Overland Traveller

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Overland Traveller's trip updates: Brazil to Canada overland

9th June, 2010: Our flight was blessedly unaffected by the BA strikes and the unpronouncable volcano so we made it home as planned. Brazil to Canada overland completed and home safe!

6th-9th June, 2010: Chicago. It's hard to focus on a place when you're so excited about going home but Chicago managed to hold our attention very well. Highlights were the Cloud Gate sculpture and the Tiffany dome in Chicago Cultural Center's Preston Bradley Hall.

5th June, 2010: The last leg. We got a lift from Winnipeg to Fargo with Craig's very kind parents. (I was relieved to find that the border guards here were much nicer than those on the Mexican border.) Then we boarded a bus to Minneapolis followed by a night bus to Chicago. (Neither of them were Greyhound - we vowed never to use Greyhound again after our awful experience in California.)

25th-27th May, 2010: This time our route took us northwest to the Elkhorn Resort in Riding Mountain National Park, another Manitoban gem. We went for a rather bizarre bison safari and stopped off to see dozens of Manitoba's quirky roadside statues along the way.

18th-20th May, 2010: Headed north to the Radisson Hecla Oasis Resort, via the River Road Heritage Highway, which helped us brush up on our local history. Went out for a walk with the resort's on-site naturalist, enjoyed views of a mirror-like Lake Winnipeg (even went for a dip), cycled and trekked and ate good food. What more could you ask for? Snakes perhaps? Ah, well, we stopped off at the Narcisse snake pits on our way back to watch thousands of snakes emerging from hibernation.

17th May: Did some ziplining in Manitoba! Yes, you read that correctly. It was very different to ziplining in Costa Rica - in Manitoba they let you hang upside down and spin around. Immensely fun. Watch the video.

15th May, 2010: Attended the World's Largest Social, held in Winnipeg Convention Centre. It was part of Manitoba Homecoming 2010 and to the outsider (me) seemed to be an odd combination of a Women's Institute meeting (raffles and buffet) and a frat party (drunken dancing). All in all, no bad thing!

6th May-5th June, 2010: Winnipeg and southern Manitoba... Expect updates as and when something out of the ordinary happens. N.B. The "ordinary" is plenty of sleeping, eating of much-missed home cooking and visiting friends and family (also much missed, of course).

6th May, 2010: Arrived in Winnipeg, final destination of the trip. Felt so good to get here; quite the achievement. Overland from Brazil to Canada - check! Spending a month in Winnipeg and exploring southern Manitoba, thanks to Travel Manitoba.

5th May, 2010: Clambered back on board The Canadian to travel through the rest of Alberta and Saskatchewan to Manitoba. The Rocky Mountains gave way to prairies and lakes and Craig could sense home just around the corner (or, more technically, along the very straight railroad).

4th May, 2010: A day in Jasper: cold pushed aside for the moment, we walked the many footpaths leading out of and around town, admired the elk and did plenty of sleeping.

2nd-3rd May, 2010: Boarded The Canadian to Jasper and spent the 19 hour journey alternating jaw drops at the scenery, retro stainless steel train and food served in the dining car. Arrived in Jasper to a snow storm and a stinking cold so spending the night recuperating in the hope of being able to do some hiking tomorrow...

24th April-1st May, 2010: Stayed with friends who recently moved to Maple Ridge and kindly put us up for the week. Took two day trips to Vancouver, an overnight drive to Whistler, one night out getting very drunk in Vancouver's The Roxy (thank you, tequila) and another day or two loving Jo and Ade's sofa as a retreat for the inevitable hangover.

19th-23rd April, 2010: Craig's old pal Dann joined us as we set about exploring Vancouver Island by car: Oceanside, Telegraph Cove (closed until 1st May, dammit), Port McNeill, Cathedral Grove, Tofino and a lucky sighting of a black bear. Our friend from London, Cat, met us on Thursday (she was delayed for four days by The Unpronouncable Volcano) for a road trip to Cowichan Lake and along the newly paved road to Port Renfrew, where we stayed in this brilliant hotel, and finally back to Victoria.

16th-18th April, 2010: After a brief few hours of kip in Vancouver we took a BC Ferry to Vancouver Island to spend the weekend with Craig's grandma in Victoria: fish'n'chips, Butchart Gardens, Sidney's bookshops and, of course, excellent company.

15th-16th April, 2010: Amtrak train from Oakland/San Francisco to Seattle, followed by Amtrak bus to Vancouver and the final country of our trip, Canada. Thoroughly impressed with Amtrak - made me wonder how we coped with all those nasty night buses...

11th-14th April, 2010: Yosemite National Park... In the meantime, new blog entry: Travel hair trauma.

9th-11th April, 2010: Went to stay with Craig's friend from Winnipeg and his wife and baby son in Outer Richmond. Got a guided tour of the area's lesser known spots - few tourists to San Francisco realise exactly how green this city is. So green, in fact, that we got completely lost among the trees and bushes for 45 minutes in Mount Sutro, strolled along beaches and breathed in that fresh scent of spring! Unbelievably good to be in a different season - we've been in summer since May 2009.

5th-8th April, 2010: We're not sure where the time went! We spent a lot of time sleeping - catching up, no doubt, from too many buses and short sleeps in tents. We met a few friends for lunch and dinner, shopped (travelling just ruins your clothes...) and walked around the different neighbourhoods. We also watched Avatar in 3D. Mostly, though, we enoyed the sheer variety of food available; we ate Indian, Chinese, California Fresh, Thai and Burmese. Not a taco in sight!

4th April, 2010: After one night in LA we took the Greyhound to San Francisco. It was raining and foggy as we crossed the Bay Bridge - felt like coming home! Checked into the Marina Heritage Hotel (a bargain when booked through Expedia at US$50 per night for a kingsize bed, cable tv and en suite) and, unintentionally but unregrettably, went out for smoothies and rice pudding.

3rd April, 2010: Arrived in Tijunana and got out of there again as fast as possible. Battled our way through those most unpleasant of border guards and entered the US of A - the beginning of the final stage of our trip. Took the Greyhound to LA, encountering an extremely rude employee along the way. In true American style, we didn't take no shit and filed a complaint against him!

2nd April, 2010: Night bus from Loreto to Tijuana. Not much fun, especially with cramping stomachs.

29th March-1st April, 2010: Sea kayaking on the Sea of Cortez.

28th March, 2010: Busy morning spent moving hotels in preparation for sea kayaking on the Sea of Cortez with Sea Kayak Adventures. Uploaded a review of St George's Caye Resort, Belize, and photos of Mexico City & Mazatlan and Baja whale watching.

27th March, 2010: Woke up, went outside, sat on beach, bought a hammock. Spent rest of morning and most of afternoon swinging in sun in aforementioned hammock. Bliss. Then packed up camp with the intention of moving to a different beach to camp again. The wind was blowing hard by the time we arrived (again) so, feeling sun and wind frazzled, we headed to Loreto and checked in to a hotel.

26th March, 2010: Whale cravings fulfilled (for now), we drove to Playa Santispac in Bahía Concepción to camp on a white beach next to clear seas. Finally, a calm evening and we fell asleep with the tent door open, meaning our heads and feet weren't nudging the tent canvas at both ends.

25th March, 2010: The day dawned bright and clear, despite us having spent most of the previous night battling a torrent of dust and grit blowing through our tent's vents. Out on the lagoon in a small boat with four other people we finally got close enough to gray whales to reach out and touch them. Actually, the whales had to approach us, and, amazingly, the mother whale encouraged her baby to swim to the boat. Fear and awe rushed through me as mother and baby swam underneath our (suddenly very teeny) boat. Absolute highlight of the trip to date. Still high on whales, we drove back to San Ignacio where we slept soundly in the same hotel.

24th March, 2010: Refreshed, awake and alert we decided to do more whale watching - it's addictive - so we drove almost 70km along a gravel road to Kuyimá camspite. We set up camp next to the lagoon and looked forward to more whale watching. The gray whales in Laguna San Ignacio have a reputation as the most curious and friendly whales around; we really wanted the ultimate whale encounter - touching a baby gray whale.

23rd March, 2010: Switched from the tent to the car after a wind and rain storm swept through in the middle of the night! Despite four nights of rubbish sleep, nothing could keep us down when it came to whale watching. By 9am we were out on Laguna Ojo de Liebre (aka Scammon's Lagoon) scanning the (rather choppy) seas for gray whales. To our delight, we saw many mother and baby pairs who were in active moods, breaching and spyhopping for our entertainment. Still high, we drove to San Ignacio to spend the night in a hotel for a much-needed Good Night's Sleep.

22nd March, 2010: After another poor night's sleep we drove to our northernmost point yet, Guerrero Negro, stopping for lunch in Mulegé, a welcome oasis in the desert. Our campsite was in the middle of the desert, close to Highway 1, in the grounds of Mario's Tours who were to take us whale watching the next day.

21st March, 2010: Got very little sleep last night, thanks to some travellers playing guitar very loudly all night in our hostel... Picked up the hire car and drove to Bahía Magdalena to be told the gray whales have mostly left. So we got back in the car and headed north. The new plan was to catch the whales in Scammon's Lagoon. Spent the night camping on grey dust in a very windy Loreto RV park. Nice...

20th March, 2010: Busy day in La Paz after the ferry: arranged bus tickets, car hire, bought camping equipment (including one plate, one bowl, tent and blow up mattresses) and sussed out whale-watching opportunities in Baja. Ate fish tacos and got an early night after a restless night on the ferry.

19th March, 2010: There are few better ways to start the day than with a litre of fresh carrot juice, a brisk walk along the beach and a dip in a big-wave sea. We are trying to up our fitness levels in preparation for a sea kayaking trip in the Sea of Cortez next week. Finally, in a twist to the dreaded night bus, we caught the night ferry to La Paz, Baja. New blog entry published: Sometimes, the hardest thing about travelling is other travellers.

18th March, 2010: Arrived in Mazatlan, on Mexico's Pacific coast, after another night bus. Had to swap to a older, grimier bus following a minor bump in rush hour traffic on the outskirts of Mexico City, but cheered up immensely when we reached the wide arc of white sand that makes up Mazatlan's beach. Caught up on sleep in our semi-swish hotel room, with king-size bed, cable TV and sea-view balcony. Swam in the Pacific once again.

14th-17th March, 2010: Explored Mexico City, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of what we had expected to be an overcrowded, horribly polluted and crime-ridden capital. Fell in love with the place: quirky architecture, funky people and intriguing history. What's not to like? (Apart from the newspapers pumped full of photos of decapitated bodies and other victims of grisly drug murders, of course.)

13th-14th March, 2010: En route from Belize City to Mexico City. Guess which countries they're in...

11-13th March, 2010: Staying at St George's Caye Resort, Belize. Enjoying the view and some prime watersports in this luxury resort.

10th March, 2010: Travelled from Tikal, Guatemala to Belize City, Belize. Barely strayed from the hostel after hearing horror stories of murders and muggings.

9th March, 2010: Got up at 4.30am to catch the sunrise from Tikal's Temple IV. We were incredibly lucky with the weather and cloud cover - was like watching the world being born. Had a tour around the other temples and then went back to bed.

8th March, 2010: Left El Remate for Tikal, with Cam, where we checked in to one of the few (over-priced) hotels near the site - meaning we could watch both the suset and sunrise without having to worry about transport. Waited until 3pm to buy entry to the park so the ticket would be valid for the next day too. Organised an "unofficial" sunrise tour through the official tourist information booth!

7th March, 2010: Sadly left Copán Ruinas and Honduras for Flores/El Remate and Guatemala. Nightmare journey involving snotty neighbours, pukey other passengers and insanely fast drivers. Very relieved to finally arrive safely; took a taxi from Flores to El Remate with Cam, a 26-year-old Canadian from BC.

6th March, 2010: Went to see the ruins of Copán, which far exceeded our expectations - not that we really had any, having only decided to come this way a day or two ago. Beautiful, uncrowded Maya site with intricately carved stela and half-claimed-by-the-jungle ruins.

5th March, 2010: Long journey from Roatán to Copán Ruinas, but far easier than expected. All made worthwhile by the arrival in Copán Ruinas - glowing early evening sunlight, cobbled streets, cowboy hats, machetes and smiley people.

4th March, 2010: Another day of hanging out on the deck and planning our route through Guatemala. It still amazes us how much time we have to spend planning!

3rd March, 2010: Cooked for ourselves, hung out on the deck and found a great and shockingly cheap (for Roatán) restaurant serving juicy rotisserie chicken for dinner. Also, updated the website: new blog entry on Isla de Ometepe and why I travel, Isla de Ometepe reviews and a feature on 15 things to do on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua.

2nd March, 2010: Took a (very expensive) tour to snorkel around a ship wreck. The coral was even more impressive than yesterday's, although the weather was rather less so. Cloudy. The island is overrun by cruise ship passengers (hence the prices) every few days, so it was very crowded in town. Best to stay away from the beach so we chilled on our deck.

1st March, 2010: Indulged in some serious beaching on West Bay, apparently one of the top five beaches in the world. The snorkelling was incredible - soft and hard coral, turtles, squid and lots of tiny sparkly fish, which always make me smile! The sun was shining, the sea was calm.

28th February, 2010: Watched the Canada vs USA ice hockey match in Sundowners, a Canadian-run expat bar here in West End, Roatán. Quite the experience!

27th February, 2010: From La Ceiba we took the ferry to Roátan, the middle of the three Bay Islands both geographically and budgetarily. It's not cheap but it certainly is beautiful. The idea was to take a dive course, but with only five days to chill out in one place until we reach Baja, and plenty of beaches around, we decided to snorkel, swim and cook for ourselves. (That last one was less of a balanced decision and more forced upon us by the shockingly expensive restaurants on the island!)

26th February, 2010: Our one-minute walk from the hotel to the bus station was fraught with nervousness - "walk fast, walk fast," our hostel owner urged us as she peered nervously out to the darkened street - this was at 4am. Fortunately we arrived in Tegucigalpa in one piece, and feeling absolutely no urge to stay there, immediately left on another bus for La Ceiba. Our hostel in La Ceiba was a hole - bunk beds in the kitchen...

25th February, 2010: Moved on to Managua, a city reputedly shat upon by criminals and gangs. Our bus for Honduras left very early the next morning so we had to stay near the bus station, in a don't-go-out-after-dark sort of area.

24th February, 2010: Time to bid a fond farewell to Isla Ometepe and head to Granada, a colonial town of grace and elegance on the edge of Lake Nicaragua. We stayed in a hotel on the edge of town, had lunch in an Esso station as we booked onward bus tickets and generally managed to miss most of what this charming city has to offer.

23rd February, 2010: Hotel Omaja was about the only place on Isla Ometepe with reliable internet, although it still wasn't super fast (hence the delay in trip updates, for which I apologise), so much of the day was spent writing and twittering and catching up on e-mails. All with a view across the lake, of course!

22nd February, 2010: After a fascinating tour of Totoco and how it manages to be so eco friendly, we joined a kayaking trip of River Istián, the small river that dissects Isla Ometepe. It was a birder's paradise, and a kayaker's dream: still waters, gentle afternoon sun and wildlife that generally ignored us and went about its business. Afterwards, we checked into Hotel Omaja on the other side of the island.

21st February, 2010: Only the promise of another eco hotel was able to drag us away from Hotel Finca del Sol. Totoco is a luxury eco resort with spacious cabins and a to-die-for view - think sunsets with a volcano and both sides of the lake visible.

20th February, 2010: It was very difficult to tear ourselves away from this beautiful place, so we didn't even try. Breakfast was coffee, fruit, eggs from local chickens and homemade bread accompanied by an enlivening conversation with Sheri about travel, the environment and how Isla Ometepe functions. I fell in love with the mosaiced composting toilet.

19th February, 2010: Enough is enough - one can only be blown about for so long - so we took a bus, taxi, ferry and collectivo to Santa Cruz on Isla Ometepe, a fantastical twin-peaked volcanic island in Lago Nicaragua. Our accommodation - an open loft in hardcore eco-conscious Hotel Finca del Sol has become our haven. Stress released as we settled in our room's rocking chairs and took in the view of Concepción Volcano.

18th February, 2010: Slowly started to forgive San Juan del Sur for its rubbish budget accommodation and like it immensely for sunset cocktails. It blew a sandy gale during the day though and the paper-thin walls of our room were sucked in and out according to the whim of this very fickle wind.

17th February, 2010: An early start and a sad goodbye to Rachel was followed by four buses, one rickshaw, one ferry, one taxi collectivo and a very dubious border crossing. But we made it to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Accommodation situation was dire but we settled for a rubbish room with an incredible view of sunsets over the Pacific.

16th February, 2010: Rachel's last full day with us (*sob*) and we're enjoying the sun just lazing around in Monteverde. Might do something this afternoon. Then again, might not!

15th February, 2010: Exhausting-exhilarating day of zip lines, canopy tour, tarzan swing, hanging bridges, hummingbirds (I can't get enough of them) and reptiles, at Selvatura, a self-consciously theme-park natured wildlife extravaganza.

14th February, 2010: Plush with the smug victory of finding the free hot springs (nyargh to you, Mr 'There's a security guard there now, go to Baldi' Receptionist), we travelled jeep-boat-jeep to Santa Elena, Monteverde. There, we settled into a very cosy room with a much-needed nap before embarking on a night walk in the nearby cloud-forest reserve for a nocturnal wildlife extravaganza: mother and baby two-toed sloth, emerald side-strike pitviper, glow-in-the-dark insects and, my favourites, a tarantula, and hummingbird fast asleep in its nest made of moss and spider web.

13th February, 2010: Spending the day by the pool, admiring the view (when it clears) and planning to visit some free hot springs, despite this ridiculously pushy hostel trying to sell us a tour to Baldi springs and refusing to give us reliable information about anywhere else. Grrr!

12th February, 2010: Had an early(ish) morning swim then set off to a nearby waterfall for more swimming. I can't get enough of outdoor swimming. In the evening, went to watch the lava eruptions on the slopes of Volcán Arenal, only there weren't any, and it was cloudy - not unusual for here apparently. Feel lucky that we saw the volcano devoid of cloud during the day, so that's good at least!

11th February, 2010: Travelled to La Fortuna (related blog: A rant about endless chatter) hoping for a sight of lava flowing from Volcán Arenal. Staying in a hostel that rates itself as five star, but it isn't, trust me! Great swimming pool though. And good 2-for-1 deals on happy hour cocktails!

10th February, 2010: Got up early for a wildlife tour by canoe. Saw loads of critters, including caiman, spider monkeys, humming birds, herons and, a favourite of mine, Jesus Christ lizards - they can run on water! (Related images: Creatures of the Caribbean)

9th February, 2010: Very sadly left La Patita de Manzanillo and headed north to Tortuguero National Park. Usually people come here for the turtles but we're out of season. Still, it's a very special place - no cars (you can only reach it by boat), squeezed between the river and the jungle with a black-sand beach not far away, and spectacular sunsets over the river.

8th February, 2010: A massive highlight of our whole trip - cantering along a Caribbean beach, kicking up the surf and generally having our breath taken away. Craig's horse was fast, Rachel's almost as fast and mine was slow though it did its best to keep up, bless!

7th February, 2010: Not the best of good-weather days so we cycled to Puerto Viejo (a very pleasant hour) and caught a local bus to a sloth sanctuary. Cooed over baby sloths being fed and spent a soggy 40 minutes in a canoe on a river in the pouring rain looking for wild sloths and monkeys; they all had the good sense to shelter from the downpour though...

6th February, 2010: Still in La Patita, we spent the best part of the day walking through Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge to Punta Mona, yet another stunning deserted beach. The rest of the day was spent recovering and, joy of joys, cooking for ourselves!

5th February, 2010: Moved to a jungley apartment, La Patita de Manzanillo, within minutes' walk of the beach at the end of the road in Manzanillo, not far from Puerto Viejo. It's the sort of place that lets the outside inside, in all the best ways. Immediately set off on the retro bikes provided to explore.

4th February, 2010: Crossed the border, via an idyllic rickety bridge - the stuff of border crossing dreams - into Costa Rica. Headed to Puerto Viejo where we met our friend from London, Rachel, who is joining us for two weeks.

31st January - 4th February, 2010: Moved to Bocas Bound hostel on Isla Bastimentos, a rather scary 10-minute boat ride from Isla Colón. Less developed than Isla Colón, Bastimentos is the perfect place to trek, visit wild Caribbean beaches and relax in a hammock with a good book - which is exactly what we plan to do for the next few days.

30th January, 2010: All that sleep paid off and we hired retro pink bikes to energetically explore a number of beaches on Isla Colón, the main island of Panama's Bocas del Toro archipelago. Beaches swept by punding waves and apparently frequented by few were ours for the taking so take them we did, lapping up the sun, surf and golden sand. Now we can't get The Monkees Theme song out of our heads, and neither will you once you see the video of our cycling escapade, and read the blog entry...

29th January, 2010: Got a lift half way to Bocas del Toro - family are so damn helpful! Arrived in Bocas del Toro town and checked in to a hotel booked by a friend of the family at a reduced rate (again, so useful). It rained a lot and we slept a lot - one of those cases where the weather was perfect for the level of activity we're capable of!

26th-29th January, 2010: Travelled to Boquete, adventure sport capital of Panama and home to my cousins and aunt who are very kindly putting us up for three nights. Met my brand new baby second cousin and wearing warm clothes again - we're in the highlands once more. Also, added a video of a giant otter eating a caiman, from our time in the Pantanal.

25th January, 2010: Received an excellent in-a-nutshell tour of Panama City's old town, Casco Viejo, from Matt, who set us up with an apartment in Casa Sucre B&B. Later, visited Panama Canal and had to have a proper siesta, due to the heat - felt deliciously lazy. Read 24 hours in Casco Viejo.

24th Janaury, 2010: Left the Caribbean and drove across Panama to Panama City - two oceans in one day! Not got my landlegs back yet...

21st-23rd January, 2010: Merrily flitted around the different cayes of the San Blas/Kuna Ayala in Capitan Federico's yacht, snorkelling, exploring paradisiacal islands and eating lobster.

19th-20th January, 2010: Seasick on the high seas between Colombia's Cartagena and Panama's San Blas Islands, a.k.a. Kuna Ayala since 2008. Capitan Federico guided us safely across, sometimes accompanied by dolphins, until we docked late at night in the Kuna Ayala. Read How to travel between Colombia and Panama.

18th January, 2010: Spent the day exploring Cartagena, Craig taking photos and me doing some window shopping. Also bought sea sickness pills in preparation for the next few days...

17th January, 2010: Travelled to Cartagena where we wandered around in a pleasant state of admiration and sweatiness. Met our group and boat captain for the trip to Panama - feeling very positive about it and can't wait to get going.

15th-16th January, 2010: Days five and six of the Lost City trek follow the same route back, staying in the same camps, although this time there was a coral snake in one of the camps. Much hysterical excitement ensued! Arrived back in Santa Marta in the evening in desperate need of a shower and some mandarin and passion fruit mojitos. See the Lost City images.

14th January, 2010: Started with freshly made empanadas and a tour of the Lost City before heading back the way we came. The walk was still challenging, even though we'd done it the day before.

13th January, 2010: Day three was the best day - varied terrain and a full day's walking (seven hours). Eight knee-deep river crossings, nerve-breaking scrambles across cliff faces, clambers over boulders lining the river bed and 1,600 stairs later we arrived at Ciudad Perdida (Lost City). It was far more intricate and beautiful than I expected. Sleeping conditions were cramped, to say the least...

12th January, 2010: Day two of the Lost City trek started with our guide, Daniel Suarez, showing us a spider the size of a man's hand on his backpack. 24 hours to get anti-venom apparently... A slightly easier day of four hours walking followed by a gorgeous swimming hole ended in a camp with beds and mattresses. Food throughout was excellent and there was plenty of fresh fruit to keep us going along the way.

11th January, 2010: Arrived at 8.30am for the Lost City trek, finally left the Turcol office at 10am and started the trek at 1pm. Tough climb to begin with, and a mud slide rather than a path for a small section. After four hours of walking we were rewarded with a swimming hole. We spent the night in hammocks, complete with mosquito nets.

11th-16th January, 2010: Trekking to Ciudad Perdida, a.k.a. the Lost City. Expecting to battle mosquitoes, swim in rivers and sweat my way up hill...

10th January, 2010: Returned to Santa Marta, fighting the crowds for a place on the path! Chilling in the hostel and packing fot the Lost City trek, leaving tomorrow...

8th-10th January, 2010: Spent two nights at Tayrona National Park (one in a hammock, the other in the world's smallest tent), along with approximately twenty billion other holidaymakers. (This is Colombia's peak season.) Didn;t spoil the supreme beauty of the place though - jungle reaching down to a strip of white sand that gives way to the bluest sea. I've finally swum in the Caribbean!

7th January, 2010: Arrived in Santa Marta absolutely destroyed by the night bus (who lets their kids play with ring tones at 6am???), checked into a hostel and sorted out Lost City trek, boat to Panama and travel to Tayrona National Park.

6th January, 2010: Spent the day exploring La Candelaria area of Bogotá marvelling at the gaudy Christmas decorations, then jumped on a night bus to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast. 

5th January, 2010: Bus to Bogotá took all day. Finished my audiobook (my new addiction is audiobooks) and took in some stunning scenery along the way though. Checked into an awfully named hostel, 'The Cranky Croc' (I'm turning into an accommodation snob) that actually turns out to be a really nice place: old courtyard style, wooden beamed ceilings etc.

4th January, 2010: Arranged a coffee plantation through our new hotel. Turned out it was at The Plantation House... Bit back our pride and returned - they didn't recognise us! Think they have been putting all their efforts into their new coffee plantation rather than the hostel. Impressed by plantation. Also saw how pineapples grow - bizarre. Google it!

3rd January, 2010: Slept well but still moved to a lovely hotel for two nights; bit more expensive but clean, friendly and sunny so well worth it. Festival atmosphere pervades Salento. Took a jeep to Cocora Valley for a walk amongst 60m wax palms. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the world I've ever seen

2nd January, 2010: Left Cali for the Zona Cafetera, a mountainous region of cloud forest and wax palms, and, of course, coffee plantations. Nightmare finding accommodation in Salento - The Plantation House didn't live up to expectations (filthy doesn't begin to describe it) and the rest of the town was full due to the holidays. Moved to a different hotel which was at least clean. Must stop scratching my mosquito bites. Think they might be spider bites...

1st January, 2010: The advantage of a truly expensive club (US$100 for a bottle of spirits, no single shots...) is a lack of a hangover! Lack of sleep has meant we've spent the day lounging in our hotel room watching Spiderman. (It's very hot here!)

31st December, 2009: Made it to Cali for New Year's Eve. It seemed like a good idea to spend NYE in the world capital of salsa, and it was! Highlight was being taught to salsa by a drunken Colombian and then going to a club to dance the night away. That's what you want in Colombia!

30th December, 2009: Dragged ourselves away from Cotopaxi to cross the Equator and the border into Colombia. Spent the night in Pasto where we were given a very warm welcome - "Welcome to Colombia!", said with a big grin! Saw lots of bodies burning - a tradition here at New Year. Not real, of course, but mannequins, or Guys as we'd call them in the UK.

29th December, 2009: Spent a dreamy two nights at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi, doing mostly nothing apart from enjoying the incredible view and swinging in hammocks. Read more about it in my blog - 'Since when is "nothing" a dirty word?' - and see Craig's images of Ecuador.

28th December, 2009: We're going to spend two nights at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi - no mains electricity or water; just spectacular views.

27th December, 2009: After all our private rooms it's hard to be back in a dorm but at least the beds at the Secret Garden hostel are comfortable. Not had much time to explore Quito as I've got lots of writing to catch up on, but it's pouring with rain outside so that makes it easier!

26th December, 2009: We said a fond farewell to Henry and Katie who were excellent hosts over the Christmas period. We ate well, slept well and swam in the sea on Christmas Day! Time to move on, with a day bus to Quito.

23rd-26th December, 2009: (Written in advance on the 22nd.) Spending Christmas with Craig's uncle and aunt, Henry and Katie, who have hired a beach apartment near Manta. Looking forward to my presents from Craig - I'm getting clothes and he's getting a bottle of Baileys. Classy!

22nd December, 2009: Last day in Peru and we're spending it in our flashpacker beach hut overlooking Mancora beach. Website stuff, beer for brunch, ceviche for lunch and handwashing underwear. Yet another night bus this evening - there should be rules for night buses...

21st December, 2009: Arrived in Mancora, a cool surfers' hangout in north Peru, early this morning. Checked in to Kon Tiki and headed to the beach. Ate ceviche and dunked ourselves in the Pacific. That's it - we've now immersed ourselves in the Atlantic and the Pacific. Next new ocean will be the Caribbean!

20th December, 2009: Did some Christmas shopping in Miraflores, guiltily gobbled down a Burger King for lunch and boarded a 17-hour overnight bus to Mancora, near the border with Ecuador.

19th December, 2009: Flew over the Nazca Lines this morning! We went in an 8-seater Cessna and I got rather air sick as we skirted above them. Incredible sight though. Vomity feeling didn't detract too much from the mystery. Sadly said goodbye to Hotel Paracas and boarded the afternoon bus to Lima, where we checked into HQ Villa, a new hostel in Miraflores.

18th December, 2009: Took a boat trip to the Ballestas Isalnds (see images), otherwise known as the poor man's Galapagos. Absolutely jaw-dropping - got shat on numerous times by the thousands of birds soaring overhead: boobies, pelicans, gulls, sealions and penguins (obviously the last two weren't overhead, or shitting on us...). Chilled out by the pool drinking cocktails for the rest of the day (as I write, in fact!).

17th December, 2009: Checked in to the Hotel Paracas, A Luxury Collection Resort, and immediately got our travelling mojo back. Sometimes all you need is a bit of five-star luxury ;) It was destroyed in the 2007 earthquake and reopened one month ago. Gorgeous rooms with open-plan bathroom, plasma TVs, iPod docks, huge beds and balconies. Bliss! Bought a new bikini to celebrate, as you do...

16th December, 2009: Saw Juanita, a frozen Inca sacrifice found on the top of a volcano, then got the night bus to Paracas. We're ready for a change of scenery and the Pacific coast sounds ideal.

15th December, 2009: The uphill was easier than the downhill, and our moods were better too. Celebrated leaving Colca Canyon by eating guinea pig for dinner.

14th December, 2009: No condors! Not the season for it, apparently. Spent three grumpy hours wobbling down the crumbly path to the bottom of the Colca Canyon. Not impressed! The two-month slump is in full swing...

13th December, 2009: Arrived early and grumpy in Arequipa. Checked into a hotel, arranged two-day trip to Colca Canyon for tomorrow, bought chocolate Santa and ate it in front of hotel TV all day. Got to get up at 2am tomorrow for the tour. Those condors had better be worth it...

12th December, 2009: Spent the day getting facts and figures for the Cusco city guide update for World Travel Guide. Then hopped on a night bus to Arequipa. Used the recommended Cruz del Sur bus company - felt safe but had to put up with blaring self-promotion until late...

11th December, 2009: It was difficult to tear ourselves away from Inkaterra but leave it we did. After two days of orchids, humming birds and spectacled bears we got the train back to Cusco where we stayed in the very attractive San Blas area.

6th December, 2009: A forward-thinking update - We leave on the Inca Trail today, arriving Machu Picchu on the 9th. The we'll be staying at the Inkaterra hotel for two nights - promises to be a just reward for the efforts on the trail!

4th December, 2009: Arrived in Cusco last night, spent the night in a chilly hostel and moved to the 5-star Libertador Palacio del Inka Hotel this morning. Making the most of the room - perfect timing as I've got a stinking cold and need to recover in time for the Inca Trail. Cusco is stunning, and so is our view!

2nd December, 2009: Been thoroughly enjoying a few days of reading in hammocks, climbing up to 3,966m to admire the view of Lake Titicaca, organising photos and doing some writing. We've both thoroughly re-organised our backpacks (closest I can get to nesting!) in preparation for Peru tomorrow.

30th November, 2009: Finally reached the Isla del Sol and trekked the length of island taking in some Inca ruins along the way - about 9km. Decided not to spend the night as our Copacabana hostel is so delightful! Check out these images of northwest Bolivia, including La Paz, Titicaca and Isla del Sol.

29th November, 2009: Rain stopped play. We planned to spend the day and night on the Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca, but the lake was being pounded by rain when our alarm trilled so we've delayed. Instead we've moved up the hill to La Cupola, a charming hostel with white domes, fancy restaurant and cosy double room. Am working in our room with a view of the lake to the sound of birdsong instead. Could stay here for ages, no matter what I think of the town itself!

28th November, 2009: Time to leave La Paz. We took our first day bus in Bolivia and gazed open mouthed at the plateau we drove across, surrounded by snow-caped peaks. Tried to ignore the depressing, unfinished buildings scattered along the road. Lake Titicaca is beautiful, possibly my favourite place so far. Overpriced hotel not so good, although the view makes it worthwhile. Unsure about Copacabana, the town on the edge of Lake Titicaca we're staying in, as yet.

26th November, 2009: Cycled the world's most dangerous road (or at least, it used to be) today! The return journey by bus was far scarier. I wasn't feeling well all day - not because of the dizzying drops! - so wasn't quite able to enjoy it fully, but I'm sure I'll remember only the good/heart-pounding stuff (rather than the stomach cramps)!

24th November, 2009: Second day of Spanish lessons. By no means nearing fluency but generally going well. Yo tengo veintinueve aňos y tres dias!

22nd November, 2009: Puked up last night. Spent today doing sweet FA: snoozing, sobbing through The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and finally getting the internet to work once everyone in the UK has gone to bed. Actually nice to have a proper down day!

21st November, 2009: Birthday shopping in La Paz. Am now the proud owner of a leather barrel handbag and a quirky necklace from Buenos Aires. Eat lunch in a typical Bolivian restaurant but by planned birthday dinner time we're both feeling a bit iffy so it's a kebab in the hostel! Birthday dinner TBA...

20th November, 2009: Arrived in Potosi at 2am and went on the mine tour at 8.30am. Dusty, cramped, breathless and dark. An eye opener. My voice was gone for about four hours afterwards due to the dust. The miners live this every day. Recovery, and night bus to La Paz.

19th November, 2009: Arrived in Salar de Uyuni after brilliant three days. Saw salt museum, salt mine and a train cemetery. About to take overnight bus to Potosi to see a working silver mine.

17th November, 2009: Embarked on a three-day journey from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, to Uyuni, Bolivia. Vehicle is excellent, especially as there are only five people in our tour instead of the usual six. Stopped at various lagoons, geysers and thermal baths along the way. Sleeping at 4,300m tonight - feeling a little trippy...

16th November, 2009: Got up at 3.30am to visit El Tatio geysers. Eerie, steamy wonderland totally worth the early start. Rubbish time returning hire car to Calama though - took us nearly seven hours when we expected four. All thanks to a delayed bus...not what you need when you're tired and grumpy!

15th November, 2009: Bit of a lie-in, then drove to see some high-altitude lakes and Laguna Chaxa. Much preferred the lagoon; flamingos, clear water and Salar de Atacama as far as the volcanoes on the horizon. Again, having own car paid off.

14th November, 2009: Admin day! Sorted out Spanish lessons, La Paz hostel, El Tatio geyser tour and travel to Bolivia. Then went to watch the sunset in the Valley of the Moon. So good having our own car - watched all the tour groups spill out from the buses across the valley and felt smug!

13th November, 2009: Got woken by an earthquake just after midnight. Very exciting (I can say that because no-one was hurt) - at its epicentre out to sea near Arica it measured 6.5 on the Richter Scale. Did the long drive to San Pedro de Atacama.

12th November, 2009: Bad night's sleep (due to food/altitude?) so chilled out in morning in Hostel Pachamama's courtyard with llamas and books then drove to our new favourite viewpoint to drink tea from a flask like a content elderly couple.

11th November, 2009: Hooked up with a French couple and spent the day exploring Lauca National Park and driving Route 11. Stunning views of snow-capped volcanoes, plenty of llama, alpaca and vicuna, topped off with a thermal bath with a view. One of those days that sends you to sleep tired and smiling.

10th November, 2009: Picked up hire car - a bright red Peugot 207, gutless wonder we christened Big Red - and drove along the Panamericana Highway through the Atacama Desert to Lauca National Park in the far north of Chile. Car hire lady said it'd take two hours; 10 hours later we arrived in Putre!


Top ten pages on OT
1. Five alternatives to South America's top destinations

2. Hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro

3. Responsible travel on the Inca Trail

4. The Ten Commandments for night bus travellers

5. Touring the Pantanal with the world's most hardcore guide

6. The two month slump: Colca Canyon, Peru

7. Images: South America roundup

8. Images: Panama - San Blas Islands (Kuna Ayala)

9. Video: giant otter eating a caiman

10. Traveller Fishbowl: England

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