Entering the southern hemisphere

On that 25th of February 2019, we made it to the border of Colombia. We spent the last pesos we had on fruits and gave the rest to Venezuelans migrants stuck at the border.

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For us, it only took 30 min to cross the border. On the other side, we did not find any sucres (ancient money of Ecuador) but American dollars, now the main currency of Ecuador.
Our first stop was in a city close to the border, Tulcan, famous for its cemetery full of great plant sculptures.

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We hitchhiked few cars and discovered a dramatic landscape. Ecuador, the famous volcanoes country, was just showing up first summits.

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We decided to go hiking next day and were invited by a local (in the city of Cotacachi) in his house. He spoke perfect Spanish but also Quechua, a language spoken long before the conquistadors arrived.

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He was farming and breeding a lot of animals for living. Among them were cuyes (guinea pigs) sold for 15 dollars in restaurants. We were quite shocked (but mostly amused) since in Europe, people would never eat them. Here, it’s considered to be a treat.

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After that beautiful night, we had all the energy needed to hike the 4000 m volcano.

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Even though it’s a very high altitude hike, it was fairly easy. After only a few minutes, we could access to a beautiful lagoon.

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Far in the horizon, the Cotacachi volcano finally emerged.

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Giving us an outstanding view when we would turn around and look behind.

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Exhausted by the hike, we put the tent in the park in the “protected waterproof” area for tents. We faced a huge storm during the night. Next time, we would try to get a stronger roof.

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The storm passed and revealed the 5790 m volcano Cayambe far in the horizon.

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It did not take long for us to consider climbing it. Few cars later, we were at the base of the volcano and started the ascent.

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Learning from last night, we stopped early and slept in that tiny cabin as storms were already approaching.

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Just like in Colombia, people were not really used to hikers. Worst, they didn’t understand why we were walking: it is “lejos” !
Therefore, anytime we walked, locals would stop and offer us a ride, especially at that time: we were in electoral period.

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One of the candidates, Jose Maria, wanted to improve road conditions of that area. He gave us a ride and filmed everything to show that tourists can’t even drive on that road and have to walk…

 

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Well, even with his off road vehicle he could not make it to the top… Left at 4500 m, we kept hiking to the beginning of the glacier around 4900 m.

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We finally made it to the very bottom of the glacier, stayed a few minutes, gazed at that natural wonder and went down fast as altitude sickness was kicking in.

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We took a rest with a few Ecuadorians in the refuge. The were horrified at the holes I had in my pant (bought in North Carolina a year ago) and helped me sewing it.

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After a freezing night in the tent, we went down through the paramo to the city.

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To celebrate that climb, we decided to get a few beers. Unfortunately, it was a tiny city where the only place to go out was… a cock fight area.
Not big fans of this, we went out of curiosity to make an opinion out of it. Well, there was a lot of adrenaline out there.

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Next day, we left on the way to Quito and got a ride with two really cool students.

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The middle of the world capital (Quito stands right on the Equator line) is really beautiful. The city center just looks like a small village.

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Our visit coincided with the annual carnival ! The whole city was out.

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We stayed 3 nights, relaxed and decided it was time to rest a little bit. We found a volunteering offer in Olon, a small city by the coast.

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We were there the next day and discovered our next playground for the next 2 months.

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We could not believe how fast the landscape had changed. Suddenly, no more mountains but endless beaches and tropical, wet and hot weather…

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We had to take care of a Macedonian-Ecuadorian hostel on the beach. We were the only volunteers and had a complete control of the place, since the owner showed up every two weeks to check if everything went smoothly…

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We organized in a way to only work 2h a day each . No supervision, free schedules, free bed and daily (tiny) salary. What to ask more ? Well, maybe a tiny kitty…

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After 2 months and a half of traveling, that was our first stop, Iulia and I.
We enjoyed cooking and eating healthy food again. There were no supermarkets but food trucks delivered fruits and veggies in the street everyday at a very affordable price.

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However, the real reason of that break was… surfing. I could not wait to try first waves in South America.

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I got myself a board for a cheap price and decided to teach Iulia how to surf.

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We went everyday for the next two months.

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Olon’s beach was a nice beach break with a 1 m – 1,5 m swell almost everyday.

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When tired of surfing, we could just explore cliffs around and check out all shells and starfish lying around…

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Enjoying those long sunsets every night.

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When our arms were too tired, we biked around to relax and see some nice spots to check out sunsets.

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A few weeks passed… and we really started to feel back home.

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We made long term friendship with the managers of the hostel…

20190420_160001We also had a lot of local friends ! Indeed, in our hostel, we had very few tourists. Most people were from Ecuador and lived in Guayaquil, going on a weekend to chill at the beach.

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And they were right ! Ecuador beaches are among the most beautiful ! However, if you really want to enjoy their beauty, it’s always better from the surrounding jungle mountains.

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From the top of those hills, you get the best view on the ocean.

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We were now in April. We had already been working at Olon for over a month and a half. We decided it was time to go.

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We enjoyed our last surf sessions and sunsets together.

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We left Olon on the way to the south. Since Alaska, always south, always.

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Even after 2 years of travel, it was still very hard to say goodbye to people and to those very specific chapters of our lives.

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We were back on a very hot road and already missed the comfort of our daily shower…

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We hitchhiked again. Most people put us behind the truck where we would breathe a little bit !

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We had a last night on a nice beach (Ayampe).

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And decided to go straight to the mountains after a night under a heavy rain, hot temperature inside the tent and hordes of hungry mosquitoes.

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The road to the Andes was wonderful. Tropical fruits were everywhere.

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We had some of the most originals rides ever…

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We’d better not crash with that one…

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It took us a good 3 days to make it to the mountains. We had a lot of trucks driving us all around and explaining us their lives, jobs and how the country had changed since the dollar was the national currency.

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From 0 m to 4000 m in only few hundreds kilometers…

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We went back to our long pants and jackets very fast. Our first hike was the famous Quilotoa lagoon, a salty lake inside a volcano at 4000 m.

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We slept inside it and explored it with a canoe that had been left there.

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That was something incredible.

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We also went back to our old lifestyle of sleeping in people’s garden or fields. Likewise Colombia, locals were super welcoming (and quite curious ^^).

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We kept hitchhiking south under the very bright sun of Ecuador. Between 11 am to 3 pm, it was hard to stand under it.

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The more south, the tinier were villages. We slept where we could (in the picture below, we slept behind a police station).

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As the country is touristic, we wanted to escape main hikes and went to parque nacional Sangay, a beautiful high altitude paramo going all the way to the Amazon.

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We took a 3 days hike to a beautiful glacier lagoon.

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It was going from 3000 m to 4500 m altitude. Even though it was very high, there was still tropical jungle all around us.

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Resulting in very wet ground.

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We walked as far as we could until it was too dark. We had a unique sunset (followed by another storm).

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The biggest pleasure of waking up after walking at night is to discover where you have actually slept.

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We finally made it to the lagoon where glaciers were melting into this lake. The volcano Altar, 5300 m high, lies just behind those clouds.

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The water from the lake slowly empties towards the valley below us.

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Coming back from the hike was demanding and Iulia got a bit sick. We relaxed in a tiny mountain city for a few days before starting another trek.

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In that part of Ecuador (province of Chimborazo), a lot of indigenous people living  there and spoke Quechua (this picture is not from me as I did not want to disturb them with my camera) .

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Step by step we got to know them and discovered how strong, ancient and coded their culture is.

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A few days passed and we were ready to go. Even at that altitude, we were still getting those amazing fruits from the tropical land.

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All those extra vitamins gave an extra boost to Iulia and put us back on the road!

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At that moment, we had only 2 weeks left in Ecuador before our visa expired. We decided to do a last long trek called the Inca trail.

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We bought a lot of food in the local market and started that long 38 km hike.

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Once again, it was a beautiful paramo crossing a couple of passes and valleys. At night, it was really cold but we could always find some wood to make fire.

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Next day, all vegetation was gone to let place to a dramatic landscape.

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The only thing we met were caws and wild horses…

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Followed by shepherds.

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We took some rest and dried our clothes in the sheepfolds we crossed…

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and kept hiking to the summit.

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The view was worth it.

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We had another night in the wilderness and kept hiking down to the next pueblo.

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Best sunsets are not always by the ocean…

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Just before making it to the city, we found ruins of an advanced Inca post used many centuries ago.

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We took our last rest in the beautiful city of Cuenca and got a very cheap room (6 dollars each) with one of the best view of the cathedral.

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We also found the biggest indoor market we had seen so far in South America… Anything could be found out there.

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We only had one more week so we rushed a bit to the border.

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The Amazon was the only part we hadn’t seen in Ecuador. Therefore, we decided to take the further east road to leave the country. It was basically going all the way from the Andes to the jungle.

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It took us 2 days through this dirt road to make it close to the border.

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A truck driver gave us a 7 h ride and dropped us almost in the last city of Ecuador.

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We decided to take a chiva for the last ride to exit the country. We only had them in Colombia and really enjoyed the experience.

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The view always looks better when there is no windows !

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3 months after entering the country, we finally reached the border with Peru…

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There was simply a river and the only thing we had to do was to cross the bridge. See you on the other side !

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5 thoughts on “Entering the southern hemisphere

  1. L’Amérique du Sud, telle qu’on la rêve !
    Les couleurs, les paysages, la lumière, ses habitants, les alpagas…
    On se croirait dans Tintin au Pays de soleil.
    Vous avez une sacrée forme pour parcourir autant de kilomètres à cette altitude.
    Ce n’est pas le Club Med !
    Que va nous réserver le Pérou ?
    Mamammama

    Like

  2. Des paysages à couper le souffle! Iulia à l’air tellement cool comme toi! J’espère que tout se passe bien et que vous profitez bien!

    Like

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