Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#travelpost - Quito and Mindo, Ecuador

We crossed the border with no problems and after a bit of a slog of a bus ride getting to the capital Quito, we made it. We arrived just before 5 so dropped our bags off and had enough time to wander down to the main square and get our bearings.

The first thing I noticed was the altitude... they said in Bogotá that we might have had problems but we were alright... Quito is even higher. I was ok but you can just feel it in your body, you get immediately tired and breathless every time you go for a walk. I constantly felt like I was being lazy even though I'd spent my days walking up and down the steep streets. So, because of the tiredness, we tried to fill our days and rest at night... Quito old town made that easy as after 8pm everything closed and left us with nothing to do unless you had the energy to get a cab across town which the boys did do one night.... I spent my evening watching some Kardashian fuelled guilty pleasure tv. 

Back to Quito.
It reminded us a lot of Lisbon... crumbling but pretty buildings, narrow shops, steep inclines and hole in the wall restaurants. 

Day one:
We started our first day by heading up to the top of the Basílica del Voto Nacional for a view of the city. The steps weren't too bad until we had to cross a weird walkway above the arched ceiling... there was a black steep ladder that we had to go up but I got half way and made the mistake of looking down so I immediately decided that I'd made it high enough for myself already. Harry kept going and came back 15 minutes later in shock and almost white .... apparently the steep set of ladders only led to two more sets.. outside... in the open air... vertically up the side of the tower. He did it but he didn't seem happy.  The rest of our day led to some squares, a market, some free museums, a hole in the wall for lunch and an old school cafe that our book had recommended us. I tried the local hot drink ponche, it was described as an eggy milk drink topped with cinnamon... it was strange but wasn't too bad. It taste like a liquid egg custard haha and was served in a huge jarra glass. That night we made the most of having a big kitchen and not many people to share it with and made a steak and onion sandwich! 

Day two: 
For our second and last day in Quito we bought some granola for breakfast and had it with our free eggs and bread, did some catching up via facetime and caught the bus to the equator! We had to catch two busses and it took us just under an hour, it was easy and cheap. When you get there it's made to feel like a small village... with different museum buildings, restaurants, cafes and gift shops. Right at the back is the huge monument labelled North, South, East and West and there's a small area with a egg and a nail... you can balance the egg on the nail if you try because there's less gravity. After, we did some touristy things, took photos, picked up some odd bits from the gift shop and off we went back into town. We didn't do much else for that day as we'd seen a lot of the old town the day before and the altitude really gets to you when you're on the move so after some food we ended up back at the hostel for a siesta. That night we cooked in again and had a cute veggie pasta dish and sprawled it to new episodes of Modern Family and the Goldbergs. Bliss.

The next morning we had eggs and granola and set off to Mindo for 9 o`clock. Mindo is a small town 2 hours from Quito, it's famous for a handful of adventure sports and birdwatching. We stayed in Cabañas Armonia, a cutesy set of wooden cabins filled with checked wool blankets and a hammock in the front porch. We stayed in Mindo for two nights overall... we went zip lining over the forest canopy which entailed having to throw my legs up in the air whilst my head and arms were dangling below.... it was terrifying and it was called the butterfly. Minus the butterfly it wasn't scary at all, there was a superman move and me and Haz even got to do one together! The only other thing we did in Mindo, except go for a few quiet beers, was the chocolate tour... we tasted the beans fresh from the pod, after fermentation and after roasting, we had a tour of the farm and then we got to taste! With coffee... with chilli... with bbq... and the best brownie I've ever tasted. I've tasted a lot of brownies.

So that was our welcome to Ecuador over with. So far we love it and we're about to slowly work our way down south and then head to the coast!

Ciao x

Monday, September 21, 2015

#travelpost - Salento and Cali... the coffee region and the world capital of salsa

After a full week in Medellin we moved down to the coffee region of Salento, famous for it's tall palms and coffee tours. We arrived late in the afternoon just before sunset... sunset is around 6pm which is super early and makes travelling difficult when you want to arrive in a new place in the daylight especially with long bus journeys... but we made it! 

A 20 minute walk down a dusty out of town path led us to our hostel for two nights, a big cosy house filled with arm chairs, two big dogs and empty wine bottles on the ceiling. The first night we just had a walk back into town torches at the ready and found a great little place with two courses for 6000 cops.. about £1.50. We finished it off with a beer on the steps in the main square and dog watched... yes dog watched! It was dogs galore... our favourite stray Fernando followed us for the 2km walk home... he was still there the night after, being pampered by the other groups! 

For our full day in Salento we had breakfast and took a jeep to Cocora valley. The plan was to take a 5 hour hike through the valley to a well deserved ending of endless palm trees and a good cup of coffee but the morning we left, me and Harry admitted to another two guys staying at our hostel that we weren't big hikers and they kindly told us their secret from the day before... if we avoided the main gate to the valley and went straight another 10 minutes then we'd come straight to the palms and miss an uphill battle through the forest... and that's what we did!! We gave the hike a try but after an hour we were bored and tired so headed back the way we came and grabbed that coffee. We finished our day trip with another coffee, a fancy one this time... chemex, v60, aeropress and french presses were all lined up as we carefully chose which we wanted. That night we stayed in, sent Jordan on a beer run down the dusty dark lane with a backpack and two torches celotaped to his hat and watched a super cheesy eighties thriller on the most old school of tvs. 

The next morning we had to catch a 6 hour bus to Cali but first me, Haz and Jordan did a little coffee tour with a few others from the hostel. We looked at the plants, the picking, the roasting and the tasting.. it was a cool little family run plantation with the nan in the kitchen cooking lunch as we were shown through the house and garden. It was a nice end to a laid back two days! 

So off we went to Cali, the world capital of salsa dancing and maybe not as glamorous, was the 4th most dangerous city in the works 5 years ago but we left our wits about us and started in a fairly safe and nice post of town. Back to the salsa, it naturally meant we had to finally take some classes... lucky for us our hostel offered free classes. We arrived late around half 7 which meant we missed the salsa so we went straight out for some well deserved pizza that I'd been craving for days!! That night me, Haz and Jordan aka Dj Deckchair had a few beers by the pool and people watched as everyone practiced their salsa. 

The next day I played it lazy and had a morning stroll around town before I soaked up the pros of booking a hostel with a pool... not forgetting our midday salsa class of which I immediately regretted but once the doors were shut there was no going back. At one point the wifi stopped which meant the teacher couldn't load his music and for a split second I kinda hoped he might have to cut it short haha but once we got going it was alright. That night after the boys had a walk round town and a siesta me and Haz hit the kitchen and had a much needed cooking session! We hit up happy hour and headed to a salsa bar with a few from the hostel... you could sit there all night and just watch people's feet!!

So that's it for Colombia!!

As I write this, me and Haz have enjoyed an afternoon in the white washed Popayan and are now cosy in our pjs waiting for a long bus ride tomorrow day down to the border town next to Ecuador and on Tuesday morning we'll cross over and head to the capital Quito to meet Joss and Jordan.

Wish us luck, ciao xx

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

#travelpost - Medellin, Colombia

We've been in Medellin for quite a few days now and this is the first time I've started to write about the place but after a long few days of sightseeing, drinking and late nights I can't actually remember what we did each day! They've all blended into one.

If you've been watching narcos then you're probably wondering why we would ever come to Medellin once the world's most dangerous city and home to Pablo Escobar, the world's most renowned criminal. As soon as you arrive here though you really do realise just how much it must have changed in the last twenty years and how welcoming, modern and full of life it's become.

We arrived on a Wednesday, avoiding a 15 hour bus journey from Cartagena by taking an hour flight for £2.50 more.... we were some very happy gringos that morning. A bus from the airport into town took us an hour but around the city was so green it was actually quite nice after being on the dry coast for so long. For our first few days we stayed at the Happy Buddha Hostel in El Poblado... quite an affluent neighbourhood in the south of the city. It was kind of the Northern Quarter of Medellin with specialist coffee shops, small boutiques and busy bars but instead of the bricked warehouse style buildings it was almost LA style with its green streets and low buildings. It was definitely the more expensive option but it was kind of nice to be in a younger area with a bit more to do food and drinks wise. Whilst we were there we finally had a bandeja paisa the mother of all dishes and a heart attack on a plate.... rice, avocado, chorizo sausage, belly pork, beans, fried plantain, an arepa and a chunk of meat. It was intense but so so good. So our time in Poblado was a pretty chilled one playing pool and table tennis and recharging our batteries.

The city is bustling and really cool. It's not as easy on the eyes as some of the other cities but it makes up for it with some great buildings, the only metro system in Colombia and a big city feel. Botero park, the Museum of Modern Art and the cable cars that run over the barrios high up in the hills created to ease crime and make the route between those areas to the centre more accessible. Being the cheap skates that we are, we paid the 4500 cops just under £1 for the way up and just decided to stay on and go straight back down... at the top there's a park but there aren't many views of the city and it was getting on so we saved our pennies and did a u turn to the delight of the laughing security guy.

For the rest of the weekend we celebrated Lauren 's 26th birthday in a cute house on top of a valley an hour out of the city, made a well deserved curry and drank the night away... there was A LOT of heads up.

Monday morning was our excursion day, to a place I've been excited for since we booked our flights, La Piedra del Peñol, Guatape. A huge rock created by a  volcanic eruption that's surrounded by a lake and lots of islands. The drive was two hours out of the city but the views were super cute so it wasn't bad and we had a great view of the rock as we got closer. The rock la piedra has steps running up the middle of it, almost like it's been stitched together by them... 700 steps and I did it!! Just. The view at the top was incredible so we had a little sit down and finished off the picnic that we'd started at the bottom. It was the best.
Before we headed back we crammed into a car and got a lift to Guatape, the nearest town, and it was well worth it.... lots and lots of colourful houses with small ceramic plaques running along each and every one.

 Well, we've got one more day here in which I plan to do nothing of any interest... Lots of hammock and kindle time.. Then we are heading south for our final week in Colombia!

Next stop... The coffee region of Salento.