Our long trek out of Paraguay landed us in Ica, Peru, a sizable city just off the Pacific coast. We spent the morning checking email and travel tips before negotiating a short, cheap taxi ride to Huacachina- an oasis just barely outside of town that juts out into the desert. Just when we’d thought we’d seen the strangest places on this continent, Huacachina blew our minds once again. Wrapped around a small pond and surrounded on all sides by sand dunes of mind-boggling size, the town seems to exist entirely for tourists.
The hostel we stayed at sat perfectly at the foot of one of the largest sand dunes. We could leave the hostel and immediately start walking at a steep angle up sand. And we did, fairly often. After a painful climb to the top we could see all of Ica in one direction and vast, never ending desert dunes in the other. It constantly reminded us of a movie scene with a hopeless character walking through the desert crossing dune after dune after dune. We had a blast running, jumping, flipping, and toppling our way down the massive walls of sand. We also took a buggy ride and rented some sand boards. I think we spent our whole 3 days there covered in sand.
While we were there we had a chance to get in touch with some of the people we had been planning to visit on this trip. With everyone’s limited schedules we realized that we would need some sort of plan if we were going to make it to see them all. We hadn’t really had a plan at all up to this point so it was hard at first, but we decided that one more month in South America, before crossing into Central America, should make seeing everyone possible while still having enough time to do what we wanted to do.
For the most part, our last month in South America was very chilled out. We only trekked hard for a small stretch of it. From Huacachina we continued up the coast of Peru to the capital, Lima. We toured the city for a day with Claudia, a friend we’d made in Arequipa. Not too fond of the big city, we quickly continued up the coast stopping for a few days in Huanchaco, a hot surf spot just outside of Trujillo, and Mancora, a big tourist destination on a pristine beach. The hard chillin’ continued after crossing into Ecuador. We made straight for the coastal towns of Montañita and Puerto Lopez. We chilled there for a few days and then bused to the capital, Quito. We found Quito to be a very enjoyable capital to visit with it’s many beautiful plazas to sit in, churches to tour and loads of fellow travelers.
After a few days in Quito we met with the wonderful Kerry Fuggett, the first friend on our friends-to-meet list. Kerry is currently working in the Ecuadorean Andes Mountains on a project to protect the Andean Bear. We traveled out to the cloud forest with her where she lives in a house with an ever changing group of volunteers. We spent a few days out there. One day we spent helping out on a field trip with a couple local schools. A rare opportunity for these kids, we got to hike through the forest with them, teaching and talking about nature and conservation. Another day we actually hiked with the volunteers and a local guide, listening along the way for the radio signal put out by the bear’s collars. We heard a few over the radio but weren’t lucky enough to see any.
Wishing we could stay longer, we said goodbye to Kerry and her volunteers and made our way into Colombia. This was our bit of hard trekkin’. We crossed the border in the late evening, but didn’t want to stay the night there. We had heard warnings against traveling at night through Colombia but decided that you can’t believe everything you hear and that our own instincts would be a better indication. The buses seemed legitimate enough and so we took an overnight bus to Cali. Not wanting to do or see much there, we booked another overnight bus to Medellin and spent the day in Cali lounging around near the bus station.
We got to Medellin bright and early and eventually found our hostel: a nice place outside of downtown but still near enough to some cool bars and restaurants. We decided to stay a while because the hostel was affordable, and staff and other travelers were great. We also wanted to match our schedule with our next friend to meet, Daniela Etchegaray. A friend of a friend, once upon a time, Daniela was conveniently in Medellin for the Interamerican Congress on Psychology Studies the same time we were in town and she wanted to travel with us through Central America upon leaving. Excited to share the journey with her, we changed our schedule around a little to accommodate.
With extra time in Medellin, we had plenty of time to tour the city in full. We learned that much of the city was shaped by Pablo Escobar and all the money he made from drug trafficking, much of which was reinvested in the city. We could tell the city had money riding their metro system. It made it all too easy to see the city. With one fare we could ride the metro all around, taking cable cars up into the mountains surrounding the city and getting to the best views. We also took some time to walk around downtown, checking out the botanical gardens, plazas famously filled with statues of obese people, and drinking some of the most delicious juice smoothies we’ve ever had.
When the three of us left Medellin, we hopped an overnight bus to Cartagena, a big city on the Caribbean coast. Cartagena is one of the oldest cities in South America, founded in 1533. It was a slave trading epicenter for a while and the city itself is still surrounded by a huge defensive wall. Right when we got there we started our search for a boat ride to Panama. The search didn’t last very long, which was a pleasant surprise. The rest of our time in Cartegena was spent on the beach, touring the city, and visiting salsa clubs. Salsa dancing is huge in that area. I got to end my time in South America testing my salsa skills with a professional Colombian salsa dancer. I’d say she wasn’t too disappointed, although I had to dance with a slouch so I didn’t hit my head on the beams in the ceiling.
From Cartegena we said goodbye to South America. We left on the 4th of July, exactly 6 months after I arrived in Montevideo. Impossible to sum up in any short form, I’ll just say it was time very well spent that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But of course the travel adventures continue. We celebrated freedom, independence, and America on a sailboat in the Caribbean sea headed for Panama, and ultimately home.
Thanks for reading.