Venezuela – the ultimate adventure

One thing is for sure: Venezuela is the ultimate antonym to boredom! Even before we embarked on our adventure to visit Venezuela, we already expected that everything that may happen there would be too much to tell about in a regular post, so we decided to keep a detailed diary of our days there. And trust us, even though we were only doing it pinpoint style, it took us quite some time every day to write down (almost) everything that had occurred. Our primary aim in Venezuela was to go see the Angel Falls, to which, according to our research, it was quite a journey to get to. As we did not know how much time it would eventually take, we had decided to just go with whatever would happen and if there was time left in the end, we would go see some of the marvelous beaches everyone that has been there still seems to dream about.
So here we go, due to Venezuela being so special, here comes our special edition blog entry on Venezuela.

Day 1. The adventure begins.
As already said, the first and only planned stop in Venezuela were the mighty Angel Falls, the highest water falls in the world that crash down from 979 m of height. However, let us tell you, the way there is quite an adventurous journey! It started with our bus having to stop numerous times while the driver and his assistant tried to fix something – what it was exactly we never found out but they obviously eventually must had given up on trying because at some point we were told to get out and hop on another bus that came to rescue us. The closer we got to the border, the more turquoise the ocean got and the more small stands appeared on the side of the road, all selling Venezuelan gasoline in plastic bottles. Eventually the bus dropped us off in the Colombian border town of Maicao where we, for the first time then, were confronted with the typical smell of Venezuela: gasoline. Gasoline by the way, sell for 0,02 $/l (0,08 $/Gallon) and is thus often cheaper than water. Right after our arrival the first mission in Maicao was to exchange some of our money to Venezuelan Bolívars in order to buy tickets for a “taxi colectivo”. That is a taxi shared by various passengers not knowing each other but wanting to go to the same place which should take us over the border and eventually to Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second biggest city which is also a super important one for the oil trade.
Now money is a very interesting topic in Venezuela. Due to the surging inflation and instability, nobody trusts the Bolívar (which is the local currency) anymore and therefore, everybody who can is trying to have it exchanged for any other currency (preferably US Dollars). Thus, despite that officially 6,5 Venezuelan Bolívars trade for 1 $, 1 $ actually sold for up to 600 Bolívars on the black market at that time. These circumstances leave everybody arriving with US Dollars in Venezuela quite wealthy. Nevertheless, the challenge to find somebody trustworthy to trade in US Dollars is not always an easy one and is even aggravated by the fact that counting the stacks of Bolívars one gets for a few dollars is nearly impossible if one is not as practiced in the art of speed counting of money like most Venezuelans seem to be. But back to our story: So after having had successfully acquired some Bolívars we were ready to board one of the colectivos which were already waiting for passengers just outside the bus terminal. These vehicles again are worth a bit more of an explanation. Most of them look like the big old limousine style US Cars from the 60s, run on about 20+ l of gasoline/ 100 km (which due to the cheap gasoline price is no problem at all – disregarding Nature in that case) and generally don’t appear like they are able to handle another 20 kms without a breakdown, leave alone the 130 km to Maracaibo. Nevertheless, our driver took us safely across the border and to Maracaibo’s bus terminal. On the way there we not only passed multiple check points where heavily armed soldiers equipped with machine guns wanted to see our passports but also made a new friend: a Venezuelan dentist who told us a lot about the country and its current situation. Furthermore he must have realized somewhere along the way that we were quite clueless on how to proceed from the terminal on. Thus, he stayed and helped us until we were all set up with a big bag full of Bolívars (which we received for 80 $ in the back of a pizzeria – they were so many that they were handed to us in a big plastic bag) and night bus tickets to Caracas.

Distance to Angel Falls:
At the start of day: 1.408 km
At the end of the day: 1.133 km

Day 2. Exploring the various means of transportation in Venezuela…
Our night on the bus was actually not so bad. Despite that the temperature in the bus was set at so low that it very much resembled the one on the North Pole and that the air con leaked in some spots so that a few passengers got an involuntary shower during the night, the ride itself was definitely not under the top 5 of our worst bus rides in South America. When we arrived at the bus terminal we were again assisted by an incredibly friendly local who made sure we got a save taxi ride straight to the airport where we were hoping to get some tickets for a flight to Puerto Ortaz, one of the two cities most organized trips to the Angel Falls start (the other one is Ciudad Bolívar, but there were no flights from Caracas going there). Upon arrival a guy from the ‘tourist information’ informed us that he could help us to get tickets despite that all flights were sold out. His condition: we just would have to pay a bit more to some of his friends who “luckily” were working for one of the airlines. However, after having waited for hours for that guy to arrange tickets without ever getting them, we eventually went to stand in line at one of the airline counters. That was where we met a girl who also did not have a ticket but who was a genius at making the airline employees selling the tickets understand that it was crucially important that she got on the flight (she had a story made up that she was an artist who had to perform that night in Puerto Ortaz). Moreover she also told them how some people had tried to sell us tickets for double the regular price and that got them so upset and feeling sorry for us that they not only sold us tickets for the regular price (which was the equivalent of 4,50 $/person!) but also had the manager come to apologize to us and upgrade us for free to first class. Thus, we arrived at Puerto Ortaz that evening and because we thought it would be easier to organize a trip from Ciudad Bolívar, we took a cap to go there (it was just one hour more in a cap ride that cost us 3 $). We got there at 8 pm so all the tour operator offices selling tours to the Angel Falls were already closed but when we checked in at a hotel, the host called one of his friends who luckily was a tour operator himself as well and who could set us up with a tour that night still – he just came by for a beer and so things got all settled smoothly: We would be able to start the rest of the journey to the Angel Falls at 6:30 am the next morning.

Distance to Angel Falls:
At the start of day: 696 km
At the end of the day: 264 km

Day 3. The Angel Falls – FINALLY!
The next morning we got picked up at 6:30 am by a cab which took us back to Puerto Ortaz (Yes, back because that day there were no flights available anymore out of Ciudad Bolívar), from where we took a flight to Canaima, a city in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, which is accessible by plane only. Our plane, like most ones going there, had only space for 18 people and thus, was up to then the smallest one we had ever boarded. Little did we know that this fact would change again soon – but more about that later. The airport of Canaima is minuscule! From there a driver took us to a lodge in which we were told however, that we would not be staying that night as planned, but were soon to leave to go straight to the Angel Falls were we would spend the night. However, we were already kind of used to sudden changes of plans, so that was all good for us. And so the next stage of our journey started: the boat part. We had to go up the Río Carrao in a canoe style boat for about 70 km which took us approximately 4 hours, passing rainforests that looked exactly like we had always imagined the Amazon rainforest: wild, stunningly beautiful, untouched – and rainy. While on the way, we only stopped once to get out to hike one stretch of the way where the rapids were too dangerous to pass through with the boat. Also, once, we were going down the river for a while again because our motor had some issues. Luckily, however, it started working again soon and so we could continue upstream again until we finally could see the mighty falls – still from the far, but the moment after so long making our way there was very special and deeply impressive. We got out of the boat, already dripping wet from the rain and the river splashes and started the final part of the trip to the falls: the one hour hike to the viewpoint. It was an easy hike on a well beaten track through beautiful jungle but we were so excited that time just did not pass. Eventually we could hear the falls louder and louder and finally we arrived at the viewpoint. Due to the season, the falls were impressively huge. The rain and the fog made the atmosphere spooky and also quite authentic for a waterfall in the middle of the RAINforest. However, the pictures did not capture that special moment too well. You really have to do this whole journey to understand our contentment and happiness when we had finally arrived. Quite exhausted from the last days we eventually made it back down. Lucky for us, the ride to our camp for the night was just a very short one.

Distance to Angel Falls:
At the start of day: 266 km
At the end of the day: 0

Day 4. Some more waterfalls…
As we had splurged a bit and had booked the “VIP” package we slept in hammocks in the closest camp to the waterfalls and could see them right when waking up the next morning. Sleeping in the hammocks worked out really well too: it was not too hot and there were hardly any mosquitoes (they must have all stayed up at the falls, waiting for the next day’s visitors), so we slept like babies after having finally achieved our biggest mission in Venezuela – and that in record time! We had expected that this journey would take wayyyy longer but as we were so quick, we now had plenty of time to see some more of Venezuela.
But first we had to go back all the way down the river, all 70 km to our lodge which due to our VIP package booking was amazingly wonderful – apart from all the mosquitoes that attacked us every time we entered the bathroom (for some reason they had not build a proper roof on that one, so they could get in – and as we obviously must have tasted great, they had decided to stay there and hunt us down). Anyways, in the afternoon we went for another excursion to the Canaima Lagoon Waterfalls, consisting of Salto Ucaima, Salto Golondrina, Salto Wadaima and Salto Hacha. We took a boat across the lake collecting the water of the foot of the falls, right in our lodges backyard. It took us only few minutes to get to the other side of the lake and from there we hiked for half an hour until we got to the Sapito Fall. This fall is special because it’s possible to walk right through it, or at least under it – and that is amazing because you can feel and hear and experience the immense power of these thousands of liters of water coming down every second. Sadly we did not have a GoPro or waterproof camera to capture the hike underneath it but we can tell you, it was spectacular.

Day 5. From the jungle to the beach.
The next day was a big transit day. We had to get from the jungle to the coast. The journey started in the morning with going to the “airport” (this we put in quotation marks here because it is the most extraordinary airport ever: there is just one desk where you hand in your passport so they note down your name and then you wait till they call you) in Canaima where we waited to be assigned to a plane. We expected to be going back with the same machine as we had came two days before but then they called us and walked us to the tiniest Cessna on the field: only 6 people fitted in that car sized plane and one of them was the pilot! So we boarded it and after nearly peeing my pants (this is speaking for Nicky, I think Patrick was a bit braver) I could actually enjoy the flight which turned into the best one I have experienced so far in all my life: the views over the rainforest were simply amazing! After a bit more than an hour we safely landed in Ciudad Bolívar, thanked our pilot and went off to see the city center for a few hours. It is a really beautiful city on the shores of the Orinoco river with a picturesque, colorful old town area. Due to Venezuela’s difficult situation at the moment, however, it was a sad city to visit: all bakeries we passed featured signs on the window saying: “no hay pan” which translates to “there’s no bread” and copy shops had signs out front saying that there was no paper available. Also, there are hardly any restaurants open anymore these days. These are just a few examples – it is really hard to paint an appropriate image with words of how it is to be there. Also, it was kind of scary to hang out there as our travel agent who had arranged our Angel Falls tour had advised us not to walk either too far right or left of the center… So in the end we were happy when the day was over and we could eventually get on our night bus to Valencia – our LAST night bus for this South America trip! Buying the tickets for it, however, had been quite a challenge too as it is hard to get bus tickets anywhere in Venezuela at the moment. There is a bus ticket “mafia” which buys all the available tickets in the morning and sells them for double or triple the price. Anyways, we got some and thus, in the morning we arrived in Valencia. When we got off the bus, we had to again find someone to trade us some US Dollars for Bolívars. This time we found somebody to do it in the back of a shoe store at the terminal and it worked out perfectly again. Thus we left with another big plastic bag full of Bolívars and were ready to get on the next bus to Chichiriviche, the little city from where we would be able to discover some of the islands, called Cayos, not far out in the ocean. When we got there, we first had to find a hotel, however. So we walked around for a bit, looking for one but were not so successful in the beginning: most hotels were quite run down and not very inviting. Then, however, we ran into a lady who was with three little kids and asked us, if we would like to rent a room in the apartment she was renting with her family. As at that point we were substantially exhausted from the last days, the sleepless night in the bus, the running around in the humid heat and not having eaten much in quite a while, that offer sounded wonderful, so we naively went with her. The cab we shared took us out of town to a resort where all Venezuelans with kids that still have money most likely spend their vacations. It was like a small gated city with lots of restaurants, shops, pools with water slides and waves and other entertainment facilities. As we felt save and good there, we decided to take the lady’s offer and rent that spare room in her apartment.

Day 6. Caribbean islands and a bad surprise.
The next day it was time to discover some of the islands around Chichiriviche. The islands there are called “cayos” like the Spanish version of the “keys” in Florida. Our first excursion was a tour of the bay where we went to see a few different ones of the close by cayos, an area where oysters are harvested and a ship wreck. After that tour we could relax on the beach of Cayo Sal while enjoying the view of the turquoise and crystal clear Caribbean Sea. When we got back to the mainland we had some super delicious seafood in one of the restaurants right at the beach before facing the chore of the day: finding someone to exchange us some more dollars again. The thing was, that we never wanted to exchange too many at a time because it was quite difficult to carry around so many bills, and also, because we never knew if we could really trust the person exchanging them for us. But the problem was, that this way, we constantly ran out of money and had to get some more somehow. So that day, we were not lucky and were only told to come back the following day. We spent the evening at the resort, hanging out at the wave pool, being the attraction of the local teens of whom lots had never spoken to foreigners before. When we got back to our room there was a bad surprise waiting for us: somebody had stolen some of our money and half of our dollars were gone. We thought we would probably never find out who had taken them – but oh so wrong we were.

Day 7. The most beautiful cayo of all and how to exchange money in Chichiriviche.
That day we went to “Cayo Sombrero” which is supposedly the most beautiful of all the cayos and we can also confirm this. It is a bit farther out and the water there is just perfectly clear. Also, there are less people than on the cayos closer to the shore. We had a super relaxed day there, met some really nice people and when we eventually went back, we rounded off the great day by being able to allocate someone who wanted some of our remaining dollars in exchange for some Bolívars. In fact, we learned that there were three people in town that always exchange dollars: a guy called “The Arab” whom we never got to meet, a lady whose name we forgot and Senor Amalí who also owns a liquor store of that name. We went with the last one who looked like a mafia boss out of a gangster movie. Nevertheless, he was great to do “business” with and furthermore gave us great advise on which rum brands where the best in Venezuela. Oh, and one more thing we succeeded that day: we found bread! Freshly baked bread! As flour is rarely to be encountered in Venezuela at the moment, that was not an everyday thing anymore but something really special. We also went to get some groceries in the supermarket which due to our exchange rate leverage were amazingly cheap for us. We will add a price list at the end of this blog post for examples.

Day 8. The best day and the thief’s outing.
On the morning of this day our hostess – Ana – told us that her house in Caracas had been robbed, so she would have to leave to see if things were ok. She surprisingly also told us to stay as planned until the next day and said we would just have to return the keys at the reception upon leaving. Truth be told, we were naive enough to swallow that story and happily went off to spend another day touring around various cayos and relaxing on the beach of marvelous Cayo Sombrero while sipping on some spirit coolers, just like all the Venezuelans around us had taught us to do. When we got back to the hotel and entered our room we did not believe our eyes when we just found an empty apartment with none of our belongings in sight. Luckily, however, two of the girls of the staff there came to tell us soon after, that they had our luggage safe, that only they had taken it out because the lady’s rent was over that day and that thus, we had to move out. When we had verified that our luggage, including our passports and electronics, where still there, we cracked up in laughs about how naive we had been to trust that woman. The only things that had gone missing was the rest of the money that had been in the (locked) luggage and UNDERWEAR (three bras and a few panties – no kidding! But everybody obviously regards different things as valuable…). We had to tell the manager what had happened before we were free again to go. Now, there we were, stranded at night in Chichiriviche with no hotel once again. Luckily, some girls of the staff were super sweet and organized motor taxis to come pick us up and drive us around (with our big bags shouldered) in search for a new place to stay. However, that was a difficult journey as exactly that day was the start of a long weekend and the whole town was pretty much booked out. Eventually though, we were successful and could finally get some more drinks and rest to recover from the recent happenings. At least though we had found out who had been the thief in the first place… And, we still had had the best day of our Venezuelan adventure that day – no stupid thief could ruin that.

Day 9 & 10: The way back to Colombia.
The last two days in Venezuela were again transit days as we had to make our way back to Santa Marta, Colombia. Thus, we spent them in hot and crowded buses and scary looking cabs – but that was OK: these would be the last two transit days of the whole South America trip and by now we had so many experiences of the last days, weeks and months to digest that we could happily sit in buses without even reading a book or listening to music but just sitting there, relaxing, lost in memories. We had perfectioned the art of being able to do nothing for hours. So in the evening of the next day we eventually arrived back in Santa Marta, having survived Venezuela with only minor setbacks but with loads and loads of unforgettable and awesome memories.

How much things cost in Venezuela
In the supermarket… 2 bottles of drinking yogurt, a package of “Dulce de Leche”, a Colgate tooth paste and an Eskimo Magnum Mandel – all for only 0,80 $!
In the liquor store… a bottle of the better brand of vodka they had for 1,80 $ plus 4x 1,5 l of water for all together 0,35 $.
In the fruit store… 3 bags of fruit containing mangos, pineapples and bananas for 1,10 $.
In the restaurant… spaghetti with seafood and fish filet with sea food sauce, 2 beers and 2 sodas for 4 $.
All calculating with an exchange rate of 1 $:550 Bolívars. This was our average rate we exchanged for in July 2015 which was continuously increasing. The current black market exchange rate can be retrieved from this website.

If this convinced you to go, please check the current situation first.

Honoring the awesome!

This post is dedicated to some special people we met during the last 6 months and who we all hope to meet again some day!

# Ana. Thanks for making life in Brazil even better and so much more fun!
Ana is the gorgeous Brazilian (inside as well as outside) who joined us during our days in Rio, organizing some last minute carnaval tickets at the Sambódromo (which she taught us to pronounce correctly, eventually) in a maybe not entirely legal way but it lead to so much fun for all of us that it must have been ethically correct in the end. Furthermore, she also helped us to never run out of Caipirinhas on Ipanema Beach. As if that would not have been enough good deeds to make this list, she then introduced us to Pizza Rodizio (all you can eat Brazilian Pizza) when we next saw her in Ubatuba. There are many more amazing memories that we share with Ana but there is not enough space to account for them all here. So, thank you Ana and we can’t wait to see you again!

# Connor and Elliot. The coolest climbers to have ever climbed Cochamó Valley!
Thanks to this guys, we spent some immensely fun nights in the middle of nowhere when we were exploring Cochamó Valley. We were taught an amazing card game, embarrassed ourselves for not being able to hum songs properly when playing a weird but really cool activity like game and were kept busy all night finding new spots to sit together because our refugio hostess kept kicking us out everywhere for laughing too loud. In the end we moved outdoors and enjoyed one of the most beautiful views of the night sky we have ever seen while sitting around our camp fire. Their greatest beneficial deed to us, however, was for sure to introduce us to South America’s best cookies: Toddies! We really hope to share some Toddies again with you as soon as possible!!

Connor and Elliot

# Santiago. Our favorite Columbian and astronomer – by the way fluent in German.
We met Santiago, who now lives in Santiago (de Chile) but speaks perfect German, first in Cochamó Valley. He was not only a great person to hang out with but also equipped us with so many tips for our further destinations that he not only made the time with him really, really great, but also the time we spent following his recommendations. Thank you very much for all of that Santiago and we hope that another one of your conferences will be in Innsbruck again when we are back!!

# Julien. The French who made us conquer the toughest mountains!
Julien not only made this list but is also our all time favorite French by far. We met him on the bus to Bariloche where we spent one of the best hiking days of all our South America trip together: the track up to Mount Cathedral. After Bariloche Julien went on to discover South America along pretty much the same route that we had planned, but just a bit faster. Thus, he kept on sending through great advise on where to go and what to do and see there, especially which mountains to climb. However, Julien is super fit, so some of his recommendations turned out to be pretty tough to follow through on, like for instance a 6088m high mountain or a one day trek of 32 km taking us up to 4150 m above sea level. But we made it through all of them, always motivated by telling us that ‘what a French can do, Tyroleans have to be able to do as well.’ We really, really hope to see you again Julien and that we can hopefully hike together sometime!!

In the mountains with Julien

# Baukje and Harm-Jan. The sweet Dutch couple with the around the world ticket!
We met this wonderful Dutch couple first in Bariloche when we were all starvingly waiting for BBQ night dinner at our hostel, which finally was ready at Argentinian adequate 11pm. To pass the time, we got to know each other over some beers and wine and instantly felt super comfortable together. Thus, we were really happy to meet up again in La Paz and one more time in Copacabana at Lake Titicaca. Each time we had a blast together so we hope for a fourth time soon!

Baukje and Harm-Jan

# The Uyuni Group. Fun times despite the cold nights in Uyuni!
We discovered Uyuni in a seven seater Landrover of which each seat carried a super nice and special person. Thus, our trip through this unique scenery of salt flats and lagoons was amazing, also because we shared it with them.

The protagonists of this trip were these guys here:
Regiane and Luiza from Brazil who were not only lots of fun but also made the coldest night up on over 4000 m warmer by sharing their proviant of wine and liquor.
Edwin from the States who was not only really, really cool but also took amazing pictures of us.
Fernando, our Bolivian guide who happily shared his coca leaves with us and taught us how to best chew them.
Thanks guys!!

The Uyuni Group

# The special Group. The one and only SPECIAL group on Salkantay trail!
The special Group encompassed seven schmicko (an Autralian expression for ‘awesome’ that we learned during these days in exchange for some German lessons) people as well as the three of us. Our namegiver was our maybe not so special tour guide on our way to Machu Picchu along the Salkantay trail. Despite that we were suspicious that previous groups had received a similar honorful name before us, the group to us was more than special. In fact, for us it was more of a highlight to spend five days with these guys, than seeing Macchu Picchu in the end. So thank you all, for making the Salkantay Trek to Macchu Picchu an unforgettable and wonderful memory!! We should definitely get together for another hike, or anything else, some day soon!!

So who made the special group so special?
Awesome Lena and Julian from Germany!
Schmicko Luke and bonza Jordan from Australia!
Super cool and tough Bob from the States!
Incredibly nice Marco and Ariana from Korea!
Thank you guys!!!

The special group

# Maribel. The loveliest Peruvian we have met!
Maribel was our room mate in Lima who made Perus capital way more interesting and beautiful to us. Furthermore, she helped us through Peruvian menus and introduced us to some local delicacies. However, apart from that she was just a great companion to spent a super relaxed and nice time just talking and enjoying life. Thanks Maribel and we hope to see you in Europe soon!!

# Anna-Lena and Verena. Our favorite and most like us volunteer-companions!
These two German girls arrived just one day after us at our volunteer house in Salasaka, just when we had already at least slightly digested our new circumstances but were still trying hard to like or at least accept our new home. Their faces and first reactions were our entertainment of the day because they reflected our first impression that we had had the day before identically, including the effort to try not to run away immediately. Thus, we instantly became friends and these two great girls made this place way, way, way better to us. Thanks girls and we hope to see you again back in Europe the latest!

# Ofir and Ethgar. Our friends from Israel!
Thanks to our two amigos from Israel whom we met first in Montañita and then again on the Caribbean Coast of Columbia, for not only making sure our Hebrew was (almost) fluent before we parted, but also for sharing an unforgettable great time.

# Cristhian. The best travel guide of Bogotá!
Our Colombian friend who, after having first met him in the North of Argentina, provided us with very valuable advise and a travel itinerary for Colombia. He also showed us around his hometown of Bogotá during two really fun days. Thank you!! We hope we can return the favor to our dear friend one day when he comes to visit us at home.

# All the awesome Brazilian people simply for being awesome!
Ok, we have made it through eight countries (or nine, if you count our excursion to Uruguay) but despite meeting lovely people in all of these places, Brazil has been the one country where incredibly nice people seem to cluster, and tightly! While there and despite of not even speaking any more Portuguese than ‘obrigada’ (thank you), we met so many wonderful people that we can now only tell you about a view, representatively, just to give you an impression and to also say a collective ‘thank you’ to all of them:
There was this time, when we got out of the bus at the wrong time and thus, accidentally got lost in a favela in Rio and had no clue, how to get out of there again. Luckily for us though, as soon as we arrived, we caught the attention of some locals who were so honestly concerned for our well-being that, out of the problem of miscommunication between us, they wrote all the information we needed for the bus to take us where we wanted to go on our arm and personally escorted us to the bus stop. That may not sound so impressive, but it really was. And also other times, whenever we asked someone for the way or anything else, not only the person asked but also at least two others around tried their very best to make sure we were helped.
Another time we were flashed by the kindness of these people was when we were on Ilhabela, the home to the most blood-thirsty mosquitoes ever, and we met this guy when we were hiking who saw some mosquito bites on our legs and thus did not let us pass before spraying us personally from head to toe with his mosquito repellent.
Also amazing were the people that we met in São Sebastiao when we were waiting for some friends to pick us up in pouring rain but could not get a hold of them with our phones. These people gave us phone cards for free and when that did not work let us use their phones until we got things sorted out eventually. And that might not sound strange to you, but in a country where people are generally afraid to even take out their mobiles in fear for having it stolen, that was amazing!!
Apart from all these, there were some people that were just so much fun to meet and hang out with and that we spent unforgettable times with! And last but not least, the ones who made us feel like VIPs when randomly wanting to take selfies with us to post on facebook because we were from Europe. Thanks to all of you! We will be back for sure to again visit your amazing country!

# Some great Argentinians
We cannot end this blog without also thanking the awesome guy that saved us from Las Vegas when we were hitchhiking to get back to Mendoza because the only bus back that day would simply not come. And seriously, saving used here is no understatement, if you don’t believe it, go to Vegas and find out that one night there, (especially when you are staying with Aureliano) is way more than enough and two simply tooooo much!!Thanks also to the guy in San Carlos de Bariloche who picked us up when we were stranded after a hike with no busses coming anymore and a 10km further hike back to the next town. Also, while talking about Bariloche we also want to thank the people that came up with the recipe for the chocolate ice cream at Rapanui – it is the most amazing ice cream ever, ever, ever in the whole world and made us so, so happy!

# Some great Chilenians
Here the special thanks go to the two guys whose names we sadly cannot remember (most likely due to our slightly out of balanced state after dancing and drinking all night in Santiago) but who took us all the way home to our hostel which was more than a hours journey and in the opposite direction of where they had to go on their way home. Thank you so much! Who knows where we would have ended up without these guys!

# Some great Bolivians
Also in Bolivia there were a few people that we cannot thank enough: for instance, the driver who took us safely along the Death Road to Rurrenabaque in almost record time and without any accidents or happenings. Also a big thanks goes to Luis, the guy who pretty much runs the town of Rurrenabaque: He picked us (and all others that arrived with the night bus in Rurre) at the bus terminal at 5am and put us in a taxi to the town’s French Bakery where we had the most amazing chocolate and apple bread of South America.

# Ricardo and all the other wonderful Venezuelans that helped us out!
Thanks to this guy who rode with us in the same collectivo (shared taxi) from Maicao to Maracaibo and somewhere on the way must have realized that without his help, we would probably get robbed already at the bus terminal before being able to buy tickets… so despite being eager to get home to his family, he stayed and helped till we were set up and ready to make our way to Caracas. Apart from him, however, many other Venezuelans kept helping us out on a daily basis (eg. the lady that offered to lend us money to pay for our hotel room when we got robbed, the sweet girls that worked at the hotel when we got robbed and who helped us to get sorted again…). Thanks to them all we made our way through the country without major setbacks or damages while having a blast and were collecting unforgettable memories.

# Our mum’s, dad’s and friends at home. Without you, this would not have been possible!
Despite that of course we did not meet them here, they still so very much deserve to make this list: without them, we would not have made it this long here, no way! They were there when we just needed someone to talk with, saved us all so many times and helped us to solve bank troubles when a card got copied and one became useless after breaking a phone, they made sure we got the medical support from home when doctors here could not be trusted much, they sent us stuff we had forgotten to bring and they sponsored our adventures with love and care. Huge and many thanks to all of you! You are awesome!!

The Carribean Coast of Colombia

We had left our big backpacks which had accompanied us loyally during the last 5 months, in Bogota. Thus, we boarded our plane to Cartagena de Indias, the ‘white’ city all backpackers go into rhapsodies about, only with hand luggage. Right at the airport we reunited with some friends that we had first met in Montañita and went on to look for a hostel in Getsemani, the city area where most backpackers stay, together. For the next couple of days we then explored the beautiful colonial style old town of Cartagena, walked on the city walls of the 11km long fortress once built to defend the city back in the day, cooled off by catching the waves at Bocagrande, the city’s best beach close by and spent our evenings sipping beers at the square close to the famous clock tower gate or munched ice cream (which was necessary, obviously because it was very hot still at night) while enjoying the atmosphere at a square we found where everybody can present his talent, be it singing, dancing or some kind of acting, to an attentive audience of locals and travelers mingled together. We sadly forgot to remember the name of the place, but if you walk around Getsemani at night, you will surely run into it.
Our next stop then was Playa Blanca. Located just an hour’s drive outside the city (and accessible by boat, taxi or bus), this beach fulfills all criteria of a tropical paradise beach: white sand, turquoise water, palm trees, cocktails served in pineapples or coconuts and little huts to sleep in right on the beach. While there, we floundered about in the calm and bathtub warm water, went for strolls on the beach until we found our own little private strip where we watched the splendid sunset before walking back to eat some fresh Mojarra for dinner (this is a delicious local fish, however, you got to be sure to tell the server you want it grilled, otherwise they will just fry that fish to tastelessness). Many people just come here for a day trip, however, we wanted to spend the night, and thus, could choose between sleeping in hammocks or rooms, both of course so close to the sea that you could not only see but also hear it. As there are quite some mosquitoes around we opted for rooms, but as it stayed hot and humid during the night, we ended up taking a dip in the ocean in the middle of the night, trying to cool down. However, the water was not much cooler than the outside temperature and therefore, did not help all together that much to cool us off, but nevertheless, it still felt great. Before returning to Cartagena, we enjoyed another day at the beach, bringing our relaxation level up to at least 200%, possibly even higher.
From Cartagena we took a transfer bus to go to Santa Marta. Santa Marta itself is not a very exciting city: Apart from hanging out at the Parque de los Novios in the evenings, which however is really nice, there is not much the city itself has to offer. BUT, close by awaits National Park Tayrona, and that is a real highlight of the Colombian Coast. We hiked through tropical rainforest and along perfect beaches until we reached our campsite for the night. There we slept in hammocks and were quite surprised when we woke up with only a few mosquito bites – everyone we had talked to before going there had told us horror stories of how we would basically be eaten alive there by these little bastards. However, as we continued living with an only minor blood loss, and that quite happily, we had some breakfast at the jungle bakery. This place did not look like a bakery in the first place, and definitely not like a trustworthy one, however, it served amazing chocolate bread which was so good, that we could not even have dreamed of any better. So we were even happier after that and went on to enjoy a fun day at the beaches around the area, playing in the water, swimming and relaxing at the shore.
Back in Santa Marta we went on to do some more excursions the rest of the days at the coast. One day we went snorkeling at Playa Grande, a bay close to the small and quite charming fishing town of Taganga, just 15 bus minutes outside of Santa Marta. Lots of people get scuba certified here, not only because there is quite a lot to see but also because the diving schools here offer great deals. On our last day we went to check out the beach at Bahia Concha, which turned out to be nice but a bit boring after a while, so we went back to town where we found the probably best ceviche (remember, that is the raw fish dish we have told you about a few times already) place in town, munched lots and lots of ice cream and hung out one last time in the Parque de los Novios, drinking some wine. The next morning it was time to say goodbye to Colombia for Patrick and Nicky as they were headed towards the last big adventure of this South America trip: Venezuela. However, it was also time to say goodbye to each other, as Lisa was staying in Taganga for a few days longer to take the chance to get her diving certification before going home to Europe.

When at the Caribbean Coast of Colombia
What to do: Don’t stay in the cities! Make excursions to see the beaches outside of the cities like Playa Blanca or the ones in Parque National Tayrona – they are the ones everyone is talking about when marveling about the perfect Caribbean beaches in Columbia!
Where to sleep: Hostal Casa Candela y Chocolate in Santa Marta is a great choice. Clean and bedbugs free beds plus friendly staff, what else can you wish for?
What to eat & drink: Try the fresh Mojarra (with which you were probably still swimming with during the day) at one of the beach restaurants in Playa Blanca – sooooo good!!

Roaming the streets of Bogotá

We discovered Bogotá with a local, our friend Cristhian whom we had first met a seemingly long, long time ago in the North of Argentina. We had imagined Bogotá as a scary place where we would not be able to spent much time walking around outside. But far off we were! Thanks to Cristhian, we got to see the city’s nicest corners, were not in danger to get lost in the wrong places, and thus, had a few awesome and fun days in this metropolis.
So here is what we did in Bogotá: As we got there on a Sunday, we started the city exploration program with a hike up to Mount Monserrate. This hike is chosen by loads and loads of locals here as their Sunday morning activity. They hike up, take the cable car or furnicular to Monserrate church either to attend the service, just as a work out or maybe also in course of a romantic date. Either before or after this journey up and down, many of them traditionally eat a “Tamal”, a rice dish packed up in a banana leave. We figured, that’s their mountaineering dish like at home probably “Kaspressknoedel”, “Groestel” or “Kaiserschmarrn”. After having enjoyed the view over this mighty big city from up there, we went down again to discover it close up. We mainly concentrated on an area called La Candelaria, the old town area of Bogotá. In some of the small alley ways of this area, where most backpackers choose to stay, one could almost forget that Bogotá is not a small town but a city inhabiting millions of people. While there, we had coffee at the Plaza Del Chorro Del Quevedo, the birth place of Bogotá where at any hour of the day lots of people hang out to just have a good time together with the others that do the same. Later we went on to stroll around Plaza de Bolivar and admired the fat people, cats and fruits painted by Fernando Botero, one of Latin America’s most famous artists and exhibited in the Botero Museum. In the evening we went back to the the Plaza Del Chorro Del Quevedo where we mingled with the crowd of locals and tourists to sip some beers and “Aguardiente”, Colombia’a signature anis liquor.
The next day started with a little shopping trip. This might sound lame, but it is actually a very typical activity for the normal local who can choose among various malls in all forms and sizes. However, we did not go shopping entirely voluntarily. Despite that we had been running around in rather run down clothes over the past couple of months, we would have gone on doing that happily if the last laundry service shop that we had chosen would have given us back our clothes… It would be too long of a story to tell in this place, but anyways, we had to get some new emergency shirts and underwear in order to make it through the last couple of weeks in South America. That mission accomplished but still in shopping mood, we went to the Paloquemao market, Bogotá’s biggest market to buy fresh produce. There we bought every fruit that we had not tried till then and also some that we had already fallen in love with. In the end, we had three big bags of fruit. It took us the whole afternoon happily tasting our way through all of them.
Another great activity was riding our bikes through town, following the lead of an American guide who has been living in the city for more than 10 years. Thanks to him, we not only discovered some more sights but also quite some hidden corners that tourists normally would probably not find. One of these places for instance, was the Emeralds trading place. As Colombia is one of the biggest producers of this gemstone, that was quite interesting to see. Moreover, the tour supports street performers and artists and makes sure the tourists get to taste some local foods. However, only the brave ones took up the opportunity to try fried ants, one of the local delicacies.
While in Bogotá we also visited the Catedral de Sal in Zipaquirá, one and a half hours outside the city. This church was build in a unique setting: the tunnels of a former salt mine, located  200 meters underground. It is quite spooky to visit this place, but also mightily impressive.
After the big city life in Bogotá we were ready for some relaxing beach days. Luckily, our next stop was Colombia’s Caribbean Coast!

When in Bogotá
What to do: Go on a bike tour through the city. It gives you a quick but still quite detailed overlook of Bogotá.
Where to stay: We picked a hostel close to the airport as that was more convenient with our flights in and out of town. The one we picked, Hostel Modelia, is highly recommendable as the owners are very helpful and friendly, welcoming visitors almost like family. If you rather want to stay where the party is, in La Candelaria, try the hostel Masaya Bogotá, we only heard good things about the place.
What to eat & drink: Try your way through all the fresh produce at Mercado Paloquemao – it’s fun and there will be new experiences waiting for your taste buds.

Salento – the heart of Colombia’s coffee region

No other country is probably as famous for its coffee as Colombia. Thus, and because everyone that has been there told us how marvelously beautiful it is, we simply had to visit the “eje cafetera”, Colombia’s most important coffee region. An especially scenic place in the area is Salento. This small town is located in the midst of green hills where coffee is cultivated on farms that warmly welcome visitors to show them how coffee beans are grown and transformed into what we can eventually buy in the supermarket back home – notably, back home, as we learned that all the good stuff is exported, whereas only the low quality produce remains in Colombia. Due to that fact, most Colombians prefer hot chocolate for breakfast – no surprise for anyone who has tasted the gray water that is served in most places as coffee around here.
However, back to Salento. Already the town itself is totally worth a visit. We strolled around between the narrow but intensely colorful little streets and hiked up to various view points before enjoying a trout, the local specialty, for lunch. Later in the afternoon, we went to visit Don Eduardo’s coffee farm which is one of the smaller ones in the area but focused on organic production. We opted to go there on horseback, as it sounded like a more romantic way to explore our surroundings than a bike ride or a hike. When we got there, the owner, Don Eduardo, welcomed us warmly before our tour started. Afterwards, we could relax for a wile, sipping some freshly roasted and brewed, literally homemade coffee, before mounting our horses again in order to return to town.
Another one of Salento’s main attractions is the beautiful Valle de Cocora. Everyone visiting should take a day to go see the breath-taking wax palms that grow up to 60 meters into the sky. To get there, people typically take jeeps to the trailhead from where it takes about five hours to do the whole trail in a pace that allows to enjoy the wonderful scenery.
From the smooth and relaxed hills of Salento our journey then went on to the busy streets of Medellín.

When in Salento
What to do: Learn how to grow and make coffee at one of the farms around town. For example at the Finca Don Eduardo.
Where to stay: You find plenty of hostels in Salento. We stayed at La Casona Hostel Salento. It’s basic but clean. What else does a backpacker need?
What to eat & drink: Go to one of the many restaurants that offer trout. You can’t go wrong with that, they all know how to cook it to perfection!

Enjoying Montañita’s vibes and waves

When we got on the bus to Montañita in Baños we were wearing sweaters underneath our warm jackets. However, the closer we got to our next destination, the more layers we could take off. Eventually we arrived, wearing shirts and shorts only, but were still sweating. In spite of that, we were super happy and excited, not only to discover Ecuador’s #1 party and surf town, but also, and maybe even more so, we were satisfied to be far, far away from our bed bugs invested beds in Salasaka. Originally, the plan had been to stay four nights which however eventually turned into eight. We enjoyed this place too much, we simply could not make ourselves leave earlier. So, what exactly did we do with all our time here? In fact, not altogether that much! We just went for strolls on the beach, worked some more on our tan, joined the crowd of surfers trying to catch some waves, ate lots of ice cream and chocolate croissants (check out the recommendations for details!) and did not waste too much time sleeping. All in all, we blended in quite perfectly with the rest of the backpacker crowd here, enjoying the laid-back Montañita life style with the undeniable hippie touch – and smell. Even after more than a week we had a hard time saying goodbye to this place and even more so to some really awesome people we had met there. Eventually though, after having postponed it various times, we successfully boarded a bus, headed towards our next destination: Quito.

When in Montañita
Where to sleep: Hostal Casa do Trasno is more a hotel than a hostel, and in fact, due to its cleanliness and bed bugs free beds it felt like heaven on earth to us. Also, it is just a few steps away from the beach and right in the middle of all the action in town: the restaurants, bars and clubs.
Where to eat & drink: We found the Peruvian restaurant “Brisa Sabores” on our first day here and thereafter returned every day to try some more of the delicious dishes on the menu. The owner is a really nice guy too – he knew us by name in the end and we even watched a Copa America game together.  For dessert, or breakfast, a sweet snack or whatever other reason to eat you can think of, definitely make sure to stop at the small bakery in the same street where also Brisa Sabores is located. They serve mouthwatering chocolate croissants that are well known by every chocolate lover in town. We went there up to three times a day – not exactly good to keep up the bikini body, but so worth it!
What to do: Try to catch some waves and also visit the close by town of Puerto Lopez to go on a whale watching tour. If you go there by yourself and organize the tour it is quite a bit cheaper than to do it in Montañita.

Quito – visiting the middle of the world

Ecuador’s capital might seem on first sight like just another big South American city, however, this one has quite some attractions. To start with, it is scenically surrounded by volcanoes like the famous Cotopaxi and also some other, more harmless but still beautiful mountains. Furthermore it has a picturesque old town area through which we strolled admiringly, exploring the various plazas, colonial buildings and markets. We furthermore climbed the frighteningly steep steps of Quito’s Cathedral to get a first bird’s eye overlook of the city. Despite that this was already impressive, we went on to conquer the 4050m high Cruz Loma to get an even more impressive view as our reward. For the more relaxed and injured, it is possible to take the cable car, the active ones can hike up. On the top, everyone meets again and there are some more smaller hiking trails to follow in order to see the city and its surroundings from all angles. Quito’s most famous sights, however, are its monuments of the Ecuator line. Yes, it’s not only one, but two. The main monument was built between 1979 and 1982, however, soon it became clear that the calculations were not entirely correct and that the real Ecuator line was 240m farther to the north. Thus, a second landmark had to be build. Visitors nowadays have a choice which Ecuator line they prefer to visit. We decided to visit the original Mitad del Mundo monument and will keep the second one for our next visit. The Ecuator is a special place and being there offers the opportunity to conduct some unique experiments. For instance, at latitude 0 (and as close as we were to it too) water flows without vortex, it is supposedly easier to build things due to increased balance and one weights less while there.
Only 3 hours by bus away from Quito is the famous market city of Otavalo. This place is a must for everyone who wants to see Ecuador’s biggest market and even more so for backpackers who still have room for souvenirs in their backpacks. We did not have any more empty space in ours, however, we still went. Thus, as we could not stop our shopping frenzy, we in the end had to buy an extra duffel bag each to store our “loot”. When we left for our next destination, with the new bags as well as our big and our small backpacks loaded up, we felt more like mules than backpackers. Nevertheless, we carried all our extra pounds with dignity and embarked on our journey with destination Colombia.

When in Quito / When in Otavalo
Where to sleep: If you are looking for an accommodation with a good location, friendly staff and affordable rates, the hostel Chicago could be an option. If you are tired of being all the time in cheap hostels, we have a great deal for you in Otavalo. Hostal Curiñan is more of a hotel rather than a hostel, and while the prices are still quite reasonable, the value for money is amazing. And a bit of luxury once in a while can boost every backpackers mood, or at least ours.
Where to eat & drink: Sushi Shibumi – a tasty sushi bar in Quito. In Otavalo, La Cosecha Coffee offers delicious coffee which helps you recharge your energy during a long shopping day on the markets.
What to do: Hike Cruz Loma for the best view over Quito, not only from the top, but already all along the way up. Also: visit the market in Otavalo, if possible on a Saturday. For us it was one of the best places to buy souvenirs we have found so far in South America.

Medellín – a city between past and future

Repeated recommendations of fellow backpackers had eventually convinced to add the extra loop on my itinerary to go visit Medellín, Columbia’s second biggest city. As Lisa and Nicky were already too eager to get to the coast, I was exploring the hometown of the probably most famous gangster of all times, Pablo Escobar, by myself.
Coming from Ecuador I eventually arrived in Medellín after spending two more or less sleepless nights on buses. The sleeplessness was not only caused by the immensely windy and bumpy roads but even more so by the driving style of the most likely suicidal, or at least insane drivers which caused me to instead of sleeping focus on holding on to my seat to not fall all over the bus (this kind of driving, however, later turned out to be the quite normal way to do it in Colombia… ). Furthermore, we luckily took regular breaks all through the night as the bus was continuously stopped by heavily armed policemen which were so kind to control my passport every time exactly in the moment when I found at least a little bit of sleep. And even after they had left again, the Kalashnikovs they had carried did not help for sweet dreams either…
By the time I eventually made it to my hostel, the initial motivation to explore the city was at the lowest level possible – I just wanted some rest! After a while though, curiosity conquered laziness and off I went to explore!
Medellín is located in the Aburrá valley, surrounded by mountains. Way more thrilling then the scenic location, however, is its thrilling history. Back in the day, it was considered as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, mainly due to the activities of Pablo Escobar, the most wanted drug lord of that time who controlled his cartel from Medellín but was feared everywhere. Since he was shot to death in 1993, Medellín, blossomed and is nowadays considered as a highly innovative city.
The immense size of Medellín is best visible when taking a cable car to get a bird’s eye perspective from the Santo Domingo barrio. However, to be honest, the view I got there was not altogether so charming and definitely not made me want to see too much of the city close up thereafter. Thus, my city tour was kept to a minimum.
Instead I took some time to relax until I went to discover the real beauty of the area which awaits visitors a two hour’s bus ride outside of Medellín, in Guatapé. Guatapé is a little colonial town, but the surrounding in which it is located is breathtaking. It is a huge lake scenery which seems just unreal. Taking away some of the romantic idyll is the fact that it was all artificially built, serving the purpose to feed a hydro-electric dam. Nevertheless, it is still absolutely beautiful! It requires some effort to get to the best viewpoint that is definitively from “La Piedra”, a monolith with a height of 200m. Everyone who climbs the 659 steps and reaches the top is rewarded with a stunning 360° view. While in Guatapé, it is also worthwhile to take a boat tour to enjoy the landscape from a different perspective.
Fortunately, my trip to Medellín was on a weekend because then the city offers some of the best parties in all of Colombia. This is at least what other backpackers were telling! And in order to check these rumors, a short visit to Parque Lleras which is supposed to be the city’s party hub was inevitably. Indeed, there are plenty of bars, restaurants, and clubs. But still tired from the hours in the bus, after a few shots of Aguardiente – a liquor that all Colombians seem to love – I desired nothing more than some sleep – in a bed for a change.
Since the time was limited and the “to-do-list” for Colombia still long, another bus drive was unavoidable. The next stop was already waiting…

When in Medellín
Where to sleep: La Presidenta is a budget accommodation with a friendly and helpful staff located in the heart of El Poblado, one of the city’s best neighborhoods. Also quite convenient: it is in walking distance to Parque Lleras.
Where to eat & drink: In El Poblado you find lots and lots of bars, restaurants and clubs.
What to do: Go to Guatapé! It’s only a day trip from Medellín and you surely won’t regret it. If you are in Medellìn for the weekend, visit Parque Lleras. This is Medellíns number one nightlife district and really does have something for everyone’s taste.