Monday, March 29, 2010

Medellin: Part 1

Well, we are safely two days into Medellin.

Funny how there can be so much build-up, anticipation, anxiety about things like being caught in the middle of a terrorist attack, shark attack, alien invasion attack. And of course, nothing happens. Kaitlin has been calling me a "fatalist" quite frequently the last few days. I'm not sure if there has been a drastic increase in my "worrying" or if we are both just a bit more sensitive to these issues as we are so near to our "safe" return in the "safe" US of A.

The truth is though, I feel quite comfortable in Medellin. Most places in SA, even Chile (which is touted as one of the most "Western" countries in SA) I felt we were followed by more lingering stares than here.

Medellin is a busy city. There is so much going on in this city that has no bonafide "center" aside from the modern, clean, quiet, metro that runs North-South through the bottom of the valley. People just seem too preoccupied here to mess around with two frumpy gringo backpackers. Not to say that the people here are not friendly - quite the opposite. Every location, whether it be a bar, restaurant, sports facility, hostel, etc... people have done their best to be accomodating and thorough. ¡Que bueno!

Our two days, have been two full days. The "Tiger Paw Hostel" was fully booked, but they recommended us to Hostal Tamarindo - which I think is ultimately more our speed and the right place for us to be at this point in the trip. Clean, quiet, organized, and thorough with all the relevant information for getting where you want to go in the city.

From this base in Poblado we have gladly made the fifteen minute walk to the metro (though yesterday we discovered the bus that eliminates the walk) to seek out just a little of what Medellin has to offer:

A staggeringly thorough and active farmer's market (where we had a deliciously unhealthy concoction consisting of various fruits, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, and another mystery sauce.

Unidad Deportiva de Belen where I was able to join in on an eight-a-side soccer match in a quality synthetic turf complex with some nice and very talented Colombians who play a refreshingly thorough version of the game - PASSING AND DRIBBLING!

The Juegos Suramericano - the South American Olympics. The metro takes you literally to the door-step of the facilities that host the major indoor events. After waiting in line for a little under two hours we were able to view men's basketball Venezuela vs Brazil and Colombia vs Argentina.
Although the quality of play was a little below high school basketball in the States - the energy of the capacity crowd (particularly during Colombia vs Argentina) was quite electric and made what should have been a slaughter an entertaining match. Never-the-less, the superior size, speed, and depth of the Argentina squad allowed them to pull away at the end, but that didn't stop the home crowds chants of "Si, se puede!" and "Co-lom-bia! Co-lom-bia!" Great to see such and atmosphere for a sport other than soccer and it was free for all!

Palm Sunday processions with palm fronds, olive branches, replicas surrounded by young and old that can only make me think of my mother and how she would love South America.

And each night finishing with a ride through the valley surrounded by the twinkling yellow lights that make Medellin a beautiful glimmering bowl. ¡Que lindo!


Today we should be off for another full day of activities..

Starting with my last camiseta search on the continent. Then we're off to the farmer's market to haul home sundry ingredients for a king's dinner, then hopefully we can catch women's rhythmic gymnastics, and finishing the day with a pint or two at the Tiger Paw microbrew!

Tuesday should be another packed day as we have heard that there is an exceptional aquarium here with a botanical garden next door.
Wednesday is my Atletico Nacional match..and I'm sure by that time Thursday will be packed full of activity as well.

It's busy, but good, we've found that the little down time we have had so far has allowed us to start thinking of home and how these five months are coming to an end. It's a mixed bag of emotions which has us a little nervy.
For so long we've been in this mindset that there is an unknown "next destination" and to now be looking forward to Denver-USA is good in that it is familiar and we are excited to be with Kaitlin's family again, but also a disruption in that it is familiar and we know what to expect - which breaks from our five month routine.

Alas, we are making the most of Medellin while we can. I am making up for my long drought in drip-coffee and last night I had a wonderful "mulata" beer from a local brewery. It's almost enough to make a smooth transition, but with Semana Santa and the Juegos Suramericanos and varios barrios there is still much of unique Medellin and Colombia to see..

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Idols, Ides, or Idiosyncrasies

It would be unfair to say that we have been "disappointed" with Cartagena. Far from it. However, I would feel more comfortable with a synonym for "disenchanted." Of course, this sense is a combination of factors - I don't mean to condemn Cartagena as a whole, but let me put down my jugo de zapote and back-up a little.

I should begin with our last day in Quito.

You would have to try very hard or have very little time to be unimpressed with Quito.

With less than twelve hours left in the city we managed to fill up yet another day and marvel at what a quality place Quito is (and Ecuador as a whole).

We started with an attempt to find various embassies scattered throughout the Mariscal (new town). This being largely a failure, we abandoned the search for a new search - coffee. Near Parque La Carolina we found a nice little international café with a good latte and a crazy-delicious donut-sandwich hybrid. From there we made our way through the park to the Jardín Botánico de Quito which boasted tons of orchids, carnivorous plants, and bonsai trees (not to mention tons of roses, cacti, and trees)! I don't ususally enjoy botanical gardens (WHERE ARE ALL THE ANIMALS!), but the collection was so diverse that each plant seemed to take on a character of its own allowing my imagination to thoroughly enjoy itself.

From the garden we headed up-town on one of Quito's clean and efficient buses (costing a quarter) to an outdoor market it in a plaza that I have forgotten - hurray! With most family members now covered in the souvenir department and Kaitlin making marginal progress in the haggling department - we could move on to other things.

Another bus ride took us into the old city center and after hoofing it a few blocks on foot through the Plaza Theatro we were on the steps of Quito's Mercado Central. Walking inside, I immediately had the sensation that I was in a 1920s-30s hospital. High-ceilings, lots of natural light, stalls randomly dispersed through the space, people shuffling in and out around corners and down the aisles, colors, and noises. As if it could be any better, we were joined by only one other pair of gringos which made us think that this meal had potential to be quite special/authentic.

And in good-ole Quito fashion, it did not disappoint. My dish consisted of rice, hard-boiled egg, a massive half of avocado, and stew topped rice with big chunks of potato and miscellaneous beef bits. DELICIOUS. Top it all off with a healthy pitcher of blackberry juice - all for under $6 - good times.

Content we were off to the nearby Monasterio de Santa Catalina de Siena. For three dollars our tour included a healthy showcase of tons of morbid-gory religious art and artifacts, topped off by a spiral staircase leading to a rather perilous view of the city from the monastery roof.

After the tour, we were closing in on four hours before it was time to leave for the airport, so we decided to head back to the hostel for some pre-flight rest and relaxation.

Around 8pm it was time to head to the airport. Twenty minutes later we're in the main lobby of Quito's Mariscal Sucre International Airport about to embark on an all-night-flight-othon that would take us from Quito to Cali, Colombia - Cali to Bogota - Bogota to Cartagena. No flight lasting more than an hour, but the entire ordeal lasting from 8pm in Quito to 10am in Cartagena. Built-up by myself as our most perilous journey of the trip - I was pleasantly surprised-amazed-in awe when we landed in Cartagena, safe with all of our luggage. Incredible.

Each airport was so small and easy and clean, it was hard to believe how smoothly everything was going. Compared to most airports in the US and especially to Buenos Aires - these guys really had their act together.


I will start off by saying, "We are not Anthony Bourdaine."

In Buenos Aires, the combination of cabin fever, Marko's enthusiasm for Colombia, and this episode of "No Reservations" put us on a crash course with reality.

The truth is, Cartagena is VERY touristy. This morning, I went to get a shot of espresso from one of the men in the Plaza del Reloj and had to wait to cross the street as a train of more than ten horse drawn carriages full of beige and white clad seniors turned left - for each tourist a camera waving in the air that could feed a family here for over a month. I don't mean to digress into the economics, politics, ethics of the situation - suffice it to say..I know enough after five months down here that "touristy" places aren't necessarily where you want to be.

Though we haven't encountered anything like the persistence we saw in Peru, street vendors are eager and it's impossible not to feel that local eyes are always watching. Tourists come and go - these people stay behind and have to make a living chasing down Nikon toting gringos.

It's also very hot here, which would be okay, if there were a proper beach nearby. The old city (where our hotel is located) is surrounded by walls (originally built by the Spanish to protect the vital port from pirate attacks). Once the aesthetic wears off - it can be a bit claustrophobic and oppressively hot and confusing just trying to get to and from the grocery store.

Lastly, possibly our last meal in the market in Quito has afflicted Kaitlin with a stomach illness that has rendered her more or less bedridden. Thus, it is likely our plans to snorkel are scuttled and with one day remaining in the city - I'm not sure there is much opportunity left for our impressions to change.

No doubt there is much to see, do, and eat here in Cartagena. But without a local guide or a private vehicle - even under the best conditions it would be difficult for us to have had the time of our lives.

Alas, all is not negative! How could it be when we are so fortunate to continue our travels to yet another beautiful country!

Easily the highpoint of our time in Cartagena has been our ability to reunite with Rob and Blanche - the Australian couple we met in Puerto Natales and hiked Torres del Paine with. It was again, the refreshing couples dynamic that has been so nice after months of one on one interaction. We sat for hours in different parts of the city, eating, drinking - discussing our travels, pending reintegration into our respective societies, and if that were even fully possible considering all that we had experienced and where our priorities now lie.

As with Antti and Laura in Finland, it has been a reaffirming and inspirational gift to know that there are other couples/people out there with similar priorities, "fighting the good fight" all over the world.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that with these near-chance encounters across the continent, there is the bitter-sweet farewell. With only an afternoon together, Rob and Blanche were now off to Santiago where they would stay for three days before flying back to Melbourne.

Just the two of us, again.

Today has been a rather lackluster day, which is quite alright by me. Kaitlin has been hydrating and resting. I have been reading articles, making brief excursions into the city for breakfast, coffee, or lunch, but mostly attempting to plan our exit from Cartagena.

With the anti-climax of the flights from Quito to Cartagena past, our bus journey from Cartagena to Medellin is our last great logistical hurtle. Consensus is that with rebel groups and paramilitaries beaten back into the jungle/hinterlands, the route is safe to travel. Still, there are no guarantees in Colombia and when it comes to my personal safety and especially the safety of others, that isn't good enough.

Suffice it to say, with Kaitlin unable to assist with speaking to locals, I am a little uneasy about our journey on Saturday. Everyone has said that there are no problems, that there will be plenty of buses, that it's okay to go through the night. Still, I'm waiting for advice from a (strangely enough) Clemson native who runs a hostel in Medellin before I sit back and relax.

Of course, like nearly every scenario where I have played the paranoid-cynic, I'm expecting, I'm hoping, to be proven wrong. But, sadly for Colombia, I think it will take the lift-off from Aeropuerto El Dorado in Bogota on April 6th for me to breathe that final sigh of relief and tell people, "Yeah, Colombia is not what it was. I traveled there for two weeks and had no problems at all."

In the meantime, I'll try to muffle my paranoia as much as possible. I'll slough off the breaking news bulletins that the US has been inundated with since my childhood. I'll minimize. I'll drink lots of fruit juice and coffee. I'll eat lots of beans and egg and avocado. I'll watch lots of soccer. And read. And talk to Kaitlin. And maybe that will be enough to wake-up on April 7th in Miami International Airport bound for Denver and a completely different journey.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Equinox on the Equator in Ecuador

I think I've really been caught off-guard by how much I have enjoyed Quito (and Ecuador as a whole). It's been so easy to enjoy and though we're off to Colombia (arguably a very similar country) - I'm identifying with this place, seeing myself on the streets, waking up to these bizarre sunrises day after day.

After four months of traveling, Kaitlin and I were both feeling a bit worn down. Our motto for Quito was to stay in the historic part of the city with less bars, less hostels, less chaos. I think it has really paid off in that we are so close to all of the historical sites that are the backbone of Quito's substance.

There are views of Quito everywhere. A block or two up the hill from our hostel and we're on the balcony of a greek café eating banana nut pancakes with café while the murmur of a Friday in Quito trickles up our way.

The next day we're in the top of the steeples of the Basilica del Voto Nacional. My feet sweating profusely as Kaitlin is practically running up the ladders. Another angle of the city with it's orderly traffic (never thought I would say that while on this continent!) and humble pedestrians.

We've spent an evening strolling Calle de la Ronda - a place for people seeking a little more culture with their nightlife. The Andean folk music pulsing out of every other establishment, much like the Mapuche tunes a few thousand kilometers down the range, but with its own Ecuadorian twist - adding fiddles and a more staccato vocal style. It made us dance, drink with ease, and attack our quimbolitos, empanadas, and corn tortillas. Warm red wine with sugar and hot cider that reeked of its potency, but tasted like middle winter relief.

I had my first straight razor shave by a beautiful old man in the Plaza del Teatro.

We braved the high noon sun, on the equinox, on the equator, for possibly the worst professional football match I have seen yet. El Nacional (13 titles and home club of Christian Benítez and Antonio Valencia) and Independiente del Valle/José Terán. As we hid inside of our shirts we watched a less than enthused crowd mumble as their team went up a goal and (but for the no more than twenty locos jumping and singing [although they were all Boca Juniors songs]) sit on their hands until the teams were reduced to 10v10, the game was tied, and the final minutes lurking. With true class, the El Nacional fans turned on their squad - hissing and booing every failed attempt at goal for the last ten minutes of the match. And to top it all off, the lethargic dispersed group, saved their one moment of unity for the end of the game when they all rushed to the point nearest the player's tunnel in order to shower their boys with expletives. What a club!

Everything else has been a mixture of markets, restaurants, wandering, and quality people back at the hostel.

Though we leave today, there is another full day in Quito. Plenty to do, too much to do, before we make our way to the airport around 8pm. But we'll try, botanical gardens filled with orchids, convents where nuns sell lotions through revolving doors, and more markets, more food, as much as we can stuff our stomachs, packs, and hearts with before we leave this hemisphere.

Tomorrow we'll be in Cartagena, back in the northern hemisphere, swapping also the Pacific for the Caribbean. But we know that Quito, and Ecuador as a whole, is a place we must return to.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Guayaquil - Ayampe - Manta - Quito

Although there are countless exceptions - it's safe to say that Peru (overall) did not thoroughly enchant us.. I was really thankful for our time with Antti and Laura, but Máncora was more or less a complete bust and the horror stories that were floating in about the border were making me all the more anxious to leave, but also anxious about getting to Guayaquil.

Essentially, the border at Tumbes has a pretty poor reputation, considered "the worst in SA" by some..which is saying a lot considering all of the shady, unstable places you can go on this continent.
Of course, these were all just ramblings on the internet - gringos strolling into places where they should be better prepared. Assuming that their passport will magically get them anywhere and everywhere they want - no hassle.
Then we heard from Antti and Laura that they had been conned out of $75 during their crossing three days prior.


So we tramped it up and down the hill from our hostel to the travel agency (posed as our bus company) and changed our border crossing to "direct" from Máncora to Guayaquil (meaning it would only stop for border procedure) - rather than the commuter we were originally signed up for (which would involve us changing buses somewhere in Tumbes).

Long story short, though we had to wait around for the bus in the middle of the night..border procedures went off without a hitch (though there were men outside of the migrations office asking us for our passports [HA!]) - after checking into Ecuador it was deep sleep and leaving Peru behind.


Ecuador began in the early morning hours as green. Nothing but green. Stark contrast to the endless dunes, rock, and chaparral-like "vegetation" we had experienced along the Peruvian coast. No, Ecuador has been banana trees and jungle junk from start to finish.

We arrived around 10am in Guayaquil at what is easily the most impressive bus terminal I have witnessed. Nicer than most malls and as nice as any airport in the US, it was such a welcome change from the usual chaos that is stepping off the bus with your pack.

From the terminal we called our couchsurfing host, Geovanny. About thirty minutes later we were packed into his two door Rav4 and heading out into the suburbs of Guayaquil.

After a shower and some lunch we let Geovanny take the reigns and show us his city. We started at Parque Bolivar, also known as, The Iguana Park. Literally, iguanas everywhere. We spent a good while with these creatures dangling banana peels hoping they wouldn't take a little bit of our fingers as they scrambled over one another for a morsel. It's hard to say when to leave a place like that (especially since there was a very interesting church in the square), but Kaitlin being urinated on by an iguana in the tree above was as good a sign as any!

So from the Iguana Park we made our way to the Malecon 2000. The Malecon is a boardwalk with an impressive garden, IMAX, restaurants, monuments, and tons of other attractions. From the Malecon, Geovanny led us into a compound (maybe a school?) where there were Galapagos turtles foraging in a square - again, more photos. From that square it was not far to a refurbished part of town with over 400 steps leading up a hill to the lighthouse at the top. Reminded me a lot of a place in San Fran, just toss in about a hundred places to grab a beer, all of them blaring cumbia. Muy bien.

From the top of the hill there was a great view of more or less all of Guayaquil. Ecuador's largest city seems to have it right. Not too big, fairly modern, definitely felt secure, modest but with lots to boast. Only a few hours in and Ecuador was feeling pretty good.

From the hill we made our way back to Geovanny's car. Then it was time for something I didn't even realize how much I missed...

"Feminine" iced coffee drinks.

Geovanny took us to Juan Valdez Cafe (Starbucks) where I had a Nevado con Amaretto, actual liqueur. I'd like to say I sipped it in pleasure, but I slurped and gulped and licked the inside of the cup. While I was still hyperventilating, Kaitlin and Geovanny discussed dinner and it was decided that we would meet up with some of Geovanny's mountain biking friends at a Colombian place.

Our party turned out to be over fifteen people, a mix of locals and US ex-pats in country teaching English. One guy was from Atlanta (UGA) and was pretty happy to see me and talk about Aiken and hoop and holler in a genuine southern accent that you could tell he had been repressing for some months..

With quite a full day (and full bellies) under our belts it was time for a good nights sleep and another day in Guayaquil.

The next day Geovanny was off to a mountain biking trip with his friends. Leaving Kaitlin and I to our own devices we did some laundry, got caught up on internet necessities, and eventually made our way via bus to the city center.

We bumbled around a bit - picking up an Emelec jersey for myself and having ice cream and having another go at the Malecon and government buildings. Well into the afternoon we met up with Geovanny and made our way to a grocery store to pick up supplies for what was supposed to be "Meditteranean Night."

Dinner was good, but not quite as Mediterranean as I had hoped. However, we did well considering the difficulty in finding certain spices and such down here.

The next day Geovanny was nice enough to put us in a cab before work and have us on our way back to the terminal. From there we would catch a four hour bus west, to the coast!


The bus ride to Ayampe was a mixture of drifting in and out of sleep, sweating, and refusing the hordes of people swarming our bus at every turn attempting to sell anything.

Eventually, we arrived in Jipijapa (Hipi-Hapa) which I for once enjoyed the redundant yelling of the destination by the driver's assistant. From there we changed buses to our local commuter bus which made it's way to the water and eventually dropped us off in the middle-of-nowhere, aka Ayampe.

Ayampe came as a recommendation from a friend in SC, Karly, who had spent some time at Finca Punta Ayampe. We asked the way and were pointed down a dirt road. The heat was getting to me a bit with the pack weighing more than ever..and the ocean so close - torture.
But we did indeed arrive and from there it was heaven.

We were welcomed by an incredibly friendly and relaxed staff that made us feel instantly comfortable. The next three days we did little exploring (aside from a trip up the road to Puerto Lopez for some money and grub) - most of our time was spent happily in hammocks or on the deserted beach. The deserted, warm, incredible beach. It's the kind of place that even if we had pictures, it wouldn't do it justice. So much of the experience was in the way that we were served breakfast (more than just smiles) or in the breezes that kept reminding us of our fortune.

Guayaquil had been fun, but this was a different level of satisfaction. And somehow we only had three days...

With our flights out of Quito purchased and our curiosity of that great city and still our need to head north to Manta - we could only wish we had cut out a few days somewhere earlier in the trip. Ayampe had more for us..

But we left, yesterday morning we hopped on a commuter, through Puerto Lopez, to Jipijapa, from there switched to probably the worst/loudest bus we have experienced so far, but only had about an hour to go before arriving in Manta.

In Manta we purchased our overnight bus to Quito (making sure to procure the nicest coach in town [only $8 per person]) and then we killed some time in the area doing covert gift shopping.

The bus ride last night was less than amazing. However, knowing that we have only three bus rides left before we return (and only one really long ride: Cartagena to Medellin) we bore it.


I have been in Quito for about four hours now (arriving around 6am). Though I have seen little of the city so far, I am excited to do some exploring. Our immaculately clean and comfy hostel (Hostel Revolution) is situated more or less in the center of the historic district. The weather is cooler here (due to the altitude) which should make for some comfortable strolls around the museums and churches.

My last adventure should be a football match on Sunday, but before it is set in stone I need to find a companion (preferably a local) to keep me out of trouble. We fly out for Cartagena on the 22nd (Monday?) - so until then it is museums, churches, and markets!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Let's go there, to see better

Around 5pm on the 3rd of March we arrived in the insanity that is Lima. Any anxiety I had previously had in an urban setting was immediately dwarfed by the spastic hive that is Lima. People everywhere. Cars everywhere. Everything making noise.

Through Kaitlin's grace we made contact with our couchsurfing host - Camillo - met him outside his work - received the key and instructions as to how to find his flat - took a succession of buses:

·Without a subway, the place is totally dependent upon automobiles and there aren't enough combis (mini-buses) or collectivos to quench the demand of the more than seven million residents of Lima. With so much traffic, so much exhaust, and only a marginal attempt at order by the traffic police - what should have been a twenty minute ride in a subte or city bus, became over an hour standing and shifting as we waited our turn to move a block or two·

- and scurried into his flat in his dodgey side of town (which can be any side of town at night in an unfamiliar city when you have a backpack strapped on).

We entered and ran into some Brazilians that said there were some Germans staying, and a french guy, and some quiet people. Immediately I thought of Antti and Laura and sure enough - ten minutes later they were walking through the door. Everything was okay again...

The next day we took a combi to Miraflores. Walked, ate, and made our way to the more "artsy" district Barranco. Our quest was a cafe con leche for Laura and sure enough we found what was presented as cafe con leche. Antti, Kaitlin, and I enjoyed our juices and Laura sipped her milky concoction.

From there we made our way to the Plaza de Armas which is where the Franciscan Monestery held tours of their catacombs. Something like 25,000 people buried under the space. Quite creepy. I much prefered the part of the tour that explained the paintings and the multiple layers of friezes from times long past.

By the time our tour had ended, night had fallen on the Plaza de Armas and though up until this point I had been less than enchanted with the rather lackluster gridlocked capital - the plaza was magical. It felt immediately like I was thousands of miles from anywhere I have ever been - unlike any space I had seen in Argentina, Uruguay, or Chile.

But we had to go.. we planned to leave early the next morning - to head north to Trujillo for sun, surf, and ruins.

The eight hour bus ride north was easily forgettable. Standards for buses in Peru are perhaps on par for SA (and certainly better than the horror stories Antti and Laura told about Bolivia) - but I was much happier being spoiled by Argentine and Chilean buses - is it too much to ask for air conditioning, or a window that will open?

As always, we arrived, and immediately looked for a cab from Trujillo - 12km north to Huanchaco.


Instant highlight for me. The moment I saw the surf - I knew this would be a great part of the trip for me. After scoping out the area: a few test runs bodysurfing and seeing the range of surf shops in town - it was time to grab a board.

It had been at least two years since the last time I had surfed - and still I had no experience beyond the pee-wee waves of Lake Myrtle. Suffice it to say, the rust showed in my salty stomach as I gulped a few mouthfulls of seawater before I even came close to standing.

But eventually the timing and the technic came back and though I wasn't shredding like the big boys - I rode a few all the way home.

Easily another highlight for me was the evening Antti and I stepped into a pick-up game on a concrete court just off the beach. It was a familiar scene, the two gringos asking to play and a few snickers ripple through the group. Then the game starts and it's not long before genuine surprise is dabbled over the locals - and at the end everyone shakes your hand and tells you when they're are playing tomorrow.

Last, but certainly not least, was our excursion to the Chimu ruins of Chan Chan, Huaca Arco Iris (Rainbow Temple), Huaca Dragón (Dragon Temple), and the Moche Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) and Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun).

The sheer size of Chan Chan is impressive enough (the largest adobe structure in the world). You can see the ruins of Chan Chan scattered for kilometers between Trujillo and Huanchaco. The wall carvings are quite interesting, but my favorite aspect was the ritual pool that is still intact - after wandering through a labrynth of mud suddenly we found ourselves in a space with clear water, swaying green reeds, and waterfowls skimming to and fro.

Still, easily my favorite ruin was the Temple of the Moon. Because the Moche completely covered their old temples every hundred years, archeologist have been able to remove layers at the Temple of the Moon and reveal wall paintings that are strikingly intact:

With so much packed into only three days, it was no surprise that our time in Huanchaco flew by. With the Antti and Laura needing to make their way to Quito (from which they will fly home soon) - we resolved to leave. Kaitlin and I to what was explained as the best surf north of Trujillo - Mancora.. and Antti and Laura continuing on to Guayquil/Quito.


Around six in the morning our bus arrived in Máncora. Hugs were exchanged and then our friends were gone for a third time...

Our four days in Máncora have been okay. Our hostel is more like a B&B which has left us feeling awkward at times (it's strange to have someone changing your sheets and emptying your trash bin after months of party hostels, flats, etc..). The location (on a hill above the town) has been ideal for relaxed book reading, but also made trips to the water a bit of an ordeal.

Throw in the fact that I have been suffering the ill-effects of three straight days in the sun..and our Antti and Laura withdrawls - it has been a melancholy ending to Peru.

That being said, we are excited to move on to Ecuador. We have arranged couchsurfing in Guayquil (finally someone came through!) and will move on to more beach in Ayampe - where the water is only getting warmer.

Last thought: Kaitlin and I had the startling realization today that we have just over three weeks left down here. Taking into account that we will be blazing through Ecuador (spending no more than three days in one place) - next thing we know we'll be in Cartagena on the tale end of this journey. In a moment it is shocking, but I know that it feels right. Up to this point, we have done well. Yes, we could have stayed some places longer and left some places earlier, but overall - everything feels right and good.

More from Ecuador..

Out, again

Our last week in Buenos Aires was a melancholy one.

With our three day bus journey from BA to Lima set - there was little left to do but drink beers in Las Heras during the day and cook meals for three in the evenings while we waited for the 28th.

The 28th did eventually come and though Marko and I were amazed that the American pub "Shoeless Joe's" would have a thirty peso cover on a weeknight - without the Super Bowl - we managed our own preparation for an Old Firm to forget, for Marko.

The match was on around nine that morning and fizzy with hops we watched a rather droll encounter that had a few moments, but unfortunately for Marko - the "best" was saved for last when American midfielder Maurice Edu squibbed in the game winner in stoppage time. Those industrious Americans, always stirring up trouble..

After a nap, a bite to eat, and three or five checks to make sure everything was packed - it was time to make our way out of Buenos Aires. You say, "Suerte!" and "Safe travels!" a lot when you're on the road for this long, but rarely do you get the opportunity to mean it. And though no one believes in "Goodbyes" it's the silent truth between us all that friends a continent apart are few and far between.

But we soldiered on. Took our cab to Retiro. Waited with angst for our bus as families and television cameras greeted refugees from crumbled Santiago. Almost exactly on time our CATA International semi-cama arrived, our bags stowed, our panoramic seats seated, and off into the evening retracing our way to Mendoza.

The days on the bus were rather forgettable aside from some fallen pedestrian paths on the outskirts of Santiago (Los Andes) to La Serena and the Atacama - what everyone says looks like the surface of the moon, but to me looked more like the surface of a brownie pan... to finally Arica and the Peruvian border to Tacna. We were less than twenty-four hours from Lima and coasting.

In fact, too much coast.

The last day of the bus journey was a nightmare. The endless Peruvian desert-coast while intriguing at first (with sand dunes reclaiming the highway by the sea in some spots) became an oscillating torture of boredom and fear that the constant switchbacks and anxious bus drivers (though our's was very modest) would result in some sort of gruesome incident.

Surely, we were never that close to danger, but the imagination runs wild when the kilometers are passing one by one with no hint of Lima in sight.

However, we did eventually reach Lima, at least six hours late, around five in the evening of the 3rd of March. From the window it was clear that Lima was a different beast all together from Buenos Aires and with our first mission to find our couchsurfing host in a city of nearly eight million - we were out on our own again.