South America

More Colombian insight

My love of Colombia was evident from an earlier post, so I am writing more to entice you to go…..

Covering an area of 1.1m square kilometres my three and a half weeks just wasn’t long enough but I did manage to immerse myself in the chaotic festive spirit over the holiday season, which now seems oh so long ago.IMG_9279

A Christmas tradition for some people is to dress as the devil or a demon, and along with musical accompaniment dance through the streets.  It seems the original festive role of this legendary character was to whip bad children to make them good.  But as with all things Colombian it just looks to me like another reason to party in the street!

Sadly for brave spectators, in 2015 the New Year tradition of setting mannequins packed with fireworks alight at midnight was banned by the Government; this was due to several serious injuries occurring each year.  I have seen this celebration in Mexico and it was crazily dangerous but fun!  Colombians create effigies of famous people who haven’t


It’s a scream…

performed well during the year, this is typically sport stars or politicians but can just be a relatively blank canvas.  These life size figures take pride of place outside houses and in the street for the week leading up to New Year.  The burning of the mannequins and erratic explosion of fireworks symbolises goodbye to the celebrity for last year and welcomes in the New Year with hope and promise.  The concept is a great one, perhaps more health and safety focus required though….


Whilst in Colombia I also discovered a host of interesting things, and here are just a few:

  • Smart(?) thinking means that one of the best places to pick up a prostitute is outside church.  That way you can repent and pay for sex at the same time.
  • Bogota’s gold museum is simply dazzling.  Home to a huge collection of gold made into exquisite accessories and ornaments it is the glittering jewel of an edgy capital city.
  • In 2015 Ariadna Gutiérrez Arevalo, representing Colombia was crowned Miss Universe.  Though the elation only lasted for a matter of moments, as the host realised he had accidentally crowned the wrong finalist and she had to pass back the crown.  The country erupted…..
  • The majority of non-South American cannot spell the word Colombia, confusing it with a US city.  This to the locals can only be described as annoying.IMG_8811b
  • The World’s largest necropolis, in San Agustin was founded by an ancient civilisation pre-dating the more renowned Inca’s.  Not much is known about this race as all that remains are numerous stone statues of people, animals and deities.
  • Cosmetic surgery is in serious abundance for the ladies.  I saw some of the most outrageously and dis-proportionally curved women that I have ever seen!
Categories: adventure, culture, South America | Leave a comment

If I get asked one more time….

… “have you seen Narcos”?  This is the most frequent question when I mentioned visiting Colombia.  Though this is a country working hard to dispel the violent and drug-riddled IMG_9046image left by one Mr Pablo Escobar*, and it is slowly succeeding.

I have to say outright I absolutely loved Colombia.  The sheer variety of things to do and see, as well as unbelievably friendly people made this country a joy to visit.  Yes getting a bus ticket was a challenge, yes Bogota felt ropey, and yes there was an exponential increase in the number mangy stray dogs after crossing the border from Ecuador.  But wow was it worth it!

The scenery is breath taking, each bus journey opens up new vistas across the mountain ranges including the Andes, and wide sweeping rivers.  The Amazon rainforest encroaches into Colombian territory, and there are beaches on both the Caribbean and Pacific coast.

The pinnacle of my trip was doing a four day, intense 44km trek to Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) high in the Sierra Nevada.  This stunning walk through land previous claimed by IMG_9324the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), entails steep ascents and descents.  It also throws in several cold water crossings, no bridges here and note that river depth is seasonal!  This of course is all traversed in the sweltering jungle heat.

On arrival at Ciudad Perdida there is very little left of the city which was formed around 800AD.  Only a series of terraced platforms, several of them hidden in the dense wilderness, remain.  It’s eerily silent sitting on the platform looking out across the jungle stretching far below.  So beautiful.

I have much more to write about Colombia, a place I really want to share with you.  So stay tuned for the next blog instalment.

*for those not familiar with Pablo Escobar he was an infamous drug lord.  In true high profile fugitive style Pablo was shot dead whilst fleeing across the rooftops of his home city, following an intensive manhunt.  And no, I have not seen Narcos!

Categories: adventure, people, South America | 2 Comments

Ecuador – The Mainland

So whilst you may think the Galapagos has it all, the Ecuadorian mainland has some impressive feats too.  The Andes swathe through the middle of a beautiful country which also boasts coastline, active volcanoes and Amazonian rain forest.IMG_8554

The farthest point from the Earth’s centre is Volcano Chimborazo, which sits squarely in the middle of Ecuador.  Hmmm sounds controversial, what about Mount Everest?  Well Mount Everest is the highest point above sea level, but Volcano Chimborazo is the furthest from the centre of the Earth.  This is because the World is not round but a bit squashed, and Ecuador being on the equatorial bulge means their highest volcano is the furthest point from the centre of the Earth.

I didn’t spend long in Ecuador but the main things to be noted were:

  • Women have retained their traditional dress, which consists of long plaited hair under a Panama hat.  Bright beautifully coloured shawls, pleated skirts, thick tights and the most sensible shoes.  In rural areas these clothes are worn for farm work including milking cows and digging in the fields.  I love seeing the traditional clothing, IMG_8645but do question the practicality.
  • On Monday it’s changing of the guard time, and if the President is home he appears on the balcony and gives the crowd a wave.  It was the longest changing of the guard I have ever seen – 25 minutes.  That’s a lot of President waving!
  • The armed police dress in futuristic outfits reminiscent of RoboCop.  Scary and funny at the same time.
  • Bus drivers in Quito are nuts.  There are special lanes for the buses and apparently no speed limits,  It felt like a theme park ride especially n rush hour.  Try it!

However my most interesting and adventurous experience was getting a yellow fever vaccination which I had neglected to do prior to my trip, and required for my next stop – Colombia.  A big shout out has to go the recent changes in Ecuadorian health care where immunisations are now free, a splendid idea allowing everyone to protect themselves and their families.yellow fever

I managed to get the vaccination in a hospital in Southern Ecuador, which was a real test of my Spanish skills and the doctors patience.  However there were no international certificates for proof of vaccination left, I would have to go to the Ministry of Health in the capital, Quito, brandishing a note from the doctor.

On arrival at the Ministry of Health it didn’t take long to realise that my request was most unusual.  I was ushered through the metal detectors without being screened.  Then chaperoned by a lovely non-English speaking receptionist through most departments within the Ministry (bizarrely including Human Resources) trying to find someone who could help with this request.

Eventually after several trips up and down in the busy lift the receptionist located someone who had the international certificates and more importantly the stamps!  So I was given a little yellow fever booklet complete with lots of stamps.  However I was not finished yet, I had to go back to the desk where I first started for yet more stamps.  The Ecuadorian governments thoroughness and love for stamps was evident.

Interestingly I was then told I would have to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  More stamps?  More visits to Human Resources?  I was, and still am, unclear as to why they were insistent on me going there.  I decided to take my chances, not visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and head to the border…..

Categories: adventure, South America | 1 Comment

The Uniqueness Of The Galapagos….

This volcanic archipelago lies 973km from the South American mainland.  With it being so isolated and having no significant human history, the evolution of their animal IMG_7832species is unique.  Here Charles Darwin studied the wildlife and based on his learnings, developed his theory on humankind writing the legendary Origin of The Species.

Nowadays the Galapagos Islands remain unspoilt, but are very much a tourist mecca with several flights arriving daily.  The tourist industry is extremely well managed and coordinated, to minimise any impact on the wildlife and the environment.  In fact you often feel like you are on the only boat on the whole of the Pacific Ocean.

I shall now impart words of wisdom and advice.  Before you go on this budget busting trip research it thoroughly.  Whilst wildlife is unpredictable, certain aspects can be planned.  I hate to say it, but I was underwhelmed by the Galapagos Islands.  My experience included poor visibility for snorkelling, rather choppy sailing conditions and no famous bird mating rituals.  However there was stunning scenery, colourful land iguanas and lots of baby sea lions.  If timed to perfection I think this could be an amazing experience……

So now for some interesting snippets of information:

  • The scolopendra centipede inhabits these islands, and can be 30cm long.  Its diet includes baby rats and lizards.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to see one.
  • Due to it’s perfect symmetry across the equator this is one of only two countries* which can boast exactly twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of night.IMG_7900
  • When the Galapagos Island’s most famous inhabitant Lonesome George died in 2012 at an unknown age (thought to be 102 years old) this signalled the end of his species.  George, a Pinta Island giant tortoise, was discovered alone and despite extensive searches across the islands no others of his genus were found.  US$10,000 was offered to anyone who could find him a mate, but sadly despite this appeal none was found.

* For those quiz goers, the other country is Kenya.

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Next trip locked and loaded….

…… A few days in Panama to visit the engineering feat of the canal.  Then Ecuador for the wildlife sensation of the Galapagos Islands.  Followed by Colombia, which holds the title of the third ranked country on the Happy Planet Index and has the World’s largest number of endemic species.

Happy Planet!

Happy Planet!


* The Happy Planet Index is an index of human well-being and environmental impact.






Categories: adventure, Central America, South America | 2 Comments

Can I ever do Brazil justice?

Brazil is such a HUGE country.  There simply wasn’t enough time to visit all the places I wanted to go on this trip.  Oh well, just looks like a revisit is on the cards….

  • Venture into one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.  These notorious areas house the lower demographics of society.  They are no strangers to drugs, gangs and prostitution; and life expectancy is generally short.  On a guided walk with a local I felt very much out of my comfort zone and wary of my surroundings.  At no point did I feel particularly threatened, but seeing young teenage boys on watch duty with guns sent shivers down my spine.  It was a real eye-opener to see how this area has been left to fend for itself with no government intervention or standard amenities.  It’s survival of the fittest in this environment.

Simply stunning!

  • Drink in possibly the most beautiful iconic city view known to man.  Take the cable car up Sugar Loaf Mountain and gaze down on the sights of Rio; Copacabana Beach, Christ the Redeemer and the distant favelas.
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Argentina – Steaks, snazzy dressers and mullet haircuts!

Cosmopolitan Buenos Aires offers these delights and so much more…..

  • In the birthplace of the tango, take an authentic lesson.  Spanish not essential but highly advisable!  So much fun, although I didn’t know what was happening most of the time…..

    OK now concentrate…

  • Absorb the sheer excitement when attending a football match in Buenos Aires.  Stand in the terraces and feel yourself bounce along in time with the masses as they chant, swing their shirts above their heads and jump in unison.  A spectacle to behold.
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Experience the weirdness that is Easter Island

Chile’s Easter Island is one of the most remote islands in the world. Even birds find the distance from other landmasses daunting, and refuse to attempt the flight there. This makes the island a truly self sustaining ecosystem and a scientific blueprint for the whole planet.

  • Visit Easter Island to see the unique stone Moai statues, more than 600 of which are scattered across the island.  The tallest figure stands at ten metres tall and, as with all the Moai, faces inland as if protecting the inhabitants.  It’s all a little eerie……

    What exactly is their purpose?

  • Try and avoid the vast amount of stray dogs on the island.  I have never seen so many in my life, roaming in packs and particularly unfriendly!
Categories: culture, iconic, South America, The Americas, wildlife | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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