A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: lramos1

On the Amazon heading to Iquitos

on board the Eduardo IV

sunny 90 °F

milk chocolate river

milk chocolate river

The boat slowly moves northeast, chugging along on it´s typical weekly routine. Yurimagas to Iquitos is as standard as it gets around these parts with multiple boats leaving everyday from the Yurimagas port. Our boat was named Edwardo IV with brothers all over as i´m assuming Eduardo 1-III are also somewhere on this river. Eduardo´s main purpose is a cargo ship, transporting goods like eggs, livestock, and bananas to places only boats can reach like Iquitos. All of the these goods are tightly loaded and packed into the first deck, a process that took all morning and well into the late afternoon as the departure time changed from noon to 5pm. It truly is remarkable how much stuff can fit on a cargo boat. The rest of the boat, decks 2-3 are for passengers where people upon buying their tickets technically purchase hammock space on board. You tie your hammock on the long metal poles running lengthwise, between the life preservers. The decks quickly become crowded as every inch of space is taken up by an ecclectic assortment of hammock patterns. They blend together in a tacky hanging mess. The boat is surprisingly steady without the rocking back and forth one finds out on sea, the Eduardo is too wide to feel the Amazon currents and so the boat chugs down river peacefully.

start of our river travel to iquitos

start of our river travel to iquitos

sunset on the eduardo

sunset on the eduardo

The water is thick, silty thick with long brown legs that make you feel like you are floating in a milk chocolate river like in Willie Wonka as the oppressively hot air looms overhead making you feel lethargic at all hours of the day. At only 8am, i can already feel the sweat beading up on my forehead and any clothing left to cling my damp body. Lethargic' yes, this is what one feels floating on the Amazon river. It surrounds everyone and all you can do is swing yourself silly on a hammock watching the river go by. There are few things to do on board by far the most exciting moment of the day is meal time. At 7am, noon, and 7pm long lines begin to form on the 2nd deck, leaving you to finally leave the place you´ve been sweating at to grab your bowl and dash downstairs to get into the food action. A bowl or pan, water bottles cut in half, pitchers- you name it, everything was used as a food recepticle. In front of the line is where you find the man in charge of the food, a grumpy sailor who looks serious as he decides if you eat or not. Your ticket gets you 3 solid meals, extremelly large portions where most of it was dumped into the river. You don´t want to get this man on your bad side so it´s best to just smile and keep moving. Adam touched one of the hard boiled eggs he had next to him and was screamed at as eggs are extra goods costing a whopping 1 sol for an egg. The morning meal consists of bread and a miaze based hot chocolate, lunch chicken and rice, dinner noodles and meat. After 3 days on board, we were all craving fruit and perhaps a cold beer.
our hammocks on the Eduardo IV

our hammocks on the Eduardo IV

Past times on the boat were spent either swinging on your hammock, sweating, playing cards, reading, waiting to eat, and mostly just sitting watching the chocolate river roll by.

Day 3 on the boat- The air continues to become thicker the deeper we continue on this muddy river with the bugs following suit. Last night we were swarmed by large black beetles from every direction. I´m assuming they are lured by the lights of the boat but if you find yourself on deck, you found yourself being pelted by beetles. Along with the beetles there were dozen of varieties of moths and wasp looking bugs that found themselves into the sinks, toilets, hammocks, and crunched on the floor. The river seems cleaner the closer we get to Iquitos, sadly the amount of inka cola bottles and styrofoam containers sailing alongside on this river is tremendously sad. The boat docked around 7 this morning in Nauta, where everyone left the boat except the gringos travelling to Iquitos. Funny how we have been on this boat for days but it wasn´t until our last morning that we finally talked to our fellow backpackers. On board with us were two hard core Israeli girls fresh from being commanders in the army, three petite French girls who couldn´t have contrasted more with the Israeli girls, and a girl from Sweden whom i befriended days ago. She had just finished volunteering for 6 months at a camp in Nicaragua and spent the days arranging activities for the children on the boat. I learned how to make half a wing of a macrame butterfly before getting hit by lethargic winds and needed to sleep for an hour afterwards.
boats on the amazon river

boats on the amazon river

The clothes i donned on 3 days ago were still on me. Sweaty does not begin to describe the state of my clothing and body. I´m looking forward to taking a cold shower and drinking an ice cold beer in Iquitos!!

Posted by lramos1 15:12 Archived in Peru Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Hello Ecuador!


Laura looking like a turtle crossing the colombian ecuador border

Laura looking like a turtle crossing the colombian ecuador border

crossing the border to ecuador, adam

crossing the border to ecuador, adam

Crossing the Colombian-Ecuador border was a snap. We picked the best time to cross over- monday afternoon during a heavy rainstorm. Best time to cross as it seems no one wants to get wet except for us- the crazy tourists from New York. The border crossing was so easy that we accidentally walked right into ecuador without getting any stamps or visas and no one said anything. We eventually saw the error in our ways and had to walk back into Colombia, get our exit stamps then walk back into ecuador. The entire process took about 10 minutes where we found ourselves very wet sitting on a minibus heading to Tulcan. The spare change from back home that i was going to chuck back in Bogota came in handy as our $2 in coins got us a ride to town, entry into the public toilets, and a coke. What a deal! From Tulcan we quickly jumped on to a bus heading to Quito (which seem to leave every 15 minutes) ready to jump out beforehand in Otavalo. The driver did one of those roll moves where we had to quickly jump off the bus before it actually stopped and before we could look up- poof he was gone. Oh well. We asked a few locals how to get into town- everyone gave us different directions which tends to be a popular thing to do in Latin America- even if people don´t know where something else, they really want to give you an answer, it´s best to just go with the flow and start walking. You're bound to end up somewhere.

Otavalo is about as charming as a city can get. The streets are paved with cobblestones, the sidewalks are meticulously swept, and the cathedral welcomes you easily into the city center where dozens of Indian women move with steady determination with their cactus woven sandels. It makes one feel foolish for being winded walking for 20 minutes with a backpack when these ladies with long black braids, crisp white embroidered shirts, and long black skirts carry a baby on their back tied with a colorful shawl while carrying large bushels of onions in one hand, a sack of potatoes in the other. Even ladies well into their 80´s carried huge loads of reeds, baskets, and herbs. I had no excuse to be tired of walking. We found a hostel that offered camping about 4km away from the town with a view of a volcano and lovely hour walk (downhill) into town where we met many a chicken, pig, and puppies to entertain us along our way.
burro in octavalo

burro in octavalo

The major attraction to visit Otavalo is the Saturday morning market but after visiting the Wednesday market, we felt that we had a substantial taste of market life. The handicraft market was a bit too sterilized and arranged purely for tourists, we spent an hour walking the market before getting hungry and annoyed that we couldn´t buy anything so we headed out in search of food. The star- i think of Otavalo is the food market! Here you wonder stall after stall of ladies selling beautiful potatoes, pasta, mounds of rice, spices all amid huge racks of meat, a pig´s head dangling off a hook where you can sit at a stall in the center of it all- eat a hearty almuerzo for $1.50 next to an Indian woman covered in gold beads and watch the daily interactions of all the locals. Fantastic! We bought a strange pod like fruit with some hairy white seeds in the middle which where all the rage with ladies spitting out the pods like they were ball players throughout the streets. Adam´s search for a Charango were over as he laid eyes on one 3 days into Otavalo at the market. It has now become our travel companion as we venture on towards Quito.
picking out the charango

picking out the charango

our camping spot

our camping spot

volcano and the city of octavalo

volcano and the city of octavalo

Posted by lramos1 12:47 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Ipiales- our final days in Colombia

Las lajas


Alas our time in Colombia has come to an end and it was time to head to the border city of Ipiales to cross into Ecuador. Ipiales gave us a warm welcome and an appropriate point by which to bid farewell to Colombia. Our collective from Touquerres was so quick to Ipiales that we had all of Sunday to visit the city, strolling the quiet Sunday streets watching children playing football, pigeons pooping on the cathedral, indigenous women selling 10 different varieties of potatoes, and young artists painting murals on crumbling walls. We took another collective to the impressive cathedral of Las Lajas, an uber-gothic cathedral where the virgin appeared on a rock near the river.


The original cathedral was built back in the late 1800´s and later rebuilt during the early 1900´s so that the rock where her image was seen is now the main alter inside the cathedral. Sunday was a perfect time to go as it was busy with Colombian pilgrims coming for mass and to take home some of the holy waters from a nearby waterfall. The cathedral is quite impressive, almost mystical as it seemed so out of place set in a lush green canyon. Surrounding the cathedral are several trails, a family park, food vendors, and plaques giving praise to the miracles of the virgin. We spent the majority of the day there enjoying the atmosphere and eating sweet tamales wrapped in banana leaves. We had a wonderful last day in Colombia.


Posted by lramos1 13:00 Comments (1)

Pasto, Surprise City!

Pasto was a refreshing cool relief from the sweltering sticky heat of Cali where we had to finally wear our jackets we had been lugging around. The Pastuso architecture is what really shines in this city along with being easily walkable. A large plaza flanked by shops, cafe´s, and cathedrals is the central point of Pasto with volcano peaks in the distance.


Our stay was quick as we were easily persuaded to go hike a nearby volcano near Tucquerres, a short one hour collectivo away. Our guide book has no mention of this volcano and to our delight we had the whole town of Tucquerres to ourselves, not one other western tourist in sight! We found a simple hotel near the center and woke up early for our walk up the volcano. Our attempts to be early birds failed miserably as the only minibus that takes you near the volcano didn´t come by until noon. Interestingly we passed by the small village of San Roque (the name of Father´s village in Mexico) and I had to smile at the similarities complete with chickens and a few donkeys. The bus dropped us off about 5 kms from the crater and said it should take us one hour to go up it and one hour down so we would have plenty of time to catch the last bus at 4pm to town. No problem- right?


So we started walking, forgetting that we are hiking up a volcano to an elevation of 4150m without being properly acclimitized. It took us over 2.5 hours to reach the crater and we were winded with every 15 steps we took. When we finally reached the lake at the crater we only had a few minutes to enjoy it as we literally had to run down the volcano to catch our bus. This didn´t stop us from being mesmerized by the stunningly beautiful green waters inside the crater and the almost california beach like vegetation surrounding the crater. It was a beautiful hike but only truly appreciated and realized afterwards for the hike up was an exhausting and the hike down worrisome as we were pressed for time. We ran down the volcano and made it to the bus stop 5 minutes before 4. Hurray. We ate well that night on roasted pig to appease our tired bodies, drifting off to an early sleep that night. The next morning we left for Ipiales, catching a collective taxi from the main square and surprised by how quickly we made it to the border town. By 1pm we were checked into our hostel and on our way to see the cathedral at Las Lajas.


Posted by lramos1 12:41 Comments (1)

Cali es Cali

Cali es Cali

The Lonely Planet (LP) on a shoestring gives Cali a bad rap. Sure it doesn´t have the “typical” tourist attrations to lure hoards of tourists in and when they do come they tend to stay in the tacky TJ meets Las Vegas space of the new town. What a shame for travelers often come out of Cali with a sour taste in their mouths. We found Cali to be a beautiful, warm, and welcoming city in the midst of old town revitalization. If anyone is on their way or thinking of heading to Cali be sure to stay in the old town, San Antonio barrio for a more authentic and peaceful taste of Cali. It is within easy daytime walking distance to gringoland and a short taxi ride away.

Our introduction to Cali however was not so rosy as we experienced our first bus fiasco. We knew it would happen sooner or later and were starting to get that spooky feeling like it would be a big one if it didn´t happen relatively soon. To our relief, our bus to Cali got a flat tire. It all started slowly. First it was about twenty minutes into the bus ride that we noticed the bus didn´t have AC nor did the windows open and in the noon sun driving to hot and humid Cali, our ¨luxurious¨ bus was converted into a sweaty stinky sauna. Luckily after spending 10 summers in Syria I have learned never to travel without a paper fan, we were armed for our 3 hour ride. About 20 minutes out of Manizales, the bus going 60 hits a cement railing next to the cliff (we were rediculously close to the cliff´s edge), popping the back right tire. The bus slowly made it´s way to a gas station and in an hour, we were patched up and ready to go to Cali....or so we thought. The tire was bald and we experience something that is rarely experienced on a bus in Colombia-our driver had to drive extra slow, about 20 kilometers and hour! Our 3 hour trip slowly turned into a 9 hour sweaty bus ride. We began rationing our water from our water bottles and licking the crumbs from the one packet of crisps that i surely thought would suffice for our bus ride- luckily the bus had a toilet which makes times like these a little more comfortable.


We finally arrived in the late evening into Cali, tired and hungry. Adam gave me that look, the look of lets just get a taxi to our hostel forgoing trying to navigate the bus system at 10pm. We picked a hostel from the guide book and prayed they had a room.Our hostel was perfect. A small place set over a cultural café, very chic with a large French window overlooking a small enclosed balcony for 15 dollars a night in the historic old barrio of San Antonio. We simply wanted to crawl in bed but our stomachs had little more than a simple breakfast all day (and a packet of crisps), which we probably sweated out in the bus. We had to leave and find food. Adam pointed in one direction and so we went, in search of a meal, leading us to a fantastic little bar/pizza joint. We were greeted by a couple dancing salsa in the bar and a slightly drunk man who looked at me, smiled, then clapped his hands and said ¨welcome to Cali¨. Fabulous- what a welcome! The Caleños just have this rythmn to them, a swing to their steps, and a natural beat in their limbs (obvious from the constant clapping and pounding on tables). Needless to say we fell in love with the city within our first hour. The next few days were spent lounging around the park, reading in cafes, and wondering the city.


We eventually ended up meeting with my (Laurita´s) old friend from Oxy who finished her master´s degree in Quito, met a beautiful and sweet Caleño (she is getting married in December!), and is now living in Cali teaching highschool. I love it! Jessica has always been someone i knew would never settle down and live in the States, she just has too much of that travel bug and love for Latin America in her. It was wonderful to see her and spend a couple of days with her in Cali.

PA060030.jpg PA050024.jpg

Since we had spent almost a week in Cali we decided that we should cover some ground in the direction of Ecuador. Instead of heading to the next Lonely Planet guided stop, Popayan, we decided to bypass and head to the city of Pasto, an estimated 9 hour bus ride. After our flat tire incident on our way to Cali, we felt that although it was fun to have one incident, one was enough. Well it turns out the first was just our training exercise for South American bus rides. This time it wasn´t a flat, but a much stranger incident. To be specific, as we were peacefully cruising through the Colombian Andes, we heard from a couple seats behind us, a thundering crash! There was little commotion from the other passengers so we thought someone just dropped a coke bottle on the floor.

The bus pulled to a halt and the driver began to move toward the back of the bus and inspect the incident. The driver quickly ran back to his seat and began driving on. I looked at my feet to find shards of glass sparkling from the floor, finding them more and more condensed as my eyes followed the center walkway toward the back of the bus. After a few minutes Laura decifered the commotion from the other passengers to find out that either a rock had been thrown at the bus or quite possibly a passing car kicked up a rock in travel, shattering the window, and sending shards of glass about the entire cabin! In a few minutes the bus came upon a bus stop in which we all departed and ate dinner while the crew cleaned the bus of broken glass and taped the window shut with cardboard. The most remarkable thing about the incident was the tranquility of the people who were the most affected. The two women sitting next to the shattered window simply picked out of the broken glass from their cheeks, washed their faces, and shook out their clothes like it was nothing at all.Well, so much for a flat tire. Nonetheless, the bus continued on, one window short, on our moonlit mountain climb to the city of Pasto. PA080047.jpg

Posted by lramos1 12:32 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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