Mission: Complete?

I am so blessed to have had this opportunity in my life and would whole-heartedly encourage anyone vaguely considering taking real time out to travel this continent to get out there without hesitation. The memories I have made will surely stay with me a lifetime (thanks in part to what I have been writing… as my unassisted memory is awful…). I am really grateful to everyone who has been part of the trip and graced me with the pleasure of their company, conversation and friendship.

The blog has been a labour of love to write on my mobile (for the most part) as it’s slow work… and loading up SLR camera photos with South American wifi is generally pretty painful! But it has entirely worth it and I’m glad I have finally found the time and motivation to finish it off… eventually!

Lastly, I want to thank you as a reader for sharing in this with me, whether you have stuck with this from the beginning (really well done if that’s the case!), dipped into the occasional chapter or simply have somehow found your way here without even knowing me (Welcome…!). I would be lying if I said your interaction (and direct encouragement from some) hadn’t in a way helped me keep at it.

I hope you have enjoyed reading it… even a fraction as much as I enjoyed living it, and you are spurred on to continue (or start?!) your own adventures. Maybe you can even let me know if you are writing something yourself like some already have!

I am back in London these days, a bit less lost (maybe), a bit more accountant (definitely).

Hasta la proxima!  Until next time!, and there will be a proxima… some day.

Yours truly,

TLA

Bogotá

I got to Bogota with fairly low expectations having been told by pretty much all travellers I’d met that it wasn’t really worth the trip. Nonetheless, I was pleased with what I saw and learned about in the taxi, with the driver sharing some useful nuggets of touristy info. I checked in and fairly swiftly got chatting with a French guy, Tim, and Chilean girl who were in the reception. We decided to go out for dinner and despite having to fight a bit to not go to Maccy D’s (seriously!) I found myself in a traditional place and got a few cool local dishes and shared a bottle of wine or two between us and another guy who joined us. Then it was back to the hostel for a couple more drinks and I met a load of other people who were about and learned about there various travels, it was chilled vibe and no one really seemed mad keen for a big night out. That suited me just fine at this point.

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I am a firm supporter of kicking off with walking tours, and one of the girls, Lallas, from the night before hadn’t done the Bogota one yet so we agreed to check it out together. She also had a Bolivian other half just like me incidentally! We then went to the gold museum, which was pretty cool and some of the pieces had some interesting stories behind them. Afterwards, we took a respite from all the ‘culture’ and got a hot chocolate in a coffee shop. She was out here checking a load of stuff out semi working and semi travelling – nice way to do it I reckon.

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This is a really bad quality picture but it’s like the main attraction from the gold museum so it’s here… You’ll have to visit yourself!IMG_4558.JPG

Then it was another fairly chilled night, with hostel food dinner (they had a proper restaurant and it was really good as I recall) plus bottle of wine with Danny and Tim.

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The next morning Preena, Amy and I attempted the walk up Monserrat – a hill with a church and mini settlement on top. It was a pretty hard walk as I recall (probably because of the altitude… if memory serves it’s at 2640m ish … not as bad as La Paz, but it’s up there…pun not intended), but worth it with some really nice views of the city up there and some cool buildings to check out. Most importantly, I managed to get myself a well-deserved ice cream.

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My memory is a bit hazy but I think then we met up with a few other people including Tim to have lunch with his walking tour group as he’d just done it then. I then went off with Tim to do the ‘food’ tour and the girls did the afternoon version of the mainstream walking tour we’d already done. The food tour was awesome, I really enjoyed it getting to try some stuff I almost certainly would not have ordered otherwise and see a different part of town. Then we chilled in Tim’s hostel for the afternoon before meeting up with some others again for a Choripan (hotdog sort of).

A good few people of the crew left the next morning/the day before, I had breakfast with a couple remaining and then didn’t have much more time before I planned to leave and look at the Salt Cathedral which I’d heard was worth visit. Lallas had been out of the picture a bit recently because she had been unwell, and I learned she’d got quite a nasty cut that looked like it might be infected.. and I started wondering if that was what had been causing it. She had been to the doctor but wasn’t that confident she had understood the instructions and what she needed to take etc. I suggested going back and getting it clear with him and offered to help out with my slightly more advanced Spanish. I think we figured it out and got the necessary supplies / learned what was needed re changing dressing!

 

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The calmest of waters which looks like a mirror until you poke it and start a ripple!

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Then I said my goodbyes and moved out on my own… reminded again that it is pretty draining to make friends, live in close proximity, and then just have to leave them knowing you may never see them. Happily, as I’m writing this about a year too late I can gladly say that I managed to meet up with Tim in London since. I hope my path crosses with the others at some point too! Anyways, back to 2018, the cathedral did a fantastic job of occupying my mind from such musings with stunning scenes and an eerie/magical atmosphere to it. It was very cool, I spent quite a while there wandering around. Originally this is where salt was mined and they’ve since converted the vast caverns and hollows into a big place of worship…/ tourist attraction. I also knew shortly I would be flying back to Bolivia to help Cinthya celebrate her birthday and took this opportunity to buy her one of Colombia’s specialties around there… an Emerald!

And there it was – goodbye to Colombia, after an awesome couple of months. I’ve got so many good memories from my time in this beautiful country. If anyone wants to go to South America with only a couple of weeks and a more chilled intention, I would recommend Colombia. If you want to go harder on the adventure and culture it would probably be Peru, but the whole trip was incredible.

 

 

Cali

After salento it was onto Cali, it was a really nice hostel (mango tree) with a nice pool and communal area, friendly staff but sadly without hot water, which seems to be worryingly common in hot parts of Colombia!

I got talking pretty much straight away with a Chilean guy, Ignacio, in the same dorm and I decided to tag along with him as we wandered around the city a bit and also went to Caliwood – a very impressive cinema museum.

We showered and changed and headed out to a salsa place called “rumba y salsa” as some other people from the hostel, including the manager, were going out. We got there early and shared a couple of beers at a nearby bar before meeting up with the others. Also by a small twist of fate I ran into… Bryan, who was a salsa teacher and also the boyfriend of a friend of mine back in london who was coming to Cali shortly also. I wanted to get some lessons in and apparently the first one is free so he and I agreed to meet up at 11 the next morning. Anyway, we headed off with the rest of the hostel group to a playa called levels to dance. It was a good place, with a nice rooftop bar and a blessedly well air conditioned dancefloor!

I breakfasted and had my salsa trial the next morning, which confirmed for me that the salsa I did in Bolivia was of a different type and not going to help me much as well as enthusing me to book a 4 hour intensive course. I then met up with Ignacio back at the hostel and we headed out to explore again but in a different part of town. I tried lulada here which was recommended to me. It’s a sort of fruity sorbet… but nicer than sorbet normally is! We had understood there were salsa classes in the bar area of the hostel and so headed to that later on. Turns out it wasn’t really lessons more just loads of (fairly accomplished) students dancing with a few teachers from rumba y salsa there. One of the teachers recognised me and my lack of dancing and so paired me up with a Colombian woman who was very patient with me… and I danced for a little bit just to do all the steps I’d learned earlier that day before scuttling off back to the safety of my table with Ignacio and cocktail. We swiftly headed off after to a salsa place called la Topa Tolondra which had a band in, who were excellent. I repeated some more steps and had a drink or two before calling it a night.

The next morning was my salsa class and because Katy (my English friend and also Bryan’s girlfriend!) had arrived, was cut short to two hours. This actually worked well for me as my brain was pretty full after this but happy with the progress. Next was to meet up with Vanessa who had also been helping me learn Spanish online for over a year and fortunately we’d managed to find a time to meet up. She’d recently bought herself a house in Palmira (about 40 mins outside of Cali) and so invited me over, picking me up from the terminal on her way home from work. I had a nice chat with her family before heading out for a huge meal that was about double what we could eat.

We were up early the next day to head to Lago Calima Which took ages but was totally worth it. Lovey countryside and most importantly we got the kite surfing in which I’d wanted to do for ages and had been told this was the place to do it. It was so cool, we spent an hour on dry land learning about the equipment before heading into the water and having a go at steering the kite and dragging us around.

I managed to get the hang of it pretty quickly and eventually, after much demanding, they allowed me to have a board (which apparently doesn’t usually happen until hour 5) and I even stood up a bit. Its more pleasant than wake boarding, which I tried once, as the strain is put mainly on the harness rather than your arms!

The original plan was for a night out with Katy and Bryan as well as their friends but realised that owing to the election everywhere where alcohol was involved was shut! I still find it pretty funny that they ban alcohol during elections to keep everyone honest! So I did not do much and instead joined them at a cool place in the mountains with a pool the next day called El Arca de Noé (Noah’s Arc).

I had my other half of salsa lesson the next morning and left buzzing from the results, headed back for a quick shower past the check out time…! Oops and then headed to the airport to fly to my last stop of Colombia

Cartagena and Playa Blanca

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I got in fairly late in the day and just about managed to make it in time for dinner with a couple of Bolivian guys through Cinthya in the main square, near the famous clock tower before commencing with the touristy activities the next day.

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First up was Breakfast and a good chat with the owner who turned out to be a Brit from Brighton who had married a Colombian girl and moved his life over here. He gave me a good few recommendations plus the breakfast was incredible. Two courses, starting with a pancake and followed by a Colombian take on a fry up. I then hopped on the bus tour and made my way round the city and learned a bit of the history, this place obviously attacked a lot by the brits back in the day. It also included a walking tour of the centro histórico which was great and the place is beautiful with loads of nice restaurants and bars.

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Next I visited the San Felipe castle which was also really good. I did a self guided audio tour where you can follow a map which gives you a set track for each spot. It’s pretty clever in the way the fort is engineered and was never defeated, despite best efforts of European pirates/ invaders… including a fair amount of Brits again. That night I did the recommended chivas rumbearas (basically a party bus) and was the only non South American pretty much so got lots of spanish in and met some nice Chileans and Bolivians, as well as some Argentinians who basically had the same job as me, in a club!

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The next day I headed to Playa Blanca which was very touristy but for good reason. I opted for the bus but taking a boat is also an option. As soon as we got off 3 guys were on me to be “helpful”grabbed my suitcase and loaded it onto a boat. Absolutely no mention of how much it would cost to ferry me down to my hostel. I made an effort to agree a price and told them I didn’t need the help of all 3 of them but they weren’t interested, so I simply enjoyed the trip making a mental note that there was likely to be a battle on that fairly shortly. I was right and they initially requested something absolutely so ridiculous that I can’t imagine even the greenest of gringos would have accepted… They also tried the technique of saying that each of them deserved to get paid. I responded fairly abruptly along the lines of “Well you two did absolutely nothing except enjoy the ride, at least he carried the suitcase” and was having none of it. I ultimately gave them roughly a tenth of their original ask, and what I later found out was double what the actual fare was. In terms of how much they try and swindle you, I thought that was pretty good going.

I got settled in, and Jonathan who worked there showed me to my room. I then grabbed some lunch and went to see Steffi who I met back in Chile and her new boyfriend Tomas as we managed to link up again by some happy geographical coincidence. To be honest such things happen quite a lot so I’ve stopped being too surprised when they come about, but it’s really nice all the same. bexe4167.jpg

The hostel was powered by a generator which eventually turned itself off so people could sleep at night and it was surprisingly quiet and dark at night, not too crazy in terms of partying but there were a couple of places up the beach with drink and dance until fairly late. I decided to treat myself to a shower and after a couple of minutes searching around the shower room with nothing but a bucket in the corner, I gave up and asked how to find the shower.. a local guy who worked their with an accent I recognised as being coastal simply leant in and pointed to the bucket saying “Ducha!” i.e. that IS the shower. I cottoned on then did not have the most comfortable shower of my life.

I had a pretty Lazy day the next day and got talking to Menno and Agathe (a Dutch guy and French girl) who had recently been travelling and made their way here together. Menno and I managed to talk each other into Jet skiing which was absolutely hilarious and you could get some real speed zooming around the water, chasing each other but all with a general common sense ‘stay away from the boats and swimmers’. Very different to when I’d previously done it under more controlled conditions in Europe.

There are people walking up and down the beach shouting about their various offerings “Cervezas!” (beers) and “Masaje!” (massages). A Venezuelan lady went to start massaging my feet and I politely said no, but she wouldn’t take that for an answer and continued nonetheless saying that it was free. I couldn’t really argue with that, so waved the next guy over for a nice cold Aguila beer and let her work her magic whilst having a nice chat to exercise my Spanish. Later on we had a nice team dinner in the hostel with staff and guests alike and chatted to various people. There was a very chilled Colombian guy visiting from Medillin and an enthusiastic Israeli girl who’s Spanish wasn’t great but made up for it with charm and animation such that she was still very much part of the conversation. There were also some tiny puppies stumbling around in the sand which only added to the good vibe.

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In the morning we headed to visit the lagoon at the other end of the beach, Menno and treated ourselves to a coconut which was ridiculously cheap given the availability. Apparently one of the houses on the other side of the lagoon was Shakira’s (I don’t know if that was true, but it seemed credible!) we enjoyed our time there eventually gave up trying to guess which one was hers. Then we said our goodbyes to those at the hostel as Agathe, Menno and I all headed off together to get a nice and sweaty bus back to civilisation.

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I chilled at the hostel and the next day went up to do the tour of Volcán totumo where you climb up an extinct volcano (I think…) the crater of which is no longer teeming with steaming magma… but warm mud! (‘Lodo’) It was pretty bizarre but awesome. I enjoyed floating around and being slide around into place like a tea tray in a cantine (seriously that’s an apt analogy…I promise). It’s a pretty slick operation as they wheel you in, give you a bit of a massage then let you make you’re own way out. When you start climbing the ladder the workers swoop on to you and help you wipe off the worst of the mud as you exit.

As part of the tour we also had lunch and a visit to the beach included, I got to know some Canadian’s and Israelis learning plenty about how odd Canadian French swearing is. We tried and failed to throw a frisby around in the wind for a bit before heading back to rest and move on to the next leg of our various trips.

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Esmeraldas! (Emeralds) in the Museum

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Santa Marta, Minca and Palomino

We arrived in Santa Marta after the carnival and spent couple of days recovering with most of the medillin gang by the pool of the hostel cacao as well as eating as much as possible from the nice establishments in town, la muzzeria was our favourite. It was a fairly pretty (and insanely windy!) place but was so hot I didn’t really leave the pool side a whole amount. We had a few drinks and played some darts every now and then but I mostly was catching up with people I hadn’t spoken to in a while as well as watching some Netflix and finally finished the book I’d started before my trip but neglected shamelessly!

Next up I headed to taganga which is really not far away at all, a twenty minute taxi would do it, and got to a lovely little beach town. I’d heard mixed reviews about this place but I really like it. Spurred on by the completion of my first real spanish book, I decided it was at last time to finish my advanced open water scuba course that I’d started in 2016 but never got round to finishing. They gave me a bit of studying to do beforehand so I took it to the beach and passed the late afternoon and evening there, stopping for some dinner at a place called casita del mar which was nice enough, before heading black to the hostel to finishing my quiz. Then it was a bit of Brooklyn 99 and s chat with some Swiss girls who were also here to scuba dive, before an early night.

Up early for scuba the next day, buddying up with an Irish guy, Mark, and instructor Jorge as we headed out on the boat for a couple of nice, but not too intensive dives. I’d actually already been 30m before in the Galapagos (the required depth for the deep dive sign off) but good to do it formally. It was quite cool to see how your colour perception is affected that deep and we failed miserably at identifying a tomato at that depth, mark went for lemon and I reckoned a peach. Jorge also cracked an egg open for us and it the yolk stayed fully intact due to the pressure, you could even grab it and throw it to some extent and watch it float away, which made me think it was probably the closest I would get to experiencing the quirks of space travel!

Officially signed as advanced divers now, off we went for well deserved some lunch and were joined by a spanish girl, Maria, who was staying in the hostal moving from room to room painting them in exchange for bed and some pay. Seemed like a pretty good deal! Later on I chilled on the beach with some dinner and micheladas whilst enjoying the live music.

Picked up Mark in taxi the next morning and went on to Minca with a small drama trying to find a hostel and the taxi struggling with the tight roads but ended up in a place called buena vista, which as the name suggested had an awesome view of santa Marta in the distance and the surrounding countryside. After subtly plugging the hostels own food capabilities the manager (and also chef as it turned out…) recommended a place down the road called bururake and we had an amazing lunch of passion fruit chicken and bbq pork. The service was a bit slow but had nice scenery and the food was well worth the wait. We enwquired into a tour the next day with ‘Jungle Joe’ and I went for an hours walk or so around a nice scenic place called pozo azul and we had a fairly chilled night with some others in the hostal.

The next day we did our jungle joe tour which I would highly recommend. It was a nice but not challenging hike with some waterfalls and a ‘natural slide’. We went to his house afterwards and learned about bamboo use in architecture, which was impressively demonstrated in his house itself, as well as the chocolate making process in the areas surrounding it.

Next it was on to a coffee plantation to learn about that and get involved in identifying which beans could be picked and the resultant types of coffee that they created. Dinner was great, at an Argentinian steak place accompanied by some lovely beers and I even got a bit of an Irish lesson!

Up for breakfast the next day and Fernando who owned the hostel happened to be heading to palomino, our next stop, so took us along with some French guys we were sharing the room with. We got to our hostel ok but the French guys had a bit of a palava in that theirs was along the beach and required some motorbike assistance for the last leg… but we assume they got there fine eventually! Mark also lost the Rock Paper Scissors tournament meaning he was in the boot until the first drop off! We stopped of for a snack on the way eating some local things called Bonos… which were divine. We checked out the beach and went for a dip in the pool before dinner and met a couple of people in the hostel, tiki hut. Nice place but terrible cocktails. Then we went to the neighboring hostel, the dreamer for a drink. I bumped into a couple of people I met back in santa Marta, not too surprisingly with this trail being fairly well trodden. We also met a welsh uber driver about our age who apparently worked for 8-9 months of the year then travelled the rest. Sounded like a pretty sweet way of life for a while.

Up and went for a walk on beach and Tomas who I met all the way back in Uruguay ages ago spotted me! This was pretty crazy in itself but also compounded by the fact he ran into Joao fortuitously a bit beforehand as well in Brazil thus reuniting the trio we had in the hostel room in Montevideo. Mark and I went tubing down the river later on which is a definite must… but for goodness sake protect yourself from the sun… we did our best but still got fairly burned. The waters were also a bit shallow this time of year which involved some walking annoyingly… except for where some local kids decided it would be fun to pull me along, which was ideal. Then it was a late lunch at the dreamer followed by a pretty public massage in the hostel room… had assume the masseur had their own studio but no apparently not. We then ended this ‘ highly stressful’ day at media luna for dinner. The mains were ok but after having some amazing brownies at the dreamer earlier the one I had there was awful, wine very expensive for what it was but you shouldn’t really go to Colombia for the wine anyway. Lesson learned.

Berakfast the next day and I had, by another big coincidence, bumped into a girl I met in Brazil foz de Iguazú, Viola, who grabbed my number in case we overlapped as both heading the same direction before I parted ways with Mark and went onwards to the lovely Cartagena

Salento

I stopped by in Medellin again for a few days to break up the trip from Cartagena to Cali. It’s a great city and I was so glad to be back in the land of hot showers, reasonable temperatures and free from mosquitoes! I managed to squeeze in seeing Luisa, Alberto and Norida again. I had an amazing white chocolate fondue, saw a couple of prospective venues for Alberto’s new tattoo shop as well as finally… I went to Gautapé with Norida and a couple of friends. Definitely worth it, and despite having to wake up early I motored up the steps of the peñol stone which is huge… and we were rewarded with an awesome view. I also treated myself to a michelada with mango biche.

Norida kindly waved me off at the terminal and I had long day travelling then got to salento at last with a two hour bus delay and snuck into bed as quietly as possible in the hostel, estrellas sin fronteras which was run by a really nice French guy.

Oats and yoghurt for a basic breakfast then spoke briefly to a Dutch guy, Tony, who was heading with a French girl to do the main hike here in the valley of corocora. He invited me to tag along with them so we headed out together to the plaza and made our way to the starting point hanging out the back of a jeep. Some great scenery on the hike as well as a few dubious bridges and we saw the famous wax palm trees which I was told are the tallest in the world here and that’s believable given how they grow significantly higher than the rest of the surrounding canopy. Near the top of the mountain we took a break to visit the house of hummingbirds and observe these cute creatures for a while and get some lunch in before heading back. My knees were a bit sore so I headed back the way we came and forewent the rest of the loop… really should get these looked at as they haven’t been right since peru…! We got a solid amount of table tennis in and went out for a nice dinner altogether with a couple more people in the hostel. I had a quesadilla and a peanut butter brownie milkshake. It was amazing! I ate half and had the other half of both for lunch the next day!

The next day Tony and I headed to the ocaso coffee farm and did a cool tour there overlooking some beautiful landscapes and ending with the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. We made our way back to the plaza for lunch but this time using a Jeep as my knees were failing again. Such an old man. We played a load more table tennis and chilled for the rest of the afternoon before heading out for dinner.

I mentioned that I really wanted to play some Tejo at some point and later that night as if by magic an American guy came up to us and said he was going to play some with a Belgian girl also in the hostal if anyone wanted to join, so I went with them. He was a curious fellow who “didn’t believe in names”. I wasn’t sure if he was for real with this, but for the purpose of practicality opted to give him the name of Alejandro, which stuck for the night. Anyways, the game was good fun and Alejandro managed to find another group of girls outside bolstering our numbers to the recommended eight (two teams of four). The game is essentially lobbing rocks at a bed of clay with a horseshoe in the middle and you get points for blowing up little sachets of gunpowder or landing your rock in the middle of the horseshoe.

Medellin

Having jetted off to resume the adventure I found myself in Medellin without a bag, which had apparently been left in Bogotá. A form was filled out and I made my way to hostel la playa and rooftop, which is a great hostel. Each bed has its own fan and power sockets, plus there is a cool bar on the rooftop. I stayed around the reception, making the odd exploratory foray but without venturing too far lest my bag arrive without me being there. The “two hours” promised came and went without a cursory hint of luggage. I got there at 7 and the bags arrived around 6! A bit of a waste of a day dozing semi conscious on a sofa but oh well!

I met a lot of cool people at the hostel from europe, the states and other travellers from the South America itself. It seems pretty popular with Argentinians as they arrived in great numbers. I was thinking this might be as a result of it being a richer country and so coming here is pretty sweet for them costs wise as it is for me.

I wandered around a bit more, tried the cable car to get a cracking view of the city with a German guy, sorted my Colombian SIM card and tasted the local typical dish

Dinner bandeja paisa… Which is mental, I counted 4 different meat portions and 4 different carbohydrates. I didn’t have much of an appetite generally that night and that was a mistake. If you want to take this on… go hungry first!

The next day we did the main free walking tour, which is where most of the photos so far are from. I have had some really good ones in my trip, shout out to Santiago’s which is probably second but this one topped it. It was so damn interesting and also chilling at times learning about the grisly history. Our guide was telling us about seeing dead people on street as he walked to school as a child. The city has made a massive recovery since dispatch of its most famous criminal, and a lot of working is going into improving it further still. We also ate some nice food and drink by the guides suggestion whilst in town and got back to the safety just in time to witness a massive thunderstorm! Once this cleared I had some awesome chicken at a place called burdo nearby in the neighbourhood, Poblado.

My main goal for being here was to try and perfect my spanish and formally get some lessons to get rid of any bad habits/ cover off the last of things I was struggling with. So, I spent most of the day researching schools and doing as many assessment tests as I could before heading to a language exchange event and met a couple of cool locals I reckoned is try and practise with some other time. I then went back to the hostel and got roped into singing despacito. Ok in fairness I didn’t need much convincing. The shock of a gringo singing a spanish song apparently warranted an encore which I was not prepared for… so did an ed sheeran song, which is one of the ten or so non latin songs that are super popular here.

It was out to a place called la octava that ultimately became a favourite… I think I’ve been there four times now. It has a ball pit!! Then we headed to a couple of spots on the main drag near parque lleras to dance the rest of the night away with bottles of aguardiente, the local spirit, in tow.

The next day I had lunch with a mate of mine from university, Danny, and heard about his story of how he came to live here with his girlfriend Katy and what he was up to now. I also got some good tips, especially in respect of private spanish teachers. The schools had said they didn’t have classes at the right level available right now and the private lessons they offered were very expensive, as I found out from my interview at a school in envigado straight after the lunch. I wandered around this neighbourhood a bit before getting a bus back, chatting with an old guy and getting my own verse in a song sung by a troubadour busking on the bus.

I went paragliding with Angie, a girl from the states I’d met in the hostal, the next day and it was awesome!! I’d never done this before and got some great views of bello to the north as well as the rest of Medillin from the view point afforded by the airspace of san felix. We then went around the botanical garden, caved into the temptation of some ice cream ahead of another night out including a further visit to la octava. I had the most amazing post night snack which was a sort of salchipapa type dish (sausage, chips and cheese). Super healthy…

I had a nice brunch with a Swiss guy called Rafael who had been with us, followed by a Steet art tour in comuna 13 a different part of the city undergoing (and needing) some development. We had some nice local Ice cream watched some Body popping and even had a mini dance lesson at the end of it. Bridge, from Holland and future spanish lesson partner!, joined us a nice dinner at an Indian restaurant after to mark the end of Rafas stay.

The next day Bridge and I had our first Spanish lesson and it was really good, we then had another one the next day with a different teacher… and it was also really good. It was tough to pick our favourite so we tried to do both but ultimately decided it didn’t make sense to try and run in parallel and would be better off sticking to the one to benefit most. That night I went to another language exchange event and found a street fighter machine at a place called vintrash!!

I became a bit nocturnal for a couple of days and went to another Language exchange in the next and learned a lot of local slang, followed by karaoke again then out. We went to a salsa place which was awesome! Called son Havana. There was a live band which was brilliant and we were joined by a few more Dutch girls as well as a lovely Irish couple that formed a solid part of the crew going forward. Then back for some more dancing at parque lleras.

I woke up fairly late and spent a while trying to convince myself to leave the comfortable hammock and get some lunch. Fortunately the Uruguayan guy dude offered to cook some risotto so I made a token effort of helping by slicing up some veg and we had a really nice meal with the Argentinian guy also. I did some language exchange in poblado park with a girl who lived in a different part of town called Luisa, and got a michelada for the first time in a while. They seem a bit different in Colombia and don’t have the spice to which I had become accustomed but it was still a refreshing way to drink beer. I had another language exchange event that night in the envigado neighbourhood and by chance bumped into Bridge in town who was on her way to dinner with some local friends of hers in the same sort of area so we shared the bus, which was nice until I accidentally smacked her in the head with my phone on the way out… sorry Bridge!

The intercambio exchange at Colombia immersion school here in envigado was packed and had a good atmosphere. It was great to interact with some locals who were fairly beginner at English but super keen to learn and really nice. It did get a bit rowdy and difficult to hear but all good natured. I met a couple of people from my trial class earlier in the week and was tempted to go out with the group from there but already had plans with the hostel crew so headed back and had a few drinks. We also Ran into group of people that worked at the hostel who were all great, and went to a really intense place called Calle 9+1 between Calle 9 and Calle 10. Arguably Calle 9.5 would have been better name? Most people called it a day after that but I was still keen to keep going as well as a nice Venezuelan who was holding birthday balloons so felt compelled to carry on! We headed to a place miles away called top secret. It had great music and a friendly atmosphere. There was a blind girl strutting her stuff with her guide dog inside as well which was cool, not something I’d seen before! Out of nowhere Bridge appears with the friends she had dinner with and we rejoiced at the second random reunion of the day. It was light by the time we decided to leave and attempted to wait outside for an Uber. The bouncer strongly advised we stayed indoors until it arrived and used the cameras to see when it pulled up. Apparently in this part of town Its pretty dangerous waiting outside at this hour. Said the goodbyes and finally hit the hay, promising in vain that I’d take it a bit easier tomorrow.

I met another friend, Norida, in a Juan Valdez coffee shop (there are loads of these everywhere) and had a really good Language exchange tandem before heading to Dancefree for a formal event and had a really good chat about computer programming (Nerd Alert) with a dude who did it for a living, and I’d never really spoken in Spanish about it before. I wasted no opportunity talking about the only two things I’ve done in my life that vaguely resemble writing code. Then it was a free dance class… I was erroneously expecting salsa but it was some Brazilian dance I’d never heard of called kozumba… I think. Norida had to leave to catch the last metro and I didn’t stay much longer afterwards but finished the class not entirely sure what I’d just learned but it was certainly pretty energetic. On the way home for a relatively early night… I bumped into Koen from the Galapagos! With his friend Erwin (if I’m spelling that right…) We had a few beers and went to Vintrash again with some Brazilian guys. I spoke with an American who came here all the time on business and he gave me some caipirinha which was nice, spoke with a Colombian dude for yet more Spanish practice and a girl who apparently was an actress in Colombia but in stuff I would never have heard of. Then left that place to head to another area in taxi with a guy from Zimbabwe, Erwin and some Aussie girls.

We danced a bit and spoke to more locals, then finished with a nice bit of drama as the Zimbabwean guy had left leaving one of the Aussies (apparently his girlfriend) behind in the club. Think it was some sort of misunderstanding but we dropped her back to their hotel in a taxi and finally home. Fingers crossed all well!

Slack rope in the park with Bridge who was a budding pro at this, I even managed to get a couple of carefully timed videos that look like I’m doing it. It’s really really hard! Good work out for the legs though. I then a call from my Brazilian friend Amanda (I met in Chile) who had the American boss coming so wanted to practise some English and so I asked questions about what she’d been in her job as a food safety engineer. Pretty interesting actually!

Bridge and I continued with the Spanish lessons, making some good progress on some pretty advanced stuff and had a cool lesson in the park one day. I did more language exchanges with Norida and went to a cool free concert in the park with Luisa and some of her friends/ family which marked the end of a recent festival. The band was called the suffers, from Texas I’d not heard of before but were really good! I finally bought myself a basketball to make the most of the nearby court and played with Norida and Koa who were both pretty damn competent I have to say. Also played a game with some locals / other random travellers which was absolutely exhausting! There was kid who was tiny but just kept sinking basket after basket from distances where you would have thought he didn’t need to be marked… suffice to say I am glad he was on my team!

The day too quickly arrived where we were all pretty much leaving the hostel, except Alberto who was part of the group but worked there! We had a last hurrah together including an emotionally charged rendition of piano man in karaoke. It was just Koa who was going to stay on but this changed impulsively after watching Star Wars around 3 am having come back and he got his ticket to leave in about three hours time. I have to say he’s an awesome cook and did Korean chicken thighs for us and a take on kfc another. General consensus being it was arguably the best we’d ever had.

The day after I met up again with Riza that I met from Brazil and we had a nice lunch followed by wandering around estadio for a bit. Really nice to see her again, it had a been a while! Apparently she’d spotted me in a class at dancefree but wasn’t sure it was me so we exchanged texts after!

I then left the hostel in order to live with a Colombian family and knuckle down on the Spanish. The benefit here is that the parents didn’t speak English, their son could but humoured me with Spanish anyway giving me an immersive experience. That coupled with a daily one on one lesson really paid dividends and as I write this I’m feeling pretty fluent now but obviously more vocab can always be learned. And slang, I will never learn all the slang.

They were all lovely and I managed to have some nice chats with them, the son Jose was learning guitar so I did a bit with him and gave some tips and encouragement etc. As well as learning some new music based vocab! The dad was an accountant too! So we nerded it up a bit, sharing information and mostly new words for me. Thrilling, I’m sure you will agree… I also checked out the UPB (university) and spent some time in the library. Easy to get in, you just need to register with a passport free.

In my almost two weeks there I managed to work my through a load of nice eateries of the Laureles neighbourhood. I highly recommend this place, it’s really nice and makes a welcome break from the touristy/ nightlife driven world of poblado. After three weeks in the hostel going out at least half the time it was a welcome change up for mind body and soul. I went to visit Norida for lunch with her mum and had a nice walk around Copacabana which is lovely. Have to note a special mention to the most massive avocado I have ever seen that graced our presence for lunch. Apparently it’s normal here.. but it was like a melon… I could barely eat the whole slice given to me along with the massive lunch. Wasting food is absolutely not an option here so I made a big effort to eat it all but it took some time. The three of us chatted a lot and it got a bit late to make it all the way back so in a dazzling display of Colombian hospitality I was invited to stay over, and got Noridas bed as she shared with her mum. I couldn’t believe it really… that would never happen back home!!

I managed to see Alberto and Denis one more time and eat some amazing ribs at a fairly inappropriately named restaurant back in poblado “fu*in good ribs”. In fairness the name is accurate albeit vulgar and they only open Fridays and Saturdays so make sure you take note if any danger of being there. I recommend it wholeheartedly. I also went to Santa Elena in the vicinity with Luisa who kindly picked me up in her car and we had some awesome pizza and drink, went to the lord of the rings themed magic mountain, and ate some delicious merengon. This is merengue with fruit and a bucketload of cream. It’s amazing but we got it form a street stall and I was very ill the next day… I don’t think it was a coincidence.

I got over it with a days rest and some local tips, then onwards to carnival!… which I’ve already uploaded…

Carnaval! Barranquilla

Medillin episode isn’t finished but should really come before this…

It was an early start as I needed to rise at 3.30 to get my flight. I’d booked fairly late on so only myself to blame but at least got a few hours in a nice bed which I still maintain is better than a dastardly night bus… but obviously does a lot more damage to the wallet. I sleepily seemed unable to speak spanish but fortunately the airline staff coped. What’s more… I got bumped up to business class for both my flight to bogota and Barranquilla (yes you can go directly if you book far enough in advance unlike me). The flight was pleasant enough despite the hour but I was then struck by the heat as soon as I felt the sun when I left the safety of the airport air conditioning. I was also immediately mobbed by some kids asking for money who then stayed with me for the next 15 minutes or so as I waited for a bus. A taxi driver told me I was being stingy after rejecting his offer and wanting to take the bus (by rubbing an elbow with the opposite hand which apparently means that). Anyway, getting the bus isn’t that tourist friendly if I’m honest but some other dude helped me get the right one. I’m pretty sure I got overcharged by a whopping 50p but was not going to argue.

I planned to meet up with the Medillin group in hotel acuario where Rafa was staying and by some canny bus play was able to get dropped off less than two blocks away which was an absolute result having expected to need a taxi for the final bit. Bridge then turned up shortly after, a good few hours earlier than her sister who had opted for the night bus which was inevitably delayed, followed by Nick who had no such excuse for being late other than being distracted by others in his Airbnb. We cracked on with the first águila (beer) of the day and went shopping for some brightly coloured attire and other festival equipment, namely a cheeky shot cup you hang around your neck with a cord for drinking aguardiente/ what ever else is going round. Quite a clever idea I thought, but I realise these guys probably have all the experience in the world for partying – there’s bound to have been some wisdom developed. It was just nick, Rafa and I that had tickets for the stand today and Bridge was going to chill out a while waiting for Kirsten so we parted ways and headed to the stands/bleachers (balcones).

After some apparently deliberate misdirection from guys tauting for other stands that weren’t the ones for Which we had tickets we eventually found the spot and gleefully headed up to take our place spectating the battle of flowers (batalla de Flores). It was awesome, and sorry to anyone from Jersey, but it’s Someone better than the one there! Thousands of people, amazing costumes, celebrities of varying degrees and a cacophony of traditional and current music. Everyone is in high spirits, drinking, laughing and throwing around foam or cornflour… maybe the latter was mostly us but all in the vicinity got involved. Voluntarily or otherwise 😎. There was meant to be free beer *while stocks last. They didn’t last. Obviously and I think we got literally 1 tin among all three of us the whole day… but when a can is £1 and you have a bottle of aguardiente already it’s genuinely fine.

Then it was back to the Airbnb by myself to catch up with the Dutch girls before going for really nice Mexican, eventually being found again by nick and Rafa ahead of us all making our way to la troja (I think that’s name). This is a cool place where the streets are filled with fellow carnivalers until the early hours. We met a load of locals and had a great time, until I succumbed to fatigue of the early start and a hefty first half of my carnival weekend.

Up and breakfast then next morning surprisingly painless given the partying the night before but we went to bed pretty early relatively speaking which must have helped. I slowly made my way to meet up with Rafael and head into the stands once again, but this time with Bridge and Kirsten. We didn’t hear much from Nick but apparently he had made a new friend the night before so left him to it. We were also joined by Chris who we also knew from Medillin and had an excellent day at the parade. I bought myself some foam and early on and promptly got into a war with a kid who adopted the tactic of climbing beneath the bleachers and surprise attacking from behind. Reinforcements arrived in the form of Rafa buying a bottle himself and giving me a hand… by the time the actual carnival started I found myself with an empty cylinder and soaked! Ah well, another bottle cost little over a pound so no great shakes to reload.

When the parade was over we walked the streets a bit and stopped at an impromptu party where they had a fairly simple but effective speaker set up and no shortage of good cheer. Nick also turned up eventually! By this point it was getting dark and I realised that my prescription sunglasses would no longer cut the mustard. I headed back and pre hailing a taxi managed to stack it and slice my hand on some broken glass… so once again looked a bit of a sorry state trying to get the cab. However, with contact lenses in and rudimentarily patched up I headed back out to rejoin the crew. Some musicians from the parade had joined in and were playing for us there it was awesome! I have a video of a guy rocking out with a clarinet right next to me in the crowd. Everyone was really nice, sharing rum and dance moves (I had a good time failing to learn any).

Next we headed to the Main Street party in a nearby part of town. We couldn’t get in the normal entrance and instead headed round the back way which was guarded by police but we got in without too much hassle surprisingly (and without shelling out anything for the privilege!). The party was epic! A huge amount of people there and we met a nice group of locals and danced some more, this time helping them with their aguardiente.

Finally the last stop of the day was a club called barullo another cab ride away and met up with some friends Rafael had made earlier in the day, our number steadily decreasing as one by one people resigned themselves to defeat. Given the state we were in (flour-wise) I don’t know how we got in to be honest. The last of us left pretty late on and I got a taxi back to the Airbnb hoping Bridge or Kirsten would be conscious to let me in! No worries in the end and got some much needed rest.

The next morning was tough, and I shamelessly chowed down on my second maccie Ds of the weekend with relish. Excuse the pun, but it’s genuinely quite cool here – you get to help yourself to variety of sauces and get free reign over the gherkins and jalapeños! We thought about heading to the carnival again to squeeze in an hour or so before our bus left… for all of about 30 seconds and instead opted to chill out a bit, go for a walk and grab a detox smoothie. Even the prospect of dinner seemed a bit much so we just grabbed some snacks for the ride.

Thanks so much Barranquilla, I’ve had an absolute blast here! Loved it.

The Galápagos Islands

I arrived to Guayaquil, Ecuador, pretty late thanks to the bus and had the skeleton crew manning the hotel (North Star). I’d picked this place because it was close to the terminal. The room was quite nice and had a fridge in it! The aircon didn’t work though so I’m wondering if it was a sort of DIY fix!! I was also surprisingly told breakfast was 9-11 which was good as I wanted to get a decent amount of sleep. It wasn’t. It ended at 9… sigh, apparently the girl that told me this error was new.

I spent the morning looking at galapagos tours last minute. Very curious that the system involves leaving a message and waiting for a response when it genuinely is last minute (some even seemed to be selling for same day!), a phone number might make more sense.

I tried a local place with some food I’d never heard of but spent most of the day hunting down trips for the Galápagos Islands. I’d cut it pretty fine as usual, leaving it to the day before and there was a bit of a palava trying to get cash out for a minimum cash payment as well as secure flights with a nearby shop as well (according to skyscanner there were no flights but fortunately that was a lie). After a bit of frantic running around I was booked in for 8 day’s on the islands, with 5 of them being a cruise.

I was pretty excited about this so perhaps was why I didn’t sleep too well. Either way I was up and made it in good time to the airport for the two hour flight to the Galápagos Islands, Baltra in particular was the name and was greeted by the tour guide Rafael and herded onto a bus with a few other tourists making up the 16 strong group on our boat. We got the the harbour and on to our boat for an int introduction to the crew and the standard safety briefing which included a drill with our life vests on the top deck. It was a nice vessel with a good common area and plenty of space to sunbathe!

The first stop was Islote Mosquera which is effectively a small mass of sand surrounded by some rocks, which as these islands are all volcanic, are black and igneous. We walked around a little in the sand learning some more about the flora and fauna, seeing a few sea lions before getting stuck in to some snorkelling. Admittedly there was not a great deal going on – just a few different types of fish and one shoal, so a Dutch guy called Koen and I decided to try off a different part nearer some sea lions. Low and behold a curious pup was staring at us and eventually joined us in the water with its mum joining shortly after so we managed to get a nice bit of footage with the cameras. I apparently got too excited at the start and didn’t press the button properly!.. but got another chance later on. Then it was back on the boat for some chill time, dinner and a beer before bed.

Early start the next morning for breakfast and a 7 am start at one of the island in plazas near Gordon rocks (which I noted as had been recommended as a good place to scuba dive so I may be back here after my cruise…). The early start was thanks to the fact that a massive 100-man boat was going to be there at 7.30 and Rafa wanted us ahead of them. It was pretty cool, we saw lots more sea lions, avian species and some iguanas – including a pair having a fight over a nearby female which was pretty cool. I couldn’t believe how close we were able to get and how tame the animals were…. they were literally right in front of you and didn’t care much that you were here. We even saw a mum sea lion nursing it’s pup right on the designated walking trail. Then it was back to boat to sail to Santa Fe, where we saw lots of sea lions, land iguanas and an eagle. In the dinghy back to the boat we came across a good few sharks right by the boat as well as sting rays in formation. Overnight sail to isla Española but still slept really well despite the rocking.

The next day I came across my first turtle whilst snorkelling, but it wasn’t doing much other than hiding under a rock so I left it be and moved on quite quickly. Later we headed to Punta Suárez and were pretty amazed with the marine iguana population. There were so many of them everywhere! Apparently this is the only place in the world you find marine iguanas and seeing them swim around looking for food was awesome. Further into the island we came across a load of Albatross, with a few chicks who, thought not yet able to fly, would be making the long trip to the waters at the south of South America, which is a substantial distance from here. The albatross is one of the few true marine birds meaning it can live without shore for long periods of time. We also saw several pairs of Nazca booby, which lay two eggs and the chicks battle at birth with only one survivor! We enjoyed the scenery around the cliffs and chilled out by the blowhole which shot up a spray of water under pressure whenever a big wave came into the cave beneath.

The last full day was at Isla Santa María where we started at Post office bay, so named because of its history of being where the post was dealt with for the islands for quite a long time… since the pirates in the 1700s. It’s still used a nice tourist attraction where you can put in a postcard into the barrel and hopefully another tourist will pick it up and endeavour to deliver it by hand. There were a couple for London I spotted so I have taken them with me for delivery when I eventually return home.

We then went snorkelling off the shore there and saw loads of turtles feeding on the plant life by the nearby rocks. Next up we got back on the boat and moved a shirt distance to Devils crown which had some amazing snorkelling, easily the best of the trip, also with some savage currents and it got pretty ropey at one point. As well as the many huge shoals of fish, I also saw Golden ray and white tipped shark, it was great. Then as though that wasn’t enough, an Aussie guy from our group spotted what he said was a whale from the dinghy as we were heading back to the boat. Unexpectedly (for me) our guide humoured him and we went speeding off in that general direction, we were all peering out in the distance when suddenly something big breached right in front of the boat, it was a 6-7 metre juvenile hump back whale. What an absolute treat. Within a matter of seconds half of us were back in the water frantically swimming after it and for the faster of us, were rewarded with the amazing experience of swimming with a whale and I even got some on my mini camera. Koen made an awesome video which includes a clip of this:

Flamingo lagoon and walk around Punta cormorán. Baking heat in high noon but we saw a penguin zipping along the shoreline trying to catch fish that were jumping out of the water to try and evade capture.

The next day a few of us waved goodbye to the cruise vessel and after a quick visit of the Darwin centre on Santa Cruz Island, the remaining guests staying on for a bit longer also. The centre itself was interesting with a lot of information in the flora and fauna of the islands, efforts to restore endemic populations along with the past and present threats to its success.

In the afternoon I checked into a hostel with two guys from the cruise also sticking around on these beautiful islands for a couple of days more. We then took a taxi to El Chato which is a nature reserve for giant tortoises and has three lava tunnels that you can walk through. We also larked about a bit inside some old tortoise shells, which if nothing else should give an idea of the intense scale of these guys… they can be 150kg plus and live 200 years.

Unfortunately they became endangered as a result of pests humans introduced as well as humans themselves… and there are records of ships taking loads of the animals on board to provide fresh meat over the duration of their voyages as you don’t need to feed them much and it’s not like they will get away… then it was back for dinner and a short trip to a couple of dive shops to kit out for the next couple of days of scuba is lined up earlier in the afternoon!!

I went to a couple of spots with Koen including las grietas which is a cool spot a short water taxi and walk away from the main dock. You can swim in the relatively warm water in a mini cañón.

My last couple of days in galapagos were focused on scuba diving and both days I got day trips out on a boat for a morning dive, lunch and afternoon dive at Mosquera and Gordon rocks as I’d hoped. I got very lucky with availability and hit the spots I wanted. I had dinner and drinks with Koen and a few Dutch/German guys we’d met and on the last night shared a bottle of wine with the hotel staff back in Guayaquil before my departure from the airport the next day.

Stopover in Peru…

Unhelpfully the agent I had booked my flight with had cancelled my ticket without telling me and as I write this I’ve still not received anything other than an order confirmation from them. I found this out after thinking to visit the Atrapalo agency in Santiago only to find its the head office or something like that and not useful for customers. I guess I should have spotted the S.A. Suffix at the end of the name like LTD in the UK as a hint… I then got back to the hostel to phone them and had a fruitless argument. I eventually got an apology but it was hard fought after asking how I was supposed to know this without communication. Apparently the problem was the payment didn’t work, the representative suggested as a result of my card being in dollars or something like that, which it isn’t… I can take cash out in all currencies I’ve tried in South America including Chilean pesos… so despite not being the problem wasn’t even the point. I just about made it to the airport in time to buy a ticket $200 more expensive. Ouch. I complained to the airline rep and said it was your agent who messed up and he advised me to complain directly to them… as expected but I wanted to get that advice anyway in case somewhere down the line I get told I should have said something to them.. GRR!! Rant over…

After being shafted for the extra fare the flight went without a hitch and pretty soon I touched down in Lima for the second time in my trip/ life. I was pretty hungry and so wasted no time getting myself in front of a Rocotto relleno and chicha morada. Delicious. I got talking to an American dude collecting investment for deep sea exploration, having apparently changed from life as a consultant. I made a swift exit after paying and nearly managed to get to the taxi in one go but got accosted again by some school kids trying to interview gringos… again.

I got to the hostel (Loki hostel lima, quite a renowned party hostel chain) and started to unpack and head for a shower. I briefly met a Canadian guy, Josh and later some Chileans in the room, who had been out for a tiring day, were from my previous stop – Santiago! I left them to it as they collapsed on beds. I was pretty tired myself but there was a good buzz in the bar so I went down for a quick drink just to soak up the atmosphere and buy the odd transport ticket, being pretty antisocial in the corner of the bar. The Chileans found me a bit later on and we got talking so the one drink turned into more, the girls were friendly with the staff and so a fair few free drinks materialised for the group which happily included me at this point.

It got a bit chaotic but was fun, with various levels of understanding exactly what was going on with the other Chileans that also seemed to have popped up. It was cool to have a change from only being with Europeans in hostels which had been the case most of the time.

The next day I met up with my friend from my first Lima visit and spanish practice before my trip, Karina. We headed to the Catacumbas where we saw an impressive but also slightly unnerving collection of bones in crypts underneath an impressive church. It was pretty amazing but annoyingly you weren’t allowed photos… so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I did manage to get a couple of legal photos later on in the church itself though. By the time we re-emerged there was some form of celebration going on with fireworks, dancing and music. Not sure exactly what it was for but it looked and sounded good!

We headed off from the church and went around trying a load of different local street food: Anti cucho Pancita, Rachi, Corazón de vaca (various viscera… didn’t like much except the cow heart was pretty good!). Then some very sugary things which I definitely needed to keep me awake: Mazamorra morada (fruity sugary purple goo), Arroz con leche (rice pudding) and picarones (donut type things with syrup). Then we strolled around the centre which was really nicely decorated for Christmas. It’s so strange being warm around Christmas and I’m not really feeling it yet but it’s really close!! Much kudos to Karina who as always had everything planned to the letter. I got back pretty late and decided against heading to the bar given my failed attempt for a quick one the night before and desperately needing some rest, Josh turned up soon after and we had a chat before the Chileans, Daniela, Andreas and Coni turned up. Not joining them at the party gained us the response of “Que Fome!” (How boring!) but nonetheless I felt pretty happy with choosing sleep this night.

We said goodbye to Andres who was heading off the next day and headed to the markets (famous but I’d somehow heard of) Polvos azules. Josh needed a new phone cable and was offered the gringo price of 50 soles, the girls sort of smiled patronisingly and suggested we just left them to it. Sure enough, about five minutes and a couple of stalls later the same cable was produced for a price of 10 soles and after a quick check it worked the deal was done. That’s basically £12.50 down to £2.50 so they clearly knew their stuff. We grabbed some food at the Kennedy plaza, I had some nice “pollo borracho al Oporto” (drunk chicken in port, great name) and was again reminded, with the aid of eating bits of other people’s food as well, that Peruvian cuisine was awesome!!

Karina joined later on after her day volunteering at an international surf competition (Peru won!!) for the hostel party as well as a girl Josh had met the other day and we kicked off with some darts and beer pong as the bar quickly filled up with guests and locals. A fair amount of my final bill was accrued this night. A good send off for my last night in the Loki!

The next day we said goodbye to the Chilean as Josh and I moved on to another (quieter!!) hostel and they went back home. It was dimmed a bit as one of the girls had had quite a bit of dollars and pesos taken from a locker!! I met up with Karina later on to see the Pachamama ruins (very impressive) just outside the city. We were somewhat delayed by the fact our bus drove into the back of a car that was changing lanes. I had said fairly recently that given the habits here I was amazed I hadn’t seen any crashes and clearly jinxed it henceforth… It was worth it when we got there though, with a nice museum and some cool old temples that had been excavated as well as some nice views of the beach and valley. I shovelled down some pretty tasty Chifa (Peruvian Chinese food, very cheap) for sustenance earlier on and just about had energy to get some pizza in the evening before a very quiet night relative to recent behaviour.

I had a serious Taxi saga trying to get to the bus terminal the next day with two drivers trying to swindle me. The second one i agreed the price in advance then later checked he was going to the right address only to be told that no actually where I wanted to go would cost me a lot more. Shocking behaviour when I had seen it all in writing in the receptionists phone app back at the hostel (a bit like uber). I said flat out, if he’s not prepared to honour it what was agreed, take me back and was glad that a good nights rest (relatively) had restored my spanish and appetite to fight my own corner. Back at the hostel before opening the boot, he demanded I give him something as it wasn’t his fault on the basis the app didn’t tell him the address. I said ok, show me the job on your app to which he said it was too late as it had been cancelled now. So I then said let’s look for a new job, because I bet it tells you the destination… he was obviously lying and at this point said ok no need to pay anything. So after the second taxi i was back at the starting point, without losing money but quite a bit of time in what would have otherwise been a very relaxed journey. I was furious, and genuinely shaking – this had not been my experience here at all last time. I gave up on the receptionists options and got an uber Which was great, far cheaper than what the other two had tried to fleece me for (despite me being told a price originally much cheaper than uber) and the driver was really nice so he definitely deserved a good tip!

I’d been using the website bus bud to see what was going on re ground transport but was really hoping it was wrong about saying that after 10 am the following morning there were no more buses to Guayaquil. Nonetheless I took my 18 hour trip pondering whether to take that 10am slot (planned arrival 8.30am in mancora) or Stay a few days until the next one and enjoy the beach and party life of mancora. I’d decided I’d partied enough recently and there were more impressive beaches in my future with a bit of luck and so geared up for a further 8 hours travel making a total of over a day solid on the move. We got it woefully late, past 11 so original plan was scuppered. But I walked around asking bus companies and there was an easy bus in a couple of hours for much less than I’d seen on the website so not sure what bus bud was playing at here. I used this time to scope out the famed mancora Loki (looked nice but unsurprisingly quiet this “early in the morning”) and had lunch on the beach. It’s pretty beautiful here, maybe I’ll come back and spend more time another day. However for now, onwards to try and squeeze in the Galapagos!