The market in Otavalo, Ecuador was by far the most impressive we’ve seen since Guatemala. On market day when the market swells with vendors from surrounding towns the produce market alone would challenge in size any that we have seen in South America so far and that was just a third of what they had to offer. In addition to produce there was a handicraft market and an animal market where you could buy everything from pets to livestock. Markets are fun. They are a playground for every single one of the senses. For this reason I have chosen to include most of the pictures we took that day to try to convey some of that experience. Enjoy!
We spent two days in and around the town of Salento just on the outskirts of the zona de café. The draw to Salento, aside from its charm, is the Valle de Cocora. The cocora are the world’s tallest wax palms and can crest over 200 feet. The valley is home to groves of these spindly trees that stand tall and proud compared to the short vegetation that surrounds them. After exploring some of the valley on foot we hopped back in the van and headed into the heart of coffee country. The plan was to find a coffee finca to park for the night, maybe on a hill with a view of the surrounding area, maybe with access to bathrooms, and maybe just maybe a place where we could buy a couple of pounds of fresh Colombian Arabica. It’s possible we were asking for a tall order, but if we didn’t set the bar high we would always end up settling in a gas station for the night and we have learned to love the fight. We have not only developed high expectations of where we camp but we have discovered that the act of finding that perfect place is itself a large part of our adventure.
From El Cocuy we made our way to Bogota with a few choice stops along the way. Let me start by saying we didn’t come close to giving Bogota the attention it deserved. It is a huge city with countless museums, cultural events and pleasant strolling opportunities. We didn’t do any of this though. We had one focus and reason for venturing into the huge capital city: to get new tires for Blue Steel. This proved to be as complicated and frustrating as we imagined, but that ordeal is not what I’ll be writing about. I want to tell you about the Delgados.
Due to our four month hiatus in the States, we’ve had to accept the reality that we will be passing through many countries during an unfavorable time of year. In Peru, we’ll face rainy season in much of the highlands and by the time we reach Patagonia the summer days will be dwindling. So when we realized we’d be in Colombia within a few weeks of the perfect time of year for trekking in Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy, we were very excited. There are only three months of the year considered to have even reasonably good weather in this part of the Colombian Andes; outside those months, one can expect daily rain or snow and freezing temperatures.
After four days bouncing around the Caribbean, it was back to reality and back to work. Our van was still in a container in the port of Cartagena and in order to drive her off we had miles of red tape to unravel. Before beginning the process there was the matter of getting ourselves from Capurganá, a small Caribbean village near the Panamanian border, to the city of Cartagena. It would be a long grueling day of travel which included a two hour boat ride through rough seas, a five hour bus ride over terrible back roads, a second five and a half hour bus ride over even worse roads and, finally, a 45 minute taxi ride into the center of town. All of this after staying up late to watch the US presidential election results come in (at last we could breath a sigh of relief). Luckily for us we had two amazing friends along for the ride who would take some of the sting away from a long and arduous process. When you are at the mercy of so many factors outside of your control, the value of people with whom to share your misery cannot be overstated.
While our car was making its way across the Caribbean to Colombia, it was up to us to find our own way. We could fly from Panama City, take a sail boat across the ocean or go for the cheapest option which involves a number of outboard motor boats followed by a series of long bus rides. The motor boat option had the added benefit of getting to see a number of additional small towns along the way and spending the most amount of time on the San Blas Islands, an archipelago just off the coast of Panama. Having logged our fair share of miles on public transportation during our lives a day of travel on even the worst of roads seemed a lot less intimidating than the 36 hours of open water sailing that we would have faced had we taken the sail boat. Of the sail boat option, we had heard a number of horror stories of incompetent captains, lack of food supplies and rampant sea sickness. However, we quickly realized our choice was just as susceptible to a bungling, inept crew as any other.
We left the the war torn hills of south eastern El Salvador to meet up with family of friends in a small town just outside of San Salvador, the capital city. Mayte and Luis are the aunt and uncle of a former co-worker of mine back in my Henkel days. Mayte is a professor of English at the University in the capital, and her husband Luis is a retired chemistry teacher. They insisted that we meet them and stay the weekend in their country house in San Jose Guayabal, the town where Luis grew up. As with any chance encounter with new friends we were unsure how well we would hit it off. It didn’t take us long to quell any doubts when we discovered they fill their time at their country home playing pool, preparing big meals and taking long naps.
We’ve been lying to you all along. The truth is we can’t drive from the US to Argentina. No one can. The Pan American “highway” is a network of roads linking the majority of nations in the Americas and totaling nearly 30,000 miles. It stretches from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to the farthest reaches of South America, ending arguably in Ushuaia, Argentina. That is, with one exception: The Darien Gap.
A late lunch was quickly turning into an early dinner as Jill and I wandered through various small towns looking for the right place to eat. Our hunger was distracted by the beautiful scenery of the mountains surrounding Volcan Baru in the NW corner of Panama. We entered the one horse town of Cerro Punta and soon passed what looked like the perfect little restaurant, equipped with large windows and a view of the surrounding peaks. We pulled big blue into the driveway of the small restaurant which was attached to a residence. There were few signs indicating it was open and soon our suspicions were confirmed when our polite knocking received no response. We hopped back in the van and I shifted the Astro into reverse, pressing my foot to the brake pedal. Instead of the expected resistance, the brake pedal fell quickly to the floor. We had lost complete pressure in our brake lines.
It seems that each “start” of the trip for us comes with a test of our convictions, a “prove yourself” diversion that would make even the most confident travelers question whether they could hack it (remember our first series of unfortunate events). After four cushy months living in CT, our first few days back on the road did just this. It started with the gasoline leak we noticed when we picked up the Astro from storage. Then there were a series of frustrating mechanics who sent us on a scavenger hunt throughout the tangled, traffic-filled streets of greater San Jose. Then there were the usual missed deadlines that come with said frustrating mechanics.