Location: Guayaquil, Ecuador
¨This is the End¨ by The Doors keeps coming in & out of my head. Maybe a little melodramatic but it is one crazy feeling to be returning home.
Ive wrote probably a million words on here, half of it gibbering tosh. How do I sum it up after nearly 2 years?
Ive seen some very famous landmarks; The Great Wall, Ayers Rock, Kruger Park & Macchu Picchu. Some, not so famous; The Tiger Leaping Gorge, Karijini National Park & Ciudad Perdida.
But for me, its the people that have made it.
Everywhere Ive been, Ive encountered overly friendly people and had some amazing experiences as a result. Its a daily event but here are a few that come to mind:
Sitting in Forbidden City, Beijing: Only my 2nd day in China & an old man sits next to me & puts his arm around me. Bit disturbed, I grab my pockets only to see his wife holding out a camera. Then his whole tour group of about 30 line up for a snap with the white trash.
On a typically overcrowded train in China: I showed my camera to the guy in the next bed who proceeded to pass to the next guy who passed it to the next guy & so on. About an hour later, it came back on the other side of the train with hundreds of nodding approvals. The same guy then walked me to Shanghai underground & paid for my ticket.
Crammed into a 12 seater mini bus with 30 Vietnamese guys in rural Vietnam: Getting an overnighter to Ho Chi Minh, every single local was putting fags, fruit & chocolate in my mouth wanting me to accept theirs. During the night I had one guy on each thigh & 2 on my chest.
Playing 5 a side football in Hanoi: A guy who worked at the hotel had taken me around the city, including a visit to his house & then to play 5 a-side with his mates. During the game, one of the little fellas knocked me off my feet to halls of laughter & high fives from our game & adjacent ones too!
Australian hospitality: Met at Perth airport by virtual stranger, Mardi. She put me up for 2 months & gave me a job. Knocked on strangers doors up the west coast and got shown around. Lived my last 5 weeks in Melbourne rent free as my housemates put me up, even had a mate stay for a week at one stage too!
Kiwi reaction times: Getting out maps in New Zealand knowing full well where I was, just to be amazed at how quickly a local would react. On average about 6 seconds, no joke!
Bienvenidos Columbia: Met 3 separate Columbians on a bus from Ecuador and was subsequently put up by 3 different families in 3 different towns for a week. Shown around, fed, given a bed when there was no bed, laundry done, the lot. For what? Just to feel at home in their country.
Part time Columbian father: A black mother placing her young daughter on my lap to sleep on an overnight bus. No worries of kiddy fiddling, racism or all that bullshit, just simple trust. Even the little girl wasnt put out by sleeping on a strange looking gringo.
As I said, theres many more, including with fellow travellers, but theyre some that came to my head just now. One thing that has just stood out to me & is worth noting for any future travel, all these experiences came alone & most, off the beaten track.
In such a ´dangerous´ World full of paranoia, Ive encountered absolutely no problems in 2 years (with the exception of cheeky scamp robbing my wallet in Cambodia). Im the slackest f--ker around too. Never worn a money belt. Left bags alone, on buses, in hostels or with strangers. Ive walked to the middle of nowhere with locals, stayed in random houses, jumped in random taxis , kissed random girls ;-)
Am I dead hard and own the face of a mad dog? No Im stupid and very lucky but also I dont suffer from paranoia and trust people when 99% of people are worth trusting.
As for future travel, who knows. Obviously there will always be a desire to do more but Im also realistic to the fact that these opportunities wont always exist, especially as I get older.
Its not financially or mentally sustainable so Ill have to spend some time in some sort of routine. And if I do go? I still want to see India & Central Asia, & south Argentina & Brazil in South America. Then theres Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North America and a strange desire to backpack the UK. Jeez, Ive not seen anything!
Well, Ill call it a day & enjoy my last uncomfortable nights sleep. Thank you to everyone that has kept reading my bullshit and left messages, theyve definitely helped. Any readers that dont know me, Im honestly not a complete whinging cynical arsehole. Its my bizarre style of humour!
Monday, I was crossing the Columbian border. Yesterday, I was white water rafting. Today; I was eating Ecuadorian chicken whilst the restaurant owners family looked around desperately for their Bee Gees CD to impress me. Sunday, Ill be wrapped up in my bed eating my mums porridge
Location: Baņos, Ecuador
No more long bus journeys, woo hoo. No more border crossings, woo hoo. Cold, grey & long nights, boo hoo. Well thats apart from a 6 hour bus ride & 15 hour flight, but thats almost enjoyable.
As expected, not much else to report from Cali. Friday night was a bit of a washout as it was a bunch of horny gringos jumping from one club to the next looking for single girls.
Sat night was much better as just 3 of us went out & I put my foot down saying we were staying in the first club we got to. It was a funky alternative ´electronica´ club and I got talking to most of the club including the DJ who falsely kept promising to play New Orders ´Blue Monday.´
Other than that went to a pretty good Zoo, which gave me a nice realisation of how much wildlife Ive actually seen in the wild since leaving.
I was very sad to be leaving Columbia after 5 brilliant weeks. The people were amazing; friendly, funny & very approachable. The scenery was beautiful; tropical to alpine. I didnt encounter one single moment of fear despite all the bullshit of it being one of the Worlds most dangerous countries. In fact, it was the most hassle free country Ive been to in South America.
And as for the girls
One of my mottos is `never visit the same place twice. ` A, as theres so much else to see & B, because it wont be as good the 2nd time around. However, I can envisage a return to Columbia & I wouldnt even rule out spending considerable time in Medillin.
All this & Im at the end of my trip, thus at my most cynical.
I probably shouldnt talk it up as the lack of tourism is probably half the reason its so great.
With not a whole lot of time til my flight home & quite a lot of distance to cover, I decided to do most of it straight.
Started with an overnight bus through Guerrilla territory (I can say that shit now as in a few days all my mother will have to worry about is getting a bottle of Bud wrapped around my face ´darn tarn´).
Got to the Columbian border where the power went off for 3 hours whilst I was queuing for my exit stamp. Finally got into Ecuador where I was subject to 3 roadblock bag searches! The first being particularly unpleasant as an Ecuadorian sniffer got his pinkie out & rubbed it all over my backpack. Luckily my Spanish isn`t too bad these days so I was able to explain the copious amounts of unmarked coffee & stolen army cap!
6 buses later, I arrived here in Baños, a beautiful Ecuadorian town set in a valley overlooked by an enormous volcano.
Today, I went hiking up into the hills to get a view of the town & a closer look at the very active volcano. It actually started to erupt about 5 years ago & the town was evacuated but things are only on yellow alert these days but they still think it could be anyday. In fact, theres been ash in the air all day which has pissed off my eyes.
Was a good energetic hike & I had soup & tea with a friendly farmer up in the hills. After getting back down, I thought Id enjoy one of the towns natural hot spas (´Baños´ means ´bathes´ in Spanish). The water was bloody 55 degrees and the locals were certainly amused as I went plum red.
One more day here where Im going to go white water rafting. Can do it anywhere in the World but I never actually have so should be fun. Then its to Guayaquil for my flight.
Look out for another entry either from Guayaquil or England, plenty more spiel left in me yet!
Location: Cali, Colombia
Ron & Putas (rum & whores), that`s the topic for this weekend.
Got to Salento on Monday morning & passed out for most of the day.
After a heavy weekend in Bogota & being kept up all night on the night bus by Alfredo, a friendly old fella wanting to tell me everything he knew about Columbia, I felt almost jetlagged.
I did manage a stroll to look at the beautiful surroundings of Salento & to people watch the cool looking locals in their cowboy hats & wellies.
Went off on a proper walk on Tuesday up to Cocora Valley. Absolutely beautiful green spot and quite unique. Highlighted by crazy looking 50 metre waxy palm trees. Bought a load of beautiful coffee from the local coffee plantations too.
Wasn`t sure what to do after Salento as basically the only plan is to be back in Guayaquil by next week. So in the end, with my birthday being yesterday, I thought I`d return to Cali (salsa capital) for yet more partying. Well, I may aswell live it up for my last days.
Cali was my first stop in Columbia an unbelievable 4 weeks ago but I`m staying in a totally different area. Last time, I crashed in a local suburb with the hospitable Nancy & family. This time, I`m in the ultra modern upper class part spending silly money in cafes. Needless to say I preferred the local experience but civilization isn`t all bad when you`re on the sauce.
Ended up getting an alright crowd together last night as a few English & an Aussie guy I`ve met previously, were fortunately in town.
After some top notch tapas, I splashed out on a litre carton of rum. I absolutely love Columbian rum so no better way to get the night started. Things never really kicked off as every suburb of Cali we went to was half empty or full of hookers. Ended up beating the 3 a.m. Cali curfew in some bizarre huge Salsa club out of town. Was alright but hoping for better things for the weekend.
So that`s about it, more rum & dancing ahoy for the weekend. Will hopefully get some more photos of Columbian girls although I wasn`t having much success meeting any last night.
English Clive summed it up ¨Ash, not every girl is a give `un you know & you`ll certainly need to get use to that before next week.¨
Location: Bogota, Colombia
Did very little in Taganga apart from chill out on the beach & attempt at ridding the pasty English skin.
Cracking spot to rest as most of South America, unlike Asia, is devoid of beach towns.
I did head to Santa Marta market one day which was quite amusing. I really wanted to get a CD of one of my favourite Columbian songs. Only knowing the track, one guy eventually rocked up with a triple CD of a Columbian boyband. Only a quid so I still bought it despite the embarrassment. Then I was subject to a sexual assault by 3 girls in one stall. One dragged me in & they started doing that revolting North African hissing in my ears & trying to cup my balls. The girls were desperate for some gringo action up on the coast, possibly with it being a poorer region of Columbia.
Being completely rejuvenated, I began my long trek back to Ecuador with a bus to the capital, Bogota.
Got here on Thursday & was shocked by the drop in temperature, feels freezing compared to up north.
Didn`t do a whole lot, met up with 2 Aussies & had a few before passing out.
Possessing possibly one of the scummiest backpack wardrobes around, I went on a crazy shopping spree on Friday ready for a return to image consciousness.
I hopped on a bus to far out Bogota armed with little info of where to shop. I asked a local businesswoman, Paula, who ended up saying she`d accompany me after doing a bit of business. Very much the Columbian way so I went with. After pissing about in different offices where the staff where quite bemused by my presence, I said I had to get off shopping. Hopped in cab where she decided to tell the driver her dilemma of having a fella but not knowing whether she should sleep with me or not! Came to me as a shock as I`d never once implied that was what I wanted. A bloody 28 year old accountant, Columbian girls are nuts. Anyway I eventually aborted to the shopping centre & said I`d call her later (lying in such situations is the only way here!).
I ended spending a small fortune on new clobber & somehow came out resembling a football hooligan.
Friday night, looking smooth, me, Lael (Argie), Scott (Oz) & some Greek nutjob headed off into Zona Risa, a posh suburb of bars. We ended up in the Ministry of Sound with English DJ`s. I had a great night as I`ve been deprived of house music for a long time. Met some sound locals & ended up home well after sunrise.
A bit knackered, me & Lael headed up to a lookout point later on. Took an hour & half, & combined with altitude, was a killer. Then the shite Bogota weather hit & we got crap views.
Last night, a load of us from the hostel headed to `Andreas Carne de Res.` This is a massive restaurant/salsa club on the outskirts of town & was very different to owt I`d seen before. Over 1000 people pile into this one place to eat amazing steaks, dance the night away & rinse the bank account. It was expensive for me so you can imagine the rich & pretty clientele it attracted. Great fun & another late night so today has been the usual mewing around not really seeing much of Bogota with it raining half the time.
Am off to Solento tonight in the Coffee Region. Suppose to be beautiful so looking forward to it. After that, probably bomb to Ecuador as the end is nigh.
Location: Taganga, Colombia
No more bloody trekking for me I tell thee.
Mud, rain, mossies, deep burn of the calves and a throat infection... I loved it.
After my glands became the size of golf balls the day before, I debated whether going into the middle of the jungle with no insurance cover (thanks to the hypocritical British foreign office) was a wise idea. However, after a chat with our guide, Castro, some anti biotics from the pharmacist who said I had to `stop kissing dirty girls,` I went ahead with it.
First day was a bit knackering, feeling rough, getting caught in a storm & constantly falling in the mud. After that I was in full swing enjoying it.
It felt like a real adventure, with very few other trekkers, climbing over rocks, drinking from streams, sleeping in hammocks & crossing several flowing rivers.
I loved interacting with people along the way. I quite often got chatting to the young soldiers guarding the site who were basically just bored cowboys. I even cheekily got a few photos with them, played with their AK47`s & stole one of their caps for a souvenir. One night, a group of them slept in hammocks next to us & just left all their loaded rifles & grenades underneath the hammocks!
Other people along the way were the indigenous Kogis who still live quite primitively & were interesting to learn a bit about.
2nd day, a Coca farmer took a few of us to cocaine cookery school which was an experience! We basically helped him make some coke from scratch & some of the ingredients weren`t too appetising! I.e. Gasoline, magnesium & sulphuric acid. He let us keep what we cooked up so it ended up being a cheap demonstration!
As for the Lost City, it definitely wasn`t as grand as Macchu Picchu (60% of which has been rebuilt), but I definitely got more of a feeling for the place as it hasn`t lost it`s natural allure. Trekking high up into the jungle for 3 days just showed how remote it was & being the only ones wondering around made it a great experience.
Sure there`s other things worth mentioning but they`re not coming to my head so I`ll leave it there for the trek.
Got back into town on Saturday & after 6 days in the wilderness, it was off out on the booze into Santa Marta with some of my trekking group.
Ended up being a late one as I ended up away from my group celebrating a Venezuelan girl`s birthday with a few of her mates, into Sunday morning.
I`d obviously mentioned where I was staying cos they rocked up to my room again yesterday, interrupting a much needed siesta.
In no rush to leave Taganga despite time ticking away & a long trip back to Ecuador ahead. It`s a really friendly, relaxed place with cloudless days on the beach. I absolutely love the Columbians, whether it`s the lady making my maracuya juice, the laundry man or the girls who patiently try to teach me to rumba, they`re all extremely friendly and just want to chat without any alterior motives.