Category Archives: Street Dogs

Guatemala Dream Days

Guatemala is strikingly different than the other countries we had blown through in the past week or so. It’s startlingly green and so jungley. One of the most beautiful countries to drive through, even if the roads leave a bit to be imagined. Despite its recent, and pretty disturbing past, Guatemalans are some of the nicest people we have met so far. They remind us of Colombia! Extremely eager to share whatever they have with you, and welcome you to their tables without a second thought.

Although we literally had no plans when crossing the border, Antiqua was a good accidental first stop. Pretty much the perfect city; all walkable, all colonially beautiful, and endless things to explore. The gringos may be plentiful, but they haven’t destroyed its character yet!

To top off all these awesome parts to the city, is absolutely free and secure camping within the Tourism police campground. We counted upwards of 6 Overlanders either parked or camping there, including these two who we exchanged tons of advice with as they are going south and we are going north. They are traveling for 5 years. We aren’t jealous.

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We upped out street food intake by 100% while in the city, and also we assume our parasite intake. Something is still mucking around with our insides (2.5 weeks later), but at least it seems friendly. It did cause some problems at the campsite, as you are not allowed to use their bathrooms and must run like crazy down the street 3 blocks to the dominos pizza.

Maybe it was this tostada that gave us the friends…

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In any case,  slowly the arepas are getting thinner as we travel north, turning into tortillas… and slowly Mexican food like tacos and tostadas are filling our souls.

The food market in Antiqua is fucking fantastic. Not only price range, but also simply what they have on offer. So many weird and amazing things like dried chilis, candle makers, candy makers, old lady mushroom sellers, and seamstresses whose primary market is frilly aprons. Seriously, every single Guatemalan lady must have the frilliest of aprons. So naturally, does Jessica.

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The prices are the cheapest we have seen yet, definitely get much cheaper the farther you get away from the front most visited areas. We got this carrot, which compares in size to a small child for 2 Q (30 cents). Also a pound of beans for 4 Q (60 cents).

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Because we loved the city so much, and we wanted to stay one more night and enjoy the new bike cop recruits do more awesome bike obstacle courses around the police compound (full set of orange safety gear on, of course), we planned a day of being touristy. This meant using the handy map we got at the border (thanks friendly border guard) and targeting the oldest most beautiful colonial buildings in town. Then taking pictures. Do we remember what they are? Nope! We totally lost the map.

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DSC02104We do remember the Church and  of Capuchins though, one of the only places we paid entry into due to recommendations by both our mothers. It is worth the $7  to get in. Even for the uneducated like ourselves, seeing the remaining structure, and living quarters (arranged in a perfect circle of small rooms) was interesting.

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At the end of our Tourist day, I jumped in front of a fountain (again) and Brett was commandeered by a bunch of highschool girls for a photo-shoot-with-the-cute gringo, obviously. No big deal.

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We also made friends, and nearly adopted, the police dog seen below. He followed us all throughout town one day, staying with us as we worked outside the coffee shop for hours. Whining when we didn’t pet him enough. It was a close call not taking him.

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We have a brief mention for El Paredon, a surfside village in the country. The Pacific Coast of Guatemala is seriously underdeveloped; leaving it at once stunning and untouched, but also in extreme poverty. Since the surf is out of season, we were the only ones at Paredon Surf Camp, but still it was lovely. Met some wonderful locals, and Brett got in some good surfing and kayaking while Jessica threw her back trying to drag him into the waves.

DSC02184A good place to be laid up in a hammock though. Great view.

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Colombian Essentials

Wifi – 4 / 5

Our opinions may change as we travel (its been a few years for both of us to see the affects of wifi on traveling), but Colombia has wifi everywhere.  Literally. Buses, bus stations, nearly every hostel or hotel, even city parks have wifi. The quality is not always consistent, but wifi is ever present.

Transportation – 4 / 5

From our wide range of international experience, Colombia has efficient, uncrowded and extremely friendly transportation options.

Buses for example are nearly always on time. Most have wifi, none have been over-crowded. The classic chicken buses do exist here, but generally most people take privately owned and operated buses/collectivos between cities. Or for longer travel, fancy aircon mega buses. Drivers of all these options are less crazy then we have encountered elsewhere, but there have been a few who are causing nightmares for us still.

Transportation terminals have been clean, safe and everyone is very willing to help you figure out where you want to go and how – even if Spanish is not your forte.

City transportation as well has been easy to figure out and efficient (save Medellin, which I am sure if efficient but operates on privately run city buses which have no schedule or map as far as we can figure out…. and therefore we  literally just did not figure out the buses).

Road Conditions – 3.5 / 5

Although we are not overlanding yet, we have been on a lot of roads, so we might as well report on them. Road conditions are relatively good. Highways are smooth and fast. There are many tolls (sometimes our bus crosses upwards of 5 in a 6 hour journey). Seem to cost between around $5CDN on average.

But there are so many god forsaken speedbumps, sometimes in the middle of a highway that was otherwise traveling smoothly. Colombians care more about their shocks then their breaks, be warned! But, drivers mainly follow a set of common rules, and traffic patterns are pretty easy to grasp.

Not many military/police checkpoints on the roads, for example you may encounter one on an all day journey. However, in regions where there is more guerrilla activity the police activity also increases. We have not encountered any problems, they will check your info maybe your bags but leave you alone. Police here are someone you want to run to not away from in 99% of cases.

Food  – 2.5 / 5

As reported before, the food in Colombia is great but limited. Mostly the same mixed plates (which are really good) but consistently chicken/pork/carne, rice, platain, ensalada, aprepa. Repeat. Also, if spending the day in transport or on the move it becomes more restricted to deep fried everything, mostly bread.

Fruits here have been spectacular and would get a 5/5 on their own right. That being said, if you are a vegetarian, or worse a vegan, you will basically need to cook every single meal yourself. Even if you are not, you will likely end up cooking many meals simply to avoid scurvy. Love you Colombia! But Veggies in restaurants are not your strong point

Safety  – 4 .5 / 5

If we were reporting on only our time here, we would report a 5/5 . We have never encountered a thief (yet), a corrupt official (yet), or a threatening situation (yet). We have been very mindful of going out late at night and what we bring with us, and avoiding some higher risk areas.

That being said we have heard from friends about a terrifying trip across the Ecuadorian border where the bus broke down and the entire bus spent a few nail biting moments screaming at the driver to “GO GO GO” to avoid any attention from guerrillas (this was at night, not traveling in a convoy which is not the norm). We have also heard of a friend of a friend being robbed at gun point in Cali (thankfully he literally just dropped his pants to show he had nothing), and we have also been warned by literally everyone in Medellin to get out of Centro before 6PM before the real sketch creeps in.

Street Dogs – 5 / 5

In her many years of loving, and petting street dogs around the world, Jessica has never come across as happy and as healthy of dogs as run around Colombia. The dreaded mange is seemingly absent, dogs love all people and seem to be loved by most. Restaurant owners take the scraps right off our tables to feed their favorites. We’ve even come across happy street pigs (Mompos) and happy street roosters.  Interbreeding between dog breeds has led to some amazing creations here, but street dogs can also be of a high pedigree. Many friendly pit bulls, or retrievers roam the streets and you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the feisty little chihuahuas marching up and down the road like they own it.

 

 

The Real Coffee

Feb 21-23
Salento

The funny thing about Colombian coffee in Colombia, is that it is absolute garbage. They ship nearly all of their good beans outside the country to get roasted.  The second class beans stay for Colombians to drink. The general rule of getting coffee in Colombia is that you will receive Nescafe. Always get cafe con leche (coffee with milk) and add heaps of sugar so you can’t actually taste the coffee.

Due to this strange but true fact, we were extremely excited to visit the Zona Cafetera south of Medellin. This is heart of coffee in Colombia. We stopped in Salento for three nights, stayed at Estrella Sin Frontiers, a hostel recommended to us by friends located just outside the main streets of the town. A bit of a bamboo jungle with the most genuine french owner.

Coffee in this town was amazing. Dark, Strong and Cheap. Also more gringos in this town then we have really seen in most of Columbia, probably drawn in by coffee too, we are very predictable.DSC01000

We walked a few hours outside the town down a winding dirt road through the coffee plantations to go see what actually happens from start to finish for coffee production. We met up with our new best friend Pollo, one of the many happy town dogs, along the way. He spent the whole day with us.

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Coffee farming is highly manual. All the way from planting, to picking, to sorting is done by hand. A single bean must be touched by a human so many times before it even goes for roasting. We picked our own beans like good little gringos, saw the separation process, planted a few beans, and then tasted delicious delicious tinto at the end. Pollo came to, and angrily barked at all the local pickers ( I think he is racist).

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This is our tour guide Hilary. She explained that when coffee first came from Africa to Colombia, it was giant. This made it hard for pickers to access all the beans. It also wasn’t hardy to some of the local diseases, and therefore they have since created a hybrid plant that is both more hardy to certain diseases and “Colombian Size” ie. Short. You can see that both Hilary and the plant are Colombian Size.DSC00889

DSC00914This is a small version of the separating machine that separates the shell and inner fruit from the coffee seeds.

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The weather cleared up (it had been on and off raining for a few days), just in time for us to visit the Valle de Cocora. This valley is a protected by the Colombian government in order to preserve the national tree the wax palm. We had to do some research after about why it was going extinct, but it was used to make wax candles and also palm leaves were used on palm Sunday.

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The valley is very powerful, we did the 5 hour hike up the mountains and around through the valley. After getting out of the cocora’s, there were very diverse ecosystems all packed closely together (pastures, jungle, cloud forest, cedars, etc). It was a great place for photography, the landscape did not get old just more breathtaking as the clouds rolled in.

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The best part of this story is we were reunited with Pollo on our final night. He was hanging out in the square, and when we yelled his name is ran all the way over to us and played very excitedly with us one last time. If we had our truck, we would have brought him home.

 

 

City of Dogs

San Agustin
Feb 15-18

After a short trip (one pick up truck, one bus, one collectivo, one moto taxi) we arrived into San Agustin. The land renowned for its mysterious peoples who built mysterious statues all over the valleys. The people are gone, but the statues remain. We went from a dead landscape with sad animals to incredibly lush and high tropical forests, coffee plantations and happy cows and chickens nearly everywhere we went. And really, really happy dogs.

This town is run by one man, Alberto. He corralled us into his Turistica Information office straight off the bus, set us up at his hilltop hostel, and then proceeded to cater to us all weekend. He seems to own most everything, and always good to give you a deal (but its secret, don’t say anything to anyone else about your deal).

We set up our hammocks again, this time much colder had to borrow a blanket for the night. Stumbled  into our friends Rebecca and Tyler again who were also staying in one of Alberto’s hostels. Funny.

We decided to stay a few nights finally in one location, get the feel of the place. Cooked many meals, mostly of eggs because you can only buy eggs in the 3 dozen format.

Brett was busy running his business for some of this time in San Agustin so Jessica went horseback riding over the valleys to visit these mysterious carvings. They remain pretty much just as mysterious since the tour was in Spanish. But she at least got a deal from Alberto on the horse (don’t tell).

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This statue is about child sacrifices though, see the small child in his arms, and the blood all over his face.DSC00760

This should be the last of the horses for awhile though, Jessica’s butt isn’t as padded as it should be. Mostly the landscapes were beautiful on the horse back riding trip, the statues were interesting but with limited context it was hard to really appreciate them. Jessica did fully appreciate the dogs though, because if there is one thing San Agustin does well (besides ancient statues) its dogs.

These photos were taken when I was being mauled by puppies. It could have been worse. DSC00758

 

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We did learn that we were very lucky to catch the coffee in bloom, the plants only bloom for three days before fruiting.

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Getting out of San Agustin was the first hard day (and sad day) of travel. We tried to use every bank in town, and ended up just using a credit card to get a very sad amount of money out. We also tried to avoid a high price by cabbing out of town to catch the bus on the highway crossroads however we ended up just paying extra for the cab and the same price for the bus. No Alberto deals on this one.

I’d now like to take the time to discuss buses in Columbia. They are on time, relatively not packed, some have aircon and many have wifi. In essence they are better then most buses.

Our bus this time on the way out of San Augustin, didn’t seem shifty but after climbing high into the mountain pass on to a dirt road we quickly decided this bus clearly lacked in the shocks department. Seriously lacked. We were lucky to be in the very back seat, and spent the next 3 hours trying to make sure out brain didn’t liquefy and drip out our brain stem. It felt like we were living in a shakeweight. It was not fun, even if we spent the time getting air.

We did get to see high cloud forest though, with no habitation save a few military guys hiding in the trees (we are close to the border, and the amazon here… security is higher).

However, after what seemed like forever but was only 6 hours we arrived to a warm and sunny afternoon in Popayan.