Leaving South America in style

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Monday, June 20, 2011

After our epic mountaineering exploits we decided that we were definitely in need of some downtime and spent a very relaxing couple of days in Baņos enjoying the thermal baths, eating, drinking, having massages, eating & drinking some more and all the time wondering how long the altitude coughs would stay with us. The hostel's lovely roof terrace made a fantastic location for this.

All too soon, it was time to head on to Quito where we had a pre-arranged and long awaited date with a tapas restaurant we had spotted on our way through. They had a dinner time special offer which was all the tapas you could eat and all the wine you can drink. No time limit. Now, is it just us or does that sounds like a challenge?  We’re pretty sure they made a loss on us.

Unfortunately, Gordon seemed to have eaten something in Baņos that did not agree with him so spent our last day in Quito stuck in our room and never more than a few feet from the bathroom which, dangerously, left Sarah to shop unchaperoned.  She restrained herself a little and managed not to spend the whole of the remaining travel budget but did come back with a very pretty but completely impractical vase.  If it makes it back to the UK in one piece it’ll be a miracle!

Having dosed Gordon up with most of the contents of our First Aid kit we managed to make it out of Quito in one piece and on to our final stop in South America; the gorgeous colonial town of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast of Columbia.  With Gordon recovered our first task was to sort out the next leg of our adventure and our transport to Central America.  There is no road link between South and Central America which means there are three ways to get between them;

1.       Trekking through the jungle of the Darien Gap (this takes at least a fortnight, a lot of money and involves avoiding the drug smugglers and other unsavoury types who frequent those parts),

2.       Flying for a few hundred dollars a piece (via Bogota again), or

3.       Spending a week sailing up the Caribbean coast from Columbia to Panama stopping off at the San Blas archipelago of islands.

Despite having already proved ourselves marginal sailors at best, getting a boat to Central America definitely sounded like the option for us.  There are plenty of sail boats that do the route in varying degrees of comfort so we just had to find one that we liked that that was leaving at the right time.  No problem, we thought.

The first 5 boats we found were either already full or delayed and wouldn’t be leaving for several days.  The next one offered us beds 19 and 20 on an 18 berth boat; which meant that we’d be allowed to sleep on the floor between the other bunks, right on the way to the toilet - oh, and for the same price.  No thank you.  The flight was beginning to look a little more appealing after all when we heard that an American couple might have space for us on their boat.  We went to meet them convinced it would be another non-starter so were amazed twenty minutes later to be sitting on the deck of their boat, the Desdemona, watching the  sun go down over Cartagena from out in the bay, eating bruschetta and drinking fresh passion fruit rum cocktails (now patented 'Desdemonas’) having secured ourselves a private cabin.  Jeff and Anna were about our age and it was immediately obvious that we got on well and that were they are our kind of people- i.e. they drink just as much and as fast. We’d found our boat!

With our passage to Central America sorted we had a couple of days left to explore Cartagena which was every bit as pretty as we’d heard.  We hadn’t however accounted for quite how hot it would feel after the mountains of Ecuador.  Luckily we’d also found a gorgeous hostel with a pool (and an overly friendly parrot who really liked trying to skype) that we were able to retire to after sweating our way round the sights.

And so we found ourselves preparing to leave yet another continent.  South America was one of the places we’d been most excited to visit and it has been even better than we’d hoped.  That’s not to say South America hasn’t had its frustrations.  We’re pretty sick of buses now (especially ones with the AC too high and the curtains firmly shut so you can’t see the scenery), for some reason none of the hostels we stayed in in Northern South America had fitted sheets that were quite big enough for the mattresses, we’re definitely fed up with taxi drivers and others trying to charge us special inflated gringo prices, and a lot of the people here have different concepts of how much personal space a person needs - especially on buses when it wasn’t unusual to have the person in the seat behind you hold onto the top of your headrest and continually tap your head.

On the plus side it has been great being able to speak a bit of the local language, for example to ask the person behind us on the bus to stop tapping us on the head, even if our Madrid Spanish is a little different and occasionally causes amusement.  One of the local nuances we’ve noticed, particularly in the north of South America, is that they add the suffix  ‘ito’ to just about everything.  ‘ito’ is like ‘let’ in piglet and normally adding it to a word implies a little thing; eg perrito for a puppy rather than perro for a dog.  Here though you can’t take is as literally or everything would be small; ask the price of something and often the answer is quoted in ‘dollaritos’ but sadly that doesn’t make them any cheaper.  Our absolute favourite though was one tiny old man we met on the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador who couldn’t have been more than about 4’9’’ tall but stopped his herd of cows to chat to us and shook our hands saying ‘Hola amigitos’; Hello little friends.

Looking back on the last few months part of the wonder has been the huge range of scenery and cultures we have covered; we are now sitting by the Caribbean sea thinking back to our first stop in Ushuaia and the mountains and glaciers of Patagonia.  We’ve met some really fantastic people here, seen friends and family, and seen and done so much brilliant stuff; the beaches of Brazil, the steaks of Argentina, the mountains of Ecuador, the natural beauty of Bolivia, the volcanoes of Chile, the waterfalls of Venezuela, kayaking in Columbia, and not forgetting of course a little birthday that took place in Rio.  OK, maybe the kayaking wasn’t so successful but the rest of our time here has definitely been a highlight of the trip, especially Huayna Potosi and Chimborazo - we’re already forgetting the pain and planning future mountain holidays. It feels pretty sad to say adios South America, it’s been an absolute blast, utterly beautiful and one of our favourite destinations.  This is our second visit here but won’t be our last as there are still tons of places we want to visit or re-visit or even re-re-visit.  But for now at least we’re leaving in style!  Well, we will once we’ve stocked up on the sea-sickness tablets.
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