Apr 5

Photo Essay: South American Tour

by Nikki



Upon landing in Bogota after a night bus from Dallas to Houston and two flights the next day I was tired, hungry, and downright grumpy. My mood quickly changed when this delicious meal came into the picture. Complete with tostones, arepas, sausages, steak , potatoes, and fried yuka, a girl couldn’t be happier.

Fresh unprocessed coffee!

As if living on a comfy bungalow above the finca (coffee farm) at the Plantation House in Salento wasn’t enough, the owner gives weekly tours of the farm, explaining the ins and outs of  coffee production in Colombia. These are what coffee beans actually look like before manufacturing. Of course I shoved one of these bad boys in my mouth. It tastes like a grape with a semi-hard interior.

Dried and washed coffee beans on the farm

Freshly washed and dried coffee beans. You can polish off your stay at the coffee farm volunteering on the plantation in exchange for a free lunch and brew. Like a true diva, I passed on the hard labor and took a picture instead.

Cocora National Park: Salento, Colombia

The wax palm, a quintessential symbol of Colombia. Revered and fiercely protected by law, Colombias national tree thrives in the Andean Highlands in the Cocora Valley and Cocora National Park. These very special palms are the tallest in the world,  shooting out of the ground as if they were natures replica of dinosaurs among blades of grass.


The pre-colombian ruins in San Agustin make up the largest collection of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America. Mostly, funerary monuments, the ruins are said to be sacred ground and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enchanted ancestors in toe, I got a quick education on spiritual powers in the area while visiting the three main burial grounds in the area surrounding the city.

Big Piggy at Otavalo Animal Market

The Otavalo animal market is a site worth seeing. Llamas, alpacas, chickens guinea pigs, lizards, cows, and pigs the  size of cows were up for sale in an area half the size of a football field. The scene resembled a zoo bust, animals running in every possible direction to get out.

Quito at night

Though normally a big city girl, I only spent two nights in Quito. Ecuadors capital comes complete with all of the fix-in of a big city, but got more than it bargained for in terms of crime. Many of my friends were robbed at gun point, or given an ultimatum between a machete and their belongings. After hearing these stories, a walking tour of the city and a beer in the hostel was enough for me.

Lets Hike! Cotopaxi Volcano

Cotopaxi Volcano is the highest active volcano in the world and one of very few with a symmetrical cone shape . Suited up and ready for business I scaled this bad boy and made it half way up to the glacial covering in the picture. Its rare to see snow on top of an active volcano, but the high altitude  causes a wintery frost. I made snow angels with my pals…this obviously ended in a snowball fight, attempts at planking,  and yoga poses.


Your highness, the snow queen and her arch nemesis, Darren<– the only person I’ve ever met from Isle of Man (so random)

Cotopaxi Volcano, the highest active volcano in the world

A view of this magnificently freezing volcano from a hammock at the Secret Garden Cotopaxi, by far the best accommodations around, complete with a composting toilet overlooking the volcano and a better view than this. Affectionately referred to as the best seat in the house…except its outside…

Just JUMP! Baños, Ecuador

Convinced, manipulated and downright guilted by my friend Tara to go “puenting” for the first time in adventure town Baños, Ecuador. As it turns out, Tara had the right idea. I loved it so much I did it twice. Puenting literally translates as bridging- similiar to bungee jumping, but with less whip lash because it has a swing effect after the initial fall.

More Adventure! Canyoning in Baños, Ecuador

Canyoning was another memorable adventure in Baños. Since Tara dragged me off a bridge, I got to drag her off a cliff.

Beachside Ceviche in Montanita, Ecuador

Montanita, Ecuador is typical surfer town with two marvelous exceptions-Ceviche and Margarita stands. In Montanita, loyalty to your margarita man is essential. He will always look out for you, and get you feeling just right with a fruity treat. The secret ingredient is buttermilk…incredibly unhealthy, but the deliciousness wins out if you ask me.

Learning to Teach English in Machala

A dedication to Tarita, the best dang english teacher I know. She’s moving up the ranks at WorldTeach, but before she was HBIC I tagged along with her to volunteer in Machala, Ecuador.

Viva Peru! Viva Lima!

Viva Peru! After a 20 hour bus ride from Machala to Lima..seeing this flag was a God-send…

Quechua women in Cusco, Peru

Traditionally dressed women are not an uncommon sighting in Cusco, one of my favorite cities in Peru. The bright colors of their clothing is mesmerizing and fill the square with an energy unlike any other.

No doubt, I'm an idiot...But I look nice in my alpaca!

No doubt I’m an idiot…but I look pretty fresh in my alpaca outfit. It all came in handy in the icy highlands on my trek to Machu Picchu. Life wouldn’t be the same without super sexy leg warmers with llamas circling the calf.

A foggy Machu Picchu

We made it to Machu Picchu on a foggy morning to see the sun burn off the evenings mist, revealing a treasure we’d hiked for three days to see.

The Floating Islands of Los Uros

The floating Islands of Los Uros in Lake Titicaca along Puno, Peru. The Uru people lived in Peru before the Incans and moved onto the lake for safety reasons in order to avoid capture. The islands are made almost entirely of reeds.

Women Rowing the Floating Limo

This Lake Titicaca Limo is made entirely of reeds as well.

Sharing the path in Colca Canyon

I spent three days in Colca Canyon, a rural desert land with few, if any people let alone tourists. We crossed paths with many local villagers, including this older woman walking by herself. The line drawn through the right side of the mountain is where she is headed…Talk about strength!

Cliffside view

Mornings in Colca Canyon were the nicest. My friend Gerdine and I were greeted with a spectacular view on our second morning in the canyon and a chance to look at the zig-zagged path we’d walked the day before.

Causa and a cooking class in Arequipa

Arequipa is a very special city in Peru, with culinary treasures like Causa to prove it. I took a cooking class and learned to make this Peruvian specialty. I’m not one to brag, but mine looked pretty FoodNetwork ready.


A peak into Santa Catalina Monestary in Peru was well worth the price tag. These women lived in a city within a city.

Babies in El Ñuro, Peru

These little treasures make you feel really good about helping the planet and volunteering. Working with ecOceanica was a huge highlight of my time in Peru. Seeing mother natures wonder is the best pay-off ever. Photo compliments of ecOecanica.

One of the most rewarding moments. Seeing a baby sea turtle to the sea. Many of them don’t make it this far. Photo compliments of ecOceanica.

Tagging Turtle in El Ñuro

By day 2 I was a professional turtle wrangler. I learned some pretty awesome methodology and how the organization will apply all of the data we collected to making a much better outlook for their protection in the future.

A local treat in Tarapoto

Jungle bound, this treat in Tarapoto was foreshadowing of what meals would look like in the amazon if we didn’t catch enough fish for dinner.

1st catch! Piranha for dinner

Luckily I was successful at catching piranha! Those teeth are really not whats up though.

Amazon Jungle! Hello Mr. Frog

My favorite picture from the jungle..Mr. Kermit was sitting quite comfortably before I came and interrupted his evening.

Welcome to the Jungle..The Ants Go Marching One by One

One of these evil little things bit me. It pierced right through my skin and I screamed like a baby…and freaked out because it bit me underneath my rain jacket. How the hell did it get there? Were there more? The hike back to camp was filled with anxiety.

Cutest Sloth EVER!

And finally, my prince, the Sloth. My best friend tells me that your favorite animal is symbolism for your taste in men…my favorite is the sloth. How awkward is it that….and its even more awkward that my track record affirms this. I’m so freaking weird.

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