El fin del viaje

Hello hello,  after a few weeks back home and in Scotland for Christmas and New Year and more adventures currently underway in New Zealand it’s about time I update you all of my final few weeks in Sout America.  After seeing Niki off from the beachside airport I had no plans…but it went something like this.

While in Peru a friend I met raved about Freediving, the sport where you submerge under water to depth on one breath.  His stories stuck in my mind so when I heard the Colombian record holder for freediving runs introductory courses my ears perked up.  I did the course over 3 days, covering some theory, confined water breath holding and then two open water sessions in Tanganga bay.  For the open water sessions I joined up with another guy doing the course, What are the chances, he was Irish and we have mutual friends from our swimming days!

Myself and Séan after a open water session
The first open water session we went to a maximum of 20m with the free immersion technique (pulling rope, no kicking allowed) and constant weight (kicking with fins). 
There’s a bit to think about, or a lot of awareness involved anyway. Equalising your ears can be tricky at depth and remaining calm and in control is essiential because however deep you go there is only one way up. They say it’s a sport that is 30% physical and 70% mental.  Loss of consciousness and blackouts are common due to lack of oxygen to the brain so it’s pretty serious.
For the last session we focused on the free immersion rope pulling technique.  After a few warm up dives to 10m it was time to push it a little, so next up was a 27.5m  dive and then the goal of getting to the bottom of the line which I managed with effort and reached 33.4m.  It is a pretty scary feeling when you feel the need to breath but know you have quite a way to go before surfacing.  

Here’s a video Sean made on his go pro, a mix of clips, excuse the dramatic music!

During and after the course I enjoyed kicking about Santa Marta, it’s a gritty city in places but fun and chaotic… a good mx if you ask me!  For the same reasons it’s not too touristy, another good thing.

Santa Marta stroll’in
A coffee shop/book shop I found and made my local haunt for the few days, mmmmm!
I didn’t go to Parque Tayrona, so as a compromise I went a deserted beach which lies on the far edge of the national park but doesn’t come with the pricetag or throngs of tourists, apart from two surfers and a Colombian family I had the beach to myself!
With time ticking before my flight back home I spent my last night in the north of Colombia in Minca in casa elemento, a super and popular hostel which is actually run by my friend Jean from university.   It was good catching up on 5 years since I had seen her and to see the very cool award winning hostel.

Casa elemento is home to the world biggest hammock, it’s a hostel nestled away in the jungle of the Sierra Nevada mountains which takes 2 hours to hike to or a 40min motor taxi!
So with my flight home fast approaching I needed to make tracks in the direction of Bogota.  I chose Barichara as my last place to visit, a little village where I spent two peaceful days hiking, picking up some presents and kicking about with my camera in hand.

The quaint peaceful village of Barichara

I arrived in Bogotá two days before my flight and had a really fun last two days with my Australian friend Claire, some Christmas shopping and lots of eating.  On my last night we went out for dinner but ended up eating pizza and drinking beer at a plaza with crowds of people and cyclists who were out for a pro bike, roller blade, skateboard movement. It was a fun way to spend my last night, chatting with locals and soaking up the energy.

This was my zig zag route!

I think some time to reflect on the trip will be good, it was full of challenges, excitment, adventure, great people and some loneliness too. All in all and despite the challenges it was an incredible journey. The continent is bursting with culture, chaos is part of every day, it’s normal. It’s a different world, less conventional, more opportunities in some respects, less in others. Woman are treated differently, equality is a long way off and poverty is rife. Child labour to varying degrees is commonplace and governments take corruption to another level. Being green isn’t much of a thing, rubbish is thrown out bus windows and into the sea. However the land and landscapes are incredible, trees hanging with ripe mangoes, avocados, bananas, coffee plants, cocao, exotic flowers, spuds of every variety. Mountain ranges, coastlines, glaciers, valleys, waterfalls. And the people, from the timid Bolivians, the open and social Argentinians, the beautiful Peruvians to the warm and friendly Colombians. Not to mention all the lovely travellers I met from all over the world.  

The only place I wanted to be on Christmas Day

After a lovely Christmas at home I spent an awesome New Years in Fortwilliam, Scotland, and rang the new year in with a wild Ceilí, great tunes and the best of friends.  I’m now in New Zealand and plan to update the blog at some point.  It will be a completely different adventure but I am welcoming something fun and less challenging than a solo trip in South America.

Until the next time amigos,

Suerte y amor para el neuvo año, 

F x

Coasting the Caribbean

After a smooth night bus I found myself navigating Bogotás bus system in morning rush hour… thankfully Colombians are a helpful lot and always willing to point you in the right direction (at the least!).  I made my way to La Candalaria neighbourhood, the colonial part.  Niki arrived the next day but unfortunately rucksack-less.  It took a few days for it to catch up with us (and many difficult phone conversations in Spanish) but we managed to get our hands on it.

Anyway for our short stay in Bogota we wandered the neighbourhood and spent the afternoon on a graffiti tour.  It was a few hours very well spent learning about the history of the street artists of Bogota and hearing the meaning behind their work.  A lot of their work is politically and socially charged, using their skills to lash out at problems and injustices in their city and country.

Political graffiti in Bogota raising issues such as capitalist greed, homelessness, gun violence. This was my favourite wall, so many messages to be found and amazing skills on show.
A wall dedicated to the indigenous people of Colombia
If you stand at the right place the sign post and pole are integrated into the wall!

We made tracks back to Medellin where I enjoyed showing Niki the city I knew fairly well.   We did a walking tour which covered a lot of Colombians history and Medellín’s transformation in the last 10 years which I spoke about in my last post.  Medellin is quiet modern and has a different feel to the rest of Colombia.  Many ex-pats are living in Medellin and I can see why.  It has a different feel to the rest of Colombia but isn’t the city I would choose to live in Colombia.  That said the story of Medellins transformation is incredible and I understand why the Paisas (Medellin folk) are so proud of their city and genuinely welcoming.

Downtown Medelllín at dusk
From Medellin we flew to a village called Acandí on the Caribbean coast close to the Panaman border. It was a great laugh landing in the airport, or as Niki aptly described it a runway with a public toilet…

Arrivals on the left, Departures on the right. A runway and a public toilet with no running water…..!
From the airport we took horse and cart to the village and then to the dock for a boat to Capurgana, our destination. A fun day of travel!
The beach at Capurgana
After a few days relaxing and soaking up some sun we hiked a few miles through a forested area to a town called Sapzurro where we spent more time relaxing on the beach

Sapzurro lies right on the Panaman border and you can walk over the border to a village called La miel which was cool.  You need to show your passport and sign in but there is no real immigration or security as this village is hugely isolated from the rest of Panama.

La Miel beach, Panama.

We had a long day of travel to get to our next stop, Cartagena.  It involved a 2 hour boat and 8 hour bus, it was rough going on a cramped bus but we made it.

Dogs and doors, Cartagena
We had a leisurely day wandering the old town inside the city walls, it’s a colourful place!
 

We weren’t too sure of our plans from here but basically spent a week in and around the Santa Marta area, with a stay in Palomino, some hiking in the Sierra Nevadas, a visit to Minca and back to the city to relax and do some scuba diving before Niki left.  
   

We hiked from Bonda to a village (if you can call it that!) called Paso del mango on day one. Here’s a few of Bonda’s finest footballers.
The Caribbean climate is so hot and humid that the sea temperature is about 28 degrees and barely refreshing… finding a icey waterfall at the end of a hike is the business!
Day 2, hiking through some of the Sierra Nevada mountains to reach Minca
4 hours of perfect hiking weather and 1.5 hours of torrential rain meant soggy boots and wrinkly feet!

For Niki’s last day we did some scuba diving, it was Nikis first time so there were a few butterflies beforehand I think.  We had two dives with decent visibility and saw lots of cool sea creatures! 

For first ever time diving Niki was a natural! It took a few minutes to go through some safety drills underwater and then we went off exploring!

Typical Caribbean food, fried fish, rice and patacones (smashed friend banana) for 10,000 pesos (approx €3.50)

And all too soon I had to wave Niki off at the beachside airport in Santa Marta.  It was an action packed few weeks, we covered a lot of ground!  However I won’t be far behind, nearly home time for me too!

FQ x

Salsa! 

Throwback to Medellin a few weeks ago.

After the group classes in Cali I was a little hooked so I took some private classes with Diego in Medellín.   

The first video is salsa Caleña (salsa style from the city of Cali) and the second is salsa en linea.

Turn up the volume and be gracious with the slagging please!

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The coffee triangle, rural Colombia and the most innovative city in South America…

A road block and a broken down bus got me to my destination 5 hours later than I had hoped for but to be fair I’ve been lucky with buses so far.  I arrived in the pretty town of Salento, in the heart of the coffee growing region.  Colombia is the worlds 3rd largest producer of coffee (behind Brazil and Vietnam).  Being a coffee drinker I was pretty excited to be here and in addition to drinking cups of delicious coffee daily I went on a tour of a coffee farm.

Tim and Bonnie- the coffee plantation, Salento. A really informative tour… I highly recommend it!
I now appreciate all the work that goes into my cup of coffee, it’s a long process and a lot of work!
I learned so much about the coffee making process, from seed to cup and really enjoyed the  few hours spent on the farm chuckling away at Tim and his dog Bonnie, both big characters! 

I also did a little day hike to Valle de Cocora, a valley of palm trees, some of the highest in the world.  Along the way a bunch of people from all around the world decided to stick together for the day, we clicked and had a really fun hike and aprés-hike together!

Valle de Cocoro, Salento
Encountered a few risqué suspension bridges along the way

From Salento I headed for Jardín, a town that wasn’t easy to get to but thankfully worth the journey.  It’s a really colourful place where cowboy hats and ponchos are the norm.  I spent two days here people watching (and eating) and I’m pretty sure I was the only foreigner there.

The main plaza, Jardín

Doing shots of Aguardiente before noon?? It’s a public holiday and they persuaded me to join them for a shot!
Then I headed for Medellín,  a city that was the murder capital of the world in the 80’s and torn apart by drug related violence up until about 10 years ago.  The city has undergone a huge transformation since then and is recognised worldwide as a leading city in development, innovation, inclusion and urban planning.  It boasts the best public transport system in Colombia (if not farther afield) and has used transportation to make every corner of the city accessible whether by bus, metro, cable car or outdoor escalators.  By doing this it has provided more lighting to previously dark and dodgey streets in addition to providing cheap (70c) and efficient transport for people to commute to work, university, schools etc.  Two local government initiatives have been key in turning this city around, the first being ‘Democratic architecture’ involving the creation of social shelters for the homeless and social projects in addition to the building of metro, cable car and trams that span across the city and include the poorer neighbourhoods.   The second inititiave is ‘Education with dignity’ which involved the building of fabulous libraries in the poorest and most dangeous neighbourhoods and crime riden parks/plazas.  Again this provides lighting, safety and education to deprived.  Open air spaces and skate parks can also be found all over the city.  So many cool ideas, I could go on…

I spent a week in Medellin in a great little hostel (Yellow house, La Floresta) and shared my evenings with some lovely and interesting people trying to comprehend the presidential election results along with travel chat and plans.  My mornings were spent taking some more salsa classes and afternoons out wandering the city.​

Casa de la memoria~ Medellin. Informative and upsetting to learn about Colombia’s past but full of hope for the future…
Graffiti~ comuna 13, one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the city now safe and colourful and accessible by outdoor escalators (free to use)
Comuna 13, Medellin
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Buenos Aires neighbourhood connected to the centre by a tram service and bright and colourful with more street art

On my final evening in Medellin I went to support Atletico National with some Australian friends.  The club is Medellins pride and joy and appartently the best club football team in the continent!  I couldn’t see even one jersey from the opposition team and for the full two hours the place was mental.  Drumming,  chanting, dancing… a fun experience! 

Of course a photo cannot capture the atmosphere but at half time we all held up plastic coloured sheets which spelt something in the stands, pretty cool!
I left Medellin for Guatape, a small town 2 hours away with my friend Claire.  We climbed the 747 steps of Piedra El peñol and wandered the town.  A relaxing two days and nice to be away from the rush of city life.

I backtracked a little to collect my rucksack from Medellin then took a night bus to Bogota. My friend Niki has (more!) holidays so is Colombia bound for a few weeks! I’m excited for her arrival and our plans.. after a few days in Bogota and Medellin we are headed north for the Caribbean coast! I’m ready to be by the sea again… 

Viva Colombia! 

Colombia has a very troubled past, always in the news for the wrong reasons; cocaine, cartels, civil war.  For some, that impression remains, but in recent years levels of safety and security have much improved.  On the backpacker scene it is a much talked about country to visit as more and more travellers are realising the country’s past reputation is far from the reality of Colombia today.  Personally I have heard only insanely good things about Colombia and so I crossed the border with a spring in my step and high expectations.   

Outside the border town of Ipales this beautiful church can be found, I visited before taking another bus to Pasto.

Arriving into the bus station in Pasto with a power cut going on was a bit hectic but eventually I figured out what was going on.  The bus tickets onwards to San Agustin were all sold out so while thinking of a plan I was approached by a huge familiy of Colombians gathered in the bus station to wave off some relatives to Bogota (aunts, uncles, cousins, the whole package).  I have never felt like such a celebrity, they were so interested in where I was from, where I had visited, who I was travelling with, what was in my rucksack….the questions were endless, especially from the younger ones! Eventually I explained I needed to leave and find a hostal but they were having none of it, I would go home with them, have a coffee, stay at theirs and catch the first morning bus.  I couldn’t refuse and didn’t want to either, what a lovely bunch and what a funny experience! 

The Narváez family, Olmedo and his daughters Nataly and Silvana

I’m sure you are wondering if this was safe, of course I wondered the same for a moment but I have followed my gut instinct on so many occasions in is trip and it has always worked out well! Needless to say they were extremely hospitable even though it was a school night for the girls we stayed up late chatting and showing them photographs from my travels.  I love chatting with kids in Spanish, of course I still make lots mistakes and children find this so funny! As planned I woke early the next morning and got a ride back to the station with Olmedo on his scooter.

From Pasto I headed for San Agustin, a beautiful little town,  a popular desination for Colombian tourists but not so much for foreigners.  I found a campsite and got set up for a few days, roaming the countryside, picking avocados and enjoying Colombian coffee and food.  I also did a tour on horseback through the countryside with local man Carlos and a few others visitors.

San Agustin~ the lush green countryside of Colombia
From here I landed in Cali, the salsa capital of the world!  Its apparent why, salsa music can be heard in every cafe, bar and coming from every second house.  Everyone here dances salsa, and they do it extremely well with their own Caleno style.  

The corner shop, San Antonio, Cali
The colourful streets and doorways of San Antonio, Cali
San Antonio and some local wheels, I miss my bike!
So my peaceful life of early nights and early mornings was put on hold while I experienced the salsa bars and nightlife.   I decided a salsa class or two would do me no harm and save me some embarrassment on nights out but after two classes I was hooked and a week later I was still in Cali dancing salsa! It is addictive and a lot of fun, I am still a beginner of course but glad to be able to do the basic moves and almost blend in during nights out  (thankfully the Colombian men are very forgiving and not phased by dodgy salsa moves).  It works like this, the guys ask the girls to dance, you dance together for the duration of the song, have a few words, say thanks and part ways.  Fun and social, that’s how the night goes! 
Me and my fellow salsa dancers, two Colombians, one French, one Kiwi.

I could have stayed longer in Cali, in fact I think it would be a great city to live in but the road was calling and I headed west towards the Pacific coast with a stop in the tiny village of San Cipriano nestled away in the jungle.  The only connection to this town is by rail, no roads at all, but due to the lack of trains the locals came up with the ingenious idea of a motorbike propelled rail cart thing, or ‘Brujita’.

The Brujitas which zoom through the forest at about 30kmph to San Cipriano, minimal health and safety involved!
San Cipriano is worth a visit, for the sketchy brujita ride alone but it is also an escape from hustle and bustle, and cut off from technology. It is a villages of about 500 inhabitants, with almost everyone of African decent. The locals and visitors alike spend their free time down by the river where the beautiful clear water is lovely for a swim, cold and refreshing, perfect in the humidity.  You can also rent a tube for 10,000 pesos (€3) , walk along the river and go tubing all the way back to the village, it is a lot of fun watching the jungle sail by.
It’s no Croker but a fine display of football nonetheless

It turns out wet season on the Pacific coast isn’t to be taken lightly, it rained cats and dogs in San Cipriano and even more so when I headed right to the coast to Huanchaco, Ladrilleros and La Barra north of Buenaventura.  Again there are no roads to these towns but an hour long bumpy boat ride got me there.  

The pier, where boats arrive and leave for Buenaventura

These Afro-Caribbean villages run along the Pacific coast and are connected by dirt tracks or by beach at low tide.  There is no white sand or turquoise water, this is jungle meets beach, wild and rugged, and even more so in wet season.

I woke up to torrential rain and 5 inches of water in La Barra, nothing to do but sit tight and wait for the rain to ease, or sing like this man was doing.

When the rain eased I walked back along the beach to Ladrilleros and met a friendly local guy, Samuel, who was on holidays from work and keen to show me around his neck of the woods.   We walked along the beaches and caves and in the afternoon we rented a little long tail boat and waded through through the mangroves of the local river.  It is one of the most beautiful places I have seen on this trip, unfortunately due to the unpredictable weather I didn’t have my camera with me.  We reached some waterfalls, had a swim and returned with me trying to steer… It took twice the time to get back!

Tree trunks, wood and some rubbish washed up at Huanchaco

The rain sent me packing sooner than I had planned, a shame I couldn’t see these villages at their best with glorious sunshine but hey.  Next up I am headed for the coffee triangle in the midlands of Colombia.  With a rucksack full of damp clothes and grey skies overhead a cup of delicious hot Colombian coffee was calling! 

Ecuador

The border crossing from Peru to Ecuador was slow, painfully slow considering it was 2am as I stood in line bleary eyed and yawning.  Anyway I arrived in Cuenca on a sleepy Sunday and stayed just two days.  I wandered around the city with some friends, went to an underwhelming museum and a very good market… loads of yummy food, drinks and I even found homemade peanut butter, a first in South America!


After Cuenca I headed for the coast, stories of beautiful beaches and great waves excited me but unfortunately my time on the coast, a week in total, provided neither!  It is wet season on the coast of Ecuador and a time when the waves are least consistent.  I stayed in a little village called Ayampe and the week passed with lots of reading in the hammock, runs on the beach and chatting with Gustavo, the Colombian guy running the hostal I stayed in.  

A beautiful coastline, just missing a bit of sun!

After awhile I reluctantly gave up on the sun showing up and headed inland for Baños, a small town in a stunning valley with lots to do.
spent a day cycling down into The Valley in search of waterfalls and nearly keeled off the bike cycling back up all the hills

I also visited the hot springs, caught up with my friend Blake, from Lobitos, and visited the famous swing at casa de Arbol… unfortunately it was cloudy but nonetheless fun to swing out over the valley with adrenaline rushing!
Casa de árbol, Baños

Despite a bad weather forecast I was keen to do some hiking and the Quilotoa loop really appealed to me.  Its a 3-4 day hike through the countryside in the heart of Ecuador stopping along the way in tiny villages to refuel on sleep and food! Blake was also up for the trek and so we hit off with fingers crossed for good weather. 
We started at the Quilotoa crater lake, walked the perimeter and then made our way to Chugchilan
 
Day 2; an easier day, down into a valley and up the other side to reach the village of Isliniví

Day 3 on to Sigchos, we had some company along the way too
The same day we finished the trek we travelled on to Quito.  It’s a treat travelling around Ecuador, a small country in comparison to its neighbours and rarely the need for a night bus!

Quito is a huge city, 16km in length.  I stayed in the old historic centre a few days, caught up with some travelling friends, ate lots of food (my hostel was beside the main market of Quito!) and did lots of wandering around and visiting a few tourist spots.  

Had a huge lunch while catching up with Andy and his friend Brigitte, the best s a bass in Ecuador apparently! It was delicious, served with potatoes or rice, ceviche and popcorn.
El mitad del mundo~ middle of the world on the equator line, half of me in the Northern hemisphere, half in the south!

  

I enjoyed Quito but after a few days I was happy to move on and escape the madness of the capital. Mindo was a great change and I camped a few nights there and met some fun people to do some hiking with.   Oh and an artisan chocolate lesson 🙂 

It rained cats and dogs at night but clear blue skies in the morning
Really interesting to learn about the cocoa and chocolate making process! We learned about the cocao plant, then roasted fermented cocao beans, shelled them, grounded them into 100% pure cocoa paste and with this made a fondue!

Otavalo, a town famous for its Saturday market was up next.   There is an animal market early on of which I didn’t see much of other than being offered a few live chickens.  There is also a big craft market and it was easy spend a few hours wandering around.

Some colours from the Otavalo market
Laguna Cuicocha, Otavalo
Every person I’ve encountered so far travelling from central to South America has raved about Colombia and the genuine kindness of its people.  I’ve also met people who still believe Colombia to be a very dangerous place but I’m pretty sure that this is a thing of the past.   Colombia has a troubled past of drugs and violence but from what I hear the local people are waiting with open arms to tourists and travellers and are hugely proud of their beautiful country. Next and final stop…. Colombia! 

Northern Perú 

The blog has been neglected since Rio, but here goes another another update folks!

Back in Perú I decided not to hang around in Lima.  On arriving I took a bus to Huaraz, a last minute decision but a good one. 8 hours later on a bumpy bus I arrived and found a little gem of a hostel ‘El Tambo’. I took it easy for a day or two, acclimatising to the altitude again and catching up on some sleep. But once rested I did a few day hikes to the stunning glacier lakes nearby, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

Laguna 69, Huaraz

The El Tambo crew at Laguna 69
Laguna Churup, how tempting does that glacier water look??
Dont let the blue sky fool you, 4,450m altitude and a dip in approx 4 degree water, it took an hour to warm up after!
Next up Huanchaco, a sleepy little town near Trujillo with good waves and perfect sunsets. Again I hit lucky and found a friendly little hostal with a nice group of people! And I had 3 days of warm weather and surf, what a treat! 

I missed the perfect sunsets with my camera but caught a beautiful sky on the evening i left


I didn’t hang around too long, I could have but instead headed for the tiny fishing village of Lobitos, also a surfers paradise! Lobitos was a miltary base going back and has an eerie feel with lots of empty buildings and wasteland but the beaches are something else.  
I had organised a workaway in Lobitos, helping out in a hostel called ‘El Cuartel’. The work involved helping/cooking in the restaurant/bar, a little cleaning, helping out the guests etc, nothing too taxing. 

With my free time(which there was plenty of) I lounged in hammocks, ran on the beach, cooked up delicious food, went fishing off the peer but most of all I surfed loads. Everyday, or twice a day and it was great. My surfing improved and I felt great for regular exercise, good food, sun and lots of sleep. 

Piscinas point break, Lobitos where i surfed every day
Piscinas, Lobitos, 300m from my bed to the waves…..
 

For me Lobitos was paradise but what made the experience even more amazing was the people I met.  There were other volunteers from South America and around the world (Argentina, New Zealand, Portugal, Venezuela, Japan, Holland, Italy) and i made friends with the most positive and fun local, William, a fisherman and excellent surfer. Not to mention some of the lovely guests in the hostal who passed through.  

Nights by the fire in Lobitos
I couldnt have spent my birthday in a better place or with better people, a sweet corn bread cake made by Leo
The biggest smile in Lobitos, my pal/surf coach/fishing companion William
Foodies! From delicious juice drinks, cakes, pies, bread, ceviche we could always rustle up something amazing. This was an evening treat of sugary lemony pancakes for some my favourites; William, Blake and Franchesco.

Blake and Nacho surfing with the last of daylight
I stayed in Lobitos a week longer than planned and yet it was hard to leave.  However over the past few weeks I have made some decisions about my trip, how far I will go and when to go home, so after three weeks of paradise in Lobitos I packed up and headed North for Ecuador.  I’ll finish my stint in South America in Colombia and be home for Christmas.  This leaves me 2-3 months to explore Ecuador and Colombia.  I’m excited going forward but sad to leave Perú…. What a beautiful country.

Goodbye Perú, i will be back.

The Olympic experience

I’ve had my nose pressed up against the plane window for the past 15 minutes with a perfect view of Rio De Janeiro. I can’t help but feel really sad to be leaving even though I have cursed this city more times than I care to remember. Mam asked me a few times what one word best describes Rio, the the only word that comes close for me is overwhelming.

The travelling support team or ‘Team Quinn’ as we went by included Mam, Dad, Darragh, Andrea, Melissa, Enda and myself. The Olympic park which held the swimming, tennis, diving, water polo, wrestling and more had a great atmosphere, people milling about and you wouldn’t know who you could meet (I shook hands with Boris Becker!) Anyway the swimming arena was really cool but it was sad to see a lot of empty seats. In the 100m Nick swam a solid race and it was a great mental warm up for his main event (200m Breaststroke). After the race we got a catch up with Nick and RTÉs Des Cahill who got a lovely interview with him and Mam & Dad. Here’s a link if you haven’t heard it

http://podcast.rasset.ie/podcasts/audio/2016/0808/20160808_rteradio1-morningireland-rio2016pro_c21033207_21033251_232_.mp3 

Post race in the olympic park
For the next few days we tried to combine being tourists and the Olympics but it proved so difficult as the Olympic park and Deodoro park are miles and miles away from everywhere. We spent so much time trying to figure out public transport and many more hours in UBER taxis. We cheered on Ireland in a hockey match and saw some of the rugby 7s. One journey may give you an insight into how difficult it was to access the Deodoro Olympic complex; it involved one UBER for an hour which dropped us off at the back of the stadium but which wasn’t an access point. What followed was an attempt at running across a motorway, a 2 km walk, another taxi and finally a 30 minute walk to the entrance, through security to get to the stadium. This was mine and Darragh’s experience but we couldn’t believe it when the others had a similarly hectic journey. Their taxi went through dangerous favelas (run down neighbourhoods, similar to shanty towns) running red lights to avoid any trouble followed by getting dropped as close as possible at a different end of the complex 45 minutes walk from the stadium. Absolute madness, completely draining stuff and we weren’t alone, everybody we met had a similarly crazy story from their journeys to Deodoro.

There was a huge military presence at sporting venues and in the tourist areas of the city, truck loads would pass by with huge guns on show….

Anyway for Nicks 200m swim Team Quinn were back in the pool and the emotion and pressure of it all really hit me that morning. A lifetime of training and sacrifices got him this far, the ultimate platform, the place every swimmer wants to get to. Surely the pressure is crippling. The atmosphere in the pool was a lot better on this day, so much so that Nicks heat were called down off the blocks for a restart due to the rowdy crowd. After, he said he was grateful for this as it gave him an extra 30 seconds to get his head together and breath out some nerves. It was a great race, Nick in second position for most of the race trailing a Brazilian guy with the crowd going crazy. I don’t know who was roaring what from the Irish corner but we made a lot of noise. Nick executed his race really well and took the lead confidently on the home straight with a few outside lanes staying with him too but he dug deep to win the race. 

Lane 3 (three from the left) white cap, C’mon Nick!!
Swimming is all about the small margins and unfortunately Nick missed out on a semi final spot. He gave it his all and what more can you do. I really couldn’t be prouder of the way he carried himself throughout the whole thing.  I’ve still not seen his post race interviews but he came out to meet us after with a big smile and for me that was more important than anything else.  

Team Quinn with Nick and his coach Chris Jones


Nick understandably was keen to soak up the whole Olympic experience but the rest of us retreated to a beautiful little island called Ilha Grande, a place with no cars or roads and it couldn’t have been more welcoming after a few days of madness, nerves and emotion in Rio. We spent our days soaking up some sun, snorkelling, surfing and our nights eating loads of great seafood and watching Michael Phelps and every minute of the swimming. Perfect!


Clear skies and a calm sea, Darragh and Dad did some scuba diving while the ladies sunbathed on the boat 🙂
 

Following the trail through all of this bamboo, and a little swim in a waterfall after 🙂

We met up with Nick a few days later back in Rio, saw Darragh off to the airport and then headed for Petropolis, a small city inland from Rio. We did a little hiking and shopping, staying a few days before we headed back to Rio. 

The beautiful Selaron steps going from Lapa to Santa Teresa #mayoforsam
The olympic flame, boulevard olympico, Rio
 

We had hoped to get some tickets for water polo or athletics but they were too expensive in the end. Nick got to see lots of events, made some great friendships in the Team Ireland crew and rubbed shoulders with some seriously famous athletes both past and present. We managed to spend time with him too, visiting the Olympic flame, Ipanema beach and the Selaron steps in Lapa.  

And all too quickly the games were over, we got a few glances of Nick in the closing ceremony on TV. During the previous week Pat Hickey (Olympic Council of Ireland president) was a hot topic of conversation with us, he is not charged with anything yet but it appears he is a complete fraud and is not where he is today for the love of sport or for the athletes, but for his own personal road to power and control. We felt lucky to get the tickets we got for the swimming (some OCI tickets but we sourced the majority from Rio and UK ticket distributors left scrambling to get them with only days before the games began). Needless to say we never expected a chance of being able to buy opening or closing ceremony tickets.  
Nicholas and Andrea flew off the same day leaving Mam, Dad and I for a few days of Rio minus the Olympic madness. It was really enjoyable, we spent some time on Copacobana beach and went up to the sugar loaf. Got manicures and pedicures (Dad opted out of this one) and visited the lovely neighbourhood of Santa Teresa for maybe the 5th time but definitely a favourite with us all.  

A winters sunset over Rio
No filter needed, breath taking views of Rio from Paõ de Azucar

So Rio is crazy, nobody speaks English, there is a lot of poverty, in places it is dirty and smelly, there are a lot of problems, a lot of corruption with politics, police and military and a lot of sadness. However the people are warm and open, they are up against it in a city of corruption and injustice but they get on with it. They live, they drink, they cheer and boo, they are passionate and proud. Two weeks ago I came to the conclusion that I didn’t like Rio at all, but I’ve come the full circle and am sad to leave. Sad to say bye to Mam and Dad and sad the Olympics are over, sad I won’t be at home in Castlebar when Nick is there to see all the support and cards and read all the newspaper cuttings. But hopefully there is a fun road ahead for me. I’m heading back to Peru and heading North from Lima, I don’t know where just yet.
Until the next instalment amigos X

A taste of Peru

I made it to Arequipa after a painful night bus from the border; cold, loud Peruvian music playing, a seat that didn’t recline… All reminders I had left the good and comfortable bus service of Chile behind!  Arequipa is a very pretty city and it was unusual to see so many tourists again as for awhile I haven’t been on the typical gringo trail (tourist route).  Before this trip I had considered Arequipa as my first destination to live and learn Spanish and although I liked the city I am glad I chose Sucre, Bolivia instead.   Arequipa has quite the food scene going on, amazing ceviche and their famous Queso Icecream (which is delicious and doesn’t actually have cheese in it).  I spent a lot of time in the local market scoffing my face and enjoying how inexpensive everything is again in comparison to Argentina and Chile.  A hot quinoa and apple drink for 0.35c , huge ripe avocados for 0.30c, so many exotic fruits; papaya, tumba, chiramoya, the list goes on. 

The cathedral at night, Arequipa

market fun in arequipa, grains, beans and corn …. endless variety

With a flight to Rio scheduled my time in the south of Peru was limited, so after Arequipa I headed straight for Cusco to try and see and do as much as possible there.  Cusco is a great base to see the sacred valley and visit Machu Picchu, it’s full of tourists but still has a lot of charm.   Sod’s law I was sick for 2 days, a combination of something I ate and altitude sickness I think but besides those two days I had a full on schedule.  

Ollantaytambo, The Sacred Valley

The famous Inca trail needs to be booked months in advance and needless to say I am not that organised.  Instead I did a few reckies around Cusco and signed up for an alternative option, the Salakanty trek.  It is a 4 or 5 day trek; day one starting from Mollepta and 8 hours later finishing in Soraypmapa where we ate and camped.
 Day 2 started at 5am with coca tea and pancakes to brace us for a tough uphill climb of about 800m through the Salakanty mountain pass (4,600m altitude) and a 3 hour descent to our camping base on night 2.  Day 3 was another  long day to reach Aguascalientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, which we reached after dark at approx 6.30pm despite a 6am wake up call.  

Frozen stream on our way up to the Salkantay pass

End of day 1 Soraypmapa
Made it !
Group photo at 4,600m

It was a tough trek at times, mainly due to the altitude but long 10 hour hikes too.  On day one I had a little headache and throughout the trek while ascending shortness of breath is common, but I got away lightly as some people were nauseous, dizzy, fatigued due to the altitude.  The locals swear by coca leaves to ease altitude sickness,  you can get them in sweet form, drink coca tea or place a bunch of leaves in your mouth at your gums with the occasional chew and the juices from the leaves will do the job.  In addition to altitude sickness coca leaves are good for your digestive system, for keeping you alert and giving you energy and for suppressing your appetite.  Not a good idea to have them late at night as it is like having a coffee and you probably won’t be able to sleep for a few hours.  I think it takes something like 10kg of coca leaves to produces 1g of  cocaine (in addition to all the crap that’s added) but coca leaves are seen as being completely natural and medicinal which of course they are however it is illegal to bring coca leaves outside of Peru, Bolivia or Colombia.  

I chose the cheaper option for the trek so the final day, Machu Picchu day was still very full on. Instead of a quick 15 minute bus ride up Machu Picchu, I along with many others hiked up the 1,500 and something steps at 5am when the gates opened.  I spent a few hours looking around and taking in the truly amazing views and stories of the Inca’s and then hiked back down.  Instead of getting the pretty and very inviting train back to Cusco I had to walk 2.5 hours back to hydroelectrica to get a mini bus back to Cusco.  I was glad to crawl into bed at 11pm in Cusco with sore legs and a heavy head. 

6.15am and i made it to the top beating most of thr crowds

Later in the morning when the sun was out and shining on machu picchu

After the trek i would happily have pulled up a stool and had a nap beside him….

Lots of lovely vintage cars about

With Rio calling I made my way to Lima where I stayed one night couch surfing with Gabriel and Gina.  I had a pleasant day exploring Lima with them and then headed to the airport to catch a flight to Rio.  As I type I am about to land in Rio and in a few hours I will meet Mam, Dad, Darragh and Andrea (Nick’s girlfriend) at the airport as they arrive shortly after me (at least that’s the plan).

Butterflies are having a field day in my stomach, I can’t wait to see my family and tomorrow Nick is the first Irish swimmer in action in the 100m Breaststroke.  My phone/FB is full of messages wishing Nick luck and everyone at home is getting Olympic fever from Castlebar to Waterford.  It is the pinnacle of nearly every sporting career and the pressure and excitment of it all must be so difficult to manage as an athlete.  Let’s hope Rio can pull off a safe and exciting games and that Nick can swim his best and leave nothing behind.   I am beaming with pride, he is already a champion in my eyes.  Let’s go Nick!!

A day in Lima before my night flight to Rio
Just waiting on a mate

Chile, Sípo!

After a beautiful journey through the Cordillera mountains I arrived in Santiago.  Whether it was because I was on my own again or my first day in another country I was a bit overwhelmed by the city.   Eventually I got my bearings and found my way to the neighbourhood of Ñuñoa.  I stayed just two nights in Santiago de Chile but packed a lot into my short stay and broke in my new walking boots well!

Santiago de Chile and the Andes fom Cerro San Cristóbal

Every traveller I have met so far has said a lot of great things about Valparaiso and it didn’t disappoint.  It’s a city full of energy, music, art and colour.  
Cerro Concepcion, Valparaiso
  
The view of Valparaiso from Alan’s house, another great couch surfing experience
 

The streets of Valparaiso, Cerro Alegre (Happy hill)
  
Cerro Alegre (Happy Hill) Valparaiso …. “use the bike”

Valparaiso has a lot of character and there is loads to do.  One day I walked the promenade along to Caleta Portales and tried Ceviche for the first time.  It won’t be the last either, I love it! It is a Peruvian dish popular in Chile, it’s fish cooked/marinated in lemon and lime juice served with onion, chili flakes and coriander… All my favourite flavours.  I also managed to find some traditional Chilean folklore music, and had a fun night trying to dance ‘La Cueca’ with the locals. I spent my days wandering all the narrow paths and steep stairways of the city and always managed to get a little lost or find a new stairway or path back to my hostel.  A very cool city to visit!

I left Valparaiso for the small village of Ritoque where I had lined up a short stay doing a workaway with Pato and Felipe who have a  construction/architecture company together.  They both surf and are great guys.  It was described as a gardening project and help around the house but in reality there wasn’t much work involved.  A little bit of cleaning, painting and odd jobs but otherwise I chilled out loads, surfed, ran and walked the beach and drank gallons of tea by the fire.  A great week!  

Surfing at sunset in Vina del Mar, Chile
Felipe has also recently started making his own beer and it’s going down a treat with the locals so he’s starting a little artisan beer company which I helped out with too… and sampled of course 😉

The bottling of Felipes beer, it needs 15 days more in the bottle and then its ready to drink
So with time going by fast I decided to makes tracks North and not to hang about too much.  A night bus later and I found myself in Copiapo and went to the coast to visit the white sandy beaches of Bahia Iglesia for two days.
I couldn’t resist a quick dip, chilly in Chile!
And for my last stop in Chile I went to Iquique, a city with the Pacific Ocean on one side and  huge sand mountains on the other.  I couch surfed again, this time with a guy called Marcos and had a relaxing time by the beach & catching up on some sleep.  Marcos is a football coach so I went and played football with a bunch of 10 year olds one evening which was a great laugh! And I also finally got to taste (and learned how to make) the famous Pisco sours. A mix of Pisco (grape brandy) lemon juice, sugar and an egg white, delicious! 

I’m writing this from the beach in Iquique.  Tomorrow I’m headed for Peru, this involve a bus to Arica, a collectivo across the border to Tacna and another bus to Arequipa so it will be a long day.

 It has been a short stay for me here in Chile and I haven’t seen enough of the country.  Every single Chilean I have met has raved about the beauty of Patagonia so I have promised that some day I will come back and visit Patagonia, in the summertime (Jan – March).

The sand mountains of Iquique
For now I’m looking forward to another country and culture but Rio is on the brain!  Just 2 weeks to go until my flight to Rio and I cannot wait! Nick has got all his Irish kit and is headed to Brazil in the next few days to be all ready to go on the 6th August.  The whole Quinn clann and Andrea will land in Rio on the 5th and along with Mel & Enda, we’ll be ready to cheer Nick on!  Words can’t do my excitement any justice. Let’s go Nick! 
Nick will be swimming on 6th August (100m Breastroke) and the 9th (200m Breatsroke)