A Travellerspoint blog

Monkey Business

Rurrenabaque; Uyuni

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By the frequency of my postings you can deduce that I've not been doing very much recently. I'm into the last couple of weeks of my time away and am winding things down a bit after a hectic last month or so.

My Amazon expedition began with a 35-minute flight from La Paz to a town called Rurrenabaque in a tiny aeroplane whose capacity was 19 passengers. French Tim and I had got 'first class' seats as those were supposedly the only ones available, but the only difference between these and the others was that they were at the front. No trolley dollies or Jason Statham films on this flight and there was not even a door to the cockpit, so we could all see the pilots. During the flight we had great views of the snowy Andean mountains and, later, the Amazon river itself snaking through the jungle.


Rurrenabaque could not have been more different from La Paz - very hot, humid and quiet. There were a lot of tour companies around and it seemed like they all offered the same itinerary so we booked a 3-day 2-night excursion with a persuasive chap representing Fluvial Tours who'd accosted us earlier at the airport.

My tour group consisted of Tim, a couple of young posh lads from Saffron Walden, a Norwegian girl, a quiet French couple and another girl from France. After a bumpy 3-hour drive in our Toyota Land Cruiser we arrived at the river, where immediately we saw some dolphins. Everyone jumped in to join them... with one exception. Swimming with dolphins may be #1 on a lot of people's To Do list but it wasn't on mine at all and I was perfectly happy to observe them from a short dry distance.

Whilst the others were frolicking gaily in the water and not managing to get close to the dolphins, I was having a much better time watching a load of identical caterpillars all crawling down a tree to ground level. Most of the pictures I took on this trip depict small (or far away) creatures in the distance amongst jungle greenery but at least I was able to get close to the caterpillars.


It was a 45 minute boat trip to our lodge, but it took three hours as our guide Luis stopped frequently to point out various animals. Most common were hoatzins - spiky-haired birds resembling pheasants that nestled in the trees and occasionally flew across the river in front of us. They are also known as stinkbirds due to their foul odour but we never got close enough to verify this nickname.


It was very rare when there wasn't some kind of bird in view; apart from the hoatzins we saw kingfishers, eagles, egrets and parrots, amongst others. However the highlight, probably of the whole three days, was when we encountered some yellow squirrel monkeys. This was presumably a common occurrence as Luis suddenly whipped out a load of bananas which he distributed amongst us to feed them with. They were soon crawling around the boat and all over us - reminiscent of a scene from one of my favourite films Aguirre, Wrath Of God.


In answer to the poser in my last entry, it was a squirrel monkey that stood on my head - as this clip shows:

Our lodge comprised of a series of wooden huts on stilts situated close to the river connected by a series of boardwalks. The showers and toilets were predictably basic with no hot water and there were lots of mosquitos in the evening. Talking of pesky irritants, we shared our lodge with a few other groups, including 15 or so Israelis, doing what Israelis do best - make a lot of noise. On the plus side, we were given three hearty meals a day and there was always food left over at the end.

Falling off the boardwalks was not an option due to the presence of a number of caimans that hovered underneath and generally hung around the lodge area. Most were about ten feet long, and whilst they supposedly do not consider humans edible, everyone was giving them a wide berth nonetheless. Monkeys scampered around the trees and on the huts' corrugated roofs, making a din as they did so.


Late afternoon we went off to watch the sunset somewhere nearby, followed by looking for more caimans at night time - the only way to spot them being by their eyes that reflected red in the torchlight. There were also several fireflies that periodically flickered around us.


Our first night in the lodge was almost unbearably humid with no air conditioning. Mosquito nets kept us safe from insects but added to an uncomfortable night's sleep.

No such problems the next night as it was rainy and miserable all day. We ventured out in our boat anyway and stopped off to hunt for anacondas (none found) before having a trek round the jungle. This time we saw a jaguarundi, a type of big cat, but not much else. Our guide found some nuts on the floor and cracked one open to reveal a white larva a couple of centimetres long, which he promptly scooped out and put in his mouth. In the end we all tried one of these grubs and they tasted of coconut milk, unsurprising seeing as the plant from which the nuts came was related to the coconut palm tree. I also ate an ant, which tasted of earth, probably as it was covered in earth.

In the afternoon we went fishing - for piranhas. Now I've never fished before and I'm against blood sports, but I joined in this time seeing as we were catching them to eat rather than throw back. Our 'rods' were very simplistic, a small piece of wood with some string and a hook, but no fancy equipment was necessary as it took no more than a few seconds to get a nibble. The hard part was hauling the blighters into the boat, a feat I managed four times - three piranhas and a sardine. The piranhas tasted just like all other fish to me, but there wasn't much meat on them.


In the early hours of our third and final day, everyone was treated to a loud guttural droning noise for half an hour or so, very much reminiscent of Chris Barnes of Cannibal Corpse grunting his way through 'Meat Hook Sodomy'. Turns out it was a howler monkey, an apposite name based on that morning's evidence.

Before we headed back to Rurrenabaque we went off in the boat again so that the others could swim with some more dolphins. On the way we saw a couple of capybaras - the largest rodent in the world, resembling a cross between a rat and a bear. Back in town we had an enjoyable night out in the Funky Monkey bar, where I recall dancing to Abba so it must have been a particularly drunken affair.

Our flight back to La Paz was delayed for a couple of hours so Tim and I sat around in a cafe near the tiny airport feeding some soft biscuits I found in my bag to the local strays. Once back, we took an overnight bus to Uyuni as neither of us wanted to spend any more time in La Paz than was absolutely necessary. Before taking the bus I nipped over to the Poste Restante at the central post office to collect my replacement bank cards - but they weren't there, despite it being four weeks since they were posted.

Around 13 hours after we set off we arrived in Uyuni, a town mostly used as a base for visiting the salt flat nearby known as Salar de Uyuni. We managed to find a hostel with virtually nobody else in it, where parrots ambled around freely in the reception area.


After a lot of travelling around and organising things and irregular sleep in the past couple of weeks I was ready for a few days' downtime. But, no time for that, the next day Tim and I were off again on another three-day excursion. Another trip, another load of French people - four of them this time, plus a quiet girl from Mexico.

Over the three days we effectively drove round in a big circle, starting and ending in Uyuni, stopping off at various points of interest - of which there were a lot. First off was what our guide Emilio described as a 'train cemetery'. A railway was built in the late 19th century to transport minerals over to the Pacific ports, but as the minerals depleted in the 1940s, so did the need for the railway and it eventually fell into ruin.


The highlight of the three days for me was Salar de Uyuni. This is the largest salt flat in the world: over 4000 square miles, roughly seven metres deep and so flat that it varies in altitude by only one metre across the whole area. Some of the photos I took here rank amongst the most spectacular of my entire time away in my view, including the ones I've spoilt by being in myself. Underneath the salt crust are pools of brine that contain around 60% of the world's lithium reserves.


The Paris-Dakar rally now no longer goes from France to Senegal; nowadays the route encompasses Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, taking in Uyuni and the salt flat as one of the stages. They were in Uyuni in January but all year round it is possible to see the logo throughout the town, and in the flat we drove past this salty sculpture.


In the middle of the flat there is an area called Isla del Pescado (Fish Island). No fish (supposedly the 'island' is shaped like a fish), but a plethora of cactuses.


We spent the night in a hostel made almost entirely of salt bricks, including the beds, tables and chairs. I'm not sure what happens if they have sustained periods of rain but we fortunately never got to find out.


Apart from a lot of llamas, we didn't see much wildlife during the three days, although on day three there were a couple of rheas (similar to ostriches) wandering about by the side of the road. We did however pass several quinoa crops. If, unlike me, you've ever wondered where quinoa comes from, I can tell you that far from being a modern-day fad, they have been growing and eating it around these parts for 4000 years.


Even after leaving the salt flats, the scenery was still pretty special. We stopped for a closer look at various lakes (home to lots of flamingos), rock formations and geysers, and more often than not there was the backdrop of snow-capped mountains or volcanos.


On Day 3 we had to get up at 4.30am in order to see everything and get back to Uyuni in time. We dropped the Frenchies off at the Chilean border as they were all off to the Atacama desert, a place I would have been keen to go had time not been a factor. So, after two weeks, I said au revoir to my latest travel buddy Tim - a good lad (despite his preference for sharing bottles of beer rather than having one each) happy to take part in a bit of Anglo-French ribbing, and no sign of a single beret or onion.


Back in Uyuni, and after a chat (mainly about Michael Jackson) with a couple of English girls Abby and Ady over a cracking pizza it was time for a long sleep back in my parrot-friendly hostel.

So, nearly over for the Bolivian leg - just a couple of scheduled stops to describe (and, as it turned out, an unscheduled stop) next time before the start of the home stretch.

Posted by LordGibil 06:47 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Sol Amble

Copacabana; Isla del Sol; La Paz

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It's certainly been a blogtastic last few days. Here is Bolivia part I.

After the Uros islands trip I was back on the bus again, this time taking me around Lake Titicaca from Puno on the Peruvian side to Copacabana in Bolivia. The famous beach in Rio is named after this town, but quite why is anyone's guess as the places couldn't be more different. Apart from look at a cathedral, there wasn't much going on here. I didn't even meet any showgirls called Lola.


Like most towns I visited in Bolivia, Copacabana is at very high altitude thanks to the Andean mountains, and hence cold, and accommodation and restaurant options were basic to say the least. One thing in Bolivia's favour is that the price conversion arithmetic was easy for a change, having to divide by 10 to get from bolivianos to pounds.

I got chatting to an Argentinian girl called Adriana who spoke virtually no English and a French chap called Timothée (pronounced like the shampoo) who spoke pretty much fluent English and Spanish. We went to a disappointing restaurant that didn't even achieve my low expectations, but we gave them a tip anyway. This came as such a shock to them (the tip itself, not because it was me giving it them) that I haven't tipped anyone since.

My mate Damian visited Bolivia a few years ago and had given me a list of places, restaurants and hostels to visit and for the next two weeks I pretty much ticked them all off. First on the list was Isla del Sol, a very picturesque island in Lake Titicaca off the coast of Copacabana. Adriana and Tim came with me.

Getting there on the boat was the easy part; climbing up the hill to the village with heavy backpacks at such high altitude proved a lot trickier and we pretty much took the first hostel we came across - the Arco Iris (Spanish for rainbow). Again, it was very basic and getting up for a wee in the night was an unpleasant affair given the toilet was a short walk away outside in the bitter cold.


Pretty much the only thing to do on the island is to walk around it. A ticket was needed to walk the trail, which as with a lot of things was more expensive for non-nationals, however Adriana somehow persuaded the vendors we were all Bolivian which saved us a quid each.


It took around six hours start to finish and the sun was out which made it an enjoyable experience, especially as we had great views of the lake. In general it was perfectly silent but every now and then we would encounter a local going about his or her business. Most women over a certain age (40-ish) wore the traditional garb of bowler hats, colourful shawls, pleated skirts and missing teeth, which turned out to be typical of most places in Bolivia.


The hike was memorable for two other reasons. I came across a family dismembering a recently-killed sheep. Everyone was joining in: the husband, wife and son were all helping out and even the family dog was tucking into the unwanted remnants of the unfortunate beast. I also got sunburnt, mostly on my head as it didn't occur to me on such a warm day to consider wearing a hat.

Adriana wanted to spend an extra day there so Tim and I took a boat back to the mainland and a bus to La Paz, the 'administrative capital' of Bolivia (although Sucre is its official capital). Part of the journey involved crossing the lake again and our bus went over on a big raft while its passengers crossed separately in a motorboat.

La Paz was one of my least favourite places of my entire trip - enormous, cold, unattractive, filthy, hilly and smelly from the acrid fumes emitted by poorly-maintained vehicles. I did have a cracking curry at the Star of India that was so good it would not have been out of place on the menu of my two favourite curry houses back home in Crystal Palace.

A 'must-do' in these parts is the so-called 'Death Road', a road through the hills and valleys about three hours outside the city that supposedly was right on the edge of severe drops. These days it is less dangerous as vehicles now use a separate recently-constructed road, meaning the Death Road is now used mainly by thrill-seeking cyclists such as myself.


I'm terrified of heights but the drops were not that bad and it really wasn't dangerous at all; unless you were extremely reckless it would be very difficult to come to any harm. We were all provided with protective clothing (helmets, overalls, knee and elbow guards) but only one person fell off as she failed to negotiate a pool of water that spanned one section of the road, falling into it and getting a soaking.


I still hadn't recovered after my illness in Puno and I felt awful on this day. As enjoyable as it was, I couldn't wait to get back to La Paz and go to bed. After an interminable journey back to the city on an uncomfortably hard seat, we finally returned around 8pm, twelve hours after we'd set off in the morning, and I immediately hit the sack - for 14 hours.

The next day we moved hostel to one that was slightly less shit and booked flights to the Amazon. I had by far the biggest fruit salad I've ever seen, then a quick walk around in the rain and back to the hostel.


Next time - a trip down the Amazon. Find out which animal stood on my head and which animals I put in my mouth.

Posted by LordGibil 17:52 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

On The Buses

Lima; Arequipa; Puno

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I wasn't particularly looking forward to the Peruvian leg of my trip. I had visited a number of places there in 2003, most notably Cusco and Machu Picchu, so decided to pass through it as quickly as possible in order to spend more time in Bolivia. To save money I elected to take buses and, as a result, it took me a week to get through the country. The first was from Guayaquil in Ecuador to Lima, Peru's capital city.

After being treated to The Expendables 3 in Colombia and three execrable offerings from the 'Muscles from Brussels' on the way to Quito, it was the turn of Jason 'Simon Monument' Statham to keep us entertained on our bus to Lima. Two of The Stath's efforts were shown to us on the bus's solitary television, although the picture quality was so poor it might as well have been me.

The shoddy entertainment and lack of wifi would not normally have been a problem, but this was a 30 hour journey. I had prepared by purchasing three films online the previous night, only to find that by the time it came to set off the following morning they still hadn't finished downloading. The chap sat next to me seemed nice enough but in 30 hours we exchanged words only when offering each other some of our snacks. So, it is fair to say the journey did not fly by, and it was made longer as every time we stopped, either for food or at the border, we were always waiting for the same woman to finish faffing about before we could set off.


I'd chosen a good hostel, in the Miraflores area of Lima. It had a terrace bar and a sheltered roof garden where the cool kids 'hung out' in the evening. After a much-needed shower I went out for a few drinks and a meal with a couple of English girls, some Germans and a pot pourri of other nationalities to a street known as 'Pizza Alley' due to the prevalence of Italian restaurants.

The next day I did some chores (clothes washing, hair cut, blog) and walked around for a couple of hours. I liked Miraflores, and although I only stayed there two nights I would happily have stayed longer if time wasn't a factor, especially given the quality of the hostel and friendliness of its inhabitants.


However, I was missing being sat in the same position for long periods of time so it was time to get back on the bus, this time from Lima to Arequipa - a journey scheduled to take a mere 17 hours. I had splashed out a bit this time and got a first class seat, and although it was a marked improvement, there was still no wifi or aircon. I watched Birdman, a film that won Best Picture at the 2015 Oscars but which I found quite odd and boring, and the far more enjoyable Gone Girl.

I woke at around 6am when I subconsciously noticed the bus's engine turning off. We had stopped in the middle of nowhere for some reason, and there we stayed... for nine hours! There was a long queue of buses and lorries snaking through the hills as far as the eye could see and people sat around nattering, seemingly resigned to a lengthy stay. It took me nearly half an hour to walk to the front of the queue to investigate the problem, which turned out to be an overflown river that had enveloped the road. No choice then but to wait for it to subside, and at least it wasn't raining.


So, 26 hours after setting off I arrived in the city of Arequipa, a place, like Miraflores, I had briefly visited in 2003 as part of RTW I. It was a picturesque city situated next to three snow-capped mountains, although much bigger and busier than I remembered. In 2003 the main square (Plaza de Armas) was awash with pigeons and that was still the case now.


I chose a 'party hostel' called the Wild Rover, but the only party I was up for after my bus ride was a slumber party, but without the party bit. My room was smelly but that didn't stop me having an early night and getting some much-needed shut-eye.

The next day I had a long walk round the city on a sunny day and took lots of photos.


Later, I watched the England v Lithuania match then went to play football myself with some lads from the hostel at a 6-a-side pitch a short cab ride away. We played a load of Peruvians who seemingly just turn up to play whoever's there and, to be fair, the quality was pretty good. To say I was off the pace is a major understatement, my (pretty good) excuse being that I've only played once in seven months and at this altitude it was hard enough to climb the stairs never mind run around for the best part of an hour.

That evening I entered a 'beer pong' tournament at the hostel and lost in the first round (thanks mainly to my inept partner) so had a few beers out on my own to drown my sorrows.


Most people head off to Cusco and Machu Picchu from Arequipa (or have just come from there) but, having already been to both places, I elected to press on to Puno on Lake Titicaca - a place I had also already been to but at least was in the direction I wanted to go.

'Just' seven hours after leaving Arequipa (taking my bus tally to 63 hours in seven days) I arrived at my hostel in Puno - a city with one or two nice squares near the centre but not much else going for it from what I saw. As it turned out, most of the one day I did spend there was spent in bed ill, exacerbated by my lack of sleep over the previous week.


I was marginally better the following day so took a morning trip to the Uros floating islands on Lake Titicaca. These are man-made islands out of dried totora reeds that are anchored to the lake bed to stop them drifting off. We were greeted on the first island by waving locals in traditional dress and after disembarking were given a well-oiled speech (in English) by our guide Roberto, ably assisted by a gentleman he introduced as the president of the island whose job was to periodically bring out props to illustrate what Roberto was talking about.


The island contained around eight huts, outside of which sat women embroidering handicrafts with various patterns. One woman called Rosa beckoned me into her hut but, instead of demanding I take my clothes off, she insisted I put some more on - a sweater-like garment that she claimed bore the markings of the president, and a silly hat.


After a hard sell of their wares, during which I bought a cushion cover depicting some llamas, we headed back 45 minutes to the mainland and I caught the bus to Copacabana. As this place is in a different country (Bolivia), it is time to belt up and show you the map.

Posted by LordGibil 17:55 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

The North-South Divide

Quito; Chugchilán; Guayaquil

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Don't worry - I am still alive. I've been quite busy recently and in areas with no wifi hence the delay in posting.

My last entry described my last days in Colombia. I arrived at the Ecuador border crossing at the same time as a load of Triumph Spitfires being driven by middle-aged English people. Each car had a list of the countries they had visited emblazoned on its wing, and based on this some of them had been doing nothing but driving around for a very long time - not a bad way to spend your retirement.

From my first few hours in Ecuador, it was clear that they love Jean-Claude van Damme. After being subjected to three of his ridiculous films one after the other on the bus down to the capital, Quito, I went to a restaurant after checking into my hostel to find another one on their telly.

I'd been to Quito before, briefly, and not been overly impressed. It seemed slightly better this time; I walked round the 'old town' area for a couple of hours - nice enough but grubbier and busier than other old towns I'd seen. There were a few photogenic buildings but one day in the city was enough for me, especially given the clock was ticking and I had a lot of miles to cover before reaching my final destination of Trinidad.

During my amble around, a local fellow approached me and started speaking English. After casually explaining he'd lived in Bristol and Liverpool for a few years he quickly became insistent on giving me an unwanted hour-long tour of the city. I told him at least ten times that I didn't want one before he got bored and gave up, calling me 'tight' as he left.


Back at the hostel I had a few beers with Dan & Tara who had coincidentally ended up at the same hostel as me for the second time since Salento. Tara used to represent Lithuania at the high jump and we had a highly competitive few games of table football. On this occasion, English long-ball tactics and steely determination narrowly triumphed over Eastern European technical skill and the ability to leap over high objects.

I was keen to get down to Bolivia so didn't spend much time in Ecuador - about a week as it happened. Before we left Quito, the Lithuanians and I went to visit an Equator landmark an hour or so's trolley bus ride away called Mitad del Mundo. Here were various statues and science/cultural museums, and the world's most disappointing planetarium, but the centrepiece was a 30-metre tall monument straddling a long yellow line that marked the line of zero latitude. Or at least, where they thought it was at the time; modern measurement techniques have shown that the actual equator lay 240m away. This meant that the gimmicky exhibits such as an egg that can supposedly balance on the head of a nail without falling one way or the other not only didn't work but were rather pointless.


The next day we took a bus to a small village a few hours south of the capital called Chugchilán, a popular base for visiting the nearby volcanic lake of Quilotoa. Our hostel served good food and had a games room with table tennis and pool tables, but its common area was hotter than the surface of the sun thanks to its over-zealous wood-burning stove, and you were liable to get hypothermia everywhere else.

Having survived the temperature extremes of our hostel we got a lift over to Quilotoa and took a look round. The lake is about a 280m descent into a 2-mile wide caldera, and it took us an hour or so to get down at a leisurely pace. We got lucky with the weather as it was cloudy before and after we reached the lake, and as we climbed back up to the rim the people we passed would hardly have been able to see it.


We could have taken a bus back but decided to hike back to Chugchilán for five hours, the first part of which involved walking around the rim to the other side of the caldera in such miserable conditions that we couldn't see more than a few metres in front of us. We encountered a local who was happy to guide us part the way (for a small fee, of course).

After a while we passed through a village where we encountered some boisterous children who were clearly very excited to see us, not least because they expected to be given presents. They were fascinated by pictures of themselves on Dan's fancy camera equipment, but found just as much fun in the more simplistic act of yanking the elastic cord on the bottom of my coat and refusing to let go.


As the area is a long way above sea level, it was misty, wet and cold for a large part of our hike, and a lot of it was uphill (including having to climb down and up the other side of the below valley) so it was good to finally get back to our freezing/boiling hostel.


After a well-earned rest we were up at 3.30am to take a series of buses to our next destinations - in my case Guayaquil, in Dan & Tara's the beach resort of Montañita. Unlike me, they are keen water sports enthusiasts (steady), and as well as his photography paraphernalia Dan was carting around 40kg-worth of kitesurfing equipment.

Guayaquil is the largest and most populous city in Ecuador. In my hostel I met a few Argentinian lads who gave me a beer and asked me about Jeremy Clarkson, and a French girl called Melanie with whom I went out for a wander and a couple of drinks in the evening.

One of the most-visited part of Guayaquil is the Malecón 2000 - an area overlooking the Guayas River that as recently as the early 1990s was unsafe and a haven for low-lifes. It has since been regenerated and nowadays it is a very pleasant stroll down its boardwalks past plazas with gardens and sculptures.


At one end of the Malecón is the neighbourhood of Las Peñas. One reason for going there is to climb the 444 numbered steps up the similarly once-dodgy, now regenerated, Cerro Santa Ana - a hard slog in high temperatures. The ascent takes you past various bars and shops and ends at the Plaza de Honores, a square containing a chapel and lighthouse that gives great views over the city.


Closer to my hostel was the pretty Seminario Park, a small square home to a Simon Bolívar statue and dozens of iguanas that are free to roam about as they please.


My objective now was to get down to Bolivia as quickly as possible. The one problem with this was that it meant travelling through Peru, the third biggest country in South America, to get there. I spent an awful lot of time on buses in the next week or so, but I'm still going to tell you all about it... in the next thrilling instalment.

Posted by LordGibil 15:20 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)

Cocora Blimey

Salento; Popayán; Ipiales

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To say I am lacking in inspiration for this entry is an understatement - I have sat here for two hours and written one paragraph (since scrapped). The idea of describing at length what I was doing nearly three weeks ago it is fair to say does not fill me with glee.

In my last entry I had just spent a load of money on music downloads. Before I came away I uploaded my entire music collection to my iPad, expecting that I'd have a load of time on my hands, but in actual fact I've hardly listened to any of it. In that time I've watched about four films and not read a single book - a good thing as there's always been something more interesting to do.

After Medellín I set off down to a place called Salento that Irish Paul had recommended to me. The journey started well as I was sat next to a very attractive Colombian girl called Luisa on one of the comfiest buses I've had so far. It took a turn for the worse when I missed my last connecting bus to Salento and had to wait two hours in Pereira bus station, go somewhere else then take a pricy cab. My hostel had very dodgy wifi and only one toilet but apart from that it was OK.

Salento is a sleepy town popular with visitors for its nearby coffee plantations and lush green valley. As with a few colonial towns I've been to on this trip, it had a Cerro de la Cruz so, as usual, I climbed up the cerro and took a photo of the town from next to the cruz.


In the afternoon I found a cafe with wifi (or 'weefee' as they say over here) and stayed there for a few hours sampling supposedly some of the best coffee in the country. It wasn't bad but it was no Nescafé Alta Rica.

For the second time on this trip I was likened to Jason Statham, this time by a Lithuanian couple called Danas & Gintarė (a.k.a. Dan & Tara) who were staying in the same room. Not sure I can see the similarities: on the one hand a charismatic balding yet handsome tough guy irresistible to women and, on the other, Jason Statham.

Dan, Tara and I got up at the crack of dawn to go to Cocora Valley. Every day a number of Jeeps gather in the town square ready to transport visitors there, for a small fee. On this occasion there were more people than spaces in the Jeeps, so a few of us had to stand on the back and cling onto the roll bar as we were driven along the valley's windy roads for 45 minutes.


We followed the main trail around the valley, which initially was within overhanging trees meaning we couldn't actually see much. This trail took us past a 'hummingbird cafe' (similar to the one I went to in Monteverde with Bobby Ball) where we stopped for a 'free' drink and lump of cheese - after paying a 5000 peso entry fee. Like in Monteverde, a coati turned up and posed for photos. Unlike in Monteverde, this one had a cyst near its genitals.


After a couple of hours of mainly uphill hiking we reached the trail's main 'mirador' (look-out point), which was so disappointing that we thought we'd gone wrong; overgrown trees meant nothing was visible except a pile of corrugated iron. So, against our better instincts we took a further uphill trail and a great decision that turned out to be. It was a hard slog (my Health app reckoned we walked 28km in total and took 35,000 steps) but the final few kilometres took us through a beautiful section of the valley, as green as a snooker table and full of extremely tall wax pine trees.


Whilst we were at Cocora, an earthquake (6.5 on the Richter scale) struck northern Colombia & Venezuela. Everyone in the Salento area felt it except me as I was pretending to be Jason Statham at the time and attempting to push over this pine tree:


That evening we went to a strange restaurant that was more of a conservatory on the side of someone's house. The owner was a nice chap but he kept coming over and earnestly explaining to us and others how fantastic each dish was and boasting about the freshness of the ingredients. He was absolutely right, the food was delicious but I was glad to get out of there before I heard once again about his amazing mushrooms.

This restaurant/conservatory gave an excellent view of the sunset and I took this time-lapse video on my fancy new phone:

Dan & Tara have their own photo/video blog called Off To Somewhere where he takes the pictures and she writes the words. Dan is a professional photographer and he took some great valley time-lapses and hummingbird photos. He is also paid by photography companies and magazines to edit pictures and I saw him touching up a gay couple, so to speak, and removing 'camel toes' (the technical term used by people in the industry) from swimsuit models. Painstaking work but it just about funds his travels for six months a year. It did set me thinking it would be good to have a job where I could work from anywhere in the world, which ought to be possible in my line of work.

I took a tour of a coffee plantation the next day, an activity that had been available to me lots of times throughout Central America but had always been bottom of my 'must do' list. This, however, was likely to be one of my final chances. It took an hour to walk there and then two hours for the tour to begin, but I wasn't complaining as I took the opportunity to lay in a hammock with a great view of the surrounding countryside.


The tour was as interesting as I expected, i.e. mildly. Our guide was on the opposite end of the enthusiasm spectrum to my Medellín tour guide Pablo, i.e. not at all. He twice told me how tired he was. Part of the tour involved walking through the plantation picking ripe coffee berries, which are red and contain two beans coated in a sweet viscous liquid that gives the local coffee its distinctive sweet taste.


Later I found a pub with a tejo alley. Tejo is a Colombian game similar to a cross between darts and bowls where competitors throw a metal disc at a clay target, points being allocated to the person whose disc is closest to the centre. The bullseye also contains four triangular paper packets filled with explosives that detonate on impact, causing a few brown trouser moments to those not paying attention. An American girl and I took part in thrilling encounter with a Dutch couple, losing 27-26 in a match that went down to the final throw.


On my way down to the border with Ecuador I stopped over in a couple of places called Popayán and Ipiales. Popayán was billed as a lovely colonial city similar to Cartagena, but in reality it was nowhere near as nice from what I saw. Not a dump by any means but one day was enough.


On the bus down to Ipiales I met an interesting character from the US called Pat. Pat was 62 and full of tall stories like his ex-wife was a Russian model, he was related to the Kellogg cereal family, he'd danced with Michael Jackson and something about one of the Bond films. He trod a very thin line between being an avuncular eccentric and a seedy old man - he carried a pocket full of sweets around with him that he said he used to woo girls.

I stayed in a seedy-looking hotel, the sort of place you booked by the hour, and sure enough a couple on the floor above kept me awake with the sound of their raucous shagging.

There wasn't much to see in Ipiales town centre, but a short taxi ride away in Potosi was a breathtaking Gothic church known as Las Lajas:


After visiting the church I caught a bus across the border to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, a journey on which we were kept 'entertained' by three Jean-Claude van Damme films dubbed into Spanish one after the other.

Well Quito is in a different country so here is a perfect time to stop. Plus, the drop-down box doesn't let me choose more than one country.

Posted by LordGibil 08:41 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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