Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities

After having a pretty amazing time in Panama City, it was time to move on to contemporary Colombia and visit some of its colourful cities. Due to some pretty heavy time constraints, I had to give up the idea of taking a boat from Panama to Colombia and hop on a plane. It was a quick flight, given the short distance between the capitals of the two countries. I left a sunny morning in Panama City to arrive in Bogota for an even sunnier afternoon.

Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities – Bogota

The Eldorado International Aiport in Bogota was impressive and I’ve gotta admit that it took me a while to find my way out. I stopped to ask an airport worker how to get to the nearby bus stop and he didn’t know. Luckily, there was a local within hearing range who did know where it was. He gave me directions but then tried to dissuade me from taking the bus. He advised that I may have to wait for some time and that the ride into town is very long. I told him I was okay with that.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Airport Area

One thing I noticed almost straight away about Bogota is that it seemed to be a city of art. In the couple of minutes it had taken me to walk to the bus stop, I had already seen 2 art installations!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Airport Area Art

Making New Friends

As I was waiting for the bus, a car that was exiting the airport pulled up to the bus stop. The man that had directed me before, Andres, was inside. He asked me if I wanted a lift into the city. I accepted and got in the car, where he then proceeded to semi-lecture me about how I should be careful because not all people were good like him. He then proceeded to tell me how he was a singer and was heading out to Ibague in a few days to visit his brother.

Andres asked where I was going next. I hadn’t actually planned that far ahead, so I advised him that I didn’t know where I would go after Bogota. I just knew that I needed to head towards Cali to get to Ecuador. He said that I could tag along with him to Ibague if I wanted to. From there I could get a bus to Cali and onto Ecuador. That seemed like a great option as Ibague was only about a 4 hour drive away. We exchanged numbers so that we could arrange things a few days later.

La Candelaria Centro

La Candelaria Centro is the Colombian equivalent of an Old Town. It’s a very cute and vibrant area, which is very easy to find your way around. Like all old towns, it is full of narrow cobbled streets lined with colonial buildings. Perhaps one of the more interesting things about this old town is that many of the buildings have also become canvases for graffiti and street art from all over the world.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and it's Colourful Cities. La Candelaria

To say that street art is alive and well in Colombia would be an absolute understatement! The art scene there is so prolific that I actually had to write a separate article about it! The scene was born out of an unfortunate event and currently attracts not just local, but also famous international street artists. Many eager to leave a piece of themselves in Bogota.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Traditional Mural

Paint is not the only form of artistic expression in the city. Other forms of art, including sculptures and structures made from recycled goods, are highly visible as well.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Bicycle Christmas Tree K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Roof Top Art

Affordability

Aside from its visual awesomeness, Bogota, and the whole of Colombia for that matter, is surprisingly kind on the wallet. You can find shared accommodation for US$6-10/night. Sometimes you can even get a simple hotel room for under US$10/night. Dining out in Colombia is also inexpensive, with a meal and a drink at a small restaurant easily coming in at under US$10. By far the best way to dine in Colombia is on the streets!

If you want to find the real tastes of Colombia, street vendors are where it’s at. All the traditional local foods, like Almojábanas, Arepas and Empanadas, can be purchased from roadside carts for less than $2 a meal. And they are utterly delicious. If you want to know how locals live, visiting a street food cart is an excellent way to find out!

Monserrate and Guadalupe Hill

From anywhere you stand in Bogota, you can see the sister mountains of Monserrate and Guadalupe Hill towering high above the city. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’re probably aware that if there’s a hill around, I’ll find a way to climb it. The powers that be were determined for that not to happen though. Imagine my disappointment when I arrived to see that the hiking trail up the mountain was closed.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. The Base of Monserrate

I asked the staff when it would be open again and they said it was closed permanently. They said it was due to the increasing degradation caused by the constant stream of people making the pilgrimage up the hill. They also alluded to the fact that there had been some serious injuries or possibly even deaths on the trail. So that was disappointing. However, I have heard that it has since been reopened again.

Getting to the Top

The other ways of scaling the hill involved money, of course. If the walking option was out, I thought the funicular, the cheapest of the 2 options at US$3, might be fun. But guess what? It was closed for maintenance! So, with no other choice, I took the most expensive option; the cable car at around US$4 each way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cable Car up to Monserrate

At 3152m, Monserrate, along with its sister mountain, Guadalupe Hill, rises far above the fair city of Bogota. As it can be seen from almost everywhere in the city, it makes sense that you can see the whole city from the top of it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. View From Monserrate

Aside from the beautiful view, there is actually a surprising amount of things to do at the top. You can meander through the small market where locals try to sell you their authentic local trinkets. Or you can have a meal at one of several restaurants there. Or you can simply just walk around the area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Display at Monserrate

There was also a small exhibition up there when I went. I’m not sure if that’s something that happens often, but even without the exhibition, it was still lovely to walk around. The area had been manicured to look pretty and I was lucky to be there when there wasn’t many other people around.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. At the Top of Monserrate

Perhaps the most interesting building on Monserrate was the church. This isn’t a normal church mind you. It’s a 17th century church devoted to El Señor Caído, or the Fallen Lord. On Sundays, devotees of the church will follow the pilgrimage path up the hill to show that they are worthy. Some will even offer sacrifices. It’s probably best to avoid going up on a Sunday if you can.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. El Señor Caído At the Top of Monserrate

Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities – Ibague

When it was time to move on, Andres, the man I had met a few days earlier, picked me up. He had some things to attend to in the morning, so we left in the afternoon for the small city of Ibague. The city is 200km west of Bogota in the Andean region of Colombia. It was also a strange combination of people-sized Christmas decorations and dirt.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Ibague People-Size Christmas Train K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Ibague People-Size Christmas Decoration

Andres managed to find me a US$9 hotel room for me to stay in. I never would’ve found it by myself and even if I had, I wouldn’t have been able to get in. A lot of accommodation in Colombia will have a sign out front with the owner’s number. You’re expected to call on arrival for access, which is hard to do without a local phone! The place was surprisingly decent and clean. They even had complimentary tea. Everything was going well until I decided to have a shower and there was no shower head. I found that really odd, but it was fixed as soon as I alerted the owner, so no harm done.

Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities – On The Road Again

The next morning, I explored the city for a little while before heading to the bus station for my onward journey to Ecuador. I first had to go through Cali, around 200km southwest of Ibague. Although it was in good condition, the road to Cali was very windy and steep in some sections.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Unscheduled Stop on the Way to Cali

The picture above marks one of the spots where our coach came to a complete stop, due to a traffic jam. In the middle of nowhere on a windy mountain road. I was amazed at how many locals appeared from seemingly nowhere. They must’ve been loving the huge line of stationary vehicles before them. It gave them a chance to sell their overpriced refreshments to those who didn’t prepare themselves for traffic jams. The 323km trip from Ibague to Cali took 13 hours! Must be a new land (anti) speed record!

Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities – Cali

I had not planned to stay long in this city, but I did notice some quirky things about it while I was there. First of all, the palm trees that lined some streets had been made into a fan shape.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cali Sculptured Ferns

From outward appearances, it was a very clean city, industrialised city. But a few minutes walk was all it took to go from a beautifully presented area to a gritty market area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cali Fountains K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cali Market

Or to find some street art.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Cali Art

Perhaps the best thing about Colombia was the readily available packets of banana chips dressed in the national colours. They were a great companion for the long drives between cities and countries.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Contemporary Colombia and its Colourful Cities. Banana Chips

Check out the next installment of the South American adventure in Journey to the Middle of the world.

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Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. 100% Aventura Ziplining

If you’ve heard of Costa Rica, you’re probably aware that it’s famous for it’s greenery, it’s happy residents and it’s mountains. There are adventures to be had in those mountains! Mountain adventures in Costa Rica are probably the main tourist draw of the country. While I don’t normally go for touristy stuff, I can’t resist adventures. So onto Costa Rica I went!

Crossing into Costa Rica

After an uneventful border crossing through the Peñas Blancas border, I continued on to the town of Liberia in Costa Rica’s northwest. It was about a 2 hour drive with some awesome scenery. I’d only planned a short stop in Liberia, as I wanted to get to the mountains as quickly as possible. I really do love mountains! I arrived in Liberia in the evening and it all looked very festive. That could’ve been because it was around Christmas time.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Festive Road in Liberia

Getting my head around the currency in Costa Rica proved a bit challenging. In Nicaragua, 100 Nicaraguan Córdoba are equal to roughly US$3, whereas 1000 Costa Rican Colones are equal to a little under US$2. It was at that point that I realised that I didn’t know the word for 1000 in Spanish! I had only learnt the numbers to 100, thinking that would be enough.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Festive Town Square in Liberia

So when I bought something at the town square, I sheepishly asked how much it was, knowing that I may not understand the answer. The reply was, ‘dos mil’. So two something.. mil must mean 1000, right? I handed the man two 1000 Colones notes hoping that I had guessed correctly. The man took my money and handed me my street food with a smile. I’d gotten a US$3.50 street meal and learned something new! Costa Rica had been great so far.

Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica – Getting to the Mountains

The next morning I got myself on a bus to the mountains. Sort of. Apparently there were no direct public buses available from Liberia to my destination. So I had to hop on a bus going to San Jose and get off at La Irma. From there I could get a bus onto the mountain town of Monteverde.

I grabbed a snack from the service station at the junction where I’d been dropped off. It seemed to be the only building for miles. I couldn’t see the bus stop that the previous bus driver had promised was there. I tried to ask the staff at the service station where I could catch the bus. As I only had about a week’s experience of speaking Spanish, it didn’t go as well as expected. It turns out that Spanish words spelt similarly to English words have different pronunciations. We all worked it out eventually though.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. La Irma

I made my way across the road to the bus stop, which was a small shelter surrounded by trees. It was barely noticeable from the service station. I started waiting there, not knowing when the bus would arrive. The fact that other people were waiting made me feel a bit more sure about the fact that the bus was running.

Riding with Locals

After about 20 minutes of waiting, I was the only person left at the bus stop. I watched as cars pulled up every few minutes and people waiting got in the cars. I figured it was just an easy place for people to arrange for their lifts to meet them. Then a car stopped and motioned for me to get in. There was a lovely bunch of people in the car eager to know all about me. The language barrier made things a little difficult but the occupants were still super friendly.

They took me a few kilometres up the road, but they needed to turn off the road that went the way I needed to go. By that point, I was only about 3km from Las Juntas, so I decided it was walkable. It wasn’t long before a man in a small red car picked me up and took me the rest of the way to Las Juntas. He dropped me off at the bus station so I could get a bus to Monteverde.

Las Juntas

I bought my ticket from a tiny little hole in the wall, which took me a while to locate. The bus wasn’t due to leave for another hour so I walked around the little town of Las Juntas. It was very quiet and very green.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Quiet Street in Las Juntas K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Las Juntas Greenery.

While I was walking around, a few locals stopped me and asked if I was looking for ‘agua caliente’. I guess that means that there are hot springs in the area. They’re really not my thing, so I continued walking and found the town square. It had a lot of interesting sculptures. Some with a definite Christmas theme.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Las Juntas Town Square Christmas Decorations K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Las Juntas Town Square Princcess K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Las Juntas Town Square Santa Train

Las Juntas de Abangares was a product of Costa Rica’s 1800s gold rush. It served as a major mining town and important stop for people seeking their fortunes. Its importance in history is documented at the Ecomuseo de Las Minas de Abangares, or Mining Eco Museum of Abangares. I guess that also explains this strange monument on the road heading out of town toward Monteverde.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Strange Monument in Las Juntas

Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica – Monteverde

The 30km journey from Las Juntas to Monteverde took just over an hour, because of the size of the bus, the incline and the winding mountain roads. Of course the scenery was awesome. I got into Monteverde just in time for sunset. A very early sunset. Apparently that’s a thing in Costa Rica.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Las Juntas Town Square Santa Train

I got lucky when I arrived to check in at my accommodation in Monteverde. Not only was it right near the bus terminus, but the lady at reception was super nice. She put me in a room by myself, but still only charged me the shared room price. As an extra bonus, the place had hot water! Everywhere I’d stayed in Nicaragua only had cold water. But then again, it was fairly hot there, so having cold showers wasn’t so bad.

After checking in, I booked my mountain adventure for the next day. I then decided to explore the town a little bit, only to find that almost everything was closed. It was also much cooler than the foothills and it was very hilly. This wasn’t a problem for me but I could see how it would be for some.

Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica – Ziplining Through a Forest Canopy

I arose bright and early, excited about my upcoming zipline adventure through a forest canopy. I would soon be zipping along the longest zipline in Central America! But first, we had a safety briefing.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Monteverde Adventure Park Safety Briefing Platform K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Monteverde Adventure Park Safety Briefing

Then spotted some local wildlife on the way up to the treetops.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Monteverde Adventure Park Wildlife

Each of the ziplines started and finished at small wooden platforms throughout the treetops. As you could imagine, there are quite a few stairs to climb to get to the first platform. Then there was some waiting, because only one person is allowed on the platform at a time. I was excited when I was finally on my way!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Monteverde Adventure Park Canopy Zipline

The park had a total of 11 ziplines, including the longest zipline in Central America at 1590m. 2 of those lines were superman lines. As the name suggests, you fly down the lines in a horizontal position, like superman. It’s a pretty awesome feeling. The staff member at the platform told us that we were around 2km above ground level at that point. You wouldn’t want to drop something from that height!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Monteverde Adventure Park Suspension Bridge

After the superman lines, we ended up on a suspension bridge that lead us to the park’s peace de resistance; a 45m high Tarzan Swing!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Monteverde Adventure Park Canopy Tarzan Swing

It’s kind of like a combination of a small bungy jump and a swing, except that the staff are sneaky and will retract the platform you’re standing on with no warning. Which means there’s a lot of screaming.

So how do you end a hard morning of flying around a rainforest on ziplines? Steak and chocolate at a cute cafe with new friends!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. Monteverde. Steak and Chocolate After Ziplining.

Onto the Capital

My final stop in Costa Rica was San Jose, the capital. It is also said to be the safest city in Central America. The locals were very friendly. On my walk from the bus station where I was dropped off, to my accommodation on the other side of town, I was stopped for a chat a few times. One of the most notable of these chats was with a man named William. He had marched right up to me and put his hand out to shake and introduced himself. After the normal questions, he deduced that I mustn’t be married because I looked happy. I couldn’t argue with that logic.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. San Jose Church K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. San Jose Market K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. San Jose. Festive Trees

As I continued my walk through the city, the atmosphere was quite festive. I soon arrived at my accommodation. The staff were very friendly but didn’t speak much English. My crappy, but improving Spanish was really getting a workout. After sorting everything out, I retired to my room to see a sign with some bizare rules.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Adventures in Costa Rica. San Jose. Weird Accommodation Rules

Costa Rica had been amazing and beautiful, but it was time to move on. After a good nights sleep, I hopped on a bus for the long trip to Panama City in Panama. Keep an eye out for the continuing adventure in my next post.

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Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua

Why Nicaragua?

For some reason, people don’t often think about visiting the Central American country of Nicaragua. This made me very curious about it. I love visiting countries that don’t have much tourist pull. So I thought, why not check out some love and volcanoes in Nicaragua! Okay, maybe I just went to check out the volcanoes and the love followed me. Confused? Read on and all will become clear.

Getting to Managua, the Nicaraguan Capital

After spending a lovely, albeit cold, couple of days in Vancouver catching up with some friends, I’d hopped on an overnight bus to the airport at 2am. I had a 5am flight to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, via Denver, Colorado and Houston, Texas. It was going to be a long day. So imagine getting to the airport at 3am, only to find that the first flight had been cancelled due to a snowstorm in Denver. Fantastic!

Luckily, the airline had already put me on another flight, to Chicago at 6am. Well, that’s not exactly on the way, but I was still going to make it to Houston in time for my flight to Managua.

Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua – Managua

It was still dark when I landed in Managua, very early the next morning. After crossing 3 time zones and having 2 delayed flights. I was glad to finally be in Central America!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Managua Airport

The Managua International Airport was fairly small, but not so small that there wasn’t a lot of taxi drivers trying to get me in their cars. But after a whole day spent in airports or planes, I wanted to enjoy the fresh outdoors. Or the slightly polluted outdoors. Managua isn’t the least polluted city I’ve been to. Nor is it the most, but it certainly had its fair share on the day that I arrived. On the way out I saw a rather interesting road sign.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Weird Airport Sign

Managua definitely wasn’t a glitzy city. If I had to describe it, I’d say it was raw. While walking along I could see a fair bit of rubbish around. Especially in streams by the side of the road.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Managua

The city showed it had a penchant for giant colourful trees as well.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Managua. Big Green Tree K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Managua. Big Green Tree K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Managua. Big Blue Tree

Apparently, the city knew it wasn’t doing the best it could and promised that it would be better soon.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Managua. Now it Will be Fun Sign

Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua – Leon

With almost no Spanish ability and a wonky map, I’d managed to get myself to a collectivo station. From there I had to wait about 30 minutes for the next collectivo (shared taxi) bound for Leon. I had to battle for my life to get into that van and secure a seat. 20 people were waiting for 10 seats, so no one was trying to be polite about it.

The little town of Leon, 2 hours northwest of Managua had drawn me in with the promise of adventure. A somewhat unique adventure that could not be had anywhere else. Volcano Boarding! On an active volcano!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Leon - Volcano Boarding Sign

When I arrived at my accommodation, I used my best Spanish accent to ask, “¿Dónde está el volcán?”. Luckily the staff at my hostel, which doubled as the volcano boarding tour operator, spoke English. They also humoured me and told me that my Spanish accent was good. I’d missed the tour for that day, as it was after midday by the time I got in. I booked myself a spot for the next day and decided to have a nap. Crossing 10 time zones in the previous 4 days had caught up with me.

Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua – A Love Story?

Unfortunately, that late-afternoon nap turned into more of a full-on slumber. A slumber I woke from at around 3am. To my surprise, the bar at the hostel was still open. I went and joined the 3 other people at the bar and started chatting. It was at that point that I became the love of someone’s life. The bartender had recognised my inner awesomeness and wasn’t afraid to let me know about it! Thankfully, he did it in the non-creepy way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Leon - Hostel Bar at 4am

I was feeling kind of awake at that point, so I stayed and talked to the guys propping the bar up. They had been there a while and were at just the right level of inebriation to be hilarious. It took a while, but they finally noticed I wasn’t drinking, which prompted Ricardo, my new Nicaraguan husband, to say, “It’s 4am, where’s your beer?”. Then a local beer magically appeared in front of me.

I decided that it was best to go to sleep after the beer because I had a volcano adventure to experience less than 5 hours after that. Now that I’ve covered the love part of the trip, let’s move on to the volcanoes.

Cerro Negro

The next day, around 20 adventurers were piled into the back of a truck for a very bumpy 40 minute ride to the start of the hike to Cerro Negro, the volcano that we would be throwing ourselves down.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Leon - Cerro Negro Warning Sign

Cerro Negro, which means black hill, is part of the Cordillera de los Maribios Mountain Range. At the tender age of 169 years old, it’s also the youngest volcano in Central America. We were assured that there was no chance of an eruption, as the hill is carefully monitored and they have plenty of forewarning of eruptions. Plus, the last time it erupted was in 1999.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Leon - Volcano Boarders at Cerro Negro

Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua – Hiking Cerro Negro

Although the hike itself wasn’t that long, we had to carry horrible orange jumpsuits and the boards up with us. The boards were old and rickety. And not all that light. There was an option to get them taken up to the top, for a fee. I’d decided that it’d make the experience much better if I did it myself. I’m sure it must’ve been amusing to some of the guys to see me trying to carry a board almost bigger than me up the hill. In fact, many of them offered to take it for me, but I’m stubborn.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Leon - Scenery Around Cerro Negro

I started to regret my choice when the winds that our host warned us about, kicked in about halfway up. It was a mission trying to position the board in a way that the wind wouldn’t catch it and blow you off course. It was definitely a struggle that slowed the group down considerably.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Leon - Scenery FromCerro Negro K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Leon - Scenery Surrounding Cerro Negro

Luckily there was some great scenery on the way up. The basaltic gravel of the volcano contrasts beautifully with the surrounding mountain range. Of course there was time to stop for pictures too!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Leon - Cerro Negro K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Leon - Hiking up Cerro Negro

Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua – Volcano Boarding

Once up the top, we had to change into the horrible orange jumpsuits we’d carried up with us. Then our host gave us a briefing on safety and how get the most speed out of the descent. She then rushed down the slope, with a radar gun in hand, to record our speeds for us. Cool. I had a theory that letting some people go before me would give me a more compacted and defined trail to follow. That would lead to more speed. I wanted to be the fastest!

Watching the people in front of me, I started to get worried that my dream of a fast descent was not possible. Everyone was struggling to get started, but I was learning from their mistakes. Once I had a pretty good handle on what I needed to do, I decided to give it a go. I launched myself down the hill at 40km/h, one of the fastest runs of the day. Although I definitely felt like I had achieved something that day, I was disappointed with the speed. It really didn’t feel that fast. I will return one day to feel the wind of a faster speed in my hair!

The Unexpectedly Quirky Town of Leon

After all the excitement died down, I decided to explore the town of Leon with someone I’d met at the volcano. We ended up at El Museo de Tradiciones y Leyendas, or the Museum of Legends and Traditions. The museum is housed in an old early 20th century jail, where some horrible torturing is said to have taken place. Despite how somber that all sounds, this may have been the most amusing place I visited on my whole trip through Latin America!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Leon Museum of Legends and Traditions

To be honest, some of the exhibits were kind of horrendous, probably partly due to the terribly-put-together figurines used to depict them. The place is full of a lot of weird stuff. I don’t wanna give too much away, because you should really get there and visit yourself. So let me just whet your whistle a little. Here’s Dead Cheerleader Man.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Leon Museum of Legends and Traditions. Dead Cheerleader

Perhaps one of the craziest and most amusing legends explained in the museum was the one about the woman that roamed around putting her nipple in men’s mouths. That in itself sounds rather odd, but the figurine depicting it just added a whole other element to it. It was hilarious.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Leon Museum of Legends and Traditions. Crazy Legend K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Leon Museum of Legends and Traditions. Hold Your Tit

After laughing so hard our throats hurt, we headed back into the town just in time to see it at sunset.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Leon at Sunset

Onto Granada

I would’ve liked to have stayed in Leon for longer but it was time to head south to Granada. Yes, it was named after the Granada in Spain by the conquistador who ‘found’ it in the 16th century. It is situated on Lago Cocibolca, or Lake Nicaragua, which is the world’s 20th largest lake.

The place has a lot of colonial history and once vied with Leon to be the capital. Managua was eventually founded when neither could agree to the other being the country’s major city. Due to Nicaragua’s shakey economic history, some of the colonial buildings, like the Guadalupe Church in La Calzada, fell into disrepair.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Granada. Guadalupe Church

Granada still has a lot of narrow streets, owing to the fact that the infrastructure for the city was put in place centuries before the advent of motorised vehicles. The city has boomed in recent years, which has caused a lot of new areas to be erected to deal with the influx of foreign investment.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Modern Granada K in Motion Travel Blog. Love and Volcanoes in Nicaragua. Granada. Narrow Street

It was all a little more touristy than I was prepared for. Although it was a nice town, there was nothing about it that really grabbed my attention to make me want to stay. So with that I started heading south to the Costa Rican border, where my next adventure awaited.

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Adventures in Southern Peru

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Rainbow at Machu Picchu, near Aguas Calientes, Peru

Race to the South

After some weird and wonderful adventures in the Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes, I’d hopped on a plane to Cusco. I was edging ever closer to the ancient ruins of an Incan city I’d been waiting my whole life to see. I couldn’t wait to start my adventures in southern Peru!

As I was exiting the Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport in Cusco, I overheard someone at the information desk asking how to get a colectivo (shared taxi) to Ollantaytanbo. As I was going to the same place, we decided to join forces to get a taxi to the Pavitos Street Taxi Terminal. It was there that we would find the colectivo that we needed.

Getting to Ollantaytanboo

First, we had to make sure that the taxi driver wasn’t going to overcharge us. That’s where my boss negotiating skills came in handy. I got the price down from 30 Soles (US$8.90) to 10 Soles (US$3), which was lower than the amount that the airport staff had told us to expect. Score! We got to the Pavitos Street Station and found the colectivo to Ollantaytanbo. We checked that the fare would be 12 Soles (US$3.60), as we had been told, then sat inside and waited for the other seats in the van to fill up.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. On the road from Cusco to Ollantaytanbo, in the Andes, Peru
View of the Andes on the road from Cusco to Ollantaytanbo

It wasn’t long before we were full up and enjoying the awesome views of the Andes. The drive to the town of Ollantaytanbo, which serves as the gateway to Machu Picchu took 90 minutes. The colectivo dropped us off right in front of the train station. It was possible to buy tickets at the train station in Ollantaytanbo, but I would suggest booking online beforehand at Inca Rail or Peru Rail, as it makes the process a little bit quicker.

Adventures In Southern Peru – Ollantaytanbo

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. On Quiet Street in Ollantaytanbo, in the Andes, Peru
Quiet Street in Ollantaytanbo

Although it has a name that might prove impossible to say when drunk, Ollantaytanbo is a lovely, quiet Andean town. We saw many people roaming around in traditional Peruvian attire. That included this little 2 year old girl. She was so enamoured with the person next to me that she was only half-heartedly into the ‘give me money’ routine that her mother clearly made her perform whenever tourists were around. Using your daughter’s insane cuteness to get money out of visitors; well played mother.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Local Girl in Traditional Peruvian Attire, Ollantaytanbo, in the Andes, Peru
Girl in Traditional Peruvian Attire

The centre of the town was essentially a huge walk-through market area with many stalls selling local wares. As pretty much the only access point to Machu Picchu, you can’t really blame them for trying to capitalise on tourism, can you? Opportunism aside, the view from anywhere you stood in the town was lovely. It would definitely be a good place to relax for a day or 2, if you aren’t on a tight schedule, as I was.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Town Centre, Ollantaytanbo, in the Andes, Peru
Ollantaytanbo Town Centre

Probably one of the most scenic adventures in Southern Peru is taking the train from Ollantaytanboo to Aguas Callietes. The views just kept getting better and better the closer we got to the small town at the base of Machu Picchu. The 30km train ride takes around an hour and a half and prices start from US$50. It is possible to purchase online up to a few hours before departure. Or get tickets at the window just outside the train station in Ollantaytanbo.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. View From the Train. Ollantaytanbo to Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu Pueblo, in the Andes, Peru
View from the train on the way to Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu Pueblo

Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu Pueblo

The Spanish name of the small town at the base of Machu Picchu, literally translates to ‘Hot Waters’. It was named for the numerous hot springs in the area. I was of course more interested in the ruins above it. This town is pretty much built on tourism. As you would expect, accommodation can get quite expensive. It is probably for this reason that most people only choose to stay there for one night. That means that although it’s right near a world famous tourist attraction, it’s not overcrowded. This makes it quite peaceful and lovely.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu Pueblo Sign, in the Andes, Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu Pueblo, in the Andes, Peru

I met some beautiful locals in this town. I got the feeling that even though many tourists pass through the town, not many locals can speak English well. To me, this was appealing as it gave me many opportunities to practice speaking Spanish. I definitely needed the practice. It was actually quite amusing when I needed to get a strap holder on my backpack replaced in the town. Finding the market that had the tailor wasn’t a problem, but trying to explain what I needed fixed was difficult when I wasn’t even sure how to say it in English.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu Pueblo. Market Building, in the Andes, Peru
Market Building in Aguas Calientes

Suffice to say, I managed to explain to the lovely couple running the store what I needed. They weren’t sure that they had any strap holders lying around though. They said I could leave it with them and they’d see what they could do. It turns out they were miracle workers. Not only had they fixed the strap by the time I returned, but they had noticed another problem and fixed that too. All for just 10 Soles/US$3! I could not imagine getting a pack fixed that cheaply in many other places.

Adventures in Southern Peru – The Path to Machu Picchu

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Inca Trail at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru
Inca Trail
Before you start your journey up, you’ll need to stop in at the Direccion Regional de Cultura Aguas Calientes Office, also know as the Machu Picchu Cultural Centre. There you can grab your park entry ticket. This will set you back around 150 Soles or US$45. The Ministry of Culture has a website where you can book in advance, but I had problems paying through this website. I explained my problems when I went to Cultural Centre and they let me pay by credit card, even though they normally only accept cash. They say they also require a passport, but they accepted my government issued national ID card.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Aguas Calientes. Welcome to Machu Picchu Pueblo Sign, in the Andes, Peru

There are a few ways to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. The best way for you will depend on how energetic you feel, or how much money you want to spend. There is a shuttle bus that regularly runs from Aguas Calientes and back between the hours of 7am and 3pm. When I was there it cost 70 Soles/US$21 for a return trip, but as of 2019 it has gone up to 80 Soles/US$24. The bus is comfortable and airconditioned. As the road is very windy, it takes about 40 minutes both ways.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu Pueblo The Windy Road to Machu Picchu, in the Andes,
The Windy Road to Machu Picchu

Hiking to Machu Picchu

The other, more adventurous option is to hike up. This way is actually shorter, as it cuts across the road at many points. The trail is probably a bit more challenging than your average trail. It is fairly steep and at a high altitude, but certainly doable if you are relatively fit. I also think this is the best way to go! The views are freaking amazing and you can stop to really appreciate them.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Sign at the Start of the Hiking Trail From Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu Pueblo to the Machu Picchu Ruins in the Andes, Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Start of the Hiking Trail From Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu Pueblo to the Machu Picchu Ruins in the Andes,

The trail up took me a little less than an hour. I passed a few people that seemed to be struggling with the climb, or possibly the altitude. With that in mind I guess it could take up to 2 hours for some people. Now, here come a heap of photos for your viewing pleasure. It’s hard to choose just a few to sum up the wonder of this place.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Llamas Hanging out at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru
Llamas Hanging out at Machu Picchu

To say the place was amazing would be an understatement. It’s quite hard to get a true idea of the scope and extensiveness of the ruins until you see them for yourself. No matter how many pictures you’ve seen beforehand, you’re still likely to be awed when you get there.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Tree, Ruins and Mountain at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Ruins and Terraces at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Ruins and Tree at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Ruins and Mountain from above at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru

Rainbow to Ruins

I was lucky enough to go there on a rainy day, which meant I got to see more than a few rainbows, which made it even more surreal.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Machu Picchu, Rainbow to Ruins, in the Andes, Peru
Rainbow to Ruins

I even walked a bit of the Inca Trail that ended behind some of the ruins which gave me the chance to see yet another awesome view.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. View of the Inca Trail at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. View From the Inca Trail at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru

After refilling my water and getting called muy bonita by some of the park staff near ticket checking point, I was feeling a bit excited and managed to get back down to Aguas Calientes in half the time it had taken me to climb up. When I got back to my accommodation, I was greeted by some drunk Chileans who were super disappointed when they found out that I was leaving the next morning. They tried their hardest to convince me to stay an extra day so I could drink with them. They eventually settled for promises to keep in touch.

Adventures in Southern Peru – Cuzco/Cusco

I think I was so tired that I may have napped for most of the trip back to Cusco. This southeastern Peruvian city was once not only the capital of the Incan Empire, but also the historical capital of Peru. Now it serves as the capital of the Cusco Province. With under 500,000 people living there, it’s by no means a large city, but it certainly has a lot of character.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru

The centre of this Andean mountain town is roughly shaped like a puma, as indicated by maps and pavement slabs around the town. The Puma is said to represent the power of the earth, with a fortress at the head built to protect the city from invaders. It ultimately failed at it’s job, since the Spanish Conquistadores invaded and took control of Cusco in the 1500s

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Tiger Map in the Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Tiger Pavement in the Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru

Cusco was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1983 and it’s not hard to see why. There is a lot of history in the town, from Incan, pre-Incan and colonial Spanish societies. I was told that the Spanish mostly built on top of existing Incan structures. That means that there are still a lot of Incan buildings in the city underneath or behind the colonial buildings.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Colonial Building Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru

It’s also a vibrant city with a lot going on, including random carving competitions and art displays in the streets.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Carving Competition Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Art Display Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru

And of course there are Alpacas.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Alpacas Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru

Cuzco Culture

But perhaps my favourite thing about this city is the traditional culture and how willing folks are to share it.

I stumbled upon this performance in the centre and it was amazing! All of the instruments this guy used were hand made. The sounds that came out of them were divine. He had everyone’s undivided attention!

After he’d finished, he invited everyone watching him to have a look at his instruments and try them out. He made it look so easy, but when I tried, I just looked like an idiot. Not that I minded, because it was really fun to have a go.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Traditionally Dressed Man Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru

I thought I could sneak out of the area without anyone noticing while people were having their photos taken. The performer foiled my escape plan and insisted that I put on some traditional cloth and have my picture taken with him. So here’s the cheesiest photo I’ve ever been in.

I ended my trip on a high note with a free Peruvian cooking and cocktail making class in a quirky little hilltop pub. Nothing beats looking over a beautiful town whilst eating and drinking things that you’ve made yourself.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Cooking Class in Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Quirky Hill Top Pub in Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru

Have you had an amazing experience in Peru? I’d love to hear about it! :o)

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Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes

K In Motion Travel Blog. Tumbes Mangrove Tour. Line of Boats.

Getting to the Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes – Aguas Verdes Border

My time in Ecuador was up, so I made my way to the northern Peruvian Frontier town of Tumbes. That involved taking an overnight bus from Guayaquil to the Aguas Verdes border with Peru. Unfortunately, the checkpoint was closed when we arrived around midnight. The bus company had not mentioned this until we got to the border. The bus driver also seemed to be surprised, so maybe it wasn’t normal. With no other options, We waited in the bus and tried to sleep a bit. I groggily arose from slumber at 3am to join a crazy long line that had developed while I was snoozing. Awesome.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Crazy Line at the Aguas Verdes Border Between Ecuador and Peru
Crazy Line at the Border

The line started moving slowly around 3:30am. Although it seemed like much longer, it probably only took 30 minutes get to the entrance to the immigration area. Luckily the room was small, so once I’d made it to that point, there wasn’t much of a wait. The interesting thing about this border was that both the exit from Ecuador and the entry to Peru were processed at adjacent counters, which made things pretty quick.

Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes

I was running against the clock by this point, as I’d been more captivated by Ecuador than expected. This meant I didn’t have time to travel overland all the way to Cuzco as I’d originally planned. So I’d found myself a last minute flight to Cuzco out of the tiny northwestern Peruvian city of Tumbes, just over the border from Ecuador. Never heard of it?

Neither had I. Until I booked a flight from there. I’d actually chosen to fly from there because it was the closest Peruvian city to my location. It was also much cheaper to fly to Cuzco from within Peru than it was from Ecuador. It turns out that the city has quite a long history. It’s a pre-Incan settlement named for the native tribe of the area, the Tumpis.

With a population hovering around 100,000, it’s fairly small as far as cities go. That made it more surprising when the people from the bus company insisted that the place was dangerous. They tried very hard to convince me that I shouldn’t walk around by myself. I couldn’t see anything about this town that indicated someone was going to jump out of nowhere and mug me, as people had suggested. Still, as I normally do, I kept my wits about me and had no problems.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Mangrove Tour. Dog on a Beach K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Mangrove Tour. Swampy Island

Tuk Tuks and Tours

I didn’t get far on my walk before a worried Tuk Tuk driver insisted that I ride with him. He was still insistent even after I told him that I wasn’t going to give him any money. He decided to drive me around the town and take me on a mangrove tour to an island with a crocodile park, for free. I, of course, asked him a thousand questions about life in Peru and came to the conclusion, after he offered to pay for my flight to Cuzco, that Tuk Tuk drivers make the big bucks.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Mangrove Tour in a Little Blue Boat K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Mangrove Tour. Crocodile Park

Rax, the Tuk Tuk driver had to get some maintenance done on his vehicle, so he dropped it off at the Tuk Tuk repair place. He didn’t know how long it would be before it was ready to drive again, so he said that he wanted to organise a lift to the airport for me. I declined as I’d reached my limit for sitting down by that point. The airport was only 5km away, which is a comfortable walking distance for me.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Tuk Tuk Workshop.

Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes – Unexpected ‘Danger’

Little did I know, that this walk was the start of a whole new adventure. As happens in many places, I had taxis and Tuk Tuks stopping to offer me rides, which I politely declined. After a short while, I came across a roadside stall. It was run by a sweet older man, selling all kinds of homemade Peruvian treats and refreshments. He was the first person I’d met in the town who hadn’t told me it was dangerous. He was actually quite interested in how I’d ended up there.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes Sculpture/Building in Central Tumbes, Peru
Building on the walk to the airport in Tumbes

When I told him I was walking to the airport, he said it was 10km away, which was weird, because my map was saying it was only 3. He suggested that I should get a taxi, but after I informed him that I wanted to walk a little more, he wished me luck and I went on my way.

Police Escort

About 2 minutes later, I was stopped by 2 people who were sitting in a stationary car in a bylane of the main road. They did their best to assure me that they were the good guys and they weren’t going to hurt me. Not that any thoughts like that had even crossed my mind. It turned out that they were off duty police officers. They showed me their police IDs so that I would know they were genuine. By that point, I was getting the idea that locals think there are a lot of dishonest people in their city.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Monument
Monument on the walk to the airport in Tumbes

When I told them my plan to walk to the airport, they said it was 10km away, just as the man at the stall had said. I was still puzzled by that, as my map had never steered me wrong before. Maybe Peruvians have no concept of distance? They insisted that they would drive me. They simply weren’t taking no for an answer. So what choice did I have? Less than 2 minutes later, we were at a gate that serves as the entrance point to the airport compound. Yes, the airport is in a compound.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Tiny Airport
The tiny Tumbes Airport

We arrived at the airport building shortly after and it was tiny and empty. The car park was empty except for a security guard walking around with a gun. A gun? I wasn’t sure whether to feel safe or scared. He asked to see my flight confirmation then told me that I needed to quickly go inside because it was dangerous outside. I was again perplexed. I still couldn’t see anything remotely dangerous about the place. There wasn’t even anyone else around.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. The Only Cafe in the Airport
The only cafe in the tiny Tumbes Airport

Tiny Airport

There were only 2 shops inside and they were both closed when I got there. The place was almost completely empty except for some cleaning staff. It was then that I found out that the airport only has 2 flights in and out each day. It’s then closed for several hours in between. I had gotten there a tad early because I wasn’t expecting a lift, but it wasn’t long before the cafe reopened and I was able to grab some food. Unfortunately there was no WiFi. The flight was only short and I was sure there would be WiFi available on y stopover in Lima.

All in all, Tumbes proved to be a lot more interesting than one would think. It seemed like a nice quiet town and everyone was super nice and friendly. There also seemed to be a perception around town that it was unsafe. But it didn’t feel unsafe. It felt like people in the town were overreacting or being overcautious. or perhaps they had a different idea of danger to me. Either way, the fact that those locals were willing to help keep a stranger safe, makes it a safe place. It’d be worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Check out the continuing adventures in southern Peru in my next post :o)

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Baños – A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador

K in Motion Travel Blog. Outside of Banos, Ecuador

Heading South to a Crazy Little Town in Ecuador

Having had an enormous amount of fun exploring the Ecuadorian capital of Quito, it was time to head south. I had originally planned on going straight to Guayaquil, but on a whim, decided to take a 1 day detour to a crazy little town in Ecuador called Baños. Why? Because someone told me there was a swing there. True story.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Welcome to Banos, Ecuador
Welcome to Baños

It was possibly also because Baños was only a $4 bus ride that was 4 hours away, compared to 8 hours for Guayaquil. I’d been travelling overland for quite a few weeks by that point and wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of spending the whole day on a bus. So I left Quito in the afternoon and got into the Terminal Terrestre Baños, a little bit north of the town, in the evening.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Night In Banos, Ecuador
Where to now?

The official name of this small Andean town is named Baños de Agua Santa, or Baths of Sacred Water. That name was given because of the numerous hot springs in the area. Baños was very quiet at night. Although it wasn’t that late when I arrived, it seemed like everyone had already gone to sleep.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Empty Street at Night In Banos, Ecuador
Where is everyone?

It was fairly easy to find my hostel because, like Quito, this town had a grid-like set-up. So Baños was turning out to be quite lovely, but it was only when I entered my accommodation, that I realised it was also a little bit quirky. I do love quirky!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Quirky Hostel Signs in Banos, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Quirky Hostel Sign in Banos, Ecuador

Semi-Planned Adventures in a Crazy Little Town in Ecuador

The next day, I decided to walk around the town for a bit to see what was going on. It wasn’t long before I was in the town centre and looking at barbecued Guinea Pigs. Yes, Guinea Pigs. Apparently, they’re a local delicacy. So of course, I had to try one. It may have looked a bit freaky. I mean each one on the grill looked like it was about to attack, but it tasted like chicken.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. BBQ Guinea Pigs In Banos, Ecuador
Would you give it a try?

While walking around, I spied many random performance spaces, as well as several companies that specialised in adventure tours. Everything from mountain biking and ATVing, to rafting and paragliding near the Tungurahua Volcano. I later found out that Baños was known as the adventure capital of Ecuador; as if I needed another reason to like the place.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Performance Area In Banos, Ecuador
Random performance space

I took the last spot on the paragliding tour for that day without thinking that the tour finished too late to get the bus out to Guayaquil. It seems my 1 day stopover in Baños was turning into a multiple day stopover. I was not bothered by that at all, as it was turning out to be a very interesting and crazy little town in Ecuador.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador.Tungurahua Volcano, Outside of Banos, Ecuador

Tungurahua Volcano Paragliding

After about an hour of driving on some pretty windy mountain roads, we ended up at the site where we would start our paragliding adventure. What an amazing view! The clouds seemed to be framing the Tungurahua Volcano perfectly that day. Our guide was a bit worried about the wind strength and advised us that he wanted to wait about 45 minutes to see if it would die down a bit.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Tungurahua Volcano, Outside of Banos, Ecuador

None of us had any problem with waiting, because the view was absolutely breathtaking! We watched the windsock in front of us intently and would get excited when it dropped a bit. Our guide was still playing it safe though. Just when we’d all lost hope of being able to get up in the air, he announced that the adventure was on!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Welcome sign near Tungurahua Volcano, Outside of Banos, Ecuador

I swear you’ve never seen people get changed into horrible jumpsuits more quickly than we did that day. In that afternoon, we definitely spent more time waiting or in transit than we did in the air, but that 20 minutes where we did get to ‘fly’ was freaking awesome!

Unplanned Activities

Because it was New Year’s Eve, this crazy little town in Ecuador was in full party mode by the time I got back. There were traffic jams being caused by kids holding ropes across the roads to stop cars. The children would only put the ropes down to let cars pass after the occupants of the car had made a donation. Then I noticed there were men driving around town dressed as women. First there were only 2, but then they multiplied.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. 2 Wandering Widows. Banos, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Carload Weeping Widows. Banos, Ecuador

I asked a local what was going on and they advised me that these guys were the wandering widows or viudas. It’s a bit of a new year tradition in Ecuador for men to dress in drag. While in drag, they wander the streets, asking for money. These cash handouts go towards helping them start their new lives as ‘widows’. These guys had something slightly different in mind –

Out With the Old, in With the New

So remember those paper mache figurines mentioned here? They are known in Spanish as año viejo which means old year. They are made as a symbolic representation of everything bad and evil from the proceeding year. What do you do with all the bad stuff? You get rid of it, right? But how do you make sure it’s completely gone and will never come back? Stack and burn the effigies!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Evil Cleansing Bonfire. Banos, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Evil Cleansing Bonfire 2. Banos, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Evil Cleansing Bonfire Ashes. Banos, Ecuador

Then how do you ring in the new?

That’s how they do it in Baños!

Swing on The Edge of The World

This was the reason I’d initially made the detour to Baños, so now that the craziness had died down, it was time to do it! There are a few ways of getting to La Casa Del Árbol, or The Treehouse, which contains the ‘Swing on the Edge of the World’. Some people might choose their transit method depending on how bad their hangover is, I guess. A round trip in a taxi would cost about $15, or there’s a public bus that goes up for around 50¢. It only departs about 4 times a day though. You could also walk the 10km up the windy mountain road, but I chose to take a hiking trail that I found behind the town!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Banos from the hiking Trail to Casa del Arbor, Ecuador
Baños from the hiking trail to Casa Del Árbol

Getting There

The trail was actually quite steep, as it goes almost directly up the side of the mountain. Although I didn’t see a single soul on the trail when I went up, it was obvious that the trail has become popular with visitors to the area. I came across a few makeshift tin sheds or wooden shacks labelled as bars on the way up. Only one was open, but I presume they’re all open during the busy season, to fulfill your refreshment needs.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Bar on the hiking Trail from Banos to Casa del Arbor, Ecuador
Bar on the hiking Trail from Baños to Casa Del Árbol

There were also many farms and greenhouses on the way up and at one point, the trail became the dirt road that the residents use to access their properties. Not that any vehicles were using it at the time. It was very quiet and peaceful actually. I finally found my way to the car park for Casa del Árbol, where there were signposts to help me on my way. There is a large area at the top which has been cordoned off, to make sure that people pay their $1 entry fee. Inside that area are some small ziplines and play areas for kids, but my eye was on the prize!

La Casa Del Árbol/The Treehouse

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Casa del Arbol, Ecuador
Casa del Árbol

After walking past the zipline and park areas, I laid my eyes on the Treehouse. While I wouldn’t say that the area was super crowded, there were certainly a few people there. That of course meant that there was a bit of a line. I reluctantly joined the end of the line because what else was I going to do after going all that way? Some people were freaking out about the fact that they were about to swing over the edge of the mountain. I offered my support to calm them down while I waited for my turn. It turns out the whole thing is quite serene. It probably feels more like floating than anything.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Egde of the Mountain at Casa del Arbol, Ecuador
Edge of the Mountain at Casa del Árbol

Swing to Heaven

What isn’t serene is what’s on the other side of the mountain. That’s probably where the thrillseekers would want to be. You see, some enterprising soul has decided to capitalise on the popularity of the treehouse by creating a ‘Swing to Heaven’ behind the treehouse. While it may not be everyone’s idea of heaven, for $4, it’s a pretty cheap thrill.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Baños - A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador. Swing to Heaven at Casa del Arbol, Ecuador
Swing to Heaven

🇪🇨 Ecuador Summary 🇪🇨

In a few words – surprising and crazy
Language – Ecuadorian Spanish
Currency – United States Dollar (USD)
WiFi availability – 📶📶📶📶
All hostels/hotels seem to have pretty decent WiFi. In smaller towns, you could easily walk back to your accommodation if you can’t find WiFi elsewhere
Transport – 🚗🚗🚗🚗🚗
🚍 Intercity coaches run regularly and generally end up costing about $1 per hour of travelling
🚐 Buses run regularly in cities/towns and cost around US$0.50 per ride
Roads – 🛣🛣🛣🛣🛣
All roads were sealed and in good condition, although some mountain roads were quite narrow.
Scenery – 🌳⛰🏞🏖🌳
Ecuador is very green, with mountains, waterfalls, rivers and forests inland, then beaches in coastal areas
Prices – 💰💰
Ecuador is a budget travellers paradise! Accommodation is fairly cheap and a meal from a street vendor will rarely put you out more than $4
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃🛃🛃
Aside from a little bit of a wait on the way in, immigration officers seemed to be on-the-ball and processed visitors fairly quickly
Overall – 👍👍👍👍👍

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The adventure continues in the Northern Peruvian Frontier

A Journey to the Middle of the World

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador

Beginning the Journey to the Middle of the World

After a wonderful week in Colombia, I hopped on a bus for the journey to the middle of the world in Ecuador. It was early morning when I left Cali, so I wasn’t quite paying attention to the time. I know I got to Tulcan on the Ecuadorian side of the Rumichaca border crossing, sometime in the afternoon. The border was crowded and the line snaked outside the immigration area for several metres. It looked like it would take an hour just to get to the building entrance.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Ecuadorian side of Rumichaca border
Ecuadorian side of the Rumichaca border

Suitcases, Cats and Waiting

Most people crossing here seemed to have suitcases. Many suitcases. There was a family of 4 that had 10 suitcases between them! I felt like I’d missed a memo while I waited in line with my carry on sized backpack. Despite the obvious delay, everyone was cool, calm and collected. I even noticed a cat, just hanging out in a bag.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Rumichaca border Bag Cat
Border Bag Cat

Once I finally got to a counter in the immigration building, things were moving a lot faster and it was pretty hassle-free. I didn’t even have to fill in an arrival card. The officer seemed kind of amused and sort of flattered that I’d tried to speak to him with my absolutely horrid Spanish. Upon exiting the building, I was treated to a lovely view of a river in the valley below.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Rumichaca Border River
River after immigration

On to Quito

I’d booked the bus all the way through to Quito, so I was able to get back on the coach after passing immigration. I was a bit worried that I had taken too long, but it turns out that there were still people from my bus that hadn’t made it through yet. I took the opportunity to change my remaining Pesos into US$. There are many people wandering around offering currency exchange services. As long as you know what the rates should be, you won’t get taken advantage of.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Hills on the road to Quito, Ecuador
Hills on the road to Quito

From the border, it was still another 250km or 4-5 hours to Quito. Thankfully, there was some lovely scenery to look at along the way. I arrived in Quito after dark. As I’d been travelling for the whole day to get there, I made a beeline for my accommodation in the old town. The old town looked absolutely lovely! The people at the hotel were extremely patient and helpful when answering my 30 million questions. I walked around the old town for a bit after I checked in, because I wasn’t quite ready for bed. What I saw was beautiful, quiet and peaceful. I couldn’t wait to explore the city in the daylight!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Old Town, Quito, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Old Town, Quito, Ecuador

The Journey to the Middle of the World Starts in Quito

Quito has 2 claims to fame, it is the closest capital city to the equator and it is the second highest capital city in the world. Besides that, it is a city with an amazing amount of character. The old town is awesomely well preserved, owing in part to the fact that it was one of the first World Cultural Heritage Sites to be declared by UNESCO in the 70s. It truly feels like you’ve stepped into another time!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Old Town, Quito, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Old Town, Quito, Ecuador

It is a fairly low rise, sprawled out mountain city with a hill in the centre. El Panecillo, as the hill is known locally, is home to a 7000 piece aluminium statue called Virgen de el Panecillo. This monument looks like an angel watching over the city and can be seen from almost anywhere in the old town. It is even lit up at night!

Quiet Quito

While Quito may be a decent size city, it feels more like a big country town. Everyone there is so laid back, friendly and helpful. The grid-like construction of the city makes it very easy to find your way around. As much as you may want to, it’s almost impossible to get lost there. Another element of Quito’s charm is its copious amount of green spaces. Among the several parks in the city is Parque La Carolina. A huge inner-city park between two roads that forms a partial border between the new town and the old town.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecudaor - Journey to the Middle of the World. Lit Up Fountain, Parque La Carolina, Quito, Ecuador
Parque La Carolina Fountains

Aside from being where all the cool kids get their exercise on during the weekends, it’s also somewhat of a cultural area, with regular art exhibitions and performances happening. It was a great place to sit and reflect, but probably my favourite thing about this city is that there is chicken everywhere! It’s also quite cheap!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Cheap Chicken in Old Town, Quito, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Open Grill in New Town, Quito, Ecuador

Walking around the city, in both the new and old town, you will find that hole-in-the-wall stores like this one, as well as open grills under canvas shelters are quite common. They also seem to trade until quite late, so you could never go hungry in Quito.

Middle of the World

As I mentioned earlier, Quito is the closest capital city to the Equator. ‘Ecuador’ is actually the Spanish word for ‘equator’. As you could imagine, calling the spot where the equator runs through the country ‘Ecuador’ could get confusing. The locals prefer to call it Mitad del Mundo, or middle of the world.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecudaor - Journey to the Middle of the World. Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador
Mountains in the Middle of the World

The Journey to the middle of the world is easy. Quito has an extensive network of buses that can get you there within an hour. The first part of the journey involves catching a bus from one of the raised bus platforms along one of the city’s main roads. That bus terminates at the Ofelia depot, where you can catch another bus to the road in front of Mitad del Mundo. Your bus driver can indicate where to alight if you ask nicely, but if you’re keeping an eye out, it’s pretty obvious where the site is.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador
Very cheesy welcome banner

Tourism in the Middle of the World

Knowing that it’s a bit of a tourist attraction, the city’s government has of course capitalised on that. They’ve built a kind of middle of the world theme park around where Latitude 0º0’0″ was originally calculated. Unfortunately, that means that you need to pay to enter. The fee is US$2 if you just want to get inside, or $5 if you want to see the museum dedicated to indigenous history and culture located inside the monument.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Monumento Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador
Monumento Mitad del Mundo

Would you believe I made the journey to the middle of the world to find out that it is not the actual equator? The method used to locate the spot predated GPS. The advent of GPS has shown the actual equator to be around 200m away. So of course there’s a ‘real’ Mitad del Mundo a few minutes away down a dirt road. It costs $4, but isn’t nearly as pretty. Rumour has it that one is not the true equator either. Near enough was good enough for me. Plus, considering that my GPS often shows me 100s of metres from my current location, can it really be trusted?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Equator Line, Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador
North or South?

Mitad del Mundo

The Mitad del Mundo area that you pay to enter for is manicured and aesthetically beautiful. There were almost no other people around when I was there, so I was able to have a look around with no annoyances. There are some souvenir and craft shops in the area, as well as some Llamas, just hanging out.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Llamas at Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador

Back in Quito, people had set up their own roadside markets where they sold some curious
looking paper mache figurines. Some were downright freaky, while others were stylised as superheroes.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Freaky Paper Mache Figurines, Quito, Ecuador K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - Journey to the Middle of the World. Superhero Paper Mache Figurines, Quito, Ecuador

Do you know what they’re for? Find out in my next post, where I continue my journey to Banos- A Crazy Little Town in Ecuador.

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K in Motion Travel Blog. Ecuador - A Journey to the Middle of the World
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