As much as Eric and I didn´t want to think about it, we knew that eventually we would have to come up with an exit plan for getting out of South America and make our way back home. It is an unsettling feeling to think that the adventure must end at some point and that the tugs of reality (i.e. money, energy, time, etc.) would snap you out of your invincable mindset. Still with the ever approaching departure date growing nearer, we weren´t about to cave in that easily. Early on in our trip, listening into the backpacker grapevine, we heard of a unique way of travel.

The small scrape of land connecting central America to South (connecting Panama to Columbia) is called the Darien Gap. On a map it is considered part of the Trans-American Highway but that is a common misconception amongst travelers. That ¨landbridge¨ is considered by most as one of the most dangerous passageways in the world. It is a major drug trafficking route and it is occupied by the Columbian Guerilla Army force called FARC. We heard many things about the crossing but what stood out to us was the statistic saying that you have a 50% chance of being kidnapped or killed if you try to venture through there. I am not asshamed to admitt that we weren´t feeling lucky on those odds. We would have to find another route.

For most travelers, the only other option is to catch a flight from Cartagena to Panama City. We didn´t have that kind of money. We discovered a means of travel that lent itself to becoming a true adventure for us. Traveling via sailboat.

Immediately, one would hear that word and dismiss it as too expensive, but we found that traveling by boat offered a unique way of leaving in style, surprisingly gentle on the bank account and an opportunity to live like pirates for a week.

Upon our arrival in Cartegena, one of the northern most cities in Columbia, we were determined to find a captain that could accomidate us. Finding a boat for passage isn´t as easy as you may think. At every hostel dozens of captains post offers but between sorting out the drunks ones, hearing the horror stories from other backpackers, and getting limited info on others, it forces you to be very picky. Five days out in the open ocean is a long time with a captain that you are essentially putting your safety in his hands. After a day or two of inquiring, we joined up with some new found friends Joslyn, Catherine and Ally we met and hired Captain Tom and the ¨Papillon¨ his stout 31 ft sailboat for the journey.

Well after holding the lead against Eric in our on going game of Rummy, he has made a valant comeback. I have discovered that rum and orange Fanta does not go in your favor when playing. No excuses here. Just have to turn up the heat again. With only four days left in our trip, the tension will be on and every hand dealt will be crucial in deciding the final outcome. Stay tuned.

Friday night in Quito, an old friend of mine I met back in the states, Valen, invited Eric and I out to a famous Equadorian tradition. Bull fighting. I knew going into the fights, that they have been a subject of public scrutiny due the gory (possibly inhuman) death that occurred to the animals. I knew I was going to witness the slow death of a bull on display for public showing. But like many things in my life I feel it is important to experience something before I start judging it. This way I can give it the benefit of the doubt.

And it was exactly what one might imagine what it would be like. But so much more. The music and cultural tradition is intertwined with it. I don´t regret it for a second. So much of the fight and the events around it are based in superstitions. The way the madadors hat falls on the ground, the way the bull fights, how the bull is worn down by spears in his back. It may not sit right in my culture but it was very interesting to witness.

Bull fights in Quito, Ecuador.

A visit to the second largest city in Ecuador allowed us the opportunity to go to the equator, actually both of them. Just north of town we took a series of city buses to the equator monument marking what we thought was the actual equator. The city built a huge tourism trap all around the big, red line that marks the center of the Earth. A funny thing though. As we were taking photos of it, a couple other tourists informed us that the actual equator (GPS accurate) was about 200 meters to the north of us behind the gates of another entrance fee. Once again businesses fighting over something as stupid. Not quite sure who to believe, we visited the second one anyway. Hopefully trudging back and forth between the two we crossed the equator.

Well the early morning of our departure we made a sadly brief boat ride looking for wildlife and fishing for pirahnas. The weather had been (as one could expect in a rain forest) rainy, which tends to put the animals into hiding. We did see a sloth pictured here at a distance and some monkeys. The pirahnas catch was a whooping one caught by me but it was about the size of a silver dollar. In all a bit disapointing but for our time and money crunch it was better than nothing. We headed back to Iquitos and boarded a plane. Equador was the next stop.

Swinging on jungle vines, sampling jungle fruits and eating grub, literally. I guess Eric and I both came into this trip with the goal of having an open mindset to trying new things. We found out quickly that the jungle provided many opportunities to test ours. Bananas are grown all over this region. I haven´t eaten a banana in twenty odd years. As a kid my mom used to cut up brown bananas on my cereal doing her best to remove the bad parts but by then the whole fruit was a discusting slimey mess and visions of vomit soon followed. I vowed never to eat them again. But they say time is a healer. After constant badgering from Eric, I finally tried a piece. Well…it didn´t kill me but the jury is still out on that subject. Some things came easily like drinking water out of cut vines. Our guide introduced us to a lot of plants and things that could be consumed if one where so inclined. But when he provided us with a leaf full of maggots, well somehow I just found myself a bit hesitant. But when in Rome. Think luke warm tapioca pudding in a rubber shell and you are in the ball park of the taste experience of these little jungle delicacies.

As soon as we arrived we had a quick lunch and then headed out into the jungle for a hike. You never really realize how jam packed the Amazon Basin is until you go there. Pictures can´t really do it justice to show the density of it. Here plants grow over eachother in a thick, blinding green fashion. Insects are the dominant species here. Everywhere you stepped, there was something that crawled. Walking and dodging our way through, I kept thinking that every leaf or tree hid something that would fall on you. It was the thought process that I could get knocked off by anything on the food chain. The Amazon allowed every organism a fighting chance. Here was a level playing ground. Ofcourse everything was fine. You realize your being an idiot and you just need to walk carefully and make sure to avoid the hazardous plants or insects that your guide points out to you. We saw about a dozen different types of ants. Some where poisonous and some just looked that way. There were literally ant highwways on the jungle ground where you saw millions carrying big green leaves back to the homestead. Cool stuff.

Something about the potential to catch a piranhas in the Amazon Basin just sounded like something too good to pass up. Not only that, but to return to the states after backpacking across the whole of South America and say that we didn´t visit the Amazon Basin would just be silly. Down right shameful. Poor or not, we had to make a trip in to make it official. So to remedy the dilemma, Eric and I found a jungle tour guide service in Iquitos for an overnight excursion into Amazon tributary. We boarded long, wooded river speedboats and headed out into the sticks.

Anna and her family were genuine in their offer for us to stay at their house and we followed them to their place from the port in Iquitos. Poverty is a hard thing to truely understand until you live it. They lived in what would resemble a broken down, two room shack. Rotten wood floors, cockroach infested, not running water, a hole in the ground as a toliet, and not much else. Yet despite having literally nothing, they opened their doors to us with warm happy hearts. They are a hapy family and not even being ¨pobre¨(as Anna warned us that they were) effected their attitude. I found it remarkable. As a thank you Eric and I made them a big American brunch for her and the eleven relatives that lived with them. They were a lot of fun and we were very grateful for their hospitality.

For as cramped as we all were, everyone was in good spirits. The hold had a cheerful pressence to it created from its occupants in it together for the four day haul. Laughter could always be heard coming from the crowds gathered around listening to the comic performances put on by some of the other passengers. Latin music blared. Loud. Often times in the early morning. Mothers breast fed there infants openly. Eric and I taught the girls how to play rummy and despite the language barrier they quickly started whooping our butts. The girls sit on the dirty mattresses making bead necklaces to sell as Anna changes their little brother´s diaper. I read two books and had plenty of cat naps. We felt like pirates hanging in our hammocks. The boat was a lot like a huge slumber party turned Lord of the Flies. We were all in this together. I was in a good mood, but as the third day floated by and gave way into the fourth, my body yearned to be clean and the closed quarters started to get to us gringos. Luckily we arrived in Iquitos early that morning.

Our ferry would stop at remote villages from time to time to pick up or drop off goods and the occassional person. For many of these villages, the once a week ferry stop was the only contact with the outside world. With that the boat served them under many different tittles varying from mailman to food delivery to hardware store and much more. For many of the poor vendors along the shoreline it was an opportunity for them to come on to the boat to sell goods while we sat for an hour at each port.