Columbia was truly fabulous, and I had the best time ever. I allowed myself a little sniff and sulk once I was safely in the international departure lounge, but i´ve made some good memories and I won´t forget the experiences or the people who shared them with me any time soon.
But now here I am in Ecuador, and the hard part begins. 80-odd days, and a whole lot of travelling with a backpack that is, frankly, way to effing heavy!! Unfortunately there´s nothing in it I can ditch yet, but when I get to Rio i´ll chuck the whole lot away and start shopping for Sydney and Bali!
The official currency here is the $USD, weirdly, although I was grateful as I was carrying some and could just get straight in a cab to the hotel. I spent a night in a hotel alone with the intention of getting some sleep, but for reasons unknown didn´t get a wink despite being exhausted. I did however get to use … wait for it … a hairdryer (!!!!!!), which I was very excited about.
It was time to meet the people i´d be spending the next 3 months with, so I got a cab to the joining point. Presently there are 12 of us, representing the UK, USA, Australia, Germany and Switzerland. Of those 12, 7 are going all the way through to Rio with most of the others departing in La Paz. People will leave and join along the way, but we 7 will remain constant throughout. It´s a good crowd, ranging in age from 20-63. Of those of us going to Rio, we are spread from 20-37. The group includes two crazy Aussies who have already proved they will eat anything and jump off anything – I think we´re pretty much guaranteed a great time!
Our guide for the first 2 weeks is Diego. He is local from Quito and will take us as far as Lima. On the first night he took us to a local Ecuadorian restaurant, where we all ordered ´safe´. We´re waiting until we get to Peru to try the Guinea Pig!
Having arrived early at the meet point on day 1, a few of us had the chance to chat and get to know each other a bit, and also book ourselves an activity for the next day. Unfortunately we only had one full day in Quito which is nowhere near enough, but we were hell-bent on making the most of it. Therefore, at 6.30am the next morning four of us made our way to our collection point for our day trip to Mindo cloud forest, the last cloud forest in Ecuador. Not a single cloud did we see that day, but apparently it really IS a cloud forest!
The first thing i noticed was the altitude, and the amount of water I was having to drink. The upshot of this was that I had to pee, ALL the time!! Thankfully there was plenty to distract me on the way, with spectacular views, and a couple of nuns carrying posh handbags. This prompted a discussion about what could be in a nun´s handbag, and distracted me from my bladder for at least 10 minutes.
Mindo is a 2hr drive from Quito. On arrival, we spent the first part of the day hiking to waterfalls, where we were able to swim. Can honestly say it´s about the coldest water i´ve been in in my life, save for a waterfall somewhere outside of Sheffield in my university days. However, apparently Baltic cold water has a wonderful firming effect on the skin according to Pippa Middleton. Sounds like bollocks to me, but you never know …
Next activity was zip-wiring. I´ve been afraid of heights for as long as I can remember, so the prospect didn´t sill me with joy. However, it seems that my fear of heights has taken a vacation, and I have therefore decided to jump off as many high things as possible on this trip. These zip-wires were high and fast. As well as just sailing along, there is an option for attaching yourself to one of the guides and going either head-first (Superman) or upside down (Mariposa or ´butterfly´). The Superman thing is really fun. When you look down you can see your own shadow on the trees below and you look like an aeroplane. The Mariposa thing is just bonkers. Basically you hang upside down with arms and legs spread like a starfish. You then zip along the wire like that, and watch the other end coming at you upside down. It had to be tried!
The rest of the day was spent slightly more sedately. We went to see how chocolate is made start to finish (they also make possibly the best brownies in the world, ever!), and then spent the rest of the time photographing hummingbirds. This is turning into something of a hobby, as you can watch them for hours and you get one good photo out of every 10. We got back absolutely exhausted, but at least we could say we made the most of our day!!