Holy smoke, 4 months have passed since our last English Recap blog – and as usual, gallons of water have flowed since then in the river of Amazon…
Part 1 – Flow
Moving north from Peru in the beginning of August after 5 weeks that I spent there, got us through one of the dodgiest border crossings in South America to Ecuador. Our time/place in Ecuador was planned in advance to meet up with 2 Slovakians, Lucy and Branko. Lucy came to Ecuador to spend a month or so traveling with us (which ended up to be almost 2) while Branko was returning there after his trip to Galapagos for his last drinks on the South American continent which he was leaving after 2.5 months also traveling with us. Once we had all met in one little Pacific coast village, Montanita, we had enjoyed a few cold ones and afterwards watched some fish jumping high out of the ocean for some reason.
Our week in Ecuador was spent in a relaxed way, unusually not killing ourselves with too many activities since we had felt we had done it all in the previous countries earlier this year. Thus, Mito was learning to use his way to surfboard in the right way, while I was planning how to travel through Venezuela safely and cheaply and getting ready for Colombia, about which I had heard only the greatest stories.
After the last bye-bye dinner with Branko, Lucy, Mito and I left Ecuador for Colombia, which we found a dream land from the very first night in the plastic surgery capital of the world Cali. We then continued to see some coffee plantations in Manizales and visited Medellin where we couchsurfed at Marcel’s place.
Coming to its capital was the second highlight of its own, when we had a great opportunity to spend 4 days with our friend’s, Rolo Vasquez’s family – This was a place where Mito could not wait anymore and left us without exploring inland Colombia deeper for the waves in the north. The day 21 Aug was the day we split and after that did not meet till 2 months later. Find his travel part about the water adventures he had had on his journey here.
Lucy and I continued in a group of two and visited Zipaquira (amazing salt cathedral), Barichara (one of the prettiest little towns I have seen during this year), and Villa de Leyva and Bucaramanga before leaving for Venezuela. All our time in Colombia was fulfilled with meetings very friendly and open hearted people, every city and each place was truly welcoming and one of our other deep local experiences we had was visiting Freddy Vasquez’s friend, Giovanni, in Bucarramanga who let us stay in his house with all his family members. He treated us the best way circumstances allowed only because friends of his friends are also his. Truly hearty time. Thank you Giovanni.
Part 2: Venezuela
It’s one of the most feared to visit countries and surely with Paraguay the most avoided by backpackers in South America (all right, I am not counting Suriname and Guayanas…). Venezuela has this funny low safety heard-it-in-the-grapevine stamp and the black market currency need of use reputation that make people want to skip it and spend their time elsewhere. In real life if you avoid big cities and/or are watching when and where you are going , you will be fine. The black market is a must to use, since you get 7.9-8.1 Bolivars for 1 USD instead of 4.3 Bolivars that all the banks give you. It’s easy and safe as peas to find places where to change it unofficially. Higher denominations give you better exchange rates, of course so plan accordingly.
Our main objective was to visit Roraima (a Tepuis=Table Mountain) on Venezuelan/Guayanian/Brazilian borders. It’s also called the Lost World and surely it feels like it. There are only about 360 Tepuis in the world, out of which almost 310 are in Venezuela and 150 of them are all in one National Park – Canaima. First of all, it had taken us 44 hours to get there during which we did non-stop for a break or shower (37 hours on the buses, passport-drug-gun spread legs control happened to me on one of them 7 times between midnight and 9am so not the best sleep on the bus either, other 7 hours were spent waiting for the connecting buses to come).
Roraima is a spooky, mystic, magic, unbelievable and fantastic place all in one. The mountain is 2 billion year old and out of approximately 2000 plants that grow on Roraima, 1000 are endemites. I am definitely ranking it among top 3 things I have done in South America and can surely recommend this 6 day trek to all of you wishing for some true adventure. Needless to say, a group of people that has met to climb Roraima was down-right-stupendous, which made the whiles worth a while. (Steve, great Scottish/English buddy of mine in the picture has spent 5 days in the jeep with me cruising Salar Uyuni in Bolivia back in June. This was not just a lucky coincidence).
Second place which happens to be in the same National Park – Canaima and is the most popular Venezuelan travel destination, is the Angel Waterfalls which are with its 979 metres ranked the longest in the world. (You might have seen them both, Roraima and Angel Falls if you happened to see a Disney movie – “UP” – which I can now also recommend).
It took us only 37 bus hours also by numerous buses to get back from Canaima National Park to Colombia. This time it was the Caribbean and hot sunny weather that was waiting for us in Santa Marta in exchange for very rainy Venezuela. Great for a change and extremely happy to be in a smiley face country back again. I spent some time on the coast, participated at the best Karaoke Couchsurfing night in my life and then came back to the Caribbean where I spent 2 weeks resting, chilling and enjoying the most romantic city of Colombia. This was also the place where my foot touched South American soil for the last time. Similarly like Mito, I took a sailing boat from Cartagena across the Caribbean to Panama City.
Even though the sailing trip was meant to last for 4-6 days, half of which is the sailing time and the rest is about enjoying the most beautiful islands of Panama, San Blas, my sailing lasted for 9 days and in the beginning (first 2-3 days) seemed like a crazy nightmare. Later when I had changed to be another seawolf of a ship, all things span around into the right direction and my time on boat will surely be memorized as one of the coolest and unforgettable things I had done in my life.
Coming back to land was a great feeling though. First of all, I had to wait extra 7 days in Cartagena for a sails ship, then I spent extra 4 days on it , which made my already squashed plans squeezed even more and resulted in me hitting the Central America roads quicker, also I wanted to catch up with the surfer asap.
I loved Panama City and spent 2 full days exploring it. After that I took a night bus ride all the way to Costa Rica’s capital San Jose. I originally wanted to see a bit more of Costa Rica, but the places I was recommended to visit were at that time negatively influenced by the rainy season, plus Mito , as well as some other travelers I met on the road , told me not to waste time in Costa Rica (for various reasons) and move on quicker up north. I decided to have at least one truly local experience in Costa Rica so I Couchsurfed San Jose with 2 great Couchsurfers, spoke of their country and culture while downing (testing!) 13 pints of Costarican lagers. This, better than an expected local experience, moved me to a morning bus and my never ending Central American hangover was accompanying me all the next day traveling to Nicaragua. Thank God the border crossings were really easy. I just put on the shades and said to myself I needed to look tough and move around as if I had passed those borders multiple times before. All went smooth. Changing local currencies where I made the local street hawker swear on his mother’s health that the money he was giving me was not fake made me feel good. I took it easy down south in Nicaragua and stopped first in San Juan de la Sur, a place Mito and other co-travellers highly recommend.
To me, the place seemed more like a surfers’ place where everyone tries to look & sound cool, have branded swimmers and on land verbally show off they ‘do & know’ how to surf the waves. Anyway, it was alright to stop for 2 days there and spend some time picking up some Pacific bronze.
Part 3 – Reunited
After exploring Granada quickly, the day D came. 2 months after splitting with Mito we had met in a city of Leon, near a place where we had hoped to achieve one of our dreams long ago back in London. See details here.
After this we continued travelling together for 3 weeks, smashing another Nicaraguan volcano peak while living in a max bottom class & off-the-beaten track village of Potosi, where going to the toilet meant stepping over pigs chasing you for food.
End of Nicaragua meant passing thru Honduras quickly and coming to El Salvador. Country highly recommended to me by a couple of individual travelers experiences almost 3700 gangs related to violent murders happening in it each year and by these statistics it belongs to one of the most dangerous in the world. However, if you know where NOT to go, you are fine and most likely will be having your best local experiences while passing Central America. Salvadorians are nicely described by the slogan – “We have the war. We keep going. We have Hurricane Mitch. We have Hurricane Stan. Then we have some earthquakes, but Salvadorans, we keep on going.” I loved their attitude, genuine friendship, willingness to help and hospitality offered on everyday basis. Surely it’s been ranked my top country I traveled in Central America.
After arriving to Salvador I split for a few days with Mito, who went surfing and I continued exploring more inland parts of that country. We re-united on Halloween night, put the Slovak hockey jerseys on and got slightly intoxicated. After one night in the beach resort we continued exploring 2 more inland places together – Suchitoto and La Palma and then travelled to Guatemala thru Honduras again. This time we visited Honduras most famous Mayan Ruins – Copan, and moved on to Antigua, Guatemala.
We really enjoyed colorfulness of Guatemala, sweet and friendly people in all places we had visited there. It was actually the first country that welcomed us with cold evenings during which we had to use our jackets and even take out the sleeping bags for the night hours.
Part 4 – Sudden death
On the 8th day of waking up in Guatemala by the Lago Atitlan , we split again for 2.5 weeks. I went back to Honduras, Bay Islands and Mito the opposite direction to Mexican Pacifico. While being separated , we put another stripe on our travel experience ribbon – Dengue fever. Thanks to Moni, who pushed me to see a doctor I survived this body & mind torture. Mito had more of a self treatment , so it took him twice longer time to get over this non-sense. This was not something we’d like any of you to experience and we are both happy that with God’s and loved ones’ help we are out of it.
After getting relatively fit to travel again I returned to Guatemala, skipped Belize due to losing days being in bed (plus it was not worth investing so much money in such a short time interval there). I visited Tikal (possibly biggest and coolest Mayan Archeological site in Latin America) at North of Guatemala and crossed the borders to Mexico day after. I did the classic tourist route but unusually quickly, more like in a fast forward mode. Cities in which people spend 3-5 days on average each (Palenque, San Cristobal de las Casas, and Oaxaca) I did in 3 days in total, made my ‘ticks’ and headed to Mazunte beach to meet Mito. However, if you head down to South Mexico, allow more time for all three of them.
When we saw each other in Mexico, the first thing we had noticed was another weight loss. Our mothers surely will not be very pleased to see their sons returning home being almost 10kgs down, but oh well, this is how the cookie crumbles when you backpack for so long I guess and Christmas plates back in Slovakia are usually quite rich.
So we had a few days together on a sunny Mexican Pacific coast beach which we enjoyed, even though it was slightly overcrowded by hippie people who are not our 100% cuppatea. All’s good though, health returned almost fully back to normal and our next big chapter is Cuba.
I moved to Mexico City to get my Cuban Tourist Card sorted here and later visited my friend in Guadalajara whom I have known since 2004, from the times back in London. I am flying to Cuba from Mexico City tomorrow (6th Dec), and meet Mito in La Havana who will fly from Cancun on the 7th. It the end, we will both fly from Cancun back to Europe on the 20th Dec.
I hope I did not make you too bored by this crazy recap monster
Just in case you have not noticed since the last English update, we have introduced a few new features to our blog –
- Travel Map – to view places we had seen and destroyed
- Facebook Fanpage – for easier picture listing
- Video links with Thumbnails so we look a bit more Pro
Since internet costs $6 per hour in Cuba and is supposedly ridiculously slow, we will skip blog updates from there and will catch up with you all again once we’re back in Mexico (Dec 15) for the last sun rays in Tulum before adjusting back to already snowy winter in Slovakia.
Thanks for your time, suerte!….