january: our life on the road

We've got big plans for our travels in 2015. More pictures, more adventures and more experiences than we can shake a stick at. 

In our new monthly feature, here's a look at our life on the road.

cycling in costa rica

Emily's family joined us to see out the last two weeks of 2014 and welcome in 2015. 

Of course, one always starts a new year with a mixture of a raging hangover and blind optimism about the next 365 days. And it was with this heady combination that we forced ourselves from our beds in the afternoon for a New Year's Day bike ride.

Overall, we're not huge fans of Costa Rica, but it is undeniable that it is fantastic for wildlife. Within five minutes cycling from our house, Emily had spotted a sloth and then just around the corner there were two large families of monkeys playing in the trees. It was Andrew's first time seeing them in the wild! 

And speaking of animals, some of you will know that we are simply crazy about them. We are those people stop and coo at every dog, short-term adopt anything with four-legs in a hostel and actually have plans (and names) for future pets. And since we spend so much time together, we've probably enabled each other to normalise such animal-centric behaviour.

So we were delighted at our rented house in Manzanillo to have a troop of cats and the odd dog wander in from the beach constantly looking for strokes and food. 

planning our escape from panama

We returned to the skyscrapers of Panama City, where tearful farewells at the airport necessitated a splurge on a Pizza Hut to lift Emily's spirits.

It was far too expensive for us here, and we spent the majority of our time panicking that most of January's budget would be blown on travelling to Colombia. A number of hours were dedicated to trawling the internet in search of a cheaper alternative to the $550 San Blas island crossing, chopping and changing plans and bickering over how we could make the money last.

We also took the opportunity to wander around Panama's excellent shopping malls, gawking at things we couldn't afford and fantasising about CinnaBon!  

a tiny plane, a boat and a new chapter

The cheapest option saw us travelling on the world's smallest plane with the world's fattest man as a passenger. His presence meant a delicate balancing act once all the 11 passengers were on board (in short two people had to switch to one side of the plane because of him!). The flight itself was a pretty cool experience, particularly the landing in Puerto Obaldia where the runway connected to the ocean (nothing like the suggestion of a sea-landing to rattle even though most seasoned flyer!). And then it was a very bumpy boat ride into Colombia; we've had a lot of these on this trip and continue to be amazed at the skill of our captains in navigating waves which reach 6ft+.

We had made it. Not just to Colombia (without a sailboat!), but to South America. After 10 months in Central America and Mexico, changing continents was a shiny new adventure. An adventure which after nearly a year on the road, got us excited about travelling again.

fish empanadas and running out of money

As recently as 10 years ago, guerilla activity and drug trafficking meant that our first stop in Colombia - Capurgana - was a complete no-go area. Now however, its streets are shared not by guns and cocaine, but instead by young boys transporting beer crates on horse and cart, old men with dominoes and a LOT of Colombian tourists dressed in neon beachwear. Ok, there probably are still guns and cocaine somewhere though.

At night, its main street is home to some fantastic fish empanadas with homemade hot sauce, for the princely sum of $1,000 (30p). We stuffed ourselves on these each night, washed down with ice cold bottles of Aguila beer. 

We thought it would be a great spot for a few days R&R, until we realised that we had no money. Ok, well no Colombian money. It transpired that only a Colombian bank card would work here which left us with only $100 USD, an awful exchange rate and no available boat to leave on for 48 hours.  

We panicked a lot, rushing back to our hostel to empty out all our pockets for a spare dollar or two. The boat was $60 - plus excess luggage charge - and the exchange rate on the $ made our hostel about 10% more expensive. Would we have to pimp ourselves out?

Thankfully not. We scraped enough together - just.

And, although we had to squeeze the sites into 24 hours (including hiking to some of the most picture-postcard hidden beaches we have seen so far), we left happy to encourage anybody looking to step off the gringo trail to visit this lesser known Colombian getaway.  

And then it was back on the boat at 6 a.m. to join the scrum of holidaymakers heading home. It was bumpy and it was wet - with Emily spending the entire two hour ride paranoid that her precariously perched rucksack was heading overboard at any minute. 

falling in love with cartagena

Despite an auspicious start, we both quickly felt that Cartagena was our sort of place. Colourful walls, street art, the right mix of beauty and grit, deliciously cheap street food and photo opportunities on every corner. 

We had spent 18-hours travelling to the city - boat, bus, bus - and we were both exhausted when we arrived in the city centre at 11 p.m on a Saturday night. Usually we would never arrive somewhere at this hour, but we took our chances, only to discover every bloody hostel was full. There was no room at any inn. 

We wandered around the buzzing streets trying to find a place to stay, and eventually had to place our trust in a slightly vagrant looking gentleman who said he knew somewhere. Thankfully he did, and we slept soundly in our tiny bunk beds. 

Cartagena was a great, though expensive, base for us to plan our Colombia route, catch up on the website and take photos. Lots and lots of photos. 

And after enduring quite a bland few months food wise in Nicaragua, we were delighted to be have our favourites available again - hurrah for mango and avocado season! Seriously, you can buy an avocado bigger than Emily's head for £1. Throw in arepas, sizzling meat on a stick and some great palleterias (fancy ice lolly shops) and we were very content. 

Colombia - we think we're going to like you a lot. 

hikes, hammocks and getting lost in the rainforest

Minca was somewhere a few travellers had recommended to us, so we made our way there via Santa Marta. The air was fresh, the climate cooler and the scenery stunning. We made the most of our two days by hiking (often in the entirely wrong direction) the hills and the occasional dip in the river. 

At the end of the three hours trek up to Los Pinos, we were surprised and delighted to find a really cool hostel near the summit; the perfect place to take in the view with a beer whilst reclining on what they claimed to be the world's largest hammock (and having the opportunity to brush up on slack-lining skills).

feeling the heat in the desert

And then it was time for our big adventure. Ever since we saw a beautiful photo of a woman from La Guajira, we knew we'd have to visit this remote outpost at the northernmost tip of South America. 

From the sweltering jeep rides through cactus patches and desert, to the roaming goats and donkeys, to the incredible landscapes and beaches, all whilst having no option but to sleep in hammocks for four nights; this felt like proper old school travelling. 

Our base was in Cabo del Vela, in a hostel where visiting the bathroom was best avoided, our bed was a hammock on the beach and there was no electricity apart from a few hours at night. It was also home to an excitable little blond puppy called - and we're not making this up - Shakira. We fell slightly in love with her during our time there. 

Although we debated the cost, Punta Gallinas was calling. Officially home to the most northern point in South America, it was the fact that it was also home to little else that was most appealing to us.

Our route there, leaving at 5 a.m. involved a sweaty drive over scrubland, through sand and along salt lakes with a driver that frequently got lost, always drove too fast and wouldn't stop playing the worst sort of Colombian music. 

Sand dunes, sunsets and spectacular vistas awaited us. We got to see the end of the world and felt fully vindicated in sacrificing the more popular Tayrona for this off-road adventure. 

And so, it is here in Medellin that this story ends. We wonder what next month has in store...

read more about colombia below