We started our day in Cajamarca in the same way Inca emperor Atahualpa did nearly 500 years earlier – in the soothing waters of the natural thermal springs that grace this area of the Northern Peruvian highlands. Known today as Los Baños del Inca, the compound is a popular tourist attraction that supposedly gets hundreds of visitors daily. After all, who wouldn’t want to bathe in the same pools that an Inca king once used to nurse his war wounds?
There’s absolutely nowhere we’d rather be than with our families during the holidays. One of the hardest times to be away from home for us is the week between Christmas and New Years. No matter how much fun we’re having, no matter how much of a rhythm we have found on the road, being homesick during this time cannot be avoided. It struck us especially hard last holiday season and this year we were intent on doing everything we could to minimize the depression that results from the knowledge of all the home cooked meals, parties and quality family time we’d be missing out on. The underlying theme of how we would approach the holidays this time around was not to try to avoid but to embrace. We would replicate traditions where we could, we would reach out to family as often as possible, and most importantly, we would celebrate.
From the jungle we continued west through the town of Baños, a touristy spot where the activities are dune buggy rentals and bungee jumping. Not necessarily the things we go out of our way to pursue but we had half a day to burn and figured the hot springs were reason enough to stop. If the city had positive attributes, the weather did not help show them off. There was a heavy set fog that encompassed the entire city and loud gushes of wind ripped up the tiny little streets. We made the most of our time by dropping off a load of laundry and spending some time at the local baths that give the town its name. While wandering the streets we noticed most of the locals were wearing surgeon’s masks. Seeing as Baños is at the base of an active volcano we were able to make the connection that the fog was not water vapor but fine ash. We had come across active volcanoes in the past that spurted out small plumes of ash so we didn’t think too much of it. It wasn’t until we were leaving town that we asked a gas station attendant how common it was for the volcano to be this active. He informed us that twice a year the volcano would spew ash for around 24 hours before returning to sleep. As I returned to the car I finally realized that the wind sounded a little different than normal, it was fierce and came in short bursts. The gusts of wind was the volcano erupting.
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!
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.
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.
Antigua is a “can’t miss” stop on anyone’s route through Guatemala. It is a beautiful colonial city, known for its crumbling churches and towering volcanoes, both being somewhat related. Antigua has paid the price for its beautiful skyline with various earthquakes throughout the second millennia. Like other colonial cities in Latin America, Antigua’s streets are lined with single story buildings roofed with clay tile shingles and pastel colored facades. Its charm attracts wealthy tourists both domestic and international, which in turn attracts business. Antigua is packed with high end restaurants, fancy hotels, and clean little markets where you can buy Kashi, something I doubt you could find anywhere else in the country. The presence of all this wealth puts Antigua in stark contrast with the rest of Guatemala. Although on the surface it may not feel as authentic as a small mountain village, it is Guatemala none the less, and without having to go to too much trouble, we were able to discover plenty of authenticity throughout the city.
San Cristóbal was one of the cities I was really looking forward to visiting prior to our departure. Nestled in the mountains of Chiapas, the city has the familiar colonial charm we’ve become accustomed to in Mexico – cobblestone streets, colorful homes, clean and winding streets perfect for strolling. But what really makes San Cristóbal distinctive is the predominant and immediately obvious indigenous presence. Due to its location in the heart of Mexico’s Mayan population, the city is ripe with the culture and customs of the Maya.
One of the tricky parts of continuous travel is that with every new day comes a new place to research. Always a new town with a brand new list of must see items. Guide books are obviously a good starting point, but seldom do they give you what we consider the “good stuff”. The stuff the locals know: how to avoid the traps, where to get an authentic yet cheap meal, or how to avoid the crowds and get off the beaten track. When we were in Oaxaca I visited a few outfitters not with the intention of purchasing services but only in the hopes of gathering information. I hit the jackpot when I met Eric, a native Oaxacan who was kind enough to spend over an hour giving me the goods. I left with a laundry list of enticing places to see and things to do. If not for him we may not have stopped in San Jose Del Pacifico, nor would we have been likely to stop in Chiapas de Corzo to take a tour of Canyon Sumidero. When we arrived in Chipas de Corzo we quickly realized we had lucked out again in that we had coincidentally arrived during their week long annual fiesta. And if there’s only one thing we’ve learned about travelling through Mexico it is to never pass up an opportunity to fiesta.
After travelling through Northern and Central Mexico, entering the state of Oaxaca was like entering a whole new country. We began seeing signs of a culture different than any we had previously experienced. Oaxaca marked our entry into Zapatec country. No experience better encompassed the most notable differences than a walk through the city market. The produce stands carry a number of new and strange items, the tortillas have doubled in size and are fried and stuffed with an assortment of delicious fillings and amidst the hum of the market we overheard languages that were neither English nor Spanish. The metropolis acts as a magnet drawing in all of the regional specialties that left Jill and I overwhelmed with new foods to try and shops to peruse.