travel map

Click here to see my lovely Travel Map at Travellerspoint. It’s still a work in progress. So many places I’ve been that I still need to add (mainly Europe). Still so many more places to see. Travelling makes me happiest.

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most memorable and magical moments

A summary of the most memorable moments of my adventure through South America (in no particular order of importance, simply memories that stand out)

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homeward bound

I feel as though I’ve been falling a bit behind in my blogging lately. I guess that means I’m having too much fun! Its almost time to go home, so here is a summary of my final days in South America. All the love in the world for South America, but I am so happy to be going HOME!!!!

  1. Fun in Mancora (Peru) – Few words are needed to describe this point. Going back to Mancora felt like I was going back home. Back with our little family of travellers. Hayley and I were happy 🙂

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    Happy in Mancora with Hayley

  2.  Traveling back to Quito (Ecuador) via every form of transport possible – A collectivo (minivan) from the bus stop to the town where nearest to the border, squished between some sizely humans and the lady who booked the bus tickets for us (lets call her “Maria”. Then, we hopped into Maria’s friends car, along with Maria and her hubby, and the 5 of us drove to the border like a happy little family. At the border, Maria’s friend left, Maria and hubby stood with our backpacks while we went through passport control (they didn’t go through passport control????), then Maria, hubby, Hayley and I got a taxi to the town on the other side of the border where Maria made sure we were at the right bus terminal to then get a shitty bus for a whole long many hours from that mystery town to Quito bus terminal. At Quito bus terminal, we then got a taxi to our hostel, and pheeewwww, we finally made it. Hello cool weather in Quito. I never thought I’d be so happy to be cold.
  3. A chilled night in Quito (Ecuador), a little bit of wandering around (mainly to find a bank that worked with my bank cards, but also to the ECUATOR!!). – Here’s a tip for travels in South America in general: Always have a VISA bank card. I had one, but it got eaten by an ATM in Cusco, but nonetheless, its a necessity, otherwise you ill continuously be fighting with various ATM’s to try get your hard earned money out of the machine, and into the world of spending cash!

    Middle of the World with Hayley and our monkeys

    Middle of the World with Hayley and our monkeys

  4. Time to fly back to Buenos Aires (Argentina) – I didn’t plan on going back to Argentina this soon. I though I still had another few weeks to travel up to Colombia and see the beautiful Caribean cost but….flights in South America are soooooo expensive. While I was looking at different options to fly back to Buenos Aires (Argentina), I found that the cheapest option was to fly from Quito (Ecuador). Therefore, I never made it up to Colombia (but I will be back someday I promise!!), instead I hopped on a 6 hour flight back to the land of good wine and beautiful people.
  5. Iguasu Falls (Argentina and Brazil) – Met up with a Belgian friend, Salvatore and we hit the road on an 18hour bus ride to the border of Argentina and Brazil to go see the magical Iguazu falls. We saw them in Argentina then crossed the border and saw them from the Brazilian side too. Both sides are a must! Soooo much water!
  6. Home Sweet Home (South Africa) – The long flight home with the most crazy turbulence of all time. But now I’m home and happy and adjusting… The adjustment is weird but seeing everybody is great.

Hitch hiking through Ecuador with a Colombian drug dealer called Juan Pablo

My next stop on my journey was Quito, in Ecuador. A brief stopover in the city, then I split up from my happy family. Elle was heading off to Panama, and Mike and the two Dutch girls, Carolien and Inge, we’re heading to Colombia. I joined up with some others that I’d met along the way, and we heading to the little surf town of Mompiche in Ecuador. I’m not even going to bother describing in detail my bad luck on this trip, because I feel like it’s becoming a theme, but of course, the bus broke down, we had to stay in a dodgy town called Esmeralda’s for a night of extreme sweating and no ventilation, but we made it to Mompiche, and it was great to be back in the sunshine with sandy toes.

Edd (French), Marissa (American) and little Sammy (Aussie) are all super enthusiastic surfers. So we spent the first day going on adventures to find amazing surf spots on beaches covered in the softest black sand I’ve ever seen in my life. Mompiche isn’t filled with travelers and holiday makers in the same way as all the other places I’ve been. It’s a quiet little town where nobody bothers you or tries to sell you things. You’re left at your own device to buy fresh fruit, eat fresh fish, and relax. Tranquilo.
Months back, when Sam and I were still traveling together, we made a memorable stay at the Loki hostel in Salta in Argentina. For the week we were there, we had formed a group of friends who we giggles with for days on end and drank infamous amounts of Loki “Blood Bombs”. My favorite person of the bunch we were hanging out with, was a British girl called Hayley because we just got along childishly well. Her and I always promised we would meet up again at some point on our journeys, and finally the time had come. She came and found me in Mompiche. Instantly, we hit it off as of before, laughing until our ribs ached, laughing at nothing, laughing at everything. Together we are a ridiculous pair. We shouldn’t travel together. People look at us funny because we are in hysterics non stop. We make impulsive decisions. We are carefree. We are two silly blonde girls far away from home.
When she arrived, her and I went for lunch. During lunch we started toying with the idea of heading back down to Mancora in Peru for a couple of days of fun and silliness together before I was to fly back to Buenos Aires in Argentina and before she headed on to Colonbia. By the end of that lunch, we’d found a lift with a man named Juan Pablo, his dog Jax, and his driver (whose name is unknown). They were going to take us half way down Ecuador. We packed up our bags and set off with these strangers who conveniently just happened to be going in our direction.
We probably shouldn’t have been so impulsive about hitchhiking with this guy. During the trip which seemed to take way longer than planned, we stopped to take photos of a giant paper mâché iguana, we took a detour through a beach town called Canoa (just so we could have a look) and Juan Pablo even kindly (creepily) offered to give Hayley a foot massage.
K: Juan Pablo, what do you do for a living
JP: importing and exporting
K: Oh cool, of whaaaaat?
JP: consumer goods
K: not drugs though right
*awkward silence*
JP: drugs are bad
We made it alive to Manta (it took 4 hours), then hopped on a bus to Guayacil (3 more hours), slept in the Guayacil bus station (for 7 hours), then caught a morning bus to Manocora (9 more hours including border control). And then we were home in Mancora…

Ending 2013 in Ecuador

After the crazy times spent in Mancora in Peru, my kiwi friend Elle and I hopped onto a bus to Montanita in Ecuador. Our New Years Eve destination.

We arrived there without accommodation, and over this time of year, we were lucky to find a place for one night. A beautiful dorm at the top of the hostel, open to the night air, with mosquito nets to guard us from the feisty flying creatures of the night. That first night was a rather calm one, considering what we’d put our bodies through in the weeks prior. We just spent our time hunting down a hostel that had space for 9 people. A big quest. The following day, a bunch of different friends were arriving, so we wanted to secure a place where we could all be together.

We found a place. It wasn’t glorious, but it was ours. The hostel which literally did not have a name. The showers were cold. The toilets had no seats. There was only water when the owner went to go pump water for us from below the hostel. We used the WIFI from the hostel across the road. The kitchen smelt like mould. But we were happy to have a place to call home for the following four nights.

Montanita is a crazy place. It’s a beach town that is bigger than Mancora (where we’d just come from), and crazier too. There were so many Ecuadorians and Peruvians walking the streets without tops on, lots of muscle, lots of “Jersey Shore” really. Unexpectadly, there weren’t nearly as many travellers in Montanita as expected. The majority was creepy Ecuadorian men.

The 9 of us became a happy little family. People would ask us where we’re from… uhm… 3xAussie, 2xDutch, 1xKiwi, 1xSaffa, 2xCanada. We spent a few days just relaxing and lying on the beach, going for walks, and just catching our breath again. Mancora really took it out of us.

New Year’s Eve was completely childish. They have this tradition in Ecuador where they paper mâché figures of cartoon characters (you can buy them from pretty much any store) and then on New Year’s Eve you throw them into a big bonfire on the beach. I have no idea the significance of it, but it’s so much fun. A group of us bought a paper mâché Sid the sloth, a character from the movie “Ice Age”. We took him around on activities with us for a couple days leading up to New Years Eve. He road a donkey, chilled on the beach, came on a hike, came to dinner with us and a whole bunch of exiting activities for a Sloth. We then bought a whole ton of fireworks, and at about 10pm on nye, we shot fireworks at Sid the Sloth, then put them up his legs and blew him into smithereens. We only threw the remnants into the bonfire (as per tradition).

The actual New Years party was something Else entirely… On the beach there were thousands of creepy Ecuadorians and Peruvians. A South American form of jersey shore really. Walking around very arrogantly, shirts off, bumping past people, and just not really caring about very much at all. Very different to the backpacker lifestyle I’ve been living so far. Just before midnight, about 40 surfers came running onto the beach with there boards and stood in a big circle and chanted while some guy did fire dancing, then they all went off and had a midnight surf. Again, I have no idea of the significance, but it’s really interesting to experience traditions in different parts of the world. People were blowing up stuff all over the place and it actually got to the point where it was actually quite unsafe. People were setting them off among the crowds of thousands of people on the beach. I actually even saw a guy rolling in the sand trying to put out the flames on his clothes. It is possible to buy any fireworks you want, on any street corner. At home in South Africa fireworks are very regulated, and even quite badly viewed. They frighten dogs and are quite dangerous. But here, there was no concern for safety whatsoever.

Almost directly after the New Years countdown, our troop of friends headed off to an amazing nightclub that we had stumbled upon a few days before. It is the only club I’ve found in South America so far that plays good music. In the opinion of all backpackers, South American music is AWFULL!! ThE club was epic and it was a refreshing change from the rest of the music we’ve been exposed to in the past few months. The club is called “The Lost Beach Club” and they had an American deep house DJ playing called Lee Curtis.

And that was how I ended my year of 2013, in Ecuador. I would never have expected to spend a NYE in Ecuador but now I’ve done it! Happy New Years everybody.

Mancora Madess

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been hanging out in the little beach town of Mancora in the very North of Peru. Everyone moans that the water is cold, but they know nothing until they’ve felt the icy shores of Cape Town. The water temperature is in-between that of Durban and the Cape, so probably Port Elizabeth temperature. For me, it is perfect. Every morning, I woke up and went to swim in the sea, to wash away the festivities from the night before. Every night there was a big party at the hostel.

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In the days, I work, 4 times a week, 7 hours a shift at the Loki Hostel in Mancora. It’s more of a resort than a hostel. People don’t even need to leave the hostel because it provides you with everything you need. Working at this got me free accommodation in the crazy staff room, more commonly known as “the jungle”. The jungle is one of two staff rooms and is the wilder of the two. There are always people coming in and out, partying in the dorm after the bar closes. It’s barely possible to see the floor because everybody’s stuff if just strewn across it. There is graffiti and love notes written on all the walls. It’s so dark in there and the lights are so useless and the window faces a dark alley. I have to use my phone light to try get into my locker to find my belongings. All my stuff is neatly thrown into my locker and locked away. My personal mess. Words cannot describe this place. It is crazy and frustrating and amazing and some of the best weeks I’ve had in my life. Everyone that works there is amazing and we’re a big happy family. People work, then leave, and new people come, but it’s always family.  I also get free breakfast and one other free meal a day, plus 40% off any other food or drinks I buy. I lived their pretty cheaply for three weeks and it’s been a wild ride of so much fun and happiness, but after three weeks of this wild lifestyle, I’m done and happy to move on.
Christmas was spent at the hostel, then on the night of the 26th December, I got a bus to Montanita in Ecuador with a Kiwi friend, Elle. I thought that the border crossing was going to be scary, but it turned out to be easy as pie. We planned to head straight up to Medellin for New Years in Colombia, but last minute we changed out minds and decided to meet up with a bunch of other friends in Montanita in Ecuador instead. I would never have ever thought that I’d spend a New Years Eve in Ecuador.
And that’s all the news for now…
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all. xx

I’m not pretty when I’m sweaty, but Machu Pichu sure is a beauty.

I’ve spent the past week hanging out in Cusco, making new friends and enjoying this beautiful city filled with a combination of old Incan buildings and Spanish Colonial buildings. It really is a special place, this Incan Capital.

Machu Pichu is “close” to Cusco. So finally the time came for me to do a two day adventure to go and view the magical ruins. I went with four German friends who managed to find us a “cheap” package deal to get there and back in one piece. $125. The poor South African Rand really wasn’t built for us humans with travel in our blood.

On day one we were fetched from our hostel at 8:00am (Peruvian time means we were actually fetched at about 8:40am). I left all the planning up the Germans, so I actually had no idea what to expect. I definitely didn’t expect the 6 hour windy drive in a minivan squished full of people. So much for “close” to Cusco. The narrow road weaves and winds along mountain edges, making everyone’s hearts jolt, but it’s worth the thrill because it is just so breathtakingly beautiful.

6 hours later, with a quick lunch break inbetween, we were dropped off at a train station called Hidroelectrico. No train for us, we were sent on a 10km trek along the train tracks and through the valley to the town of Aguascalientes. So unprepared but so fun. 2.5 hours later, we arrived, sweaty but full of smiles.

The traditional 4 day Inca trail route to trek to Machu Pichu is apparently the most incredible experience of all time, but there are only a certain amount of passes per day to do the Inca trail and it needs to be booked months in advance. Unfortunately (in this case) I’m only planning my journey day by day, so no Inca Trail for me. But because I didn’t get that experience, I was still very appreciative that we were sent on an adventure of our own.

In the evening we went to the hot springs in Aguascalientes but it’s not really worth writing about. Think 15 year old Peruvian boys leering at all the female tourists in their little bikinis, and hot springs smelling distinctly like a combination of pee and chlorine. Not recommended.

Early to bed. Early to rise.

We woke at 4am and set off in the dark to trek up 1778 Incan stairs to get to the entrance of the ruins of Machu Pichu. As we walked up those stairs, sweat dripping and the sound of my own breath consuming me, my mind kept flicking to an inspirational family friend of ours, Lara Kruiskamp. Lara is currently on a journey to run 7 marathons on the 7 different continents. One of her marathons was running the Inca Trail. I could barely make it up the stairs to the entrance, never mind a marathon along the Incan trail at altitude. Heres a link to her blog, CLICK ME PLEASE! It is really inspiring, and if you feel like donating something to her cause, that’d be lovely too.

Machu Pichu is something else. It’s a real magical experience to be surrounded by the mystery of the incomplete ruins of this Incan civilisation. Words can’t describe it. Pictures can’t really either. But they’ll have to do. PRETTY PICTURES HERE.

Feeling Restless

The intention was to stay in Córdoba for a month. So far, we have been here for just over 2 weeks. I (Karen) am starting to get restless. These itchy feet of mine are begging me to take them to the beach. From spending evenings watching the sun go down at home on Glenn Beach or walking my dogs at Hout Bay beach, my toes are pretty well acquainted with sea sand. Now it’s been three weeks of sea sand deprivation. Life is tough right?

I’m starting to consider the possibilities of leaving here a bit earlier. What are the protocol’s with leaving a host hostel earlier than anticipated? Does anyone have any ideas?

Córdoba has been great to us. The hostel where we’ve been working has become a family of sorts. Sam, myself, Gabi (from Columbia) and Eugene (from Canada), spend endless days lazing around the hostel, drinking tea, eating far to many delicious empanadas, and drinking copious amounts of wine and beer. Every once in awhile we go on a day outing somewhere. I know I shouldn’t be complaining. But I’m on this epic trip, and I need to make the most of it. I feel as if Córdoba and I need to go our separate way.

We have actually done a fair amount while we’ve been here, and I’ve learnt quite a few new skills too.

Fredy (a Columbian guy that works at the hostel) has made me my very own Quena, which is a traditional Incan flute. It’s a huge gesture on his part and I am blown away with his generosity. It is said that if you can play the Quena, you can control your soul. I’m well on my way in learning to play it. It will be quite a significant personal achievement to be able to play it well. On the funny side, everyone thinks I will make so much money if I can play it, busking around town playing this traditional Incan flute with my ditsy blonde hair and fair skin and very poor Spanish skills.

I’ve also learnt the basics of Macramé. We’ve been to a trance party in the Spiritual centre of Argentina in a town called Capilla del Monte. I’ve gone to a beautiful Alpine village called La Cumbrecita, which is situated at about 1450 meters above sea level in the middle of the wood and is said to be the town that inspired the setting for the Disney Movie Bambi. I’ve even had a little bit of a holiday romance. Yet still my feet are itching.

Soon enough, Sam and I will be sitting on the beach in Peru, braiding wraps into the hair of tourists, selling my Macramé jewellery, playing the Quena (and hopefully surfing a bit too). Aah, those are the days I am dreaming about and itching for.