Archives for posts with tag: South America

Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena transported me to a different time and place. Never have I seen such a cluster of fabulously maintained buildings, as well as narrow streets and plazas, all within the colonial walled city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site ( UNESCO World Heritage Site ).

Every step inside those walls was essentially a TravelingReal moment. The extremely colorful buildings continuously kept me in awe, which, in certain ways, is symbolic: South America is a colorful continent. Colorful in the literal sense, with the clothing and crafts made by artisans; colorful in its magnificent nature; colorful in its people.

And there you have it — Lima, Peru to Cartagena, Colombia. A perfect (unplanned) itinerary.

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Salento, Colombia

This part of Colombia is absolutely beautiful. It’s a funny thing: because I had already seen plenty of nature in Peru and Ecuador it never occurred to me that any other sight could produce such awe. But outside of Salento, the town I stayed in, there is an area of surreal natural beauty called the Valle de Cocora — an area where Dr. Seuss’ imagined trees, the national tree of Colombia called the “wax palm” ( Wax Palm), actually exist.

My Traveling Real pic takes place in a café in Salento where a young man prepares fresh coffee. Intrigued by his coffee-making technique I learned that this brewing machine is an antique, continuously used since the early 1900’s!

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Colombia

Popayan, Colombia

At the bus station in Otavalo, Ecuador I met two friendly German women who were heading in the same direction and our first stop a couple hours from the border was the well-preserved colonial city, Popayan, known as Cuidad Blanca (White City). The City reminded me of another Ciudad Blanca I had known five years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia, Sucre.

Leaving Ecuador for Colombia was exciting due to the great unknown that lay ahead. When I began my travels to South America never did I guess that Colombia would be my last stop, let alone a highlight! Why a highlight you might ask? Three words: architecture, coffee and nature. Popayan satisfied the first and second categories.

My Traveling Real pic is the cafe. Those coffee makers are the norm there- coffee pours out of one side and hot milk out the other. There was nothing quite like immersing myself in a crowded Colombian cafe that first morning in order to Really Know I’m actually in Colombia.

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Otavalo, Ecuador

Traveling Real doesn’t get much more real when you find yourself in any indigenous town, but especially in Otavalo. Surrounded by incredible scenery, it’s famous for its Saturday market where travelers can buy a bunch of colorful artesanía ( goods made by hand ) and enjoy local-watching ( people come from nearby towns, like Cotacachi, to sell their goods ) because many of the area’s inhabitants dress and wear their hair in a distinct way. Fortunately I traveled to Otavalo during a holiday so there was an air of festivity in the air.

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Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador has a wonderful historic center, Bro. There’s just so much history, Man. It’s like getting into a plutonium-powered DeLorian and ending up in 1500’s Ecuador, Dude. I was fortunate enough to be there during some kind of cultural weekend because there was lots of live music and free admission to museums and stuff. I also hung out with my friend again who lives in Tena and we had a pretty decent Thai meal in Quito’s hip neighborhood. She also shopped around this artesania market and it was there I first became aware of the Spanish phrase, “A la orden.” It loosely translates to, “Will you marry me?” Why the locals trying to sell me their beautiful handicrafts continuously propose?? Beats the heck out of me –but hey that’s why we travel! “And that’s all I got to say about Quito” ( Forrest Gump accent).

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P.S. “A la orden” actually means more like “at your service.” 🙂

P.P.S. I take back the Back To The Future reference because really Quito didn’t exactly metaphorically transport me to a different time and place. I realize this even more clearly because I happen to be in Cartagena, Colombia (my final stop on this trip) and parts of that city truly transport the traveler to a different era! But historic Quito is still an incredible place to visit nonetheless.

Tena, Ecuador

The Amazon jungle / rainforest is immersing one’s self in a rugged, adventurous way that makes the experience very memorable.

That week I hung out with an American friend working in Tena, spent a day on the wildest river rafting trip I’ve been on, went on jungle walks and explored other nearby jungle towns.

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Baños, Ecuador

Baños is a cool town. It’s surrounded by incredible mountain scenery and an active volcano nearby. I became friendly with some people working at a popular restaurant. One of them is a tour guide (he’s in the pic making an espresso drink) and coincidentally I ran into him in the next town I visited, Tena, with a group of travelers, which I will talk about in the next post.

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Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca, Ecuador, like cities I visited in Peru, feels like a living museum. Just wandering its streets one can feel the past in all it’s grandeur.

My traveling real moment occurred one evening while I was looking for a place to eat. A crowd of people walked into a theater where there was to be a performance. I followed the crowd and found a seat. It turned out to be a musical performance by kids who sang (what I imagined to be Ecuadorian songs), and played instruments beautifully. Watching the performance, likely the only foreigner in the theater, I realized again how these unique moments really make traveling memorable.

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Sometimes it’s in the least likely of places: where the authenticity of a city or town becomes realized and, therefore, you stay longer than expected.

I’m talking about San Ignacio, the last major town before the Peru / Ecuador border. Practically speaking, there was no reason to stick around. After all, there are no travel agencies offering tours! And there are no foreign-owned cafes! And Ecuador is sooo close! But I stayed anyway, just wandering around, not seeing another “extranjero” (foreigner like me) all day long. More likely than not a few other travelers were wandering around too, having their own unique day in San Ignacio, Peru.

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For the past few weeks I’ve planned that my last major stop in Peru would be on a beach in Mancora, but something about that seemed too easy and relaxing; Peru is all about adventure so instead I headed for one last set of amazing ruins.

These are the ruins of Kuelap near a city called Chachapoyas in northern Peru, not far from the border with Ecuador. I also hiked to the Gocta Waterfalls, apparently one of the world’s highest.

Traveling Real story: the hike to the waterfalls is muddy so my guide suggested I rent boots. The boots looked inappropriate for hiking but I figured “when in Rome..” Well, in the beginning my feet were fine but as the hours passed I realized something wasn’t right- my feet were hurting like never before. And my guide, as friendly as she was, just didn’t understand my plight. She was telling me about her nonexistent love life in Peru and how amusing she finds it when Peruvian women are dating foreigners, and I’m trying to listen and converse all in Spanish, and meanwhile my feet are killing me. In short, a handful of my toenails are now a purplish bruised color so I will remember those waterfalls for quite sometime!

Kuelap

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