Final Thoughts

It went by in a flash.

Honestly, I didn’t think we would last more than 6 weeks, but here we are about to board our final flight home to Vancouver. A year ago, we made the decision to go on this journey and even as the days inched closer to our departure date, it felt crazy and surreal.  Even during the first few days, it felt like we were just on another road trip. All we did was take it one day at a time and make small decisions each day. Where should we sleep tonight? How much do you want to drive today? When should we cross the border? Does Zoe have enough food?

Before we knew it – it was February and we were looking at flights back home. There are so many moments we want to highlight, but here are a few that we keep reminiscing about.

Colombia

Bogota

If it weren’t for the heat in New Mexico, we would have never made the decision to skip Central America. We also didn’t realize that 6 months wasn’t nearly long enough to go through Central AND South America. Looking back, we’re glad to have made the decision.

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Sitting at 9,000 ft, we fell in love with the cold city of Bogota within a few days. The people are warm, the city is friendly (to Zoe especially), budget-friendly and the food is delicious. We would go back in a heartbeat. We did so much walking around the city and every day we found new neighborhoods to see and explore. The Spanish isn’t easy to understand and even though a lot of people don’t speak English, they are so friendly in trying to help you out.

Barichara

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It has the perfect climate of around 25 degrees all day and then the afternoon breeze rolls in around 3pm, for a cool evening. Frequently rated as one of the most beautiful towns to visit in Colombia (or Villa de Leyva), it was worth the detour to stay there for 5 days and spend it with like-minded people who are also traveling long term. We met up with a Swiss Couple and their dog many times and shared the pains of traveling with a dog. Every day we walked to the small town to get fresh groceries and cooked as a group in the communal kitchen and shared stories.  A fantastic place to hunker down.

Ecuador

Quilotoa Loop

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I was dealing with altitude sickness for most of Ecuador, but the Quilotoa loop was one that took our breath away – literally. You drive, drive, drive up through a hill and all of a sudden you come upon the rim of this crater and see the pristine blue lake below. It is definitely one of our favorite hikes and one for the books.

Bolivia

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People say Bolivia is the last true South American country. It is less developed than its neighbors, and still holds the desolate charm most people look for in South America. The landscape, the people, and the scenery are unmatched. Everywhere we look, it felt like we were on another planet and there is nothing like it.

Chile

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Chile was a stark contrast to the less developed Bolivia. Paved roads, highway rest stops, and credit cards accepted everywhere – it felt like we were back in North America. Our favorite part wasn’t any of those modern conveniences, but the beautiful road trip through the Carretera Austral (Route 7). Rated as one of the best road trips in the world, we were skeptical. But dang – It blew us away. Every 2 minutes our jaws were dropping at the beautiful scenery (including the Catedral de Marmol). It was like all the beautiful national parks in North America were aggregated here.

Argentina

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Argentina was our final country and honestly, it has so much to offer and we wish we had more time here. From Mendoza, Bariloche, Perito Moreno Glacier, to Buenos Aires – it is a country filled with so much culture, love for life, and of course delicious food. We loved it here and the friendly people really made all the difference. If nothing else, they have amazing Patagonian Lamb, and Steak – Albert beef tastes like a sad mock comparatively.

Final thoughts

We are incredibly grateful for this trip. Grateful for the people who helped us along the way. Grateful for the ability to take this trip when we did. Going to the countries we’ve been dreaming about and immersing ourselves in the countries has been amazing. We’ve also met some incredible people who have taught us so much about what it means to travel, learn, and really live.

Our Spanish is only a little bit better than when we left, but we definitely want to keep learning and go back to all of the above countries someday. Some of the things we’ve learned:

  • you don’t really need that much on a day to day basis
  • whatever you see on the news is the worst and not an accurate reflection of the country
  • people are really friendly and willing to help
  • not a lot of Asian people do this, therefore we got more attention
  • take it day by day –  things change so quickly in South America you can’t plan very far in advance anyway
  • travel while you can, don’t wait – you make the opportunity happen
  • take time out of the day for you and your loved ones
  • be grateful for everything

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Last but not least, I am so grateful for a partner who said YES. I probably could have done this alone or with Zoe (a lot of women do this kind of trip on their own), but it was infinitely more enjoyable with someone to share this experience with. Plus he makes me laugh every day – that’s hard to find.

Thanks for following along and reading our adventures in South America and until next time – Hasta Luego!

Love,

Steve, Anna & Zoe

Lagunas of Ecuador

Laguna Mojanda

It’s a volcanic lake and it is a peaceful place. Wild camping is accepted by the lake and at 13,000ft – we do very little exercise in order to adjust to the altitude. We spend two nights resting and taking in the views and it’s silence.

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Laguna Quilotoa

Quilotoa Laguna is one of those places that take your breath away. Hidden away in a small village near Quilotoa, it is one of those places you drive up to see and then all of a sudden it appears out of nowhere. On the second morning, we get up early and decide to do the hike around the entire creator. At 13,000ft, we knew it was going to be difficult but the blue skies really forced our hand.

We are camping at a viewpoint where cars can drive up using 4×4 (the sand will not be kind to those without it), but you can also access it from the other side where you just drive right up to a different viewing point.

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It takes us 4.5 hours to do the whole hike and most of the time – we are out of breath (except Zoe), but it is 100% worth it. The vastness of the lake and it’s emerald colors aren’t just something you see every day. Steve goes on record to say this is his favorite hike… EVER.

IMG_3543The hike is steep and you are teetertottering on top of a crater with no guardrails or trees to stop your fall and for someone with a fear of heights, this was definitely a challenge. But, it was absolutely memorable. You can stop every 20 steps and admire the changing landscape and the fact that it’s a dog-friendly hike really is the cherry on top.

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We are so so lucky to have the clouds part for an evening and we finally see some stars. Also, at one point the clouds are below us and it covers the village, yet gives us stars for us to see above the laguna. Whoa.

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Mindo, Ecuador

The Norma Blues

We arrive at Mindo in Ecuador, a biologically diverse area filled with chocolate, waterfalls, forests, clouds, and birds. After a lovely evening of hot chocolate on the first night, we plan to the hike in the cloud forests the next morning. Since the hike itself is 7km, we decide to drive to the trailhead 5km away.

But Norma doesn’t start. After 7 frustrating hours trying to fix her, nothing. So we decide the best course of action is to tow her to Quito (1.5 hours away) where we can find a mechanic and parts. Steve gets in touch with Ivan who owns a Jeep parts store (Jeep Willy’s), and he arranges our tow truck and a mechanic nearby who can also look at her on short notice – Mauro.

Feeling defeated, we prepare to spend an evening or possibly the weekend in Quito – wherever that might be. Since it’s Friday, we don’t hold too much hope that she will be fixed by the end of day. But Mauro and Ivan work tirelessly for 5 hours and get her back to roaring again! Wooop!

In the meantime… our Swiss friends get stuck in thick mud coming to Mindo. They have to walk to get reception and then abandon their car for a night until they can get proper help the next morning. After they finally get their tow from a farming tractor, they come to rescue us in Quito. If Norma doesn’t get fixed by end of the day, then they offer to drive all of us and we can at least enjoy Mindo instead of waiting at the mechanic’s shop.

At 6pm, fully repaired, we all roll out and decide to meet at a campground in Mindo.

You thought that was it eh? Nope.

We get to the campsite first, and then 20 minutes later we get a call from Virgine. They can’t shift gears and they are stuck on a hill 400 meters away. Something snapped and they are now in need of a tow from Norma. Let’s recap for a moment. They spent 36 hours getting their van unstuck from mud and now something is broken in a tiny town with no mechanic at 9pm. It hasn’t been a good day.

Thankfully, the road to the campsite is mostly downhill, so we tow them up and he rolls down in neutral and then tow him when it flattens out. It takes us 2 hours, but we are all finally inside the campground where there are hot showers waiting.

Tonight, we rest. Tomorrow, we fix.

Mindo

Mindo is a typical small town. One Central Park in the center with a church nearby and maybe two or three rows of businesses – mostly restaurants and souvenir shops. But they are also known for bird watching, extreme sports like roger rafting, and chocolate – lots of chocolate.

We do the Tarabita cable car ride with 6 people and 2 dogs. At $5/person we zip over the clouds to the other side of the mountain and then hike the 6 waterfalls. There are actually more than that, but after 3 hours – we agree that’s enough and we got to see as many waterfalls as you can see really. This was a really fun and not too challenging hike and the cable car ride really adds to the fun factor.

Hola Ecuador

Leaving Colombia

First thing in the morning, we drive to the border and actually pass the Colombian customs office and park just before the Ecuador border.

  1. We get our passport’s stamped out of Colombia (The building with all the white tents outside of it).
  2. Walk 50m to the DIAN office to cancel our Temporary Import Permit – TIP. BTW, there are ladies with stacks of US Cash walking around (they exchange Colombian Pesos for you) and they will show you the way to the DIAN office.
  3. Drop off your original TIP
  4. Drive over to Ecuador’s offices

Hola Ecuador

Again super simple! I don’t know if it’s because we had our lucky swiss charms, but we went to the Ecuador passport office and within one hour – we were done! We cross over and start our Ecuador journey. First stop, the tree sculptures. These tree sculptures are hidden inside a cemetery in the small town of Tulcan.

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We take it slow and do a nice and slow road trip through the north of Ecuador. First, stopping for a night at a campground called Finca Sommerwind and then driving through the mountains and then we get to our first wild campsite just outside of Apuela. It’s a safe small town and we find a free campsite right by the river. Even though we’ve only been in Ecuador for a few days, we already love the lushness of the lands. It’s so much green all around, we are surprised and already know 2 weeks won’t be enough to explore this country.

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We know it’s been a while since our last post, but we’ve had more… car issues. That will come in the next post, but long story short – we had to replace some parts unexpectantly. With the amount of driving it’s normal, but it’s difficult to try and deal with all these issues in a foreign country when you only know basic Spanish (and that is being generous).