Copacabana, Bolivia sits high atop the Andes Mountains along the shores of mysterious Lake Titicaca. It is locally known as a vacation destination and tourist city for Bolivians and Peruvians as it lies only steps from the two countries' borders.
I arrived in Copacabana on December 24, 2012 with a goal of arriving just in time to celebrate the Christmas festivities in a new country. Only weeks before I had literally laughed out loud when I received the question of whether Christmas was celebrated on the 25th where I was. I thought it was a ridiculous questions and answered that of course it was. Well the joke was on me! I wondered around this little pueblo looking for a hostel, which was difficult to find because of the holiday, finally checking into a hillside hostel that rivaled any of the hostels I'd been in for months before that point. I went to the little restaurant and was surprised by a group of children coming in to sing and put on a little show. With my limited Spanish I eventually figured out that in Bolivia, Christmas is celebrated on December 24th and I was experiencing the Christmas tradition of children going door to door to sing and ask for presents. Kind of a mix of caroling and trick-or-treat. Totally adorable!
Almost 2 years ago I walked out of my corporate office for the last time ready to set out on the adventure of my life. I would be spending the better part of those 2 years traipsing through jungles, trekking across mountains, climbing ancient pyramids, diving the depths of the sea, meeting some of the best people I’ll ever know, falling in love with a variety of Latin cultures, busing my way across continents, and doing much much more. It still brings feelings of disbelief when I sit back and reflect on my travels.
I arrived home in December to take a brief break and get organized to set out for Asia, the region I was originally most excited to immerse myself in. Since arriving back in Texas, I’ve been having an internal struggle between the comfort of home and the challenge of adventure, between the familiarity of friends and family and the invigoration of new people and personalities, between the free spirit of travel and the desire to find someone to settle down with, and between coming home with a good amount of money still in the bank or utterly broke (hopefully not literally). I’ve gone back and forth on what I want, where I’m going, and what life will hold for me next. Finally I’ve reached at least a short term decision.
Ladrilleros, Colombia is a town that even most local Colombians haven't heard of. While it is on the mainland of the country, it does not have any roads leading in or out so the only way to reach it is by boat from Buenaventura to the port of Juanchaco. It's a semi popular vacation spot for residents of Cali as its only about 3 hours away and has a perfect climate with Pacific ocean breezes and waves. Juanchaco also boasts a full humpback whale season with tours offered by boat to see these giants.
I spent a relaxing week in the area and was the only Gringo the whole time. Now that's off the Gringo Trail!
The Galapagos Islands are famous for giant tortoises, a staggering diversity of birds, the birthplace of Charles Darwin’s theory ‘survival of the fittest’, and for those who’ve been or want to go as a really expensive vacation destination. I can attest to that after having spent 3 weeks in Galapagos, my budget is hurting. But did it really have to?
Like many others I chose to do Galapagos up right, splurging on an extravagant 8 day liveaboard dive cruise to Darwin and Wolf Islands. While most travelers don’t blow the budget in this way, most do take a cruise around the islands and that’s where much of the expense comes in. These cruises can run as cheap as $150 a day or as much as $400 or more a day. The difference in the price tags is determined by the class of the boat and type of accommodations and it really makes Galapagos out of reach for many people, especially backpackers and budget travelers.
The thing is, there’s a way for budget travelers to do Galapagos on the cheap and still enjoy most of what the islands have to offer.
I recently wrote about my first year of traveling the world and among other things, how difficult it is to answer the question ‘what’s been your favorite experience’. Well without any hesitation I can say I now have an answer. It took 14 months and much more than an average backpackers budget, but I can say that spending a week on a liveaboard dive boat in the Galapagos tops the list.
Over a year ago I quit my job in Corporate America, sold almost all of my possessions, rented out my house, and set out with my backpack to fulfill a lifelong dream to explore the world. It’s now been 15 months since I left work to start my gap year and almost 13 months since I officially set out traveling but somehow it doesn’t feel that long at all.
Most of the time I forget to really think about what I’m doing or how different my choice is from most people back home. The people I meet on the road are like me. They’re from all different countries and walks of life and they’ve all decided to take a break from their lives to see the world. True, it’s less common for an American to do it and rarer still for an American that previously had an established career, but I still forget how unique my choice is until days like today come around.
When I was in Honduras last year, I met a guy that told me this amazing story about taking a boat for days down the Amazon River. Sleeping in a hammock, seeing the scenery of the jungle wind by, and experiencing the tiny villages along the river banks just sounded like magic to me. If you've been following my journey for long you probably already know that’s exactly what I did.
There are plenty of places to head off into the Amazon Rainforest whether in Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, or Bolivia. I chose the northern section of Peru for a couple of reasons. First I wanted to see the actual Amazon River. There are hundreds of tributaries all feeding into the river but I wanted to see the greatness of the river as they all come together. Second, there was the mystic of Iquitos. It’s a rather large city deep in the Amazon of Peru and is the largest city in the world that cannot be accessed by any roads. To get there you only have two options, plane or boat.
Why have I never heard of Kuelap, the great mountain top fortress of the Chachapoyas people of Northern Peru? Its bigger, older, and higher than Machu Picchu but Machu Picchu steals all the glory in Peru.
Maybe it’s because the north of Peru is far less traveled than the southern portion of the country. Or possibly it’s because of the enormous investments the Peruvian government has made in restoration efforts at Machu Picchu. Whatever the reason, Kuelap is still a pretty scarcely traveled site making now the time to go if you crave the kind of off the map travel experiences I do. (it’s not even on Google Maps yet)
These are not your typical type of sarcophagus, which is fitting because nothing seems to be typical about the Chachapoyas people. They built massive cities atop mountains that more so resemble castles than the typical South America Pre-Inca Ruins you find.
The Chachapoyas buried their dead in remote cliffs that look impossible to access even today. They created large (some more than 3 meters or 9 ft all) sarcophagi to hold the bodies of their rulers perching them in impossibly treacherous locations to protect their remains.
Traveling to remote places off the normal tourist path really gets me excited so when I heard about the Pueblo de los Muertos outside of Chachapoyas, Peru I knew I had to go.
This site is an ancient burial ground for the rulers of the Chachapoyas people, a Pre-Inca civilization that lived throughout the cloud forests on the east side of the Andes just above the Amazon Jungle. It's perched high on a cliff side that isn't exactly easy to get to but its well worth the hike....and the heights.