Colombia to Venezuela

We had come to the end of our time in Colombia, and we had a great time there.  We did spend quite a bit of time pondering what country we would go to after Colombia. We had 3 options facing us.

  • 1. Travel through Venezuela and Brazil back to Uruguay, and ship home from there the same way we got here – on the Grimaldi Lines ships.
  • 2. Ship around the Darien Gap to Panama, and keep heading North, eventually shipping home from the USA or Canada.
  • 3. Drive south through Ecuador and Peru (backtracking) to get to the very south of Peru where we could enter Brazil, and then to Uruguay and ship home.
    Fuel stations are usually pretty formal affairs. Not this one!

    Fuel stations are usually pretty formal affairs. Not this one!

    We had met up with Jurgen and Ruth for the Venezuela trip (which was always plan A), but while we were in Colombia we started hearing reports of demonstrations, road blockages and violent clashes between the demonstrators and police. There were also stories of violent gangs making things worse as the police were so tied up in the the protests. This was a tough decision to make as some countries had declared that the first 50km of land along the border between Colombia and Venezuela was a no-travel zone, and the Venezuelian government had placed the province around San Christobal under martial law, and guess where the border crossing we had planned to use was? Right in the middle of it.

    We contacted quite a few experienced travelers to see if they had any contacts for first hand information, and got in touch with a few folks that were “in-country”. Based on information we picked up from all sorts of places, we decided to cross Venezuela, and to follow a few simple rules to make it as safe as we could. More on all of that in the Venezuela post in a few weeks! ūüôā

    Hub troubles and the man who fixed it

    Hub troubles and the man who fixed it

    The first step was to get from Villa de Leyva in the south part of Colombia,back to the only remaining safe border crossing at Maicao (pronounced My Cow) in the North part of Colombia. Nothing quite like a thousand kilometre backtrack to cheer everyone up! We got as far as San Gil and as we parked up by a supermarket we noticed a burning smell, oil decorating the inside of the rear passenger tyre. Brilliant. We limped to a camping site about 3km outside of San Gil, and took the hub apart and discovered the same problem that we had with the other rear hub over a year ago in Argentina. Needless to say we were a bit ticked off as we had really been watching the oil levels and renewing the oils diligently after the first problem.  The fun was going to be, where in Colombia would we find the parts?  Well, as it turns out, it was easy. We contacted Huan Pablo back at Hacienda Venecia who was a major Unimog fan, and asked if he knew of any mechanics in San Gil. He gave us a few names, most did not work out, but one of his contacts turned out to be a Unimog specialist in Bogota! We got in touch with him, and he turned up the next day in San Gil to help get us sorted.

    Similarly to the problem we had before, the drive gear was damaged, and it’s really the only part that is expensive and hard to find. However, he was used to this problem, and his solution was to machine down the bearing surface on the gear, and to make a ring to press into place to recondition the gear. This took a few days to do as he had to bring the gear back to Bogota, but once it was ready, he called back up and reinstalled the gear and off we went again. Top marks to Colombia’s Unimog hero – Luis Felipe. 40 years working on Unimogs!

    St. Patricks day dinner

    St. Patricks day dinner

    We continued to the border, and decided to cross in the morning, so we spent the night in a wild camp in the desert about 10k from the border. It was St Patricks day, so a nice dinner was called for and bbq’d Salmon was the dish of the day. Smashing!

    The next day as we got close to the border we could see hundreds of small stalls selling black market fuel from Venezuela. They were selling it in containers great and small, the smaller motorbikes were buying just a litre at a time. We decided to enter Venezuela with enough fuel to do 400km at least as we had heard it’s difficult or even impossible to buy fuel as a foreigner in Venezuela close to the borders – and that turned out to be true. Still, it hurt to be buying diesel at Colombian prices when a day later we could buy it cheaper than we could buy coke (at least that was what we had heard).
    Fuel drums everywhere

    Fuel drums everywhere

    The guy with the fuel can hid his face from the camera, the other guy gave a grin

    The guy with the fuel can hid his face from the camera, the other guy gave a grin

    Colombia

    Very simple houses next to the Venezuela border

    By the border, we saw people building houses of of clay and wattle, it brought back memories of a poem we had to learn in school.

    “I will arise and go now, and go to Inishfree,
    and a small cabin build there, of Clay and wattle made”… Props to Mr. Yeats.
    timber and stone walls, ready for a mud layer.

    timber and stone walls, ready for a mud layer.

    Exiting Colombia was easy, just like all the others. Then we drove to the Venezuela entry point, and the waiting started. Possibly the slowest border crossing to date, but we got in, and the Venezuelan adventure began.
  • Categories: colombia, Venezuela | 2 Comments

    Colombia – Bogota and Villa de Layva

    a look down a street in the evening in Colombia

    a look down a street in the evening in Colombia

    We have stayed in Villa de Leyva a little longer than expected.  No complaints as it is such a lovely little town. We were able to park our truck on a campsite called Hostal Renacer Colombian Highlands, a super place to park for a few nights while enjoying the ambiance of the town.  It is only 1.5 km walk so not too far to get to the many restaurants it has to offer. The Hostal is top notch with the best facilities as in toilets and showers we have seen in the whole of Latin America so far.  Our parking patch was excellent so peaceful at night and more importantly very safe.

    Candy floss seller on the main road.

    Candy floss seller on the main road.

    We left for a few days and went to Bogota. ¬†Bogota is the capital of Colombia and has 9 million people living in the city. ¬†So so much traffic I really wonder how anybody gets to work on time or get anything done in a day. ¬†The climate is crisp and cool with daily temperatures on average between 14 and 19 degrees. We used the Transmilenio to go in and out of the city – a massive public bus¬†transportation¬†system ¬†which is fast and efficient. ¬†Really its the only way to travel in Bogota unless you like driving on congested streets and choked freeways. ¬†Bogota is still quite dangerous. Even the locals told us to take a taxi once we got off the train which we did as our motto is always ‘listen to the locals’. We traveled in Jurgen and Ruth’s truck as it made sense to just bring one and stay in a hotel. It was weird to spend 2 nights out of our beloved mog!

    There is a handy 24H secure parking spot behind Portal 80 Mall, Bogota (N4 42.725 W74 06.533). Fine for a large truck, you can sleep there or leave the truck. its behind the hospital, behind the mall.

    Gold Museum

    Gold Museum

    We visited Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) which has over 34,000 pieces of gold from Colombia’s pre-Hispanic cultures. ¬† It is one of the most important¬†collections of its type worldwide. It’s one of the best things to do in Bogota, and is based in the old part of the City which is nice to wander about during the day.

     

    Gold, and how much was worn

    Gold, and how much was worn

     

    Bogota from the mountains

    Bogota from the mountains

    We also took a funicular/cable-car to see Cerro de Monserrate. ¬†This dominant mountain peak shapes Bogota’s cityscape and has a church built on its summit which is about 3,200 m.a.s.l. Here you can see some ¬†of the best panoramic views of Bogota and lucky for us we were there before the smog came down. ¬†When you look down you really see the chaos of the city. ¬†Mind you its not a patch on Monserrate outside Barcelona.

    dramatic clouds rushed in over Bogota to give us a downpour

    dramatic clouds rushed in over Bogota to give us a downpour

    Waiting for the way home!

    Waiting for the way home!

    Chess. In a bus shelter as it's raining. Only in Colombia!

    Chess. In a bus shelter as it’s raining. Only in Colombia!

    Our last visit was to La Candelaria Bogota’s old historic quarter. ¬†Pretty cobbled streets with shops, craft stalls and galleries can be found here. ¬†Many colonial buildings with¬†magnificent¬†bright colours can be seen and once you reach the Plaza de Bolivar you are in the thick of it all with musicians, food vendors and of course thousands of pigeons.

    That was pretty much all to see in Bogota and really none of the above are a must see. ¬†Our main reason for going was that we had to collect our GPS there, while Ruth and Jurgen had to extend their TIP, Temporary Import Permit for their truck as they were almost 3 months in Colombia. ¬†When Merv and I traveled to Medellin we left our GPS in for repair to the main Garmin dealer there and were told that we could collect it in Bogota which suited our travel plans. We use a Garmin Montana 600 which has a nice touch screen. It seems it’s spent too much time in the Sun, and the screen protector for the screen started pressing the touch screen when it gets hot. Visually it looked like someone kept pressing the centre of the screen, with the effect that it was as useful as half a¬†scissors. It has a new screen installed, and ‚ā¨180 later we are back in business. Nice to know where we are ūüôā

    one for my buddy Stuart - time for more hat shopping?

    one for my buddy Stuart – time for more hat shopping?

    the land of protests and marches...

    the land of protests and marches…

    Colombia - Bogota

    Togging our ready for a bit of protesting. Good craic though!

    protesting with vigor. while reading the paper....

    protesting with vigor. while reading the paper….

    See the 2 guys on the wall?

    See the 2 guys on the wall?

    Sunday morning brick replacement

    Sunday morning brick replacement

    some wild designs

    some wild designs

    now that's a big bit of art

    now that’s a big bit of art

    buying tickets for the confusing bus system

    buying tickets for the confusing bus system

    4x4 or a coffee machine? Would you believe both?

    4×4 or a coffee machine? Would you believe both?

    Coffee de Campo - no frills 4x4 coffee!

    Coffee de Campo – no frills 4×4 coffee!

     

    Entrance to the mine

    Entrance to the mine

    On our way back to Villa de Leyva we stopped at a place called Zipaquira, about 50 km North of Bogota. ¬†The salt mines are the main employers in this area. The town’s Salt Cathedral is the attraction here and is 75m long and 18m high. ¬†Quite a unique place in its own way. It’s an old mine that has been made into a Cathedral, but I’m afraid its as much of a tourist attraction as a place of worship.

    Coolest cross I've seen in a while...

    Coolest cross I’ve seen in a while…

    strange and frightening statues in the mines

    strange and frightening statues in the mines

    reflection pool makes super reflections in the dark

    reflection pool makes super reflections in the dark

    some miners had too much time on their hands

    some miners had too much time on their hands

    Light show for those largely untroubled by original thought.

    Light show for those largely untroubled by original thought.

    junk for sale in the salt cathedral

    junk for sale in the salt cathedral

     

    Saying goodby to Lotah and Martina who are heading South

    Saying goodby to Lotah and Martina who are heading South

    Back in Villa de Layva, we said goodbye to a lovely couple who had been camping there with us. They are on their way South, and we may well be on our way North so we swapped a lot of tips and tales of the routes we each had ahead of us. You can see what they have been up to here: Cross America.

     

     

    The lights on the white wall at night make a fantastic atmosphere for wandering about

    The lights on the white wall at night make a fantastic atmosphere for wandering about

    Dramatic clouds help set the scene

    Dramatic clouds help set the scene

    We then were back to Villa de Layva for a couple of days, Merv had a small repair to do on the passenger door window to convince it to wind up and down when we wanted, not when the mog decided it was a good idea. Once that was done, we were ready for adventures new!

    a look down a street in the evening in Colombia

    a look down a street in the evening in Colombia

    the German pub in Villa de Layva. Expensive but tasty german beer.

    the German pub in Villa de Layva. Expensive but tasty german beer.

    villa de Layva

    Passing the evening with friends in Villa De Layva, Colombia

    a seriously big town square

    a seriously big town square

    Categories: colombia | 1 Comment

    Colombia Overland

    colombia coffee farm

    When visiting a Coffee farm, where else would you park?

    Colombia is right at the¬†northern tip of South America. It’s bordering countries are Brazil, Ecuador,Panama, Peru and Venezuela. Colombia also can boast that it is the only South American country with coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It’s climate is great with tropical conditions along the coast and eastern plains, then cool with less humidity in the highlands, nice to have the option of both. The currency being used is the Colombian Peso (COP) and you feel like a millionaire when you withdraw from the ATM’s as it’s all hundreds of thousands. For example 600,000.00 COP is roughly Euro 225, disappointing really….

    People have the opportunity to dive amongst corals, climb volcanic slopes, visit indigenous tribes, trek in the Amazon rain-forest, chill on beautiful beaches and last but not least visit and spend time on coffee farms which was what we were really looking forward to.

    Well many people said ‘Oh you are going to drive through Colombia’, we said YES, and I think those people didn’t know how to react. Most people think of drug runners and rebel conflicts but tourists are rarely affected by this. For us it was our plan to go all the way to the very southern tip of South America which we did , and we would have felt cheated if we didn’t mange to go all the way North, hence Colombia.
    We were fully aware of its past history, after all who isn’t, but people who had driven through before us had only good reports, and so far we can vouch for this warm and welcoming country to tourists. Columbia is voted the HAPPIEST country in the world. We know that parts are still dangerous, so naturally we steer away. Colombia has cleaned up its act regarding drug cartels and guerrilla warfare to some extent.They now sell way less bullet proof cars too..

    We went for a look at the Mud Volcano along the Caribbean coast. and wimped out.

    We went for a look at the Mud Volcano along the Caribbean coast. and wimped out.

    We haven’t done as much wild camping here as in the rest of South America for obvious security reasons. This can be a bit of a pain as you have to be a little bit more organised…..The roads mainly in the south are armed with police and military all carrying machine guns, as the FARC is still active in some areas, so once you get used to that, it’s no problem. After a while you don’t even notice them. When we have been stopped, which has been quite a few times, it’s all smiles and thumbs up. They usually just want to see our papers for the truck, so they hop up on the step beside Merv , stick their head into the cab, ( curiosity we reckon on seeing a foreign vehicle) and generally just have a chat . In fact in all of the countries we have been to in South America, Colombia Aduana (customs) were the only people to say ‘Welcome to their Country’ as they stamped our passports as we entered Colombia from Ecuador. ¬†Oh, they even gave me a seat while waiting in the aduana office, first time to be offered a seat by a Latin American, so we reckoned hey that’s a good start.

    Church in a Valley

    Santuario de Las Lajas

    Ipiales was our first town in Colombia coming north. Our reason for stopping was to buy insurance (Called SOAT) for our truck as our Policy that we bought in Europe before leaving did not cover Colombia, the only country in South America it did not cover… I wonder why… We were able to buy it in a supermarket very quick and easy.

    On the edge of this town we visited the religious pilgrimage site of Santuario de Las Lajas. Quite a unique little place with the church built into the side of a mountain . Getting through the town , or not getting through in our case , was a bit of a challenge due to its narrow one way streets.

    We spent a couple of days on an Eco- Farm outside the charming little town of Salento in a the midst of rural coffee area, with rolling lush green hills and many hairpin bends.Yet again small little streets to navigate our way through hence adding to its mystique. It is surrounded by mountains which are rich in character, and once there you really don’t want to leave. The locals have a saying that the town is full of short streets but long memories , I guess this is true now that I have visited there. Hiking the local countryside is the prime activity in this area and we opted for the hike to see Palms de Cera,( Wax Palms ) as these rank amongs the tallest in the world, up to 60m. We had a super view of fields of green grass and hills from our truck , nice sunsets, and each morning at about 6am we heard the milking machine start…. Bliss.. Salento also has the best curry house in South America!

    View from the eco farm La Serena

    View from the eco farm La Serena

    We hit a new mechanical issue as we went along, the brakes would not release fully after use! The poor old mog was slowing down, and not very keen to climb hills. We found they released themselves after a 1 hour stop, and would be fine for some more kilometers , but the problem would come back after a while. The full technical issue was discussed over on benzworld, but for us it meant a day searching for unimog brake seals in Colombia. We would have had more luck searching for gold nuggets in the rivers, but we were in the capable hands of local mechanic Christian, who helped us search high and low. We did get to experience a few local dishes at lunchtime, and can safely state that we will never be having CHICKEN FEET SOUP again! Finally we were directed to the local seal expert who decided to make some for us using a larger seal, a jewellers lathe and some sharp tools. We ended up with a rebuilt brake master cylinder! We also found the problem was in a tiny valve, cleaned it out and all is well! After 3 nights spent on the side of the road we were back on track. Christian spent the whole day with us hoping on buses from one town to another until we found somebody who could help us. ( he was supposed to be in his own job) . He could not have done enough for us, such hospitality.

    Coffee Plants

    Coffee Plants

    Moving again we were now off to find and stay on a Coffee Farm . We drove through many rolling plantations and terraced slopes which were hemmed by banana plants , bamboos and coffee bushes. You could stop at quite a few places to sample , a bit like a wine tour , except your high from caffeine rather than vino. For me way way too many coffees, haven’t needed much sleep since, lol. Most of these coffee farms are hidden down winding little lanes and are accompanied by lovely wooden houses all painted in bright colours. We stayed on Hacienda Venecia which really was an oasis of tranquility. There were two types of accommodation , the hostel and the main house. The main house is built of 100 year old typical bamboo and is beautiful, stunning. Of course we stayed in the truck but were able to use all the facilities , including free coffee 24/7 as you would expect! We parked overlooking one of its coffee fields. The tour is excellent and yet again another place we didn’t want to leave…..

    Coffee bean after sprouting

    Coffee bean after sprouting

    Coffee Bean on it's way to  becoming a new plant

    Coffee Bean on it’s way to becoming a new plant

    Coffee Grade 1 on top for export, and grade 2 for domestic consumption

    Coffee Grade 1 on top for export, and grade 2 for domestic consumption.

    Sarah walking through the coffee plants

    Sarah walking through the coffee plants

    We stopped in the city of Medellin . In the 1980’s Medellin was one of the most murderous cities on the planet as it was under the control of drug lord Pablo Escobar. Since his death it has blossomed into a city of considerable elegance, although some dark unsafe areas still remain. We parked our truck for two nights on the street and we had no problems, in fact everybody living in the area was keeping a close eye on it for us, so happy days. This city is pleasantly warm year round with an average annual temperature of 22 degrees C. Here we picked up our pal Owen who travelled with us all the way North to the Caribbean Coast . For part of the way to the coast we passed through lush mountainous areas and sleepy villages, many many hairpin bends . The road was so so busy with trucks, we fitted right it, and were amazed when we met a normal car, they were far and few between. Oh so many trucks! Along by the roadside there were many little restaurants to eat at, all simply done with tables and chairs outside , colourful table cloths and even some hammocks to snooze in after your lunch. Snoozing to avoid the mid-day heat is a big thing here.

    After driving for a few days pretty non-stop it was time to relax and chill on the beaches along the coast for a few days. It was very hot but with a balmy breeze thankfully, and I don’t think the temperature ever went below 28 degrees C, not even at night… so sleeping in the truck was very warm and sticky. Here we met up with our friends Jurgen and Ruth, also Maki so it was time to catch up over a few cool Colombian beers and fresh fish as we made plans to travel together for the next while .

    Overlooking the bay

    Overlooking the Taganga bay

    Ruth, Sarah, Jurgen and Macki

    Ruth, Sarah, Jurgen and Macki

    Sunset with a few nice clouds

    Sunset with a few nice clouds

    Jurgen and Ruth on some of the scenic roads to Cocuy.

    Jurgen and Ruth on some of the scenic roads to Cocuy.

    For me it’s always difficult to leave the warmth, but we still had more places on the list to visit. As Colombia is such a big country you have to travel long distances to reach the really cool places. Many places are off the beaten track and without your own transport they are not easy accessible. Parque Nacional El Cocuy was one such place and even though the locals told us that from a particular village called Onzaga it would only take four hours, it was more like forty-four hours. We had to park up overnight as the terrain we were traveling on was full of pot-holes, broken roads, no tarmac in some places, and generally just bumpy all the way, so it was a very slow drive. In fact some-times we were driving blind as we were not even on the map. Mind you the scenery made up for it. This parque is a hiker’s paradise with endless possibilities for hiking, trekking and camping. It is home to many snow-capped mountains, glacier lakes and beautiful valleys. We spent two days hiking, most enjoyable. During the day the weather was lovely, but once the sun went down it was very cold, after all we were over 4,000 m.a.s.l.. We spent four nights in the park and we were spoilt for choice as to where to park our trucks. It was great to be back wild camping again. Mind you we were low on water so we had to dedicate a few hours collecting it from the river, oh such fresh water.

    The road is a bit weak in spots

    The road is a bit weak in spots

    Overland Colombia

    Stocking up in El Cocuy.

     

    Cocuy landscape

    Cocuy landscape

    Cocuy roads

    Cocuy roads

    Apo with his bike spent a few days with us.

    Apo with his bike spent a few days with us.

    Two overland trucks parked on the edge of the hill in Cocuy

    Two overland trucks parked on the edge of the hill in Cocuy

    Colombia Overland

    Great view of a small farm in Cocuy where we bought a small sack of spuds

    blowing out birthday candles

    Merv’s third birthday while on the road

    Mongui was a beautiful little town, all painted with white walls and green shutters. Like most towns in Colombia even the smallest of smallest towns/villages have very decorative churches. Here I went in search of a birthday cake for Merv. After visiting most shops in town , eventually I was successful , and ended up with some chocolate cake, his favourite. He was very surprised indeed. Yet again this town had small little streets to maneuver through , but never the less we managed, and ended up on a dirt track which took us to our parking spot for the night overlooking the small town below. Oh it was tranquil, no other lunatics would even venture this way, only us. In order to reach these little quaint places you have to travel on very small roads, so to get everywhere takes much longer then anticipated.

    Mongui square

    Mongui square

    Lake Tota also took us a while to get to, due to lack of local knowledge, and trying to find a map here is next to impossible. Every little town we went through we would ask directions (not always correct information given) so eventually we would end up in our given destination. Many places I don’t think were used to tourists so we were always given big smiles and waves. For example in one little town we stopped to buy charcoal where we saw a “Se Vende Carbon” sign. Turns out they were selling something similar to coal, and we wanted “Carbon de pollo” – Charcoal for cooking chicken! The guy from the store said he would help us get some, so took Merv on a long and complicated trip through the town asking each chicken bbq place could they spare some charcoal! After a search of some womans kitchen , going through their restaurant, we got a bag and were on our way. This man would not take a tip , so Merv really had to insist. He was just so pleased to help a tourist that was in his town, as I said before the Colombians are such warm people. Lake Tota is well known by the Colombians, but only recently has it reached the major travel guides, so it is still a little undiscovered by tourists, great for us. It has a beautiful white sandy beach and is famous for trout fishing. No problem parking our trucks here. Unfortunately the weather was not in our favor so we only parked for one night here.

    Villa de Leyva streets

    Villa de Leyva streets

    So it was on to the long awaited Villa de Leyva. Oh it didn’t disappoint. This is a beautiful preserved town, a stunning whitewashed colonial town with cobbled streets. It has the largest plaza in Colombia edged by bottle green shuttered buildings with window boxes full of flowers, also lined with many cafes, restaurants and a German Pub.! Little mews type shops sell handicrafts, and many back streets have charming hotels and cafe’s. Strolling through the Plaza at dusk is something quite spectacular as here you join tourists and locals alike as they sit on the steps of the cathedral and the plaza sipping wine and beer, before deciding which restaurant to have dinner it. Really one is spoilt for choice. Guess we might have to stay here sometime in order to sample all the town’s culinary delights. Not to mention the French Bakery. Villa de Leyva is certainly up there as one of the nicest places in all of South America for us. The Saturday fruit and vegetable market is a must, a great place to sample some local dishes and as always served with a smile.

     

    Villa de Leyva street corner

    Villa de Leyva street corner

     

    Sausage and spuds. Who knew Irish food and Colombian food was so well matched?

    Sausage and spuds. Who knew Irish food and Colombian food was so well matched?

    Lunch at the market, with a few beers to wash down  the sausages

    Lunch at the market, with a few beers to wash down the sausages

    a huge number of old pickups are used to bring fruit and veg to the markets.

    a huge number of old pickups are used to bring fruit and veg to the markets.

    Right now, we are trying to decide on what happens next. Till next time……

    Categories: colombia | Comments Off on Colombia Overland

    Ecuador Market days

    Ecuador Market Days

    Market Day brings everyone out.

    Otavalo in Ecuador is home to one of the largest markets in South America . It has to be said it is one of the most enjoyable alfresco retail experiences we have had here.Up for grabs are handicrafts of every description – ceramics, jewellery,paintings, musical instruments, carvings and a dazzling  array of weavings and textiles. Otavalenos are known for their exquisite weaving and textile skills, and are the most commercially successful indigena people in Ecuador.
    Many looms work across the country-side producing  chunky sweaters, hats, gloves, trousers, tablecloths,hammocks,  indigenous ponchos, blouses, belts and tapestries all of which can be snapped up on Saturday’s  (the main market day).    The whole town swells into a sea of bright colours and atmosphere as people hunt for the best bargain,
    and oh yes these people love to bargain with you.

    Some of the ladies were 100% matching

    Some of the ladies were 100% matching

    The indigena people wear traditional clothing.   Women wear white blouses all embroidered with flowers, long wool skirts, woven belts, canvas sandals and strands of beads.  Men wear felt hats, blue ponchos, calf-length pants and braid their hair into one long strand.
    Both the women and the men look fantastic.

    There is also a pet market, oh yes.  This is certainly worth a visit for its atmosphere and  general chaos.  Here you can buy cows, goats, sheep, screaming piglets, dogs, guinea pigs, hens and chickens – day old’s that they sell you in paper bags !  It was fascinating to watch people bargain with each other over the cost of each animal.  Once the deal was done it was off to the local food stall to order some chicken or tripe soup which was boiling on portable stove tops, crispy fried fish, or suckling pigs ears. To  wash it down chicha – (fermented corn or yuca drink)  from plastic buckets.  What a brilliant day out,
    definitely not to be missed in Ecuador.

    Ecuador Market Day

    Otavalo market, Ecuador

    Otavalo market, Ecuador

    Otavalo market, Ecuador

    Otavalo market, Ecuador

    Otavalo market, Ecuador

    This guy is thrilled as he just made a dollar for working as a model for 60 seconds.

    This guy is thrilled as he just made a dollar for working as a model for 60 seconds.

    The local ladies are dressed incredibly well

    The local ladies are dressed incredibly well

    DIY dentistry is a big thing here.

    DIY dentistry is a big thing here.

    Sarah inspecting the blankets.

    Sarah inspecting the blankets.

    Some of the poorer souls were eating whatever they could.

    Some of the poorer souls were eating whatever they could.

    Just about anything could be found for sale.

    Just about anything could be found for sale.

    Really no idea why this girl was tied up.

    Really no idea why this girl was tied up.

    While we visited the North of Ecuador, we stayed with Graham. Graham is an Australian dude who now lives near the town of Ibarra and runs his gardening business. He loves for overlanders to come and visit and stay a few days, and he certainly made us feel very welcome there. It was not easy to fire up the Mog and hit the road after a week of Grahams hospitality, but we did manage to uproot ourselves and get to Colombia.

    Graham with the boss of the house, Lea.

    Graham with the boss of the house, Lea.

    Categories: colombia | 4 Comments

    Ecuador Overland

    Ecuador Overland by camper truck

    Ecuador is situated on the equator on the Pacific coast of South America, bordered by Columbia to the north and Peru to the south and east. Despite being a very small country it really has so much to offer. You can experience different landscapes in a single day. The country has colonial cities, cloud forests, fabulous Andean peaks, Amazonian rain-forest, wonderful people and the great Gal√°pagos Islands. If interested in reading about these islands you can read our Galapagos blog post here

    New year celebration in Ecuador

    This couple of life sized puppets were ready for the midnight bonfire.

    This couple of life sized puppets were ready for the midnight bonfire.

    We crossed the border into Ecuador just before New Year and we stopped in the small town of Vilcabamba. It is famous with longevity all throughout Ecuador due to the simple and stress-free lives and the fresh Andean air. The area has beautiful scenery, mild weather all year round, never too hot or never too cold, and perhaps it’s the laid-back vibe which attracts so many people, mainly for retirement. There tends to be a sort of ‘gringos ‘ boom judging by all the big new houses dotted in the hills. The positive side is that jobs in tourism and construction are booming so young people have little ambition to leave this great area. It really was a great find of a place in more ways than one for us. We parked our truck about two blocks back from the main square for three nights, nobody even blinked an eye-lid, thus we were able to walk everywhere. Wandering through the little streets its amazing what you find. We found a French Bakery, as you do in Ecuador, with the second best baguette and bread in South America – Rurrenabaque in Bolivia topping the list so far. Bread is generally not so nice here as it is all made with way too much sugar for our liking, should I say my liking. Then to top it off we managed to find a Swiss man making his own Granola and Chocolate, enough said I had to hold Merv back from the chocolate, think of the budget I said, lol. It’s amazing how such small things are big things when traveling. Every now and then the taste buds need a treat!

    a good crowd in Vilcabamba main square for free live music

    a good crowd in Vilcabamba main square for free live music

    We bumped into , as you do, two friends Pierre and Monique and we celebrated the New Year with them over lovely grilled steaks and wine. Mind you the Ecuadorian wine needed a lot to be desired apparently, but I always take the safe option and drink the local beer, it never disappoints. A live band started playing about 9 pm and even by this time the atmosphere was electric, so just imagine what it was like 3 hours later, superb. The plaza was filled with people of all ages, babies asleep on their parents shoulders to grannies on walking sticks. Even Merv had a sleep but not in a sleeping chair (Tim Willoughby) instead a hard bench, but he still managed, as he said if you can’t beat them, join them, lol. Fantastic to see such a mix of people all waiting for 2014, enjoying the music and the warmth of the evening. Atmosphere just oozed from everybody. Throughout Ecuador people ring in the new year by burning elaborate life-size puppets in the streets at the strike of midnight, followed by launching explosives into the sky, hence throwing caution to the wind as far as public safety was concerned, was great. These explosives continued until the sunrise. The next morning all that was left was a pile of ashes outside people’s houses, street corners, shops, restaurants, but by midday all traces of the previous nights partying was long forgotten, everywhere was clean.

    New years eve display of puppets destined for burning at midnight

    New years eve display of puppets destined for burning at midnight

    elaborate display of puppets involved in a medical emergency

    elaborate display of puppets involved in a medical emergency

    At midnight, the fires get going

    At midnight, the fires get going

    The fires attract local daredevils, well lubricated and feeling no fear

    The fires attract local daredevils, well lubricated and feeling no fear

    Cuenca

    Museum in Cuenca

    Museum in Cuenca

    We were back traveling through the mountains again, we just can’t seem to leave the Andes behind us, but then who really wants to with such good views on offer. The city of Cuenca was our next stop. A beautiful old colonial city and it seemed every corner is graced by either a church, a shrine or a plaza. We had a great visit to Museo del Banco Central – Pumapungo here. This museum has an entire collection of traditional costumes of Ecuador’s indigenous cultures. For example coastal farmers of the western lowlands and highlands, several rain-forest groups, and last but not least the shrunken heads (tzantzas) from the Shuar culture. I must say they looked a little scary. It was sad to learn that some of these cultures are slowing dying out due to people destroying their homes in the rain-forest , hence they have to leave, leaving their cultures behind. For them adapting to ‘normal’ life, must be so difficult, what a shame this is happening.

    ecuador overland

    Looking for a new kettle. We’ve gone through 2 so far, and bought our third one here.

    So to the coast , 30 degrees in temperature and humid, but before getting there we stopped at some hot water springs in a non-descript place – Jesus Maria. Before getting there we stopped at a little petrol station for ice-cream, sat outside and over came this man and his two daughters to chat to us, really about the truck. He was driving a truck himself so was interested in the beast that had parked beside him. All the usual stuff, going to, coming from, is it 4×4, how much water do we carry, solar, how many kms per gallon (yes in Ecuador we are back to gallons),

    Hot springs make for public baths!

    Hot springs make for public baths!

    what country are we from etc, etc., .Half an hour later he asked us where we were going to sleep for the night and we said at the Hot Springs. Great he said, follow me I will show you the way and the best place to park your truck overnight . It was right beside the pools, a huge area, no low trees or wires involved, just a river crossing, a doddle for us. We decided to wait until the next day to use the pools, but once we stepped out of our truck we were met by a jolly lady Amelia (no english) offering us empanadas. (Pastry filled with cheese, meat or vegetables and cooked in hot oil). Amelia brought 2 chairs for us to sit on, plastic of course, but never the less, a quick wipe of the table, oil heated up, pastry rolled out with a coke bottle, no fancy rolling pins here, cheese popped in, into the hot oil, and one minute later dinner, scrummy. Oh, it didn’t stop there. A family joined the table chatting a little to us and then amongst themselves. Amelia was delighted to see such a bit group arrive, it was all hands on deck as 25 empanadas were ordered, mind you she still gave us preferential treatment. In the meantime one of the younger

    Great Empanadas from this lovely couple.

    Great Empanadas from this lovely couple.

    members of the family, 13 years of age, spoke to me in Spanish and I answered as best I could, and then he asked me in English, do you speak English. Obvious answer. The next hour I spoke to this lovely young boy Gonzalez, with excellent English skills. He wanted to know all about Europe and how it was different to Ecuador, its people, its culture and of course what I thought of Ecuador. Only one answer for his question really having been greeted with such hospitality in one afternoon. In return for the history lesson about Europe, Gonzalez gave the best tips for Ecuador. They haven’t disappointed yet. The hot pools were closing for the evening so I went to pay the lady, one dollar is all she charged, and not only that she gave me one to go. I insisted on paying but Amelia was having none of it. Later on in the evening we heard a knock on our door, and it was our friendly truck driver who showed us the way, checking were we ok, did we need anything. Not only was it him and his family, but he had managed to muster up two English speaking students to help with the translations. We were overcome with such kindness and friendliness we really did not want to leave this place. Of course the next morning Amelia had a great hello for us, more empanadas were cooked for us once we had had our soak and whether we wanted them or not we were treated to BBQ bananas also filled with cheese, all for one dollar. All done with smiles. Everything starts really early in Ecuador, so the first family arrived to the pools at 6 a.m, oh yea. Not long after we got a gentle knock on our door asking us to move our truck as we were parked in prime pay parking area ,but insisted we did not have to pay. Of course we obliged.

    New(er) Tyres

    ecuador overland

    Star motors where we stayed for 2 nights.

    Next stop was some TLC treatment for the Mog in a garage in Guayaquil. Starmotors used to be a Mercedes garage but now it has the dealership for MAN trucks. Our friends Jurgen and Ruth from happyfeetontour had been there, and recommended them. They also VERY kindly left 4 part worn tyres there for us as they put a brand new set onto their MAN truck. Luckily we had the exact same size!

    We got a full service done, even the brake fluid was all replaced, and a full set of new belts fitted to the engine as well as all oils and filters. The total bill was about $550, which we thought was pretty fair. The oil alone comes to almost $200.

    New and old. Ours is the closer/lower one.

    New and old. Ours is the closer/lower one.

    Just in time. This Tyre owed us nothing, and was like this for the last 50km of it's life with us.

    Just in time. This Tyre owed us nothing, and was like this for the last 50km of it’s life with us.

    All wheel up! Fresh tyres on their way.

    All wheel up! Fresh tyres on their way.

     

    ecuador overland at chimborazo

    A bit chilly when we visited Chimborazo.

    On leaving the garage we felt that the Mog could now fly so we headed to the mountains yet again. The coast was just so humid it didn’t make for pleasant living. Volcan Chimborazo stands at 6310m and is Ecuador’s tallest mountain with a glacier on the top. It is now extinct but its peak is also the furthest terrestrial point from the center of the earth. Climbing Chimborazo is possible but only for the well-acclimatized experienced mountaineers, obviously we didn’t fit into this category so we viewed from our truck. We stayed overnight in this park with the many hundreds of vicuna (related to the Llama) keeping watch over us. Early the next morning we managed to get glimpses of this wonderful mountain,in between the sun and showers of snow. Such a difference in the climate in just 8 kms from where we slept overnight! Up at this level you can have many seasons in one day but this adds to the whole beauty of these wonderful sites.

    Looking back from from Chimborazo, as it got lower you can see it's warmer and greener and farmed.

    Looking back from Chimborazo, as it got lower you can see it’s warmer and greener and farmed.

    getting a peek at Chimborazo

    getting a peek at Chimborazo

    As most of you know by now, we don’t like to spend too much time in cities and towns, we prefer the countryside and seeing how the local people really live. Well in Ecuador the country areas didn’t disappoint. We did a great loop The Quilotoa Loop which was a bumpy road off the Panamericana into the more rural farming areas of the country.

    Ecuador Overland

    Lake in a Volcano crater. How cool is that?

    Here we encountered indigenous markets, a beautiful lake, a village that was full of painters who are keeping the stories of the Andes alive through their pictures. The beautiful Laguna (lake) Quilotoa offers stunning views from its craters rim and in the distance you can see the peaks of Cotopaxi, another of Ecuador’s great mountains. Most people speak Kichwa in the area . Transport is very infrequent so when we met a bus or a truck it was full to the gills, people even sitting on the roof. All the little villages are linked by muddy bumpy roads, but soon the road is irrelevant as you are so engrossed with its breathtaking views. Mind you in a few places we hoped the road would not get any smaller . Some of the wires overhead were just that little bit too low for high trucks, care had to be taken ….. We already

    even the steep hills were well utilized as farmland.

    even the steep hills were well utilized as farmland.

    had pulled down the electricity line to a lady’s house in Peru, we didn’t want to have to pay to fix another one…… .Its all farming along this route mainly vegetables and dairy. The fields are meticulously tilled and sown by hand. In some cases an ox pulls the plough. These farms are on the edge of slopes so using a tractor would not be for the faint-hearted. The cows were milked by hand out in the field with their 3 legged stool. Brought back memories of my childhood. In one field there were only 3 cows, each one being milked by a different person. Grass is very plentiful in this area, due to the climate, so strip grazing was in operation.

    Cotopaxi

    Parque Nacional Cotopaxi was our next adventure for two days. As morning views are the best to see this million dollar view of 5897m we slept overnight there. The closest you can drive to and park at is at 4810m . Many wild horses live in this parque, also deer, llamas, fox, owl, all of which we saw, but the rare spectacled bear escaped us. The snow on the mountain top is getting less and less due to global warming. There are many great walks and hikes throughout this parque, some of which we did, also great off road areas , and many wonderful places to sleep with stunning views. During the night you would hear a pin drop due to the parque being so tranquilo.

    ecuador overland

    This was new, even for us. how to keep warm sitting in the back of a pickup. bet the people in the pickup on the left of the photo are jealous!

    The clouds were swirling around, and at times dropped visibility down to almost nothing. 5 minutes later, sunshine.

    The clouds were swirling around, and at times dropped visibility down to almost nothing. 5 minutes later, sunshine.

    The road down from Cotapaxi brought us into as many clouds as we drove out of.

    The road down from Cotapaxi brought us into as many clouds as we drove out of.

    ecuador overland at cotapaxi

    It finally peeped out of the clouds at us. This was the view from the free camp site.

    All National Parks are now free throughout Ecuador. Excellent news for overlanders!

    Equator

    ecuador overland

    I felt like I was a hobbit in middle earth – one foot in each hemisphere.

    We also drove across the Equator! We stopped off to mark the occasion, and found a nice monument set up to mark the spot. We did a quick check of our GPS to make sure it was in the right place (It is), and we had a little look around. They had set up the orange “chimney” in the middle of a circle, and it acts as a solar clock. Depending on the time of the year, the shadow is in different places, and at different times of the day, it’s a different length. What is really cool is that on the equanox, at mid day, the sun is exactly over the equator, and is at its highest point in the sky, so it shines down the chimney, and lights up the mirror they have on the bottom of it.

    The white lines you see in the photo are white stones, and they show where the tip of the shadow from the chimney will be on the summer solstice and the winter solstice. Really cool! We told the guide who was there about Newgrange, the Irish structure that lights up inside on the winter solstice. He was a little shocked when we explained that the Irish built it almost 5000 years ago, way before we showed the Egyptians how to build pyramids. Ok. I made that bit up, but Newgrange WAS built in about 3200 BC.

    Just checking. All is correct. big line of zeros on the gps.

    Just checking. All is correct. big line of zeros on the gps.

    balance an egg

    We were told that at the equator it has a magnetic power to allow you to balance an egg on it end.

    balance an egg

    See, egg balanced. And yes, I know the photo is out of focus. give me a break – its the first one!

    Categories: Ecuador | Comments Off on Ecuador Overland

    Andean Christmas Traditions

    After the highlights of the past few months, we wondered if we could get back into “normal” traveling mode, which to us means following our own path and seeing what sights or events that we come across. We’re quite happy to take it all in, the good, the bad and the ugly. After our trip to the Gal√°pagos and having just hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with our friends Claire and Robin, we were wondering what would come next that could possibly hope to complete with the highs we had been experiencing. This is Peru – We should not have worried.

    On the road again after Cusco

    Andean christmas

    an old Volks home overlooking Cusco

    First off, we had to leave Cusco. This is not an easy task to manage as it’s an easy place to spend as much time as you have. That, and the small narrow streets leave many drivers of large trucks with a cold chill down their backs, but leave we did. We miss Cusco and its strange charm. Definitely there are way too many people selling massages, tours and enticing you into their restaurants, but behind that it is a nice place to visit.

    We took the road back to Nasca, the same one we drove up with Claire and Robin. We normally hate driving the same road twice, but since we were going in the opposite direction to the last time, it seemed like a whole new place to us. Even the weather was different. When stopped to try photograph the vast expanse of desert and mountain to

    Nasca to Cusco road, not for the feint hearted

    Nasca to Cusco road, not for the feint hearted

    explain how wild the place is, a Japanese gentleman came cycling by, as you do. We were moaning about it taking us 2 days to get from down from Cusco (3,600 metres above sea level) to Nasca(about 500 metres above sea level), but he was planning on 10 days to get from Nasca to Cusco. Hope he made it!

     

     

     

    This 2 day trip for us was over a week for this hard working cyclist

    This 2 day trip for us was over a week for this hard working cyclist

    We got caught in some road construction work, and as the only traffic moving was coming towards us, I thought I would take the opportunity to show some of the trucks that they have in Peru. For most of our blog readers, sorry about this, but we have some truck fans who might get a kick out of this.

    merv0980

    Image 1 of 16

    We decided to travel up Peru pretty quickly, but we also made a few quick stops on the way to see some of the lesser known sites, such as this one at Caral. Basically, the Incas are what Peru is famous for, but for hundreds of years before the Incas were around, other groups were building cities, pyramids, sacrificing people, irrigating deserts for agriculture and fishing the oceans. Loads to see in Peru!

    Food vendors stalls from almost 1000 years ago.

    Food vendors stalls from almost 1000 years ago.

    old Pyramid is hanging in there.

    old Pyramid is hanging in there.

    Us, out for our first horse ride in South America

    Us, out for our first horse ride in South America

    We were on our way to see the mountain range known as the Cordillera Blanca, where our friends Jurgen and Ruth, and Phil and Angie had spent some time and said it was super. And so it was. We were tight-ish on the number of days remaining on our trucks TIP form (it’s Customs “passport” while in Peru), so we decided to just spend 3 nights, 4 days there. Our first day we decided to spend horse riding, it seemed a little easier than hiking all over the place but I (Merv) had not quite figured on it working some muscles that had not been exercised in quite some time! While out riding with Diane from the Lazy Dog Inn, we learned that they run volunteer programs, a School, a textiles program, a cafe all for the local community. They were due to run their annual Christmas “Choclatada” in a couple of days. A Chocolatada is basically like a

    a bit different to the view through the windscreen, but it's still nice!

    a bit different to the view through the windscreen, but it’s still nice!

    sports day from when I was a kid, followed by the kids getting a present of a toy, and a cup of hot chocolate. We asked if they needed any help, and we were quickly signed up as a couple of Elves and helping our in any way we could.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Andean Christmas Traditions at the Lazy Dog Inn

    Wayne would be the chief elf....

    Wayne would be the chief elf….

    Diane was on toy giving-out duties, the small kids had to be carried by Mums.

    Diane was on toy giving-out duties, the small kids had to be carried by Mums.

    I'm not sure the kids all got Sarah's english instructions - they certainly did not follow them

    I’m not sure the kids all got Sarah’s english instructions – they certainly did not follow them

    Each team had an elf with the teams flag color, which matched the color of the ribbon on the kids arms

    Each team had an elf with the teams flag color, which matched the color of the ribbon on the kids arms

    Good old fashioned games like Sack Races

    Good old fashioned games like Sack Races

    Tug of war

    Tug of war

    Obstacle course

    Obstacle course

    Controlled mayhem is the best was to describe things

    Controlled mayhem is the best was to describe things

    The huge drum was the hot chocolate being prepared

    The huge drum was the hot chocolate being prepared

    The view from the Lazy Dog inn is spectacular

    The view from the Lazy Dog inn is spectacular

    The schoolhouse, built by Diane and Wayne is great.

    The schoolhouse, built by Diane and Wayne is great.

    The Caterpillar company helped out with a few toys....

    The Caterpillar company helped out with a few toys….

    For us, to be involved in a community event that was held on such a local and intimate level was superb. We had witnessed some great community events before, but we had not had the chance to be quite this involved in it, and it was great! our plans for a few days hiking went out the window, but we felt we got a lot more from those few days by being involved with the Lazy Dog Inn and their programmes.

    Categories: Peru | Comments Off on Andean Christmas Traditions