Nica hobbling.

Ah! So much has happened, so many things I wanna blog about.

Welcomed to Colorado with a beautiful sunset.

Welcomed to Colorado with a beautiful sunset.

Where to begin? Quick life update, I moved to Colorado and I am LOVING it. When I came back to the States and started the super fun process of job searching I had no idea I would end up here! Shout out to Courtney and Mike for trailblazing the Baltimore – Fort Collins route. Courtney who along with being one of my closest friends was also my fellow Study Abroad Advisor at Towson. Courtney and Mike decided to make a incredibly well thought out and daring decision to pack up their apartment in Baltimore and see what living in Colorado had to offer. Courtney is now working at Colorado State University in the Ed Abroad Office and when another position became available she suggested I apply. At first I thought I would get flown out and if nothing else get dinner with friends! In the end I was offered a position as an Education Abroad Coordinator responsible for incoming exchange students, international internships and alumni outreach.

Here are a photos of the first two week’s highlights: Bona reunion dinner in Denver, hiking in Colorado Springs, Charlie my new cat roomie, hiking up to the Horsetooth Resouvior which is essentially my new backyard.

So now that I’m caught upish it’s time for this blog to leave South America and journey north to Nicaragua. I love Central America. It’s rugged and friendly and full of treasures. I had quite a plan for  my time in Nicaragua. Then I got off the plane and realized I wasn’t sure I could walk to the Customs booth without the help of a wheelchair. In that moment I knew that my plans would need to change. My sciatic nerve hurt BAD. Can’t really walk bad. Add a backpack that holds all your possession and now you’re in agony, bad. But something kicks in… you have no choice. You have to keep moving and so you do. I made it out of the airport, fought with a taxi driver but eventually arrived at the local bus terminal and wandered a bit Granada until I found my hostel.

I stayed at Oasis, a really nice hostel in the downtown area. I had actually stayed there back in 2006 when I was studying in Costa Rica and need to spend 48 out of the country in order to renew my student visa. The place had not changed a bit since then but was still pretty impressive. I was feeling crappy and a little sad so I decided to treat myself and splurge for 3 days in a private room – a whopping $13 a night. I know, big investment, right? It was essentially a closet with a bed but I was happy.  The hostel allows you to make one 10 minute phone call to the USA per night that you stay there. In 2006 that was a HUGE luxury. When I wanted to call home from Costa Rica I had to walk to a pay phone that was in front of a bar which was 8 blocks away from my homestay. Now, with the wonders of technology anytime I had a half decent wifi connection I could call home for free. Still, it was free so I took advantage of it. The hostel also has computers, a small pool, unlimited pancake breakfast and dozens of hammocks. So I ate way too many pancakes and justified the lack of breakfast expense as a balance for the 4 extra dollars a night a private room cost.

While I was there I tried to see a chiropractor but no luck. In the end I found an AMAZING massage therapist who I went to 3 times in 9 days. $30 for a two hour deep tissue and acupuncture session felt expensive on a backpacker budget (and yet basically free in terms of US prices) but it was the only thing that helped and I happily paid the nice man. He encourage me to walk even if it hurt so each day I went out and did some exploring. Granada, Nicaragua is beautiful. Its definitely within the tourist zone of the country but it has maintained what feels like authentic charm. I wandered the streets, climbed to the top of the church tour and ate a lot of ice cream. I spent afternoons in “cafes” or lounging in the hammocks.

Nicaragua is a major place to visit on the gringo trail (backpacker route) and Central America is particularly popular for younger British & Australian backpackers. It’s beautiful, cheap, full of extreme sport places and you can always find a party. I don’t have anything against the Brits & Aussies but I was just not in the mood while I was there. I didn’t do a lot of socializing but I did end up making friends with a Spanish guy from Barcelona who didn’t speak any English. He was soooo excited to find another traveler to speak Spanish with. He was super patient with me and anytime I was would make a mistake/be at a loss for words he would kindly remind me that my Spanish was better then his English. Not gonna lie, that was a mood booster! Javi came to check on me every afternoon and see if I needed anything since I wasn’t super mobile – that’s the thing about backpacking solo, everyone looks after each other. Kinda sappy but true. It’s quite a community to be part of. After about a week Javi moved on and I decided it was time for me to move on too.

Next stop, another place I visited and loved in 2006 – Lago Apoyo. A crater lake of crystal clean water made from an ancient volcano eruption. It was beautiful and relaxing and they had Frank’s Red Hot to put on their homemade pizzas. Score! Little, unexpected tastes of home can mean so much when you’ve been away from a while. While I was there I meet some great people. Had conversations about 10 day silent retreats, Israeli politics, travel playlist must-haves, where to find the best textiles in Guatemala and what comes after a year of travel. Among the great company was an awesome couple from the States that have started a social entrepreneurship business selling fair trade items in back in States. Support education projects and find cool stuff at Life Out of the Box! It was very cool to meet people who have turned their passion for travel into a successful social business venture.

After the Lago Apoyo I circled back to Granada for a my third and final massage before heading on to Leon, Nicaragua. I had read so, so many good things about Leon but didn’t get much of a chance to explore. Again, it was a walking city and so incredibly hot that I just wasn’t up for it. I did eat so of the best food I had in a long time there. Simple and delicious. I was planning to stay a few days but  end up only staying 2 days and 1 night because I was able to get on a shuttle to Antigua, Guatemala – where I would meet Megan and Rachel to start our #518inGuate adventure. I jumped at the opportunity and took the last seat in a 23 hour shuttle from Nicaragua, through El Salvador and finally arriving in Antigua. 4 Irish, 2 Brits and me packed like sardines in a shuttle van for 23 hours with no air conditioning . It amazing the positions you can contort yourself into in a desperate attempt to sleep. Why hello stranger… you are now my pillow/foot rest/cuddle mate and I am to you. By the end we were smelly, sweaty, dirty new friends covered in cheeto dust and sharing water bottles. Ahh.. that dirty backpacker life.

So, looking back I don’t think I can fully check Nicaragua off my bucket list. There is still so much more for me to explore – the cities, the beaches, the islands. Good thing it’s cheap and close so I will definitely get back in the future. Even with feeling a bit out of sorts and physically pretty uncomfortable I was able to meet great people and see beautiful places so in the grand scheme of things, not bad. Not bad at all.

Next up… Scotia comes to Guatemala and it was so, so, sooooooo good.

 

 

 

Colombian send-off, the adventure continues.

It has been a while and as far as my blog is considered I am still in Colombia. But… I’m home. It’s Christmas. And… it was like 60 degrees today? I spent the day wrapping presents, looking at our Christmas tree and driving around with the sunroof open. It’s confusing and has me thinking Santa is better off in a bathing suit then one made of velvet. With that we’ll go back down memory lane to final days in Colombia.

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Mac loves Christmas.

At orientation and a few other times throughout the semester groups of people would visit each other’s cities. I was lucky to live in Medellin, a city people wanted to visit so I got to see lots of friends! A few of us decided to spend the final two weeks on the Caribbean coast before we headed on to whatever would come next.

I met up with Caroline, Maggie and Amy in Cartagena, Colombia. Cartagena is probably the most popular tourist destination in Colombia and is called the “Jewel of the Caribbean”. There one of Caroline’s friends, Madeline, from the States came down to explore with us. Cartagena is what its rumored to be – a beautiful walled city, incredibly hot and touristy.

 

While we were there the Copa America – American Cup was going on. Colombians are CRAZY about soccer. Yellow jerseys are everywhere. We knew we wanted to get jerseys and find somewhere to watch the game.

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Yellow is just not my color.

Throughout our 6 months in Colombia Maggie made a real name for herself as a face paint artist. At every party she was prepared with face paint and glitter. This really worked out in our favor. The morning of the game we got breakfast in a little family restaurant and after we ate Maggie painted each of our faces with the Colombian flag. Every single table stopped eating and stared. There was a lot of hushed conversation and then people looking over. Finally one woman got up the courage, brought us her 8 year old child and said “Paint child.” After that Maggie legit had a line out the door. People patiently waited for Maggie to paint their children. Any child too small to stand there and be painted was just immediately handed to me and I held them while they got painted. There was almost no communication in English or Spanish just me holding kids and Maggie painting them.

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There was a 2 minute lull in the face paint requests so we booked it out of there before another line formed. Next step, find somewhere to watch the game. As I mentioned Cartagena is hot. Like… soak yourself is sweat, hot. Like… I just stepped out of the door and I’m dripping, hot. Like… there is no natural shade and if I don’t find a roof to stand under I might die – hot. We asked locals where we should go to watch the game? Where would be fun? Everyone kept telling us that there would be a  giant screen with game projected on  in the main plaza, drive-in movie style. We were then immediately cautioned that there would be no shade. Each person gave us this sort of side-eyed look to imply that our intense whiteness would get fried if we attempted to go 2 hours in the direct sun, especially at midday. Drive-in game watch was NOT AN OPTION.

It took a while of (sweaty) walking around but we finally found a tiny convenience store that put up 2 TVs (smaller then the ones in my parent’s house) in front of their store. They had super cold beer and there was a giant tree to sit under. SOLD! It was great local spot to watch the game, even if we had to squint a little to see the TV. People immediately noticed our jerseys and flags. They LOVED that 5 foreign girls were dressed for the game. People started asking us to paint their faces too. Maggie painted flags and people showed their gratitude by supplying us with beers and aguadiente – crazy Colombian liquor. One man was so taken with Amy’s blonde hair and painted face that he spent the second half of the game proposing marriage and introducing Amy to people as his wife. We loved it, and she tolerated it like a champ! We spent the rest of the day eating ice cream and walking the wall around the city. Even after the game people were very excited to see us in jerseys!

The next day was our time to explore. We visited the fort and walked all over. It was lovely and hot. Really hot. Noticing a theme? Hot.

Next up was Santa Marta. Santa Marta is the launching place for the beach. We stayed at a hostel we loved there, La Guaca. We met some fun people and arranged a jeep taxi to take us to the beach. Everyone just piles in and when you think there is no more space two or three more people get shoved in. The beach was fine, not amazing but a nice place to spend the day. We bottle brought a giant rum juice box and bought fresh juice on the beach. Made for a good day.

After a few days it was time to move on again. Next stop, Taganga, the “hippy part” of Santa Marta. We had our same driver take us to our new spot – about 30 minnutes away. I’m not sure what was harder, to fit eight people or the original five girls AND our backpacks. There was a lot of shoving, arms and legs were everywhere but finally the driver got the trunk gate closed. The next place we stayed was also very cool. Nice pool. Amazing views. And the cutest kittens ever. I’m not even a cat person but there kittens were adorable and followed us everywhere.

From Taganga we went to a little beach accessible by boat. The boats were kinda sketchy, completely overcrowded and there were no docks. Climb in, jump out. It was fine, it was a short trip and we always stayed close to the shore. This beach was our most crowded. We were traveling at the beginning of Colombian summer vacation season and you could tell. We rented chairs for the day because shade continued to be a must. We ate fried fish, swam and drank. Another good day.

On to the next – we were moving pretty quick. I think we spent about 2 days in each place. But the place we were most excited about was Parque Tayrona. An amazing and beautiful national park along the Caribbean. You take a bus from Taganga and then hike for about 2-2.5  hours until you get to beach campground. I was super psyched and had wanted to do this hike the whole time I was in Colombia. Unfortunately this trip was when my sciatic nerve started really bothering me. The girls were super supportive and I was glad to be with friends while I was in pain! I couldn’t do the hike. There was no way I would be able to hike for 20 minutes much less 2.5 hours. Time for plan B. Thankfully there was a boat! Boat, sure, easy-peasy. I felt kinda lame for not hiking but it was my only option.

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Boat from hell.

Turns out this boat was redic. First of all, finding the boat involved a lot of doing. But, I managed that. Then, I had to get on the boat which may look easy but it’s not. You’re about waist deep when you have to climb in, over the engine and sit down all while wearing a giant life vest (which later I would come to appreciate.) Ok, so I get in the boat and we’re off. The boat ride starts out pretty rocky. The waves are intense. I figure we just have to get out of the  bay and we’ll be fine. Wrong. We get out of the bay and it gets about 100 times worse. The boat is catching sooooo much air and then it just SLAMS down like a ton of bricks. People are crying. People are puking. I involuntarily screamed several times. You’re probably unaware but when I am  startled I have an extremely high pitched scream. The first time I accidentally screamed I think my scream actually scared the guy next to me more then the wave. We’re even though because since there was nothing to hold onto, he held onto me and I ended up with a bruise in the shape of his hand print on my thigh.

I thankfully do not get seasick. I am pretty confident that not getting seasick on that 45 minute boat ride from hell means I will never get seasick. The waves were SO high and we dropping down SO hard that I actually said to myself… listen, you WILL go overboard. But, it’s going to be ok. You’re a good swimmer. You’re going to just float on your back. Just float. Someone will eventually come for you. Your friends know you are on a boat. Just breath. It’s going to be ok. Turns out I’m a great internal monologue pep talker. In the end we somehow, someway, made it there. I did not go overboard.

I love boat rides. I love fast boat rides. I even enjoy choppy boat rides. I never want to make that boat ride again. DO THE HIKE PEOPLE. The boat ride is NOT worth it.

Ok, so, I’m alive. When we arrive we don’t really get to shore. Everyone, including children just have to jump out and swim in. It was the wrong time of day to arrive so the swim was pretty tough. When they finally made it to the beach people just laid down and WEPT. Colombians are emotional people. It was crazy. But, again, I’m alive.. and now it’s time to find my friends. I meet up with them, tell them all about my crazy ride and we get in line for hammocks. You can either rent a tent or sleep in a hammock, we went for the hammock option. It was actually great. We all slept well. There was no mosquito issues (possibly because we bathed ourselves and our things in bug spray). I would def do it again.

The beach is beautiful. We would wake up early and try to find a place on the beach that would provide all day shade. Still hot, real hot and we were hoping to avoid major sunburns. Unfortunately my sciatic went from bad to worse while we were there. Walking on loosely packed sand is pretty much the worst possible thing for the condition I was in. So bad, that when faced with the option of hiking out or taking the boat back I choose to take the boat.

Here goes. Turns out the boat ride back was much calmer. People screamed but didn’t cry. There were only 2 or 3 people puking instead of several. I only thought I was going to go overboard two times instead of dozens. Improvements.

It was a great trip. We had a ton of laughs. Enjoyed many cocktails. Cheered on our adopted country and pretended our fried fish could talk. Even with my horrible sciatic issues I wouldn’t have traded my days on the coast. Colombia I loved ya, Costa Caribe you’re beautiful and I’m happy to have survived!

It was quite the sendoff and I was sad to say goodbye when I left. Lucky for me I was still prolonging the “real world” and had Central America to look forward to! Next stop, Nicaragua!

*** Thanks to Amy, Maggie, Caroline and Madeline for letting me steal some of your photos! xo

Tney visits Colombia! DayQuil delivery, chicken gloves, big trees and lots of stairs!

Turns out making real friends post college is really hard. Traveling has made it quite easy – always new, interesting people to meet. I am going to go home and start talking to whoever is sitting next me… hey, whats your name? Where are you from? And they will all think I’m crazy. Who is this weird girl talking me?? With that in mind I realize how fortunate I am to have made such a good friend while working at Towson University. Courtney and I shared the same position and therefore similar frustrations and luckily similar senses of silly-fun-dress up themed humor. Courtney, or Tney as she is known to me was in on my plan to travel from pretty much the beginning. She was incredibly encouraging for the whole 2+ years that I was thinking, dreaming and planning this year away. She said from the beginning that she wanted to come meet me on the trip and I knew that she would make it happen! Just a FYI, Tney and I both love taking photos to this post contains approximately 1 million pictures. The good news is Colombia is beautiful and so are we so get on board & enjoy the photos!

Tney came down for Towson’s Spring Break and we had an amazing week together. To start with she brought me a list of things I was missing from home – peanut butter, Frank’s RedHot, Pepto and Dayquil! Amazing. We spent our first few days exploring Medellin. We went to Botero Plaza and visited Mueso Antioquia to check out Botero’s work. Courtney is a huge fan of street art and statue parks so Medellin was a good fit for her! We took a walking tour all through the city and I learned a lot of new things. We checked out the street art in Cuidad del Rio, wandered through Parque Explora (a hands on science park), hide from the rain in the Botanical Garden and rode the metro cable to Bibloteca Espana. We did a lot! Packed it in but also relaxed. Courtney was very interested to hear that Colombians eat chicken – rotisserie style or wings with plastic gloves. She had a great time in Medellin and really liked all the things we did but I think her favorite thing was the chicken gloves!

Another memorable experience from our time in Medellin was when we took a taxi and our driver fell asleep. Fell asleep while driving us. Courtney and I screamed from the backseat and he woke up as we were rolling into the back of a bus. Thankfully we had been coming up to a red light so we were moving very slow. The driver just giggled like it was cute or something. Courtney and I were NOT pleased. Who falls asleep while breaking for a red light?? Oh Medellin, your taxi drivers do leave something to be desired. But, you know, no one was hurt so all’s well that ends well.

From Medellin Courtney and I headed into the Zona Cafetera, the Coffee Region of Colombia. We stayed at a beautiful ranch house turned hostel in Salento. We wanted to do a coffee tour and decided we would go to one that was supposed to be about a 10 minute walk away. Mmmhmm, an hour and a half or so later and we finally arrived. Lucky for us it was all down hill and the scenery was beautiful. We had a very sweet tour guide who showed us all about the process of planting, harvesting, picking, roasting and brewing coffee. Courtney and I were given a chance to pick beans. I thought we did great. Our guide… NOT impressed with our work. Guess its office life for us.

The most important thing we learned is the difference between Tier 1 and Tier 2 coffee. Anything we drink in the States is Tier 1 – obviously there are differences in quality but it is all Tier 1. Colombians and most coffee producing countries drink Tier 2. Tier 1 coffee smells delicious and rich. Tier 2 coffee smells like dirty gym socks. It amazing the difference. It’s sad that the people who are producing the best coffee drink absolute shit coffee. So drink up gringos and enjoy the good life!

The main reason people come to Salento is to hike in the Valle de Cocora. This valley is famous for having the tallest palm trees in the world. The Wax Palm is the national tree of Colombia and it is beautiful. We hiked for about 8 hours but only spent the last two hours or so among the palms. The hike was beautiful and muddy. We both slipped in the mud at different times. At one point we decided our best option was to get off the trail, shimmy under the barbed wire and walk among the cows. You know, as you do. The trail criss crossed over a river for a while which involved going over incredibly sketchy bridges that are actually really fun. We also explored an area full of hummingbird feeders – another of Tney’s favorite things! It was a great but exhausting day. When we finally made it to the palms we were amazed. It felt like we were in a Dr. Suess book. Just amazing. I couldn’t recommend it more!

Salento was amazing but with only 9 days it was already time to move onto the next! We came back to Medellin and from there took a day trip to the pueblo of Guatape. Guatape is probably the most popular day trip from Medellin. It is famous for La Piedra, the rock. A giant rock with a staircase built into the side. You can climb to the top. All 740 steps. People will tell you that it’s not that hard and it really isn’t but I mean, 740 is a lot of steps! The views from the top are amazing so its vale la pena, worth the climb.

What I didn’t know until I got there was how pretty the town of Guatape is. This was the only town that I saw the buildings decorated in this way. It was a fantastic last day to an incredible visit! It was so important to me to share a place I loved so much with someone who total gets my love of travel! Tney thank you for visiting!

Courtney and her husband, Mike (my former roommate!) have just recently moved to Colorado. I am so excited to visit them and have our next adventure!

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Congrats guys! Looking forward to a reunion!

 

Ohhh, so that’s what being homesick feels like. Medellin, te quiero!

So I’m catching up! The blog has officially made it to Colombia! Even though I left about 7 weeks ago it still feels too close to really think about, write about. I loved Colombia. I loved it while I was there and I think it’s possible that I love it even more now that I am gone. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that good stuff.

Before I left the States I had made a plan: travel for 5 months, live in Colombia for 5 months and then travel for 2 more months. As I’ve said before, I like plans. I am good at plans. This one was specific enough that I had a sense of what I was doing but general enough that I was able to leave lots unplanned. It kept me from getting homesick. When it came time to leave Colombia I was sad to go but also excited for the next phase of my trip.

When I left Colombia I flew directly to Granada, Nicaragua. Right before I left Colombia I somehow tweaked my back and was having very bad sciatic nerve pain. So that sucked. First of all I was in pain, secondly I felt like I should be 85 years old hobbling around and finally nothing is worse for a backpacker then not being able to walk! I still have some pain but it’s mostly gone now, gracias a Dios. At the time though it was definitely bumming me out!

So anyway.. I left Colombia, my leg hurt real bad and first the first time in 10 months I experienced a new feeling, homesickness. While I love the States and my family and friends there it wasn’t them  I was homesick for. I missed Colombia! I missed my people! I couldn’t have been luckier with the group of people I had to live, teach and explore with in Medellin.

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Missing a few of the originals and adding in a few news one but I love how happy we all are!

We started the program with a huge orientation and had a chance to meet people who would teach all over the country. Thanks to the wonders of facebook I am able to keep in touch with people spread all over Colombia. From that I know that several different cities have formed tight bonds and really enjoy each other. That’s great, I am so happy for those people but no doubt in my mind, Medellin Spring 2015 group was the best. With representation from Canada, the USA, the UK, Ireland, India and Australia we were quite a diverse group and we got on so well.

As in any group we all subtly and in some cases overtly played a role. There were the quiet ones and loud ones, the good dancers, the DJ, the excellent teachers, the chill ones and the hyper ones. I tended to be the organizer. We had a few amazing weekends – Chiva birthday bus and two hilarious fincas stand out in my mind. Everyone was just game for whatever. Medellin is a FUN city. There is lots to do both during the day and at night. We really lucked out with our placement as well as our group of people. Beyond our fellow teachers we also added to the group with roommates, bfs/gfs and people we just randomly met. The people of Medellin are famous for being friendly and it is absolutely true. I love the Paisas! Medellin is amazing and I highly recommend a visit.

 

Beyond my English teachers group I was lucky to meet another group of people. There is a park in Medellin that is very popular to hangout and have drinks at night. Open container is legal. There tons of people, mostly tourists but a mix of other too. One of those nights Victoria (another one of the English teachers and my partner in crime) and I met Raul. Even though Medellin is a big city it’s also tiny. We later ended up running into Raul for a second time. He is the owner of a CrossFit gym and offered us each a free month of personal training. I was super nervous. It had been a long time since I worked out and CF is nuts. I did a lot of googling, read reviews and got more information about it. I decided, por que no? Who gets offered free personal training? I couldn’t pass up that chance.

Like all good crossfitters Victoria and I started and got hooked. The space was fanatic. It was in the back of a Harley Davidson motorcycle store and bar – which is still hilarious to me. The walls were open so there was a ton of fresh air and we even had a fully grown mango tree coming up out of the floor. It is just next to a nice, quiet park (where we would do my least favorite thing – run) and you could hear the river flowing when the music was off. Using mostly basic equipment (mats, kettle bells, weighed medicine balls, jump ropes, pull up bars – that kinda thing) we did the crazy hardest workouts of my life. I have never sweat so much. Raul, the owner and Jose, the trainer knew how to push each individual person to work their hardest but not hurt themselves. The vibe of the gym was incredible. The biggest sessions had maybe 10 people at a time which gave us a chance to all get to know each other. The classes were partially in English and partially in Spanish. I would walk into the gym and each person greeted me while a big hello and kiss on the cheek. Raul being the huge goof that he is was constantly give hugs and cracking jokes. Jose was constantly focused and incredibly positive. Who would have thought that joining a gym would be one of my best Colombian experiences? And it worked too! I lost somewhere around 25lbs in the two and a half months that I worked out with them. Alpha Kettlebell Club I may never find another place like you but I will be forever grateful!

Photo credit to Raul!

Colombia I still miss you! I miss the idea of living and working in another country even actually doing it isn’t quite as romantic as thinking about it. I miss the dancing. Pues, I miss the accent of the Paisas. I miss all the places that I didn’t get to actually visit but have seen and heard about. I miss working a 15 hour work week and having enough money to live pretty comfortably! I miss the gym, the trainers and all my friends from there! While “Colombia” now means so many different things to me what I will always miss most is the people and the sense of family we created in just 5 short months! Te estraño, te amo.

SENA photo!

SENA photo!

Cuenca v. Quito – it’s a clear winner.

When I wasn’t being visited by college besties or off being a biker babe in Banos I had a chance to explore a few other places in Ecuador. Cuenca is for sure the prettiest city in Ecuador. To be honest I didn’t do a whole ton while I was there. My hostel had an amazing wifi connection so I watched lots of Netflix. Even in a beautiful place sometimes you need to just chill out and binge watch Orange Is the New Black. One day when I finally turned off Netflix I happened upon what may be the weirdest religious parade ever.

While I was there I also did a week of Spanish classes at CEDEI. I went to that language school because I met the Director at a work conference and because Katie, a friend from Baltimore had studied and worked there in the past. These were definitely the best Spanish classes I have taken. The professor was so good. He explained several questions about Spanish that had always confused me. If you are looking for a great Spanish school I would highly recommend it. While I was at the school I was also able to tag alone of an excursion to the Ingapirca Ruins. It was initally a site of a pre-Inca tribe that worshipped the moon. At first the Incas came in and they lived side by side but eventually the Inca just took over with their superior knowledge of argiculture, construction, mathematics and understanding of the sun which allowed them to seem god-like.

Other then Spanish lessons and netflix I developed an obsession with chocolate coconut ice cream and even though it was pretty chill I ate it every single day! I walked around and was amazed at how pretty the city was. I took lots of pictures.

After Cuenca I went to Quito. I got to meet up with both Ellen and Josta again but seperately this time because we had split up at that point. Great to see the girls again! I bought and lost 3 scarves… in like week. Leaving things behind is kinda my super power but I have been pretty good on this trip all things considered. Got a chest infection and waited for Mary to arrive! I didn’t love Quito. It was cold and a little unfriendly. I found it a bit intimiating, it reminded me of a much more developed La Paz. I think I’m just a number 2 city kinda girl. I like Boston over NY. Medellin over Bogota. Cuenca over Quito. Baltimore and Buffalo are perfect examples of two more smaller cities that I love. So, no doubt, hands down… I’m a team Cuenca.

Mary in Ecuador! Being in two places at once, lots of screaming and unavoidable face tats.

Way back in January Mary was my first visitor on my trip. Since then I have been visited by Courtney, Rachel and Megan then my parents who only left Mexico a few days ago. I have been thrilled to have so many visitors! I can still remember being soooooo excited for Mary to arrive! Mary is one of my best friends and roommates from Bonaventure. Whenever we are together there is lots of laughing, some serious talk and tons of ridiculousness. We only had about 8 or 9 days and there were tons of things we wanted to do in Ecuador.

We spent our first few days in Quito. We visited a market, got Mary a fresh coconut and made it to the Mitad del Mundo – the equator line dividing the hemispheres. The Mitad was very cool. We got to explore all over the mostly empty site, take a million photos, befriend some llamas and balance an egg on a nail. Plus if you stand over the line you are in two places at once, who doesn’t love that? There was also a green screen where you used a timer to take your own picture. We of course took about a dozen pictures, each one somehow more awful than the next. #talented

 

While we were there we did some bridal shower gift shopping. In the years since college our friend and the then bride-to-be Kat had developed a love for ugly sweater vests. She had a Halloween cat vest that came out at all times of year once she had enough drinks in her. Bolivia and Peru are all about the llama sweaters. I have two, its easy to get obsessed. When we saw (for the first time ever) llama sweater vests we knew we had hit the shower gift jackpot. Matching his and hers llama sweater vests? Yes, please! Mary gifted Kat the vest of both our behalf and thankfully Kat loved them as much as we hoped she would!

Next to the official site is an non-official museum and the actual equator line.  That place is hilarious and we highly suggest a visit. There all sort of displays about the indigenous cultures in Peru and the surrounding countries. Shrunken heads and a house full of guinea pigs were our favorites. The museum also had science experiments that were intended for kids but we were totally into it. Did you know that you can’t walk in a straight line on the Equator line? That water spins in one direction North of the Equator and in the other direction South of the line? Also we did our balancing egg trick again – champs!

From Quito we went to Mindo, a little mountain town with some adventure activities. We had a crazy full day of exploring. First thing we woke up at 6am to go to a hummingbird garden. It was incredible. The garden was in the back of a small hotel and had dozens of bird feeders and all the plants and trees hummingbirds like. There must have been at least 200 hummingbirds. There are tons of different kinds, all beautiful and tiny.

After that we took a dip in the pool and then decided we should go white water tubing. White water tubing is a lot like rafting but instead of a raft there are just six inner tubes tied together. Normally groups of 5 go out but since it was the low season they were happy to just take Mary and I. We strap on our helmets and awkwardly climb into our attached tubes. Our guides tells us the river is very high so we should always hold on to our rope handles and if he says hold on tight we gotta hold on REALLY tight. OK… let’s do this. Just before Mary came I got a really bad chest infection which included a horrible cough. So the whole time going down the rough water I was sucking on a cough drop and Mary was screaming at the top of her lungs. The guide thought we were insane but fun.

We went over a pretty large drop and Mary’s tube just catches it wrong. She is all of a sudden doing  of backward head stand, up on her shoulders, feet swinging and nearly kicking our guide in the chest. She manages to hold, he manages to duck and all three of us are laughing hysterically. Not 5 minutes later and the same thing happens to me! Once again the guide successfully ducked out of the way and I somehow managed to hold on. The river was cold and crazy and I think with our weirdly balanced weight our guide was struggling a bit but it was awesome.

After that we got into to town and decided what the hell – we were up for another adventure. This time it was ziplining. We went on a huge ziplining course. The lines were really long and we were super high up. I thought Mary screamed while we were rafting but she really let it out – super high, crazy screams every time she went ziplining. Again, hilarious. Our guides died laughing as she screamed her head off. I went through about ten cough drops by the time we were done and nearly pee’d my pants laughing.

Our final day in Mindo we went on a chocolate tour. The tour was excellent. First we were shown all the stages from the cacao fruit, cocoa butter, to the chocolate nibs and finally, candy bar! We had a great tour through the gardens. They diversify the plants as a natural insecticide. Banana plants next to cacao next to coffee and so on which keeps insects away somehow. We saw the drying stations. Chocolate making and packaging processes and then it was time for our tasting! We had a brownie that was legit the best brownie of my life. We also had chocolate sauce – first no sugar which was HORRIBLE. Then a little sugar which was better. This place specialized in sauces – a ginger sauce, a chili sauce and a balsamic sauces. All were amazing the ginger and the balsamic were for sure my favs. We decided to eat there and it was honestly one of my best meals in all of my trip. We share steak with coffee sauces and a chicken with chocolate sauce. My mouth waters just thinking about it. SO GOOD.

From Mindo we wanted to get some beach time. The trip wasn’t quite as quick as we expect and we ended up spending almost a whole day on the bus. Canoa was a lovely little beach town. We spent our first day just hanging out, swimming and hitting up the different happy hours. There were lots of little shops near our (super crappy) beach motel. One of the shops was owned by Face Tat. A man who had tattoos on both sides of his face who became obsessed with Mary. We avoided him but the town is small and he seemed to pop up everywhere! That night we went out and danced under the stars at a beach bar and who was there but Face Tat. Alright we’re calling it a night. On our final day we decided to just camp out of the beach. Around hour 4 Face Tat came and found us and didn’t want to leave. We went from politely disinterested to aggressively telling him to leave us alone. In all the excitement Mary forgot to apply sunblock and later that night climbed onto the bus with a truly terrible sunburn. Whoops! Just what you want for a plane ride back to the States!

Looking forward to another beachy vacation with Mary again sometime in the future!

Looking forward to another beachy vacation with Mary again sometime in the future!

It was blast having her. There is nothing like spending time and sharing your adventures with the people you love!

Welcome to Peru! Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley & friends… it’s a good life.

So we are caught up on all of Bolivia and its many wonders… time for Peru! I took a group open tour bus from La Paz to Cusco. The bus company is called Bolivia Hop. They take you from La Paz to Lake Titicaca for an overnight, stop at the Floating Islands and then an overnight bus on to Cusco. Its designed for backpackers as a good budget option with young tour guides and lots of chances to meet other travelers. It was a good experience, I would recommend it.

So our first day we spend in Copacabana which seems very small. We went for a boat ride of Lake Titicaca (the name still makes me laugh) and did a little hiking on Isla del Sol. The lake is the highest navigable lake in the world. Again, crazy elevation… 13,451 ft so lots of shallow breathing and shuffling of feet. I remember thinking that when I finally left Bolivia I was going to appreciate the luxury of a deep breath. All together now… deep breath, yup there’s something you can´t do in Bolivia! The island is very pretty though so it was nice to explore.

Incan creation story says that Lake Titicaca is the birthplace of the Incans and the world. One of the god raised the sun, the moon, the stars and the first the Adam and Eve of the Incans out of the center of the lake. It was interesting to hear the stories as we were cruising around the lake. The water is pretty clean but absolutely freezing so we did not get into the water at all.

On the second day we crossed the border in Puno, Peru which is also on the lake and did a tour our to the Floating Islands. I was really excited to see them. Basically they are islands that are made of sod and then many, many layers of reed. Every two weeks the reed has to completely replaced to keep the islands from sinking. They were originally created as a way of protection, keep floating around so no one could attack you!

In the end the tour was a bit of a let down. For sure the most “made for tourist” attraction I have seen. They claim that the community still lives in this way but it was super obvious that it was set up for our visit. I do believe that they originally lived like that but my guess is that they just take the boat out for the day and actually live in Puno or Copa for real. My group wasn´t too impressed and they were pissed we didn´t buy much! Sorry.

From there it was on to Cusco! In Cusco I was able to meet up with three friends from Sucre. It was so nice to see Ellen, Kevin and Jenaya! We had a few days to hangout and enjoy the city together. Cusco is very pretty and filled with churches and tourists. I saw more Americans in Cusco then I had during my entire trip through South America. It does also have a great central market full of produce, food stalls and just about every random thing you can imagine.

From Cusco I booked a two-day trip to Machu Picchu. Those would be two of the best days of my entire trip! The first day we went to Pisac which was an Incan agricultural site. The Incans were incredibly smart and did a lot with agriculture. The site was HUGE. We were way up high and the views were beautiful. You basically have free reign to just climb all around. I loved it!

Our next site was Ollantaytambo. This was a strong hold for the Incas during the Spanish invasion. They were able to hold them off for a long time by flooding the lower parts and staying in the terraces. It was few hundred stairs to the top. Up, up, up! Again, gorgeous views and interesting history to keep you moving.

I met a lovely family while I was there. They were both surprised and confused that I was traveling alone so they decided I would travel with them. So sweet. From there we left for the train to Agua Calientes, the town where we would spend the night and head out to Machu Picchu in the morning. I was planning to walk the half hour to the train station but my new Peruvian family were having none of it. They insisted that I get in a tuk tuk with them. The only problem was they had already completely filled up the tuk tuk. Sarita! Venga! Nina, tranquila, vas con nosotros. So I had no choice but to just climb in and half sit on-lay over the top of the brother and sister. Gotta love that Latin hospitality.

The train was beautiful. It has giant windows and the train ride itself is gorgeous. A lot of it is along a river and it cuts right through the mountains. Plus the complimentary drink service was delicious! The train is more than the bus but totally worth it for the experience. I spent that night in Aguas Calientes and the next morning I got up early to take the bus up to Machu Picchu. The bus ride up was again, gorgeous. If you ever go make sure to take the bus from AC to MP, the “hike” is just a walk up a never-ending paved road where you will be passed by lots of buses. So grateful I had gotten that advice so now I tell everyone!

Machu Picchu is wayyyy high up the mountains. It was never found by the Spanish which is why it’s as well-preserved today as it is. I was there on just the edge of the rainy season so it was really cloudy at times. Then all of sudden all the clouds would blow out and the whole Incan city was just shining in the sun. It was incredible and added to the mystical feel of it all.

I was supposed to go on around with a tour group but I was really excited and decided to just explore on my own. I climbed up to the watch tour which is where you get the classic Machu Picchu view. It was stunning. I was worried that it would never live up to my expectations but it totally did! MP is so much bigger then I realized. I spent about 6 hours exploring all over before the heavy rain started and to be honest there was probably even more to see.

Originally I had planned to do MP with Ellen and Jenaya but because of the big ATM card issue I was stuck in Bolivia when they did their trip. In the end I think it might have been for the best. I loved getting to explore on my own. I went at my own pace. I took a million pictures. It was great having some quiet time, just me and MP. It really was an actual dream come true. I can´t recommend it enough, it was the coolest single place I have ever been and a something I will remember forever.

SO HAPPY.