Saturday, November 20, 2010

In praise of Salomon

Popayán, San Agustin, Cali, Santa Marta, COLOMBIA: 1 Nov. - 16 Nov. 2010

This week, when I dumped my Salomon trail runners, I decided that they must be the best purchase I've ever made. Bought for 100 euro three years ago, they served me well for all the hill-running I did before I left Ireland and then for the first fifteen months of my travelling. My first few weeks in Colombia provide a good example of what I´ve put them through in the last year:
  • walking all around the colonial city of Popayán in the south of the country, with its streets lined with all-white buildings;
  • horse-riding in the countryside around San Agustin to several statue-filled sites;
  • salsa dancing in Cali, where myself and Ciarán again met up with Elaine and her friends;
  • trekking for five days with Ciarán and Elaine through rivers and mud to the "Lost City of Tayrona".

Me and my Salomon runners have done a lot of fun stuff over the last 15 months, and I expect their replacements (which I plan to buy in New York in December) will serve me just as well!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Moving from south to north

Cuenca, Quilotoa, Cotopaxi, Quito, Lago Agrio, ECUADOR: 16 - 31 Oct. 2010

Despite having fourteen months in Latin America, I somehow started to run out of time. Therefore I had to move through Ecuador fairly quickly. But in my two and a half weeks there I had some great experiences:

  • Quilotoa Loop: After two days in the pleasant city of Cuenca, we spent three days travelling between rural mountain villages centred around the dramatic Quilotoa crater lake (hence this circular trip is known as the "Quilotoa Loop"). As well as hiking around the lake (reaching a height of over 4,000m), I will remember this trip for our two hour stint in the back of the local milk truck as it did its daily rounds collecting milk from the local farmers and in the process bringing us and some locals from one village to the next.
  • Cotopaxi National Park: Part of our four days here was spent relaxing and reading either in hammocks or by a roaring fire, and part was spent climbing to the summit of the mountain itself. At 5,897m high, Cotopaxi is higher than Mont Blanc and Kilamanjaro and it is the highest active volcano in the world. Climbing on a snow-covered glacier by the light of the full moon is probably the single most memorable thing I've done in South America. Its hard to describe how great it felt to reach the top. Luckily Ciarán has done a great job in detailing our adventures, which will soon be available to read on his blog.
  • Quito: While on a couple of occasions we felt the unsafeness that we had been warned about, I quite liked the Ecuadorian capital, especially the Old Town (where we did a tour of the Presendential Palace just a few weeks after a so-called attempted coup!).
  • The jungle: Ten hours east of Quito in the Amazonia region, we spent a fun four days in the jungle. We stayed in a remote lodge and did a lot of swimming and animal watching - we saw monkeys, river dolphins, snakes (a boa and an anaconda), countless spiders (including tarantulas) and birds, and we heard a jaguar in the distance during a night hike. I also went fishing for the first time in my life, and I caught a piranha!

On the bus to the Colombian border we crossed the equator, so after nearly eleven months I'm back in the northern hemisphere and onto my final Latin American country - Colombia!