Medellín was named the most dangerous city in the world (even more so than Beirut) in the 1990's due to the Colombian armed conflict and the rule of the drug lord's. The city maintained its dangerous reputation into the 21st century. But in less than ten years, it has experienced an impressive and radical transformation. In 2013 it was named the world's most innovative city.
The US still warns US tourists about visiting Colombia, but for us, the country's marketing slogan rings true: "the only risk is wanting to stay."
Our longest bus ride on this trip clocked in at a whopping 24 hours straight. We had another one that was 40 hours total, but we were able to stop half way through and sleep in a real bed. Therefore, it really goes down in the books as two 20-hour bus rides.
Needless to say, we spend a lot of time on buses while traveling through South America. Down here there is not an extensive train system like Europe, and airplanes are much more expensive, so buses are our primary means of transportation.
So how do we pass all this windshield time?
What do coffee and a game of explosives have in common? A little coffee-growing, Tejo-throwing town called Salento, that’s what.
After a month-long siesta in Buenos Aires (yup…we loved it so much we went back), we are now on the road again. This time we’re exploring the once off-limits Colombia. After spending our first few days in the country in the capital city of Bogota, we were itching to indulge ourselves in Colombia’s “other drug,” coffee.
To our surprise it’s actually a bit difficult to find a great cup of joe in the big cities of Colombia, a country known worldwide as one of the top coffee-growing nations. Turns out that Colombians export their best beans and keep the second tier crop for themselves.
So to get our fix, we planned a short trip straight to the caffeine source, a coffee growing region in the hills northwest of Bogota, known as the “coffee triangle,” and its little charming town of Salento.
For just $10 per person we got to experience what The Observer named as number one of the "top 50 sporting things to do before you die." And just like our Turkish bath experience that I posted about last week, this was another one of those classic "we're definitely not in America anymore" moments.
Suuuuuuperclásico. This seemed to be the word of the week around Mendoza when we were there last February. Waiters, locals, tourists, and everyone in between were chattering about the upcoming fútball match between the bitter Argentinian fútbol (soccer) rivals, River Plate and Boca Juniors.
They come once per year to play a match on neutral turf, in Mendoza, and fortunately for my sports-addicted husband, we just so happened to be there that same week.
There are elements of travel that make you feel like you are at home. It can be anything from a familiar face to a familiar food. Sometimes it’s just sitting in a popular ex-pat coffee shop and hearing English speakers all around you, like I’m doing at this very moment.
But then there are those times when you know without a shadow of a doubt that you definitely are not in America anymore. These next few posts will be about a few of those moments, starting with our Turkish bath in, well, Turkey of course.
After our whirlwind week in the Galapagos, Tom and I had no reprieve from adventure.
We headed back to Quito, Ecuador to meet our good friends Rigo and Kait that came to visit us on their vacation. While planning our time with them, they said they would rather forego relaxing for adventure, so with phrases like YOLO and SFP floating around, we booked ourselves solid.
Ecuador didn’t disappoint. For a tiny country known for the equator, chocolate, and small Andean women with cool hats, we found loads of adventure activities to be had. Take your pick between the coast, mountains, or jungle, because Ecuador has all three! It’s a small country with lots of diversity.
Our trip started in Quito. We thought it was one of the most beautiful cities we have seen in South America. The city is nestled between Andean mountain peeks and valleys. At night, it looks like someone laid a blanket of lights over the Andes.
As some of you may know, Tom had to return to the States (Texas) for a few weeks to take care of some…well…stuff (long story). While he is gone, I’m getting a taste of solo travel.
After 18 hours, 3 taxi rides, 2 bus trips, and 1 flight, I finally made it to Buenos Aires from Baños, Ecuador. Yes, you heard that right…Buenos Aires, again!
Naturally, after a long day of travel, I dropped my bags at my hostel and immediately headed out to find a bar to watch the Argentina/Switzerland fútbol game which had already begun about 20 minutes prior.
As I began walking down the street, I noticed that Buenos Aires was not as I remembered it. It was eerily quiet, there was not one car driving down the street, and I only passed one or two other people on the sidewalk.
At every corner I turned, I could hear the faint sound of a fútbol announcer repeating Messi’s name over and over again. It almost seemed as if somebody had installed citywide surround sound. There was not one TV or radio playing something other than the game. All else was quiet in the city. There were no car horns, no dump trucks, no people chatting on their cell phones.
As I floated in a little bay and felt a sea lion playfully nibble at my toes, I knew we had made the right decision to visit Darwin’s famed, Galapagos Islands.
A few weeks prior, while we were visiting Quito, Ecuador, we decided to book a last-minute deal for an 8-day Galapagos cruise on a small "economy class" yacht.
It was a bit of a budget-buster, but worth every penny. While traveling on a budget, our goal is not always to spend as little as possible; our goal is to get the biggest bang for our buck...and Galapagos packed quite a punch.
Located about 600 miles off the West coast of Ecuador, these volcanic islands boast pristine, uninhabited beaches and unique species of wildlife found nowhere else in the world.
When you think of good food destinations, cities like New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Paris, Hong Kong, and Tokyo quickly come to mind.
But what about Lima, Peru?
What once used to be considered an overcast, big, dirty city worth nothing more than a quick stopover on your way to Peru’s main attraction, Machu Picchu, is now being hailed as the gastronomic capital of South America. And when one has to compete with the world-renown steaks and bold Malbec’s of Buenos Aires, this is saying a lot.
In fact, Lima was awarded the World’s Leading Culinary Travel Destination by World Travel Awards, two years in a row (2012 and 2013) and gastronomic tourism is on the rise.
If you told me that I would become close friends with a 54-year old male from Peru that does not speak English, I probably would not have believed you. And had you told me that I would share the last 6 weeks of his life with him, I would have thought you were crazy. But that is exactly what happened in Huanchaco.
Tom and I received very sad and very shocking news a few days ago; the man that made Huanchaco a home for us, died just days after we left. We are still in shock and deeply saddened.
On paper there was no reason to believe Alberto should have been anything more than an attentive host that we paid to rent a room from while we stayed in town. But he became so much more than just a host.
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!