Brazil · Coast · Outdoor activities · South America

Ilha Grande

When we arrived in Ilha Grande by boat from the mainland, the weather was warm but grey and cloudy which was rather disappointing. The island is predominantly made up of small footpathes of sand and no vehicles are allowed apart from working ones such as tractors. 

Thankfully when we woke up the next day the sun was shining!! After breakfast we stopped off to buy things for a picnic and then walked through the forest for 7km. 

The path led to several beaches but we pushed on until we reached Lopes Mendes – a 4km bay of pristine white sand and turquoise water. The view was beautiful and so peaceful. The water was freezing though as this was the Atlantic Ocean, but it was very refreshing after walking for a couple of hours. For the trip home we walked back to one of the other beaches and caught a speed boat which as the water was very choppy scared me to death!

On Wednesday morning we had originally planned to head to Rio but changed our plans so that we could stay on Ilha Grande for another day. This time we headed in the opppsite direction and came to Cachoeira de Feticeira, a beautiful 15m waterfall in the forest which a pool underneath that’s big enough for an invigorating swim. We then continued on to another beach for an afternoon of lazing in the sun before getting another, smoother, speed boat back to Abraão.

Basically an awesome few days hiking and lying in the sun which now that I’m near the end of my trip, I definitely needed!

Brazil · City · Coast · Outdoor activities · South America

Paraty

From Foz do Iguaçu we flew to Rio in a couple of hours rather than talking the 24 hour bus! We had then booked a transfer to Paraty on the south coast. We had to wait a while for other people to join the transfer so unfortunately the whole day was spent travelling. However we arrived to find that the bar for out hostel was on the beach so went straight there for some cocktails. 

Friday was a sunny day so we spent most of it on the beach. As I hadn’t been to the beach since Ecuador, and even then it was very cloudy, this was a very welcome chill out day, particularly after the late nights I’d had in Buenos Aires.

The town of Paraty itself is a very pretty Colonial town with cobbled, pedestrianised streets and beautiful white buildings with brightly painted doors and window frames. There are loads of little boutique shops and plenty of restaurants which makesthe standard very high and difficult to choose from each night!

Saturday was also a beach day but we went kayaking too. Sunday was grey again but warm so we walked around the town and having seen a lot of posed Insta photos being taken, we tried a few of our own!

Nature · Outdoor activities · Peru · South America

Southern Peru

Leaving Lima, I started a bus tour called Peru Hop which gave me a set route from Lima all the way to La Paz in Bolivia via most of the main tourist stops. However the tour gave me the opportunity to make the journey my own by choosing which towns to stay in and how long I stayed in each one. It also does direct pick up and drop off from hostels and helps organise tours and activities so I felt it was going to make life pretty easy andhopefully give me the chance to meet other travellers. 

The first stop off was a town on the coast called Paracas, a couple of hours drive south of Lima. I had decided not to stay in Paracas but there was time to do a boat trip around Ballestas Island which is full of different birds, including grey-footed boobies and penguis, and seals. 

The next stop, which was also the final one of the day so the overnight stop, was Hucachina. This tiny town is an oasis in the dessert and the only activities here are sand buggies and dune boarding!

I had decided to stay in an ecocamp which meant some serious glamping with an awesome pool – good for some sunbathing after being so cold in Lima!

Outdoor activities · Peru · South America

Northern Peru

After three days staying at Kamala Beach Lodge in Montañita, I was feeling a bit broken. Going to bed once its already light and doing shots before breakfast will do that to you apparently! As I’d lost my voice completely and had a bad cough and aore throat, I decided to take it easy until I was feeling better and able to socialise again. 

I took the overnight bus from Guayaguil in Ecuador to Trujillo in Peru which took 18 hours including the stop at passport control. The bus was much nicer than everything else I’d travelled on so far and it had been only $10 more to go first class so I had a seat that reclined further, my own tv as well as dinner and breakfast. Thankfully I slept most of the way and got to Trujillo at 9am. 

I had booked into a hotel for the night and was able to check in straight away. I had a wander around the colonial old town and then went to visit some pre-Colombian ruins outside the town called Chan Chan. As the city is very near the coast, most of the walls are made with adobe bricks containing a lot of sand and its the largeat ruin in the world of adobe. Many of the decorations appear to be made from compacted sand and are quite impressive particularly as they are so old. Many of them are now refurbished but some are still the originals. 

As I was still feeling rubbish, I decided to change my plans slightly and rather than taking a couple of night buses as I headed to Lima in order to have more time for activities during the day, I took the buses during the day instead. My next stop was Huaraz which meant travelling back into the mountains from sea-level, up to 3000m. The views from the bus during the 8 hour journey were amazing as Huaraz is located between two mountain ranges, Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra. I was staying in a lovely little guesthouse called 

where I had breakfast on the sunny roof terrace both mornings. Even from here in the town, the mountains are amazing and the two ranges give a beautiful contrast to each other.
On the one full day I had in Huaraz, the weather was really sunny so I felt that I had to do something outside, particularly as I’d changed the plans and was rather disappointed that I wasn’t feeling up to doing a couple of full day treks that had been on my list – the dry air because of the altitude was also really not helping my cough. I walked up and out of the town for 2 hours to some pre-Colombian ruins which looked very striking with the white hills behind them. Unfortunately the trek had left me feeling exhausted so to get back into town I jumped into a collectivo, a beaten up old minibus that acts as a cheap bus! 

Next day was the bus to Lima. 

City · Ecuador · Outdoor activities · South America

Ecuador – the land of ice and fire

Having spent longer in Colombia than planned, Ecuador became a bit of a whistle stop tour to see and do everything I had planned! I started in Quito, the capital, where I spent a few days visiting various churches and museums, including the Museo de la Ciudad and Basilica del Voto Nacional where you can climb up to the top under the roof, did a walking tour of the La Florestra area and saw some cool street art, and visited El Panecillo a huge statue above the city of the Madonna.

I also hiked up to the top of the Pichincha volcano. The TeleferiQo is a cable car which goes from 3117m in the city to 3945m – after that you can walk the rest of the way to the top which is 4600m. It took me just under 2 hours which is quite fast although I did need a few stops on the way to catch my breath as it was quite hard work and the altitude kept giving me a headrush! It was a really sunny, clear day and the views from the top were amazing though – I could see several other volcanos across the country, many with snow-capped peaks.

After Quito I headed to the Amazon and you can read about my damp adventures there in my other blog post.

From Cuyabeno I had a quick overnight stop in Tena before arriving in Baños which is an adventure town in some very green mountains. I visited the hot springs which pour out of the mountain and on a Friday evening were full of three-generations of local families. The next day I went canyoning which was really good fun! The weather wasn’t great but it didn’t really matter when you’re soaking wet anyway!

After Baños I headed to Latacunga where I climbed up to the refuge of Volca Cotopaxi, which at 4800m is the highest point that its currently safe to climb to. Unfortunately the weather was pretty bad with clouds rolling in and a mist engulfing the valley so any view of the surrounding mountains and volcanos was hidden. At the park entrance at 3200m it was only 10 degrees so I have no idea how cold it was at the refuge but it felt freezing! The wind and rain made the 45 minute walk from the car park pretty horrible, especially as the terrain is very gravely. Its hard to walk in the same as sand, although its actually volcanic ash, as for every step you take you then slip back down the slope a little. At least it makes going downhill fast which only took about 15 minutes! After that we walked around Latacunga Lake and had lunch before heading back into Latacunga.

The following day I went to Quilatoa with two French guys, Yannick and Fabien, where we walked around Laguna Quilatoa. The lake is inside a volcanic crater so walking around the rim was actually quite difficult and not very flat at all! We stayed the night in a cosy hostel which thankfully had wood burning stoves in all the rooms as it was very windy and freezing cold!

After being in the centre of the country, I decided to head to Montanita for a few days by the beach. Unfortunately though, the weather was warm but rather grey and cloudy so no sunbathing but lots of boozing and partying!

Ecuador · Nature · Outdoor activities · South America

My love/hate relationship with The Amazon 

So I can’t say that I loved the Amazon, but I can’t say that I hated it either! I’m sure I’ll look back on it as an awesome experience but right now I feel a bit traumatised by the whole thing as I’ve had one cold shower in 4 days, been bitten by mosquitoes, sand mites, midges and possibly even spiders, half my clothes are soaking wet and the rest of my belongings are all damp! Clearly I’m a bit daft as I hadn’t expected it to rain quite so much in the rainforest! 

After a night bus journey through a huge thunderstorm I arrived in Lago Agrio to await pick up from my next accommodation, Nicky Lodge. We were driven for about 2.5 hours towards a nature reserve before stopping for lunch. It was then a 2 hour canoe ride along the Rio Cuyabeno to Nicky Lodge inside Cuyabeno National Park. During the canoe ride there were lots of animals to see including a sloth, a morph butterfly which is quite large and a beautiful blue colour, tree bats and five of the ten different species of monkey who are native to the Ecuadorian Amazon – wooley, red howler, capuccine, squirrel and saki. However half way through the journey, it started to rain and just when I thought it couldn’t rain any harder, it got worse! Not so pleasant in an open canoe and I don’t think I could have been any wetter! Once we arrived at the Lodge and were allocated rooms, there was some chill out time before starting a night walk once it was dark, although I had already seen a frog on my bed!! We didn’t go too far from the camp on the walk but still saw lots of insects including crickets, grass hoppers, centipedes, and spiders including a couple of tarantulas. After this the group had dinner together and were told our plans for the next day. 

On Tuesday morning there was meant to be a 6.30 bird watching walk but as it was raining, the plan changed and we went out in the boat to see if there was anything to see. Unfortunately, the rain seems to make most of the animals disappear so we headed back to camp feeling quite soaked again!

After breakfast the next activity was walking through the forest to meet locals from the Siona tribe. We saw lots of insects as we walked and learnt about many of the medicinal properties of the different plants and trees. With the Siona ladies we dug up the roots of a yuka plant and stripped off the outer layer. Once we’d washed the roots we then had to grate them which took quite a long time! After that the water needed to be squeezed out leaving a dry soft mixture. This was then passed through a sieve to make a flour and it was ready to cook with. One of the ladies showed us how to use the flour to make bread in a wide clay pan over the fire and then I got to have a go too! We tried the yuka bread with tuna salad, guacamole and chilli sauce and then chocolate sauce. It was quite dry but amazing that nothing else needed to be added and its vegan too!

We returned to the Lodge for lunch and chill out time before heading out on the boat towards the lagoon where I jumped off the boat and swam in the Amazon! The water was actually fairly warm although it was still raining! It was dark by this point and we drove back to camp looking for nocturnal animals and saw plenty of birds and bats. 

It rained all night long and the early boat tour on Wednesday morning was, secretly thankfully, cancelled due to the weather. The highlight of the morning was seeing a snake in the dining area having seen frogs there the previous evening. We had a walk through the forest as our main morning activity and learnt more about the plants and trees as well as the animals and insects that live there. There were hundreds of mosquitoes which was quite off putting but as I was wearing a waterproof jacket, trousers and wellie boots as well as a ton of insect repellent, it was only my hands and face which got bitten! 

In the afternoon, miraculously the sun started to come out! We went out in a canoe without a motor so we could just drift downstream. The peace and quiet, without even the sound of rain was amazing! We saw quite a few more animals and birds including some tiny pocket monkeys and lots of birds including different kingfishers.

Typically on the last day the sun was out and the forest felt completely different! It was much easier to see animals, including a white billed toucan, tamarind monkeys, jaguar herons, macauws and yellow-handed titi monkeys as the canoe took us back to Cuyabeno Bridge for the bus journey back to civilisation. 

 

 

    Colombia · Outdoor activities · South America

    Hacienda Venecia: the Coffee region

    With a terrible hangover after 3 hours of sleep, I made my way to Cartagena airport to fly to Manizales via Bogota. The Bogota-Manizales flight was delayed so I didn’t reach the city until after 7pm. I had a quick walk around the centre but it was very dark and quiet and I didn’t feel very safe so I just stayed in my hostel.

    Early the next morning I was picked up by the team from Hacienda Venecia and we drove out to the coffee farm, approximately 30 minutes outside the city. The tour started at 9.30 and involved tasting coffee, asking questions and learning more about coffee production in Colombia as well as walking through the fields of coffee, seeing the production process for getting the beans from the fruits and finally roasting and eating some beans to taste the different flavours. I learnt that virtually all the good coffee produced in Colombia is exported, generally to Europe or US. All the bad stuff stays here and Colombians aren’t really into drinking coffee! To get a decent cup, you need to go to a proper coffee shop and it is relatively expensive – often more than a beer.

    Lunch was served in the guesthouse after which I checked into the hostel which was 5 minutes walk through the farm and spent the afternoon relaxing in the hammocks taking in the view of the surrounding green hills. It felt very different after the heat and flatness of Cartagena!

    I decided to stay another night at the Hacienda as it was so quiet and relaxing and spent the afternoon walking through the farm before cooking dinner with the other people staying in the hostel.