South through Peru

This weeks travels

This weeks travels

We made it through rain, hail and mud to complete the Santa Cruz trek last week. It was a tough 4 days and 3 nights but the scenery and spectacular views made it all worthwhile. Well for the most part! We started out early on Good Friday and took a collectivo (minibus) to the starting point about 1.5 hours away.

Ready to hit the trail

Ready to hit the trail

We then had a full day of climbing with lots of mud and rivers to jump across. Or in Christine’s case – not quite jump across one river and wallow in it with her pack weighing her down and only eventually being able to get up with Dave’s help. No physical harm was done, but she was soaked right through and a lot of her pack was wet too.

Christine demonstrating the 'drowned cat' look

Christine demonstrating the ‘drowned cat’ look

Thankfully it was only a short distance to the first nights campsite which even had a little shelter, which was great because it had started raining again. In one of the rain breaks we managed to get the tent set up and returned to the shelter to do the cooking. An early night to bed!

Drying out and cooking dinner in the shelter

Drying out and cooking dinner in the shelter

The next day started with sunshine and we got a late start because we were enjoying it and trying to get Christine’s stuff dry. Again a lot of uphill with a few rain showers thrown in. We got to our second camp late in the afternoon and had to wait under the cover of a dilapitated pit toilet for a break in the rain. Finally a short break in which we got the tent up and jumped inside with our gear. We continued waiting for another break in the rain to cook our dinner, but it never came. We ended up eating our next days lunch instead, tuna and crackers for dinner while sitting in our sleeping bags in the dryness of the tent.

Our camp on night 2 - not a bad view!

Our camp on night 2 – not a bad view!

A soggy start the next day, which was also the big pass day where we’d climb up to 4750m and over the mountain range. It was exhausting and took us all day.

Looking back down the valley we hiked up

Looking back down the valley we’d hiked up

Getting close to the pass

Getting closer to the pass

Finally - at the pass!

Finally – at the pass!

The view from the top to the next valley was amazing and thankfully the weather was crystal clear (unlike days before and after).

Views into the next valley

Views into the next valley

We headed down the other side and didn’t get quite as far as planned before it started pelting down balls of hail! Ouch. Thankfully Dave found a decent flat, non soggy spot where we could hunker down. The hail was replaced by rain but this time we got our poncho’s and raingear on and toughed it out in the rain to cook dinner.

The fourth and final day started out just plain wet, cold and miserable. We packed up everything soaking wet knowing that we’d be in the comfort of Ginger Lee soon enough! It took us about 6 hours to walk out to the nearest town where we got a bus back to Caraz. The 2 different buses we needed took about 3 hours and went up and over mountains with incredible scenerey. Heck if we had of known that we would have skipped the trek and just gone with the bus ride! Kidding but we have both decided that we want our next trek to be a nice low altitude, warm weather, flat trail!

We recovered from the mountains with our regular post-trek celebratory dinner of pizza and beers.

And a huge stack of pancakes the next morning!

And a huge stack of pancakes the next morning!

On Tuesday we managed to dry all our gear out, washed a load of laundry and prepared for the next few weeks. Wednesday we got on the road early and headed to Lachay National Park, which is about 100km north of the capital, Lima.

Heavy clouds while driving through the mountains

Heavy clouds while driving through the mountains

Typical desert towns of tiny 'cardboard' looking houses

Typical desert towns of tiny ‘cardboard’ looking houses

It was quite a dry and barren place right on the border of the desert. We of course had the place all to ourselves, well except for the rats that came out at night.

Ginger parked up in our very own exclusive campsite

Ginger parked up in our very own exclusive campsite

Watching the sun set over the desert with Jesus

Watching the sun set over the desert with Jesus

Thursday we bypassed Lima and made it south to Paracas National Park, which is about 245km south of Lima. This was a cool, deserty and very windy place right on the ocean.

Where the desert meets the ocean

Where the desert meets the ocean

Boats in the desert

Boats in the desert

We had a nice walk along the water but sadly saw lots of garbage and debris along with dead birds and even a dead seal. The next day we went to the park museum (just to use their toilets) and were pleasantly surprised by how well their exhibitions were done. We think we maybe even learned a few things!

On a not so good note we did have an encounter with a couple of Peruvian Police. We were pulled over and told that we didn’t have our lights on. Apparently Peruvian law requires them to be on all the time when on the highways, and we just happen to have a headlight out at the moment so aren’t using them. The policeman nicely told us this was a serious infraction and we were required to pay a fine. He took all our papers, showed us his book with the price of the infraction and even wrote out a ticket. When we asked where to pay he said a bank, but then suggested that we could pay him directly for half as much. We had decided before starting our travels that we would do all we could not to pay any police bribes, and so far during our travels we’ve managed to talk our way out of other similar situations with minimal trouble, but this day we were tired and were just not on our game or prepared. After a bit of debating we decided to pay him right there and then. Of course he took the money in his little book and let us go without any proof of a ticket or a receipt… We felt awful and knew that we should have insisted on paying at a bank but what can we do now! Sorry to all the other travelers, as we would never intentionally perpetuate this behaviour.

Nazca and the famous Nazca lines were next on our list. We got a taste of them as we drove along the PanAmerican Highway where we stopped to climb a tower for a view over two of the geoglyphs.

Christine with 'The Hands' behind

Christine with ‘The Hands’ behind

The next morning we got up early and walked over to the little airport and signed up for a 30 minute/$85US flight to see the Nazca lines at their best. Christine was nervous as the last small plane flight in Nepal was a disaster for her. However, she was prepared this time and took some prophylactic gravol/anti-nauseant and tried to remain calm.

Dave all ready to go

Dave all ready to go

The flight seats are determined by weight so poor Christine was stuck at the back of the plane all by herself! Perhaps a good thing.

Christine tucked in the back by herself

Christine tucked in the back by herself

After about 20 minutes of criss crossing the desert with the plane often on its side, the drugs gave out and so did Christine’s stomach. She was in quite a bit of distress but once down on the ground recovered quickly. Dave had a stronger stomach but by the end of it was feeling pretty ill too. However he managed to get some great shots and overall we were both happy to have taken the flight to see the nazca lines from above. Scientists know how the lines and geoglyphs were made, but still don’t know why they were made. Offering to the gods? Or to aliens? Apparently the earlier works are the animals, and the more recent symbols are the lines and geometric patterns. Once in the air above the plains you can see that there are literally thousands of lines and patterns created across the desert.

The view across the Nazca plains with thousands of different lines and patterns visible

The view across the Nazca plains with thousands of different lines and patterns visible

The whale

The whale

The astronaut

The astronaut

The monkey (a bit hard to see)

The monkey (a bit hard to see)

The hummingbird

The hummingbird

The spider

The spider

The condor

The condor

Looking down on the tower we had been on the day before

Looking down on the tower we had been on the day before

Coming in to land

Coming back to land

Christine with her little souvenir bag

Christine with her little ‘souvenir’ bag

After a second breakfast and a little recovery nap we decided to hit the road and start the long drive towards Cusco. Machu Picchu was waiting for us! We drove for quite a few hours, climbing above 4,000m elevation again, and then found a little camouflaged spot on the side of the road for the night. We headed out early again the next morning and still only made it to Cusco well after dark. A long drive of non-stop switchbacks up and down mountains.

Beautiful valleys at 4,000+ metres

Beautiful valleys at 4,000+ metres

Peruvian road hazards

Peruvian road hazards

We finally found the campsite and discovered 6 other overlanders here too! This is the most we’ve seen in months!

We had a great day today exploring the cool city of Cusco and planning our trip up to Machu Picchu. Christine has been there before but we are both looking forward to this highlight of Peru and South America!

The town of Cusco

The town of Cusco

The central plaza in Cusco

The central plaza in Cusco

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A Warm Welcome to Peru!

This weeks travels

This weeks travels

After fixing up the van we enjoyed a ‘free day’ in Banos. This consisted of a walk to the nearby village to try the highly recommended empanadas and to see the waterfalls.

Enjoying some fantastic emenadas

Enjoying some fantastic empanadas

Christine at the falls

Christine at the waterfalls

After, we took a bus into the main town of Banos to find some hot springs which the area is famous for (and named after). However we got distracted by eating ice cream and then every darn place where you could soak up the hot springs was closed! We went home, disappointed, to the van and decided to try the trout farm next door where you fish your own trout and then have it prepared and cooked on site. But would you believe this was closed too! Maybe this was just not our day.

Dyslexic humour - hehe...

Dyslexic humour – hehe…

The next day we headed out pretty early and made it to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Cuenca. It’s a cool colonial cobblestoned town. We’ve seen a few of these on our trip! It was a nice place to walk around and Christine even found a shop to try on a dress. No luck still and the search continues.

Not quite what Christine had in mind

Not quite what Christine had in mind

Peru was in our sights for the next day. This was an uneventful driving day except for the encounter with the Ecuadorian police who stopped us after observing us go over a double yellow line. Now this is after a long long time following many trucks going very slowly and being overtaken by many yahoo’s unsafely. We just happened to peak around this truck and saw the truck drivers hand frantically waving us back. However, too late! We were stopped and told by an officers english friend he called on his mobile that we made a “very, very, very, very, very bad infraction”. The fine was $150USD to be paid immediately to the officer. Well this did not go over well with us and we stated we had no money but would get some and pay at the police station or bank. He wasn’t quite sure what to do and we said we could wait all day if necessary. You could see his little brain working but in the end he couldn’t come up with anything and waved us on. No extra Easter money for him!

Road side delicacies in Ecuador

Roadside delicacies in Ecuador

We got into Peru after a great and easy border crossing despite it being 1.5 hours to complete.

We headed to the beach, and the warmth! We ended up in Mancora staying in the parking garage at a hostal. We were surprised at what a touristy and surfers place it was. Christine enjoyed her first Pisco Sour, Peru’s national drink, on the beach.

Christine enjoying the sunset and Pisco Sour

Christine enjoying the sunset and Pisco Sour

Driving through the deserts of Peru

Driving through the deserts of Peru

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Camping on a horse ranch down the coast

Camping on a horse ranch down the coast

Chiclayo was our next destination and was a special stop as Christine’s parents used to teach there 7 years ago and still had many connections. We met up with their good friend, Gladys, who does great things in the community with Centro Esperanza, an NGO.

Christine with Gladys and her friendly family

Christine with Gladys and her friendly family

She showed us around and then we were treated to lunch at the community Soup Kitchen where they are trying to help with the large problem of poverty and malnutrition of the young school children. Here the mother’s volunteer and learn to cook healthy budget friendly meals while helping to feed part of the community.

Christine working in the kitchen

Christine ‘working’ in the kitchen

Sharing lunch with the local children in Chiclayo

Sharing lunch with the local children in Chiclayo

The mother’s and children prepared a great afternoon for us. There was singing and dancing and the highlight for the kids and adults, I think, was the tour of our van, Ginger! They all thought our trip was amazing and never knew it could be done. It was a great and insightful afternoon for us and them! A very worthwhile project.

Outside the Soup Kitchen

Outside the Soup Kitchen

The kids were fascinated with Ginger

The kids were fascinated with Ginger

Only 7 children - we had 11 adults inside at one stage!

Only 7 children – we had 11 adults inside at one stage!

We enjoyed spending more time with Gladys and her family and were overwhelmed by their hospitality. They hooked us up with a hotel room right downtown, helped us get a safe place for the van, fed us many delicious meals and were just the most wonderful hosts! We didn’t want to leave but knew that we needed to stay on target if we wanted to get to Argentina before our time runs out. So we enjoyed one last lunch with Gladys, prepared by her sweet mother, and then hit the road.

We drove a few hours and made it to a beach area just north of Trujillo.

Traditional fishing boats at the beach

Traditional fishing boats at the beach

The next day we planned on a long days drive to get us back into the mountains and to the start of our next trek. We ignored the directions given by our GPS, as we could see a much shorter, and obviously quicker, route on the map, so we were taken by surprise when we realized that it was going to take 2 days of driving on our chosen crazy windy switchback road, averaging less than 25km/hr.

Climbing into the mountains on our crazy road

Climbing into the mountains on our crazy road

Christines view as we climbed

Christine’s view as we climbed

We decided at 5pm that the fog was so thick that we needed to find a roadside campsite. Not easy when the road is precariously hanging from the side of a mountain – but we did it.

Climbing into the clouds

Climbing into the clouds

Our roadside campsite

Our roadside campsite

The town we were headed for is at an elevation of 2,000m, so we were again greatly suprised when our ‘shortcut’ kept climbing to over 4,300m, and then found the roads even more scary on the descent.

Beautiful mountain views on the way up

Beautiful mountain views on the way up

At the pass - Gingers new (and unplanned) altitude record - 4,314 metres

At the pass – Gingers new (and unplanned) altitude record – 4,314 metres

Dave was an awesome driver though!

Looking down one of many sets of switchbacks

Looking down one of many sets of switchbacks

Looking across the valley to fields cultivated on amazing slopes

Looking across the valley to fields cultivated on amazing slopes

As we neared the bottom of the descent, and we could see the town in the distance we checked the GPS once again – the town was 7km away, but would take over 25km of roads to get there, it was that windy and switch-backed! We had almost made it to our town when we came to a washed out bridge. After checking out the signposted detour we found that bridge inadequate too.

The suggested detour - we decided to keep looking for another option...

The suggested detour – we decided to keep looking for another option…

After a bit of searching and checking with the locals we eventually found another option about 40 minutes away and crossed into the town of Caraz.

Not perfect, but it will do!

Not perfect, but it will do!

Not the quaintest of Peruvian towns but it’s a jumping off point for the trek we want to start tomorrow. Wish us luck!

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The Equator…. Finally!

Travelling South out of Colombia

Travelling South out of Colombia

We left Salento and headed South. We made a stop outside Cali at a nice, quiet Hostel on a river in a beautiful valley. It was Sunday and the small towns and river banks along our route were packed with people taking advantage of the nice weather and weekend. It was a completely different place when we left the next morning with the streets pretty much deserted!

Camping outside of Cali.

Camping outside of Cali.

We then headed towards Ecuador and were hoping to hit the border town to spend the night, so we could cross over first thing the next morning. The mountain roads and traffic were a lot slower than we had expected, so we ended up pulling into a big 24hr gas station and asking to spend the night. No problem! Not the best of sleeps but a relatively safe place to hunker down for a few hours.

Sleeping with the trucks again!

Sleeping with the trucks again!

Beautiful hills in Southern Colombia

Beautiful hills in Southern Colombia

The next morning we were up early and made a stop to see a very cool church that is built on a bridge! Las Lajas Sanctuary is a Gothic style church that is built on the site where an apparition of the Virgin Mary was seen in the rocks. It’s also a popular pilgrimage site with many people claiming miraculous healing. An impressive place!

The view down to the church (bottom right, in the valley)

The view down to the church (bottom right, in the valley)

Las Lajas Sanctuary

Las Lajas Sanctuary

The inside of the church, with the cliff wall behind the altar.

The inside of the church, with the cliff wall behind the altar.

After the church we crossed into Ecuador with ease despite a bit of waiting in line ups. We even picked up a fellow Canadian traveller who we drove to our next destination, Otavalo, Ecuador.

This weeks travels in Equador

This weeks travels in Equador

Otovalo is known for having the largest market in all of South America! Well at least on the weekends but sadly (or gladly depending on how you look at it!), the majority of stalls, and all the live animal market was closed and the scene was very laid back. There was still a good market and Dave did end up getting a very dapper Ecuador hat!

Numerous soft and fluffy things available at the market

Numerous soft and fluffy things available at the market

Dave with his new 'Ecuador Hat'

Dave with his new ‘Ecuador Hat’

QUICK TRIVIA: Panama hats are actually originally from Ecuador. In 1945 for the World Fair Ecuador sent over all kinds of hats but since they travelled through Panama to get there the people in Paris assumed it was made in Panama. So poor Ecuador got no credit at all!

Our view over the town of Otovalo

Our view over the town of Otovalo

After hanging out at some nice cottages overlooking Otavalo we hit the road again and finally crossed the equator. It’s about time! And it’s only taken us 7.5 months. But it was very cool to see the line and a good photo opportunity. Now wouldn’t you think that the equator would have nice hot weather?!

Christine posing over the equator line

Christine posing over the equator line

Each in our 'home' hemispheres

Each in our ‘home’ hemispheres

Next we drove into Cotopaxi National Park to do some hiking and biking. Cotopaxi is the second highest mountain in Ecuador and is a snow capped vision (and an active volcano)! When you can see it that is! The roads were a bit rough going into the park especially this one corrugated area where we thought the van was going to vibrate to bits. Thankfully she didn’t, but we did manage to squash and cut a cable on our auxiliary battery, causing a short circuit with the battery. There was smoke, and a lot of running around and panicking, but phewf no fire!

Smoke and burn marks on the battery cover...

Smoke and burn marks on the battery cover…

Badly overheated battery cables

Badly overheated battery cables

The shakes also wiggled our furnace into not working. And when you’re on the side of a glacier mountain this really sucks!

Camping in view of the volcano

Camping in view of the volcano

All the winter gear was required up here (over 3800m elevation)

All the winter gear was required up here (over 3800m elevation)

We stayed on the mountain for two cold nights with all our blankets and thermal undies on. We could have handled the cold but on our lovely long bike ride around the valleys an unexpected storm blew in with heavy rain and hail

Christine catching her breath - biking at 4000m is just as hard as hiking!

Christine catching her breath – biking at 4000m is just as hard as hiking!

Another one of our 'typical' volcano photos...

Another one of our ‘typical’ volcano photos…

Christine keeping her dental skills up

Christine keeping her dental skills up

The roads turned into gushing rivers full of hail and our hands seized up from the cold. And the lightening was stiking so close it was scary! We were soaked to the bone and poor Dave just couldn’t get warm again. After a few hours and a long hot shower we started to feel our toes again.

New snow on the volcano - this fell during the storm of our bike ride...

New snow on the volcano – this fell during the storm of our bike ride…

We picked up another traveller coming from the park! This time a British guy who was having a hard time in Ecuador with tales of being robbed and being taken advantage of. Hope we helped him a bit! We dropped him off on the Quilitoa Loop which is a beautiful yet rough road around a volcanic lake and surrounding lush valleys.

Patchwork hills around Quilatoa

Patchwork hills around Quilatoa

The crater lake of Quilatoa

The crater lake of Quilatoa

Pretty and impressive! We had planned to hike around the crater lake, but the weather didn’t cooperate and with rain in the long and short-term forecast we decided to move on.

The loop road around Quilatoa

The loop road around Quilatoa

Beautiful views from the loop road

Beautiful views from the loop road

We moved on to the little town of Banos where we were the only guests at the Pequeno Paraiso Hostal. The owners are ex-overland bus drivers and specialize in taking in the huge overlanding tour groups, but the season hasn’t started yet.

The grounds at Pequeno Paraiso hostel

The grounds at Pequeno Paraiso hostel

Enjoying a 3 course lunch in Banos - all for US$2.50 - amazing!

Enjoying a 3 course lunch in Banos – all for US$2.50 – amazing!

With the entire run of the place we got Ginger all  fixed up again! That includes running new battery cables and getting the furnace working again. Dave is not only handsome, but handy too!

Christine checking the electrical connections to the furnace

Christine checking the electrical connections to the furnace

Dave running new cables back to the auxiliary battery

Dave running new cables back to the auxiliary battery

A big development in our plans is that we have found a buyer for Ginger! A few weeks ago we put her up for sale on a website popular with people doing similar trips as ours. Well wouldn’t you know we received an email from a British/Canadian guy who is keen to buy Ginger for a year of exploring around South America! A few logistics still to be worked out, but we are very happy that she’ll have a great new owner, and that we don’t need to stress out about finding a buyer any more.

Tomorrow we plan on getting into seeing the sights around here before moving on and finding some new places to explore.

 

This weeks banner - biking around Cotopaxi National Park - in the cold and thin air.

This weeks banner – biking around Cotopaxi National Park – in the cold and thin air.

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Into the coffee regions

This week has been a pretty laid back one. We vegged out in Villa de Leyva for 4 nights recovering from our big hike in El Cocuy. Not exactly sure what we did there during that time but get caught up with our families and email, oh yes and eat a lot of pizza. We eventually headed toward Bogota and made it pretty close before it started to get dark. We went looking for a place that some previous overlanders had given GPS coordinates for on their blog – but we just couldn’t find it. However, in the dark we managed to stumble upon a pretty nice camping area with hot showers and owners that gave us copious amounts of ‘aromatica’ which is a hot drink of infused fruits.

Our nice camping area in Guatavita

Our nice camping area in Guatavita

The next morning we saw what a nice place it actually was and the owners were super friendly and again gave us some more free cups of the fruity tea like drink. They were also very interested in the van and the younger son said it was his ‘sueno’ or dream to have a vehicle like ours and travel like us. We gave them a little tour of Ginger, got some pictures and then headed toward the big city.

Our mission for Bogota was to find a wedding dress shop! Christine could not find that many online here in South America, but there was one that sold nice dresses and looked good. The map from the website was incorrect but thankfully our GPS eventually got us there. Of course Dave was required to stay outside and ended up being harassed by the parking attendant for the entire time he was waiting there. The dress mission was not successful but was very informative and gave Christine a few things to think about. Like how difficult it is going to be to try and find a dress on the road! That will be an ongoing mission we think.

After fighting our way out of Bogota traffic we headed north east towards the coffee district. We were a bit nervous about road blocks as everyone and their dog are on strike down here – coffee growers, truck drivers, miners, teachers, etc… We had no problems with strikers, however the road was long with a huge mountain we had to go up and over with tons of slow moving vehicles. On our descent we literally drove between 15-28km/hr behind molasses like trucks. Needless to say at the bottom of the mountain our brakes overheated and gave way. Pressing the brake pedal to the floor with no effect is never fun! By this time it was late at night (8pm) and we don’t really like to drive in the dark. However what can you do! We continued on to Salento, a cool small artesan town, and found our recommended hostal/camping site at La Serrana EcoFarm and Hostel. We found a spot alongside another overlander from British Columbia and got some dinner before falling into bed. We had started the day at 2,900m elevation, dropped down to 300m, climbed back up to 3,300m and then dropped again to 1,500m – no wonder the brakes were overheating!

Salento is a cool little town with lots of “arts and crafts” shops as Dave would say.

The central plaza in Salento with wax palms

The central plaza in Salento with wax palms

Dave trying (successfully) to find a new inner tube for his bike

Dave trying (successfully) to find a new inner tube for his bike

Swinging in Colombia

Swinging in Colombia

The view from the towns mirador (lookout)

The view from the towns mirador (lookout)

Salento is also really close to Valle de Cocora which is the principal location of the Wax Palms. It is the national tree and symbol of Colombia and a protected species, especially from all those folks that used to use it for celebrations of Palm Sunday (no joke!). We took a jeep taxi to the start of a day hike and climbed the mountain for the great views. Of course we had cloud coverage and couldn’t see a darn thing!

Heading up the mountain

Heading up the mountain

Climbing through beautiful farmland

Climbing through beautiful farmland

Wax palms disappearing in the clouds

Wax palms disappearing in the clouds

A great view from the top

A great view from the top

But on the way down we did get some wonderful views and I think pictures!

Cocora Valley

Cocora Valley

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One not so good thing is the dogs around here! As we wrote back in Mexico, Christine’s mom got bit by a dog and since then Christine’s been a bit skiddish about them. Dogs down here are a whole different breed and are not like the nice friendly pets at home. Christine went to check out the view of the valley from the other side of our Hostal and was charged by 2 vicious dogs. There were lots of bared teeth and saliva but thankfully they didn’t bite. It was a close call though!

Tomorrow we head south and hope that we don’t come up against any roadblocks!

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El Cocuy National Park

This week we completed a six day hike around the mountains of El Cocuy National Park in Eastern Colombia. This turned out to be a very educational experience for us, with some of the major lessons being:

  1. Driving through Central America eating Pringles and Fajitas does not prepare you for hiking at 4000+ metres.
  2. Just because we drive our van Ginger to high altitudes does not prepare us for hiking at high altitudes.
  3. If everyone on the truck says this is your stop, make sure to check with the driver before getting off.
  4. Cold temperatures are even colder after months of sweating through Central America.
  5. A sleeping bag rated for -10C is not actually bearable at this temperature.
  6. Night buses suck! Day buses aren’t much better. Gravol certainly helps to prevent barfing and is a great sleeping aid!
  7. Nights in a tent are VERY long when they start at 6pm.
  8. You should not feed the crazy Peruvian man, as “he needs to be forced back into the real world” (according to our new British friend Phil)

We started our adventure to El Cocuy National Park with a long overnight bus trip which dropped us into the town of Cocuy at 6am. We managed a few hours sleep in a hotel then finished off our preparations with a few last minute items, buying our park pass, etc… The next morning we hopped onto the Lechero (milk truck/local transport) after confirming with the driver that we wanted to go to the Northern end of the trail where we would check into a nice Cabana for the night while acclimatising to the altitude. However, we got off at the wrong end of the trail because we listened to our fellow truck mates who assured us it was correct. Oh well!

Our first morning of unexpected hiking...

Our first morning of unexpected hiking…

We quickly changed gears and plans and knew that the real fun had begun with a half day of hiking and the start of 5 nights in our tent.

Our first nights camping next to a small lake

Our first nights camping next to a small lake

We got to the lake campsite around 2pm and set up for the evening, and a long evening it was. Each day it got dark around 5:30pm and then the real cold set in. Every night we ran into the tent to get some warmth at around 6pm and stayed there, cocooned, for 12+ hours. Let’s say they were looonng nights, and sadly not a heck of a lot of sleeping due to the effects of the altitude and cold.

Our mornings usually started around 7am when, if we were lucky, we’d get a bit of sun on our tent. A quick breakfast of oatmeal and then we were on our way. Each day we had at least 2 mountain passes to get up and through, usually between a 300 to 500 metre climb for each one. And at this altitude most activities are much more difficult, your legs feel really heavy and catching your breath is even difficult. Plus we had heavy backpacks and at least 2 litres of water each to carry. Sometimes a bit of a nagging headache too, which is one of the first signs of altitude sickness. Nothing that a bit of ibuprofen couldn’t get rid of luckily!

Christine climbing towards the first pass on the hike

Christine climbing towards the first pass on the hike

For the first few days of our hike we had great weather, with the sun making appearances throughout the day. This was super but the first day because we weren’t prepared for a long hike we got blasted by the sun and the intense UV up there. We learned to try and keep covered (hence Christine’s gloves, hood, etc…) and to reapply our sunscreen regularly. The great weather sadly didn’t keep up and on our fourth night we woke to the sound of rain on the tent. Cold rain! Unfortunately the rain and cloud set in for the next 48+ hours, which saw us hiking, cooking and sleeping in a constant light, did I mention cold, rain. The ever present clouds also blocked out the views and often made finding the trail difficult.

In short the trail was very tough, especially because of the altitude. Right up until the half way mark we had repeated conversations about turning back, normally while trudging up towards the next pass and stopping every 10metres to catch our breath. After the half way point we knew we were committed to finishing.

Now that we are finished, and have had a couple of recovery days we are both very glad that we chose, and finished, this amazing and remote trail, in an area that sees very little tourism. Until 2005 the park was occupied by FARC and ELN guerrillas and saw no tourism until recently. It is also predicted that within 10-15 years all of the glaciers in the park will have disappeared (based on recent glacial recession rates), so we are happy to have seen it when we did. It’s difficult to show the grandeur and magnitude of the mountains and landscape but I hope our pictures at least give you a taste of what we experienced!

Dave in his camouflage coloured clothes

Dave in his camouflage coloured clothes

Happy to arrive at camp.

Happy to arrive at camp.

Beanies and down jackets definitely required up here!

Beanies and down jackets definitely required up here!

The crazy Peruvian sleeping in the open under his poncho. He claims to have taken 2 years to walk up from Peru, and is an 'artist'....

The crazy Peruvian sleeping in the open under his poncho. He claims to have taken 2 years to walk up from Peru, and is an ‘artist’….

Hiking around the side of one of many lakes

Hiking around the side of one of many lakes

The track was never easy and often required rock scrambling skills

The track was never easy and often required rock scrambling skills

Looking along the trail, with th small gap on the horizon being that afternoons pass

Looking along the trail, with the small gap on the horizon being that afternoons pass

Looking back along the trail (day 3)

Looking back along the trail (day 3)

Great mountain views

Great mountain views

Phil and Borna, our loosely affiliated trecking partners

Phil and Borna, our ‘loosely affiliated’ trekking partners

It was a very barren landscape at this altitude.

It was a very barren landscape at this altitude.

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Dave still managing to smile somehow...

Dave still managing to smile somehow…

Once again looking from one pass to the next

Once again looking from one pass to the next

Christine lily-pad hopping along the valley bottom

Christine ‘lily-pad’ hopping along the valley bottom

Lily-pad valley and surrounding mountains

Lily-pad valley and surrounding mountains

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Cold camping conditions

Cold camping conditions

The view to our friends Phil and Borna's campsite

The view to our friends Phil and Borna’s campsite

Christine at another pass, with glacier close behind (day 5)

Christine at another pass, with glacier close behind (day 5)

Dave happy to be nearing the end (day 5)

Dave happy to be nearing the end (day 5)

Lakes and glaciers

Lakes and glaciers

The clouds setting were relentless

The clouds were relentless

Dave giving a GQ pose

Dave giving a GQ pose

A glacier with very obvious recent recession

A glacier with very obvious recent recession

Celebratory drinks back in Villa De Leyva

Celebratory drinks back in Villa De Leyva

 

This weeks banner - mountain view in Cocuy National Park

This weeks banner – mountain view in Cocuy National Park

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Back in action

This weeks travels

This weeks travels

We are enjoying ourselves here in Colombia. After the long shipping process we were anxious to get on the road. The morning we were due to just pop in to pick up Ginger at the Port actually took all day!

The vehicles unloaded and ready for inspection

The vehicles unloaded and ready for inspection

More paperwork - of course!

More paperwork – of course!

It wasn’t just a simple thing but a whole procedure of inspections and more paperwork followed by the search for mandatory car insurance. We did have our fellow shippers to help get this all done and then we were off!

Ginger freed from jail and ready to go!

Ginger freed from jail and ready to go!

We didn’t make it that far though. Couple of hours and we stopped at an odd but kind of cool mud volcano that you can get into. El Totumo volcano is a 15m high mud pile that slowly oozes fresh mud from the top.

The mud volcano

The mud volcano

It’s reportedly 3000-6000 ft deep but you don’t sink and it’s really difficult to move around in it. Christine wasn’t a fan of the sensation, or the mess of it but Dave faffed around in it no problem.

The mud pool in the cone of the volcano

The mud pool in the cone of the volcano

Dave wallowing

Dave wallowing

The weirdest was the ‘mud remover’ guy who’s job was to rub down everyone exiting the bath. But it was a cool, cheap experience and we got to camp right on site. Pretty quiet once everyone goes home!

Luckily there was a lake to wash off in nearby

Luckily there was a lake to wash off in nearby

The next day we actually made some distance and arrived at our destination: Tayrona National Park. We paid the unreasonably high foreigner entrance and car fees and then set up at a Castilletes restaurant camping resort area. We couldn’t make it in on the rough road to the national park camping area.

Our camp in Tayrona National Park

Our camp in Tayrona National Park

We set out the next morning for El Pueblito, which is an archeological site of an old village located high in the middle of the Colombian jungle. Similar but on a much smaller scale than Ciudad Perdida which requires 6 days of trekking to visit. We sweated and climbed up into the jungle and did manage to see some small ruins but it was more about getting out in the jungle and doing the hike.

The hike starts with a couple of hours along the coast

The hike starts with a couple of hours along the coast

Tayronas beaches

Tayronas beaches

Walk-in camp sites along the coast

Walk-in camp sites along the coast

Climbing the jungle trail

Climbing the jungle trail

Dave happy to be at the top (Note Daves shiny new hiking shoes - all of $25 there!)

Dave happy to be at the top (Note Daves shiny new hiking shoes – all of $25 there!)

We were rewarded by a nice swim at the bottom in the Carribean Sea.

Swimming at the beach after our jungle hike

Swimming at the beach after our jungle hike. Spot Dave?

Colombia is our first big country in a while and we are noticing the distances. Also doesn’t help that the roads are only single lane, if that, with the most crazy and aggressive drivers to date.

There are also a lot of heavy vehicles on the highways which make for slow going

There are also a lot of heavy vehicles on the highways which make for slow going

Climbing the roads into the Colombian highlands

Climbing the roads into the Colombian highlands

And the tolls are never ending with at least a few dollars paid at each one, and for some crap roads too.

One days toll receipts

One days toll receipts

Collpased roads seem to be a common occurence here

Collpased roads seem to be a common occurence here

The gas here is also not cheap but similar to home prices. Colombia’s neighbours, Venezuela and Equador, have much cheaper gas so the border areas have contraband gas that they sell on the streets. Not legal but a booming business!

Illegaly imported gasoline for sale

Illegaly imported gasoline for sale

We had two big long 8+ hour driving days in a row to get to our next destination: Villa de Leyva. It’s a cool old colonial town up in the mountains, complete with cobblestone streets. It’s supposed to have the largest square in Colombia but we were a bit disappointed by how barren and empty it was. Maybe it gets filled on the weekends??

The beautiful colonial steets in Villa de Leyva

The beautiful colonial steets in Villa de Leyva

The plaza here is huge - but empty...

The plaza here is huge – but empty…

We’ve been hanging out here in the cooler weather at the Renacer Hostal where they have great facilities and a nice camping area. We explored the town, sampled some food plus hiked up to the Sagrado Corazon which is overlooking the town.

The view over town

The view over town

Dave doing.....? Who knows?

Dave doing…..? Who knows?

But mostly we’ve been gearing up for our big hike next week, which is a 6 day hike in El Cocuy National Park, all around 4,000m altitude! We’re leaving the van here and taking a bus east to the National Park. Should be good !

 

This weeks banner - army ants in the jungle

This weeks banner – army ants in the jungle

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Colombia, Here We Come!

Our travels this week (we flew)

Our travels this week (we flew)

Gingers route across the stormy Southern seas!

Gingers route across the stormy Southern seas!

We can’t believe we are here in Colombia and about to be reunited with our beloved van!!! It’s been a bit of a challenge but we are happy to say we have completed the paperwork process unscathed. Well except for having to part with a fair bit of money for the customs fees, insurance and a ton of port fees and a few days of our lives. Feels good to be on the other side! We have been told that we can pick Ginger up at 8am tomorrow – so hopefully everything goes smoothly and as planned!

This is required for about 95% of the vehicle unloading procedure

This is required for about 95% of the vehicle unloading procedure

After packing Ginger into the container last week we had a couple of days to explore Panama City. It was just about to start Carnivale there and things were starting to get busy. We wandered the waterfront and explored the streets of the old town area – trying to avoid the dirt and grime of the big city. Gotta say not our favourite city.

Daves favourite building! In Panama city

Dave’s favourite building! In Panama city

Panama city skyline - very reminiscent of Singapore

Panama City skyline – very reminiscent of Singapore

It looked to have a very modern business district, though the area we were in was pretty dodgy. We didn’t stray too far from our hotel after dark.

From Panama we flew to Cartagena, which is on the Caribbean Coast of Northern Colombia. Now this place is on our list of favourite cities in the world! The wall enclosed Old Colonial City is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is stunning and beautiful, with all it’s restored buildings and churches.

Exploring the old town of Cartagena

Exploring the old town of Cartagena

On the old city walls

On the old city walls

San Felipe fort in the background

San Felipe fort in the background

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Of course there are lots of restaurant and bars with great patios and terraces to do some people watching. It is also the expensive part of town so we stayed just outside the walls in the cool neighbourhood of Getsemani. Here there are a ton of hostels and cheaper hotels plus restaurants within our budget and some fantastic street eats.

Enjoying the street foods around Trinidad Square

Enjoying the street foods around Trinidad Square

Dave breaking up some trouble with the local community

Dave breaking up some trouble with the ‘home community’

Beautiful streets of the old town

Beautiful streets of the old town

Besides an abundance of eating and drinking we took advantage of the good internet connection and used our time out to do some planning for the weeks to come.

Chiquita fruit ladies - a bit camera shy

Chiquita fruit ladies – a bit camera shy

Colourful old homes

Colourful old homes

Enjoying a couple of drinks by the old town wall

Enjoying a couple of drinks by the old town wall

Colombia was one of the countries we had most looked forward to and we don’t think it’s going to disappoint us!

We did start to get itchy feet and by Tuesday we were ready to get going on the process of importing the van. However, Ginger never arrived into port here in Cartagena until Wednesday morning and her container wasn’t unloaded until well into the night. We got everything we could get done done (customs fees paid at the bank, photocopies made and all the paperwork into the officials) but then we just had to sit back and wait.

Today we started at the port at 8am, and didn’t leave there until nearly 7pm. The day was spent hopping between customs, shipping agents and port offices… all requiring a taxi between them. Finally this afternoon Ginger was freed and unloaded from her confines of the container and we were happy to hear (from the one person from our shipping group who was allowed in!) that she had survived her sea voyage successfully. We didn’t actually get to see her, as we never entered the port, but will do this first thing in the morning.

The closest we got to seeing Ginger - apparently shes parked behind the blue building on the right

This security check was the closest we got to seeing Ginger – apparently she’s parked behind the blue building on the right

Now we’re going to spend one last night in Cartagena before hitting the road!

We hope to spend a couple of days hiking and exploring around the beaches of Tayrona National Park before heading up into the mountains of Colombia to recover from our shipping ordeal. We are considering a 6 day mountain hike as well, but there are some logistical issues for us to sort out first (250 km of unpaved roads…). Fingers crossed!

Street vendors around Trinidad Square - the oldest part of town

This weeks banner – Street vendors around Trinidad Square – the oldest part of town

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