Mooching in Mancora

Our flight back to the mainland was a turbulent death trap most of which was caused by our coffee shakes. The flight operated like a bus where once at Guayaquil we disembarked with only half the passengers as the others stayed aboard for the next stop Quito. We got straight on a night bus to Tumbes Peru and against all advice crossed South America’s most dangerous boarder at night. We hopped off the bus at immigration where there was a power cut and we stood in the dark the only light the bored staffs phones illuminating their faces as they scrolled social media, until the systems rebooted. Finally we were cleared and got back on our bus and drove through a refugee camp with Venezuelans sleeping rough and in tents. The boarders all over South America have seemed overwhelmed with refugees. We swapped busses in Tumbes and boarded the only bus leaving at this time of night. A bus run by some very obviously coked up men. At least 5 of them were wedged in the cockpit chain smoking and aggressively chewing on god knows what! So 2am tired and pissed off we arrive in Mancora with nowhere to stay.

Mancora is the Peruvian equivalent to Palomino (Colombia) but minus the power cuts. It has a laid back hippy vibe that bubbles over in to a party town at night. The beaches are long stretches with only a scattering of bodies.

There are plenty of food options and we have tried the £2 set menus all over town. Whole bbq fish, Chinese inspired Peruvian classics and ice cream coffees to die for.

We’ve spent our days lazing on the beach soaking up the sun or covering ourselves in mud at the mud baths trying to calm the sunburn. This being the only time it is acceptable to roll in the mud sober.

We have leisurely nibbled our way around town enjoying the slow paced lifestyle after our jam packed Ecuadorean escapades. In the evening we have enjoyed a few beers or pisco sours watching the town come to life, but quickly sneak off to bed before our minds become hazy. Being the good girls our friends back home didn’t think existed.

Throughout our stay I have been discussing ideas with a local tattooist and tonight before our night bus my ideas shall come alive.

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Glorious Galápagos Islands

Well what can I say the Galapagos are everything I thought and more. I constantly feel like I am staring in a nature program but I have yet to perfect my David Attenbourr voice.

The early boat was like a giant sleepover as we were lulled to sleep by the calm of the ocean. And within minuets of stepping off the boat here you are surrounded by sunbathing sea lions and crabs and lizards by the dozen. In the bay the odd penguin pops up to say hello.

The lonely planet describes the Galapagos as the only place on earth you can have a staring competition with wild animals and loose and boy were they right. You are so outnumbered by fearless wildlife you feel exactly as you should, a visitor.

On Tortuga beach the sand is white and the sea a clear blue as the waves come out they bring with them swarms of baby sharks in water no deeper than my ankles. Turning to face land you see proud iguanas parading down the sand unfazed by our presence. The rocks are covered with bright red crabs and there are sea lions on every bench peir and empty boat throughout the islands.

A trip to a lagoon and you watch birds soar on the waters surface to catch their prey as the fish dance out of the water taunting them.

Snorkelling in even the closest bays and you come face to face with giant sea turtles gliding along elegantly so close you could touch them, and sea lions playfully pivoting around the piers.

Waves crash against the majestic remains of volcanoes out at sea. The water trickling between the cracks and flocks of birds rest here between meals. Every glimmer in the ocean has your head snapping round as you catch a glimpse of a rays signature wave or a turtle rising for breath.

Under every rocky cave lurk schools of sharks. The penguins dart through your line of vision teasingly too fast to keep your eyes on. It feels like a scene off Finding Nemo as the colourful fish go about their day seemingly unfazed by our presence.

Pelicans sour above us at all times and these animals can all be found side by side looking like the oddest gang you’ve ever seen. The island itself looks like something straight out of a cartoon with dark volcanic rocks, mangroves, huge cactuses, lava tunnels and craters the size of entire towns.

The cars slow down and drive around the giant hundreds of years old tortoise, giving them the respect they rightfully deserve.

Patty house the cheapest accommodation we could find is just out of town but Patty herself is lovely and like a kind aunt she advised and arranged our days for us, sending us off on her selection of death trap bikes. We must be known on the island as the two blond boy racers always cycling in circles on squeaky bikes calling for directions to town… again.

In the evening a street not far from town is teeming with life as the restaurants join their tables and chairs together in two long columns occupying the whole road and dish out some of the best seafood! Entire fishes, giant paella’s and mountains of shellfish at decent prices mean we have dined like kings and every day here feels the luckiest on earth.

We have only been here four days and we haven’t wanted to even blink scared we will miss something incredible.

Quiet Quito

The journey to Ecuador was very eventful including a lost purse, a nights stay in a hotel you usually pay for by the hour, a recovered purse and a very long road they call trampoline of the dead. And rightly so as it’s so high up in the mountains their is absolutely no visibility and a huge mountain drop to one side. So narrow that when you meet oncoming traffic somebody’s reversing skills are seriously tested as they manoeuvre around blind corners dodging the fallen down trees and boulders.

A quick stop at Otavalo that we both agree was overpriced and the market not all it was hyped up to be. So after a quick walk around we got a local bus to Laguna San Pablo, we both agreed that although the lagoon was beautiful it would look better from above so instead of paying for a very bleak looking boat trip, we began scaling the closest mountain. Feeling pretty unfit as we finally reached the top panting and collapsing on the surrounding rocks.

We got back to town and jumped on a bus to Quito hoping to find some new friends, sick of the sound of each other’s voices after days of travelling. But instead ended up making an enemy in the owner of our hostel (bad) Vibes. The owner was the kind of person who moved and talked like he was constantly bored.

After our first night I work up eaten by bed bugs again! And when I politely took the owner to one side to let him know they had a problem he instantly accused me of lying despite the obvious evidence. Told me I probably had a skin condition and practically kicked us out threatening to blacklist us in the hostel world so no one would take us in. We left in a state of shock, walked around the corner and checked in to Colour house.

The owner was amazing and not only had all of our clothes washed, dried and back with us within hours , but also arranged our tours for us for the next day and all cheeper than Vibes.

That evening we went to the historical centre of town which is amazing! Beautiful building surround the local square filled with benches of content locals taking in their surroundings. We ate in Cafeteria Modelo a busy place where we tried some local classics. One of which being Locra a potato, cheese and avocado soup. It was lovely.

That night after sharing a giant beer us lightweights were drunk and stumbled home lost with the giggles.

Statues in San Agustin

So although the bus was still an hour late it almost felt early in comparison to the usual three hour late busses. We checked straight in to Casa De Nelly the prettiest hostel, where the owner was a cornucopia of information for our route to Ecuador, and the place instantly felt like home.

After a nice dinner in town, we set off on the walk uphill back to the hostel, only to have a pizza delivery guy who was conveniently driving there anyway offer us a lift. What luck! As I was drifting off that night I heard a kufufflae and muttering from Daisy’s direction. I looked over to see a very startled Daisy batting off a cricket that had landed on her face. The next morning, we left to get a bus to the local statues. But in luck again we ended up getting a lift on the back of a hostel workers bike whilst he set up some horses to meet us at the entrance. Where we galloped around the park with a tour guide explaining the history to us. All for the same price as the entry fee!

So another free ride to a local vegetarian restaurant Tomate and we enjoyed an amazing lunch, where we overfilled ourselves with unidentifiable great tasting veggies.

So now two very achey completely stuffed gringos walked back to the hostel where apparently our luck had ran out and we walked the whole way back arriving out of breath and sweaty. That evening we arranged a yoga class down the road where again we conveniently got a free ride. It was the kind of yoga my mums been trying to get me to go for years, all breathing and meditation. We had to avoid eye contact the whole time as a wave of the giggles threatened. This was especially difficult in the eye yoga! During one of the breathing exercises she asked if we had felt anything, I’m pretty sure a blocked nose was not the answer she was looking for (but the one I gave nonetheless). We left the yoga class confused at what had just happened and completely starved. We dined at Homosapians, another veggie place that served up some very quick tasty food.

Trying to get a taxi home in the downpour was a very serious task as we hovered in shop doorways trying desperately to flag down any vehicle in sight. The only one that stopped was an already full taxi. Despite this we loaded in with the complacent family, making 8 of us in there. We did manage to negotiate a discount based on the fact we didn’t even have one seat between us. We got back to the hostel soaked through and in a fit of giggles. And who do we see sat on the sofa… only our Aussie mate, I am now starting to believe he is a stalker. So a quick catch up and we all clamber in to bed trying to get some sleep but finding ourselves far too funny to stop firing comments across the room.

Places in Popayan

A boat and two busses later and we arrive in Popayan armed with some seriously toxic bed bug spray. We splashed out on a private room, locked ourselves in the bathroom with all our stuff and gassed ourselves out. Going a bit OTT with the bug spray looking and feeling like mad women when we finally tumble out with red eyes and serious headaches, hoping we had finally got on top of this infestation. Waking up with no new bites felt like winning an all out war! And although 100s of bites still remained scattered on my body I knew their days were numbered! We took our clothes to the laundrette changed rooms and strutted off to Silvia. A town so high in the mountains that Daisy shivered in her inappropriate attire. We bought some fruits for breakfast and scaled the nearest peak for our tradition of a viewpoint.

Everywhere In Colombia seems really easy to get too but is like a series of hunger games on the return journey. As everybody fights for a spot on the designated method of travel, on this occasion a bus. But feeling unbeatable after our victory with the bed bugs we decided against the scramble and strolled off in the general direction of Popayan. We successfully thumbed down a lift to the next town with a local and jumped on a conveniently waiting bus. Where we began attacking our bags of fruit, devouring tomorrow’s breakfast! Offering it to the locals and dropping it all over the place.

That night we ate at a place called Pita and as you’ve guessed it sold pittas.. with a variety of toppings. After a game of backgammon where me and Daisy realised we can’t play anything other than cards without bickering and Daisy wanting to quit because she’s loosing! So we left. I was definitely still hungry as I don’t believe hummus qualifies as a side so we shared some cake at the hostel whilst laughing at how pathetically competitive we are. (And for the record I won backgammon but maybe don’t tell Daisy I said that).

The next morning we grouped up with some people from the hostel and headed to the hot springs. Swerving the usual tour and catching a bus. The hot springs stank worse than my exes curry farts and at first I was hesitant to go in and cursed the children splashing in my general vicinity. But half an hour in and now immune to the smell we began rubbing smelly clay all over ourselves (doing as the locals do).

After a dirt cheep meal we went back to the hostel where we no joke tried a slice of every home made cake, rating them in order. My favourite being the chocolate, orange and zucchini followed closely by Daisy’s favourite Banana and cardamon and lastly the still amazing coffee and chocolate. Yum! That night we all went for Tapas at Restaurant Carmina. Where we drank wine, ate delicious food and drifted between intellectual debates and chatting shit. Until full and giddy we wondered home missing our turning for the second time since we’ve been here. The next morning we checked out only to later realise we had been undercharged. Alright for some!

Crazy Cali

So Cali is a big, busy city where the people seem less friendly and the constant heat leaves you feeling clammy from the minute you wake up! The first thing we did, after breakfast of course (our priorities always firmly on food) was head to the closest viewpoint. The city stretched for miles, ugly spewed-out buildings as far as the eye can see. Here we indulged in one of the local delicacies, something I can only describe as a Colombian slush puppy. Fruit flavoured ice and a mountain of fruit all rammed in a plastic cup that tasted even more amazing than it looked!

After walking around for hours we decided to cool off at the hostel, whilst intermittently muttering occasionally about the heat. Then we headed off in search of a local market offering some beautiful local seafood dishes. Now I usually pride myself on being a bit of a bottomless pit when it comes to food but this time I really over did it and had to undo my skirt and lean back in my chair sighing occasionally. I only moved at the mention of coffees, where we hobbled the 20 steps away and ordered caramel frappes!

It was here we made out first real Colombian friends where we laughed for hours discussing different sayings and slang words from the area. “El que no oye consejos no llege a viejo” (if you don’t listen to advice you won’t live a long life) which I think might have been a hint for us to listen to advice. My personal favourite and one I believe we have been living by even before we knew it is “donde fueres has lo que vieres” basically meaning “do as the locals do”.

With that being said we went for a beer with our Aussie friend that we have bumped in to literally everywhere since we met in Taganga!

And we attempted to dance salsa with the locals to the great amusement of those watching as we shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other, red faced and sweaty but persistent in learning what looked like simple steps. After sweating out our body weight and noticing that the time had flown by we fled the ball like Cinderella, wanting an early night ready for Buenaventura tomorrow.

No room in Riosucio

So the three hour bus journey was anything but and we arrived at Riosucio five hours later after a wheel change and then a chaotic change of bus altogether where two buses going in opposite directions swapped passengers and did a dodgy turn on a tight mountain road. So now on a considerably smaller bus, extremely squashed with people stand up spooning down the aisle, there were people hanging out the door with arms gripped through the windows. Buses here are so unpredictable, there are no real stops and people just hop on and off whenever they please with a wave of the hand or a shout to the driver. And there is ALWAYS room for one more.

Once in Riosucio we were bundled on the side of the road with locals who had all bought tents for the night as the local carnival had the town’s accommodation overwhelmed. In the dark and hungry, we were told all buses had stopped! We began seriously considering our street-sleeping strategy when we managed to flag down a bus going pass to the next city. So now with a glimmer of hope we board our posh empty minibus with reclining leather seats and plug sockets, feeling like we had finally made it! I asked the driver if he had eaten, which was me subtly hinting that I was starving. He pulled over and we ate some strange but enjoyable corn pizza-style fast food. Even with the stop we somehow managed to get to Peireira early. Now at a busy terminal and on a roll we took advantage of the busses and jumped straight on one to Cali. We arrived at 2am, disgruntled from a three hour journey that turned in to 12 hours of unplanned travelling. I found a card for a hostel in my bag that I must have picked up somewhere along the way. So with blind faith we headed to El Viajero, our new home! And definitely a party hostel as no one was in the dorm despite evidence of gringos scattered across the room. Flip flops and bags everywhere. We flopped on to bed and remained their until 8am when we knew breakfast would be being served.