New Zealand: 3/26 – 4/1

(New Zealand) Ohakune >>> Whakahoro Hut >>> John Coull Hut >>> Tieke Kainga Hut >>> Te Maurie >>> New Plymouth

3/26 – 3/29 –  4-Day Canoe Journey on the Whanganui River
3/30 – Driving the Forgotten Highway to New Plymouth
3/31 – Hiking the Poukari Crossing Trail with our Amigos!
4/1 – Unexpected catch up day in New Plymouth

Continue reading “New Zealand: 3/26 – 4/1”

Colombia: 4/16 – 4/22

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

4/16
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!

4/17
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.

4/18
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.

4/19
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.

4/20
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!

4/21
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.

4/22
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!