Category: South America

Why Hostels Are Not Romantic Places

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The next day we went on a waterfall tour. Phillip had wanted to go for the last few days but they had held off until now because they were waiting for a Swiss friend to join them. First we were taken to a river which I did not think was that special. I think the only reason we went was for the huge twenty metre tree that the tour guide and Phillip jumped off.

Then we were taken to a natural slide; it was formed by a huge rock which jutted out from under the waterfall. Because the rock was very slippery and slanted at an angle, once you began sliding, you picked up speed until you plunged into a river. After trying it once, I did not want to go a second time but Phillip pushed me and I slid down the rock so fast that I spun around and went into the river backwards. He also forced me to go under the waterfall with him. As soon as we went in, I felt claustrophobic and wanted to get out.

Although I was ambivalent about him the day before, I was beginning to really like Phillip. I was impressed by how good he was with languages; even though he had only begun speaking Portuguese two months ago, he was already fluent. He spoke Portuguese with the tour guide and Spanish with a Colombian guy in the tour. I found everything about him attractive, even the things that I would normally find annoying; his smoking, his French accent, the way he dropped the h from the start of some words.

That night when we were sitting on the patio again, I asked him if he wanted to lie down in the dorm. Because the five of us were the only people staying at the hostel, I knew no one would be in there. We had sex in my top bunk which was not such a good choice. It was a small bed without rails which creaked loudly and we were conscious that hostel owner’s ten year old son was in the next room.

Usually I can’t stand being around annoying couples but I think that’s how we must have appeared. I tried to make sure that we were not always next to each other when we walking around or on the bus. But he didn’t seem to care and often put his arm around me or held my hand. One day we were waiting for a bus and he bought me a flower from a guy on the street. He told me it was because he felt sorry for the guy but I thought it was a sweet gesture.

On the fourth day – Phillip’s last day in Paraty before he left for Ilha Grande – we went to a beach, the name of which I can’t remember. He was supposed to meet us in the morning but when he failed to appear, I told the others to go first and I would go to his hostel. I woke him and we got the later bus.

We had to trek for an hour to reach the beach. At one point we stopped because he wanted to have sex. Because he loved hiking and being amongst nature, I think he probably got off on the idea of having sex in a forest. But I said no as even if I had wanted to, there wasn’t anywhere flat where we could have lay down.

Later that night we spoke to a Dutch couple who had also planned on going to Ilha Grande the next day. They said that all the hostels were booked out and it seemed that the three of them would have to stay in Paraty an extra day.

We drank and played cards on the patio, which was all we seemed to do every night. I asked Phillip if he wanted to go somewhere private and told him there was a private room upstairs that was being used for storage. But he said he was tired and going to bed. I was disappointed; the last time we had had sex was in my dorm two days before but really, all I wanted to have some time alone with him before he left.

We hadn’t discussed what we were going to do but the next morning the French couple and the other two girls decided they wanted to return to the beach we had visited the day before. Because Phillip had said he was staying an extra day, we walked to his hostel to tell him but when we found him, he told us that he had found a hostel and was leaving for Ilha Grande in an hour.

I had a feeling that he would go but I was still hurt that he had obviously been sitting there smoking nonchalantly for some time when he could have gone to our hostel to tell us sooner. When we said goodbye, he was sweet but he didn’t seem particularly sad. I told him to have a good time studying in Mexico before turning away to catch up with the others.

I was trying hard not to cry as we walked to the bus terminal and got the bus. I was embarrassed that I had gotten so attached to him in four days and that my feelings for him were obviously a lot stronger than his feelings for me. It was only when we started the long uphill trek to the beach that I began to feel a little better.

After a couple hours I left with the Swiss girl and we walked around the town. She’d had enough of the beach as well but I think she felt sorry for me and wanted to keep me company. Strangely enough, most of the town was still unfamiliar to me. It was small in size but we had gone on day trips every day since I arrived. In spite of my low spirits, I liked the Old Town – it had an understated charm I could appreciate.

The next day I left for Sao Paulo. It is a large city with a population of 22 million, more or less the population of Australia. It was raining for most of the time I was there but I did not have much interest in exploring. I still felt sad. It was a combination of how I felt about Phillip and being on the verge of going home. I wasn’t too upset about going home – in fact I was sort of looking forward to it – but it was strange that I was going so soon.

In the morning I packed up and got ready to leave. I walked around for a while and had lunch. Then I got a taxi to the airport where I boarded a plane to Johannesburg. And that brought an end to my five months in South America.

When Every Day Is The Weekend

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I had one final day in Rio. It would have been quicker to go straight to Paraty but my things were still in the locker and although there was nothing I particularly wanted to do, I wanted one last day there. The English guy was still at the hostel and we talked about going out that night. I told him I was thinking of getting some cocaine and we walked to the steps where he had gone to buy marijuana in the past.

Although the steps were in a poor neighbourhood, they were pretty cool and a tourist attraction in their own right. As we soon discovered, it was one of the stops the tourist buses make when they take people on city tours. When we got there, there were lots of middle aged tourists walking up and down the steps and taking photos. Then a police car pulled up. We couldn’t work out whether they were monitoring the area because of the drug dealers or to look out for the tourists or both. After a while, we got bored of waiting for the tourists and police to clear off and left.

Because it was a Saturday, there were a lot of Brazilians staying at the hostel and most of them were planning on going out. Close to midnight, the English guy went to bed to take a nap before we went out with them and I decided to do the same. I figured someone would wake us up but we both slept through the night and awoke the next morning.

After breakfast, I packed up my things, said goodbye and left. It was only a four hour bus ride to Paraty and when I arrived at the hostel, I met a French Canadian girl who I hung out with in Salvador. She introduced me to a French couple and a French Canadian guy she was with; they had all met each other a few weeks ago and arranged to meet again here. Even though they seemed to be the only other people at the hostel, I was a little hesitant about hanging out with them as the French couple didn’t speak much English and I didn’t want the group to feel awkward about speaking in French in front of me.

But I sat outside with them anyway and talked to the French Canadian guy. As soon as we started talking, I was fairly certain that he liked me and was trying to impress me. Among other things, he told me he didn’t own a TV and that his first overseas trip was to Central America when he was eighteen. He asked me a lot of questions about myself, including how old I was. I was attracted to him so after a few drinks, I made up my mind that I was going to sleep with him that night.

After playing cards with us for an hour, Phillip said he was going to return to his hostel to go to bed. I hadn’t realised that he wasn’t staying at ours and blurted out that I needed to go to the convenience store so that I could walk out with him. Once we were walking down the street, he asked me what I had to buy. I hadn’t thought as far as that and quickly made up a lie about needing ear plugs. I also realised then that I couldn’t remember where the convenience store was and hoped I wasn’t going in the wrong direction.

I found myself asking him where he was staying and what sort of room he was in. At first it seemed that he didn’t get the hint but after a moment, he told me I was walking too fast. I laughed and said maybe he was too slow. Then it all happened very quickly; he put his arm around me and we kissed. I followed him back to his hostel where we got a private room.

I think it would have been better if there had been more time for it to develop naturally – if we had stayed up at the other hostel to talk after the others had gone to bed. I think he felt the same way because as soon as we got to his hostel, he suggested that we sit outside and talk first. But because we both knew what was going to happen next, it was sort of weird. Because we were the only people sitting out there, the bartender said he would put on something romantic and played us a strange DVD of a Brazilian singer who sort of reminded me of Cher.

I wasn’t really sure how I felt about him the next day. He seemed very relaxed at breakfast, too relaxed, and for some reason, he talked about winter in Quebec and things he did as a kid. It wasn’t exactly awkward but it didn’t feel natural either. He wanted to go to Trinidade, a nearby town, and when we went back to my hostel, I was glad that the French Canadian girl wanted to come as well.

We got the bus to Trinidade and walked along a trail which led to a natural pool. The pool was beautiful, with pockets where small bright fish swam. Although I’d expected him to become aloof, Phillip was affectionate with me and I felt comfortable in his company.

That evening, we returned to the hostel and had dinner on the patio with the French couple. Although we hadn’t discussed it, I assumed Phillip had given up our private room and we would go back to our respective dorms. I was tired so after a few hours of sitting around, I said goodnight to everyone and went to bed

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Depth Takes A Holiday

I left Rio once more, this time for Ilha Grande. Another woman at the hostel, Brenda, was also going and we went together. I was really pleased about this. I liked her but more importantly, I was planning on meeting Claire, who I had met in Ouro Preto, and I figured they could talk to each other. They were both from London and I thought they would probably get on. From the moment Claire had suggested going to Ilha Grande together, I had dreaded spending even more time listening to her complaints. Although she was very sweet, Brenda talked a lot as well and I figured that if the two of them had each other to talk to, it wouldn’t matter if I tuned out.

After meeting Claire at the bus station, we got the bus to Angra dos Reis and the connecting ferry. By chance, Brenda and I had booked into the same hostel but I hadn’t booked for that night. When we arrived, we asked if there were beds for Claire and me but they were booked out.

We went down the street and found a really nice private room in a guesthouse for nearly the same price. After staying in dorms for so long, it was a luxury to have our own room. A part of me was tempted to keep that room for the rest of my time on the island but I knew I would need the company of other people if I was going to be with Claire for that long.

The next morning, we checked into the hostel. There was a guy and a girl, also from London, who hung out with us. I found the guy incredibly annoying and he was the only person in the group who I truly disliked. One night we went to the bottle shop and when he went to pay, the total price came to more than he expected and he couldn’t understand what the woman was saying to him.

I told him she was probably asking him to leave a deposit for the bottles, which would be refunded if he returned them. He didn’t exactly lose his temper but he started making snide comments to her in English about how he just wanted to get his beer and leave. The woman seemed unfazed as she called a local from off the street to translate for her but still I felt sorry for her. His sense of entitlement made me cringe; he didn’t seem remotely embarrassed or apologetic about not understanding the local language and customs.

However, for the most part, the people from London were not too annoying and I really liked Ilha Grande. It was really beautiful. There were no cars on the island and it wasn’t overly developed. The day I enjoyed most was the last one at the beach. The beach was not exactly secluded but we only discovered it on the third day when we went on a trek. There were not too many people there and the water was calm and peaceful.

I considered staying an extra day but it rained heavily that night. So far we had been very fortunate with the weather but it seemed like it was going to rain for the next few days. I decided to leave. The next morning, I got the ferry and bus back to Rio.

Brazilian Easter/Boat Party

The bus pulled into Ouro Preto at 5 the following morning. At first I thought that we had stopped somewhere else on the way to let some people off but I looked out the window and read the sign. It was annoying that overnight buses in Brazil were often scheduled so they arrived at awkward times.

It was only a short walk to the hostel but I was too groggy to navigate my way there and in the dark I would probably get lost. I suspected that at this hour there probably wasn’t anyone working at the hostel to let me in and that I should probably wait in the bus terminal but when a taxi driver approached me, I agreed to get in. As soon as I arrived, I knew that I had made a mistake; it was only a small hostel, not the sort that had 24 hour reception. I knocked for a while anyway and then sat on the front step, wrapped in a blanket.

The hostel faced out onto the main square and I could just make out some people loitering on the other side. Because Ouro Preto is a quiet small town, I wasn’t worried about safety but it was really cold. I continued to sit there, getting up to knock on the door every twenty minutes or so. It was better when the sun came up an hour later; I could actually enjoy the view and it wasn’t so cold. Finally at seven a guy leaving to get a bus opened the door and my wait was over.

I had wanted to spend Easter in Ouro Preto because I knew that the town had a large Semana Santa festival. However, there wasn’t any English information online and even finding information in Portuguese was difficult so I didn’t know what was happening. There were ceremonies over the next few nights, which I attended, but essentially they were open air masses that went on for hours. The most important day of the festival was Easter Sunday; this was when the cobblestone streets were decorated and a procession took place.

I woke at six on the morning of Easter Sunday and went out into the street to look at the decorations before they were trampled on. I found out that the other girls at the hostel had stayed up to help the locals; at the time I had been dubious how much we could help when we couldn’t understand Portuguese and had gone to bed early, but they told me that they had spent an hour making a dove. I was surprised at how elaborate the decorations were; they had mostly been made with a material similar to tissue paper. The streets were bright with Jesus faces, crosses and abstract shapes and swirls.

We followed the streets to the church where a service was being held. We stood outside until the procession began. Hundreds of people dressed up as Romans and angels passed us, then a marching band. After a while we walked in the throng of people that was walking alongside the procession. When the marching band wasn’t playing, the atmosphere was surprisingly sombre. We passed about four other churches on the way to the main square and the streets echoed with the ringing of church bells. It was an interesting morning and I was glad that I had made the festival.

I returned to Rio the next day. I had planned on staying in the bus terminal for an hour before I got the bus to my hostel, but for some reason, the bus got in at six and there was no need to wait around. To my surprise, there were a lot of English speaking people at the hostel when I got in. Later that night, they asked me if I wanted to go to a boat party with them as they had a spare ticket. I hadn’t gone out in Brazil yet, aside from a street party I had gone to the last time I was in Rio. I was only there for half an hour as it wasn’t so much a street party as it was people aimlessly milling around.

The boat party had unlimited free drinks for girls in the first hour so I went with them. It was only when we were on the boat that I found out that it would be on the water until four and we would have no choice but to stay on for that long. But I had an alright time and the time passed surprisingly fast. I remember checking my watch at two; then before I knew it, it was four and we were back on dry land.

Much Ado about Rio

After spending a week in Salvador, I travelled down to Itacare and onwards to Porto Seguro, where I got a flight to Rio. I didn’t like Rio as much as I thought I would and much preferred Salvador. Salvador was closer to the images conjured by my mind when I thought of Brazil; it was vibrant and colourful, the people relaxed and you could often hear African drumming in the streets.

By contrast, Rio is a drab grey city with bad traffic. I went to the beaches in Copacabana and Ipanema and was underwhelmed; the waves were too rough for swimming and aesthetically, the beaches were average. I couldn’t really understand why Rio is considered to be such an iconic city; presumably it owes much of its reputation to Carnaval.

Nonetheless, I spent a week in Rio and enjoyed my time there. I was staying in Lapa, the nightlife district. Rife with transsexual prostitutes and homeless people, it was a pretty dodgy area.

As with Salvador, there was a surprising number of homeless children in Rio. Occasionally I saw children no older than ten sleeping alone in the street. One night I walked out of the hostel and into a group of rapping street children. They stopped for a moment to heckle me before launching back into their rapping. Even though they seemed hardened, they were still sort of cute.

Most people at the hostel did not stay for long; they were mostly Brazilians staying in Rio for the weekend and the foreigners usually ended up moving to hostels closer to the beaches. But I liked the hostel and didn’t mind that there weren’t many people. There was an English guy who was staying there indefinitely and a Portuguese guy who was there until the end of the week. We passed the nights by drinking beer in our dorm and standing on the balcony where we could watch the people in the street below.

The guys who owned the hostel let me keep a locker there so at the end of the week, I left behind most of my things and went to Ouro Preto. By this point I had over 15 kilos of stuff; I had decided to keep the hammock and was holding onto already read books in the vain hope that I would be able to exchange them somewhere, so it was good to travel light for a change.

In Praise of Hammocks

Leticia is a sleepy little town, one of the few places in the Colombian jungle that is not controlled by paramilitaries or narco-terrorists. Although military checkpoints are common throughout Colombia, there is a particularly strong military presence in Leticia. In the little time that I was there, I saw a lot of uniformed men and women in the streets. In spite of this, Leticia has the relaxed air that you would expect from a small isolated town.

Shortly after checking into my hostel, I met two guys and a girl who were planning on getting the boat to Brazil the next day. I had wanted to spend a few days in Leticia before leaving, but the next boat left at the end of the week and I didn’t think there was enough in Leticia to occupy me for that long. I also suspected that if I stayed it would only be me and one woman in her forties in the hostel and I would end up reading the books that I had saved for the boat trip

The next morning, we went to the dock to board the boat. I bought my ticket, which only cost $80 and included all meals. We arrived a few hours earlier so we could secure a good spot to hang our hammocks but it turned out it wasn’t necessary as the toilets were in a separate area to the deck. There were about a hundred people sleeping on the second deck with us, most of whom were Brazilian. In total there were ten tourists, us included.

Surprisingly I fell asleep almost immediately after the boat pulled away from the dock. Obviously there was a lot of noise; there were lots of young children on board and for some reason, Brazilians never listen to music with earphones, but lying in the hammock was very relaxing. The others ended up with sore backs from sleeping in flimsy hammocks but mine was made from a very thick material.

For the first two days, I hardly left my hammock. Mostly I slept, read and tried to learn Portuguese from a Portuguese-Spanish dictionary I had found in Leticia. The scenery wasn’t particularly exciting; I had looked forward to traveling down the Amazon but we were too far from shore to see any wildlife and in any case, the motor from the boat would have scared them off.

By the end of the second day, I had finished my books and there was nothing to do but sit on the top deck or play cards. By the third day, boredom had set in and I was glad that it was the last day of the journey. Fortunately the bathrooms were not too dirty but they really needed a good airing out as they had the stale urine smell that portable toilets always reek of. I found myself holding my breath whenever I used one and I couldn’t bring myself to have a shower on the second day.

After disembarking in Manaus, the ten of us checked into the same hostel. Manaus is a large industrial city and upon arriving, I realised I didn’t want to spend too much time there. Later that afternoon, I found a cheap flight to Salvador that was leaving in three days and spent the remaining time hanging out at the hostel and walking around town.

The Awkwardness of Being a Solo Female Traveller

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San Gil is a small city located in between Santa Marta and the country´s capital, Bogota. On my first day there, I went on a day trip to Barichara, a little colonial town an hour away.

When I got back to the hostel, I met three guys who invited me to go out with them that night. As a general rule, I don’t go out with guys I’ve just met. When I was in Asia, I had a few strange nights being the only female in the group. It had gotten uncomfortable either because I had felt too much the centre of attention or more commonly, the guys spent the rest of the night trying to pick up local women or prostitutes. I don’t have a problem with tourists picking up local women per se, but it annoys me that some male tourists see their relative wealth, cultural capital or better English as some sort of license to take advantage of non-Western women.

I could tell that one of the guys, a guy from Israel, was pretty sleazy but the other two seemed decent so I tagged along. A Colombian guy who worked at the hostel came out as well. First we drank in the plaza by the hostel. In Colombia, it is pretty common to start the night this way. It was pretty lively and if it wasn´t so cold, it would have been nice to stay there all night.

Afterwards we moved to a club which was when I started to feel awkward. It sort of felt like all the guys were hitting on me while simultaneously searching for Colombian women. The strange thing was that instead of all being put in the same dorm, as is usually the case when there aren´t many people staying in a hostel; we had each been given our own room and I think the guys were all desperate to make the most of it.

It was annoying as I did like the Irish guy in the group but he was the only one who did not seem interested. The Israeli guy was vocal in insisting that he was going to teach me salsa which scared me as even at my drunkest, waving my arms around is the extent of my dancing.

Even though I was convinced for most of the night that the Colombian guy was gay, he was the one who made me the most uncomfortable. He kept on touching me inappropriately – it was excessive even by South American standards.

When I sat down to drink a beer I had just ordered, he walked over and without a hint of irony said, “You have to dance with us. Four guys dancing alone, we look like gays.”

This was when I realised he probably wasn´t gay. The Irish guy confirmed it when he told me the guy had a girlfriend and baby. For the rest of the night, I avoided the Colombian guy as much as it was possible.

The next day, we went swimming in a lake. There was one main part where everyone swam and we put down our things there.

There was a small waterfall up the other end and I decided to climb up the rocks to see what was there. It wasn´t long before I was alone but I kept on following the river. Going against the direction of the water, I came close to losing my flip flops a few times but it was really cool. I liked having that part of the river to myself.

I wanted to stay up there but I hadn´t told the guys where I had gone so reluctantly I went back. At the top of the waterfall was a group of Colombian guys. They were nice and we talked a little, as much as it was possible with my poor Spanish anyway. It was much more difficult going down than up and they helped me down a few rocks, even when it wasn´t really necessary. I didn´t really want their help but South American guys can be pretty intense when it comes to chivalry.

When I arrived in Bogota the next morning, it was raining heavily. I had planned on spending three or four days there before getting a flight to the jungle but it was a long cab ride from the bus terminal to the hostel and looking out the window, it seemed that Bogota was just another big congested city. By the time I arrived at the hostel, I’d come to the decision to book the flight for the following day.

In the afternoon, I went to an underground salt cathedral north of Bogota. I mixed up my Spanish and instead of asking the driver if the bus went to the church, I asked if it went to England. But aside from that, getting there was pretty straightforward. The cathedral tour was all in Spanish but it was still pretty cool.

Mediocre Caribbean Coastline

A small colonial city looking out to the modern rises of the New City, the Old City of Cartagena is one of Colombia’s major draws. Most tourists come to Cartagena to see the fortress walls, which were originally built to keep out intruders, as well as visit its beaches.

I arrived in Cartagena after spending two additional days in Medellin. The Old City was beautiful and reminded me a lot of Sucre. Because it was oppressively hot, I didn’t do much. Every day I walked around and watched the street performances that were sometimes on.

After three days, I moved onto Santa Marta. Santa Marta itself is a pretty average city but it is popular as a base for the nearby beaches and national park. I visited a lot of different beaches while I was there but they were all pretty ugly. I was a little disappointed as I had imagined that all Caribbean beaches as beautiful with crystal blue water and white sand.

When I first arrived in Santa Marta, I found out about a Full Moon Party that the owner of my hostel was organising. I decided to go as it seemed that a lot of people were going and I hadn’t really had a proper night out in nearly two months.

There was a bit of uncertainty about where we were going to sleep. The party was being held on a remote beach and everyone was told to bring hammocks. But according to the staff, there was a hostel on the beach and a few beds and hammocks would be available. The guys I was hanging out with were confident that we would get beds as two guys from Perth were getting to the beach early to surf so there was a good chance they could get us a room.

I decided to bring a hammock anyway as I already had a heavy duty one. Two weeks ago, I met a guy who caught an Amazon boat from Brazil to Colombia, the reverse trip to the one I am planning on doing. He no longer needed his hammock and offered it to me. As soon as I reached the beach, I was glad that I had brought it as all the beds were booked out and the hammocks the hostel had strung up looked pretty flimsy.

I hung my hammock between two palm trees. It seemed fine but when I later went to sit in it, the rope snapped and I fell backwards. One of the Perth guys offered to fix it and we stood there in the pitch dark for about twenty minutes; I held up a torch while he worked on untying my bad knots. Examining the rope, he told me it was in poor condition and would most likely break again and that I should sleep in his hammock as he wasn’t planning on sleeping.

I didn’t come with high expectations but the party was pretty unspectacular and did not seem particularly well organised. There were lots of people from different hostels but we were spread out over a large area and the music was crap. I sat by the bonfire and talked to people until it was about 4.

I didn’t feel right about taking Zac’s hammock and lay in mine. As soon as I got into it, the rope snapped and I ended back on the ground.

Looking around, I couldn’t see Zac so I took his hammock. At most I got about ten minutes of uninterrupted sleep. I was pretty comfortable but I think the coke I had done was keeping me up.

After a while, I heard voices and realised Zac’s friend was in the next hammock with an Irish girl. I saw Zac standing nearby talking to two girls and asked him if he wanted his hammock back but he told me to stay. When I looked up again, Zac’s friend and the Irish girl were having sex. They were positioned in such a way that the hammock closed up at the top and it sort of looked like they were in a convulsing cocoon.

At 7, I got up and sat by the bonfire again. The sun had come up, confirming what I had suspected the night before; that this beach was ugly, much like its brother and sister beaches. Most people were also up and there were quite a lot of people still dancing. I’m not sure if anyone was genuinely having fun; earlier in the night, a lot of people had complained that the party was crap and I suspect that most of them were just really fucked up on drugs and alcohol.

Some of the more memorable sights I witnessed that morning: A guy pouring a bottle of rum on a girl’s head; a guy falling to his knees and falling asleep in that position; a guy who persisted on hitting on two girls even though they made it clear that they were not interested. At one point, he actually started kissing one girl’s neck from behind while she was dancing with another guy. If I was her, I would have punched him in the face.

Shortly afterwards, I left with two Swedish girls from my hostel. A pick up service was coming at ten but I really wanted to get off that beach. We walked along a dirt road for half an hour to get to the bus stop. On the way, we passed a lot of little shacks. Some looked very makeshift and basic while others looked more permanent.

One of the girls was walking very fast and it wasn’t long before we lost sight of her. Earlier that morning, I had seen her with Zac’s friend – this was after he had slept with the Irish girl but it seemed like something had happened between them as well so I figured this probably had something to do with her bad mood.

But as soon as we reached the main road, we found that she had passed out. She was lying by the side of the road where a car could have easily hit her. We had to shake her for a minute before she woke up.

When I got back to the hostel, I decided to get a bus south to San Gil that night. My original plan had been to move to Taganga, a nearby fishing village, and spend a couple of nights there. But I realised that I had been moving too slowly in Colombia and would have to speed up if I wanted to have five weeks in Brazil. Checking out of my hostel, I was pretty glad to leave.

Colombia Sans Carnaval

I was pretty down for the two days that I was in Cali. I had assumed that most towns in South America had some sort of Carnaval celebration but there is only one in the north of Colombia. I had tried to look it up, but as is usually the case with researching South America, there wasn’t much English information available online.

I regretted leaving Quito so soon as if I had stayed longer, I could have caught a good Carnaval. I also regret not spending more time in Ecuador in general. There are a lot of good places that I could have visited and I wish I had stayed for at least another fortnight to properly experience the country.

It really felt like most tourists had left for Rio or other well known Carnaval destinations. There were only five other people at my hostel. I didn’t do much in Cali; I went shopping for some boring things that I’ve needed for a while, it was only a few items but it took up nearly the whole day. I talked a little to the other people at the hostel but I wasn’t feeling very sociable. Mostly I sat in the courtyard and read.

I was a bit worried that I had reached the point where I’d had enough of travelling but fortunately it was only a bad mood that passed. My next hostel in Medellin was also nearly empty but this time, I sort of enjoyed it. I couldn’t stay in an empty hostel for too long but it was nice to not have to wait for the showers and computers and I liked the people staying there.

Medellin is a really nice city and there is plenty to do. I went hiking in a national park, went on a Pablo Escobar tour, visited a little town called Guatape and went to an empty waterpark that we had to ourselves. I didn’t enjoy the Escobar tour, as the tour guide was pretty blase and couldn’t speak English so well, but everything else I did in Medellin was cool.

After five days, I decided to travel to Salento, which is a little town in the coffee growing region. This meant backtracking in the opposite direction but I’d heard positive things from people who had been there. There was an American girl in my dorm who was also planning on going so we went together. I hadn’t spoken to her much in Medellin as she was always hungover or asleep during the day,  but she was actually a pretty interesting person. She was travelling for an indefinite period of time and when I asked her if she had put her things in storage, she told me that in a bid to eschew materialism, she had gotten rid of everything she owned, aside from a few photo albums. I was pretty impressed; I probably couldn’t do it.

We were pretty limited in terms of what we could do in Salento. When we arrived on a Saturday, the only ATM in town was broken and we were told that it wouldn’t be fixed until the bank reopened on Tuesday. I found a stash of money I had forgotten about so I had just enough money to go on a plantation tour and go horse riding. It was kind of annoying having spend my money so carefully, but it was nice to spend time in a place that was so tranquil and close to nature.

Quito, City of Love

Quito

After Guayaquil, I spent four days in Quito. Quito is a high altitude city, the second highest capital after La Paz. I found it interesting that Ecuador would choose to have its capital in the mountains when it has a coastline –  logistically, it means that overland travel is cumbersome and takes longer. It is also a work out to get around the city centre on foot as there is a lot of uphill walking. But I really liked Quito and stayed longer than what I had planned. Like many people, my main reason for going through Ecuador was to get to Colombia, as crossing from Ecuador is much easier than crossing from Peru.

I had originally planned to leave out Ecuador as it has a reputation as being one of the more dangerous countries in South America. I hung out with an American guy, Brody, who’d had a lot of trouble in Quito. The night before I met him, he’d been drugged in a bar and had no memory of what had happened. He’d also been mugged at knife point on a separate occasion. Both incidents had occured close to our hostel, which was in one of the safer parts of Quito.

But he was someone who had trouble making sensible choices – once I had to talk him out of withdrawing money from a street ATM, even though that was exactly how he had been mugged in the first place. Aside from having to take extra precautions with taking out money, I didn’t feel that Ecuador was particularly unsafe.

The only time that I felt like I had to be more cautious was on my second day in Quito, which fell on a Sunday. Sunday is a strange day to be in Quito. Like most other cities in South America, many businesses close and there is not much to do. But Quito is different in that Sunday is the day that most police have the day off and there is a ban on the sale of alcohol.

I had expected to spend the day at the hostel, not doing much, but Brody invited me to a party his friend was having. He was sort of vague about the details but told me we would go soon.

I was reading a book in the common room when an African guy came up to me and asked if I knew where Brody was. Because I knew everyone at the hostel, I was sure he wasn’t staying there. I wondered how he got in because there was a door system where you had to buzz reception.

Brody had complained to me about black drug addicts who had hassled him in the street and at the time, I had thought he was exaggerating. But I now wondered whether one of the junkies had snuck into the hostel. Then I thought perhaps he was the drug dealer that Brody knew.

After an awkward moment had passed, I asked him if he was a friend of Brody’s. He was. After listening to Brody complain about black  people, I didn’t think he was the sort to have black friends but even so, I was embarassed that I had made a racist assumption. Luckily, the guy didn’t seem to pick up on my confusion.

The three of us walked to a cornerstore that was still selling alcohol, then caught a taxi to the party. It was at a really nice hotel in the centre of town. First there was a barbeque on the rooftop, which had great views of the city, then we went to the bottom level where there was a pool and a sauna. The guy who threw the party was an American who was working in Quito and most of his friends were also expats who were working or studying in the city.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. It was obvious that the day would be taken quite seriously by Ecuadorians as the restaurants had hung up decorations days in advance and in general, South American men are very romantic. Throughout the day, I noticed a lot of men and women holding flowers and gift bags. I even saw one middle aged man carrying an extravagant heart shaped balloon, which was made up of smaller heart shaped balloons.

The start of my day was fairly boring; I went to the bus terminal to buy my ticket to Tulcan for the next day. As taxis are quite expensive in Ecuador, I got public transport. The girl at the hostel told me to take two buses but I ended up having to take three and it took over two hours one way. Each time I had to change buses, I got really confused and had to ask locals for help. Fortunately, most South Americans I have met have been incredibly hospitable and despite the language barrier, eager to go out of their way to help.

Later that night, I went to trivia night with Brody and his friends. Brody was acting very strange towards me, stranger than usual. He wasn´t very good at being subtle. When we first met, he only spoke to me, even though we were sitting in a group with other people. It sort of felt like we were on a date, because he’d abruptly asked me a series of questions as though he was trying to work out if I was someone he would date long term.

As it was my last night in Quito, I guess he figured he didn’t have much to lose. In a strange way, I was attracted to him even though he was sort of a hipster. When we went back to the hostel, everyone had gone to bed and we had the common room to ourselves. We kissed for a while, but he was really terrible at it and would not stop talking. He told me that he didn’t want to have sex, that he just wanted to cuddle, and that was fine by me as I had no desire to sleep with him.

Today I got the bus into Tulcan and crossed the border into Colombia. I’d read that border control was very slow but there was no one else waiting so my passport was stamped straight away. Then I got a taxi to Ipiales, an ugly town near the border, where I am staying the night before moving on.