A Travellerspoint blog

Wrapping it up

A dissection of our six months in South America

all seasons in one day
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Time flew by while we were making our way around the massive continent that is South America. At the same time however, if we think back to what we were doing waaaaay back in Chile, it really seems a lifetime ago and we have covered a lot of distance since then, seen many weird and wonderful sights and met a lot of characters along the way.

Although this is not the last blog (you are stuck with us for another four months), it is a final round up of our time in south America complete with rankings and some number crunching...

Total days in SA = 161
Countries Visited = 7 - Chile (20 days) Argentina (25 days) Brazil (19 days) Bolivia (28 days) Peru (18 days) Ecuador (30 days) Colombia (23 days)
Hours spent in Transit: 515.5 hours or 3 weeks! (This excludes getting too and from the continent)
Distance Covered (Approximation according to google maps) - 23,780 kilometres (Wowsers)
Number of different accommodations frequented = 52
Number of caterpillars performed on boats = 2

We were pleasantly surprised with the quality of accommodation/hostels across the whole continent. With the help of hostelbookers, we never booked more than a day ahead, had recent reviews available at all times and meant party hostels were easily avoided. Hurray! We found ranking them difficult so we have come up with a list of hostels which provided something a little different to the norm.

  • Black Sheep Inn - Chugchillan, Ecuador (For $35 you have accommodation and three meals a day and get to poo in a composting loo at this charming eco lodge - wonderful place)
  • Alaska - Bariloche, Argentina (A little way out of town but awesome ski-lodge vibe with a shared area that everyone uses)
  • Lisetonga - Rio, Brazil (Sweet hostel at the bottom of a favela and a fiesta every night with cheap Caipirinhas)
  • Casa Loma - Minca, Colombia (Eco lodge at the top of the hill, hammocks aplenty, meals available so everyone sits around eating together)
  • Costeño Beach Surf Camp - Tayrona, Colombia (Right on edge of national park, spectacular beach and great setup of cabañas. Everyone eats together, hammocks avail for sleeping)
  • La Serrana - Salento, Colombia (Wonderful eco lodge overlooking green hills and coffee plantations. Everyone eats together)

The above accommodations seem to have a theme and that is we really liked the hostals where they bring people together. Too often it was easy to stay in our room watching countless episodes of whatever our favourite show was at the time. When forced out into socialising, it really did create a wonderful atmosphere and made the stay that much more enjoyable.

And one to avoid....

  • Hotel Union - Carceres, Brazil (We had very little options in this border town - dank, gross and hospital mint green - think "The Beach" in Bangkok)

Essential Items:

Camera (A good one if possible. Ours was good but lacking zoom)
Go Pro (Amazing movies made with this little puppy)
iPad Mini (Lifesaver - used to browse web, watch TV on the buses, read books from kindle store - we only wish we had one each)
Polar Fleece Eye mask and Gel Earpugs (Although we tried to avoid dorm rooms, noise and light is inevitable in a lot of these places regardless)

$$$$$$$$ - All of the following values are in AUD

Average Daily Spend per country:

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Note: We have divided out Galapagos from Ecuador because it unfairly drove up the average spend when it was included

Division of Spending:

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Surprisingly not a huge amount on food

Speaking of food though - our top meals of the trip:

1. Central - number 50 restaurant in the world - totally awesome. Lima, Peru
2. Roast Chicken a la Hayley - so good to be able to cook a roast - gravy included. Bariloche, Argentina
3. Choripan - Totes awesome saus in bread with chimichurri sauce from a street vendor.... Buenos Aires, Argentina
4. Gustu - New restaurant opened by owner of Noma. Amazing food with local produce. La Paz, Bolivia
5. El Boliche de Alberto - Hands down best steak EVER. Bariloche, Argentina
6. La Mar - Cevicheria amazingness. We do love raw fish. Lima, Peru

Overall the food was not mind-blowing on the trip. A good meal which was a bit different from fries, meat and rice, was really hard to come by. And the abundance of bad touristy pizza didn't really hit the spot either. South American cuisine is certainly nothing to write home about in general, but there is wonderful produce there just waiting for someone to do something wonderful to it. We didn't go hungry though, so don't worry, we are no where near faded away.

What were mind-blowing, were the experiences over the last 6 months. Here's our top 6 (in no particular order as trying to rank them hurts our brains):

Lost Items (With the responsible party annotated alongside):

Scarf (SIJ)
Earphone Splitter (???)
Ticket Santiago to Valpo (HPL)
Sophs Earphones (HPL)
Hayleys Cardigan (HPL)
Hayleys Cap (HPL)
Sophs Night Bag (SIJ)
Hayley's earphones (HPL)
Hayley's drink bottle (HPL)
Hayley's Socks (HPL)
Hayley's Sunglasses (HPL)
Hayleys Hat (HPL)
Sophies Drinkbottle (both parties responsible HPL had already lost hers...)

I think it is fair to say, I should not be responsible for any items of value. Thankfully nothing of great importance was lost (Probably because Soph was stuck carrying all our money and credit cards), but I did manage to retain possession of our passports. Go me.

We made it to the end of South America and it's certainly been an adventure of epic proportions. We've learnt a little Spanish, put our toilet paper in the bin, become amateur videographers, grown an acute dislike to taxi-drivers, learnt to sleep on a bus, gained a fruit shake addiction, lowered our standard of hygiene and loved (almost) every minute of it, and all of this without getting sick once, or mugged in anyway. Great result!

Well, enough of that - we will leave you with a link to the journey in a nutshell - in video format.

Thanks South America its been a hoot.

Posted by ladiesofleisure 06:35 Tagged peru machu_picchu chile argentina brazil bolivia favourite salkantay colombia south_america galapagos cost latin_america ecuador pantanal navimag summary torres_del_paine statistics spending transit_hours Comments (7)

Locked in North Colombia's sweaty embrace

The Caribbean Coast - Santa Marta, Minca, Costeño Beach and Cartagena

sunny 37 °C
View Year of who knows what!! & North America & South America on ladiesofleisure's travel map.

Heading down from the Andes for the first time in a while, we were expecting an increase in temperature. What we got however, was levels of sweat bordering on antisocial and heat rash. We had ten days in the area and on day one, we did not think we had the goods to outwit, outplay and outlast the Caribbean Coast. But with our final overnight bus under our belt and a pool at our hostel in Santa Marta, we thought we would give it a good crack. We used Santa Marta as a base for a few excursions while here. This meant we could leave the majority of our belongings at the hostel as we did not anticipate needing our alpaca jumpers and merino leggings at any stage in the near future. This proved to be a masterstroke in decision-making as travelling with all our gear would have seen us found road-side, in a sweaty heap, melting under our packs.

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Visited Kate and Harry in Taganga - supposedly a hot spot near Santa Marta but really just a creepy little town with a rubbish-strewn beach and a penchant for armed theft. Despite this it was great to see Kate and Harry!

Opting out of doing the lost city trek for some of the aforementioned reasons, we headed 600 metres up to a cooler climate, destination Minca. Up on the mountainside, we were treated to a coolish breeze which was a welcome relief from the humidity below. Although the weather makes you feel like all you should do is vegetate in a hammock, we managed to haul our sweaty selves to one of the many waterfalls dotted around the mountain. It was a pleasant stroll through lush tropical forest followed by a lovely little dip at the end, so well worth the effort. The rest of the time however was spent in said hammocks.

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Not a bad hostel to spend a few days in

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It is tough work getting to these waterfalls

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Leopard print chook

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Good dip to make it all worth while

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Best meal we had in colombia at restaurant in Minca called Bururake

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Stunning views from front of hostel

From here, we headed to Costeño beach surf camp, a few hours east of Santa Marta. Rather than paying to enter Tayrona national park which is typically a draw card for the area, we decided to chill at the surf camp which is just east of the park so has similar surrounds, without the hefty entrance fee. Score!

We thought we would give surfing a go while here. Turns out the waves are massive. We watched one seasoned surfer try for an hour to get out behind the waves and not really get all that far… unless you count the 200 metres or so he ended up further down the beach. We decided this was perhaps not the best environment to begin our surfing careers. We did however, have some of our best swims of the trip while at this beach. Not many girls were braving the water - the swell was rough and dumpy, so not for the faint hearted. We were up for the challenge however and were rewarded for our efforts.

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Beautiful beaches to stroll along - bar the potential for burn blisters on your feet

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Prior to arrival, we had booked a hammock on the beach to sleep in for three nights. The booking changed after one night in a hammock. Although the notion sounds exotic and lovely, the reality is horrid. There is no comfortable way to sleep in a hammock unless you have a bottle of rum under your belt. Soph also had to sleep in her hammock, squashed between two people and with my bum in her face. Not so enjoyable. So dorm rooms it was for the rest of the time. We had a lovely time at the camp, playing cards, finishing the Walking Dead tv series, swimming and reading. It was like a real holiday in amongst all of our travels.

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Your ticket to exotic interrupted sleep all night long

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Our chilling out hammocks with our new friends

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Final destination in South America was our last Unesco heritage city. We have seen a few of these along the way but Cartagena has to be up there as one of the top spots. The old city was beautiful and so colourful to walk around even in the sweltering midday heat.

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Doing as the (mostly male) locals do - hitching your top up, Britney style, to combat the heat
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Staying in Getsemani, just outside of the centro historico, we were treated to fantastic people watching at the local plaza every night. It pulls people in from everywhere and most nights is packed out which makes for great viewing.

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Still not entirely sure what this is
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Enjoying the delights of street food

We had a day spare so did a little tour with some friends picked up along the way. It involved a drive out to a mound in the middle of nowhere which was full of mud. We were then submerged in said mud, massaged down by some muddy men then spent the next ten minutes floating about like beached whales. Although a really deep pit, we could not fully submerge ourselves no matter how hard we tried. It was so weird and hilarious. We were then lead down to a muddy lake whereupon ladies were waiting with buckets in hand. We were plonked unceremoniously into the water and they proceeded to wash us down. What a very unique experience indeed.

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Entering the weirdness

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Groupie

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Time for a massage

South America had to come to an end however, and it is with mixed feelings that we move onto North America.. From Cartagena we flew to Puerto Rico, but more on that soon.

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All packed and ready to go

We leave you now with a video compilation of our whole time in Colombia.... Footage includes activities from this blog and the two before it.

Posted by ladiesofleisure 09:30 Archived in Colombia Tagged surf waterfall hammock unesco colombia cartagena tayrona minca humidity santa_marta getsemani costeno_beach_surf_camp colonial_city Comments (4)

Paisa country

Medellin and Guatape, Colombia

sunny 26 °C
View Year of who knows what!! & South America on ladiesofleisure's travel map.

One thing that was blatantly obvious during our visit to Jardin, was that we had transformed from festy backpackers to, according to the locals, nothing short of exotic. At least that was our interpretation. The staring was relentless – we hadn’t been subjected anything like this the entire time we were in South America and figured it was probably just because we have inadvertently wandered off the beaten track.

Perhaps this is partly true, but upon arriving to Medellin we would learn the real reason the Paisa’s (folks of central Colombia esp. Medellin) could not believe what they were seeing.

We went on a brilliant walking tour of Medellin lead by a 25 year old local who gave us a very informative run down of Medellin’s colorful history and how it has managed to transform from the world’s most dangerous city to now a safe and innovative metropolis. The fact of the matter is – that Colombia’s internal conflicts and destructive drug trade have, naturally, made it far from the ideal retreat for tourists, meaning many Colombians have never laid eyes on a foreigner before.

Over four hours we traipsed around in the sweaty city getting schooled on the travesties at the hands of drug lords (namely Pablo Escobar), the guerillas and the government. It’s fair to say we were pretty impressed with the extremely motivated transformation the city has made.

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Walking tour sifter on the periphery
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A monument representing the Paisa's history and struggles
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Comparing rumps

The Botero sculptures of out-of-proportion installations were a particular highlight.

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This shows the remains of a Botero sculpture that was bombed whilst a market was on one day killing many locals. It remains as a reminder of what was endured and next to it is a new sculpture as a symbol of Medellin's transformation
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The cheerful 'chiva' buses of Colombia
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Public transport, Paisa style

From Medellin we took a day trip to a little Pueblo called Guatape. Like Salento and Jardin before it, Guatape was another gem of a town laden with Dulux’s colours of the rainbow. The man-made lake around Guatape was flooded due to the addition of a dam, making for some splendid views from Colombia’s ‘Ayers Rock’ but it didn’t quite live up to the hype:

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Big call
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The rock
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Not a bad view...
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Downtown Guatape
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Cupcake drought over!

So with that it is onto Santa Marta on the Carribean coast for some sweaty fun in the sun.

Posted by ladiesofleisure 08:03 Archived in Colombia Tagged colombia medellin guatapé real_city_walking_tour paisas Comments (4)

Getting our coffee on in Colombia

Cali, Salento and Jardin

sunny 22 °C
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We had been overdue a painful border crossing and the Ecuador/Colombia trip did not disappoint. With no ‘straight through’ bus option, we instead employed the following to travel from Quito, Ecuador to Cali, Colombia over two days:

1. Taxi to bus station
2. Bus to border town (Tulcan)
3. Taxi to border
4. Taxi to Colombian border town (Ipiales)
5. Shuttle to Pasto to stay the night
6. Taxi to hostel
7. Taxi to bus station
8. Bus to Cali
9. Taxi to hostel

Obviously two days’ travel in nine legs is less than ideal, but the upside is all this took place during daylight hours, thus lessening the odds that armed robbers might storm the bus and relieve us of our valuables. The southern stretch of Colombia has a bit of rep for such antics, you see – currently dfat.gov.au advises me to ‘reconsider my need to travel’ to Cali. Ah well – we made it through unscathed with the only weaponry sighted – slung over the shoulders of the numerous army officers patrolling the roads.

Cali is Colombia’s 3rd city and is famous for being dodgy, laden with beautiful women and the home of Salsa. We used the city purely as a pit stop en route to our next destination Salento, but in our 24hrs-ish there – we enjoyed what is a metropolitan city that didn’t feel dodgy and had fun trying to spot the many silicon bums wandering around.

Our one and only activity was to visit the Zoologico de Cali to spot some weird and wonderful animals of the continent whom had escaped us during our trip to the Pantanal in Brazil. After stammering like an idiot trying to pronounce ‘zoologio’ six or seven times to our taxi driver – he was in stitches at my Spanglish – we were on our way and he indulged us in an education on the intricacies of the music genre Reggaeton. Here are some of the highlights

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I can imagine how tasty this chubby baby looks
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Big tapir
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Baby tapir
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Capibara

The pilgrimage north continued to our next stop; Salento, a village nestled into the green hills of Colombia’s coffee triangle. Our hostel was the lovely ‘La Serrana’ with stunning views and coffee on tap. When I asked whether they had tea, I received a ‘no’ similar to the time I asked for Tui and the Speights Ale House. Coffee it is then.

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Salento
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Salento taxi
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Peanut butter brownie, oh lordy - as served at the wonderful Brunch cafe in Salento township... Mmmmm yeah
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Coffee, Hayley style - Jesus Martin café
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View from La Serrana
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And it was good. We took a tour of a coffee plantation and saw from wo to go the fairly simple process employed to arrive at the finished product.

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Coffee plantation
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This is not coffee
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This is
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The next day we set off to Valle del Cocora – famous for it’s Quindío wax palm, Colombia’s national symbol and a ridiculously tall tree. We spent five hours strolling through the valley spotting humming birds and craning our necks to marvel at these bizarre palms.

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Hayley provides some scale
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We picked up some walking pals - Chris and Lisa
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For our next destination, we were headed to Jardin another small town with oodles of character. It had been recommended to us by friends met along the way as a gem off the beaten track. We realised this was true when no one at the bus station a couple of hours away knew where it was. Nevertheless we found our way there with two buses and a two-hour taxi!

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Jardin plaza
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Jardin definitely lived up to expectation. We were there for the weekend when the Medellin city folk come to kick back in the large and colourful plaza and sip the local caffeinated drop. We had come, however, for one reason only. Every Saturday night when the discotecas are a-pumping and the masses are sitting in the many colourful chairs in the plaza; cowboys trot into town on their prancing horses. They go up and down the cobbles, sometimes creating sparks and stop to chat to friends and drink shots from the local bars. We sat and watched in awe for hours.

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The gorgeous painted chairs that adorn the plaza
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Cowboys
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Chewing the fat

That wraps up our adventures in the coffee triangle, next stop; the World's ex-most dangerous city - Medellin!

Posted by ladiesofleisure 07:56 Archived in Colombia Tagged zoo palm_trees brunch coffee cafe colombia cali tapir ipiales salento jardin hummingbird la_serrana quito_to_cali corcora_valley coffee_plantation Comments (3)

An extra week for some dentistry.

Quito, Mindo and the dentist

sunny 24 °C
View Year of who knows what!! & South America on ladiesofleisure's travel map.

Did I hear someone say medical tourism. We had heard so much about it that we thought we (Sophie) would try it out in the form of dentistry.

She had ripped a massive chunk out of one of her already bung teeth so was in serious need of a crown to prevent it from tearing up the inside of her cheek. What we thought would be relatively simple and quick, turned into a week long affair as they had to get a mould of her tooth which then had to be made into the crown. This was more time than we wanted to spend in Quito and luckily, there was a cute little bird watching town called Mindo close by where we could hole up for a few nights (We've really gotten into this bird watching - if anyone needs ideas for my christmas present - binoculars.)

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All of these bird photos are courtesy of Aritz - our zoom can just not get in close enough to these suckers.
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Token funny dog shot

Along with birds, this town had a range of activities to keep us occupied and was a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of Quito.

It seems that butterflies are just as erratic and scary as birds, but we had a cup of concrete, hardened up and really enjoyed the butterflies at the farm. If you have banana on your finger, they like to sit there and take a nibble. Very cool indeed.

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We even saw a butterfly emerging from its cocoon which I think is something I can tick off my bucket list (I didn't actually know it was on the list until I saw it happening).

Like every small town in South America, there are waterfalls to be seen. This particular set of waterfalls involved a lot of walking in the muggy, equatorial heat and at times we did question the value in forever chasing waterfalls. But a swim appeased some of us. Sophie, Aritz and Cele were frolicking under the falls while I was a pansy on the side, watching with a twinge of jealousy. I really didn't want to do the walk out and suffer from chafe so chose to dangle my feet only. The cable car at the end provided some cool relief as the wind whipped through our hair!

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Next up on the agenda was to visit the local chocolate farm. A very simple tour but we did get to do some tasting of raw cacao, freshly tempered chocolate flavoured with honey, chile, salt and other things. We then sampled their to-die-for-brownie, which we of course went back for the following day.

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We also met this guy along the way - Photo courtesy of Aritz Ranero
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A few knots in the latest knitting project. Luckily I had a willing helper in the form of Aritz who helpfully untangled a lot of wool!

The cute little town was a lovely spot to visit for a few days. We went tubing while there, but this is only evidenced in our video. It was really cheap and so much fun. Basically they roped together a number of inner tubes from tractor tyres and we cruised down a freezing cold river with a crazy guide navigating the rapids. Great fun!

But the fun had to end as it was time to head back to Quito for some dentistry (Not as cheap as I imagined health tourism to be by the way).

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We did manage to fit in a few activities while in Quito though. We had a nice time exploring the colonial streets of the old town.

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The president also heard we were in town so stepped out of his white house to wave.

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He actually does this every Monday and the Ecuadorianos and tourists lap it up

And of course, an obligatory visit to the equator.

First we popped into the touristy fake equator which is a couple of hundred metres from the actual equator.

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The fake one does look nice, but is actually just a gimmick

The real equator was a lot better than the fake one. Not surprisingly however, as it is here you can do all sorts of fun things solely because of all the magnetic craziness that goes on at 0 degrees. The water goes straight down the plug hole on the equator. We then walked three metres away from it to the south and watched the water go down clockwise and then counter clockwise in the north. We had always thought that this marvel was a myth made up by the writers of the simpsons. Who would have thunk?

All three of us were able to balance an egg on a nail head. Apparently this is easier at the equator. Something to do with gravity and the egg yolk...

And finally, for some reason when you stand on the equator and hold out your arms, your are weaker so someone can push down on them easier than three metres south or north. Weird phenomenon or is just psychological?

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The real one

This completed our journey around Ecuador and it has been an absolute delight even ignoring the two weeks we spent in the Galapagos. We are heading up to Colombia now for a final three weeks before hitting up the US of A. Can not believe we are in our final month. Where has the time gone?

We will leave you with this video compilation of the whole of Ecuador (not including the Galapgos which really deserved its own video). It includes activities from the previous blog also.

Posted by ladiesofleisure 19:19 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains birds chocolate waterfall scenic cable_car tubing butterfly equator quito banos ecuador mindo bird_watching hummingbird gravity mariposario Comments (3)

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