April was a month of volcanoes, a final goodbye to somewhere we loved and at long last a big hello to sun, sea and sand after too many months away from all three.
crowds, cameras and catholics
Easter week last year was spent in Belize. There were bikini and twerking contests, litres of rum and parties that went on all night.
Semana Santa in Colombia was a little different - a LOT more jesus, lots of sombre parades through the streets at night and, well, a lot less fun. The only time the locals were seen to be getting even a little lary was when you obstructed their view of the parades. This is a place where a blurry photo of the Virgin Mary statue is of grave importance.
As we wondered the busy streets in the day time, after the third request it became clear that even photos with us were a great tourist find. When Andrew travelled in Asia, such a request was common, but over here in Latin America nobody had ever asked for our photo until we popped up in Popayan.
waving goodbye to colombia from above
In true disorganised fashion, it wasn't until our last few days in Colombia, and miles from the border that we realised our visa was almost up. Cue lots of frantic searching on the internet for anything sparkly and new in the south that we hadn't yet heard of. Thankfully, we came across Volcan Azufral.
Accompanied by one inappropriately dressed local student and multiple layers of thermals we set off on the hike, the cold, rain and fog leading Andrew to believe a wrong turn had led him back to the Scottish Highlands.
By 1 p.m., all was forgiven (well, almost all - Emily had wiped-out on the mud at least a couple of times by now). As the fog parted we feasted our eyes upon a beautiful turquoise lake; this was how we wanted to say goodbye to Colombia.
Check out our full photography post and guide to Azufral, and understand why you should never trust a taxi driver named Miguel, here.
another border crossing
With backpacks full of soy protein, hot chocolate and knock-off football shirts, we stumbled into the immigration office at the Colombian border on our very last day to bid adieu to our ninth country thus far on the trip.
Colombia, you were great, and we don't think we've seen the last of you!
a job with a view
Our first few days in Quito were spent at the Secret Garden Hostel, working from their incredible rooftop bar. We tend to stay away from 'gringo-centric' backpacker hostels, and so getting the chance to hang out with crazy drunk Irish men in wigs was quite a novelty.
As was the lack of Latin music from the sound system. Enrique, we love you but sometimes we just want a bit of rock and roll!
a climb and a cycle
When we first read about Cotopaxi, we both had visions of making it to its summit. However, upon realising that this would involove crampons, ice, serious cold, altitude sickness and a midnight stop, we readjusted our aspirations.
A hike to 5000m and then a speedy mountain bike ride to the bottom made much more sense. Andrew was particularly apt at the bicycle part, Emily on the other hand spent the entire nerve racking experience with hands clamped around both brakes mentally preparing for the inevitable dismount!
Check out our photography of the stunning landscapes here.
take us to the sea!
Until this point, we hadn't seen the sea for nearly three months (friends and family, stop laughing, this really is a terribly long time!) And after a few weeks of less than stellar weather our skin was regressing back to the pale hue not seen since leaving the UK. We were itching to feel the sand beneath our toes and the sun on our back.
First stop was Atacames, also known as Disneyland for vacationing Ecuadorian families in all their neon splendour. Bars line the beach front, all battling for the loudest sound system and you don't have to look further than a shop or two to locate your own tasselled t-shirt.
Or, for that matter, a bar that will sell you three very large cocktails for $6. Yes, we may have felt pretty rotten the day after, but after weeks of beer it was a mighty fine change.
The highlight? A dog called Bébé. The horniest dog to walk this earth, who took a particular interest in Emily's leg for the duration of our stay.
hanging out in a tree-house at the hidden beach
After Atacames, we moved on to the much quieter Playa Escondida - an ecolodge in the middle of the jungle that requires several bus connections, hitchihiking in the odd pick-up truck filled with buckets of fresh fish and the odd tub of entrails (Emily's ability to balance improved significantly when the alternative was landing head first in that!) and plenty of waiting on the side of the road to reach it.
The ocean right outside our window, a large comfy bed and an escape from our usual backpacker hovels more than made up for the outside composting toilet and the 10 giant cockroaches that moved into our tree-house room as soon as night fell.
We went tee-total for a few days - great for our bellies and even better for our wallets - went for long walks on hidden beaches and ate coconut shrimp for dinner. Yeah, we were pretty happy here.
when the lonely planet gets it right
We have gotten so used to the Lonely Planet lying to us, that when we read that somewhere is an 'end of the road, small fishing village', we kind of don't believe it - so frequently developers have moved in in the interim and you realise you've missed seeing another place before it is ruined.
Mompiche is not like this. Mompiche is still that quiet fishing village, where you can get seafood for a couple of dollars, lie on empty beaches and watch the boats come and go. It's still kind of perfect. In fact, it was everything that we were hoping we were going to find elsewhere.
what to expect, when you're expecting
Every backpacker we have met simply raves about Canoa, so when we set off on this trip down the Ecuadorian coast, THIS was going to be the place we'd settle for a week or two.
Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way.
Our first mistake was arriving on a Sunday. The beach was covered in tourists, the restaurants overflowing with Ecuadorian families and every tacky shop lined street had morphed into a car park. We almost left the same day.
Despite a definite thinning of the crowd by Monday, and the return of a pretty bloody beautiful stretch of sand beach, the town just wasn't quite right for us.
We couldn't help but wonder, should Emily's highlight of a place really be an incredible veggie burger? Probably not in one of the country's top beach destinations...
learning that it's OK to go back
On this trip, we've found a couple of places we never wanted to leave, stayed too long in those we really didn't like and have regretted leaving others too soon. We decided not to make that same mistake twice.
We went back to Mompiche. We might be here for a while.