Cartagena Day 1

We woke up bright and early to catch our flight to Cartagena, only an hour ten minute flight from Medellin. Would have been a 15 hour or so bus ride and the flight was very affordable.
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The airport was very nice & modern. The flight was great, very comfortable and we slept the whole way. We had had a pretty big last night there in Medellin so were hurting pretty bad, slept the entire flight.

We arrived in Cartagena, was very nice weather. Cartagena is a city right along the Northern Caribean coast of Colombia, reminds me a lot of Miami.
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We were still beat so relaxed when we finally got to our hostel.
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We walked a little around the city. There is a big wall around the city; I read in my guide book that the city was frequently attacked by pirates so we had to build a wall around it.
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We walked around the plaza by the beach a little bit, very touristy area and everything was over priced
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We went swimming on the beach right off the main road until 2 cops came to yell at us and told us we couldn’t swim there.
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I thought Cartagena was going to seem really safe since it was a touristy area (I read online Disney cruise ships come here) but it definitely seems less safe than Medellin. We are a few minutes by taxi away from the main tourist area (seen in photo above) which seems a lot more safe, but where we are really isn’t bad either.

We were surprised at how much of a night life there is here, there were so many backpacker gringos all on this one road we are on. There was a live show we went to watch which was pretty cool at one of the bars. Unfortunately our hostel was right in the center of the action which we had no idea, and we may as well have been sleeping in the bar since it was ridiculously loud all night. When we finally came in after 4 am the party was still happening outside.

It was really hard to find a hostel, everything had been booked up so we waited until we got here to get one. We switched hostels after the first night and are in a much nicer/quieter area now, only a 2 minute walk from the action around the corner.

We signed up for kite surfing lessons, which I am really excited for. For the next 2 hours the next 4 days we have lessons, at $550,000 soles total for a total of 8 hours of lessons.

Everything is extremely expensive here, hostels $30,000 pesos ish for a cheap one, or around 17 a night. Jet ski wanted $50 for a half hour. We are going to end up spending a good amount of money here in our 10 day stay.

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Medellin Day 2 (Pablo Escobar Tour)

The next day, we went on a Pablo Escobar tour. I didn’t know too much about the guy, except that he was a huge drug lord in Colombia during his time. However I learned a lot from this tour and found it very interesting, he had a profound effect on the city.

The tour was expensive; costed $60,000 pesos. Our other hostel had the tour for $35,000 but apparently with the more expensive tour we were able to meet his brother and see his house. We were too lazy to price shop so we just went with them.

A van with way too many seats and no leg space picked us up in the morning at 10.
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After stopping at a few more hostels and grabbing more people, we had a full van and started the tour. As we drove between places, the guide told us about the history.

Basically, Pablo Escobar was a huge cocaine giant from the late 70s until 1993 when he was shot and killed. He was on the Forbes list as the 3rd richest man in the world. He had I think something like 60 or 70 planes at the time of his death that did deliveries every single day and came back with cash. He supplied the US with 80% of their cocaine. He had 10 billion dollars to his name when he was finally shot and killed. He basically ran Medellin as he had more money and power than the government.

Our first stop was one of his first houses, where he would stay with 10-20 of his body guards. Apparently back then, it was a very rich/exclusive area, now it is just a broken down building off of a main road.
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Our next stop was the burial site of Pablo, as well as his cousins and uncles etc. He wanted to be burried in Medellin, as he believed that the city would watch over him, as he had watched over them during his life.

His life was very controversial. During his reign of power, he ordered the death of over 10,000 people in Colombia and another 40,000 outside Colombia. Anyone who go in his way he had killed. He had an entire airliner exploded, as well as set off bombs at the equivalent of the FBI to Colombia. Reporters who wrote things he didn’t like he had killed. Judges, police offers, anyone who had an anti-drug agenda.

He had 4 presidential candidates murdered; one in particular showed a lot of hope for Colombia and people were very excited about him and really liked him, and Pablo had him murdered during a speech.

This really pissed everyone off and the US started getting involved and there was a huge man hunt for him.
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However, at the same time Pablo was committing this horrible crimes, he was helping the country in a big way. He was using some of his money to help the poor who otherwise had no other way of living a decent life. He built tons of housing for the people for free. So the poor loved him and watched out for him. When he was getting close to getting caught, the people would alert him and he would run and hide somewhere else.

Finally he turned himself in and was sent to “jail”. Apparently this jail was a complete joke; it only had 3 walls, and was built according to his instructions. He continued to run his business from within the “prison” and could freely come and go as he pleased. It was a palace.. extremely luxurious. His friends came and visited him whenever he pleased.

He escaped from this “prison” and was eventually shot down, or killed himself, no one is certain.
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The grave site is located at the bottom of the hill of the city he built, so Pablo believes that they continue to watch over him.
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The next stop was Roberto Escobar’s house. This was his brother, who is still alive and well. There was sort of a museum built into his house, in the entry way, garage, and dining room. The rest of the house he lived in. Kind of strange.
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His house was located high up on a hill in an affluent area of the city (saw a Mercedes driving in the same way and a Porsche dealership across the street)

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Although the house was definitely nice, it was kind of falling apart here and there like everything else. There was a boat out front that was probably a brand new beautiful boat back in the day, but was just sitting in his yard falling apart now.

Pablo owned houses all over the world, and during the time when he was running all the time, he stopped at this house 5 different times to see his brother.

His brother had been arrested for 11 years and was released in 2002. Roberto and run the financial end of the business along side Pablo, they were very close. Although Pablo had no problem killing other people, he valued his very strongly and was very close to them.

During his stay in prison, someone from the government had sent him a letter bomb. It made him blind in his right eye and deaf in his right ear.
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The house still had bullet holes in the walls.
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And he showed us his secret hiding spots. Every house Pablo had had hiding spots for himself
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And his money
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This desk stashed away 2 million dollars, $1 million in each opening in the sides.

The first car Pablo bought for drug running was still in the garage.
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Also in the garage was a motorcycle. The significance of this motorcycle is this: One day during a run from the police Pablo ran across a kid with a motorcycle (above photo). He told the kid who he was and that he needed his motorcycle. The kid complied and Pablo got away safely.

Later, Pablo found out who the kid was and gave him a $50,000 truck. He was super loyal and I guess his word was never broken to anyone.

There was a photo of his first airplane
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This guy had so much money; apparently he loved soccer. He used his soccer team to hide his drug money. For this reason, they had tons of money to work with to obtain the best players all over the world, and paid them very well to keep them.

He was friends with a large drug lord at the time in Mexico, and he told him to fly his favorite players to his ranch. They both compiled teams with the best soccer players around the world. They would then bet on the games 1-2 million dollars, on top of paying the players extremely well.

Roberto stuck around for a while to answer our questions, the guide translated back and forth for us.

Some questions that were brought up was how he was financially, and if he was worried about being attacked by anyone.

Roberto’s answer was that he was all set financially, and for 3 or 4 more generations. He had come to an agreement with the government that they could keep half the money and negotiated his jail sentence. All the proceeds from the tour are used for a fund towards Colombian people with HIV. I guess he wanted a chance to do some good with his life.

He said he is not worried about being hurt by anyone, as most people don’t recognize him and the ones that do realize he is a changed person and realize he is now doing good with his life.

Overall a really cool experience and worth doing.

After the tour, we met up with Jose as he didn’t want to go on the tour. We hit up the science museum/aquarium which was pretty cool.
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Medellin Day 1 (Arvi Park)

We stayed in an area called Poblado in Medellin. According to our guide book, this was an exclusive area for the wealthy that later on the city expanded and it became part of the city. However it still remains a wealthy area.

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The first night we stayed at a hostel in a different area, but they only had one night available so we had to move. This hostel was pretty nice, huge.. could hold up to 100 people. It had a pool, basketball court, etc. Although when we were there there didn’t seem to be too many people around.

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Medellin was a much more touristic city than Cali. There were plenty of other travelers and hostels around, and plenty of tours/activities to do. Although we only stayed 2 days and 3 nights, we kind of wished we had just skipped Cali and stayed in Medellin. The city was surprisingly nice and safe, I read it is the safest big city in Colombia.

The first day we took the metro to an area called Santo Domingo. The metro system is very new and modern.

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It costs $3000 pesos to get anywhere along the line, one way. Included in the metro is a gondola system that gets to areas up in the hilly part of the city, where Santo Domingo is. So the gondola in itself is kind of a tourist attraction, and very inexpensive.

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As we later learned in our Pablo Escobar tour, most of the area below the gondola was the housing that Pablo gave to the poor during hiss existence.

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Along the metro, we kept getting awful stenches. Finally it clicked to me that it must be garbage, since when I did the tour of the slums in Brazil, it had the same exact stench. Although the metro was very modern, it ran through very poor areas of the city so I am sure that is where the smell came from.

Santo Domingo was one of those areas.

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The gondola went up even higher, but that section was shut down when we were there. We got off at an area called Arvi Park. Here there was a small park and a little overview of the city.

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This was the only area we went to that I felt like I had to keep my eyes open and be a little careful, but we weren’t there for very long.

On the way back, home, we decided we would stop and check out the aquarium/science museum, but it turned out it was closed.

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We headed back to our hostel, and drank at the hostel that night.

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I still wasn’t feeling quite right, my last recovering day from my sickness. Went to bed fairly early.

Cali

We took am 8 hr bus from Pasto to Cali. Busses are relatively very expensive here, costed us about $23 for the 8 hr ride. In Ecuador they usually run about $1/hr.

I woke up feeling a little queasy, and was worried about the bus ride as most of the busses here don’t have bathrooms.

As it turns out the worrying was plenty justified.

I couldn’t think of a worst place to be sick than a hot, cramped bus on windy mountain road. Thank god the bus stopped fairly frequently. There was a bathroom on the bus that I managed to only use once and I don’t think anyone appreciated it. Outside of that, the drive was very beautiful through the mountains.
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Although we were advised not to take night busses at all in Colombia, a guy from Alaska we met on the bus told us just the stretch between the cities of Popoyan and Pasto was bad to take at night.

We arrive in Cali and the city was much nicer that we had anticipated.

Our hostel was pretty boring; there was only us 4 and a couple other guys there.
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We were mostly there for the nightlife because we heard it was great. However with no one else in our hostel (and it didn’t look promising at other hostels either) we only had ourselves to go out with. We had heard there just really weren’t many tourists in Cali.

There was a clear division of classes in Cali; the first club we went out to had a $50,000 peso (25 USD) cover to get in. We didn’t go in but a couple other guys from the hostel did and they said everyone was ritzy and stuck up.

So we headed to a couple other locations which were much more reasonably priced, and finally ended up in an area called Menga. This place was pretty cool but we still felt out of place.

The next day we headed to the Cali zoo as we heard it was really good and weren’t sure what else to do.
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We headed downtown to grab some lunch; busy area.
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Started to rain
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We spent the remainder of the day just killing time and hanging out; it was very hot and humid here and if we had known of something to do we weren’t very motivated.
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We were staying in San Antonio area which was also a wealthy area. Since it was walking distance we went out here a couple times to eat and go to the bars here, which were a little expensive but not ridiculous (~$3 for a beer).
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We walked a little bit around San Antonio and looked around
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The next day we went to see the big Jesus in overlooking the city (Cristo). It was an easy 12000 peso cab ride all the way to the top.
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We hiked down from the monument a little ways and there were some really nice views.
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We tried to go out again in San Antonio on Saturday night but we just weren’t feeling it. Instead we headed back played some poker.

We made plans and booked flights for the rest of the trip; $175 multi city flight from Medellin to Cartagena, then a leg from Cartagena to Bogota where Jose and I fly home from and Chris and Jeremy head back to Guayaquil from.

We are catching a day bus from Cali to Medellin which is another 8 hours and $48000 pesos. However this bus has AC and wifi, is way more comfortable and the road seems to be fairly straight so an easy ride.

Medellin is more touristic and there should be more fun and travelers there.

We were going to stop at a national park (Reserva Natural de Yotoco) between Cali and Medellin but after booking the flight we just don’t have enough time.

Tulcan, Ecuador/Ipiales, Colombia border crossing rental cars in Ecuador

We left Misahualli by taking a bus to the neighboring small city Tena, then taking a 6 hour bus ride back to Quito. The bus ride was pretty miserable, stopping every few minutes to pick up passengers and waiting in city traffic.
When we got back to Quito we met up with Jose in the hostel. He updated us that he had been robbed (again..) as he was robbed when I met him last year in Buenos Aires. Bad luck I guess?

Apparently he was with a girl in the hostel going to see a city monument and 4 guys with knives jumped them. They made away with Jose’s sunglasses and the girl’s ipad and camera.

We really didn’t do much as we had been doing stuff non stop between the jungle and Banos. It felt good to just chill out.

The next day we started looking into our trip to Colombia. We picked up another guy named Chris from Switzerland staying in our hostel so we are now rolling in a group of 4. Works well for taxis etc.

We were careful with our plans to Colombia as we had heard a lot about it. Some girls I met from the peace core said that they won’t allow the peace core to enter Colombia for safety reasons. They told us they heard about a bus that got robbed and made everyone strip naked on the side of the road. They said that we shouldn’t take any busses at all in Colombia.

I had heard from a couple other people that if you take busses, only to take day busses. We started looking into rental cars but Jeremy had trouble finding places to rent as most of the major rental chains don’t operate in Colombia and we are not allowed to take a car from Ecuador over the border.

We ended up deciding to take a day bus just over the border.

So we woke up early this morning and jumped on a bus to Tulcan, the border city in Ecuador. The bus ride was $5 and 5 hours.

As soon as we arrived in Tulcan there were guys outside our bus asking if we needed to exchange currency. We were a little apprehensive about exchanging money with these guys on the street but we didn’t really have a choice since we had no Colombian Pesos on us, so we exchanged $20. The exchange rate is 1800:1 USD so everything costs thousands of Pesos.
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Once in Tulcan, we had to catch a cab to immigrations ($3 about 20 minutes from Tulcan)
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The border crossing was surprisingly easy and un-sketchy. First we had to enter the Ecuadorian immigrations to get an exit stamp rental cars.
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There were many other gringos in there, and we waited in line about 30 mins
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After exiting this building, we walked about 2 minutes across a bridge into Colombia
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We had to enter the Colombia immigrations to get our entry stamp and visa
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Once over the border we fumbled around for a bit and jumped in a taxi to the border town on the Colombian side, Ipiales, about 10 minutes.
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Ipiales wasn’t too sketch, the cab dropped us at the bus station. Here we were able to withdraw from an ATM and found out about busses for tomorrow. However, we didn’t want to stay in Ipiales and opted to instead head 1.5 hour North to the next larger city, Pasto rental.
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We jumped on a small shuttle van/bus which was 6000 pesos per person or around $3 each.

The ride was beautiful, I couldn’t really catch good photos from the van but very scenic. We were all in high spirits, excited, and in a good mood, despite the long day of traveling.
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Pasto is a pretty run down city, and I think we all felt fairly uncomfortable.
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When we arrived it was just starting to get dark and a policeman told us not to go outside at night. So we walked just around the corner from the bus station and were surprise to find a very nice hotel for $70,000 pesos or around 35 a night with 4 beds. Hot shower and cable!
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We just hung in tonight got some local cheap food at the place right next door.
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We did some planning. What we plan to do is catch an 8 hour bus bright and early tomorrow morning to Cali. Cali is supposed to be a really sketchy city so we don’t think we will spend much time here. From Cali we will head North to Medellin spend a few days there and fly to Cartagena on the Carribean coast. From there we will fly to Bogota where Jose and my flight home is from, and Chris and Jeremy will fly back to Quito.

Misahualli Day 3-4-5 (Amazon Jungle Trip)

We signed up for 3 day/2 night jungle tour through a travel agency in Misahualli. It just so happened to be the agency our hostel in Banos recommended.

Jose decided that he didn’t want to do the jungle tour so he headed out with Katie and Cali back to Quito. It was a good plan since he likes cities and had not yet been to Quito, and I had already spent 3 days there.

So it was just me and Jeremy. We negotiated the rate from $45 a day to $40 a day, or $120 total for the trip.

They supplied us with all the food we needed and boots. It was very muddy so we definitely needed the boots.

We started out the first day with 3 guides, a Swiss couple, Jeremy and I. The swiss couple were only on a day trip so one of the guides was for them.
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The trip was surprisingly very well planned. We started out with a 20 minute ride in the back of a pick up to the trail entry. We hiked 3 hours and the main guide Javier stopped along the way to show us all sorts of plants
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Trees (rubber tree)
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and insects. They let an ant clip onto Jeremys ear
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This was a giant worm hole
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Termite nest
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After the 3 hour hike, we stopped for a half hour break and had a simple lunch by a stream
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After lunch we continued our hike and saw some funky funguses
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And more insects
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We went slightly out of the way to stop to see a giant 700 year old tree
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After crossing a bamboo bridge
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We arrived in the village where we were greeted by curious children
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At this point one of the guides and the Swiss couple took off in a canoe to head back to town. We were about 15kms into the jungle.
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We continued on about 15 more minutes until we finally reached our camp.
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Our camp was a simple shack with a generator for the lights and the kitchen.
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It was outfitted to fit 20 or so people but it was only the two guides, Jeremy and I. We were exhausted all day; it was so hot and humid it drained us. After a delicious spaghetti dinner we headed straight to bed. The rooms were not screened in so we had individual screens over our beds.
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We really needed the nets, the bugs were incredibly bad. I had 100% deet bug spray and thought I was prepared. It turned out the only way to get away from them was to either be in the river down the hill from our site
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or in our screened in bed. Long sleeves helped but they still bit my neck. Plus it was just so hot to wear long sleeves. The locals aren’t bothered by the sand files, they have thick skin that is used to them they can’t bite through. The mosquitoes came out at dawn and dusk to add to the bites.

We went to bed no later than 10 and slept at least 11 hours. Exhausted.

The next day, we went for a swim while the guides cooked breakfast. We went for a short 1 hr hike to a mirador where we could have an overlook of the city.
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On the trail, Javier showed us some more medicinal plants, herbs, insects, and fruit.
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Javier demonstrated the weaving of the palm tree branches that the locals use for their roofs. Last 10 years!
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After the hike, we were completely drained again from the heat, so we napped..
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After lunch we went tubing. We hiked back up through the village

and took a canoe across the river. We jumped in for a 45 minute ride down stream. It was beautiful.
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So lush and green and relaxing. After napping once again, we had dinner.

After dinner, we headed out for a night hike. We would sit silently with our lights out and wait to see if any animals came by. None did. He would turn on the flashlight and show us tiny nocturnal spiders and other insects. Just sitting there in the dark was amazing with all the noises of diversity. The sky was so bright with stars.

We did run across a baby bird that couldn’t fly but not too much else.
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Our final day was pretty laid back. The idea was we were to visit with the village people. They showed us around their village including the community building
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The classrooms
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and we met the kids. Absolutely adorable. Javier gave us some animal crackers to give to the children as they formed a line.
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They had them sing a song to us, and we in turn sang back “the wheels on the bus go round and round” and “this is the song that never ends”
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We couldn’t help but laugh about how rough they played; one kid grabbed rock in his hand and slammed it over his friends head. Later on the same kid threw a rock at another kid. Violent!
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After playing with them for a little while, we went back across the river to their house.

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We met up with the rest of the family and also gave them animal crackers. It was clearly a treat for all of them. We gave some to a drunk guy and he hogged the rest of the bag.
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We packed all our things up and Javier quickly tried to show us how to pan for gold (but did not find any)
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We were initially going to take a canoe back to town, but our second guide randomly left on the second day. He said he had some sort of meeting and Javier was not to pleased about it. It was also tough for Jeremy and I because the other guide spoke english and did a lot of translating for us.

We told Javier we still wanted to take the canoe, and we weren’t sure why but he made us pay $20 to rent it from the family. It was well worth it as we had a nice relaxing hour and a half ride back.
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But of course, after a little while we decided it was down river and Javier could handle the steering so we napped 🙂
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Emerging back to civilization definitely felt weird. It had seemed much longer than 3 days. We jumped in the back of a pickup and made our way the rest of the way to Mishualli.

Overall it was an amazing experience. Although at times the bugs were so bad I couldn’t wait to get back, in the end the bug bites will be gone and I will still have great memories.

If I were to do it again, I would definitely take the trip from Lago Igrio. It is deeper in the jungle where there are piranhas and more wildlife. I was disappointed we didn’t really see any animals, and we had to wait until the villager’s dogs stopped barking at night to hear the wildlife. The locals were also always buzzing up and down the river on motorboats so I felt we could have had a better jungle experience.

Misahualli day 2

The monkeys in this town are awesome. We woke up and headed to the main square and played with the monkeys for a good hour or two.

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They just run around and let you pet them or whatever. They crawl all over you. so awesome!

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The problem is, they take everything in sight. One crawled into my lap

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A few seconds later, another one snatched my sunglasses off my head from behind and ran away with it. He had them for a good 10 minutes and kept bending them, chewing on them, even tried putting them on. Hilarious.

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When I tried to get them, yelling at the monkey, another monkey behind me was in on it, he kept slapping me in the side of the head from behind and hissing at me

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We tried bribing him with a banana, but he still kept the glasses. Eventually one of the locals tossed him and egg and they immediately dropped my glasses (bent out of shape and both the lenses fell out).

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It was our theory that the monkeys must be trained so they steal things, because they know as a reward they will get an egg.

So hilarious. They were cheap glasses so I really didn’t care that much. But after that I really watched my shit. He actually got a hold of my glasses later in the day but Jose yelled at me so I grabbed them before he got them.

A couple of them had babies riding on their back. So ridiculously cute.

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We walked along the river and went swimming most of the afternoon.

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We had to go to Tena to go to the ATM and get some lunch.

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At night, we played basketball and soccer with some locals.

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Played some more with the monkeys

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We went out to dinner, took like 2 hours to get our food. We booked a 2 night 3 day trip to the jungle. Jose decided he doesn’t want to go so he is heading back to Quito with our Colorado friends we met on the bus, Cali and Katie. So only Jeremy and I are going. It was supposed to be $35 a night but since Jose wasn’t going it is $40 a night. Our last hostel recommended this place.

Should be interesting.. pretty excited. We will be doing a 5 hour hike tomorrow then staying in a local village. Next day more hiking and river rafting. I think at one point we take a boat. Battery dying, will touch base in few days!