Colombia & Ecuador: 4/23 – 4/29

Salento >>> (Ecuador) Quito >>> Tena

Rest Day and Explore Salento
+ With Corey still recovering from his stomach sickness, we spent most of the day relaxing in our room again.
+ Luckily, HBO was running a non-stop marathon of past Game of Thrones in preparation for the premier tomorrow night, so we watched a bunch of those. It was a good break from all the on the go traveling and exploring we’d been doing.
+ In the afternoon we headed out to a Colombian restaurant we’d read about to get the popular trout they serve in Salento. It was tasty and filling, although very garlicy.
+ There was a set of 100-200 stairs nearby that went up to a overlook of the city. So we climbed up those and met 2 different Americans on the way.
+ In the evening we just relaxed again and caught up with email and stuff on the Internet.

Rest Day in Salento
+ We spent most of the day relaxing in our room and enjoying the cool weather, tv, and working wifi.
+ We did venture out for a late lunch at a place called Brunch. It was packed entirely with gringos, and had a fun and decorative scene. Plus, the burgers we ordered were humongous! Corey’s came topped with chili and it overflowed so much it filled up the rest of his plate. They also had the best hot wing sauce we had tasted since buffalo wild wings back in Florida!
+ We didn’t decide on what hike we wanted to do until around 6 pm and through What’s App we managed to book the 2 day tour through Los Nevados National Park starting the next morning.
+ That meant most of the rest of night was spent packing our normal backpacks and hiking bags.
+ Then we got to watch the season premier of Game of Thrones on HBO!

Hiked through Valle de Cocora and into Los Nevados N.P.
+ Woke up really early without getting enough sleep and groggily ate breakfast.
+ Left our bags at the hostel and met our guide, Andrés at the office. Then we caught a Willys Jeep for the 30 minute ride into Valle de Cocora.
+ We walked along through the lush green valley of the super tall wax palms (Colombia’s National Tree) for about half an hour until we entered the Bosque (forest). Then we hiked uphill for a few hours until we reached Paramo scenery. Here, the landscape was littered with Frilajones. These are a unique type of plant that only grows at this altitude.
+ We walked along the rolling mountains and got up to about 4000 meters before descending to 3600 where the Finca (farm) was where we would spend the night.
+ Overall we had hiked over 8 hours and 16 kilometers and almost all of it had been uphill. Needless to say we were very tired.
+ After a couple hours of rest, we all gathered in the kitchen for an authentic Colombian dinner. We were happy to have warm stew and drinks (more delicious aguapanela!) since the temperature was rapidly dropping outside!
+ After supper we taught a few card games to our guide, like Go Fish and War. It was fun to practice our Spanish with Andres. Andres even caught on that Liz does not always understand even when she smiles and nods! Lol!
+ Then we all called it a night and got ready to sleep in what was by far the coldest temperature we had experienced since we started our trip. We don’t know how cold it got to (would’ve been in Celsius anyway), but in our dorm beds we needed to sleep with all our clothes on (double or triple everything), a blanket underneath us, and 3 blankets on top of us! So very very cold.

Hiked back to Salento and took a bus to Ecuador!
+ Woke up happy to see the sun and we also had an amazing view of the glacier nearby. It could be summited by another 6-7 hour hike (each way) and another day of acclimatization to avoid altitude sickness, but we didn’t have the time or money to attempt it this time.
+ After breakfast it was time to complete the loop in Los Nevados National Park.
+ Our return hike through different scenery took over 8 hours again from our Finca in the Paramo highlands back to Valle de Cocora. It also involved a good number of uphill climbs, but thankfully most of it was downhill.
+ During the 2 days we didn’t see many exotic animals, but tons of cows, some sheep, horses, donkeys, mules, and dogs. The cows here in the highlands were different than any we had ever seen before. They were dairy cows and much bigger and somehow they were much cow-like. They reminded us of ones from chick fil a commercials.
+ Caught a Willys Jeep back to Salento and said goodbye to our guide.
+ Back at our hostel we took a much needed shower, changed, ate our leftovers, and caught a bus out of town to Armenia.
+ We were going to go to San Agustin, Colombia but at the last minute we decided to just head straight into Ecuador! So we bought a bus ticket to the border of Colombia and settled into the first double decker bus we’ve ever been on for a nice 13+ hour ride. (Our longest single bus ride of our travels so far!)

Arrived in Quito after 23 hours of travel!
+ Took bus into Ipiales, Colombia and crossed the border into Ecuador!
+ Caught chicken bus to Tulcan, then another 6-7 hour bus towards Quito.
+ Bus broke down on the way so we switched to a different bus and finally made it to Quito! (over 23 hours after we left Salento!)
+ At the station we needed to catch a taxi towards the hostel we wanted to stay at. Unfortunately we were never able to book it because out of the 3 buses we were on, wifi only worked in 1 and it cut out about a minute before we were able to complete the booking. So for about 11 hours we didn’t know if the hostel would still have a room for us or not.
+ Luck was on our side because when we arrived, the receptionist said they only had 1 room left and it was only for 2 nights (exactly what we wanted!). So we tiredly carried our bags one last time down the hall and stairs to our room, which turned out to be huge and really nice!
+ Although we wanted to just lay down and relax, our empty stomachs forced us back out again. Our hostel was right next to a happening area though so we didn’t have to walk far to find a pizza place that was recommended by Lonely Planet.
+ While waiting for our pizza to be cooked, we got some Ecuadorian beers next door. We ordered the special of 3 for $5 thinking they would be small ones, but they were each 1 liter beers! Plus, when we finished our 3rd, they put down another. We told them we’d had 3 already and they were mistaken, but they insisted they were right so we actually got 4 big beers!
+ While eating the pizza we talked with the owner who was a really nice guy and gave us tips for Quito the rest of our time in Ecuador.
+ Being so full of beer, we didn’t finish all the food our hungry eyes had ordered earlier so we took our food back to the hostel and each laid down with a sigh of relief. We had traveled for over 24 hours and hundreds of miles in buses, shuttles, and taxis. We had also made it south of the Equator and to our 9th country on this trip!

Explored Mitad del Mundo and Quito breweries
+ Relaxed at the hostel in the morning. Finally decided around noon to go explore the city.
+ Caught a taxi up to the Mitad del Mundo, which stands for the center of the world! It is located directly on the equator at 0 degrees latitude. Spent 3 hours exploring all of the cool museums and scientific demonstrations about the effects of the equator.
+ Caught another taxi back south to the Mariscal district of Quito. This place was very lively and had tons of fancy/touristy looking restaurants, shops, and bars everywhere. Very different from the quiet and quaint part of Old Town we were staying in.
+ Ate at a Mexican restaurant called El Mariachi Taco Factory and split a humongous 2 foot long burrito!
+ Then we went down the street to a brewery Corey had read about called Cherusker Cerveceria. This micro brewery had a pretty good selection of homemade brews and we got a 5 glass sampler. We assumed they would be small 4 oz pours, but they were all big glasses! Really good deal.
+ After finishing our drinks and watching the Ecuador national soccer team defeat the Argentinian team on tv, we headed out. Another short cab ride later and we were at our final destination for the evening: Bandido Brewing. We hadn’t planned on getting more food, but the overwhelming delicious smell of pizza made us change our minds. So with another sampler flight of Bandido’s craft beers, we took in the unique setting of the brewery (in a type of church/worship center) and had some of the yummy pizza.
+ Once we arrived back at the hostel, we found it still strangely deserted (like it had been since we arrived!). So we hung out in the tv room outside our room doing stuff on our phones and tablets while movies played in the background. Ended up going to bed way too late, but it was nice to enjoy our own private hostel for a while.

Travel to Tena
+ We had breakfast in the morning in the very pretty courtyard (again, by ourselves). It was nice to enjoy the cool weather, garden, and music they had playing.
+ Then we checked out of the room and moved our bags downstairs to the game room area. Our plan was to hang out for a few hours doing Internet stuff until we caught a bus to Tena. So for the next 4 hours we lounged around on the giant cushions/beds they had researching white water rafting companies in Tena while Liz “Shazammed” about every song from her new favorite cd.
+ Eventually it was time to say goodbye to what had been one of our favorite and nicest hostels we’d ever been in and move on (it was tough to pull ourselves away). So we caught a taxi down to the bus station, then booked the first ticket headed towards Tena.
+ The bus company we were on was called Amazonas and it looked like a decent enough bus (reclining seats, a tv) but it proved to be a very strange experience. Whether it was because it was a Friday afternoon, the bus driver’s preferences, or just a cheap budget company, the bus moved so slowly for the first 90 minutes! Like slower than a bicycle would’ve gone. On the highway nonetheless! We honestly thought something on the bus might have been broken since we were moving so slow, and everyone else seemed annoyed. And to top it all off, it was not a direct bus (no stops), it was a chicken bus. So it was constantly stopping for people to get on/off. We were sure our 5 hour trip was going to turn into a 8+ hour trip.
+ Luckily they put on the movie Rush Hour (in Spanish) to distract us, but by the time it finished, we were just exiting Quito’s borders! So we went to sleep to try to gave time pass by quicker. It didn’t really help because even after we woke up we had 3+ hours left.
+ We thought about taking out our tablet to watch stuff on there, but Ecuador buses are notoriously known for bag slashing or theft, so we didn’t want to advertise our fancy electronics. So just when we were getting restless, they put on another movie: Rush Hour 3! (Don’t know what happened to #2) So we watched that and after it finished we only had another 30 minutes or so to Tena. Hooray!
+ After finally making it to town, we caught a taxi to our hostel, checked into yet another room way too big for us (3 beds this time) and ordered a pizza.
+ We saw on snapchat our friends Brittany and Josh had just gotten engaged so we FaceTime’d with them for a while and caught up on what’s been going on, which was nice.
+ Then we devoured the pizza, watched tv, got updated on the NFL draft results, and went to sleep to prepare for our full day tomorrow!

Click here for more photos from Colombia & click here for more photos from Ecuador!

Colombia: 4/16 – 4/22

Bogota >>> Leticia >>> Santa Rosa (Peru) >>> Tabatinga (Brazil) >>> Leticia (Colombia) >>> Puerto Narino >>> Leticia >>> Salento

Flew to Leticia, Colombia in the Amazon!
+ Slept in as long as possible due to our really late night ending only a few hours earlier. Then packed the bags, checked out, and caught a shuttle from the hostel to the airport.
+ Our driver dropped us at the Avianca gate, but after going inside to check in we learned that we needed another terminal for domestic flights (this one was only for international we guess). So after a lot of asking around and confusion, we finally found a bus to take us to the other terminal for free. However it was very slow and stopped frequently so we were worried we’d miss our flight by the time it got to the correct terminal.
+ Luckily, it finally arrived with enough time to not only check in, but even get some Subway for the plane!
+ We were very excited to be on our way to the Amazon Rainforest! This is a place we had both wanted to visit for a long time and we were looking forward to exploring as much as we could in the next 4 days!
+ This terminal was so small we were through the check in and security process in less than 5 minutes! To top it off, the free wifi was stronger than the wifi we’d had at our hostel! So before boarding, we uploaded some pictures to Facebook.
+ We have learned that each airport (even within the same country) is very different with what’s allowed on the plane or through security. Sometimes we have to take off shoes and have electronics out of bags, sometimes not. Sometimes you get a friendly pat down and sometimes they don’t even want to have anything to do with us gringos! In Latin America, they don’t even care if you have full water bottles or soda going through security!
+ We got to board the plane celebrity style by walking up the stairs and waving to our adoring crowd.
+ Planes in South America like to drive halfway to their destination it seems. Each time the plane seems to amble down the runway for a good 15/20 minutes before it even starts the take off process!
+ Our plane ride was only 90 minutes, but the plane itself was very nice. Lots of leg room, nice tv’s (with a remote!), and we even got some nice free headphones! Avianca is Corey’s new favorite airline!
+ When we arrived and got our bags, we were greeted by staff from our hostel,  Refugio Makuruma, holding a sign with our names on it! We really are celebrities!
+ Ron and Jessica are the couple that own Refugio Makuruma. She is from Colombia and he is from Holland. They just started the hostel 4 months earlier and they gave us possibly our best welcome we’ve ever received with a nice tour, a cold drink, and then sitting and talking with us for about 45 minutes on all the possible things to do in the Amazon.
+ Afterwards we started walking down the street into town until the local bus came and we hopped on. We arrived at one of the parks, got some street food, then promptly headed towards Santander Park to catch one of the most popular attractions of Leticia.
+ This occurs every day around 5/5:30 when tens of thousands of small parrots fly into the park to nest for the night. They were green and white for the first 30 minutes but then all the sudden different birds (still parrots, but black not green) started flying in by the millions it seemed! These black birds would seem to swarm from tree to tree! Definitely a unique and captivating sight!
+ We took advice from Ron and paid a dollar each to climb to the top of the Church Bell tower at the park to get the best view of the birds, the sunset, and the city.
+ When it finally got dark we climbed down and found a store to buy Liz a belt for her pants which were now too big for her! We’ve both lost a definite amount of weight since this trip started due to being more physically active and our sometimes  inconsistent eating habits. I’m sure we would’ve lost a lot more if it wasn’t for the beer and soda!
+ Dinner was at a cool place called Tierras Amazonias. The whole place was decorated very jungle-y, but not in a touristy way like you’d find at Disney. We both tried Giamatina, one of the special amazon fish you can only get here, and tried it with different preparations. While both were good, we still agree a well done steak beats the best fish any day!
+ After a quick stop at the super market to replenish our snack supply, we caught a tuk tuk back towards our hostel. It went most of the way, but we had to walk the final dirt (mud) road by ourselves because it was too rough for the tuk tuk.
+ After talking to the owners again for a little bit about our upcoming plans, we decided to escape into our room under the mosquito net as quickly as possible.
+ We watched a couple episodes of Daredevil while laying in bed and then turned it off and listened to all the strange jungle noises around us in the dark. We were definitely in the amazon jungle!

Jumped between Peru, Brazil, and Colombia in One Afternoon!
+ Our room surprisingly didn’t get much hotter in the morning than it was the night before. It just stayed at the same level of sweltering humidity as always! But we did sleep in a good bit to catch up on sleep and prepare for the next few days.
+ Caught a bus into town to grab some lunch. Ate at a place next to the docks that served us a tipico meal. No menu, just asked if we liked meat. We told her we wanted what the guy at the other table was having (fried chicken), but she gave us some sort of Carne (mystery meat) similar to beef jerky. Wasn’t the best meal ever, but it only cost $ 2.66 for both of us combined!
+ We then made our way to the docks as we prepared ourselves for the onslaught of fishermen yelling words at us we can maybe understand in an attempt to persuade us to choose them. That’s exactly what happened and we ended up choosing a guy who took us 5 minutes down river to Santa Rosa, Peru.
+ We were officially in another country, although at this tri-border area no one needs passports to travel between the other countries. After walking through town for a little bit, we had our fill of uncomfortable stares and decided to turn back towards the docks.
+ Since the robbery occurred, we are a lot more wary of young (15-20 years old) hooligans walking around that watch us a bit too long. We try not to be judgemental or have pre-conceived notions, but also keep our guard up among those that seem most suspicious.
+ Before leaving Peru, we stopped at a bar on the water and got a Peruvian beer to begin the “3 Beers in 3 Countries in 1 Day” challenge. Some people have accomplished this feat in 1 hour, but we were trying to take our time as this would be our only day to enjoy these other countries/towns. The bar had live music and it was blaring so loudly we almost couldn’t even hear each other, much less understand the waiter speaking Spanish! There were even little kids/babies sitting right in front of the speakers. Their poor little eardrums!
+ When we finished our surprisingly delicious wheat beer, we hopped in another boat and went 10 minutes down river to Tabatinga, Brazil. We told our boat captain the name of the bar/restaurant we wanted to go to and he said he could take us by boat, instead of us needing to grab a tuk tuk from the docks. So we agreed and he continued down river for another 10 minutes. We figured he would stop at a dock for us to disembark but as usual when we assume things here in Latin America, we are way off!
+ He actually stopped at a river bank where the walls went up 8 feet above water. We looked at each other bewildered and asked if this was the right place. He said yes we needed to climb up. So with his help and the help of every twig and piece of grass we could grab, we managed to get up there to find… nothing. He told us we now needed to walk across the (very wet and muddy) field to the road, then down the road to the restaurant. So much for taking us there!
+ So we played hopscotch the best we could across the field trying to find the dry spots, but each failed and eventually accepted the fact our feet were getting wet and muddy. Then after a little walk on the road, we did reach the restaurant.
+ There was yet another live band competing for the title of who can blow out the speakers first so we grabbed seats as far away from the stage as possible, but I don’t think it mattered. We told the waitress we wanted cervezas and off she went. She returned with some sort of liquor mixed drink and after a lot of confusion and the help of Google translate on my phone (since we couldn’t hear each other due to the music) we found out you can’t order just 1 beer each. You had to order a bucket of 10. So we did that and got to try our first Brazilian beer!
+ As we sat enjoying our beers in the chaotic music hall, we noticed some dudes working out nearby. Weird location for a gym but, oh well. We didn’t think much more of it, until those same guys appeared on stage now in red mesh outfits accompanied by 2 scantily clad women (also in red mesh)!! With the band still blaring, the 4 of them pranced around very provocatively on stage, even with lots of families in the audience!
+ We try to travel with an open mind without stereotypical expectations for people and places, but this first impression of Brazil seemed to live up to every Brazilian stereotype we had heard of!
+ We decided to save the last 4 so we didn’t become drunk in an unfamiliar town/country. So after viewing a nice pink sunset, we caught separate rides on motortaxis to the main area of Tabatinga. This was the first time we rode motorbikes on the trip! Corey especially loves doing new “firsts” on the trip. Liz clung to the driver for dear life.
+ In town we ate at a recommended restaurant (from both lonely planet and our hostel host). We split a giant seafood mixture and it was more than enough for both of us with leftovers to take home. From here, the plan was to walk back across the border into Leticia but along the way we were tempted by an ice cream store with wifi! Since our hostel didn’t have wifi, we decided to take advantage of it (really just an excuse for ice cream) and we were glad we did because we found out there had been an earthquake in Ecuador and our family had been trying to get ahold of us to see if we were ok. So we were able to contact them and use the Internet for half an hour.
+ Then we continued our walk back and once in Colombia again, we eventually caught a tuk tuk all the way back to our hostel.
+ After speaking with Ron to confirm times/plans for the next day, we packed our bags to prepare for the upcoming adventures. Then after a cold shower we laid down in bed and watched a couple episodes of daredevil before bed.

Kayaked with Pink Dolphins and Torrential Downpour on the boat in Puerto Narino
+ An early day today! We tend to alternate between sleeping in really late and waking up really early. There aren’t many in between time mornings, lol. So at 6 we woke up to the annoying sounds of roosters crowing outside our screen window, got our stuff and went downstairs for a nice free breakfast. We were only taking 2 small backpacks with us and leaving our 2 big backpacks and the other small day pack at the hostel. This is because we were going to be spending the night 2 hours up river in Puerto Narino, Colombia and returning to this hostel the next day. So we only needed a change of clothes and a handful of other items.
+ A tuk tuk picked us up and took us to a local guide’s house for a kayak tour. There, Liz and I shared our double kayak and explored around the Amazon Rain forest and different flooded lakes and rivers for 2 hours. Besides passing a lot of neat trees and plants, we also saw multiple Iguanas, different new types of monkeys (very small!), weird birds, a sloth crawling all around, and the animals we wanted to see most: Pink Dolphins! They are different from normal gray dolphins in Florida and don’t have as pronounced of a dorsal fin. They also seem slightly bigger and boxier. We were happy to spot the elusive animals!
+ After the tour we said goodbye to our Guia and then another tuk tuk took us to the port where we departed from Leticia for a 2+ hour journey upriver to Puerto Narino. We both alternated between sleeping and watching the various small villages pass by.
+ In Puerto Narino, we knew we may or may not be meeting a friend of Ron and Jessica who would serve as our guide for a boat tour later. Instead, we were met at the docks by a couple of young guys. One of them claimed he knew Jessica and so we decided we were supposed to follow them. They showed us a couple different hotels and we eventually decided on one that was mentioned in lonely planet and provided us with our own private room and balcony with hammocks!
+ After negotiating a deal and dropping off our stuff, we followed them to a lunch place where we got some tasty big chicken a la plancha dishes. We still didn’t know if/why we should be following them, but they seemed to be doing nothing other than being our personal tour guides.
+ After lunch one of the guys walked us back to the hotel, we awkwardly said goodbye (maybe he wanted a tip? We have no idea). Then we hung out in the hammocks for an hour until it was time for our boat tour.
+ Our guide’s name was something like Delfino which was ironic because we were going looking for wildlife, including the pink dolphins (delfino in Spanish). He took us out (along with his 6 year old kid) on a pecky pecky (long boat with a unique motor that is on a long stick extended way out behind the boat. Picture a weedwacker attached to a long wooden canoe ). For about an hour we went through the river and jungle and spotted monkeys, birds, and some pink dolphins before a wicked rain storm rolled in very quickly. With the rain coming in almost sideways we made our way to this floating office/checkpoint place and took cover from the rain. We sat there admiring the jungle and lake in the rain storm. It was so much rain it was impressive to watch and despite being soaked, we didn’t mind adding this to our  completed bucket list!
+ When it finally cleared (almost just as fast as it always does in Florida!) We took the boat back towards town and on the way saw some more monkeys, pink dolphins, and also some of the Amazonian Gray Dolphins! They were smaller than the pink ones but still weirdly shaped. It was hard to get perfectly clear looks at them and they would always pop up completely different places than before, unlike ocean dolphins that typically swim in 1 direction.
+ By the time we made it back we were freezing cold (polar opposite from lunchtime earlier!) and took a sort of over the water sidewalk back towards our road. It was interesting because due to it being wet season, a lot of places that are normally above water are completely flooded, including entire soccer fields and the town square, street lamps and roads, etc. Yet lots of kids were still playing water soccer on the few inches of water covering the field. Another lower field had been turned into a swimming pool! Would’ve been a great place for a water polo game!
+ Overall it was interesting to be on the amazon river and take the boats where the water seemingly ended into grass or trees only to find a passage and have the water continue on for hundreds or thousands of more feet. Many times we never even saw an actual shoreline, everything was just flooded for miles!
+ The rest of the day involved eating at a buffet style restaurant as the only patrons besides a 30 person group of teens from Cali, Colombia. That was followed by relaxing in hammocks watching Daredevil and Everest on the tablet and enjoying mildly cool weather in the jungle for once.

Boat from Puerto Narino back to Leticia
+ With nothing really left to do in Puerto Narino, we were headed back to Leticia today. So after some tiny bananas for breakfast, we bought our return ticket, wondered around town taking some pictures, then boarded the boat back to Leticia.
+ We met a few other gringos also taking the same boat and talked with them for a while to get some tips on where to go. One of them had been in Colombia for over a year! Sometimes we meet people who travel a lot faster than us, but mostly other people travel a lot slower.
+ In Leticia we grabbed some tipico lunch at a pizzeria restaurant (after finding out they weren’t offering pizza, lol).
+ We wanted to catch up on some stuff with the Internet so we spent some time in an Internet cafe trying to get our phones and their computers to work, but didn’t have much luck. After a couple hours we were frustrated due to the lack of productivity and headed back to the Tierras Amazonias restaurant to try our luck there with the wifi. It wasn’t any better so after some delicious Amazonian fruit smoothies, we headed back to the hostel.
+ After packing our bags for our hiking/camping trip the next day, we got some dinner at the Hostal. We ordered some unique food we’d never tried before: Casabes. These are basically the Amazonian version of pizza, but made with yucca crust, no sauce and sadly isn’t nearly as delicious.
+ We were free to relax for the rest of the evening and we watched a bunch of episodes of Parks and Recreation before bed.

Hiking into and Camping in the Amazon!
+ After some breakfast at the hostel, we caught a tuk tuk to the reserve  headquarters and met our guide, Rudolfo. We also got our hammock/tarps and some rubber boots to hike in. They didn’t really have any in Corey’s size and after trying on about 7 different pairs he found one he could tolerate for short periods of time.
+ We set out on our hike into the Amazon Rainforest and soon the well trodden trail turned into a small path through the brush which eventually turned into no trail at all. We learned that our guide likes to make his own route as he bushwhacked with his machete and we followed behind, often almost knee deep in mud or water. This was the authentic jungle experience we were looking for!
+ Every so often, we would stop and watch as our guide demonstrated some sort of technique he had learned. Often he would tell us to wait and disappear into the jungle for 10/15 minutes (without his shirt on!) and come back with some sticks, leaves or fruit he wanted to show us.
+ Using his machete, he stripped one of the sticks of it’s bark in a long, even rope-like way and made us a walking stick! Then he used that rope and weaved us a full size bag/basket out of a humongous palm frond! Very cool to watch how quickly and effortlessly he was able to do these things.
+ About 4 hours after initially departing we arrived at a huge hut in the jungle called a Malaka. This is where our guide’s grandmother lived. We were welcomed inside and greeted very nicely by everyone. Our guide started making us lunch while we got to relax in hammocks! Corey fell asleep while Liz took in the sights of how the native people lived and their daily tasks.
+ Lunch was a couple of fish (completely whole- heads, tails, and eyes included), rice, beans, plantains, and this type of bread type thing called Casabes that they dipped in juice from the yucca plant. We didn’t know what kind of fish we were eating, but they were some kind of unique jungle fish with teeth!
+ While eating, we watched another tour group perform some type of religious ceremony with the elder of the home where they snorted tobacco. We were invited to participate but we declined.
+ After some post-lunch napping from Liz’s food coma, we headed back out with the guide to keep hiking.
+ We spotted some tiny monkeys along the way. The first bigger animals we’d seen. Everything else had been weird bugs and birds. Corey spotted a weird looking ant that our guide told us was very rare and the most dangerous ant in the whole jungle! It was large, poisonous, white with black spots, and called a jaguar ant!
+ After a short time we reached a river where we would camp for the night. Our guide set up the hammocks and tarps for us while we gathered fire wood. Everything was extremely damp due to it being in the rainforest, but somehow he started the fire.
+ We had been practicing our Spanish with Rudolfo this whole time and answering his questions about some new English words as well.
+ For some reason,  the word “hangry” came up in conversation. Liz explained this to Rudolfo, who we think understood the meaning.
+ Hours later, Corey was helping Liz bend/break a thin tree near her hammock that was covered in ants. I suppose this was making a lot of noise because out of nowhere Rudolfo looked up and “Corey!!” — long pause — “Yes?”, Corey replied puzzled.
Then Rudolfo calmly asked in english “Are you Hangry?”. We all had a good laugh.
+ Corey and the guide went swimming in the river next to camp. The water was cold and brownish (who knows what lurked beneath!) and the current was decently strong. But our guide assured us there were no crocs, caiman, piranhas, anacondas, or other murderous animals waiting for us.
+ After swimming we laid in our mosquito net protected hammocks to escape the overwhelming number of the pesky bugs. Liz and the guide took naps while Corey played around on his phone listening to the jungle slowly come alive with all the different new nocturnal sounds.
+ A couple hours later everyone got up and went for a night hike. For about 2 hours we wandered around in the darkness (apparently lost for a while our guide later told us! Lol) and found many large and mean looking spiders, crickets, centipedes, bats, and other random critters. It was scary walking around in the dark knowing every plant you were brushing up against probably had some sort of poisonous creature on it (if the plant itself wasn’t toxic) but we made it back to the hammocks without any bites or stings.
+ We did however notice that Liz’s day pack that was underneath her hammock was completely covered with a swarm of ants! The ants had also done the same to Corey’s socks and the bag the hammocks came in. Apparently the ants really love sweat!
+ We found out there wasn’t any dinner to be had (it is common for lunch to be the biggest  meal here in Colombia) and so we munched on some snacks before retreating back to the hammocks for bed. After zipping ourselves in the mosquito nets, we methodically killed all the ones who managed to sneak in, many leaving big blood streaks on the fabric from when they got us earlier.
+ Before falling asleep, we played the “I’m going to a party” game for a while from our separate hammocks. Then the game was fall asleep as quickly as possible before a puma decided we looked like a delicious wrapped up snack!

Leave the Amazon and arrive in Salento
+ We managed to make it to morning without having to finagle ourselves out of the hammocks in the dark night to use the restroom (thanks to purposely dehydrating ourselves! Lol).
+ Breakfast was pineapple and cereal and some sort of special milk that doesn’t need refrigeration, at least we hope!
+ After packing up we hiked out for about an hour until we reached a rode and our guide flagged down a passing police truck and asked if we could catch a ride. The police man said yes and we managed to save ourselves probably an hour of walking along the road  to get back much quicker. Corey’s feet and calves were very happy to have less boot wear and tear.
+ At the hiking headquarters we turned in our gear and took some pictures with the guide before starting our walk back down the rode towards Leticia.
+ Knowing we had to catch a ride due to the long distance, we waited for a tuk tuk or bus to pass. Neither came, but eventually a personal car was coming so we flagged that down. So for 20 minutes we rode in the back of a pickup truck next to a bunch of eggs. Didn’t realize until 5 minutes in the bag next to us had live chickens in it! One of them stuck their head out to check out Liz, lol!
+ The guy driving was really nice and once we arrived in Leticia he wouldn’t even accept money for the long ride.
+ We got some money from the ATM then immediately caught a tuk tuk back to the hostel.
+ A cold shower was a very welcomed (though brief) break from the incessant heat and sweating. Then we repacked our bags, ate some leftovers and settled our bill and headed out on a tuk tuk.
+ Our driver could only go within 2 blocks of the airport (only taxis are allowed in apparently) and we had to walk the rest of the way. We managed to make it in the airport right before a downpour of rain started!
+ After the check in process, we sat in the waiting room for a long time due to a crazy rain storm delaying our flight by almost an hour! Even the baggage crew were taking pictures of the storm, so you knew it was abnormal even for them!
+ We finally took off, nervous that we would miss our connecting flight in Bogota since we only had a 1 hour 9 minute layover! We had some last sweeping views of the Amazon Rainforest before the endless jungle disappeared behind the clouds.
+ Despite being hot and almost constantly sweating, we enjoyed our time in the Amazon and who knows if/when we’ll ever see it again!
+ Luckily, we made our connection (though no time for subway or Dunkin Donuts, booo). And for the 3rd time in about 12 days, we flew out of the Bogota airport! This time the views were different but still beautiful as we got to see all the mountains lit up at sunset! We were off to coffee country!
+ We were happy to see our bags made it with us when we arrived in Armenia. We then caught a taxi from the surprisingly tiny airport to the bus terminal, and then got a bus from Armenia to Salento.
+ Both of us were starving and before the bus took off, Corey bought some empanadas from one of the restaurants in the terminal and we ate on the 1 hour bus ride.
+ By the time we made it to Salento, Corey was feeling awful. We thought it might be his first case of motion sickness (due to the extremely curvy roads), so we hurried down the giant hills to our hostel and checked into our really nice room in Posada Casa Salento.
+ Corey’s highschool-self would have LOVED this room. Everything was lime green! The bed cover, shower, walls, curtains,  pillows, etc.! It was awesome.
+ Corey was still feeling bad so he laid down and went to sleep and Liz joined shortly after.

Rest Day in Salento
+ We woke up to have our free breakfast on the patio that was right outside our room. It had some pretty overlooks and we would occasionally see a Mot Mot bird flying around.
+ Unfortunately Corey’s situation has only worsened overnight and his stomach was still no Bueno. Luckily, Liz avoided the probable food poisoning despite eating from the same food stand.
+ So the only time we left our guesthouse this day was to get a pizza to go and some drinks/snacks from the grocery store. Obviously the best medicine/treatment for Corey’s stomach was pizza!
+ Relaxation was the only thing on the agenda for the rest of the night and we enjoyed our time doing whatever we wanted without the need to do research/book something looming in the back of our minds.

Click here for more photos from Colombia!

Colombia: 4/9 – 4/15

San Gil >>> Bogota

Planning Day: Booked excursions in San Gil and researched next moves in Colombia.
+ Slept in late.
+ Booked excursions for the next few days.
+ Did research in little cubicles an Internet cafe.
+ Went back to Gringo Mike’s, ordered an appetizer of fries that was as much money as a burger but turned out to be very small. Corey politely complained and eventually they gave in and brought some more fries. First time we’ve had to do that in a Latin American country! So despite loving the menu, the place quickly lost it’s appeal, as well as all the additional future visits we were planning to make.
+ Spent the rest of the night frustrated with the hostel wifi as we unsuccessfully  tried to get planning done and book flights to the amazon. Then watched some tv before bed.

White water rafting on Rio Suarez!
+ Spent most of the day rafting on the Suarez river. Our tour was supposed to leave at 10 am but got pushed back to 12 pm. So that meant 2 more hours of sleep for us! Hooray! We needed it due to staying up so late the night before.
+ The tour group was split into 3 boats and despite multiple class IV and V rapids, no one fell out of the boats!
+ This was probably the most intense rafting we’ve ever done. The river was so high because San Gil had gotten a lot of rain recently. The day before our trip they had to cancel the rafting because the river was too strong!
+ After rafting we stopped for lunch of multiple fruits, tons of chicken, potatoes, cheese,  some type of dried guava snack, and beer. The guides kept bringing out more and more food! (The stray dogs hanging around certainly did not mind)
+ Not only did our tour include this huge lunch, they also included pictures and video for free! Corey and I agreed that Colombia has definitely presented the best value in their tours compared to other countries.
+ For a late dinner, we split a giant hamburger and hot dog at Mikasa near the hostel. Corey spotted an advertisement for their eating challenge and vowed to return before we left San Gil.

Mountain Biking Chicamocha Canyon
+ Checked out of our hostel due to nosy staff and very unreliable wifi and over to another hostel called Macondo. This is where some of our friends from the rafting trip the day before were staying.
+ Corey went Mountain Biking on a 50+ km trip through the Chicamocha Canyon! About 90 percent was steep downhill over rocky dirt roads and single track and he got going very fast at times! Total descent was over 3000 kilometers!
+ Liz spent the day relaxing in the cool shade of the hostel garden. She was also productive with the trip insurance and tax stuff.
+ At night, we hung out with our new friends in the hot tub at the hostel. Nico, Paul,(Germany) and Annemarie (Holland) had all gone rafting and also mountain biking with us.
+ We ordered pizza from a nearby restaurant called 7 Tigres. There was some confusion with our order and the restaurant offered us a free pizza the next day!

Caving and Tejo (The Colombian Gunpowder Sport!)
+ Swam, climbed and crawled through Cuevo de Vaca with Nico, Paul, and Annmarie.
+ Our guide was super nice and kept splashing us with the cold water. He was happy to take our picture and even hid from us to surprise us in the dark at one point! (Unfortunately these pictures were later erased from the SD card before we could upload them)
+ After Caving and a brief stroll through the market of San Gil, our friends went back to the hostel to watch a Futbol match. Corey and I stopped for what ended up being a huge lunch from Taco Federal.
+ Later that night, 7 Tigres invited us to come by to get our free pizza. Tonight was make your own pizza night! Yum!
+ After thanking the 7 Tigres staff for their generosity, we went back to the hostel to get ready for Tejo Tuesday!
+ Tejo is the national sport of Colombia. It is similar to corn hole, except you are throwing heavy metal weights instead of bean bags. And instead of throwing the weights into a hole, you are trying to hit these packets stuffed with gunpowder in hopes they explode on contact. Oh, and there’s usually lots of beer involved. It’s a very civilized game, obviously.
+ The hostel owner showed all us Gringos how to play and set us up in two “lanes” on the court with 2 teams on each lane. Tejo is played in a large warehouse type building with lanes side by side.
+ Our team was Paul, Corey, and Liz. We won the first match and then played the other winning team and won that as well! Woohoo!
+ Although the explosions were not nearly as frequent as we thought they would be, it was still a fun game!

Bungee Jumping and Our First Overnight Bus
+ Corey, Paul, Nico decided to do the 70m bungee jump just outside of San Gil. One at a time, they were each hoisted up on a platform on a crane above the Rio Fonce and jumped!
+ Corey sweet talked the staff to letting him touch the water on his jump as that is something that is usually only reserved for guides. So on his jump his head and chest  actually got dunked in the water!
+ The other 3 really enjoyed their jumps as well. It was Annemarie ‘ s first time!
+ After bungee, we all went back to the hostel and were planning to get lunch together.
+ The weather had been quite rainy the past day and half but it had suddenly cleared up this afternoon to be good enough for paragliding. Nico and Paul had not paraglided yet so they jumped at the chance with the break in the weather.
+ Corey and I stayed at the hostel to finally book our flights to and from Amazonas.
+ When Paul and Nico finally returned from paragliding there wasn’t much time left before their overnight bus left for Santa Marta. The 4 of us quickly went to Mikasa to conquer the food challenge Corey had told them about.
+ Unfortunately the food took a little too long so Nico and Paul had to get theirs to go and run back to the hostel to get their bags. We said our goodbyes and promised to look them up when we were in Germany.
+ Once Corey’s food challenge arrived, we saw why it was  a challenge. It was huge! 2 burger patties with pulled chicken in between with a ton of fries and a coke. All this had to be finished in 5 minutes!! with the reward being your whole table eats free.
+ Corey made a valiant effort and scarfed down the fries, the coke, and half the burger in about 4 minutes. To save himself the stomachache  he decided to save the rest of the burger. (This half of a burger ended being enough for lunch for the both of us the next day!)
+ After dinner, we walked back to the hostel and planned and got ready for our overnight bus all with a Game of Thrones marathon on the tv.
+ Our overnight bus left at midnight to make the 7 hour journey to Bogota. The rumors we had heard about Colombian bus travel were true! The seats were nice and reclined very far back to make sleeping pretty easy. However the buses are air conditioned to a freezing temperature. All the locals are dressed in their winter jackets and even hats and most people were wrapped up in fleece blankets as they slept. We were happy we had grabbed our rain jackets from our packs.
+ Because this bus had originally come from the north, we got the last 2 seats together… in the very last row.
+ With the mountain roads, the last row got some serious G’s going around the many, many curves. This was the quickest Liz has ever felt car sick. She tried to sleep and even took some motion sickness medicine. She got out a plastic bag and was ready if the worst were to happen 😦
+ About 45 minutes into our ride we stopped at one of the little towns and dropped off a few people and the driver got out to get a snack. We leapt at the chance to change seats! Luckily the couple didn’t get back on the bus and we were now firmly seated about halfway from the front of the bus. The swerving motion here was much more manageable and Liz promptly passed out followed by Corey shortly after.

Gold Museum and Drinks with Locals in Bogota
+ We sleepily arrived in Bogota at 7am.
+ After a short taxi ride to La Candalaria area, we checked in to Explora Hostel.
+ Enjoying the cooler weather we napped to recover from our overnight bus.
+ Spent the afternoon at the Museo de Oro. (Gold Museum) and looked at many different artifacts and learned about history of indigenous people of South America.
+ We stopped for a drink at Bogota Beer Company. Two 2 Colombians invited us to join them at their table. Very friendly people! One was a feminist and was appalled to learn about polygamy (one of the many subjects that came up in conversation)! The other was a gay guy and happy about how Colombia had just legalized gay marriage just a few days before but explained that it is still not widely accepted.
+ Back at the hostel we watched Star Wars on tablet before bed.

Explored Bogota: Graffiti Tour, Monserrate, Biking Tour, Andrés Carne de Res
+ Free walking graffiti tour around La Candeleria. Lots of interesting art and trivia about street artists.
+ Lunch at popular Colombian food place. For only $3.33 total!  We weren’t even sure what we were ordering as we are still amazed how different the Spanish is here.
+ Biking trip around Bogota for over 4 hours! We thought we would be in a large group but it was just our guide and the 2 of us!
+ Liz’s favorite part was our visit to a fruit stand where we sampled a lot of different fruits only found here in Colombia. We also visited a coffee shop and saw the coffee brewing process with all the coffee beans. Overall we saw many unique parts of the city that we would have otherwise missed and found out a lot of interesting history from our guide.
+ After the bike ride, we caught a taxi to Cerro de Monserrate. This is a hilltop with an old church and a great view of Bogota. We took the cable car almost straight up the mountain! It seemed so steep we’re not sure how anyone would have hiked this. The view was impressive even at night. You could really see how Bogota is on this plateau surrounded by mountains.
+ Because we had forgotten our jackets and were still wearing our biking clothes, we were quite cold up there. We stopped in a cafe and got a coffee, aguapanela (Colombian drink made with water and juice from the sugar cane- can be served hot or cold), and an arepa con queso (Colombian corn bread)
+ Went to Andrés Carne de Res DC which is a crazy restaurant/bar/dance club north of La Candeleria. Corey’s steak was really good, but Liz’s was phenomenal! Best steak either one of us had ever had and our most expensive meal of the trip by far!
+ This 5 story restaurant not only served top notch steaks but also had many places for dancing and people watching. After dinner we danced the night away laughing at how we might be the only Gringos here.
+ Caught Uber back to hostel and packed up for a flight to the Amazon tomorrow!

Click here for more photos from Colombia!

Panama & Colombia: 4/2 – 4/8

Panama City >>> (Colombia) Medellin >>> Bucaramanga >>> San Gil

Planning Day and Happy Hour at La Rana Dorada Brewery
+ Today was yet another day to hang inside, trying to stay as cool as possible while we did work stuff online.
+ Worked on taxes and researched possible itinerary for South America.
+ To reward ourselves for our attempts at focus and dedication, we went to happy hour at La Rana Dorada and had half price pints!
+ We then walked to a different part of town and had dinner at Coca Cola cafe (no relation to the soda. It is the oldest historic diner in Panama City! Food was decent, but as usual in Panama, they had 1 poor server trying to take care of every single table so service was lacking.
+ Walked back to the hostel and packed up our bags in our new 12 person dorm (still at Magnolia Inn). We got everything prepared for our super early departure the next morning.
+ This dorm was laid out similar to hogwarts! It is a big ballroom they have converted into a large dorm room. 12 Single beds each with their own plugs and high power fan and lots of open windows since the room didn’t have A/C. Many Panamanians were partying late into the night and blasting music from the buildings right below and all around us.
+ Liz was amazed at how backpackers can seem to sleep through anything! People were in bed at only 9pm with the lights on and music blasting!
+ We watched Man of Steel in the common area before bed and stayed up way too late.
+ Went to bed around 2am. Music was still blasting outside the dorm but we were able to get a few hours of sleep before leaving for South America in the morning!

Flew to Medellin, Colombia– Our 1st flight since Christmas!
+ Caught an Uber around 5 am to the very small airport we were going to depart from. The airport was so small even our driver had trouble finding the departure building!
+ After a weird check in and and waiting around for a bit we were finally on our way! This was the first flight we’ll have taken since leaving the U.S.!
+ We boarded the plane without the usual “gate”. We felt like movie stars as we climbed up the stairs into the plane. (Although this was a first time for us, I’m sure it will not be the last.)
+ As the sun was rising, we got some awesome aerial views of the Miraflores Locks in the canal and being able to see both oceans in the 1 flight!
+ Landed in Medellin and caught an Uber to Cocobamboo Hostel in the El Poblado district.
+ The ride was about 50 minutes and we saw a whole bunch of cool scenery on the way! We also passed a ton of bicyclists (well over 100) on their fancy expensive bikes. Corey was impressed at how many people partook in biking as their hobby, and that they all had such expensive bikes ($5000+)! The whole country was very different than Central America already!
+ After waiting around at the hostel for a bit until the room was ready and a quick Subway lunch, we checked in to our private room and promptly took a nap to recover from the lack of sleep the night before.
+ We were happy because after 13 days of nothing but dorm rooms (almost all of our time in Panama), we were ready for some privacy and peace and quiet!
+ After our nap, we walked around and explored the El Poblado district/neighborhood. With lots of nightlife and restaurants and cafes, El Poblado was very lively even for a Sunday night.
+ For dinner, we ate at a wing place and got 30 wings (6 different flavors), a big tray of fries, and a 1.5 liter soda all for less than $10! (We are such health nuts, I know) And we learned that in Colombia, it’s customary to eat wings while wearing plastic gloves. We thought it was clever since there’s less germs touching your food and you don’t have to use napkins as often.
+ Then it was back to the hostel to enjoy the cool weather and our private tv too! Liz worked on taxes while Corey planned out itinerary for the next day. We again stayed up way too late!

Planning Day: Taxes, Colombia Itinerary
+ The first part of today was spent relaxing in the room and doing work. Liz finished most of our taxes and Corey made a rough plan of every day we’d have before our cruise at the end of May!
+ Lunch was leftover wings from the night before, and around happy hour we went and tried out Bogota Beer Company. Our beer came with a delicious huge burger that we split. We then sampled a few of their different beers too, of course.
+ Next up we walked to Medellin Beer Factory. This was another brewery and also had very tasty and cheap brews. We wish they were this cheap in the U.S.!
+ We needed to use the Internet some so we stopped in a Coffee shop for a quick latte for Liz.
+ Mexican was on the menu for dinner to satisfy our craving from the night before and it definitely hit the spot! We didn’t know if it was all the spicy things Corey had been eating lately, or the new Colombian water (which is perfectly safe to drink), but Corey’s stomach was not liking all the new stuff!

Medellin Metro and Cable Car, Parque Arvi, Flew to Bucaramanga
+ Today was our only day to explore the rest of Medellin so we headed out across town to catch the metro. After the 20 minute walk and some yummy street food of empanadas and tacos, we caught the metro and headed north for about 30 minutes.
+ Then we hopped on the Metro cable car which was suspended high above the city and gave us spectacular views of all the different buildings and houses built on the side of the hills and mountain. It looked just like scenes from a movie or what you think of with Brazil.
+ After a much longer than anticipated ride (about 30 minutes again), we finally arrived at Arvi park. The whole journey had taken over an hour and a half!
+ At the park we were given a very small map and confusing information in Spanish. Although we had been traveling for over 3 months in Spanish speaking counties and had studied Spanish for 7 days in Guatemala, we felt like we did in day 1 of our trip because we could read and understand almost nothing! Spanish here in Colombia is very different than Central America. They use different words and have different accents. This was very frustrating to feel like we were speaking a different language all over again and not being able to understand much!
+ So without knowing where we were going, we started off towards what we thought was the trail. The park was not crowded at all, so we couldn’t simply follow people to a trail. We gave up on our initial direction, then asked some police where to go and they agreed the map made no sense but pointed a different direction. Sure enough after 5 minutes we reached a trail. So we walked along for 15 minutes and reached a road. Our phone map said there was another trail if we headed left on the road for a little bit. So we did that and on the way we passed 3 sketchy looking guys walking the other way, but they didnt seem to notice use and we made sure we were not being followed. After 5 more minutes, we reached the trail then started walking up. About 10 minutes after getting on that trail, Corey stopped to go to the bathroom and Liz walked on about 40 feet further up the trail. All of a sudden those same 3 guys (all about 18-20 years old) came running up the trail and before we knew it, one guy had a giant knife (blade was about 8-10 inches) pointed at Corey demanding his hat and other stuff while the other 2 guys were screaming “Camera, Camera” at Liz and immediately took that from her. By now Corey had backed up to Liz and we were backing away from the 3 guys. The main guy with the knife was still demanding stuff from us (probably the backpack Corey had on, or our phones) but we couldn’t understand him. We said no and turned around and ran away. Luckily they did not pursue and were content with the camera.
+ Shaken up and wondering how that happened so fast, we ran up the rest of the trail to the finish (worried the guys would return again) and quickly headed towards the police we had seen earlier. We explained our situation to them and they called for backup. Then about 10 officers started searching around the park for the assailants for at least an hour. Corey even rode on the back of one of the motorcycles with the police but nobody was able to find them or recover the camera.
+ We were not able to get a police report from them, so we gave them our information in case they were to find them.
+ Then we had to leave to get back to the hostel in time to catch our flight that night. So we rode the cable car, the metro, and walked back to our hostel in time to meet the taxi driver. Then we rode the extra hour to the airport through rain and traffic.
+ Caught our flight to Bogota (our quick layover) and climbed on and off the plane via stairway, just like movie stars! The trip became less glamorous when all the passengers were then shoved into a bus to be transferred back to the terminal.
+ Then we had to walk through the airport one direction for 15 minutes only to arrive, check in for the connecting flight and have to board another bus that took us back the direction we had just come from. Yet another example of Latin American inefficiency.
+ On this plane, we met 2 new friends: Matt from Philly who is on day 1 of a year long stay to teach English! And Eric from Toronto, Canada who has lived down here for a few years and works at the university in Bucaramanga. Both were friendly guys and Eric gave us a few good tips for Bucaramanga.
+ When we arrived, we said goodbye to Eric, then shared a taxi with Matt who was also staying at our hostel, Kasa Guane.
+ After we dropped off our bags, we went out to grab a bite to eat and chose a place called Wok. We all split a wing/nacho platter and ended up having some drinks and talking with the 2 workers there for a couple of hours. They were really nice and we practiced our Spanish while they worked on their English. Finally around 2 am we headed back to the hostel to go to sleep.

Planning Day and Korean Food in Bucaramanga
+ Very tired from the previous day, we slept in really late (maybe new trip record?) and then set out to go find a lunch spot.
+ Definitely the hardest time we’ve ever had finding something to eat due to it being in between lunch and dinner. We think Colombia might be a little like Spain where the stores and people might close up shop in the middle of the day for a siesta. We did find a fast food place open in the mall, but it had prices so high even Americans would scoff. So we said no to that place and continued the search/tour of the city. Despite passing hundreds of stores and businesses, there wasn’t one local restaurant open for food (only drinks).
+ After an hour, we finally stumbled onto a Korean restaurant that, despite not having any other customers, was indeed open! Our stomachs rejoiced! The food portions were absurdly humongous (the platters took up our whole table!) and only cost $5/person! We stuffed ourselves and still had enough leftovers for 2 more meals!
+ With our leftovers in hand we went to Liz’s new favorite store, Exito. It’s like a mini Walmart and offers nearly everything. There, she went shopping while Corey updated the Evernote blog. We finally were able to purchase some things we needed that had been accumulating on an ever growing list for a few weeks.
+ Back at the hostel, we tried to work on some tax and flight stuff, but the Internet was frequently cutting in and out.
+ Eventually around 11:30, we headed back out to the Wok restaurant again to meet up with Matt as well as Howard, and Janie (our 2 new South American friends). We spent another 2 hours just hanging out and talking about funny things. For example if men say anything negative/mean/degrading to women in Colombia, it is socially acceptable for the women to throw plates, shoes, or anything else within reach at the men’s heads!
+ We wanted to stay longer, but still had work to do so we headed back to the hostel. Unfortunately the wifi had not improved and we spent the rest of the night becoming frustrated at our lack of productivity and efficiency.

The Nest Hostel and Dinner with Argentinian Couple
+ After waking up, we packed up and checked out then ate some of the leftovers from the day before for brunch (still didn’t finish them!)
+ Started to work online when the power went out so we ended up moving down the street to an Internet cafe. Worked about 2 hours there doing taxes and preparing documents for the travel insurance on the camera.
+ Then we had to leave to catch a cab with some other people from Kasa Guane to our next destination: The Nest Hostel and Fly Site! This is where we were going to go paragliding! The bus drove us all straight to a launch site but after waiting around for a while, the weather was only getting worse so the instructors deemed it unsafe and canceled the flying.
+ During that time we got to know the 2 other girls who came with us from Kasa Guane, Ashley and Brianna. They were really nice and from Chicago, visiting Colombia for 10 days. Plus we all got a free ride up the mountain and some fantastic views of the city!
+ So we said goodbye to them when we were dropped off at our hostel and they continued back into Bucaramanga. Our room was perched right on a cliff and had incredible views and much to our delight, a nice cool breeze too.
+ After some time relaxing at the hostel we went down the street for our dinner appointment (yes, this was especially scheduled only for us) at this older couple’s house/restaurant. There was no menu, they simply asked if we liked meat, we said Si, then about 20 minutes later they plopped down the 2 biggest steaks we had ever seen in front of us! Plus potatoes, plantains, and a big salad too!
+ The couple joined us for dinner (although their steaks were half the size of ours!) and we sat around speaking Spanish/miming for about 90 minutes. They were very friendly people and talked about how they had 53 animals on their property, ranging from different kinds of birds, parrots, dogs + cats, chickens + roosters, and larger livestock too. It was definitely a unique and authentic Colombian experience!
+ When we had stuffed ourselves silly and gotten the other half to go, the couple took us inside the house and showed us their home and the very pretty mosquito curtains the wife made (looked just like giant wedding dresses!) We eventuality said our goodbyes and walked 5 minutes back down the mountain to our hostel.
+ In our room, we were greeted by another fantastic view of the city at night!  So many lights of the city and so quiet up here on the mountain. Very cool.
+ Continued our recent nightly trend of working until the wee hours of the morning on flights and stuff, including making many wifi calls to airline companies. Although we were much more productive than previous nights, we still longed for the nights of relaxing watching movies. But that’s the difference between a vacation and long term travel.

Paragliding over Bucaramanga  and Bus to San Gil
+ Got to enjoy some free breakfast today, although by ourselves again. The only 2 other people staying here were students doing a 10 day Paragliding course offered by the hostel. Both The Nest and Kasa Guane were probably the 2 most empty hostels we’d been in on the trip. I guess getting off the tourist trail sometimes can be nice though, since we got a free room upgrade since no one else was gonna be using it!
+ After some more work with our Travel Insurance company and some of the leftovers from the night before, it was finally late enough in the day (when the wind gets strong enough) to go Paragliding!
+ At the Fly Site literally next door to the hostel, Liz was up first and got harnessed up with our American instructor from Alaska named Russell. After laying out the parachute/kite correctly, it caught some wind and just like that they were lifted off the ground! In just a matter of seconds they were both lifted up and away over the cliff side and over the towering drops below!
+ For 20 minutes they flew around, past mansions, 6 star hotels (didn’t know those existed), chicken farms, cow fields, a humongous waterfall, lots of vultures, and spectacular views of the city and distant mountains. Then they landed as graceful as a butterfly! Next up it was Corey’s turn and although he didn’t get as high or far (due to the weather changing to rainy and much less thermal winds) he still had a great time too and enjoyed his first ever Paragliding (or Parapente in Español) experience.
+ After another safe landing we paid our bill, grabbed the bags and caught a bus down the mountain to a gas station where we were given vague directions on what to do next.
+ We asked a passing bus driver if the bus was headed towards San Gil, he said yes, but after we got on we learned it was actually going the opposite direction to Central. So we made a quick exit ASAP, walked up the side of some small but steep cliff with all our stuff on, across a bridge, then caught a correct bus actually going to San Gil.
+ What we were told would be an hour and a half ride was actually about 3 and a half hours and most of the journey was after sunset. We did make it through most of the crazy twisting roads of the Chicamocha Canyon before dark however, which provided some impressive sights. Supposedly, it’s the 2nd deepest canyon in the world, behind only the Grand Canyon!
+ We were unfortunately stuck in the back of our overcrowded bus and therefore had to ensure some extra bumpy shoulder rubbing with very sweaty and smelly people!
+ When we finally arrived in San Gil, we were very relieved to regain our personal space and breathe some fresh air.
+ A taxi took us the remaining 5 minutes through the very hilly town to our hostel called Bacaregua. We checked in to find a religious ceremony going on in the courtyard, literally right outside our room. So not wanting to be rude and interrupt the ceremony, we waited in the room sweating 30 minutes for it to end, but to no avail. Finally the heat and our hunger outweighed the possibility of offending and we snuck out as quietly as possible.
+ Then went out to get a bite to eat at a popular restaurant called Gringo Mike’s. Corey couldn’t believe his eyes as the menu seemed almost catered to his liking. It had, among many other types of food, about 20 different burgers all with different spicy Chipotle, jalapeño or other sauces. And all for $5-7 including fries. After nearly memorizing the menu we ordered our unique concoctions and while waiting we drank some delicious $1 beer!
+ Stuffed, we walked back through the park/town square to our hostel and spent the rest of the night watching the Agro channel in Spanish on our cable TV. It was like a QVC chanel except for selling livestock. How funny!

Click here for more photos from Panama and more photos from Colombia!

Panama: 3/26 – 4/1

Santa Catalina >>> Valle de Anton >>> Panama City

Scuba Isle de Coiba National Park
+ Woke up sweaty and covered in mosquito bites with the power still off.
+ Walked into town to Scuba Coiba and checked in for today’s dives.
+ After an hour on the boat,  the engine made a stranged sound and we lurched to a stop. We had arrived at Isle de Coiba National Park (The national park includes the reefs and surrounding islands) but unfortunately the engine gave out about 100 meters from the dive site.
+ While we waited for another boat to pass and rescue us, Corey and I jumped in the water and snorkeled for a bit.
+ Another boat came by and we rode to the 1st dive site with them.
+ Over both dives, we saw over 17 white tipped reef sharks all clustered together, multiple turtles, multiple eels, tons of fish especially puffer fish, and a few crown of thorns starfish! Awesome!
+ Both dives sites had a very interesting thermocline, where you could actually see the warm current and the cold current mixing together. It looked very similar to the heat above a sidewalk on a hot day. As we were swimming along, one side of your body would be in the very cold current and the other half would be in warm water like a bathtub! It was very interesting!
+ Because of the boat trouble we all had to change plans and shuffle around a bit. We didn’t get to go to the actual Isle de Coiba. Instead we ate lunch at Playa Canales  (another island inside the national park) This was disappointing but the dive master said Coiba would have been crazy packed with people today because of the holiday. So maybe it is for the better.
+ Caught a ride back from the dive shop to our hostel with another diver from China who is also staying at Jammin. We arrived to find the power is still off!! The rest of the city’s power returned very early this morning!
+ Walked back into town to try to find somewhere to use wifi and charge our devices. Found spotty wifi at a near by hostel and charged up our phones for a bit.
+ Ate a steak dinner at a place listed in lonely planet.
+ Walked around town trying to find another spot with wifi (we need to book a plane ticket to colombia asap!) But we were not successful.
+ Came upon a church service where everyone was clapping loudly and singing upbeat music. The happiness exuded by the church attendees was contagious!
+ Walked back to Jammin only to find the power IS STILL OUT!
+ Watched Straight outta Compton before bed.

3/27 (Easter)
Drove with friends to Valle de Anton
+ Woke up to find the power turned on sometime during the night.
+ Our Chinese friend, John, offered to drop us off in Valle de Anton as he was driving to Panama City. We took him up on his generous offer!  Our other dormmate, Marcella, was also headed back to Panama City. So the 4 of us who had been dormmates in Santa Catalina took off towards Panama City!
+ With all the traffic from Easter (many Panamanians were returning to the city for work on Monday after the long holiday weekend) the 4 hr drive to Valle de Anton took about 6 hours. John even insisted on dropping us off directly at our hostel!
+ After getting off the main highway with stop and go traffic we drove up and through the scenic mountains into Valle de Anton.
+ We arrived at Bodhi Hostel, checked in, and grabbed a very late lunch with John and Marcella at a local Panamanian restaurant.
+ After saying goodbye to John and Marcella, Corey and I spent the rest of the evening catching up on wifi things: blog updates, looking at plane tickets, etc.
+ There was a fair complete with rides and games right across the street from our hostel. We walked over around 945 and Corey got a late dinner.
+ Stopped at a bar down the street and got a few beers with Teenage Ninja Turtles playing in the background.
+ Headed back to our hostel for bed. Bodhi hostel is really nice! There is one big room with 27 dorm beds! That sounds absolutely awful but it is actually the nicest dorm beds we have stayed in so far! Each bed has their own fan, reading light, electrical outlet, new mattress and pillow, and curtain for privacy! And the best part… it’s not hot here!!!

Enjoyed a break from the heat in Valle de Anton
+ Woke up (not sweating!!) And rolled into the kitchen for the free breakfast (all you can eat pancakes, coffee, tea!).
+ Liz is excited to actually drink the free coffee! Many hostels offer free coffee but it’s usually way too hot to take advantage of it.
+ Met some other travelers and volunteers from the US and Germany. Got some tips about Colombia and gave some tips about Costa Rica.
+ Decided to go on a hike to the popular waterfall of the area: Chorro El Macho  (Manly Falls – named after Corey).
+ The walk there was a scenic 45 minutes and the waterfall itself was a bit disappointing due to it being dry season. There was also a small man made pool at the bottom of the falls but we decided against swimming since we were by ourselves and it was going to be closing soon anyway.
+ We chose to walk home a different way so we could see more of the neighborhoods surrounding Valle de Anton.
+ Back at the hostel, we went next door for dinner at a place called Munchies. Arabic food we think. It was absolutely delicious, the best thing we’d eaten in a while. We vowed to return the next day for lunch, only to find out they would be closed. Oh well, next time!
+ That night in the hostel we chose to enjoy the cool weather and sat outside in the patio area watching House of Cards. We were cold for the first time in a few weeks!

Arrived in Panama City and attended our first Futbol match
+ Checked out of Bodhi and jumped directly onto the bus for Panama city!
+ On the way into Panama city we got to drive over the Bridge of the Americas. Looking down, we saw many small boats and large ships waiting their turn for the canal passage.
+ The bus dropped us off at the Albrook bus station/mall and it was the largest/busiest place we had been to in quite a while. It’s funny how quickly something like a big mall with A/C and a food court and movie theater can become so foreign.
+ After a quick lunch of McDonald’s, we caught a taxi to our hostel (after bartering with him down to half of his originally quoted price).
+ Checked in to our dorm at Magnolia Inn and met the 4 other people staying in our room: Wes and Matt from Colorado, and Andy and Jessie from Switzerland. This was the first dorm where all the other people had been traveling long term, and we’d all come in the same direction from Cancun and we all left that area at roughly the same time! Crazy!
+ After getting settled, we all decided to venture across town to see if we can get tickets to the Panama vs Haiti World Cup qualifier match!
+ We used Uber for the first time on our travels and we had a very nice driver named Jimmy. We all practiced our Spanish for the hour and a half it took with all the heavy traffic.
+ Outside the stadium, the 6 of us got tickets for general admission for $16 each! While waiting in line to get in, we ate some cheap mystery meat on a stick from a roadside stand and drank some beer.
+ The game itself was a lot of fun, even though nobody scored until almost the 7th minute. Still, everyone was having a ton of fun chanting different cheers (we tried to join in despite not knowing the words)
+ When Panama finally scored a goal, the whole stadium went crazy! They threw beer everywhere (luckily not on us) and celebrated like they just won the championship! The energy was awesome! Comparable to some of the better American football games I’ve been to.
+ After the game, we got some spiral hot dogs on a stick, then crammed 6 people into a tiny taxi for the ride back to the hostel.
+ Before going to sleep, we finished the last 2 episodes of House of Cards.


Visited the Panama Canal with friends
+ In the morning, Laura and her husband Johannes (who had flown in from Germany a few days earlier) met up with us at our hostal. Laura had gotten sick and needed antibiotics. So after watching some YouTube videos on how to properly use the foreign medical products, Liz gave Laura an injection!
+ Afterwards, all 6 of us (Laura and Johannes, along with Andy and Jessie) walked along the Cinto Castera to the fish market. After wondering through the maze of stinky exotic fish, we all had a nice fresh seafood lunch.
+ Up next was a visit to the famous Panama Canal! The 6 of us walked a few blocks to a bus station, bought a bus card and then road the bus to the main terminal (same mall we originally arrived at) and then caught a different bus to the Miraflores Locks at the canal. We watched the large cargo ships go through and how the locks operated. The canal was just wide enough for the ships to just barely squeeze through! The mechanical “mules” on each side of the canal were very interesting as they follow a sort of train track and are used to help keep the boats centered in the canal. We also walked through the on site history museum and watched a short 3D film.
+ We stayed til close, then eventually caught buses back to the Cintro Castera to watch the sunset over the cityscape. It was a very pretty site and reminded us a bit of the Miami landscape. We also saw some of the native Kuna Yala people from nearby San Blas islands hanging out and selling souvenirs.
+ Corey got a delicious snow cone for 50 Cents and best of all, it was actually made from shaved ice right in front of us. Not like in the U.S. where a machine spits out the ice. The man would actually shave a huge ice block right in front of us!
+ Andy used his nice camera and expert photography skills to take some really nice pictures of each couple with the city scape in the background
+ We all wandered around Casco Viejo, at least the parts we were allowed to since the President of Panama’s house/mansion was in that area. The area was a little upscale, but very picturesque with unique old buildings and colorful murals and graffiti.
+ One of the places in the area recommended by Lonely Planet was a bar called Mojitos sin Mojitos. We all got a drink but were underwhelmed by the atmosphere (we later found out we were too early and it got extremely crowded later on) so decided to move on.
+ Up next was a visit to La Rana Dorada brewery with Laura and Johannes. They had delicious craft beer and pizza! Although it was probably our most expensive meal in Panama, it was unique pizza and it even provided leftovers the next day!
+ Laura and Johannes had to get some supplies (alcohol) before their San Blas trip was to depart the next day, so we went to the grocery store with them. Then we said our goodbyes and we headed back to the hostel.
+ The rest of the evening was spent researching Colombia and logistics.

Rest and Planning Day in Panama City
+ Today was a “take care of business” day, so we headed to a nearby internet cafe to print some stuff, make some copies and scans, and take care of stuff that’s easier to do on a computer as opposed to a tablet.
+ The early evening was spent booking our flight to Colombia and gathering tax stuff. So much fun! 😦 Not all days traveling can be spent relaxing in paradise or exploring new and exciting places.
+ Around dinner time, we headed out to walk around Casco Viejo more and see what we could find to eat for reasonably priced.
+ We ended up having ice cream for dinner! From a shop that hand made gourmet ice creams.
+ Afterwards, we stumbled upon a festival near the ministry of culture. There were a lot of different groups that would take the stage and different performances involved traditional dancing and crazy monster/demon outfits. We think they were celebrating Verano (summer) and various Legends of panama? Corey even got a free Panamanian energy drink while we watched! It was a nice way to spend the evening watching the different dancing even if we didn’t totally know what was going on 🙂
+ We walked by this area that was haphazardly blocked off with caution tape and realized the metal pipes immediately behind the tape were the setup for a very large firework display! We walked a few more steps and saw a guy sleeping on a park bench holding what appears to be the remote for the fireworks! Only in Central America!

Dinner and a movie at the mall!
+ Ate lunch in the park from some sort of hole in the wall (literally) restaurant. It was some kind of meat that we weren’t able to identify by look or taste… hmmmm. But it filled us up!
+ Now it was back to the internet cafe for a repeat of yesterday and to upload pictures.
+ Later that day, we walked 45 min on the Cinta Costera to the Multicentro mall. This place was 4 stories tall and had crazy stores! After some unsuccessful shopping, we ate some burgers in the food court. They were delicious!
+ Now it was time for the main event of our outing: Batman v Superman! Our movie theater had assigned seats, but wasn’t full at all. There were a bunch of silly commercials before the movie that had us laughing and guessing what product or service that was trying to advertise.
+ The movie was good but it didn’t get out until almost 1 am, so we opted for an Uber as opposed to risking walking. The uber car was super fancy (some make/model we had never heard of before) and the seats even had tv’s on them!
+ As we laid in our separate dorm beds trying to fall asleep, Corey geeked out and watched different YouTube videos about the Batman/Superman movie while Liz probably looked at instagram!

Click here for more photos from our time in Panama!