Backpacking through South America - Part 2

Backpacking through South America - Part 2

Although we've actually sent some clothes (and a truckload of souvenirs) home, the backpacks don't feel lighter. Because every day we cram them with experiences to such an extent that it's almost too much of a good thing.

The thoughts and concerns before our trip - about whether a 3.5 month gap as a relatively recent graduate and without steady working situations was a good idea -  they completely evaporate when you at 7.30 in the morning in formidable post-rainy-sunshine weather spot Machu Picchu from the Inca's 'Sun Gate'. There's no 'gap' - we become richer everyday and it's all worth it.

Allow us to stay in the clichés: although we've actually sent some clothes (and a truckload of souvenirs) home, the backpacks don't feel lighter. Because every day we cram them with experiences to such an extent that it's almost too much of a good thing. 

Of course, the truth is also that our backpacks now contain the slightly warmer (and heavier) clothing that was necessary in Peru's high altitudes, while we walk around in swimsuits and flip-flops.



Speaking of high altitudes and backpacks, let's talk about Machu Picchu and the four-day trek in the footsteps of the Incas that we completed. It's the highlight of the trip so far - and we kind of expect it to stay that way.

We had four absolutely fantastic days hiking up and down the Andes Mountains with nine other travelers plus two guides and the impressive "porters" who hauled all our necessities for the trip. Each day we were fed delicious meals morning, noon and night, and a camp with tents was ready when we finished the day's hike. All we had to do was walk.

This was a challenge in itself, but we were helped by our clothing and other factors. With the help of the merino wool, we were able to withstand the many changes in temperature that naturally occur at an altitude of three or four kilometers. And we were extremely lucky to end up in a group of like-minded travelers, where everyone helped and cheered each other on, along the way. A huge experience that we will never, ever forget.


Nature is the headline of our month in Peru, and before the Inca Trail we stayed in the ancient capital of the Incas, Cusco, for a few days to get used to the heights. We trekked at 5,000 meters at the impressive Rainbow Mountain and its neighbor, the even more impressive Red Valley. We sailed on the world's highest navigable lake, Lake Titicaca, and hiked to the mountain lake, Humantay Lake, at the foot of the Salkantay Glacier. All great experiences with nature and sore feet in focus.

Colombia

Pachamama, a Mother Earth goddess among much of the Andean population, was very good to us in Peru. In turn, we felt the "love" in Colombia. Here, the headline is more: cities, cultural life - and massive rain.

For just over a month we've been traveling around this amazing country, and it feels like it's been raining half the time. Maybe not quite, but we did "choose" to stay here during the rainy season (somewhat dependent on geography: October-November). But neither did we nor the Colombians let that bother us. Best exemplified by a soccer experience in the metropolis of Medellín.

As Nikolaj is a huge soccer nerd, it was inevitable that we would go and watch football in South America. In Colombia, the best atmosphere was said to be at the home matches of the two Medellín clubs. The first day in town there was a match and we went. In the pouring rain, we "warmed up" in the adjoining streets, drinking local spirits, aguardiente, eating street chicken and singing along to a live heavy metal band's soccer songs. To our pleasant surprise, there was no roof on the stadium, but in return we stood with the home crowd. They gave it FULL throttle with trumpets, drums, banners and dancing and singing throughout the match. We loved every second and are now DIM fans for life, even though the game ended 0-0 and was super boring.



The soccer match frames very well how we experienced Colombia: there is full blast on the speakers with reggaeton music, cold beers and salsa dancing in the rain. And as one tour guide told us, shaking her head almost resignedly, they don't have history in primary school because, according to her, they prefer to forget the country's grim past of violence, drugs and guerrilla warfare (some of which is still going on today).


We fell quite in love with Medellín, which with its tragic history of Voldemort (the locals won't say Pablo Escobar's name out loud), has now turned into a cultural stronghold and tourist magnet. Among the highlights was the Comuna 13 district, which twenty years ago was the world's second most dangerous place after the Gaza Strip. Today, it's a burgeoning area for street artists and much safer to move around.

And then there are the colors! While Peru could be a bit gray at times, we really got the colors in Colombia. The coffee town, Salento, we fell in love with straight away: colorful streets and coffee plantations everywhere, what more could you ask for? Guatapé and Cartagena also have a focus on color in the streetscape.

We've been spoiled in Colombia, where the past few weeks have brought warmer temperatures to the Caribbean coast. It helps us slow down a bit and remember to reflect and enjoy our trip a little. Because the truth is also that it's not just all beer and skittles. Upon arrival in the Caribbean coastal town of Santa Marta, we hit a wall. A combination of suddenly higher temperatures (30 degrees), lots of options and a less-than-inviting town took our breath away for a few days. There is an enormous amount of planning to be done all the time when travelling this way. Lots of opt-in and opt-out choices, inputs and warnings from other travellers etc etc. It may sound rather spoiled, but it is still the reality when you want to achieve a lot in a relatively limited time.


But after we climbed over the wall, the surfer/hippie backpacker village of Palomino stands as one of the highlights on the north coast where we really settled down. The same can be said for Isla Grande; a tiny island in the Caribbean Sea off Cartagena despite its name, which we spent four days on. Just as a night in a hammock in Tayrona National Park put things into perspective.

Now we are roughly half way through our adventure, we pack our backpacks for God knows what time, and head for Mexico and Guatemala.

 

If you missed the first part you can read about Katja and Nikolaj's first few days in Peru and their thoughts before the trip.


Go to part 1 here