzas we have had in years. Thanks to James and Irene, we also discovered a great bar, playing music from the 80’s. No offense salsa, bachata and meringue but it was time for a break. It was not you, it was me. I needed that time apart and gosh it felt great to sing familiar tunes along. Well, it felt great to mumble sound-alike lyrics – what do you seriously expect from a French person who has for the last three decades shamelessly freely interpreted lyrics?! Newly energized by delicious mojito and that spontaneous sing (mumble) along evening, we were ready for our next day early start. We were grateful for those two days of relaxation and enjoying life. This was surely the true meaning of Carpe Diem, no? Next stop: Cuenca…

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

Megalithic Colombia: San Agustin

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For once, I’ll spare you the hours spent on buses and taxis as by now you must have understood that every trip is a journey in itself and traveling in Colombia needs time. We made it in San Agustin where we found a wonderful hostel. The owners made us feel at home right away and we were happy to call it home for three nights. We didn’t plan to stay in San Agustin for longer than a day (basically an in and out action) as our main focus was the archeological park but as we arrived on a Monday late afternoon and Tuesdays are the unknown official maintenance day, we had to slightly modify our schedule. Alright… Skype with family it was then and a walk through town, eating obleas (aka Colombian waffle sandwich filled with caramel, cheese and syrup). You can never go wrong with sampling local sweets! 

Our hostel seemed to have attracted cool travelers and over dinner in the best pizzeria in town, a group of 8 (you gotta love a good melting pot: Swiss, German, French, English and Irish) decided to go on an exploration of the must-see places around San Agustin. Our (pretty well negotiated) tour included a visit to two waterfalls (Bordones and Mortiño), a stop at el Estrecho (by the Magdalena River) and a stroll in the two archeological parks (in San Agustin and Isnos). Boom! After a rainy start, the sky slightly cleared up  and our tour became more pleasant. The Bordones fall was supposed to be 480-meter high and the second highest fall in South America but the Mortiño fall felt higher and more powerful. Go figure. Our driver Adrian was very knowledgable and we were lucky to have him as we could also improve our Spanish (his English being limited). It was a full-on day but worth it as the drive itself was pretty great. We drove onto dirt roads, through tiny villages, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes. Exhausted but happy, we went back to our hostel to chill and treat ourselves to a nice homemade dinner (yes, Paleo. Happy me!). 

It was a real shame to have to say goodbye to our funny and caring hostesses (we would really recommend a stay at the Bambu hostel while in San Agustin!) the next day and to some of the lovely travelers we had met but we were looking forward to traveling for a bit longer with an Anglo-Irish couple: Irene and James, especially as we were to embark on a journey on one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Next stop: Pasto… if we survive the trampoline of death! (Now THAT’s a name! Let’s hope it does (not) keep all its promises! 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem! 

Colorful Colombia: Desierto de la Tatacoa

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After an 8-hour bus journey and an overnight in Neiva, we easily found a jeep that took us to the desert of Tatacoa. What a delight to be again surrounded by heat and sun! Priceless! Our time in Salento might have been great but we were happy to leave the cooler weather behind. We reached a hamlet, 30 minutes away from Villavieja, where we found the hostel recommended by our friends. We liked it as soon as we arrived as the staff was being very friendly. We dropped our bags and decided to go for a 2-hour hike in the Red desert. We couldn’t wait to discover the canyons we have had seen on Google and we picked the Cuzco trail to start with. The start was located 200 meter from our accommodation and according to a local, the trail was easy to follow. Say whaaaat? 

We struggled to find our way and without M’s sense of orientation,that was highly challenged, we would have been lost longer than an hour. Luckily we found our way out of the Cuzco Labyrinth and happily reached the Mirador. The walk itself was easy and surprisingly pleasant in this arid desert; the colors were amazing: red, yellow from the minerals, grew and pink from the cactus and blue from the cloudless sky… A real treat to take pictures! Clouds started to gather over the desert and I was afraid to be caught in a storm so I wanted to hurry up but M assured me that rain in the desert was not very likely. Fair enough! No need to worry then! 

We planned a hike in the grey desert and a visit to the Oyos and the Ventana for the next day and we were pretty excited! Our evening was really quiet (you gotta love being in the desert without electricity) that called for an early night. The (near) full moon made spotting shooting stars really challenging and pointless. We were very much looking forward to sleeping in our hammocks as it was really warm. We certainly didn’t expect to have neighbors who would… how to put it a PG-13 way (?!)… be loudly busy for hours. This was surely entertaining but when even earplugs couldn’t help us, we hoped for a… erm…  premature ‘resolution’ to end our misery! 

After finally falling asleep, we woke up to the sound of… rain. Yes, against all odds, rain had decided to follow us and it rained in the desert. Apparently it was not that uncommon and locals happily welcomed those deluges. Wonderful timing… Not! It didn’t seem that the rain would stop anytime soon so we decided to leave our warm and (not so) sunny place to travel to our next destination, located in the mountains. Cold, here we come! Next stop: San Agustin. 

 Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem! 

Exotic Colombia: Salento

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After another long journey, 12 hours, 3 buses and an almost sleepless night (no Alex, we are still not looking into buying a bike), we arrived early (indecently early) in Salento. This quiet village in the Zona Cafetera region was very sleepy when we got off the bus but it looked promising. Our bus driver, who was a gem, a very lively one (do I dare say too lovely for 5 am?!), decided to take care of our lack of accommodation. He phoned his buddy who welcomed us on the main square to bring us to his place. We were not certain of what was we would find but we were happy to receive a warm welcome and a place to call home for a few days. We were positively surprised to find a cozy double room at an affordable price! No dorm with loud travelers! No bathroom sharing with strangers who clearly left their sense of cleanliness at home! No bunk bed that almost looked like it could fall, shall the person in the upper bed decide to slightly move! (Yes this is how bad a bunk bed can be!). Fernando was surely a guardian angel sent to us by karma!

Instead of catching up on our sleep, we decided to make the most out of our day in Salento and hike the 6-hour loop. Jumping on one of the first jeeps, we reached the wooden entrance gate (known as the blue door among the locals) before the tsunami of tourists AND hiked under a lovely blue sky, avoiding the heavy rains that arrow do later that day. We did have some light rain but nothing that could have ruined our happiness to be hiking (twice in two days!!). We really enjoyed walking through fields – even though a curious calf followed us too closely to my liking (my friends know that I have a problem with cows. Whatyougonnado, I think they are evil and plan to take over the world soon), hiking up a muddy and slippery trail, walking across ill-looking hanging bridges (as I say: ‘if it ain’t ill-looking, it ain’t worth crossing’), tasting some coffee with homemade cheese (now THIS is deliciously weird), listening to the silence of the beautiful forest and finally wandering through a field full of Quindio wax palms (which were once on the verge of extinction). 

We ambitiously thought that we would make it to a bar that night to meet Hans (you know our friend we got to know Cabo who happened to be in Medellin at the same time than us) as we were happy to see him again. Well our comfy bed(s) refused to let us leave and by 9pm we were having a rendez-vous with Morpheus. The next day brought rain and a wave of cold, which was clearly a sign that we had to dedicate that day to do… nothing but chill in a cozy coffee place and treat ourself to a chocolate cake. We definitely had worse days! We agreed to go out with Hans for one beer in the evening and have an early night. The following day we were aiming to have an early start (you gotta love those 6 am buses… not) and ambitiously travel 9 hours to the warm desert of Tatacoa. 

Salento had another plan for us: we had (un)fortunately picked a celebration night (viva Mary the Virgin) to go to a street bar where drunk cowboys (after an interesting parade through the town) had parked their horses, were downing some arqudiente shots (surreal image, straight out of a cowboy movie!) and were furiously dancing salsa on the streets. A few liters of Aquardiente and some street salsa dancing with locals later, it was clear (or not that clear since our minds were clouded by Aquardiente) that we had to forget this ridiculous plan of ours. We were going nowhere at 6 when still drinking at 3 am. 

Traveling does take a lot of our energy and we rarely go out but this was a fun fun night and a good way to practice our Spanis. They say that you can speak any language fluently when you are drunk, they might have a point. We eventually went home and after wishing for a Big Mac (oh junk food, where are you when I need you?!) to go over a tiny hangover, we made it to the bus station (better late than ever) where we bumped into Hans who wasn’t in a better state than us. It was time to say goodbye as we knew for sure that we wouldn’t bump into each other anymore in Colombia. Adios Hans, adios Salento. Thank for a fun night. Next stop: Desierto de la Tatacoa! 

 Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem! 

Paisa Colombia: Medellín and Guatape

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What to say about Medellin? From reading books on the Medellín Cartel, I was intrigued. What could a city look like post-cartel? How could it move into a new era? We arrived with an open-minded attitude and after bumping into our German friend from our Cabo de la Vela adventure (love those unexpected encounters that keep happening. Latin America is clearly too small!), we were ready to explore. Well, we liked it very much as we were given a fantastic free walking tour by an inspiring woman. We walked a lot through Medellín as she passionately shared her love for this city. M and I, who usually tend to get bored after an hour (oops), were successfully entertained for 4 hours. The city’s history was shared in an interesting and fun way. Our guide didn’t dodge any question and without imposing any opinion, she gave our group straight-forward answers. This was a refreshing approach. 

Medellin has truly done an amazing job on their post-cartel image. From a rehabilitation of a shady area into a square of lights to putting education into focus, you could feel the positive energy throughout the city, needed to break away from a painful past. You could almost forget that many lives were lost during the very dark time Colombia went through but without forgetting its past, Medellin seems ready for a bright present and an even brighter future. We particulary enjoyed the modern city’s subway as it was a cost-effective and clean, a great way to move around the city. As we stayed longer than expected in Cartagena, we couldn’t stay too long in Medellin but the city has lots to explore. If like us, you only have 48 hours in Medellin, have fun:

  • Taking a fee tour of the city – you walk through many neighborhoods 
  • Going up the city gondolas, the north one offering a nice view over the city 
  • Checking out the giant outdoor escalator that transformed Comuna 13 
  • Hanging out at Parque Bolivar with the locals 
  • Ordering an albondiga soup at a local non-touristy restaurant, my highlight 

After our time in a big city, we were ready to head out to a smaller town where the Rock of Guatape (known as La Piedra Del Peñol) was waiting for us. We could have done it as a day trip but we decided to stay overnight in this cute town (it was actually probably a village). On the bus to Guatape, we met a very interesting German traveler (I tell you those Germans are everywhere!) who suggested that we hike a 12-km trail to reach the 200-meter high (or 649-step high) rock. Always enthusiastic about hiking (ok, almost always, as we hate rain and cold…), we followed our hostel’s instructions and found a lovely trail. Once we reached the rock, we enjoyed it a lot as it turned into a dirt road where we met many smiling locals and a nice view over La Piera. 

Meeting René was a sign as he helped us to decide on our next decision. We were tempted to go to Villa de Leyva, a colonial town, north of Bogota but my heart was shouting: ‘go to Salento, hike through wax palms’. It was a tough dilemma but René’s enthusiasm was what we needed to make up our mind. After a delicious early dinner (or late lunch), we took the last bus back to Medellín as we wanted to jump on the night bus to Armenia to be on the first bus to… Salento! Next stop: Cocora Valley and its wax palms!

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

Adventurous Colombia: Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas

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When people told us that it would take time to reach Cabo de la Vela, they were not joking. Come on, this cannot be that bad, this is only 400 kilometers, we thought. It turned out that everything, up there, goes much slower than in the rest of the country. It took us three days, 2 buses, 1 taxi and 1 jeep to cover the distance. From delays to delays, we had to capitulate and accept that we wouldn’t make it in one day. C’est la vie! But hey, we all know that there is no adventure without adventure! 

Our overnight in Santa Marta was a big disappointment. Featured in our Lonely Planet, we expected to find a cute(ish) colonial town and we got a shock: as soon as we got off the bus, we were thrown into the hustle of a growing city. Traffic jams, construction works and dirty streets welcomed us. This was definitely not what we had hoped for. Fortunately our mood was lifted by finding some delicious street food (nothing a skewer can cure). Plus we were sure that we would reach Cabo de la Vela the next day so we were overall in good spirits. Well we had to rethink our ambitious plan. Our driver decided to turn our ‘direct‘ bus to Rio Hacha into a ‘I’m stopping every 5 minutes to pick up more passengers‘ bus, resulting in us missing our connection to Uribia. Irritated and tired, we made our way to our wish hostel but it was of course booked out. Strong believers in what’s meant to be is meant to be, we bumped into a cool German guy that 1) gave us some overnight options 2) invited us to tag along with him to travel to Cabo de la Vela. This was actually the best scenario that could have happened to us as it is obviously easier to negotiate. 

When we reached Uribia the following day, our group joined 4 Colombian travelers. It was such a fun ride and we decided to stick together and explore Cabo de la Vela and Punta Gallinas as a big family. In Cabo de la Vela we found a restaurant that happened to have hammocks on the beach and offered cheap meals. What not to like about that place? We rented motorbikes (with drivers) and for the first time in my life I didn’t act overcautiously, didn’t put proper shoes on and didn’t request a helmet! Yep, this is the new me, more a warrior than a worrier! It felt fantastic to ride on dirt roads (tho still a bit scary!), nicely exhilarating. We went to Pilón de Azucar, a hill where an incredible view over the desert was waiting for us. After another stop to check some cliffs out (so windy I was almost blown away), we walked to the lighthouse, in an attempt to witness a beautiful sunset. This was unfortunately not granted by Petrus who had ordered a bunch of clouds to ruin our party. Petrus, we are going to have to talk at some point… Instead we headed back to our quarters where luckily the world championship final of kitesurfing was taking place. Not a bad way to end a full-on and rewarding Sunday! 

After saying goodbye to Cabo de la Vela, our enthusiastic group started very early to make its way to Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point of Colombia and South America. We were pretty excited to go on a ride through the Guajira desert to meet one of the 8 families living so far out. The 4×4 wheel drive felt very adventurous as there was no proper road. We wondered how our driver found his way. After the 3rd cactus, turn right and at the weird looking rock, left again? Or maybe he was following the smell of the dry shrimps sold on the side of the road? We were very supersede to find out that many kids had set up in the middle of nowhere illegal toll gates and our driver had to furiously honk for the kids to let the rope down. Pretty ingenious cheeky buggers! 

To reach our host community for the night, we boarded a boat where we joined some other Colombian travelers. It felt rewarding to be surrounded by national tourists. Our ‘homestay’ trip included a drive through the desert with a stop at a view point before reaching the gorgeous dunes of white sand. We also went to the Faro lighthouse, officially reported as the northernmost point of South America. Our highlight was the Taroa beach where the desert meets the ocean. It was a wonderful day, exploring Punta Gallinas and we were grateful to share those moments with our lovely group. I was especially happy to have them around when M’s body decided to shut down and break into a bad fever. It was very worrying as I struggled to reduce his fever (the heat of the desert didn’t help!) and it was a relief not to face this health panic alone. Luckily M was, as usual, very strong (even when he was weak and burning up) as he somehow knew he would recover quickly. 

Reluctantly, the next day we had to leave our hammocks, our ‘end of the world kind of feeling’ place and head to Uribia where we said goodbye to our new friends. Next stop: Medellin (after a stop in Cartagena. Yes again. What can we say… We loved this city and this stop was well needed for M to completely recover).  


Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem! 

Bella Colombia: Cartagena or the place that helped me beat my homesickness!  

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We duly arrived in Cartagena (what a beautiful city) where we officially started our South American exploration and Houston, we have a problem… I. Haven’t. Been. Able. To. Feel. Any. Enthusiasm. Nor. Excitement! (YET)

How does she dare feeling that way, you are probably wondering. Don’t worry, many people are. They believe that, since I’m living the dream, I’m not allowed to miss home. Well, living the dream unfortunately doesn’t prevent me from missing my amazing friends nor from getting tired of the local food. What the deal anyway with frying almost everything, Colombia? I was embarrassed to admit that I have woken up many times with a heavy heart, feeling homesick but I no longer intend to deny this sadness. This is a part of who I am and missing home or work (yes, this is possible, especially for a workaholic) doesn’t make me an ungrateful (borderline unworthy) traveler. Au contraire! I believe that embracing the person you are is the key to a happier life and thanks to this trip, I’m getting closer. 

Now, acknowledging my homesickness doesn’t mean that I accept to feel miserable longer than necessary! No, no, no! We decided to: 1) Stay longer in Cartagena to rest. Tiredness had its toll on us as being on a budget, backpacking through 7 countries and sleeping in dorms can be exhausting 2) Increase (only temporarily) our daily budget 3) Get ourselves a wonderful oasis, La Artilleria and enjoy some non-fried food 4) Explore the town at a slow place, chilling by the pool and indulging ourselves with siestas 5) Have excessive what’s app sessions with said missed friends. Bliss! 4) Plan our Colombian adventure! I hadn’t really read about this country and what it had to offer.

We enjoyed our stay in Cartagena a lot as we had a lovely place to escape the heat and the old city was colorfully beautiful and welcoming. If like us, you only have two days in Cartagena (the other days were dedicated to above mentioned activities: sleep, eat, nap. Repeat): 

  • Sign in for a free tour of the walled city. It felt inspiring to have a passionate guide, guiding us through the old city 
  • Wander in the San Felipe de Las Barajas castle which is a great place to escape the heat AND a lovely view over the city. Win win!
  • Sample street food when the sun goes down as you can surprisingly find some non fried food but grilled skewers or lobster. Delicious!
  • Take a walk at night in the old town as Colombians bring the streets into life with music and laughter

Extending our stay in Cartagena was a brilliant idea as the research done on Colombia showed us wonderful places we couldn’t wait to explore. After long deliberations, we decided to give Tayrona National Park a miss, as it appeared to be extremely touristy and to head instead to one of the places that seemed to be adventurously off the beaten track. It might already be epic, just by trying to reach it! Next stop: Cabo de La Vela! 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!