A Travellerspoint blog


So this is it, I've been back home in South of France for about 2 months now. I've started writing this post a while ago but I've been quite busy and to be honest I've kept postponing it... I've had time to tell stories again and again, show pictures, catch up with friends on everything I had missed, go on a few weekends away, spend time with my family and meet my new beautiful nephew (who is now also my godson!). I've had the usual questions: "How was it?" "What was your favourite country?" "Do you miss it?" "Did you enjoy backpacking?" "How was it to travel on your own?".
So much happened between the first day of the trip and the last one (6 and a half months in 8 South American countries, that's 3 days short of 200 days and 42,476km!!) that I thought I would write down my thoughts on this trip, to answer some of these questions and reflect on what I've done.

I think by the end of my trip I was ready to come back home, not because I wasn't enjoying it but because I had done everything I had planned to do, from Brazil all the way to Colombia, and even more. I was looking forward to seeing friends and family and not being a nomad anymore. Because being a traveller is not always easy: it means having to pack and unpack a backpack that gets heavier everyday (you do hate it by the end of the trip), often finding that your bottle of shampoo has leaked all over your clothes freshly washed by the local laundry place (if they haven't mysteriously disappeared in said laundry place), having to lock all your valuables all the time in a locker or in your daypack with a padlock to avoid thefts (I got lucky on that one, probably because I was so careful!), having to sleep with earplugs and an eye mask every night to try to ignore your drunk roommates coming back from a party to your 12-bed dorm, eating sweaty ham & cheese sandwiches to try and save some money, always being either going somewhere or planning where to go next, how to get there, where to stay, what to do there and who to do it with.
But of course all of this is nothing compared to the complete feeling of freedom and happiness you get when setting your eyes on something new every morning. It is incredibly refreshing to see new places, learn new things, meet new people and try new food everyday. To me travelling is an amazing experience that cannot be replaced with anything else. I also felt incredibly grateful and privileged to be able to do such a trip: I do realise that not everyone can do it, yet a lot more people could do it if they just took the plunge. Taking the decision to go is the hardest step, then everything else will come naturally. I'm proud of having achieved this project on my own, with my own savings, which made me appreciate it even more - unlike all those 20-year olds I met using their parents' money to party before figuring out what to do with their life (!)

Since so many people asked me questions about all those countries I visited, I thought I would just give you my thoughts and impressions on each of them with a selection of my favourite pics to remind you of what I did - who knows, it might even inspire you to pick the destination for your next holiday!

This was one of my favourite countries. Maybe because it was the first one and I marvelled at everything I saw as I discovered the life of a backpacker and all that entailed. But I also just absolutely loved the atmosphere: the music, the dancing, the party vibe, but also the fascinating history and rich culture which permeate everything and every little village, the exciting food and the melodious Portuguese language. Those who know me know that I am a sucker for beaches, especially if there are coconut trees, white sand and crystal clear water, and I found the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen in Brazil. And then I arrived in Rio and just fell in love with this beautiful city that made me think I might have been a carioca in another life... Even though I spent 1 month and a half there, I barely scratched the surface of this big and beautiful country ; there is so much more to see so I will definitely be back!

Despite the expensive cost of living (relatively to the other countries), I was a little disappointed by Buenos Aires which didn't feel as exotic as I had hoped, but I did have a lot of fun there! What I did love in Argentina was the variety of landscapes, from modern & fun Buenos Aires and the delicious wine tastings of Mendoza, to the icy surroundings in El Calafate and the Andean vibes of Northern Argentina. And of course the memorable pairings of good steaks with delicious bottles of Malbec hmmm... I am really pleased that my friends insisted on going to Patagonia as I wasn't planning to go initially but it was so impressive and definitely very different from anything else I had done. I still feel like I need to spend more time in Argentina to get to discover more of this big country.

I was only there for 1 day... Does that even count? It was fun to be able to do a day trip from Buenos Aires to go to another country and Colonia del Sacramento was really pretty but I didn't get to explore much of this small yet beautiful country. I heard that Mondevideo is nice and that there are some pretty beaches out there. Also did you know that Uruguay is ranked first in Latin America in democracy, peace, lack of corruption, and is first in South America when it comes to press freedom and prosperity? This makes me curious to see how that translates into Uruguayans' daily life.

I only explored the Northern part of the country above Santiago which is a bit of a shame as I missed out on all the beautiful peaks of Chilean Patagonia, but hey, you can't do everything! This country has great wine and delicious pisco sours, what else could you wish for? I loved the chilled vibe of Santiago and loved even more the Atacama desert with its beautifully strange moon-like scenery and lagunas. The geographical situation of this narrow piece of land is very unique: you can find the Patagonian mountains in the South and the Atacama desert in the North, the Pacific Ocean to the West and the Andes to the East, so if you like nature and majestic landscapes, Chile is perfect as you can explore the country whichever way you want!

Bolivia is the least developed South American country that I visited but it was my biggest surprise. I didn't know much about Bolivia to be honest, so apart from the famous salt flats, I had no idea what to expect. Our 4-day trip to the Salar de Uyuni was incredible with beautifully varied landscapes that were all more impressive than the next. But I also discovered one of the prettiest South American town I have seen (Sucre), and got my first taste of the jungle in an incredible setting. Also everything was so cheap! That allowed me to do more things than I thought I would. And of course I can't forget about all the beautiful traditional woven prints and local hand-crafted souvenirs which meant I had to buy another bag (not so sad about that ha!)

This was another one of my favourite countries! I found the Peruvian culture with its Inca heritage immensely rich and fascinating, throughout all the cities and sites I visited, and Machu Picchu was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. But more than that, the actual Inca trail to get there and the prep for this trek was a big thing for me: as you might know I'm not a very sporty girl, but I really wanted to do this and did some treks (Colca Canyon, Rainbow mountain) to prepare for it and actually pushed my limits much further that I thought I ever could! It was a great feeling and an emotional moment. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover how delicious and creative Peruvian cuisine was - the best I had throughout my entire trip...

I wish I had spent more time in Ecuador that I actually did, even though it is the smallest country I visited. Quito and Cuenca were beautiful historic towns and we had a fun time in the jungle learning more about indigenous communities but of course the biggest highlight of my visit to Ecuador was the Galapagos! I probably won't get to do something like that again anytime soon. It was truly a dream, from idyllic beaches to great wildlife and this perfect sense of peace and tranquility on the boat...
But I know there is more to Ecuador than just the dreamy Galapagos, like all the beaches on the coast, the scenic mountains more inland or the national parks - maybe next time!

Another (and the last) country I got a crush on... I can't deny it, I am a beach girl and I do love beautiful beaches with palm trees and turquoise water... But of course Colombia is much more than that. Similar to Brazil in some ways, historically and culturally, it has been through a lot and you can see that painful heritage everywhere. Yet Colombians are some of the friendliest people I have met, because they are so happy to have overcome it and proud to see tourists visiting their country. And of course the insane salsa dancing in Cali will remain one of my favourite memories of this trip! This is a country full of surprises with very varied landscapes, from the Caribbean beaches and the incredible Guajira desertic scenery in the North, to the big cities and the zona Cafetera in the South - and even though I stayed there for more than 1 month, I feel like there is so much more to see!

Whether I was in a bus, on a beach, in a big city, in the jungle or in a hammock, I've had a lot of time to think. So I've been thinking about what I learnt during this trip:
- One of the first things I realised was that I could do things on my own without anyone else's help - what a relief! I'm not saying I didn't panic sometimes, walking in the streets in an unknown place with my massive backpack trying to figure out where to go. But then I figured it out and I was ok. It was a nice empowering feeling and made me feel great about myself, every step was a little victory.
- Another thing is that even though I am very sociable and love hanging out with people, I can also be solitary sometimes. I'd rather be on my own than to hang out with people I don't like. I actually enjoy being alone to have time to think. And if I've been hanging out with a group, sometimes I just need my personal space for a bit, like reading a book in a hammock - don't take it personally!
- I also realised that work is never as important as you think it is. Or at least that's how I think I want to live my life. The whole point of working is to make a living so you can do things that make you happy! I'm not saying that having a job that makes you happy is not important, on the contrary if it makes you miserable you should definitely change it. But I think although it's easy to forget it sometimes, it's important to remember that life starts at the end of the working day, so take the time to do things you enjoy and spend time with the people you love. Life is too short to spend it stuck in an office late at night.
- Finally I realised how essential travelling was to me. Not as like, I want to travel everyday for the rest of my life, but I do know I need regular trips to discover new places and even a real change of scenery once in a while - maybe one day I will finally decide to properly settle down somewhere? But for now I don't want to be stuck in a routine where I don't even see how beautiful the world is around me. So yes sometimes that will mean taking risks and making things harder for myself to move somewhere new, find a new job, make new friends but I guess I do like a good challenge, it makes it all the more rewarding when you succeed in the end. So watch this space while I choose the destination for my next life adventure...

Thinking about this trip, it's all starting to feel a little blurry now, which is why I'm so pleased I did this blog to remember every little thing I saw, every feeling I had, every person I met and every meal I ate! And yes I do get jealous and nostalgic when I see other travellers's pics, but if I could do it all over again, I would do it all the same.

Thanks for all of you who silently - or not so silently, thanks mum and dad for the comments on EVERY post, I loved it so much! - read my lengthy posts and looked at my millions of pictures. You will be relieved to know this is my last post so you won't have to be jealous of my beachy pictures anymore (well at least for now!)...
Thanks to all the wonderful people who travelled by my side, the one and only Ryan Wong obviously (!), and everyone else I met along the way, but also all the amazing friends who flew all the way to South America to visit: Barbara & Julie (le trio de choc), Meera, Nikita & Nira (the Machu Picchu gang) and my Sam of course.

If you're considering doing a similar trip but are still hesitating, don't overthink it and just do it, it will change your life I promise! And if you're thinking about South America, let me know and I'd be happy to help you plan your trip...

Until next time, hasta la vista!! Xx


Posted by carochauvet 08:54 Tagged travel adventure backpacking south_america latin_america wanderlust wandererer Comments (4)


overcast 15 °C
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After our time in Cali, Zoya and I caught a bus to Pereira and changed to get to Salento, in the Zona Cafetera (the coffee region), a sleepy little town with pretty colourful houses. Did you know that Colombia is the third largest coffee producer in the world? Brazil is the first, followed by Vietnam and Indonesia comes fourth. Together they produce 75% of the world's coffee.
So on our first day naturally we decided to go for a coffee tour. We did a nice 1h walk to get to the Ocaso coffee farm, with green beautiful landscapes along the way. The tour was super interesting, and we started it by picking our own coffee beans! Well actually they're still coffee fruits, before they extract the beans and leave them to dry. Coffee fruits produce more sugar under shade which is why you always need other trees to be planted around, usually fruit trees like banana or mango trees. The farm is located at 1780m above sea level ; optimal elevation for coffee production is between 1350m and 1950m, below it will be too hot and above it will be too cold. Coffee requires a lot of attention! We went through the whole process until we got to try the finished product. We then took a fun truck back to town where we enjoyed the first of our amazing and massive meals at Brunch, which quickly became our new favourite place in town!

The next day we decided to go for a hike in the Cocora Valley, famous for its giant wax palm trees that can grow up to 60m high. We jumped on a jeep and started our walk through a countryside landscape before going deeper into the cloud forest which felt a bit like the jungle, with lots of wobbly wooden bridges crossing the river and a lot of mud which made the path quite slippery. We assumed there would only be one route for this hike as it is quite famous. But there was no signage anywhere and as usual when we asked people we got told different things everytime haha... The hike was supposed to last 4h in a loop, but we got lost and started going up a complete different route which was a 6h hike... So we eventually gave up and got back on our steps as we had to get a bus to Manizales and didn't want to leave after dark. We still got some amazing views of the palms trees and got to cross the cloud forest, but we missed the viewpoint from the top of the mountain... oh well! It was a bit cloudy anyway, but it was still worth it. We went to Brunch for another amazing feast, which felt well-deserved after all that walking!


We only managed to get a late bus to Manizales so just went straight to bed when we got there. The next day we caught a bus to go visit the beautiful Recinto del Pensamiento park. The guided tour included a visit of the nice herb garden which inspired me to get my own, then we got on a telesilla, a funny little chairlift that took us to the other side of the park through an impressive collection of plants and trees. We went to an amazing hummingbird garden where you could observe a few of the 147 species of hummingbirds that exist in Colombia - they are beautiful and so fast, quite hard to capture in picture! Did you know that hummingbirds only feed from bell-shaped flowers, preferably with bright colours like orange, yellow, red or pink? Next we visited the Mariposario, the butterfly reserve where we saw this super cool translucent butterfly... We also walked through the cloudforest where we spotted several types of orchids. It is a gorgeous place that is definitely worth a visit! We had a nice menu del dia afterwards and went back to chill at the hostel since the weather was not great: a peanut butter brownie from Brunch and a girly movie was just what we needed haha...

That night we went for drinks and a bit of dancing at the Cable, the cool student neighbourhood in town but it wasn't as crazy as we thought it would be. We probably got too used to the amazing nightlife in Cali so it was hard to compete! So our plan for the next day was just to go to the Thermal baths to relax in the hot water (2 pools between 35 and 40 degrees!). The pools were outside in a nice natural environment so we definitely felt relaxed and refreshed afterwards. We enjoyed the few sights of the city including the Cathedral and yet another Simon Bolivar plaza. And I decided to keep my collection of paper bracelets as a souvenir haha... Later that afternoon Zoya and I parted way as she left for Armenia and I took my night bus to Bogota.


I met up with my friend David in Bogota where he is working as an English teacher - a very popular activity for travellers wishing to stay in Colombia for a while. On my first morning and after a good breakfast, I decided to go explore the city with 2 French girls: I was pleasantly surprised to see that Bogota felt more like a small town than a big mega city - that's probably cause we stayed most of our time in La Candelaria, the historic centre, which has pretty churches in every corner. We went to the Botero museum, a beautiful collection of paintings as well as a few sculptures. Some of them I really liked, he had an interesting approach. We then went to the Gold museum, with its impressive collection of different gold objects and artefacts, probably more than you've ever seen in one place! We also decided to try a few traditional dishes in a famous local restaurant: tamales (a corn-based dough filled with meat and steamed in a banana leaf), ajiaco (potato & chicken soup served with corn, rice and avocado) and chocolate con queso (hot chocolate with cheese and bread). The ajiaco and the tamal were delicious but dipping the cheese in the hot chocolate was just weird! That big local favourite did not work for me...

I spent my other few days there just discovering the city, realising that it was much colder than I expected, at 2,644m above sea level! I did a very good graffiti tour which took us to some super cool places in La Candelaria, with beautiful street art full of meaning. I treated myself to a nice French-inspired restaurant called Sant Just where everything was just perfect, from the lamb with ratatouille and mashed potato made in front of me by the chef served with French bread, to the glass of crisp white wine and the delicious dessert. I started realising then that I was looking forward to being home back to France!

One last thing I did in Bogota was to take the funicular up to Montserrate, to get that panoramic view overseeing the city and get some peace and quiet from the hustle and bustle of the city. I also went for coffee with Emma, a super nice British girl, in a very cute pub haha: maybe that meant I was missing England as well? Since this was my last South American stop, I found myself wanting to go out on my own to wander in the streets, taking everything in, trying to remember it all: the beautiful houses, the smiling people, the delicious street food smells... Trying to take it all with me back home.

Next thing I know I was in Bogota airport waiting to board my flight to Frankfurt where I would then change to Marseille. I felt very emotional and couldn't believe that it was over, but most of all I couldn't believe that I had done it. 6 and half months travelling throughout South America, a dream come true...

This was the story of the last leg of my journey, which I think I delayed writing up to keep the journey going forever...

Stay tuned as I will be back for one last post to reflect on my South American adventure - my last blog post!


Posted by carochauvet 01:11 Archived in Colombia Tagged trees food nature hiking landscape jungle city forest graffiti bogota coffee colombia butterflies citylife Comments (3)


sunny 28 °C
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After Minca, Chesca was headed to Medellin (Colombians pronounce it 'Medejin') so I decided to follow her. She had been there before so I set off to explore the city on my own. Medellin is called the city of eternal spring, which felt quite true as I walked around in a nice and pleasant temperature. I had to book the famous Medellin free walking tour a couple of days in advance so I started by exploring the Botanical Garden, a beautiful relaxing place which sounded like a great way for family and friends to spend an afternoon. I then went to Nutibara Hill where I got a nice view of the whole city while enjoying an ice cream. There was also a replica of a traditional colombian village called Pueblito Paisa, with white-washed walls and colourful details.

We stayed in the very cute (yet expensive) neighbourhood of El Poblado, which looks a bit like Brooklyn with its hipster cafés and bars with brick walls and an industrial chic vibe. But to get a sense of the real Medellin, I had to head into the historic centre. We saw a few pretty churches, like the Veracruz and Candelaria churches, infamous for the "sinners" who inhabit the immediate area of the churches, the prostitutes' neighbourhood... We also enjoyed the beautiful voluptuous sculptures of Botero on the Plaza de las Esculturas. Nearby you could find the amazing Rafael Uribe Uribe Palacio de la Cultura, yet another funny story: originally designed by a Belgian architect, it was criticised for its complicated structure and design and ended up being finalised 12 years later in a completely different way haha!
It was great to get some historical background to understand what made Colombia what it is today. The history of the country has been shaken by political instability and military violence, and is still perceived today as weakened by corruption and drug trafficking. Medellin was a dangerous city, especially in the 80s but since Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993, it has been completely rehabilitated. One of the harshest reminders of what life in Medellin might have been like those few years ago was the Botero bird statue in Park Antonio. In 1995 a bomb had been planted under this bronze statue and it was detonated during a concert where families were present. Parents and children were killed and injured. When the carnage was being cleaned-up, the mayor wanted to remove the damaged statue but the artist wanted it left as a memorial to those who died. Botero donated a second, duplicate statue, to be added to the park and it now stands proudly next to the original statue. Yet contrary to others countries where you don't always feel welcome, you can see Colombians are so happy and proud to see tourists coming to visit their country, they have forgotten their dark past and want to move on and enjoy life. We met the friendliest local shoe shine man who was so happy to see us he asked for a group picture!

I also decided to go on a day trip to Guatapé, organising it on my own instead of doing an (expensive) tour, and was joined by Mike, an American guy staying at my hostel. We left early to catch a 2h bus where we had a nap before jumping off to start our ascent of the 740 steps of the famous Piedra del Peñon, a 2,135m high rock with breathtaking views over the flooded valley of the Guatapé region. It was a bank holiday so the place was crowded with Colombians but we still enjoyed the view and I tried a Cerveza Michelada, a beer with salt, lime and some mango slices - it tasted a bit like tequila haha... We climbed back down and took a tuk tuk to the little town of Guatapé where we sat down for a traditional bandeja paisa for lunch: an artery-bursting dish of chicharron, sausage, mince meat, egg, avocado, rice, beans, salad and arepa, it was delicious! We then went to buy our return bus ticket as I was told they got booked up quickly, and indeed, the earliest available bus back was at 7.45pm... So we spent our afternoon lazily exploring the pretty colourful streets with their traditional wooden bas-relief carvings, reading in the grass and walking around the lake, trying to avoid the intermittent rain. It was a great day!


I then decided to head straight to Cali with a night bus to finally get my salsa fix! I stayed in what Is probably the best hostel I've ever stayed at during my trip, which I highly recommend: El Viajero Hostel & Salsa School. With its pool, pleasant common areas, free breakfast, free salsa & yoga classes and daily (& night) activities, I met so many cool people and ended up staying there for 1 whole week! On the morning I got there I joined Jess and Hannah, 2 English girls, to a Colombian street food tour which was really nice: it was a great way to try lots of different things, from chicharron de coco (caramelized coconut), salpicon (fruit punch) and guarapo (sugar cane juice), to Colombian ceviche (with shrimps and ketchup!) and weird local dishes or fruits like mamoncillo, piñuela, turumba, lulo or pepe de pan (bread fruit).

After Jess and Hannah had left for Salento, I met some other super cool people: Zoya, from Australia, David from England, Phil, Canadian, and Garrett, American. We visited the centre of Cali where we saw a few historic buildings and cool graffitis and I also tried lulada, a delicious local drink made with lulo, lime, water and sugar. And of course I had to try bandeja paisa again... Our main concern of the day was to decide to go into town or lay by the pool and what to have for lunch haha!

We also went to try the traditional game of tejo on a Sunday afternoon, where we found older men drinking beer and playing the game very seriously haha... You have to throw a metal puck from a distance into a clay-filled box with a circular target surrounded by paper triangles filled with gunpowder. You're supposed to aim for the central target (which I did reach by some sort of miracle on my first try) but it's way more fun to try to get the little triangles to explode! We had a nice chat with the owner who seemed surprised yet happy to have some gringos in his place.

One day Zoya, David and I decided to go on a day trip to San Cipriano, with 2 other girls, Megan and Lou. We had to take a collectivo for about 2.5h to reach Buenaventura from where we walked a little, guided by some cute local kids, to get through the Brujitas... How to explain what this is? There was a railway that connected Buenaventura to San Cipriano, but trains stopped running, so instead of abandoning it locals decided to recycle it: they created the brujitas, which are wooden platforms on wheels which are powered by a motorcycle on the rail! You have to see it to believe it haha... It was so much fun! We drove quite fast along some beautiful lush green scenery to our destination. From there we walked through the little village to get to a big natural park where we decided to do some tubing down the river! Another hilarious and really fun adventure as the water flow was sometimes quite fast and we kept loosing people along the way haha... We missed the exit so we did it once again and got lost in the jungle which was super muddy. But we got there in the end and had a nice late lunch. We wanted to go for a walk to a waterfall but the overcast weather was getting worse so we decided to go back, which was a wise decision as it started pouring down soon after... By the time we were on the brujitas we were all soaked haha! Then we almost froze to death in the 2.5h collectivo journey back as the aircon was blasting in full force. That night was a quiet one and we went to bed early after an awesome day!


I was really excited about practising my salsa moves but I realised from day 1 that the salsa I knew was very different from the salsa caleña... So I spent a lot of my time in Cali doing group salsa classes in the evening, and private classes during the day with my teacher Luis who was very patient with me.
 Did you know there are 4 main styles of salsa?
- Los Angeles (LA style) also called on1 = the one I've always known and danced, it's the most popular internationally
- New York also called on2 or mambo = another style of lineal salsa
- Cuban = danced in a more circular manner contrary to LA or NY style
- Caleña (Cali style) = non-lineal, it's very technical and involves a lot of footwork, it's the most famous salsa style in Colombia and in South America
We then went out almost every night to practice in the best salsa clubs: La Topa, Tin Tin Deo, Café Mi Tierra... We even did a salsa tour one evening where we had a class with some super talented teachers before going to 3 different salsa places! And we had our biggest night out on a Monday, it was so much fun...


So this is the story of all the fun adventures I had in Medellin and Cali!
Next post will be the last part of my entire South American trip through the Zona Cafetera and Bogota before flying back home to France...



Posted by carochauvet 09:20 Archived in Colombia Tagged river city friends party salsa tubing colombia cali medellin citylife guatapé Comments (3)


Day 196

sunny 31 °C
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It feels weird to post this on the last day of my trip with my flight home being only a few hours away!! However I will keep posting until I've shared with you all the stories and pics from my trip, that way it will feel like I'm still travelling, going from place to place and enjoying the beauty of South America...


Once Sam had gone, I decided to head to Riohacha, a short bus ride East from Palomino and a great base to organise a trip to La Guajira, the northern Colombian peninsula close to Venezuela. Instead of doing a tour I decided to save some money and do it on my own. La Guajira is not very easily accessible and requires a lot of time and effort to get there, but it is worth it, so I bought enough food and water for 3 days and set off.


The first stop was Cabo de la Vela, where I got to after a 1h collectivo + another 2h collectivo (and 1h wait in between). I met 2 girls from Chezch Republic in the car, and one of them had just turned 18, it made me feel old haha... Cabo de la Vela is a remote Wayuu fishing village where communities live in traditional cactus huts by the beach. It felt nice to be somewhere so far removed from civilisation. We took moto taxis and went to Playa del Pilon, a striking beach of bright orange sand and wild craggy cliffs. We climbed up the Pilon de Azucar hill to get a picturesque view that the Lonely Planet describes as 'a tropical beach on the rocky coast of Ireland' - pretty unique! Next was the Ojo de agua beach, a quiet spot with very few tourists, perfect to read my book while listening to the soothing sound of the waves. We finished our tour by going up El Farol (the Lighthouse) to watch the sunset, a nice end to a great day.

The next morning I set off at 5am to board the 4x4 that would take me to Punta Gallinas. You have to get a tour which organises transport for you: it is the only way to get there as there are literally no roads... In my car were a French girl, an English girl and 2 German guys travelling together, plus Chesca, an English girl who had been living in France her whole life. So the journey there (3h car + 1 boat) was a very bumpy yet scenic route through the desert, crossing local women selling artisanal bags and little children asking for drinks and sweets. We finally reached our accommodation (which seemed to be the only one...), in that little area where only 8 Wayuu families live, 60 people in total. After breakfast we set off to explore the surroundings in the open back of a pretty worn-out jeep, enjoying the wind in our hair... We started with a nice rocky beach, then went on to see the official most Northern point of South America and finally Bahia Hondita where the view is breathtaking and makes you feel like you're at the end of the world - a bit like when Cristopher Colombus thought the Earth was flat and that everything fell beind the horizon! Along the way we had to stop to push our jeep as it got stuck in the sand haha... Our last stop was Playa Taroa, considered to be Colombia's most beautiful and remote beach accessed by sliding down a giant sand dune all the way into the water. Despite the strong sandy wind, you could appreciate the beauty and majesty of the place. After lunch and a (much needed) nap we went to watch the sunset on the beach. There is no electricity (and no wifi of course!) after 10pm therefore we all had an early night in our super comfortable chinchorros, a tradional locally hand-made colourful hammock. It took some getting used to but now I can sleep very well in a hammock: it's all about the position, you have to lie down in diagonal in order to lie flat otherwise your back will hurt!

The following day we already had to head back. The rest of the group split up between Palomino and Minca while Chesca and I decided to stay one night in Riohacha to relax. We went to the Mercado Nuevo, an impressive market with every possible colour combination of traditional Colombian handbag you can think of. I've always wanted a hammock so I was pleased to find a beautiful pink and green chinchorro: they take 3 months to make as they are entirely hand-woven! I can't wait to hang it in my garden...
The next day I was planning to go straight to Tayrona National Park but realized that I couldn't possibly go there with my massive backpack. So I decided to follow Chesca to Taganga, close to Santa Marta, for 1 night to leave my bags there. We had a nice hostel with a pool and a great view of the town and the beach.


I took an early bus the next morning to El Zaino to reach the entrance of the Park. I met a couple of English girls and we walked together the 2h hike to the camping in Cabo San Juan, walking past some beautiful beaches and amazing scenery - so many palm trees too! I booked my hammock for the night and after a quick lunch I went for a walk on the beach and went up the gazebo to enjoy the impressive 360 degree view. I spent my afternoon reading lazily on the beach and working on my tan, before exploring the beautiful wild beaches nearby. I was thinking I should have just brought my hammock and hung it in between two coconut trees, no one would have cared...

I woke up early the next day to set off for my hike to the ruins of the pre-hispanic town of El Pueblito, one of Tayrona's major settlements thought to have been home to 4000 people. As per what I had been told, it was a tough hike especially in the sun (it was already hot when I left at 7.30am) with a very rocky path that I had to properly climb at times! But the scenery was beautiful. I made it in about 3h return which I was quite pleased with. I enjoyed some relaxing time on Cabo beach and after lunch I walked to La Piscina, a beautiful stretch of white sand with palm trees. It was so hot that I had to jump in the water every 5min! Then it was already time to catch my boat back to Taganga (avoiding the 2h painful walk in the sun).


I met up with Chesca and Jade & Francis, this really cool Canadian couple we had met in Taganga, and we all headed to Minca, above Santa Marta and slightly more inland. When we finally got there after dark, we realized the entire town had run out of electricity! So we had to find our hostel with a head torch, and had a burger dinner by candle light haha... I wasn't planning to spend that much time there but our hostel was very nice, with hammocks and the cutest little kittens (I had my own favourite!) so we ended up spending about 3 days there. We cooked at the hostel most nights which made us feel like we were at home.
We took mototaxis to go to these little waterfall with watering holes to swim in, and I jumped from about 10m! Then we did a nice hike all the way back to town, enjoying the beautiful scenery, very different from what we had seen so far.

We also went for a full day tour starting with a long hike to a couple of big waterfalls (the water was freezing!), with beautiful views along the way: the vegetation was so lush and green, it was amazing! Our guide welcomed us in his home, a traditional house made of bambus, and cooked us a delicious lunch. Afterwards he took us through the production process of cocoa and then we went to this small local coffee producer to learn all the secrets about coffee and taste it. Did you know that coffee has an expiry time? To enjoy it at its optimal state, it should be consumed within 3 months of being toasted, yet you should wait 3 weeks after it's been toasted to grind it, and once it's been ground, you have 3 minutes to make it otherwise the volatile coffee oils will evaporate... Coffee is more complex than you think! That night was a very fun night out and I tried aguardiente for the first time... And probably the last as I had a big headache the next day haha!

And that's it for the beautiful North coast of Colombia! It's been a great adventure but there is still so much more to see in Colombia, so wait patiently for my next post where I will make my way South to explore the cities.


Posted by carochauvet 11:45 Archived in Colombia Tagged desert beach jungle sand waterfall hammock tropical dune coffee colombia tayrona minca cocoa la_guajira Comments (3)


Day 191

sunny 30 °C
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Sam had already been to Colombia so we decided to head straight to the North coast so I could come back South to do the big cities later. Our journey started with a funny story. Sam and I boarded our flight from Cali to San Andrés, a little island in the Caribbean Sea close to Nicaragua. As we were approaching our destination, the captain told us we couldn't land as there was a big hole on the tarmac... So we had to turn around and land in Cartagena. We were not allowed to leave the plane as they refilled the fuel, so passengers started shouting and complaining that they were hungry and the kids were crying, there was almost a riot inside the plane! Viva Colombia is the cheapest airline in Colombia so they don't offer any free food or drinks, which are quite expensive. The delay wasn't their fault and although I was hungry and annoyed too, I felt very sorry for the staff who had to deal with the uproar of outraged customers! We were then told we had to fly to Medellín to change crew, without being able to leave the plane again, to finally get a flight from there to San Andrés where we landed safely 8h before the originally scheduled time... Oh well, we got there in the end haha!

We spent our first day cycling around the island which was a great way to get an overview of the whole island. Located 750km away from mainland Colombia, it has a very different vibe and a distinct culture: the Creole-speaking locals called Raizal are part of the Afro-Caribbean ethnic group and have their own habits and traditions, whether it is food, music (big reggae/rasta influence!) or architecture, with also influences from the British colons. We got to see a few beautiful beaches along the way and stopped to sip some fresh coconut water. Later on we had to escape the pouring rain on the East side of the island, before deciding to cross the small distance between the beach to Rocky Cay with all our clothes in a dry bag haha... There wasn't much to see on the island especially as it was getting dark, but it was a pretty nice view towards the coast.

Another highlight of our stay on San Andrés was our day trip to Acuario/Haynes Cay and Johnny Cay, 2 small islets off the main island coast. We were a bit disappointed to see that there were quite a lot of Colombian tourists, not quite the desert paradise island we had imagined (hard to compete after the Galapagos...). However we still enjoyed the pure crystal turquoise water, and found a quiet spot on Johnny Cay away from the crowds. We even bumped into an iguana and a bright green lizard! Life on the island was quite expensive but we managed to do some savings by making our own breakfast, eating sandwiches for lunch and having a reasonable meal for dinner.

We also visited the Coconut house, entirely made of all things coconut from wood to shell, with its surrounding ecological park, where we watched a nice local dance show. Of course we had to try the typical Afro-Caribbean dish of the island called Rondon: it is a soup made of coconut milk in which you cook fish, potatoes and other types of starch or vegetables - it looks a bit weird but was actually quite nice! We also went to explore the pretty beaches and colourful houses of the San Luis barrio, one of my favourite parts of the island.

Our next stop was Cartagena, also called Cartagena de Indias, a beautifully preserved colonial walled city and a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the scenic location of many novels and films including 'Love in the time of cholera' by Gabriel García Marquez. Some backpackers will tell you that it's fake and touristy, which might be true to some extent, but I still loved the colourful houses, the traditional churches and the animation in the streets. Also it is HOT. Probably the hottest place I've ever been to! It was hard to be outside between 12 and 3pm... We just wandered around the streets, enjoying the pretty little houses and the many artisanal shops. And we did splurge on one amazing meal at La Cevichería where we had ceviche (obviously) but also an amazing Lobster paella hmm... This was the first time I had the opportunity to properly be in a Colombian city on the mainland, and it felt like a very different place compared to the other countries I had been to, definitely less Andean like Peru & Bolivia, and much closer to Brazil, with some African influences. And the 'palanqueras' that you see everywhere, those ladies dressed in colourful outfits selling fruits, reminded me of the 'bahianas' in Salvador de Bahia!

Sam only had a couple of days left before his flight back home so instead of going to Tayrona where he had been before, we decided to head to Palomino, a tiny beach town further East along the coast. We spent a night in Santa Marta and then took a bus there. I love those small places in South America where there is no bus station so you just get dropped off on the side of the road haha... Palomino is basically just one street (if you can call it a street) all the way to the beach where you can find several hostels and a couple of restaurants. We spent 2 days there in our nice beach hut-style hotel, just chilling on the beach and eating some nice 'menus del día' at our local restaurant! We also went tubing down the river which was really fun: for those who have never heard of it, the idea is that you rent a rubber ring and then go down the river on it all the way to the sea! It was a lot of fun, and we got to see some beautiful landscapes along the way. We also took a couple of moto taxis which are a really fun way to get around!

And that was the story of my exploration of the Caribbean coast of Colombia with Sam. But there is much more to see in Northern Colombia... So in the next post you will hear all about how I got to La Guajira, the most northern point in South America, my amazing 2-day trip in Tayrona and the wild and beautiful Minca.

Viva Colombia!


Posted by carochauvet 16:37 Archived in Colombia Tagged beaches nature beach sand paradise tropical colombia cartagena san_andres palomino Comments (2)


Day 187

storm 28 °C
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Initially Sam and I were thinking about going next to the Zona Cafetera, the coffee area but then we changed our minds and decided to do a jungle tour in the Cuyabano reserve. So we spent a day in Quito to organise our 3-day tour into the jungle. Once that was done we had a bit of time to walk around the old town and do some shopping: we couldn't resist all the beautiful souvenirs and both got some ponchos haha! We also tried the traditional Ecuadorian drink called Candelazo, a delicious warm drink with rhum...

We took an overnight bus to Lago Agrio in the Eastern part of Ecuador and got on a bus with the rest of our group. After about 2h we all got into a boat and made the journey all the way to our lodge in the Cuyabeno Reserve. It was the wet season which is why we had to do everything by boat, otherwise you would be able to walk everywhere! We saw a lot of animals along the way, including Squirrel Monkeys, Red Howler and Black Saki monkeys, but also an anaconda resting on a branch and even a sloth! There are 5 different ecosystems in the reserve so you can see a great variety of plants and wildlife. After a late lunch and some resting time, we went for a ride on the boat to have a swim in the lake and then enjoyed a beautiful sunset. On our way back we spotted a black spectacled caiman who came really close to our boat...

The next day was great as we got to do a lot of activities. We started with a walk to find the biggest tree in the Amazon forest and we were lucky to spot some Noisy Night Monkeys emerging from their hole in a tree, so cute haha... Then next came what I really wanted to do: spend a day with an indigenous community. We visited the Sion community, one of 14 indigenous tribes present in the Rainforest - they are 55 in total, with 2 families, they speak their own language, pacoca. We started by doing some traditional face-painting using a natural colourant from a local fruit. The lady who received us was lovely and taught us how to make the traditional cassava bread, made with yuca usually for special occasions. First she showed us how to harvest the yuca: you have to wait 9 months for it to be ready, you don't eat the branches or the leaves, only the roots! She then showed us how to peel it, grate it, extract the juice (which is dangerous as it contains cyanide), and then use the flour-like texture as the only ingredient to make a kind of flat bread that is delicious! We also tried chicha, a fermented sugar cane juice that tasted a bit like cider.

We then went to another little village to meet with a shaman. He explained to us that to become a shaman you have to regularly drink ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic concoction of plants from the forest which gives you power and energy. It is a very ancient art that is only taught by shamans to their students, of which there are less and less every year. They then acquire a healing power which allows them to diagnose and relieve little diseases and pains - he did a demonstration on me. However when it is something more serious that requires surgery for example he will advise them to seek medical help. It was really interesting to hear him talk about his beliefs and traditions. We also tried to throw an arrow with a very long sarbacane that is traditionally used to kill animals or for enemies. I was pretty good and got it straight into the target!
We went to see another nice sunset over the lake and then went for our night walk. We had our boots, our ponchos and flashlight on and saw a lot of pretty scary insects. Many spiders, but especially a giant hairy tarentula and also an amazing Black Scorpion that glowed in the dark! We hurried back to the lodge in our boat as it started pouring down with rain... it is the Rainforest after all!

We got up early the next morning to go look for birds on top of the bird-watching tower and we weren't disappointed: we saw a few toucans and an amazing colony of blue and yellow macaws, always in pairs, playing together! Our guide had a telescope so I managed to get some really good pics, it was beautiful to watch... After breakfast we had to set off and during the 2.5h that lasted the boat ride back, we got absolutely drenched in the worst downpour I have ever experienced in my life... We still got there in the end and hopped onto the bus back to Lago Agrio where we met a guide who kindly offered us to stay at his wife's restaurant outside of town since we had several hours to wait until our night bus. So we got to relax in hammocks and enjoyed a nice home-made dinner while his whole family was there, it was quite a funny experience!

We then got into our night bus to Tulcan, the most northern city in Ecuador, with the aim to cross the border to Colombia by foot in the morning (it is not recommended to do it at night). All went well and we got a taxi to Ipiales, where we then took a 12h bus to Cali... We were a little nervous as we had been told that there were some 'paros' on the road to Cali, meaning that no cars or buses could go through. However we got lucky once more and arrived safely after a long but uneventful journey, the only event being an amazing meal we had for a very cheap price haha... In Cali we found a fun hostel that made us feel we were still in the jungle! We went for drinks and food but didn't see much of the city so I already knew I would be back to experience its legendary salsa nightlife...

That is all for now, in the next post I will tell everything about the last leg of my trip with Sam, exploring the Caribbean coast between San Andres island, Cartagena and Palomino.

Hasta luego amigos!


Posted by carochauvet 11:41 Archived in Ecuador Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises birds rainforest wildlife nature adventure jungle tropical colombia ecuador Comments (4)


Day 181

sunny 30 °C
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The Galapagos consist of 16 islands, only 3 of which are inhabited. The best way to explore it is by cruise, which guarantees you to see as much as possible of it without wasting time in boat transport back and forth. Cruises are usually really expensive but Sam and I managed to get a last minute deal on an 8-day cruise in First Class boat Nemo II focusing on the South Eastern islands, and still had 2 days to explore Isabela, one of the other main islands located more West.
Life on the boat was amazing! We had delicious food prepared for us by our on-board cook as well as snacks and drinks throughout the day. Contrary to most other cruise ships, our boat was a catamaran which was really nice especially when we had the sails out in the evening. Our cabin was tiny but cozy and we loved sitting on the deck upstairs while the boat was sailing or just relaxing on the sofas downstairs, sheltered from the wind.
The most striking for me, despite the obvious beautiful beaches and wild landscapes, was the wildlife: we saw endemic species that don't exist anywhere else, but above all we got incredibly close to them, sometimes only a few centimetres, yet they were so tame and so not bothered about being observed; it was an absolutely unique and incredible experience!

We arrived at Baltra airport in the morning where we met Miguel, our guide for the next 8 days. We then all headed to the port to board our boat where had our first lunch and met the rest of our group: Ursula and Andreas, a lovely German older couple, a German girl with her mum, an Italian couple, a French guy, Vinay, an Indian guy living in Holland plus HannaLore and Jeroen, a Belgian couple on their year-long honeymoon who arrived the next day: with Sam being British, we pretty much covered Europe haha!
In the afternoon we went for a walk on Bachas beach, which was everything we had dreamed of: pure white sand, turquoise water with black marine iguanas & red crabs. This was our first view of a Galapagos beach and we couldn't see how it could get any better, but the best was yet to come...

This is the main island where most people live in the capital of Puerto Ayora. However there are lots of places to explore which remain deserted. We went to the highlands to see giant tortoises in the wild. They can live up to 150 years and weigh up to 250kg! You can easily distinguish them as the males are always bigger than the females. You can also tell how old they are by looking at the lines on their shell, the less defined they are the older they are, as they get eroded by plants and rocks. Next we visited a lava tunnel formed by the lava flow underground - most islands used to have or still have today some form of volcanic activity which is easy to notice as you walk around. Back to Puerto Ayora, we took the opportunity to buy a waterproof iphone case which proved to be incredibly useful!
After lunch we were supposed to visit the Charles Darwin Breeding Centre for sea turtles but it was 80% closed so Sam and I decided to go to Tortuga Bay instead. A nice long walk led us to a very large beach with only a handful of people but a lot of marine iguanas. We even saw a heron snap an iguana just in front of us!
That evening we sailed through dinner to get to San Cristobal which made me feel sea sick so we got an early night.

We woke up at 6am for our first snorkelling at Kicker Rock: thank god I had a wetsuit as the water was freezing... We saw a lot of animals including a lot of colourful fish, our first sea turtle, and a few sea lions, it was amazing! After a good breakfast that helped us recover from the cold, we went for a walk on Cerro Brujo, where we saw a lot of sea lions on a beautiful beach with bright turquoise sea - we had some free time to sit down, chill on the beach and enjoy the striking scenery.
After lunch we went to Lobos island, where we saw the famous blue-footed boobies from very close! We observed a lot of females keeping their eggs preciously. We also saw a few Fregate birds which have a red throat pouch that they inflate to attract their future partner.
We then had another snorkelling session near Lobos island where we were lucky to follow a sea turtle from very close! The water was very clear so we saw it perfectly well - they are so graceful when they swim, it is incredible to witness it...
We sailed through the night towards Española island, I took a sea sickness tablet that knocked me out so slept like a baby hehe...

In the morning we went for a walk on Suarez Point where we saw a lot of sea lions again (by then they had slowly started to become our favourite animal!). There were a lot of birds too, including the Galapagos hawk that we were able to approach from very close, and most importantly the albatros: this is the only island in the Galapagos where you can see it! They look really beautiful and are very impressive when they fly with their 2.5m wing span. We went towards another part of the island to get an amazing viewpoint by a giant cliff where the waves crashed on the rocks and a big geyser of water created a rainbow...
After lunch and some resting time on the boat (=nap in the sun on the deck), it was time for snorkelling in Gardner's Bay, the water was very cold so I didn't take part in the second snorkelling closer to the beach: we were looking for sharks and couldn't find them anyway. Then we went for a walk on Gardner's Bay where there were a lot of sea lions just resting there and a beautiful panorama: water was the purest turquoise colour, it was incredible...


We started our day with a walk to Cormorant Point which has a very dry and desertic landscape, covered with holy trees (Sandalwood) and where we could only find one flamingo. We also had a walk on the beach and found some olivine, a light green semi-precious stone naturally present in the sand.
We then went for snorkelling in Champion islet to once again see a lot of wildlife: a few sea lions with their babies playing really close to us, a beautiful white spot eagle ray, and even a white-tipped shark! We also saw some colourful King Angelfish and Razor Surgeonfish.
After lunch we went for a walk to Buccaneer Cove, and went down into a 100m-long lava tunnel, where it was pitch black! Then we visited Post Office Bay where sailors have been leaving their post without postage since 1913: the tradition says that you should have a look through the postcards and take with you the ones closer to your home to deliver them to their recipients!
We then went snorkelling from the beach where we saw a lot of sea turtles, one of them so close I could touch it, it was incredible! They are so graceful and peaceful when they swim... While we were sailing we also saw humpback whales which is quite unusual and very impressive, they can be up to 16m metres long! In the evening we set the sails and gently glided towards our next island while the sun was setting in the background, it was lovely.


In the morning we went for a walk on Santa Fe island, where we saw a very dry desolate landscape with giant cacti. We were lucky to find land iguanas, which look very different from marine iguanas with their pale green colour. They eat the fruits of the cacti and sometimes wait for weeks under a tree for a fruit to fall! We also saw the cutest baby sea lion who was walking towards the sea: he was so tired he had to stop and lie down every 5 min haha... The water was a beautiful turquoise colour, perfectly crystal clear so we saw sea some rays from the boat.
On our snorkelling session near the beach, we saw some giant Damselfish which are blue-gray when adults but bright blue with iridescent blue spots when young. We also saw a young sea turtle with a beautiful carapace.
In the afternoon we went to South Plaza island, a tiny island of only 1km2 but with an incredible landscape thanks to red plants called Sesuvium creating a beautiful colour contrast. You can find there Bachelor's rock, named that way as it is the final resting place of many former alpha male sea lions: after a tiring season of mating and fighting other males to keep their harem of 25 females, defeated males, too old to continue, head there to finish their days. Some of them get so depressed that they throw themselves off the cliff! We saw as well a lot of graceful tropicbirds flying around as well as yellow land iguanas.

On that day we woke up early to do a work-out session on the deck! Probably a good thing since we ate sooo much food during the entire cruise... We then all went for a walk on Chinese Hat island (I don't actually think it looks like a Chinese hat haha) to see beautiful landscape with volvanic rock and turquoise blue water. We went snorkelling in Sullivan Bay, in between Sombrero Chino and Santiago for 1km with the current, where we saw a lot of starfish and our first Galapagos penguin. We also saw a white-tipped shark from upclose, it was very impressive!
After lunch we had our last snorkelling session around Pinnacle rock, I was a little cold but the scenery was beautiful. Finally we walked on Bartolome island up a lot of stairs to get a beautiful view across the bay and a great group picture. It was our last night so we enjoyed some wine on the deck while the sun was setting, what an amazing setting for an 'apéro'...


On our last day we woke up early to do a tour of Black Turtle Cove on Santa Cruz island in the dinghy. Surrounded by white and red mangrove trees, we spotted some black-tipped sharks, a lot of rays and even a sea turtle.
After breakfast it was time to go back to reality... almost. We said goodbye to everyone and after a bus, a boat and another boat, we got back to Puerto Ayora. Sam and I then headed to Las Grietas, a really scenic swimming hole set in a canyon. We got there after a little water taxi and a 30min trail going through a salt mine with pink water and a little beach with nesting iguanas. We then got on the boat with HannaLore and Jeroen to Puerto Villamil, the main city on Isabela island, for our last Galapagos adventure.

The next morning we allowed ourselves a little lie-in in a normal sized room and enjoyed a nice home-made breakfast with the Belgians. Puerto Villamil is a very peaceful and laidback town, a nice change from busy and ugly Puerto Ayora. After a quick walk around town we booked our Tintoreras tour by boat. We got to see a lot of Galapagos penguins which are the smallest species of penguins: they are so cute! They swim a bit like ducks which is quite funny to watch... Then we had a walk on the Tintoreras islet where we got to observe at least 20-25 white-tipped sharks resting and swimming in a little cove where they like to be as the water is always warmer. It was amazing, some of them were adults and about 2m long! Afterwards we went snorkelling and saw a lot of sea turtles, sharks again and the most playful sea lions that we'd ever seen. They were swimming straight towards us before moving away at the last minute haha...
We then went for a walk to the Giant Tortoise Breeding Centre, passing through a salt lagoon with flamingos. On our way back we stopped for a drink on the beach in a lively and fun beach bar as the sun was setting before having a nice dinner.


So this is the story of our incredible Galapagos adventure! I am so glad we did it, it was a bit of a splurge and definitely outside of the backpacking scene, but definitely one of the highlights of my trip and a once-in-a-lifetime experience...

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as we enjoyed our time there!

Lots of love


Posted by carochauvet 14:19 Archived in Ecuador Tagged snorkelling wildlife nature beach island paradise shark turtle galapagos ecuador sea_lion Comments (3)


Day 176

sunny 28 °C
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After an amazing time in Cuzco, I was planning to spend a couple of days in Mancora in the North of Peru before crossing over to Ecuador. But my journey there was more complicated than planned... I had booked a direct night bus with Oltursa from Lima but no one told me (the hostel, the taxi, the guide book...) that there were 2 Oltursa bus stations. So when I turned up they said the bus was leaving from the other station at the other side of town and that I was probably going to miss it... I tried everything, asked them to call the station to get them to wait, got a cab there but missed it by 15min aaargh!! This was the last bus of the day so the only way for me to get there the next morning was to get the next bus to Piura (3h later) and then take a colectivo to get to Mancora. Which is what I did so I arrived safely in Mancora although later than I had planned!

I enjoyed the nice pool of the Loki del Mar hostel, although I realised that this was too much of a party hostel for me and I didn't feel like drinking and partying that night so I just had a nice dinner and went to bed early. The next day I met with Kristina, a Russian girl who I had met in Paracas and we went for a delicious lunch in an amazing restaurant, La Sirena d'Juan that we had both heard about. There we bumped into John, an American guy that Kristina had met the day before. We all went for a nice walk on the beach all the way to his hostel which had a much more chilled vibe and where I should probably had stayed! We had a relaxing afternoon there, chatting and swimming in the pool. We were all leaving that night so we decided to go back to the same restaurant for dinner since we liked it so much haha! I got the most amazing dish 'Slowly cooked pork, sweet and sour black beans sauce, lentil tacu tacu, caramelized bananas, rosemary oil and avocado salad' yummm... I joined Kristina and her friends and we all took a night bus to Cuenca: it was cheap but also probably one of the worst buses I've had, I barely slept!

The border crossing to Ecuador was smooth, and we arrived in Cuenca early in the morning. A big religious party was going on in town so there were sweets and cakes stands literally EVERYWHERE!! I've never seen such a profusion of sweet things in the same place, it was so tempting I couldn't resist haha... Cuenca is a pretty colonial town with a beautiful church and nice streets to walk around. I was so tired when we arrived there in the morning that I sadly forgot my hat in the top compartment on the bus... the same hat that has been following me through all my adventures (even though it was a cheap one)! But I actually found out that luckily for me, Cuenca is the best place in Ecuador and maybe in the world to buy a real 'paja toquilla' hat (wrongly called panama hat) - which is what I did at the famous Casa del Sombrero. We also went to the Pumapungo Museum where we learned a lot about the history of indigenous Ecuadorian tribes and where we saw some impressive shrunken heads (!) before continuing to the nearby park with its bright colourful parrots. I enjoyed a day around town on my own and went into the church courtyard where they had a little festival going on, with live music, tasting of local products, artisan gifts, and I tried arepas for the first time, a delicious corn-based dough filled with meat, beans, cheese, guacamole and spicy sauce hmmmm!

After 2 nice days I took a night bus to Quito in order to meet Sam who was meant to arrive from London the next morning. But his flight got cancelled... Luckily he managed to get on another flight arriving later that evening so I had one day to explore Quito on my own. I was very tired but decided to go on a walking tour in the morning which is always a nice way to discover a new city. We visited the market with all its funny local fruits (tree tomatoes anyone?) before exploring the historic centre. The main plaza is very charming, flanked by the great cathedral on one side and the presidential palace on the other, though no presidents live there anymore since 2 of them got killed in painful circumstances by angry people on the streets... We also saw some beautiful churches as well as the pretty calle de la Ronda, with its colourful streets, lively restaurants and artisan shops.

I then got back to the hotel for a nap and some relaxing time. I just had to be patient and wait for Sam to arrive. It was amazing to see him after almost 5 months... We had a lot to catch up on so didn't go to sleep until late, but then it was already time to go to catch our flight for the Galapagos!!...

So as you might have guessed, next post (which is almost ready) will be on our amazing Galapagos adventure! Stay tuned for more stories and pics :)

Besos xx

Posted by carochauvet 06:01 Archived in Ecuador Tagged churches food beach peru quito mancora ecuador cuenca citylife Comments (2)


Day 162

semi-overcast 20 °C
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Ryan and I flew to Cuzco to meet with our friends Meera, Nikita and Nira who had just arrived from London that day. It was nice to hang out with them as we got to explore this beautiful city. It was nice and sunny during the day but got quite cold in the evenings though, as it is pretty high (3,400m).
We spent our first day exploring the historic part of town. Cuzco used to be the capital of the entire Inca Empire, which is why it is so full of history, and it feels like there is something to look at in every corner. I like the idea that the Incas considered it the belly button of the world... The main plaza is very impressive as it has the Cathedral and the San Francisco Church on 2 sides, colonial traditional houses on the others, and you can clearly see that the city is surrounded by hills which make a beautiful setting! We visited the amazing Quricancha, which used to be the most important temple in the Inca Empire, dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God. The Spanish colonists built the Church of Santo Domingo on the site, demolishing the temple and using its foundations for the cathedral. Walls of the different temples (of the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, the Rainbow) were covered in gold sheets which were all sadly taken away by the Spanish.

One day we went out to explore some of the Inca ruins scattered outside of town. There are 16 archeological sites all around Cusco so we chose 4 of them. You can just walk there from the city centre, but the first ruin is located on a steep hill that overlooks the city so we all got tired and out of breath quickly as we went up because of the high altitude. Sacsahuayman (which means 'Satisfied Condor' but we kept calling it Sexy woman haha) is thought to have been a fortress and a place used for rituals. The stonework was very impressive especially when you see the huge size of the stones and the precision with which they have been carved: some of them are curved, but all of them are so precisely assembled that you wouldn't even be able to fit a single piece of paper! This could also explain how these resisted so well to the numerous earthquakes that have devastated the country over the years. Next stop was Q'enqo grande, another ruin that used to be an amphitheatre as well as an astronomical observatory, and Q'enqo chico, with its cave used for sacrifices and sacred rock. By the time we reached the top of the next hill and enjoyed the beautiful views, Nira, Nikita and Ryan were tired and ready to head back to Cusco. So Meera and I continued and to avoid getting back after dark we gained some time by taking a bus to Pukapukara, which is thought to have been a hunting lodge, a guard post and a stopping point for travelers. Our final stop was in Tambomachay, a beautiful and very well-preserved site with several running fountains still in use. It is popularly known as El Baño del Inca (The Bath of the Inca), and theories connect the site to an Inca water cult. How the space was used is still unsure but Meera and I liked to imagine that this was a luxury retreat for rich Incas with a spa haha!

Our next big challenge and my last prep before the Inca trail was to climb up Rainbow Mountain, from 4000m to 5000m. We got picked up at 3.30am and had about 3h to sleep in the bus then after a good breakfast it was time to go. Nira abandonned after a bit as she suffered from the altitude too much and didn't want to force on her knee too much before the trail. But Meera and Nikita powered through even though the altitude made it very difficult for them as they weren't as acclimatised as Ryan and I were. After about 3h of walking along beautiful mountain views and even a snowy peak, we had one last very steep ascent and then we finally made it to the top! I was exhausted and out of breath but the panoramic view was absolutely incredible and made the whole trip worthwhile. The Rainbow mountain takes all its colours from different layers of minerals which create those beautiful natural colourful stripes which look unreal...

We then had one last resting day before the trail. We had yet another delicious and filling Peruvian lunch in a picanteria, Nikita tried the traditional cuy (guinea pig!) but I just had lechon (suckling pig). The portions were so big I had to ask for a doggy bag haha... There was also a lively and colourful party going on in the streets with traditional costumes and dancing, which was nice to see.

Finally D-day had come... the first day of our 4-day Inca trail!! Trekking the Inca trail is a traveler's rite of passage and an adventure of a lifetime. I was half excited half terrified about it! The Inca trail is not just one long hike all the way to the top as I initially thought, but a series of ascents and descents through several passes and Inca ruins along the way.
We got picked up at about 4.30am and had a few hours in the car to get to Ollantaytambo where we had breakfast. We were 16 in our group, mainly Americans, but also a lovely Italian couple, Federico and Aurea. We had 21 porters to carry all our food, tent and cooking equipment for the trip, plus one cook, Milton, one amazing guide, Percy, and his assistant guide, Pepe. We realized too late that we were the only ones who hadn't paid for an extra half porter so we had to carry our own sleeping bag and mattress on top of our clothes, water, and snacks for the trip (we tried to pack as light as possible and left most of our things in Cusco)... So my bag was about 8-10kg!
The first day of the trail is relatively easy and is a good way to prepare for the next few days. The porters set off before us with 20 to 25kg each, it was so impressive to see them sometimes run with their ridiculously massive backpacks... As we started walking we got to enjoy beautiful views of the Urubamba Cordillera and the snow capped Veronica peak (5,860m). We then got to a viewpoint where we saw the Inca ruins of Llactapata, primarily an agricultural station used to supply Machu Picchu with maize, and including over 100 buildings, houses for the workers and the soldiers, and five baths. After our first delicious and very copious lunch we continued walking all the way to Wayllabamba (3,000m) for a few more hours where we set camp and had a relaxing evening. There were no showers and no electricity apart from at the dinner table, so we all had an early night.

Day 2 is meant to be the hardest day as this is where you face some seriously steep hikes... It is also a very scenic day as you walk along the Llulluchayoc river and go through a beautiful cloud forest. After 3h trekking through steepening woods and a break in the Llulluchapampa meadow (3,680m), we faced our biggest challenge yet: the 1.5h climb to the first and highest pass of the trail called 'Dead Woman's Pass' at 4,200m! This was definitely the hardest part of the trail for me, with an extremely steep ascent that left me out of breath and forced me to stop a lot. The weather kept changing throughout the day so it was either boiling hot or cold and windy. Thank god we had lots of snacks to keep us going, a cereal bar or some nuts gave us some energy, and some coca leaves kept our spirits up... Then it was all the way down a steep hill to our campsite at Pacamayo (3,600m), which I was really happy with as I much prefer going down hill, but it is still quite painful for the knees, joints and calves... I was really pleased to see that I had arrived first (that was the only time haha)!

The third day was the longest but it was worth it as we got to see a lot of interesting Inca sites along the way. The first one was Runkuracay, small circular ruins occupying a commanding position overlooking the Pacamayo valley below. We then had another tough hike to the second pass, Abra de Runkuracay at 4,000m, where we had a really nice moment - Percy shared with us a traditional Inca ritual where you have to select 3 stones and 3 coca leaves, 1 for you, 1 for the partner in your life and 1 for your community/family. You make a little prayer and let go of all the bad energy in your life, wishing the best for you and your relatives. It was quite an emotional moment as we felt a bit more connected to the nature around us and the powerful meaning that this trail had for the Incas long before us. This is also when we started walking on the actual Inca trail with original paving. Throughout the trail there were so many stairs that I just starting hating stairs and freaking out whenever I saw yet another steep flight of stairs... The next site, Sayacmarca, which means 'Inaccessible town', is a good way to describe the position of those beautiful ruins ruins protected on three sides by sheer cliffs. Shortly after climbing up to the 3rd pass at 3,700m, we visited Phuyupatamarca, the most impressive Inca ruin so far. The name means 'Town in the clouds' as it is almost always cloudy there, which is typical of the cloud forests, and we could see agricultural terraces as well as an intricate series of ceremonial baths. The last Inca site was Wiñay Wayna, whose name means 'Forever young' in Quechua. The ruins comprise magnificent agricultural terraces set in an impressive location with breathtaking views over the mountains. Several baths suggest that the site was probably a religious centre associated with the worship of water and ritual cleansing may have taken place for pilgrims on the final leg of the trail to Machu Picchu.

The last day started early: we woke up at 3.30am and after breakfast we started queuing up at the checkpoint, waiting for it to open at 5.30am to start the trek. Then it was pretty much a race to Intipunku (the Sun Gate), with groups competing to get there first! After all the walking of the last few days, that last bit was easy (even if our thighs and calves were aching) and we couldn't contain our excitement as we finally reached the top and saw the Machu Picchu city spread out before us... This was one of the most amazing moments of my trip and I felt immensely proud to have made it and grateful to be able to witness such an incredible sight. Having completed the Inca trail made it even more special to me. This awe-inspiring ancient city was never found by the Spanish which is why it is still so beautifully preserved today. Found in 1911 by Hiram Bingham by accident, it is thought to have been an important political, administrative and religious centre. Several temples were used for ceremonies and it looks like a lot of nobles and priests used the inca trail to do a pilgrimage all the way to Machu Picchu.
We were exhausted and tiring by late morning so after our tour of the site we took the bus back to Aguas Calientes and had a well-deserved lunch and beer with our group. We then enjoyed a bath in the local hot springs to relax our tired muscles. After a short night in our hostel (in a bed, luxury!), it was time for our last day...

Yes the Inca trail is only 4 days but when we booked it last November, we also thought it would be nice to add one more day of hiking (haha...) to climb Wayna Picchu, the 'Young Peak' that you can see on most pictures of Machu Picchu. We got up early to get to our slot at 7am and start the trail up. It looks very steep but the ascent isn't that hard as it is only 2,720m high, although we were all truly hating steps by the end of the day... The most rewarding was the view at the top of course, which gives you a unique viewpoint of the site, and where you can see its Condor shape. Up there, we once again felt very grateful to be there and privileged to have been a part of this incredible adventure. We chose the longest but also the most scenic route and visited the temple of the Moon which is hidden somewhere up the mountain. We were then lucky to enjoy the beauty and majesty of the Machu Picchu site one last time, and got to see it from every possible angle before heading back to Cuzco by train.

We had promised ourselves that our last 2 days in Cuzco should be devoted purely to eating, drinking and relaxing, as a reward for all our efforts, and that's exactly what we did! We had some amazing chicharrones (fried pork) and found our new favourite ice cream place where you can make your own: I chose white chocolate base with added coconut, plus nutella and m&ms topping! We enjoyed some more traditional dancing in the streets, and of course we got our well-deserved 'I survived the Inca trail' matching tshirts hehe...

So this is the story of my amazing time in Cuzco and the Sacred Valley, all the way to the ancient city of Machu Picchu. The Inca trail was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done, but also the most incredible experience: it was totally worth it!

Coming next, how I continued my adventure and got into Ecuador to start exploring yet another amazing South American country...


Posted by carochauvet 06:41 Archived in Peru Tagged landscapes churches hiking trekking adventure machu_picchu city wild inca cuzco inca_trail citylife Comments (2)


Day 142

sunny 18 °C
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Ryan and I finally met again on the Oltursa night bus from Arequipa to Ica. After Bolivia, I was expecting very limited bus service (last time I asked in Sucre if there would be food served on the night bus to Samaipata, I got laughed at...). But as soon as I had finished eating the sandwich I had brought, I got served a hot meal! On a little platter with a drink and dessert! I was impressed and ate dinner again haha.. We also had wifi on the bus, and even though I had picked the cheaper service, I still had a good reclining seat with a blanket and pillow and slept very well which was very much appreciated...

When we got to Ica we took a taxi straight to Huacachina where we had planned to stay only one night as there is only one thing to do in this tiny touristy town: sandboarding! It is pretty much located in the desert and is therefore surrounded by dunes. So we booked our sandboarding tour for that afternoon at 4pm to avoid the heat. It was amazing, we had such a great time! Half of the fun was actually to enjoy the buggy ride with our crazy driver who made us feel like we were on a rollercoaster haha... To avoid any injuries (apparently it happens a lot), he recommended us to lie down on the board which was actually really fun as we could feel the speed much more! Plus the view of the dunes at sunset was absolutely beautiful...

The next morning we set off straight to Paracas. There weren't as many buses as we thought so we had to take a Cruz del Sur bus (more expensive) for a 1h bus: we had individual screens like in the plane!! so I just watched my own movie while we got served some snacks - the ultimate luxury. In Paracas we stayed at Kokopelli, the best hostel in town with its amazing pool, bar and direct beach access. We quickly realized we would be staying there a bit longer than originally planned... After a nice seafood lunch, we just came back to our hostel to chill and I enjoyed the sun while reading by the pool. We made some great new friends, Bartek, Polish and Olivia, British (she was actually working for an advertising company in London before, and worked for Sunsilk! we actually knew a few people in common - how random!) so ended up hanging out with them for a few days.

The next day we went on a boat tour to explore the Islas Ballestas, also called 'the poor man's Galapagos'. We got to see a lot of amazing wildlife from upclose, despite the fact that no one is actually allowed on the island: many birds (guanay guano birds, blue-footed boobies and tendrils) but also the very cute Humboldt penguins as well as fur seals and sea lions. From the boat we also got to see the Candelabro, a large-scale geroglyph in a shape of a trident: its signification is still a mystery but it is thought to have been a sign that sailors could see from the sea to help them navigate. Next stop was the National Reserve where we got breathtaking views of our surroundings in a dramatic setting by the sea.


Our next bus was to Lima. There wasn't any night bus available so we took it in the morning and got there mid-afternoon. And what better way to start our stay in the new food capital of South America than by a gargantuesque late lunch? We met up with Lohne, Ryan's friend from Buenos Aires that we had met in Chile before and went to Panchita, usually you have to queue but we managed to get a table quickly as it was quite late. And... we went a bit crazy and ordered EVERYTHING: tiradito, parillada, tacu tacu, lechon, chicharron, hmmm I am still salivating just thinking about it, it was incredible! All this accompanied by a pisco sour of course. We ate way more than we should have but it was so good, we couldn't help it! We didn't do anything else that night, especially not eating again ha!

The next day we explored the nice Miraflores neighbourhood where we stayed, with plenty of little parks, trees and pretty views of the sea. That evening I met up with my friend Paula (who used to be my intern at work) for a little reunion as she was in Lima for a 3-month work mission! We went for drinks in Barranco, the bohemian neighbourhood, and then dinner in Tanta, in the Larcomar shopping mall by the seaside. It was really nice to see her and catch up after so long! I loved Barranco so I went back there another day to enjoy the slow pace that reigns there and the colourful surroundings. The first time you cross the 'puente de los suspiros', don't forget to make a wish in your head and hold your breath the entire time to make sure it will realize...

The next day Ryan and I did a walking tour of the historic centre, where we learned that a lot of the important buildings on the plaza had been destroyed by earthquakes and so had to be rebuilt. It is also interesting that the old town is now a quite cheap area (and a little dodgy if you venture a bit too far) while Miraflores, where all the hotels are and where the wealthy live, is much more expensive. As we were walking by the Basilica Catedral and the Iglesia de San Francisco, we learned that the Peruvians have adapted catholicism to incorporate some of their ancient beliefs. For example on the Dia de los Muertos, they go to the cemetery and bring beer, food and music to celebrate the dead with their family, pouring beer near the grave to cheer with the dead! After the tour which finished with a nice pisco tasting, we were ready to eat again and went for another giant meal at La Mar, the original cebicheria created by famous chef Gaston Acurio (and number 15 on the list of Latin America's 50 best restaurants apparently!). Once again we weren't disappointed and went all in: traditional ceviche, crab-avocado-mango makis and scallops' sauteed rice, it was all incredible...

I had to be ready to eat again the next day as I had booked a cooking class!! I was really excited about learning some of the secrets of what I consider the best cuisine of South America. It was just me and Jill, an American lady attending this class in a very relaxed setting with a well-organized open plan kitchen with a terrace and a view. We listened carefully to the instructions and learned how to prepare a traditional Peruvian 4-course meal:
- Causa rellena: a starter composed of layers of mashed potatoes and aji amarillo molido (Peruvian orange chili paste), avocado and chicken
- Ceviche: the traditional fish dish marinated in lime juice with onions, corn and sweet potato
- Lomo saltado: main dish composed of sautéed beef with onions, red peppers, French fries served with rice - the sauce is influenced by Chinese and Mediterranean cuisine and includes soy sauce, red wine and oregano
- Picarones: donut-shaped pastry made with a base of sweet potato and zapallo and served with a spicy and sweet syrup
I like what the chef said about how Peruvian cuisine is always more complex than it seems and often includes ingredients that you wouldn't expect. We learned a lot about the Peruvian cuisine and culture and of course the food was absolutely delicious!! I bought some aji amarillo molido to bring back home and recreate those dishes. What a wonderful way to finish my culinary experience of Lima...

Peru has been amazing so far and as you can see I've already fallen in love with Peruvian cuisine... I can't wait to share with you the rest of my stories and pictures of this fabulous country!

Come back soon for my next post to discover the beautiful Cusco with its many Inca ruins and, and of course, the painful Inca trail journey all the way to Machu Picchu...


Posted by carochauvet 11:39 Archived in Peru Tagged churches birds sea food wildlife beach city lima sand paracas dunes penguins huacachina sandboarding sea_lions citylife islas_ballestas Comments (2)

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