River Dolphins, Amazonic Piranhas, and Floating Towns

13 05 2013

After posting my last blog entry I walked up to the super market and gathered supplies that I would need to last me until I reached the town of Yurimaguas. The plan discussed by Agustin of Argentina, Christian of Switzerland, and I, Taylorito, of Canada, was that we would make our way to the boat as quickly as possible no matter how terrible and long the journey would come to be. It turned out the journey was quite a bit more horrible than we had expected but we all still made it to our destination town of Yurimaguas in one piece. Along the way we had a tire explode right on the side of a very steep cliff. The next morning we spent several hours waiting outside of a bus station in a far from secure neighbourhood in the middle of the night, and even rode for 4 hours in the back of a pick-up truck in the pouring rain. It is amazing what you can get done when you just keep on trucking.

Here is Agustin of Argentina, Christian of Switzerland, and myself in the back of the pick-up getting ready for hour 4 hour ride to Yurimaguas in the pouring rain

Here is Agustin of Argentina, Christian of Switzerland, and myself in the back of the pick-up getting ready for our ride to Yurimaguas in which it poured rain for about 3 hours out of the four hour journey.

Christian snapped a shot of us goofing around underneath the tarp as we stood on the back of the pickup holding onto a tarp to try and keep us dry. Lots of laughs, always.

Christian snapped a shot of us goofing around underneath the tarp as we stood on the back of the pickup holding onto a tarp to try and keep us dry. Lots of laughs, always.

Christian attempting to sleep in a bus terminal in Turjillo at 5:00 a.m. as we wait for our 11:15 a.m. bus. About 5 minutes after I took this picture this dirty looking homeless dog came and licked his mouth.

Christian attempting to sleep in a bus terminal in Trujillo at 5:00 a.m. as we wait for our 11:15 a.m. bus. About 5 minutes after I took this picture this dirty looking homeless dog came and licked his mouth.

Upon arrival in Yurimaguas, we made our way to the docks where ships were being loaded up with supplies in preperation for their trip down into the Amazon. We found a ship/ferry that would allow us to sling up hammocks on the top deck. The journey was to start by making our way down the Rio Huallaga, onto the Rio Maranon and finally onto the Rio Amazonas where we travel another 60 kilometres along the Amazon River into the city of Iquitos. All in all the slow boat ride down the river took 2 nights and 3 days and during the ride I was able to see some beautiful scenery, wildlife, and of course, I was able to meet more great people.

After being assured that the boat was to leave the same day we arrived we still were all too used to the way things really work down in Latin America. We paid the captain each close to $40 in order to sling up hammocks,  as well as be fed breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the entire journey. We even were given a small cabin/prison cell (for a small fee) that we could put all of our bags into in order to ensure nothing was stolen by locals using the boat as well. As expected, there seemed to be little to no danger of anyone searching through your stuff at any time of the day but we still used the cell since we had already paid. Also as expected, the boat continued to be loaded throughout the night and well into the next day so our journey did not start until 6 p.m. the next evening. We did not have to pay extra for our night on board as we waited and it actually gave us more time to check out the freshly caught piranhas in the market the next morning. After eating some food and grabbing lots of fruits (especially grenediyahs) we made our way back to the boat to wait for them to load the last supplies onto the boat. As we waited many river dolphins played around in the waters near our boat and continued to follow us as we made our way down river and further into the Amazon Rainforest.

It was at 6 p.m. that evening that we began our trip down the river and from the beginning I was absolutely thrilled with my last minute decision to travel into the Amazon. This was the first tiem on my entire trip that I was truly forced to just relax. There was no wi-fi to absorb yourself in, no mountain to go and hike, no waves to surf, and no party to attend. All that I did was stand out along the sides and front of the boat and watch the beautiful rainforest surrounding me. River dolphins were to be spotted in the river surrounding us, keen eyes were able to see parrots in the trees, and if you kept your ears open monkeys were busy howling away.

A river dolphin swimming around the boat. It is not easy to get a nice photo of these guys.

A river dolphin swimming around the boat. It is not easy to get a nice photo of these guys.

As we were cruising there was a pod of river dolphins playfully following our boat.

As we were cruising there was a pod of river dolphins playfully following our boat.

Relaxing on the boat with Audrey and Manu as we make our way down the Amazon River

Relaxing on the boat with Audrey and Manu as we make our way down the Amazon River for a 3 day “cruise”. Only a small group of backpackers were on board this boat but most locals really enjoyed sticking to themselves. There was even a group of about 20 Haitians on board who spoke no English or Spanish so were very difficult to communicate with. Manu and Audrey of France were able to communicate a little and were tod that they were heading into the Brazilian Amazon in order to search for work.

These rivers that we are traveling down are not these skinny rivers covered up by a canopy high above us that you may be imagining. Remember I was traveling in a big supply ship not a skinny little canoe. The rivers were at least 2 kilometres wide at even the most narrow section. As we made our way onto the Amazon the river widened to about 3 kilometres wides but never got close to its maximum width. Further down the Amazon River nearing the coast of Brazil, the Amazon River has been recorded as being up to 40 kilometres wide! Food was served at roughly 7:00, 11:30, and 17:00 daily. Although the food was far from gourmet, it was more than sufficient to satisfy ones hunger.

Another day further into the Amazon Jungle for Christian, Agustin, and myself.

Another day further into the Amazon Jungle for Christian, Agustin, and myself.

Arrival in Iquitos came as a big shock to all of us. Iquitos is the largest city in the world that is unaccesible by road. at close to 400,000 inhabitants this exotic city is hot, humid, polluted, and just overall chaotic. That being said, I absolutely loved the place. It seemed that only moto-taxis were allowed to be driven there, no body had any place to be if they weren’t working on the ports. They also seemed to love to party. Although many people have indigenous languages as their first language, Spanish still was spoken by all and people were more than happy to hear news about what is going on in Canada or even just outside of the Amazon  Rainforest. It is amazing how many people from all over the world you met in the town of Iquitos that have been there for months just hanging out. Although it is chaotic, secluded, and humid, people seem to be drawn into the uniqueness of this city and have a difficult time bidding it farewell.

It seemed that mototaxis were the only form of transportation in the city. There were very few official moto-taxi drivers but pretty much anyone would pick you up as soon as you turn to the street to make eye contact with one.

It seemed that mototaxis were the only form of transportation in the city. There were very few official moto-taxi drivers but pretty much anyone would pick you up as soon as you turn to the street to make eye contact with them.

Unfortunately during my journey down river I lost my debit card and no where in town would take credit card as payment for a tour further into the jungle. I luckily was able to receive some money from an amazing couple by the names of Adam and Kate of England. Don’t worry, I sent money to their Paypal account but we did all laugh a little about the amount of effort I would have been putting into conning them for a few hundred dollars. With only a few weeks left in my trip I decided not to worry about being sent a new access card from my bank and just try to pay for everything I could with my Visa card. I only had to borrow money one more time and had no further issues on that front.

During my time in Iquitos I spent a lot of time at this shacked area on the Amazon River and searching for fried Piranha. The city hugs along the side of the Amazon River and many houses are even floating up and down with the river as the wet season comes and goes. Because I was there during the wet season the Amazon Forest surrounding the city of Iquitos is completely flooded and so canoes can be used to navigate the jungle. We were able to borrow a canoe often from a guy who had built himself a hostel on the river. The reason so many people build their houses and businesses along the water is not because of practicality. In reality, the reason that these huts are built along the river are because it is free to do so. It is technically illegal to do so but with entire shanty-towns built along the rivers and its extreme seclusion from the rest of Peru, there is very little that the government is able to do.

One of the nicer sections of Belen on the Amazon River

One of the nicer sections of Belen on the Amazon River

It is amazing how many people from all over the world you met in the town of Iquitos that have been there for months just hanging out. Although it is chaotic, secluded, and humid, people seem to be drawn into the uniqueness of this city and have a difficult time bidding it farewell.

When searching for a good hostel for our time in Iquitos we made our way down to the ‘hostel’ on the river. Although the hostel on the river was an excellent spot to hang out at, the lack of running water as well as lack of sleeping accommodation made it an unideal spot for Christian and myself. They even had to shower in the amazon river which is far from your ideal bath water. However, the hostel owner was very chill and the reason I put the word hostel in quatations before is because it can only very loosely be titled a hostel. Upon first arrival when we asked how much it was to stay each night his reply was “How much would you like to pay?”. We asked for 5 soles each ($2 USD) and he replied with “Sure.” It turns out he had spent the last 7 years constructing the hut and only had to pay for the lumber and nails he had used to create it. Remember that all of the land along the river is illegal to build on and there are no property taxes.

The 'hostel' on the river where we would spend a lot of our time relaxing and figuring out plans for the day.

The ‘hostel’ on the river where we would spend a lot of our time relaxing and figuring out plans for the day.

A little piranha fishing is a nice way to fill up some spare time.

A little piranha fishing is a nice way to fill up some spare time.

Christian and I ended up staying at a brand new hostel called Toe for $6 USD a night and were even given towels with the tags still on them to prove how new the hostel was (for those of you who know, I actually would much prefer an old [and clean] towel over a new one waiting to throw all of its fluff into your facial hair and then refuse to dry you). It was also nice because even though the dorm room was meant for 10 people it was just Christian and me in there the entire time. Best shower head of the entire trip and comfy ass beds; great decision.

One Sunday morning Christian and I awoke after a nice relaxing evening laying out with our monkey, the stray dogs, stray cats, and our other gypsy/backpacker friends. We felt fresh and ready to do something exciting for the day, and Christian had just the thing in mind for us. We made our way down to the ‘hostel’ on the river as had become our usual routine and tried to rally the troops for an epic adventure to the shantytown along the water. Christian had heard about a place the year before that was on the outskirts of Iquitos and one of the most wild parties on the planet. He had also been told that Sunday afternoon was the best time to go. Somehow our relaxed friends at the ‘hostel’ on the river were content with canoeing around and relaxing in the hammocks for the day and so after about an hour Christian and I made our way to the floating town of Belen.

Here is a picture of the floating shanty-town, Belen,  on the outskirts of the city of Iquitos on the Amazon River. Building houses on the Amazon River is illegal so the people here are able to evade property taxes. Life is difficult in this district and most people have hardly enough to make it through the day.

Here is a picture of the floating shanty-town, Belen, on the outskirts of the city of Iquitos on the Amazon River. Building houses on the Amazon River is illegal so the people here are able to evade property taxes. Life is difficult in this district and most people have hardly enough to make it through the day.

Upon arrival at the the boat launch we hopped out of the moto-taxi and were instantly the celebrities of Belen. Kids came running up to us asking us a million questions while men and women were trying to sell us food and get us to take their boat out to our party location. We ended up hopping onto a boat and making our way through this town built on the Amazon River and realizing we were in a place very unique but also very poor. Everyone was amazed to see two ‘western’ faces moving through the town as we made our way to the open part of the Amazon River. Once we made it past the last few houses and the river competely opened up. It was at this moment that we saw the floating discoteca named “Climax” that was located in the centre of the Amazon River.

There were at least 7 boats already pushed up against the discoteca humming their motors in order not to get taken down stream by the current. The shack on the river was completely packed and the music was blaring. Christian and I needed to walk from boat to boat in order to get on board this floating discoteca that somehow Christian had been told about. The bouncers quickly noticed us coming up to the entrance and were quick to push others out of the way who clearly had been waiting for a while to come in. We could not have stood out anymore and soon everyone was staring at us, high-fiving us, splashing water at us playfully, or trying to pick-pocket us. The craziest part about this discoteca is due to the fact that Sunday afternoon was the busiest time for the club, the water was close to reaching our waists. Even upon arrival into the club the MC who stands above everyone with all of the electronics shouted out over the microphone “Bienvenidos Los Estados Unidos!” or “Welcome America!”. We were soon able to explain that we came from Switzerland and Canada and soon had 2 litre bottles of some type of alcoholic energy drink which actually had the same name a the bar, “Climax”. Being in such a poor part of the city, the beers were very cheap but the problem was that some of the people who were coming up to dance with me were also doing there best to get into my pocket and take my camera and wallet.

Soon we assembled a security team of 5 friends who were probably around 18 or 20. Really nice boys who were more than happy to watch out for us as long as we bought them a few beers. With our new friends/security I was able to relax and really enjoy the party. The music was some of the best I experienced my entire trip and all of the people were so friendly towards Christian and I. The beers flowed a little more freely than I had first expected and soon was down to hardly enough money to make it home. Fortunately, somebody ended up stealing my last 8 soles ($3.25 USD) and forced Christian and I to leave due to the fact that he only had 10 soles ($4 USD) left. All in all, “Climax”, the floating discoteca in the middle of the Amazon River was by far the most unique party location I have ever been to.

The next day I packed up my stuff and made my way to the airport in order to fly off to Lima. I am seriously going to miss Christian, Agustin and all of the others I met on my adventure down into the Amazon. The journey was unforgettable and the exploration we did together once we arrived at Iquitos was fascinating. For now it was a flight to Lima and then a 21 hour bus ride up to Cuzco, the capital city of the Incas. You can imagine I had quite a few great memories to dream of as a fell asleep in the bus on the way into the Andes and up to the city of Cuzco.

Enjoying the sunset with two of my favorite people on my trip, Kathy and Adam of England. Their generosity and kindness were never eclipsed during my travels.

Enjoying the sunset along the Amazon with two of my favorite people on my trip, Kathy and Adam of England. Their generosity and kindness were never eclipsed during my travels.





Loki Nights and the Peak of Peru

1 04 2013

I know I ended my last entry by telling everyone that my knee was feeling better and that Will, Olli, and I were all heading seperate ways but let me tell you what actually occurred. After I finished crushing out my blog entry on Panama, Montanita and Banos, we all made our way down to the bus station to figure out what bus each one of us needed to catch. After about 30 minutes of walking around and checking out the different options we all decided to haul ass down to Mancora, Peru together. It was pretty funny how we all were looking to do different things but then realized that we couldnt live without each other. All we knew was Mancora was the perfect place to be for Friday and Saturday night and that we had a lot of buses to catch in order to get there.

After deciding to split up, I went to the Bridge of Love in Banos in order to remember the amazing times that Olli, Will and I had experienced together. It turned out that Olli amd Will both had gone to the Bridge of Love on their own in order to do the same. It was here tha twe decided to travel to Peru together.

After deciding to split up, I went to the Bridge of Love in Banos in order to remember the amazing times that Olli, Will and I had experienced together. It turned out that Olli amd Will both had gone to the Bridge of Love on their own in order to do the same. It was here tha twe decided to travel to Peru together.

After booking our tickets to Guayaquil (the largest city in Ecuador), I then went to the hospital in order to get my stitches removed and carry on with my trip. Unfortunately, my stitches ended up being incredibly infected and needed to be removed immediately. I will always remember talking to the doctor and mistaking her explanation of the situation. My medical Spanish is far from expert and when she was telling me that she had to remove the stitches in order to stop the infection I thought that she was telling me that they would have to remove my leg. I dont know if my heart has ever pumped that fast before in my entire life. Anyways, this doctor thoroughly cleaned my knee and told me to buy some rubbing alcohol in order to get rid of the infection and I was on my way with no charge because Ecuador has free health care for EVERYBODY.

Olli and I were only asleep for a few minutes and someone managed to kill Will as the bus was stopping for a bathroom break.

Olli and I were only asleep for a few minutes and someone managed to kill Will as the bus was stopping for a bathroom break.

We hopped on our bus that night at 7:00 p.m. and after 4 different busses, participating in the most bizzarre tsunami drill at the Peruvian border, and experiencing an aggressive attempt to get thoroughly ripped off (or Gringo`d), we arrived at 5:30 p.m. in Mancora, Peru. This town is one of those black hole places that every country in Latin America has. Nicaragua has San Juan del Sur, Panama has Bocas del Toro, Colombia has Taganga, Ecuador has Montanita, and Peru has Mancora. All of these places consist of beaches and parties every single night. The reason I call these places black holes is because you meet some backpackers there that only planned to be there for 4 days and when they finally look at a calendar they realize that it has been 3 months and they have only slept for a total of 86 hours. Now just because some people take the party a little too seriously does not mean that you also have to. These black holes are must do`s on the backpacker circuit but just make sure you get yourself out of there after a week at the most. Traveling has so much more to offer than just the party towns but there is no denying that the party is one hell of a good time.

Here is a picture of the hostal that we stayed at in Mancora. Maybe now you can better understand why people get stuck in beach towns such as this one.

Here is a picture of the hostal that we stayed at in Mancora. Maybe now you can better understand why people get stuck in beach towns such as this one.

But I digress, we fluked out and were able to secure a spot at Loki Hostal which is by far the most popular hostal in Mancora. Upon walking in you felt like you were on a Greek island surrounded by bright white buildings, a swimming pool and an awesome bar. The second place you feel like you are in is Scandinavia as I swear that 80% of the people there were from Denmark. This wasn`t a problem because Danes are great people to party with but it definitely was lacking in Peruvian culture. Even upon meeting a group of Argentinians they explained the difficulties they were having ordering a drink from the bar because nobody spoke Spanish.

It may sound like I am complaining but honestly we were all more then aware of what the place was going to be like and decided to just embrace the social atmosphere at Loki Hostal. Being Friday night Olli, Will and I made our way out for dinner and ate our go to quarter chicken and salad while sharing a nice $6 bottle of rum. Later on we made our way back to the hsotel in order to meet up with all of our new friends at the bar and then left for the discotecas. The discotecas all ended up being side by side on the beach without walls where the front door should be. Somehow the music didn`t blend and board shorts and thongs were mandatory apparel.

Even though Loki Hostal only consisted of Scandinavians it turns out that even Danes are dangerous in Latin America as Will was attacked and killed on his way to change for the evening.

Even though Loki Hostal only consisted of Scandinavians it turns out that even Danes are dangerous in Latin America as Will was attacked and killed on his way to change for the evening. I have to admit that the bar was right behind me in this picture and everyone was very confused as to what exactly we were doing.

At 6:00 a.m. the next morning Will and I woke up to Olli, the toughest Fin in the southern hemisphere, groaning and calling for an ambulance. Will and I were quick to take action and soon had an ambulance (which was just a regular pick-up truck) there to pick Olli up. He ended up being diagnosed with Gastritis Anguda which still means nothing to anyone of us and they were able to release him by 5:00 p.m. that night.

While Olli was in the hospital I decided to take advantage of the situation and have my knee looked at by a second doctor. My Peruvian doctor took a look at my knee and then told me that my Ecuadorian doctor in Banos was an idiot and that I needed antibiotics and not rubbing alcohol. I finished my antibiotics on Friday afternoon and my knee seems to be healing slowly but surely.

Out for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants with Olli, myself, Will and the super guapo Devin Delany

Out for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants with Olli, myself, Will and the super guapo Devin Delany

At 4:00 a.m. Devin Delany finally arrived outside our hostel to find Will and I outside waiting for him. We sat and chatted for awhile catching up but soon made our way to bed in order to prepare for a day of sun. With Olli and I both on antibiotics we all took the next few days pretty easy a part from the epic doubles games we had on the Ping Pong table. By the time we were ready to move on Will and Olli were feeling well under the weather and to make matters worse Devin was able to obtain food poisoning. We were all on our way to Lima but decided to stop in Chicolyo for a day to see some ruins and continue on our way that evening. Unfortunately Devin was stuck in bed all day and Will and Olli decided to follow suit. It was at that moment we all realized that we were in need of different things. Olli and Will went with Devin to Lima in order to relax and start to feel like normal again and I decided I needed a little more adventure.

I decided to make my way up to Huaraz which is located in the western-Andes and is only a hike away from the highest point in Peru. I arrived in Chimbote at 5 a.m. without a clue of where the bus was going to drop me off. After seeing the city as the bus passed through I was more than relieved to be dropped off at an actual terminal. After waiting for 3 cold hours alone in the terminal I was finally able to catch a bus at 8:00 a.m. to Huaraz. I was without a doubt the only foreigner on the bus and due to this I was quite the attraction for the kids of the bus. The ride up was more than epic as we made our way from sea level up to 3200 metres where the town of Huaraz is situated.

A great view to show just how  high up in the Andes this city is located. At just over 3000 metres this city still is home to close to 400,000 people.

A great view to show just how high up in the Andes this city is located. At just over 3000 metres this city still is home to close to 400,000 people.

Here is a picture of one of my biggest fans during my 6 hour bus ride from Chimbote to Huaraz. Her name was very appropriately Angela and anytime I tried to fall asleep she would grab my nose.

Here is a picture of one of my biggest fans during my 6 hour bus ride from Chimbote to Huaraz. Her name was very appropriately Angela and anytime I tried to fall asleep she would grab my nose. She sat facing me like this the entire ride.

Over the next few days I went on some epic heights even reaching a laguna that was 4600 metres above sea-level. It was only on my second day that I reached this altitude and although I never thought it would happen to me, I had a terrible feeling of altitude sickness throughout my body. To make matters worse we ended up waiting at 4000 metres for an extra 4 hours as we waited for two Korean girls to make there way down the mountain. We all thought that they had gotten lost and sent out a rescue team but it turned out they were actually just the world`s slowest hikers.

Here is the crew that we assembled in order to hike up to Laguna 69. Yes, those are the Korean girls that broke the world record for slowest hike to Laguna 69.

I only posted this picture in order to warn you not to go hiking with the two Korean girls. I am pretty sure they have been awarded the slowest hikers to ever come out of Korea.

Here is Agustin from Argentina and I posing as we climb up towards Laguna 69.

Here is Agustin from Argentina and I posing as we climb up towards Laguna 69. Why the purple pants? Because to me it seems that any bad-ass hiking picture always consists of purple pants, a pink backpack, or a lime green tuque.

Here I am in fornt of Laguna 69 at over 4600 metres. Altitude got the best of me a few hours later but I could not have been more impressed by Laguna 69 at the bottom of a massive glacier.

Here I am in front of Laguna 69 at over 4600 metres. Altitude sickness got the best of me a few hours later but I could not have been more impressed by this lagoon sitting at the bottom of a massive glacier.

On the way back down we were able to snap a picture of some wild Alpaca´s. Something about these animals really makes you feel like you are in Peru.

On the way back down we were able to snap a picture of some wild Alpaca´s. Something about these animals really makes you feel like you are in Peru.

There were even a couple of cows waiting for us near where we left the van in order to go hiking.

There were even a couple of cows waiting for us near where we left the van in order to go hiking.

A quick stop at Laguna Querococha sitting at 3980 metres in altitude. Not quite as colorful as Laguna 69 but still an incredible setting.

A quick stop at Laguna Querococha sitting at 3980 metres in altitude. Not quite as colorful as Laguna 69 but still an incredible setting.

Agustin snapped a picture of me as we began our climb away from town and towards a lagna where one can see a view of the famous Cordillera Blanca as well as the city of Huaraz

Agustin snapped a picture of me as we began our climb away from town and towards a lagna where one can see a view of the famous Cordillera Blanca as well as the city of Huaraz

The ruins of Chavin. these are from the year 1100 A.D. meaning that there was a kingdom in Peru even before the Incas had appeared.

The ruins of Chavin. these are from the year 1100 A.D. meaning that there was a kingdom in Peru even before the Incas had appeared.

Huaraz is one of the most unique cities i have experienced during my trip. The people are very indigenous looking and have a very traditional way of dressing. Also, right outside of our hostel is where they have the central market which sells next to everything. You can buy rabbits, chickens, pigs, and even guinea pigs. The guinea pig (or cuy) are a very popular meal up here in the Andes and so of course you know I had to try it.

Here is a picture of 3 women selling live chickens, rabbits, and guinea pigs directly outside of my hostal.

Here is a picture of 3 women selling live chickens, rabbits, and guinea pigs directly outside of my hostal.

Here is a picture of my fried Guineau Pig just before I chowed down. Skip this part if you don´t want to hear about how it tastes. It honestly had very little meat on it at all. I was easting this with 3 ladies who worked in the market in Lima and after asking whether or not I am supposed to eat the skin I proceeded to do so. The skin was tough as a rock and you could chew it forever. I think it is safe to say that I won´t be frying up any guinea pigs anytime soon.

Here is a picture of my fried Guineau Pig just before I chowed down. Skip this part if you don´t want to hear about how it tastes. It honestly had very little meat on it at all. I was easting this with 3 ladies who worked in the market in Lima and after asking whether or not I am supposed to eat the skin I proceeded to do so. The skin was tough as a rock and you could chew it forever. I think it is safe to say that I won´t be frying up any guinea pigs anytime soon.

The beautiful Plaza of Armas in the center of Huaraz. One of my favourite things about Latin America is that any town that has even just a few thousand people has a central plaza where everyone goes to relax and socialize.

The beautiful Plaza of Armas in the center of Huaraz. One of my favourite things about Latin America is that any town that has even just a few thousand people has a central plaza where everyone goes to relax and socialize.

So the part I have most been looking forward to in this blog is to tell you about my next adventure. I am going to be making my way down from Huaraz in a few hours and making my way towards the town of Yurimaguas. From there I am going to take a 3 day boat trip along a river until I reach the city of Iquitos located on the Amazon River. This will be the most adventurous journey of my trip taking me deep into the Amazon. I promise to take lots of photos and right a nice blog about how it is in the Amazon. Wish me luck everyone and I hope to update the blog as soon as I return from exploring the deep jungles surrounding the Amazon River.





Cloud Forests, Shark Fights and Waterfall Highway

20 03 2013

After an incredible week and a bit in Panama City with Alejandra my feet became a little fidgety and I decided to see what more the country of Panama had to offer me. I decided that I needed to get myself to the legendary surfer/backpacker´s haven known as Bocas Del Toro. Over the last week or so I had also been told about an amazing little jungle hostal known as Lost and Found and decided to make a pit stop for a few days on my way to the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Lost and Found is a unique hostel located in a dense forest in the middle of the mountains of northern Panama. Panama City has little wind and extremely hot temperatures so the idea of hiking around in a cloud forest with fresh rivers all over was very inticing.

Alejandra and I often brought the hostel dog Choco along with us as we enjoyed Panama City. We got him water shortly after I promise!

Alejandra and I often brought the hostel dog Choco along with us as we explored Panama City. We got him water shortly after I promise!

After nearly missing my 11 p.m. bus out of Panama City towards the city of David, I through on my reggaeton mix and fell unconsious almost immediately. I was awoken 3 times during the 7 and a half hour trip as national police came on board to check passports, pockets and bags of the passangers. I still managed to arriv in David right on schedule at 6:30 a.m.. After remembering that earlier in my travels I had promised myself to research more before departing for destinations; I realized that I forgot to do just that. Instead I walked around the bus station asking close to every person in there if they knew which bus I needed to take in order to get to this isolated Lost and Found Lodge. Finally, one bus driver new the name brought me to his bus heading up North to a town named Represa La Fortuna. I was luckily able to find the last possible spot available which required me to straddle an old man with my butt right in his face.

This was actually more a small van than a bus but at $3 for a 3 hour trip I never once thought to complain about standing. Actually, I found myself utterly excited to have a few days to explore this incredible cloud forest that a few others had been raving about. Along the way I managed to fall asleep while standing and collapse onto the lap of the old man behind me not once but twice. After being dropped off on the side of the highway and being told to start walking up a small trail leading straight up a mountain I said gracias and began my ascent. With signs every 150 metres or so I slowly made my way closer and closer to this isolated lodge in the middle of the pouring rain. After about 30 minutes I finally arrived at a somewhat open area of the forest with a few huts and continued to make my way to the largest one. I ended up meeting 6 happy campers and a few volunteers sitting at a covered picnic table, drinking fresh organic coffee and waiting for the rain to die down. There ended up being nearly as many volunteers as backpackers  (about 9 volunteers and 11 hikers) but everyone really got along well.

The view from the Lost and Found Lodge on a mountain in the middle of a cloud forest. The sun is actually setting directly over Volcan Baru at this moment.

The view from the Lost and Found Lodge on a mountain in the middle of a cloud forest. The sun is actually setting directly over Volcan Baru at this moment.

I was eventually shown to my room where I was put on the top bunk in a room that was taller than it was wide. I should inform you that the top bunk was actaully on the  3rd level which made for an interesting climb when arriving late at night without a torch. Still being the late morning, I quickly switched into some dry clothes and headed out into the trails with my new Austrian friend Chris. With a map of all the trails available to us at reception we quickly remembered that we were men and that men don´t use maps. Instead  we took off with a backpack of water and our cameras. We were able to make great time as we explored all of the forest in search for the mountain river in order to have a swim and cool off. We viewed beautiful scenery as we not so confidently made our way towards the river. After locating the river we ended up jumping rock to rock up the river in search of a deep enough pool to swim in. We ended up coming across a massive swimming hole with rocks a perfect height to throw down some back flips. After a few extremely refreshing jumps we through on our bags and made our way back to camp.

Chris from Austria snapped a picture of me as we made our way up river to where they had a great cliff jumping spot

Chris from Austria snapped a picture of me as we made our way up river to where they had a great cliff jumping spot

With a fully stocked fridge and a checklist for each guest this lodge ended up running on an honour system. If you took an egg, you marked on your sheet that you had taken an egg and at the end of your visit you pay for everything. Anyways, after a 5 egg omelet I joined the hikers and volunteers to watch the sunset from our unbeatable view from the side of the mountain. The sun ended up dissappearing right behind the massive Volcan Baru far away in the distance. The funniest part about this was that once the sun was completely gone everyone moved over to the shack that one could call the bar. Happy Hour at Lost and Found turned out to be the entire night ($1 stiff rum and cokes) and Fusbal was the lodge sport. With only about 20 people in total at the lodge the bar was quite an intimate setting and allowed for everyone to really get to know one another. The bar shut down at around 12:30 a.m. and everyone made there way back to bed in order to rest their tired bodies for another beautiful day of hiking through nature.

This is Rocky the Honey Bear. He is a resident at the Lodge who had been seriously abused by his former owners before being rescued by Lost and Found. He is normally nocturnal and every night people are invited to join him in his sanctuary in order to show him some love. He is so friendly and absolutely loves to be hugged and to nibble on your nose

This is Rocky the Honey Bear. He is a resident at the Lodge who had been seriously abused by his former owners before being rescued by Lost and Found. He is normally nocturnal and every night people are invited to join him in his sanctuary in order to show him some love. He is so friendly and absolutely loves to be hugged and to nibble on your nose

These have been chalked in but are actually pre-colombian symbols only a 50 minute drive from the Lost and Found hostel

These have been chalked in but are actually pre-colombian symbols only a 50 minute drive from the Lost and Found Lodge

After a few days of hot springs, massive trees, monkeys and more rivers i finally hopped onto a bus with my new friend Else from the Netherlands and made my way up to Isla Colon which is the main island of the Bocas del Toro archipelago. After a 4 hour bus ride (standing of course), I was able to retrieve my backpack from the top of the van completely drenched through from the Carribean downpour we had experienced for close to 3 and a half hours. We then made our way to a speedboat and powered away from the mainland towards the wet but beautiful islands of Bocas del Toro. Upon arrival i went in search for a “social” hostel since it was Friday and I was in one of the most infamous party places in Central America. i ended up checking into a place called Hostel Heike and as Ientered my dorm room I was greeted by a few boys who were all waking up from a nap after partying all of last night and surfing all morning. I instantly recognized one guys old school Vancouver Canucks hat and found out that the other boys were also from British Colombia. So here I was i nBocas del Toro with two boys from Salmon Arm, one from Vancouver Island, and another originally from Vancouver but now living in Edmonton. I know I said I came back to Panama to work on my Spanish but there was no way I was going to move out of a dorm room filled with 4 GCK´s (Good Canadian Kids). It turned out that this hostel was only meant for Canadian boys and Swedish girls and as we all gathered on the rooftop for shots of Aguardiente we made sure that the night was nothing less than legendary.

The next morning I woke up at 9:30 feeling surprisingly fresh but unprepared to hit the surf with the Candian boys who all had their own boards ready to go. Instead I told them to go ahead and proceeded to make about a 20 egg scramble for all my new friends for mthe night before. The boys returned only 2 hours complaining about the swell and the high winds. After sittign aorudn with the others until about 1:30 p.m. I became too anxious and decided to venture out into the rian in order to hire a board. After finding a decent board I then proceeded to hire a boat to take me out to Pierda Negra where rumours had it the swell was coming off nice along the reef. $4 round trip had me dropped off about 300 metres off shore at the perfect reef break known as Pierda Negra. I was able to catch a few waves over the couple hours I spent in the water even though the swell was far from ideal. My driver came back out to grab me right at 4:30 p.m. as planned and I hopped back in his boat and made my way away from Caremero and back to my hostel at Isla Colon.

I quickly stopped at the hostel with my private boat on my way to the reef break in order to hire a surfboard for the day. Even in the rain it is paradise here on Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro

I quickly stopped at this hostel with my hired boat (the little green guy) on my way to the reef break known as Pierda Negra in order to hire a surfboard for the day. Even in the rain it is paradise here on Isla Colon in Bocas del Toro

That night ended up being very similar to the first night except a little more rediculous due to the fact that we had designated the night ¨Boys Night Out¨and started out the night with the Centurion. With terrible weather the next day the surfing remained fairly average and I decided it was time to pull the plug on Bocas and the next morning I took off back to Panama City. I will never forgert my boys Spencer, John, Sean, and Alex for their abilities to represent Canada so damn well.

Alejandra poses in front of the Cathedral in Panama Viejo. This city was founded in 1516 and is the oldest colonial city on the Pcific Coast of the New World. It lays in ruins because of the efforts of the famous pirate, Captain Morgan, who managed to take over the city for many years.

Alejandra poses in front of the Cathedral in Panama Viejo. This city was founded in 1516 and is the oldest colonial city on the Pcific Coast of the New World. It lays in ruins because of the efforts of the famous pirate, Captain Morgan, who managed to take over the city for many years.

After a full 13 hours of travel I finally arrived back in Panama City at about midnight and hit the pillow hard. The next few days Alejandra and I made sure to check out every last spot of Panama City ending our tiem together with a trip to Panama Viejo where the ruins of an old colonial town lay. Panama Viejo is the first colonial city to be constructed on the Pacific Coast of the New World and was an incredible place to explore and learn about the history. After one last night saying goodbye to all of my friends at Mamallena Hostel in Panama City I booked my flight to Guayaquil, Ecuador for the next morning. I woke up early the next morning to not only discover that Alejandra was already awake, but that she was frying me eggs and preparing my favourite batido. After a quick shower and my final farewells to Alejandra and the others in the hostel, I made my way to the airport and 4 hours later felt my plane touching down in the largest city in Ecuador.

I made my way out of the airport to discover that major cities in South America located almost on the equator are extremely humid. I took a taxi to the bus station where I hopped on a bus heading directly to the small surf town of Montanita. Approximately 4 hours later I hopped off the bus and was welcomed by that big beautiful smile that belongs to the one and only Steamin Willy Beamen. After throwing my bags into the room Will had organized for us and heading out in search of some grub. After a few hours of eating and sharing a $2 bottle of rum Will and I decided it was safe to say that we both managed to have fun on our own just fine but that it was a great feeling to be reunited.

We took Friday to explore the city and discover a little more about what Montanita had to offer. Montanita is a town that has been placed on a never ending (close to) perfectly sandy beach with waves that bring surfers from all over the world. Without backpackers the town would not exist but the best part about it all is that the backpackers are all from Chile, Peru, and Argentina so everyone speaks in Spanish. I was able to meet a very nice Israeli surfer who had recently moved down ther who would hire me an excellent board for only $6 a day so luckily I was able to hit the surf everyday and really get to take advantage of what Montanita had to offer me.

Enjoying a smoothie on the beach with Will as we try to take it all in.

Enjoying a smoothie on the beach with Will as we try to take it all in.

On Monday morning we woke up to a knock on the door of our hotel room and I was able to be introduced to Will´s new friend Ollie that he had met in Medellin only days after I had flown back to Panama. We became a killer combination fast and slowly began to become some of the familiar faces around this small town. Due to some sort of bed bug bites swelling up my lip and eye we decided to search for a new hotel upon his arrival and spent over an hour searching many, many hotels. After coming close to settling on a decent hotel about 200 metres form the beach we finally stumbled across a brand new hotel directly on the beach. For $10 each a night we all had our own beds, had our room cleaned everyday and were even given free laundry service. if you ever go to Mantanita, Oceanview Hotel is a no brainer. This place was far too nice too only be $10 a night but I am sure you won´t complain about this.

Best service and location in Montanita

Best service and location in Montanita

Some street entertainers jump over a few backpacker´s as the rest of us watch in fear

Some street entertainers jump over a few backpacker´s as the rest of us watch in fear

I quickly took advantage of our new location sometimes surfing several times a day directly outside of the place. having Ollie from Finland along with us made it really easy for everyone to do what they wanted without feeling like they were deserting the other. Sometimes Will and Ollie would head out for a coffee and a work out at the town gym while I would grab my board and head out for a sunset surf. I think we all know just how beautiful sunsets are along the Pacific Coast.

Gorgeous sunset outside of our hotel

Gorgeous sunset outside of our hotel

One morning when the tide was far too low to surf, Ollie, Will, and I played a little soccer on the beach right outside of our place. After about 30 minutes Will and I were blazing hot and ready for a dip in the ocean. Ollie shamefully watched as Will and I leap-frogged and piggybacked each other for about 100 metres in order to get out into the tide. We soon became anxious and after one last leap frog we both began to sprint into the shallows where I was able to locate an excellent rock that I could use to smash my knee open right to the bone. I swear this beach is well over 5 kilometres long consisting of only sand and one rock and somehow I managed to find it. Before I could even react I was on my back and facing the opposite direction staring down at my knee covered in blood. The first thing I thought was how my surf board would have to be returned for a little while. After Will helped me up and helped me hobble off the beach we hopped into a taxi and headed to the next town in order to get me stitched up. Within moments of opening the door to emergency they had me up on a bed and were beginning to disinfect my knee. While the doctor stitched me up, the nurses and doctors listened to my story about how I was able to fight two sharks and only end up with an injured knee. They all helped add in different parts to the story in order to insure that no girl in Montanita would be able to resist my courage and bravery. The visit at the hospital was actually surprisingly pleasant and after 12 stiches in two parts of my knee and being given a pack of painkillers I left the hospital without paying a single dollar. I owe a big thanks to Ollie and Will for remaining so calm and joking around in order to help keep my mind off of the pain.

A few days after the incident and my knee is already looking amazingly better.

A few days after the incident and my knee is already looking amazingly better.

With my newly acquired stitches the doctor told me I would be unable to swim for at least 2 weeks nevermind get backl on a surfboard. The problem is wit hthis town is that if you are not surfing then you are forced into doing the second most popular activity. This activity is common in a lot of places but not quite at the same level as others, this sport ladies and gentlemen, is drinking. Montanita is as famous for its surf as it is for its parties and without the ability to surf I took it upon myself to discover jus thow good the party here was. With my injury occuring on a Thursday it meant that I was just in time for the start of the weekend. After Will and Ollie returned from the gym that evening we all sat down outside the Argentinian restaurant beside our hotel and enjoyed a bottle of rum while watching the waves come crashing in. When the bottle was finished we then made our way over to quite possibly my favourite night life spot in the world.

A few drinks at the restaurant nextdoor to the hotel before our final night out in Montanita. Ollie from Finland is our friend on the right.

A few drinks at the restaurant nextdoor to the hotel before our final night out in Montanita. Ollie from Finland is our friend on the right.

This area is called Cocktail Alley and is a pedestrian street completely dedicated to serving dirt cheap cocktails to backpackers after a long day of surfing or sleeping off one´s hangover from the party last night. There are close to 25 different cocktail stalls all standing side by side all equipped with one or two bartenders ready to serve you whichever cocktail you desire. Most stalls have massive speakers on them and there seems to be an unspoken competition as to who can play their music the loudest. The decision of which stall to drink at was simple as all of the sudden Will was being hugged by a guy who was close to tears due to happiness. Will instantly remembered Pascual because he had been Will´s bartender and friend for 3 weeks back when will was in Montanita a whole 4 years ago. It made sense to me quite quickly why Will loved this guy so much. It turned out that he was the Body Boarding Champion of South America and also was hands down the best flare bartender in Ecuador. One gets entranced as they watch him throw three bottles in the air while still shaking up a mean Mojito (sin azucar por supuesto). Thursday, Friday, Saturday we started our nights here and every night the party was bigger and bigger. By the last night we had over 30 people standing around Pascual´s tiny stall either to watch the flare show or hear how I had managaed to fend off two sharks and only recieve 12 stitches in my knee. The nights always ended in different places but Cocktail Alley was by far the best place to start out the night and we really created one hell of a party at Pascual´s stall.

Even Jason and Sean from Ontario made it out to Montanita. I hadn´t seen these boys since Little Corn Island in Nicaragua 3 months ago!

Even Jason and Sean from Ontario made it out to Montanita. I hadn´t seen these boys since Little Corn Island in Nicaragua 3 months ago!

I nice big beer as we make our way down Cocktail Alley to a party on the beach

I nice big beer as we make our way down Cocktail Alley to a party on the beach

Montanita will always hold a special place in my heart but without the ability to surf and the weekend being over, I knew it was tiem to move on. It did not take me long to get over my depression of leaving as Will, Ollie, and  I arrived in the mountain town by the name of Banos. I know that we all think that Banos means toilets but it actually means Baths and the town has been named after the hot springs just outside the town center. The climate here is cool in the nights but nice and hot during the day due to its altitude being well over 2000 metres. Banos is known as the extreme sports spot in Ecuador so I knew before hand I was going to love it but never this much. We arrived in Banos at 4:00 a.m. in the morning and luckily because Will likes to be a little more arganized then me we made our way through the sleepy town towards the hotel Will had made a reservation at the night before. We hardly were able to brush our teeth before we fell into a deep sleep not moving a muscle until we woke up at 9 a.m. that morning.

Unfortunately, Will was murdered in Banos due to the dangers in South America

Unfortunately, Will was murdered in Banos due to the dangers in South America

We quickly showered up and went down to a small cafe for breakfast On our way down the hill it was impossible not to be blown away by all of the mountains and waterfalls that raised thousands of metres above the town and completely surrounded it. Over breakfast we all agreed pretty quickly to rent dune buggies and make our way along the highway and dirtroads towards a waterfall by the name of El Diablo. We rented two buggies for 4 hours hours and paid only $60 for everything. We all took turns riding solo or with a partner and made our way along the highway through tunnels which were actually just caves and overlooking beautiful canyons and waterfalls. About 60 km outside of Banos we decided it was tiem to head off-road and foudn a dirt path heading towards what we thought would be a swimming hole at the bottom of the canyon. After about 30 minutes goign down the canyon we finally arrived at a hill so steep that it was not even possible to walk up. We turned around and made our way another 30 kilometres back towards Banos where we found another dirt road that would take us to the waterfall, El Diablo.

Will, Ollie and I all as we are just about to start our day´s adventure.

Will, Ollie and I as we are just about to start our day´s adventure.

First stop, awesomeness.

First stop, awesomeness.

Shredding down the highway in our dune buggy

Shredding down Waterfall Highway in our dune buggy with Will just behind in the red buggy

Will accidently was ran over and killed during our trip but besides that the whole day was so much fun!

Will accidently was ran over and killed during our trip but besides that the whole day was so much fun!

El Diablo Waterfall in the background but in the foreground is the entrance to the cave that takes you all the way up and under this breathtaking waterfall.

El Diablo Waterfall in the background but in the foreground is the entrance to the cave that takes you all the way up and under this breathtaking waterfall.

Will hot in pursuit as we cruise along Waterfall Highway

Will in hot pursuit as we cruise along Waterfall Highway

The walk to the bottom of the waterfall was only about 20 minutes through the jungle and upon arrival we were far from dissapointed. We were even able to crawl through extremely narrow caves in order to get clsoe to the top of the waterfall and even stand underneath. Your adrenaline is flying as you look forwards and see how powerful the water is when it is only a metre in front of you.

We hopped back into the buggies and made our way back to town where poeple were beginning to head out for the evening. I have to say that there is no more bad ass way of getting aroudn town then in dune buggies with your boys. After returning our buggies we decided to find a restaurant with soem chicken and head back to the hostel for a shower. We showered up, gymed it quickly and went for another quick bite before retiring to our room for the night.

We started the morning with a walk across the canyon to a beautiful viewpoint looking back at Banos

We started the morning with a walk across the canyon to a beautiful viewpoint looking back at Banos

Today was no less exciting as yesterday as we signed ourselves up for a Canyon tour which tooks us along two different ziplines totalling over 1600 metres and firing us right to the bottom of a canoyon. After the first zipline of over 850 metres and at speeds over 110 km/hour we then had too walk along a sketchy metal bridge sitting 100 metres fro mthe canyon floor. We were then made to climb over 100 metres straight up the canyon with a difficult stair design. It was once we reached the top we that we all high-fived each other and prepared ourselves for the final zipline back across the canyon and to safety. I will let the pictures do the job of explaining exactly what we did.

We are about to Superman through that Canyon behind us

We are about to Superman through that Canyon behind us

What Steamin Beamen saw as he prepared for his first zipline ever!

What Steamin Beamen saw as he prepared for his first zipline ever!

After the first zipline we were forced to walk across gap-filled, shakey, metal bridge which was over 100 metres above the river

After the first zipline we were forced to walk across gap-filled, shakey, metal bridge which was over 100 metres above the river

Immediately after the bridge crossing we made our way directly up the canyon wall. It is safew to say this tour isn´t for everyone but it sure gets your adrenaline pumping.

Immediately after the bridge crossing we made our way directly up the canyon wall. It is safew to say this tour isn´t for everyone but it sure gets your adrenaline pumping.

Taylor vision seconds before I am let loose to cross the canyon.

Taylor vision seconds before I am let loose to cross the canyon.

Ollie, Will, and I are all likely to be heading seperate ways tomorrow because Ollie wants to go to the Galapagos Islands, while Will hopes too meet up with his buddy Hayden in Mancora, Peru as soon as possible. As for me I think I might stay here tomorrow or make my way into the Amazon. Either way Will and I plan to meet up shortly in order to get ourselves to Cuzco in order to climb Macchu Picchu together. The knee is still sore and the extreme sports probably aren´t helping much but it seems to be healing great. In fact I can excpect the doctor to remove my stitches tomorrow if the doctor approves. One last month for me on my travels, time to buckle down and try to actually enjoy myself. I hope you enjoyed the read and the pictures and I promise to blog soon!





Carnaval and a Hot Shower

23 02 2013
Will and I doing the classic shotgun while a bystander watches while clearly being unimpressed

Will and I doing the classic shotgun as a bystander watches while clearly being unimpressed

So it was on the bus ride back from Palomino to Santa Marta that we made the decision that we were going to do everything we could to go to Carnaval in Barranquilla. It is hard to explain but that bus ride was one of the greatest times in my life. Will and I had just left the incredible Palomino and were making our way back to one of the hotels we were beginning to call home. We were on some sort of high after having such an incredible tubing experience in Rio Palominothe day before and an excellent sleep before packing up our things and walking towards the highway. We each shared a set of earbuds at the back of the bus and were busy rapping old school songs such as Hey Ma by Camron and Hey Ma Remix by Camron. At one point we kind of looked at each other and said Why arent we going to Carnaval? The decision was then made that we would make our way to Barranquilla after spending a week in Cartagena.

When we arrived in Cartagena we were not able to get into any of our preferred hostals but ended up stumbling across a hidden gem by the name of Yeimis Hostal. This place was far from a hostal and was actually more like living with a real Colombian family. Will and I were given a spacious room with one nice Queen sized bed and then a bunk bed as well. I am not sure if we were both supposed to sleep in the bunk bed or not but we ended up making some alterations to our setup. Will proceeded to take the mattress off of the top bunk and place it on top of his mattress on the bottom bunk while I settled in on a nice big Queen sized bed, my first one in a long time.

That week we spent lots of time playing in the waves at Playa Grande and working out at our favourite gymnasio in Colombia. We new it would be wise to eat right and give our bodies lots of exercise in order to prepare for a weekend of… well, we really did not know. Honestly, even as a tried to research this Carnaval I couldnt figure out much information. All I knew was that accommodation was next to impossible to find, cheap accommodation was nonexistant and there would be lots of colours and parades. After calling different hotels and hostals to ask for a room without finding any luck, I finally stumbled across a website advertising a hostal by the name of Casa Blanca Hostal. For $10 a night each I considered it a steal and quickly reserved two beds. In the back of my head I knew this was too good to be true but decided that I was done searching for more accommodations for the week. I wrote down the address and after calling the number 3 times with no answer decided there was nothing else to do.

Even though Carnaval did not officially start until Saturday morning, we decided to hop on a bus on Wednesday morning in order to make sure we had a place to stay for the festivities. Upon arrival in Barranquilla we hopped into a taxi and began to make our way towards the address of Casa Blanca Hostal. Upon arrival we found no signs saying anything about a hostel existing in this location. We decided to keep Will with the bags in the taxi while I went to find out the situation. After talking with the neighbour for a bit he helped me call down Jesus from the building that was the address of Casa Blanca Hostal. After being told that this building was student housing and not a hostel I began to plea with the man. I asked if there was anyway that we could just crash for the weekend in an unoccupied room and reluctantly Jesus allowed us to enter.

We sat in a bare room with only a chair and a couch for about 15 minutes not having a clue where Jesus had gone to. The only thing we could hear in the dirty student housing was an insane amount of bass coming from a students room and vibrating through the walls of the building. Eventually Jesus emerged and brought us down the hallway to a room with two paper thin mattresses on the ground, a broken closet, and a bathroom with a cockroach running around in it. We thanked Jesus and gave each other the Let us get the hell out of here look. We were able to get a key from Jesus so we locked our backpacks in the room after putting all of our valuables into our backpacks and then made our way to the street to find another taxi. On the way out of the front door some random guy with a machete slammed it on the concrete a hard as he could and then looked up at us while laughing. We laughed it off as well and picked up our pace as we left the student housing. Why would somebody have a machete in student housing anyways?

After telling our taxista that we wanted to go to the center of the city he refused to take us. We did not quite understand why and felt a little silly knowing nothing about the city but eventually realized that the center of the city was too dangerous for foreigners to walk around in. We all decided to stick together until a knew accommodation was found. We stopped at a nice hotel first and foudn that they only had accommodation for Wednesday night and Thursday. We decided to carry on until we found another hotel by the name of Hotel Horizonte. I do not think one would be able to find a dirtier hotel in Barranquilla but at only $15 a night for the both of us we decided that it was better than staying in an unwelcoming student housing. The owner, Jesus, was a total sweetheart and really began to enjoy our energy and love for his country. He did whatever he could to make sure that we enjoyed our time in his city. The only problem was that we only had two nights here because it was full for the weekend. We decided that it was a start and returned to the student housing to grab our bags. We gave Jesus $5 for his troubles and left with high fives and promises of Aguardiente shots at the Batalla de Flores on the Saturday of Carnaval.

After settling in to our disgusting hotel room near the city center we decided that our mission was only half over. We still needed to find a place to stay on Friday and Saturday so we locked up the room and headed out into the streets in search of another hotel. About  hotels were in the area and all were well overpriced as well as occupied for the nights that we needed. We finally stumbled across Jose and Villa Maria Hotel. This place was still pretty basic but definitely a step up from our place at the moment. Jose hoped to rent out the rooms for 4 days minimum but after realizing that Will and I were not interested in staying for more than two nights decided to agree to our terms. $25 a night for each room was the final price. The reason we reserved two rooms is because our friends from Chile were arriving on Friday and had no idea where they were going to stay. I guess you could call us a couple of good Canadian kids.

The reason I wrote so long about accommodation is because this was one of those real problem solving moments where you have to just figure things out. After solving all of thi,s Will and I went to eat as we were absolutely starved and sent a message to the Chileans with the directions to Villa Maria. After that we went back to Hotel Horizonte in order to catch some shut eye. My bed was hammock shaped do to over use and I swear you could see the dust fly out into the air as my head hit the pillow. I still do not understand how I was able to leave that hotel without a severe case of pink eye.

The pre party started on Thursday night and after meeting up with some Israeli friends and a different group of Chileans we made our way to the stadium where we were told the parties would be that night. It turned out that inside the stadium they were choosing the Queen of this years Carnaval as well as having a concert starring the one and only Silvestre. Tickets were going for over $50 dollars so we decided to just enjoy the festivities outside the stadium. We were all taking it quite easy making sure we were in good shape for the parties starting on Friday.  After awhile we all made our way to the back gate where the police were making sure nobody was sneaking into the stadium. Our group consisted of 8 girls and only Will and I as the boys so they actually let us sneak into the concert for free. Unfortunately belts are considered a deadly weapon in Colombia so I had to belt check my belt with some random man who wrote down a random number on a piece of paper and said it was 2000 pesos if I wanted my belt back. In the end the man was still there and had my belt ready to go when I was leaving the stadium. Quite the entrepreneur if you ask me.

As I mentioned before Silvestre was the singer at the concert and the crowd was going insane. Even the Chilean girls had no idea who this guys was but he was massive in Colombia. At one point Will turned to me and just mentioned that this Silvestre character was just living the dream in Colombia and it was crazy that no one knew who he was. After about an hour of watching this man perform and the crowd jump up and down our entire group concluded that he was just playing the same song over and over.

The next day Will and I spent the entire day searching for Carnaval gear in the markets throughout the streets. From the picture below I think you can see we did quite well. We even custom made some Carnaval V necks.

Will got himself tatted up for the festivities. It was gone by the morning!

Will got himself tatted up for the festivities. It was gone by the morning!

Some lady wanted a photo with us as we made our way to the Carnaval.

Some lady wanted a photo with us as we made our way to the Carnaval.

IMG_2452

Maca and I getting a little rowdy. I think I bought over 20 of these foam cartridges by the time it was all said and done.

Will and Javi feeling my wrath

Will and Javi feeling my wrath

The hater blockers ended up beign great protection from foam in the eyes

The hater blockers ended up being great protection from foam in the eyes

Friday afternoon we made our way back to the stadium and began to enjoy some beers and buy lots of bottles of foam. I honestly think I bought more than 20 bottles of the stuff before the festival was over and thoroughly annoyed everyone that surrounded me. It was a great way to have lots of laughs with the locals.

On the Saturday we woke up at about 10 am and made our way to our favourite restaurant for a cheap breakfast and a few shots of Aguardiente. Almost immediately we left for the Batalla de Flores which is the biggest parade of Carnaval. After snapping quite a few photos and drinking quite a few beers with our massive group of friends we had met in Cartagena, someone took it upon themselves to pickpocket myself and two of my friends so that they no longer had their BlackBerrys and I lost a couple thousand photos. With so many people around it was next to impossible to retrieve our electronics so we did our best not to let it phase us. I have a knew camera now but unfortunately have lost quite a few pictures from my trip so I apologize for the lack of photos in this blog entry.

The rest of the Saturday Will and I travelled all through Baranquilla meeting tons of locals and even a few people who were also from North Vancouver. The entire festival could not have been more fun and I do not know if I will ever have that much fun again in my life. No matter how much fun it was however, we were more then ready to hop on a bus that Sunday and make our way far, far away from Barranquilla and its crazy Carnaval.

We took an overnight bus for about 15 hours way into the centre of the country to an amazing city called Medellin. On first arrival in Nicaragua from Canada I realized that the weather was just way too hot and ended up giving my sweatshirt and track pants to the children at my home stay. This ended up being quite an unwise decision as I sat on that bus with only my t shirt, things, and shorts on. As we loaded onto the bus, people began to make their way on holding onto ski jackets and loads of blankets. I was too embarrassed to ask but knowing that Medellin was quite high in the mountains I began to think maybe there was a ski resort nearby the city. I soon realized that was not the case. Before we left the terminal in Barranquilla the bus driver even came up to me to warn me that I may freeze to death without my jacket. Without having any sort of long sleeve jacket and my jeans in my backpack below smelling like beer I began the long and cold journey to Medellin. After about 2 hours the air conditioning was on full power and I slowly began to freeze. I eventually took two head covers of the seats off of vacant seats and through them over my head as if I was kidnapping myself. By the time we arrived in Medellin my lips were blue and my knees were so frozen I could hardly walk. I had never been happier to make my way off of a bus before. The first thing I did when I arrived at the hostel was make my way to the shower. Still frozen to the bone I looked at the handles for the shower and realized that there were two handles. I turned the handle on the left and to my absolute delight began to feel hot water come out. This was my first hot shower since leaving Canada in November and it could not have come at a better time. I stayed in the shower for about 10 minutes until my body was completely thawed and starting to sweat. The second thing that I did was to go and buy a hoody!

The city of Medellin, however, was absolutely incredible and could not have been more different than those cities lying on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia. Its settign was way up in the mountains in the centre of a long valley. Houses  and slums covered the hillsides and Will and I even took a Gondola which was a part of the local transport all the way up to the top of one mountain in order to look over all of the city. We stayed at a backpackers favourite called Casa Kiwi and made sure to get out lots in order to explore all that Medellin had to offer. We spent the week preparing ourselves for the weekend as we ate healthy plates of chicken and worked out at the outdoor gym across from our hostel. Probably one of the last things I want to do is bench press cinder blocks along the side of the road but since drop in was $10 at the official gym and the outdoor gym was free, we decided it was the best plan. We met tons of great people at Casa Kiwi and Friday and Saturday we went out to quite a few different clubs in order to meet some locals.

The view from the gondola  taking us to the top of the city of Medellin.

The view from the gondola taking us to the top of the city of Medellin.

Just too excited from seeing the city from such an incredible view point

Just too excited from seeing the city from such an incredible view point

Standing in an area of Medellin where one needs to transfer to another gondola. I have ben told that tourists do not want to walk through this area

Standing in an area of Medellin where one needs to transfer to another gondola. I have ben told that tourists do not want to walk through this area

Will and I have been joking about how many people think that if you step foot into Colombia then you will die. We have decided to take photos of Will dead in numerous areas of Latin America to help keep these beliefs alive. Here is Will dead  on top of a bar in Medellin

Will and I have been joking about how many people think that if you step foot into Colombia then you will die. We have decided to take photos of Will dead in numerous areas of Latin America to help keep these beliefs alive. Here is Will dead on top of a bar in Medellin

Unfortunately, Will was also killed in the middle of another bar

Unfortunately, Will was also killed in the middle of another bar

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After meeting a super fun family from Medellin things began to get a lot more fun! Check out that face on Will. I mean how do you even do that!?

Just a normal Thursday night in Medellin

Just a normal Thursday night in Medellin

Such nice people. They all completely made my night!

Such nice people. They all completely made my night!

Will and I went out on Friday to buy jerseys for the local soccer team Nacional and decided to assemble a group to go watch the game on Saturday night. The one real shame was that Will became quite ill on Saturday and even though we both bought our Nacional jerseys he ended up hopping in a Taxi at the front gates to the stadium in order to head back to the hostel and sleep. Even without will their the game was an absolute thrill and Nacional ended up winning 4 to nothing. I swear that the fans on the south side of the stadium had more stamina than the players as they never stopped jumping up and down, singing their chants, or waving their banners even when the players were standing around waiting for an injured player. Fights were abundant and the energy levels were always high. It is definitely an experience I would recommend to all that are in Medellin.

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At the Nacional game with Jake from New York and Adrian from Amsterdam. The final score was 4 to nothing for the good guys!

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A beautiful stadium and only $11 for a ticket. You can see the fans of the south end and all of their banners

The crew outside of the stadium grabbing a last second snack and beer. Even Will in the lime green Nacional jersey managed to lift his arms even though he was extremely ill.

The crew outside of the stadium grabbing a last second snack and beer. Even Will in the lime green Nacional jersey managed to lift his arms even though he was extremely ill.

All this time I had been Skyping with a Colombian girl that I had met in Panama City and I was feeling a little torn about what I wanted to do next. I had also become quite close to a group of Panamanians that were staying at Casa Kiwi and after some convincing I decided to book a flight back to Panama City. My flight left at 3 pm on Sunday and after being interrogated for close to an hour in a small room with an x ray machine the police finally allowed me to make a full sprint to my plane. It turned out that they were holding the plane for me which was quite nice because these plane tickets do not come cheap. I arrived back at my hostel in Panama City where Alejandra was staying at about 6 pm and in just enough time to say Happy Birthday! She was more than a little surprised but quite happy to see me.

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After a long walk through a large park in Panama City, Alejandra and I made it to a beautiful viewpoint of this incredible city.

After a long walk through a large park in Panama City, Alejandra and I made it to a beautiful viewpoint of this incredible city.

Stunning View from the Mirador view point in Parque Natural Metropolitano

Stunning View from the Mirador view point in Parque Natural Metropolitano

I have had amazing times with Will and plan to meet up with him shortly in Ecuador. For those of you who are unaware, my number one goal from this trip is to learn Spanish and I was not getting quite enough opportunities when I was travelling around with Will. Since I arrived back in Panama City I have hardly used any English and have already began to notice great improvements in my Spanish. I am not sure how long I will be here in Panama but I plan to head to Bocas del Toro in the north soon in order to get some more surfing in.

Life is good up here in Panama and I am enjoying being back in the heat. I also am really looking forward to meeting back up with Steamin Willy Beamen down in Ecuador in order to share a thousand more amazing moments. Hope life is going well for everyone and I will blog again when I have more of a plan!





The Latin Singapore and the Jump to South America

1 02 2013
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Standing at the top of the one hill in Panama City. You can see the future to the left of me and the past is actually out of view to the right. What a beautiful city!

Panama City is one of the most interesting cities that I have been to on any of my travels but one place I couldn´t help but compare it to was the city of Singapore. For those of you who weren´t aware, I used to live in Singapore while attending the National University of Singapore (NUS) so I became very familiar with it. Singapore is this brand new city that has some of the tallest buildings in the world and relies heavily on their strategic location for shipping. Panama City had a similar vibe having two completely unique areas given the very original names Old Town and New Town. A few of us from the hostel decided to hike up to the top of Cerro Aton in order to get a birds eye view of the city. Looking out to your right was like looking into the past as all of the buildings are colonial and gorgeous. Then when you looked to your right you were staring into the future. Unique skyscrapers (such as one that looks like a tornado) dominate the skyline. The two parts could not be any more opposite and the nicest thing about it is all right on the coast.

After searching for hostels at way too late of an hour in Panama City I ended up finding a sketchy little hostel in the middle of the Old Town known as the White Lion. It was quite an experience being at this hostel. First of all when I walked into my dorm room one of the owners was in the middle of sniffing a big line of cocaine. After chatting with this man for a while he ended up telling me it is best to put my valuables in one of the lockers downstairs. I went back down to reception where possibly the most stupid girl in the world worked (and that is putting it nicely) and asked to have a key for a locker. the women at reception gave me the key to someone elses locker filled with all of their valuables so I decided I will just keep them in my backpack for the night. I ended up meeting a couple from Switserland and a Dutch guy so we all worked together at laughing off the uncomfortable vibe surrounding the White Lion Hotel.

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The next day I packed up my bags and moved to Mamallena (Full Mama) where I had made a reservation the night before. After asking the taxista if he knew where Mamallena was and agreeing on a price, I hopped into the taxi. The first question the taxista asked me was ¨Do you have a map?¨. Hilarious. This guy agreed to drive me to Mamallena for $3.00 before he had any idea where it was. We drove quite a ways through the city in order to get to a friend of the taxi drivers house where we went to the door and asked him for directions. Luckily he knew so once agai nwe were on our way. We had created quite a comraderie on our journey and after awhile we were pumping Avicci and every electronic remix of Black Eyed Peas that was possible. All of the sudden the car began tilting on the highway and a stop was in order. We hopped out to find that three metal pieces had punctured the tire so out came the kit. We made a great team on the side of the road one hour after I left my first hostel and still was only paying $3.00 for my ride to Mamallena.

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My taxi driver and friend, Alex, strapping on the new tire.

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Sitting in Casco Viejo of Panama City with the view of the future behind me.

Doing the tiger with Alejandra and Kim with the Panama Canal below us

Doing the tiger with Alejandra and Kim with the Panama Canal below us

Mamallena Hostel had an incredible vibe with amazing graffiti all over the walls, hammocks galore, as well as comfy beanbag chairs all throughout the hostel. The Welsh owner, Will, is a gem and he runs an awesome hostel. The location is random but it´s only $1.50 in a taxi to get to Casco Viejo or the Fish Market. After throwing my bags in a room I ended up hopping back into ¨our¨ taxi and went to pick up our other friends from the hostel. Once we gathered the crew we took off towards the number 1 thing to do in Panama. Go and see the Panama Canal.
What a site the Canal was. I never put too much thought into it before but this was a huge accomplishment as the Canal runs for over 12 kms right through the middle of a country. We went to Miraflores Locks in order to watch a few massive ships make there way through as they moved endless amounts of cargo around the world. Even one ship had the name Singapore written on it helping me further relate the two cities.

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At the Miraflores Locks in the Panama Canal

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Pretending to give orders from the bridge in this Canal simulator in the museum at the Miraflores Locks

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Standing over top of the Miraflores Locks in the Panama Canal waiting for a ship to enter in. It takes hardly ten minutes for these massive sips to pass through the locks.

Sitting in the theatre with our 3D glasses on waiting to watch the movie explaining the Panama Canal. Safe to say this movie definitely did not win any Oscars

Sitting in the theatre with our 3D glasses on waiting to watch the movie explaining the Panama Canal. Safe to say this movie definitely did not win any Oscars

The rest of my time in Panama City consisted of loads of Ceviche at the Fish Market and walks throughout the stunning city. Mamallena had a total family vibe and I met some incredible people there but especially I have to give a shout out to Alejandra, Kim, Tara, Cedric, and Kelly. Alejandra and I began hanging out a lot as others left because she was from Colombia and was excited to tell me what I could do when I arrived. After hanging out with Alejandra for a few days I knew that I was going to love the people down in Colombia if they were even half as nice as she was!

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Some of the group from the hostel at Karaoke. Alejandra, Kelly, Tara, and Cedric are all on the right side with me. I miss them all so much!

Panama City treated me very well and I wasn´t ready to leave Central America as I made my way 30 minutes out of the city to the airport. Next stop Colombia. After a 1 hour and 5 minute flight for $347.00 I arrived in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Upon first arrival I knew I was going to like the place. Even as I passed through immigration I was teased for studying my Spanish in Nicaragua and not in Colombia. They sure do a great job at making you feel welcome in this country. After planning next to nothing with Will Lees it turned out his flight from New York only landed an hour after mine and on the same day! You just gotta love that. So I sat with a Colombian family for an hour who were also waiting for their friends to arrive from New York and was given some nice tips. The most important tip was how much a taxi should cost you in order to get into downtown Cartagena.

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The first moment that Steamin Willy Beamen and I met up in Colombia. That sweatshirt didn´t stay on for very long!!

As people began to file past immigration and make their way into Colombia I finally saw the gigantic Gringo that was Will Lees push through the doors of security. Later he told me how funny it was to see this little Canadian guy jumping up and down with his big backpack on and waving his arms while surrounded by a sea of Colombianos. He also claimed it was quite a relief because who the hell knows when we would have seen each other if I hadn´t waited for him at the airport. On the way in we had an awesome taxi driver who even would double as a drug dealer if we would like. We declined politely and ended the journey with high fives and Sergio´s number in case we needed another taxi. I´m still not fully grasping the concept that it is the high season for backpackers so finding a hostel in Cartagena was a little difficult. We ended up putting our names down at the Mamallena that had recently opened in Cartagena and made our way to Casa Viena for the night.

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A huge iguana just walking the streets of Cartagena

Cartagena was such a beautiful city filled with so much colonial splendour that it was absolutely mesmerizing. The entire time I explored the city it was like walking around in a museum. A giant wall surrounds all of the city and there is even another fortress inside of the larger one. The vibe was good as well and we ended up meeting a ton of great people in Cartagena. We made sure to go out with one of Will´s local friends in order to get some of the culture into our blood but also made lots of time for other travellers. We ended up spending most of our time with two different groups of Chilean girls and even found some fun parties around town.

Will and I rented bikes in order to see more of the town. Here is a picture of me walking along the top of one of the walls that was meant tto protect the city from pirates such as Sir Francis Drake of Britain

Will and I rented bikes in order to see more of the town. Here is a picture of me walking along the top of one of the walls that was meant tto protect the city from pirates such as Sir Francis Drake of Britain

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One of the many incredible colonial buildings throughout the city

This is the moment where my dream came true haha! Having fun at the hostel in Cartagena before heading out to a party.

This is the moment where my dream came true haha! Having fun at the hostel in Cartagena before heading out to a party.

This tower is a part of the Fort of San Felipe that overlooks all of cartagena

This tower is a part of the Fort of San Felipe that overlooks all of Cartagena

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Standing at the wall of the fort slurping down a bag of water. Love the bags of water!

Will and I at the top of the Fortress of San Felipe

Will and I at the top of the Fortress of San Felipe

We then moved on to Tagenga and Santa Marta which are right beside each other but have very different feels. Santa Marta is the city with tons of markets and a beautiful boardwalk. Teganga is more a tiny little beach town that only really runs because of tourist money. The nice thing is that this doesn´t take away from it at all and the vibe was super positive. We stayed in Tagenga for 2 nights and just soaked in as much sun as possible. I´m doing my best to fight against my genes and become darker than some of the tribes in South Sudan. So far I think I am off to a very good start.

Another day gone in beautiful Santa Marta

Another day gone in beautiful Santa Marta

Our funny little room in the cheap and sketchy and surprisingly cozy Hotel Miramar in Santa Marta. After different trips we have treturned to this hotel 3 times and the staff feels like family

Our funny little room in the cheap and sketchy and surprisingly cozy Hotel Miramar in Santa Marta. After different trips we have treturned to this hotel 3 times and the staff feels like family

 The beach at Taganga

The beach at Taganga. This was on a Sunday so it was nice and busy with locals but on the Monday we were all alone!

With no idea where we wanted to go after Tagenga we heard about some sort of ´tubing´ that was possible in a little town called Palomino. The two Dutch people that told us about this town also had no idea what it was about but decided to try their luck. We tried asking  around with the locals and other tourists but no one knew anything about it. That was when we did the responsible thing and hopped onto a bus heading through Tayrona National Park and passing through Palomino. We had no idea what to excpect and ended up beign dropped off on the side of the highway and told to walk down some dirt road towards the ocean. After a kilometre and a half Will, myself and our new Swiss friend Bjorn popped out on one of the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen. There were about three hostels to pick from and one was even full! We reserved a spot at the full hostal for the next night and secured a few beds in some ladies house for the night with some nice older Argentinian women as well. Once we had our bags in our room we threw on our shorts and headed right into the nice powerful waves. Surrounded by coconut trees and beautiful Latin women it was hard to call Palamino anything less than paradise.

This is where we got dropped off by the bus in the town of Palomino. This town only consists of a few stores and restaurantes right along the side of the highway. Check out that stray dog licking up water from a puddle.

This is where we got dropped off by the bus in the town of Palomino. This town only consists of a few stores and restaurantes right along the side of the highway. Check out that stray dog licking up water from a puddle.

You had to be careful in the waves but it was so refreshing in the hot hot sun.

A kilometre and a half down from the highway and you arrive in paradise. You had to be careful in the waves but it was so refreshing  to swim in the hot, hot sun.

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Having fun at the beach before we take off back to Santa Marta

Will snapped some awesome shots of me as I was jumping off the sand ledges created by the waves.

Will snapped some awesome shots of me as I was jumping off the sand ledges created by the waves.

The next day we found a spot to rent tubes and headed out about an hour and a half up a hill and into the forest in search of the Rio Palomino. As we reached the top of  the hill we were all as sweaty as possible and could hardly believe what we were looking at. The trees cleared created a small gap for our eyes and we were left standing there speechless over looking the Rio Palomino and the dense forest surrounding it. I did not know that places liek this existed on our planet. The best part of it all was that I knew that the whole adventure back to town was going to sonsist of me laying in a tube surrounding by clear and refreshing water. The ride took about 2 hours and may be my favourite experience so far on my travels.Even though the river hardly had any rapids, Will did an excellent job in finding the one spot with a tree sticking out of the water and flipped his tube within 30 seconds of entering the river. We went down with a group of 6 and shared many laughs.

Some of the lovely Argentinian girls we got to know during our short time in Palomino. I even have my Lakers hat on to represent Rob Sacre down here in Latin America

Some of the lovely Argentinian girls we got to know during our short time in Palomino. I even have my Lakers hat on to represent Rob Sacre down here in Latin America

That night we met a large group of Argentinians whom, contrary to popular belief, were actually really nice. Electricity hardly exists in this town so we mainly played cards using flashlights and made our way up to the highway to buy dinner. The town even had a few indigenous people in it as we first went to explore what kind of food they served. These indegenous people were no taller than 4´11¨ and were wearing poncho like rags as their clothing, no shoes. They were so natural that it was hard not to stare. They claimed to only have come into town to trade with the locals. The walk is through the jungle for about two hours. One of the workers at our hostel had traded with them for indigenous hot chocolate and  I even got to try some. I doubt I will ever have hot chocolate that tasty again.

We made our way back to Santa Marta yesterday and even met up with our Chiliean friends from Mamallena in Cartagena for the night in Tagenga. The bus to Teganga last night could not have been more fun as all the locals joked around with Will and I as we hardly squeezed into the last possible spots in the bus. Upon arrival in Tagenga we hopped out with a few locals only to see that the electricity was out. The locals who had become quite close with us in the short 20 minute bus ride walked us the whole way to the hostel that we were searching for. We met up with our friends and after sharing a bottle of Aguardiente (the Colombian version of Sambuca) we made our way to a discoteca that looks over all of Teganga. The vibe was local and the music was Salsa, Reggaeton and Electronic or in other words the music was EPIC.

It is hard to tell in this picture but the view of Taganga from this night club was almost nicer than during the day.

It is hard to tell in this picture but the view of Taganga from this night club was almost nicer than during the day.

Today is a well needed rest day so that I can update the blog but tonight we are going to make a plan for Barranquilla. What is our draw to the city of Barranquilla you may ask? It is the location of the second largest Carnaval in the world after Rio de Janeiro. What is even better is that the party starts in exactly one week from now. I´ll keep you posted on whether we find accomodation or just buy hammocks to sleep in the alleys. There is no way we are going to miss this party!





Aztec Discotecas, Tropical Islands, and Moving South

16 01 2013
Some of the typical street food being served near my first hostel. In hindsight I probably shouldn´t have had my camera on me in this area.

Some of the typical street food being served near my first hotel. In hindsight I probably shouldn´t have had my camera on me in this area.

The entrance into the downtown section of Managua

The entrance into the downtown section of Managua

 

My last post was published when I had already left my homestay family in Granada and made my way up to the capital city of Nicaragua. Managua is a city with a population of almost 2.5 million people. This city makes up a large portion of the population in a country of approximately 6 million people. To be honest the city  at first sight is more than a little depressing. As I rolled into town with my face pressed against the window by fellow chicken bus travellers I was able to take a lot in. When traffic began to back up people were quick to run out with random objects for sale or else to  clean windshields. Some pushed disfigured people in wheelchairs betwen cars who gathered in no orderly fashion. I even saw one man tryign to sell a little tropical bird which he kept in a cage. The city lacks any tall buildings besides hotels such as the Hilton or Holiday Inn and even those are hardly over ten stories. There is a real mixture of western and Nicaraguan culture in Managua and I grew quite fond of this. The city is incredibly spread out and as soo nas you are out of the city “center” it gets pretty rough. Definitely not the kind of place to be a hero and walk around at night.

After hopping off of my bus at the station I negotiated with three different taxi drivers until I finally got the right price and made my way to Barrio Martha Quezda. I had heard this area had cheap accomodations so decided it was a good place to start since the one hostel in town was already full. I remember writing a message to Cam Varner after I got settled in in the sketchiest neaighbourhood in Managua. I worte that I loved him and if I didn´t message him in the next few days then mayeb let my family know I was a goner. Even when I called my friend Celina from Managua to tell her I had arrived she hardly wanted to venture into my neighbour. God bless her though because she took a taxi right to my “hotel” in order to make sure I was comfortable in my new location. I am pretty good at putting on a brave face but I remember feeling pretty relieved when Celina and I took off to La Galeria for the night.

Only a few buildings down from my hotel was this eerie looking area. I took this on my way to the first hotel I could find.

Only a few buildings down from my hotel in Barrio Martha Quezda was this eerie looking area. I took this on my way to the first hotel I could find.

Managua is not a backpackers spot. It is big, dirty, dangerous, and just overall intimidating. Luckily I had my personal guide Celina who I had met more than a month earlier in San Juan del Sur and  I could tell was doing her best to show me that Managua isn´t as depressing as the guidebooks say. The best part about the whoel experience is that now I know Managua is a great city. It is too bad that so many others leave feeling that even a minute is a minute too long to stay in Managua. Our first night we went to La Galeria which is a massive shopping mall and restaurant area with all sorts of western shops and eats. Gallo Pinto (mixed beans and rice) still wasn´t difficult to find though don´t worry (nom nom nom), however, we decided to go for Mexican food.

The view from inside the mall section of La Galeria in Managua. There was ots of Christmas stuff around until New Year´s Day.

The view from inside the mall section of La Galeria in Managua. There was ots of Christmas stuff around until New Year´s Day.

The next night was Saturday night and Celina took me to the biggest Discoteca in Managua known as ¨Chaman¨ which is of course a witch doctor in the Mayan world. The place was massive consisting of a nightclub insode a massive Aztec looking pyramid and a huge outdoor dance area. It was in the middle of a field and the locals dressed to the nines in order to seduce the other sex onto the dancefloor. Even Celina took me out shopping for a collared shirt so that I would be permitted into the Discoteca. Of roughly 500 people I am quite sure I was the only extranjero (foreigner) in the club and the feeling was pretty exhilerating. The blend of music was perfect with a nice mix of Reggaeton, Salsa, Electronic and good old Black Eyed Peas (huge down here). At midnight fireworks were going off and paid dancers were getting crazy up on stage. We  stayed until about 3 a.m. and were some of the first to be leaving. I will never forget Chaman, that is one crazy nightclub.

With Celina and Tanya upon first arrival at Chaman Discoteca. The wildest club I have ever seen.

With Celina and Tanya upon first arrival at Chaman Discoteca. The wildest club I have ever seen.

I didn´t spend much time taking pictures but this was a decent shot of some of the action at Chaman Discoteca

I didn´t spend much time taking pictures but this was a decent shot of some of the action at Chaman Discoteca. You can even see bits of the fireworks in the sky.

I moved into a new hostel as soon as space had become available. This hostel not only had running water but water that you could drink as well. I had moved into a much safer location right by the Metro Centro which is one of the big malls in Managua. I went and watched a couple of movies, one in English and the other in Spanish. Una Aventura Extrordanaire (or Life of Pi as you know it back home) was a good choice to watch dubbed because there isn´t much talking in the first place. The Spanish words with a Hindi accent made my job a little more difficult but Celina filled me in on a couple sections I wasn´t following so well.

Sitting on the porch with Celina´s niece, Naomi.

Sitting on the porch with Celina´s niece, Naomi, during New Year´s Eve

One of my best experiences was when I was invited to Celina´s house for New Year´s Eve in one of the many barrios of Managua. It was really exciting to make my way out of the City Centre of Managua and into the Barrios where the regular people live. It was there that I was introduced to Celina´s sister, big brother (and I mean big brother), cousins, niece and even her grandmother. We ate delicious Nica foods and drank a few glasses of Flor de Cana in order to prepare for the fireworks at midnight. People are as obsessed with fireworks here on New Years as they are on Christmas and as we walked around hugging and kissing everyone accompanied by a quick ¨Feliz Ano Nuevo¨ you had to watch that a firework wasn´t aiming directly at you. The whole evening was very special and I owe it all to Celina and her family for inviting me into their neighourhood to celebrate. After midnight the younger people began heading out towards the nightclubs but many stayed behind to chat and laugh with family. It was really nice to see that family was so important to the people of Nicaragua when it came to summing up another year.

Over at Celina´s house for New Year´s Eve

Over at Celina´s house for New Year´s Eve

After many more great meals and adventures in scenic locations through the city I hopped into a taxi at 5:20 a.m. and made my way to the station with buses heading for El Rama near the Carribean side of the country. My next major destination would be The Corn Islands which can only be compared to ones dreams.

I originally planned on making the journey to Little Corn Island myself but a couple from Utah decided to join me at about midnight only 5 hours before my taxi. At first my only thought was that I was able to save $10 on my taxi to the bus station but these two became crucial in my trip to the Carribean Coast. On the bus to El Rama which took over 8 and a half hours we packed on as many people as I have ever seen on a chicken bus. By the time that the back tire blew I already had a not so little boy sitting on my lap and others sitting on the top of my chair as well as the one in front of me. You know that a chicken bus is ´actually´ full when the locals are yelling at the bus driver to not let on more people. I just sat there and laughed with my new friend Alex who was from El Rama. Upon arrival in El Rama we hopped into a Panga (speed boat thingy) in order to travel 70 km down a beautiful river called the Rio Escondido in order to arrive at Bluefields on the Carribean Coast of Nicaragua.

Bluefields instantly reminded me of Tortuga from the Pirates of the Carribean ride in Disneyland except without the singing pirates and a much stronger aroma of urin throughout the narrow alleyways. Lexy, Aaron, and I were joined by Marta and Mariano from Barcelona and we all made our way to a cheap hotel with help from a hardly chilling Creole dude who called himself ¨spicer¨. It was really confusing on the coast because almost everyone was bilingual but it was hard to know whether people preferred to talk in English or Spanish. It happened that since Marta didn´t speak too much ENglish that Spanish was easier when we were tryign to negotiate for rooms. We tried finding a couple bars in town walking around in areas we probably shouldn´t of but in a group of 5 we felt pretty secure. We were most likely the only tourists in town seeing as how most tourists just take an airplane from Managua to Corn Islands in order to save a lot of hassle. I just can´t see the adventure in that! The town was dead and after having a quick beer we all headed abck to our rooms which had windows facign right towards a bar that was empty but still blared random country and reggae music. My mattress wasn´t a mattress and all and the humidity got the best of me. I also had a hard time sleeping knowing that Bluefields was a port town where many sailors docked at in order to get themselves a prostitute for the night. The condoms that lay on the ground beside my bed didn´t make me feel any more comfortable.

Mariano and I on the boat waiting on our boat with a bit of Bluefields in the background.

Mariano and I on the boat waiting on our boat with a bit of Bluefields in the background.

Okay, I think I slept for two hours.. oh well, good enough. It is 7:30 a.m. and time to head to the docks to catch our boat to Big Corn Island. We were all starving and after goign to buy some street food for the voyage we realized the boat was due to leave in less than 5 minutes. We rush the lady to put our chicken onto our rice and beans so that we don´t miss our boat leaving a big question mark as to whether the chicken was cooked or not. Luckily we made it back to the boat a minute or two before 9:00 a.m. when the boat was due to leave. The unlucky part for us was that the boat wasn´t satisfyingly full for the captain until 2:30 p.m. that afternoon. So we sat there for five and a half hours waiting to start our 8 hour journey to Big Corn Island. We made the most of it however and luckily our new Nicaraguan friends brought a guitar so we had nice entertainment to go along with our Ron Plata.

Aaron, Lexi and Marta all wait for our breakfast of Gallo Pinto (rice and beans), chicken, and ensalda as we feel that the boat may leave without us.

Lexi, Marta, and Aaron all wait for our breakfast of Gallo Pinto (rice and beans), chicken, and ensalada as we feel that the boat may leave without us.

Hugo from Masaya, Nicaragua plays the guitar as we wait for our boat to depart from Bluefields and begin the journey to Big Corn Island

Hugo from Masaya, Nicaragua plays the guitar as we wait for our boat to depart from Bluefields and begin the journey to Big Corn Island

The boat ride was long and it was pitch black by the time we got to Big Corn Island. I spent msot of the journey on the top of the boat alone staring at the stars and napping here an there. others spent there tiem sleeping in bunkbeds with no mattresses or puking over the edge of the railings. I still feel very lucky to never get ill when I am out at sea. We arrived at Big Corn Island at 10:30 p.m. and checked into a hotel right beside the dock. By this time Aaron, Lexy, Mariano, Marta and I had formed a close bond and had unofficialy decided to watch out for one another. That night we all even chipped in an extra 50 cents each to get air-conditioning in our room for 5. We also worked together to kill a massive tarantula looking spider that was hoping to get away with not pitching in for the air-conditiong. We caught the first Panga off of Little Corn the next morning and powered over to Little Corn in less than 30 mintutes. With the size of the waves though 30 minutes was more than enough to absolutely soak everyone on the boat. By the time we arrived at Little Corn everyone cheered and you could tell the driver was also relieved to have entered the peaceful water surrounding Little Corn Island.

I´m going to condense my Little Corn Island experience a while lot but will include ltos of pictures instead. We stayed at three different locations and ate like kings for an entire week. The first p’lace we stayed was Elsa´s Place in bungalows on the beach. We then moved into a house together in the jungle but only 50 metres from the beach. This place was called Ensuenos (roughly translated to ´In Dreams´) and was one of the most interesting places I have ever stayed. The last was Three Brothers which had a kind of village feel to it and amazing water from the well. At $5 a night this place was a steal. We swam, hiked, snorkeled, tanned, read, and ate as much as we pleased. Coconut trees covered the trees so we had unlimited cocunut water available at the slice of our machete.

First sunset on Big Corn Island

First sunset on Little Corn Island

This was the view from rigth outside of our Bungalow at Elsa´s Place. The water could not have been more beautiful and the breeze was perfect for keeping your body from getting too hot.

This was the view from right outside of our Bungalow at Elsa´s Place. The water could not have been more a more beautiful blue and the breeze was perfect for keeping your body from getting too hot.

being silly on the beach only 50 metres away from our jungle house at Ensuenos

Being silly on the beach only 50 metres away from our jungle house at Ensuenos

Aaron and Lexi jumping for joy near that beautiful Carribean Sea

Aaron and Lexi jumping for joy near that beautiful Carribean Sea

Having our first Ron Don of Little Corn island. This Little Corn specialty is a coconut curry soup with fish, lobster, prawns, and tons of vegetables. Not only did this only cost $7 but it also included Coconut French Toast with Aunt Jemima syrup for dessert. These meals always took 2 hours to make so we would always order and then go buy groceries, beer and rum and play the card game Uno until the food was ready. Pretty laid back on this island! This pictures contains my Little Corn family. Starting for the right we have; Aaron, Lexi, Myself, Mariano, and Marta.

Having our first Ron Don of Little Corn island. This Little Corn specialty is a coconut curry soup with fish, lobster, prawns, and tons of vegetables. Not only did this only cost $7 but it also included Coconut French Toast with Aunt Jemima syrup for dessert. These meals always took 2 hours to make so we would always order and then go buy groceries, beer and rum and play the card game Uno until the food was ready. Pretty laid back on this island! This pictures contains my Little Corn family. Starting for the right we have; Aaron, Lexi, Myself, Mariano, and Marta.

Taylor Gigante crushes Mariano Flojo

Meanwhile in Paradise, Taylor Gigante crushes Mariano Flojo

Enjoying the view of the jungle from the bench on the roof of our house at Ensuenos

Enjoying the view of the jungle from the bench on the roof of our house at Ensuenos

The whole family climbed the old lighthouse in order to get the best view of the island. There is not a single road on this island. The only Transport is by foot or bicycle. thsi may be the least developed tropical island in the world. Little Corn Island is a true tropical paradise. With its kind native people and beautiful scenery, it is exactly how an island should be.

The whole family climbed the old lighthouse in order to get the best view of the island. There is not a single road on this island. The only Transport is by foot or bicycle. thsi may be the least developed tropical island in the world. Little Corn Island is a true tropical paradise. With its kind native people and beautiful scenery, it is exactly how an island should be.

Thursday morning came around and Mariano, Marta and I decided to head back to the mainland. We gave our hugs and kisses to Aaron and Lexi and exchanged e-mails. I hope they read my blog and know how special they made my trip to Little Corn Island. The trip back to Managua still took along time but I had a bit of a better plan this time since I had already done the reverse trip. The Thursday boat to Bluefields only took 5 and a half hours instead of 8 and I instantly took a Panga up the Rio Escondido to El Rama. I parted ways from Marta and mariano in Bluefields as they made a plan to go 50 kilometres north of Bluefields to a remote area known as Laguna Perlas. It was strange losing those two so soon after losing Aaron and Lexi but that is the way traveling goes sometimes. Luckily I met up with a group of 5 German girls on the boat to Bluefields and we all agreed to stay the night together in El Rama together before catching a chicken bus back to Managua in the morning.

Breakfast in El Rama with the German girls before we hop on our bus to Managua. it was so funny eating with these girls because all of them were vegetarians and one was even a vegan. I support there choices but I also had a lot of fun trying to see the Vegan explain the philosophy to a women serving chicken and beans on the street. I think Nicas have a few other thigns to worry about than drinking milk and eating chicken.

Breakfast in El Rama with the German girls before we hop on our bus to Managua. it was so funny eating with these girls because all of them were vegetarians and one was even a vegan. I support there choices but I also had a lot of fun trying to see the Vegan explain the philosophy to a women serving chicken and beans on the street. I think Nicas have a few other thigns to worry about than drinking milk and eating chicken.

Back in the big city of Managua it was a good vibe. i felt much more confident than I had felt when I arrived their 2 weeks before and was looking forward to meeting up with Celina. We spent the next few days together as I sorted out just what the hell I was going to do about getting down to Colombia for the 21st of January. Why must I get to Columbia for the 20th you may ask? Because I am meeting up with the one and only Steamin´ Willy Beamen in Cartegena… POW!!

One night Celina and I even bumped into our friends from the Salsa Bar we were at the ngith befroe and drove down to Granada with them to party for the night. It was the perfect going away party!

One night Celina and I even bumped into our friends from the Salsa Bar we were at the night before and drove down to Granada with them to party for the night. It was the perfect going away party and was actually the birthday of Merinda, the girl in the red top.

Back on calle Calzada in Granada enjoying the change of scene for the evening after a spontaneous offer from our friends to join them for a night in Granada

Back on calle Calzada in Granada enjoying the change of scene for the evening after a spontaneous offer from our friends to join them for a night in Granada

So here I am in Panama City after taking a 37 hour bus trip all the way from Managua, Nicaragua. It sure felt weird leaving Nicaragua. That place could not have accepted me anymore than it had. I could have stayed for another 3 years and still not seen everything that it had to offer. My Spanish has improved greatly and for that I must thank my homestay family, my teachers, Mariano, Marta and especially, Celina. Nicaragua is DIACACHIMBA! Lots of borders crossed as I started my journey at 6:00 a.m. on Monday morning and arrived at 7:00 p.m. today (Tuesday) at the Panama City bus terminal. Crossing that bridge over the Panama Canal was sure a trip and I can´t wait to head back in the morning to see it all. One more trip from Panama City to Cartegena and I am  to be with my brother, Will Lees. I am so stoked to see him but really have a good feeling about Panama City for now.

Here is a picture of one of the nicer chicken buses (regular transport) I had been using to explore the country. Old school American school buses.

Here is a picture of one of the nicer chicken buses (regular transport) I had been using to explore the country. Old school American school buses that are destined to break down on at least one of your journeys.

This is my first non-public transport I have taken since arriving here in Latin America. I certainly do not need the air-con or reclining chairs but it sure was a nice treat

This is my first non-public transport I have taken since arriving here in Latin America. I certainly do not need the air-con or reclining chairs but it sure was a nice treat

I hope everyone is doing well as always. Life is good down here and it is a nice feeling to have moved to a new country. I am missing Nicaragua and more importantly the people there. If you ever have the urge to make a trip down to Latin Maerica, Nicaragua is an absolute must. it is very late but I am very satisfied to haev a chance alone on a computer in order to write about my travels and add some pictures. Next post might even be from Colombia with my main man Willy Beamen at my side.

Chao Super Guapos,

Taylor





Double Volcano Island and a Feliz Navidad

30 12 2012
On the ferry heading over to Isla de Ometepe. The Volcano in the front is Volcan Concepcion and the one in the distance is Volcan Maderas.

On the ferry heading over to Isla de Ometepe. The Volcano in the front is Volcan Concepcion and the one in the distance is Volcan Maderas.

A picture from the stage at Magma Fest at Charco Verde on Isla de Ometepe

A picture from the stage at Magma Fest at Charco Verde on Isla de Ometepe

Magma Fest on Isla de Ometepe luckily didn´t consist of any real magma but it still was a hell of a way to bring in the new era. After recieving a random message on my wall from my friend Jack I decided last second to make my way out to Isla de Ometepe for a music festival that I knew next to nothing about. The only information I was given was that I had a ticket and that I needed to pick it up at a hostel by the name of Hospedaje Soma. I made my way down to Rivas where I split a taxi to the ferry dock in San Jorge with some new found friends.We arrived 30 minutes early so we were able to get a spot on the upper deck in that nice Nica sun. The sun wasn´t the only beautiful part about being on top. With only a 60 minute trip to the town of Moyagalpa on Isla de Ometepe the view was already incredible. After hearing all the talk about these two massive volcanos that make up the island I was very pleased to see that they lived up to the hype. Definitely the most bad-ass island I´ve come across so far on this planet. Once we started departing the terminal in our impressively stable ferry I began to figure out the ratio. The ratio I was looking for was the one between Nicas and tourists. Up on the top deck it was about half and half but the bottom deck which was undercover was probably more like 80% Nicas and 20% tourists. This worked out in my favour as I am always trying to practice my Spanish and what better place than a giant electronic festival. As we got closer and closer the excitement rose. I of course had my mini-speakers out and did my best to convince people that the ferry ride was actually the pre-party. It seemed to work because soon enough people were grabbing beers out of the bottoms of their bags and even a couple bottles of Flor de Cana began to be passed around. I may or may not have joined in on the Flor de Cana but seeing as how I knew absolutely nothing about the hostel or island for that matter I decided to keep a clear head. I mean it was only 12:30 p.m. and the first day of the festival wasn´t wrapping up until 10 a.m. If you are planning to read on in order to see whether I made it until 10 a.m. then I will save you some time… No, I did not.

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The ferry ride over to Isla de Ometepe. Remember this is an island in the middle of a fresh water lake!

On the ferry bumping my electronic music with Volcan Concepcion behind me

On the ferry bumping my electronic music with Volcan Concepcion behind me

Upon arrival in Moyogalpa I did my best to avoid the invasion of locals trying to make a little extra money off the massive influx of tourists. I made it passed the front lines but I had a hard time explaining to a man that I didn´t want to rent a dirt bike for the weekend. Once he realized that not every backpacker wants a dirt bike he actually gave me brilliant directions right to where my hostal was. After walking 400 metres outside of the town of Moyogalpa I began to debate whether the guy was bitter towards me or not but decided to trust his word. 200 metres further down the very isolated dirt road I arrived at a small sign with an arrow pointing towards Hospedaje Soma. I walked in and to my surprise Jack was sitting in the main bar area on his computer. I gave him a hug and told him I would get my room all sorted quickly. I turned to the lady behind the bar not knowing whether she even worked there or not. I asked in Spanish if she worked at the hospedaje and if she knew which room I would be in. She answered me in perfect english ´You must be Taylor´. The embarrising part about this encounter was that I was so surprised to hear English from a hostel worker that I just said ´Thank you´. After speaking Spanish much of the morning and trying to be ripped off by Taxi drivers who never tell you the truth I couldn´t believe that I was so thankful that she spoke English. Anyways, let us move on. $8 USD per night and we had the entire place to ourselves. After tossing my backpack in a locker we walked back into town to grab some food since I hadn´t eaten a thing since 7:30 a.m. The first place we came across already had some of our friends from the Netherlands there and nice local dishes according to the menu so we decided to join them. A couple of Canadians from the ship also walked by and decided to join in. As the food began to arrive, feelings of friendship towards the Dutch began to dissipate. They spoke zero Spanish and were being rediculously picky and rude about there meals. In the end they ended up not even paying for their meals or drinks which in the traveling world automatically labels you as a ´dickhead´. After much conversation with the family that ran the restaurant we were able to explain we really did not know them and we can´t be held responsible for their actions. Needless to say, we still left the restaurant feeling a little more than awkward.

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Back to the hostel for a shower and in order to throw on the deepest V-neck I could find in my backpack. We went to another hostel called Hospedaje Central because, well, it was more central. We met up with the Scots, Germans, Canadians, Israelis, and British and began to pur a few Flor de Cana´s with Coca-Cola. A pretty diverse group to say the least but that´s what happens when you throw a music festival on the location of the 8th natural wonder of the world. We still had to go 15 km out of Moyogalpa in order to get to the festival which takes about 45 minutes in a car on a far from smooth path. Luckily things work out sometimes and a man named Harold actually came to us asking if we needed transport to the festival. After hearing people had been paying $30 for a round trip I began to put my bartering face on. Harold at first said $15 one way and then I told him that was far too much for one person. It turned out that he meant for all 15 people at the hostel. $1 each? I can worry about transport home later. So there we were cramming ourselves into this weird shaped shuttle van and sending it off into the night towards Magma Fest.

With Gangnam Style and Daddy Yankee blasting the whole way to Magma Fest it made me realize that  it´s the people that make party buses into parties, not the buses. We waved our farewells to Harold and hopped out about 150 metres from the beach. You could already hear the music but a hotel blocked the view of where the festival was being held. We gave in our tickets and exchanged them for wristbands as we heard the music getting louder and louder. We walked through the chill restaurant area of the hotel and eventually made our way out to the beach where the festival was being held. Victoria Frost and Flor de Cana were the official liquor sponsers of the festival and were doing free beer or rum promotions every 30 minutes. The party was packed and every one was already hitting the dance floor hard. I ran into friends from Granada and others from San Juan del Sur and met lots of new friends as well. It was really a cool group of people that had come together to celebrate electronic music and the changing of the Mayan calendar. Some were dancing in the water while others were full out swimming. By the time it hit 4 a.m. it was actually quite interesting to walk around and see the different positions people had last put themselves into before they said buenas noches to the world. I´m pretty sure that lots of people couldn´t find accomodation close enough to the festival so decided that they would just sleep on the beach. Each to their own, but god bless Jack for getting me a nice cozy bed on the other side of Volcan Concepcion. The ride back was $5 each but the only other options were to walk home and get robbed or sleep on the road you were trying to walk home on and then getting robbed.

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The upper stage at Magma Fest as the sun was setting on the first evening.

The upper stage at Magma Fest as the sun was setting on the first evening.

Jack, Lily, and myself posing for the camera as the night started to pick up

Jack, Lily, and myself posing for the camera as the night started to pick up

We had a nice snooze in until about 10:30 then went around town to get some pictures of the sites and grab some zaaaa (pizza). By the way ´zaaa´ is not the Spanish spelling of pizza, it is just the way that idiots spell it. We made our way to the festival quite a bit earlier using the public bus. Although I wasn´t upset about spending $1 on the shuttle the night before, it still felt great to pay only 5 cordobas (15 cents) for a ride. The best part about it all was that we got dropped off at Charco Verde where the festival was being held and felt a little apprehensive. The bus driver told us just to go straight down this road and you will get there. I don´t think there is a creepier road than this one anywhere but still we started to make our way down towards where we were told the festival was.

The best picture I could get of our walk down the road that could possibly be heading into the middle of the forest.

The best picture I could get of our walk down the road that could possibly be heading into the middle of the forest.

Just when we started to think that we were probably walking the opposite direction we began to hear a deep bass. The music lifted our nervousness and as a car passed us on the way down the road we knew we were on the right track. The second night had much nicer electro even putting on some Deadmau5 a few times. The vibe was way more local since lots of locals from Managua had arrived in the morning having had work the day before. People were friendly, dances were danced, and drinks were drunk???

Night #2 at Magma Fest with a couple Nicas

Night #2 at Magma Fest chatting with a couple of Nicas

The next day the party was over so back to the ferry dock we went. The problem is that on Sundays the entire island shuts down. The ferries that are supposed to leave every 2 hours were now just going to leave when they wanted if they wanted. We hoped to catch a 10 o´clockish bus but ended up not departing until 2:30 p.m. I didn´t have big plans for the day anyways and was just happy to have my ipod and beautiful views of Isla de Ometepe as we sailed back towards the mainland.

A picture in front of the church at Moyogalpa on our way to the ferry dock on Isla de Ometepe

A picture in front of the church at Moyogalpa on the way to the ferry dock on Isla de Ometepe

A picture of one of the ferries that transports you to Isla de Ometepe

A picture from one of the ferries OF one of the ferries that transports you to Isla de Ometepe

Arriving back in Granada once again gave me that very cool feeling of belonging but also a longing for a new adventure. The family and I ate dinner togetehr as I explained the exciting events of the weekend and shortly after that I went to my room and read myself to sleep. After all, it was Christmas Eve in the morning.

It was a nice feeling to be back home in Granada. It sure was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

It was a nice feeling to be back home in Granada. It sure was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

The last few days have been filled with holiday cheer, food, and bombs. The bombas here can hardly be called fireworks but they still have the people obsessed. Christmas is a very different vibe here than in Canada and for that I am thankful to have experienced it in its fullness. My homestay father Winston was talking wiht great excitment about the party we were having in the evening and making sure everything was ready for the fiesta. Christmas Eve is the really important day for them down here and it is all about the countdown to midnight. All day my two little brothers were losing their mind trying to figure out what Nick, Johanness, and I had bought for them for Christmas. A couple tiems I even caught them trying to rip a hole in the side of my present to see what it was. As family and neighbours began to head over, the front doors to the place were opened and Winston´s rediculously sized speakers were pushed onto the street. Ton and Yersil spent most of the evening blowing off firecrackers with other kids from the street and I spent my time in a rocking chair eating the best shrimp cocktail ever made and enjoying a few Flor de Cana´s and Coca-Cola. We all sang a bunch of Karaoke and even some women from Taiwan walked a whole block up to join in on the Karaoke. Nobody understood a word of what she was saying (becuase it was a Chinese song) but she actually had a pretty good voice. Since I spend much of my days following my host mother around the house singing Enrique Iglesias and rapping Daddy Yankee songs, Mario Jose decided it was time for me to perform ´Dimelo´ by the one and only Enrique Iglesias (I know Julio was the actual one and only). My brother Nick has a few pictures of me pouring out my heart and soul as I sang ´Dímelo por que estas fuera de mi y al mismo tiempo estas muy dentro´ so I hope to get a hold of those pictures soon. The rum definitely upped my passion levels as I rocked the mic like it wudn`t nuttin`. At 5 minutes to midnight I´m pretty sure the city began to lose it´s mind. Winston cut the music and everyone ran out to the street to light off more and more bombas. No one was able to talk to one another because the streets were just covered in Fireworks. In hindsight, I really don´t know how someone didn´t lose an arm or eye or something. At midnight everyone walked around hugging and kissing every person. It was a very special moment and the hugs I received from my host family and brothers made me feel very blessed to have been placed in such a happy family. I skyped back home and was able to chat with my family as well who were all in Calgary doing the big family dinner thing and I was happy to hear they were having a nice Christmas Eve as well.

Winston (my homestay father) and Nick (my homestay brother) killing it on the karaoke. I´m pretty sure this one was some Danish version of a popular English song

Winston (my homestay father) and Nick (my homestay brother) killing it on the karaoke. I´m pretty sure this one was some Danish version of a popular English song

Sittign out on the street enjoying the Christmas music and Winston`s famous Shrimp Cocktail

Sitting out on the street enjoying the Christmas music and Winston`s famous Shrimp Cocktail

Mario Jose (My homestay mother) watches over our neighbour as she sings a Spanish love song. You can even see my head poking out in the middle!

Mario Jose (My homestay mother) watches over our neighbor`s shoulder as she sings a Spanish love song. You can even see my head poking out in the middle!

Johanness hanging out with Julie from Taiwan out on the calle

Johanness hanging out with Julie from Taiwan out on the calle

Ton (my little Nica brother) lighting off a bunch of firecrackers.

Ton (my little Nica brother) lighting off a bunch of firecrackers. They love their bombas on Christmas Eve.

I shouldn´t say I received hugs from all of my homestay family because they were actually too busy ripping the paper off of their presents. They only recieved a few gifts and it made me feel more than a little spoiled for all the presents I recieved as a child (but at the same time they were awesome so thanks a lot Madre and Padre)! The kids were finished unwrapping before they started and were quick to work at setting up the race track that my brothers Nick and Johanness had helped buy with me for the kids. We all worked hard to assemble it but after about 30 minutes of intensive labour I still couldn´t get the cars to move more then 6 inches before derailing from the track. We have been able to use some sandpaper on the metal parts of the track in order to smooth it but Nick and I still agree with each other that it is a ´piece of shit present´. Sometimes it is nice that the family doesn´t speak any English so that the kids don´t even flinch when you say a sentence like that. Money down the tube but I feel that the boys don´t mind too much. They saw how disappointed we were and felt bad as we kept trying to make it work better. I wish we just gave them each 500 cordobas to go buy what they wanted but where is the Christmas fun in that?

Christmas Day was very low-key. It consisted of those tasty hot-dog buns with nothing on them for breakfast and afterwards a nice little Christmas movie with the family. Everything is closed so we all just hung out together. I tried heading to the city of Masaya to visit a friend but after waiting for the bus for an hour I realized theat there probably wan´t one coming that day. Last night was the last night that Johanness, Nick and I would all be together so we treated ourselves to a cappucino and talked about our favourite times together. The schooling part of my trip is coming to an end and the adventure really begins now. Tomorrow I leave for Managua where I plan to stay for the weekend before I make my way across the country to the Caribbean Coast. The Caribbean side sounds like it has as much in common with the west coast of Nicaragua as Granada has in common with Vancouver. Most of the residents are ancestors of a group of slaves who swam to shore after their slave ship crashed and others are of some sort of British descent. The vibe is supposed to be very relaxed but many towns are very seedy and best to stay in your room in the evening. Information is a little hard to come across and I think it is safe to say that it is definetely off the beaten path. Roads are close to non-existant but the views are phenomenal. Plans always change but for now my plan is to try and get to Las Islas de Maiz by next Wednesday. That means lots of long bumpy bus rides, a 100 km ride down a river and an 8 hour journey through the Caribbean to the Pequena Isla de Maiz. This place is better then those postcards you see trying to capture paradise. Diving is a must and kaying will be plentiful. The beauty of it all is that it has hardly even been discovered. There are no roads, resorts, cars, or motorcycles on the island and rooms can be found for $10 a night. I hope to right before I embark on this cross country journey but if not, wish me luck!

Last evening with my brothers in Granada

Last evening with my brothers in Granada

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas and had an incredible 2012! Lot´s of things to be thankful for. What are you thankful for? I received an e-mail yesterday with a link to a video that my brother had edited for me as a Christmas present. This video consisted of several clips of different family members wishing me luck on my travels and telling me they loved me. I say it all the time but family is the most important thing in the world. I am thankful for all of you but I am especially thankful for the love and support that I have always recieved from my Madre, Padre, Hermano, and my extended family. I get the feeling that 2013 is going to be another great year.

Chao guapos,

Taylor

P.S. I am posting this a couple days later because I wanted to include pictures. I am currently in Managua visiting Celina and having an incredible time. Happy New Year and  I will post soon!








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