After spending almost a year at home visiting with friends and family we were ready to hit the road. We had been planning South America for a few months, mapping out the places we wanted to visit, figuring out the logistics of shipping the truck and working with a tutor to pick up some basic Spanish. We were really excited to start this next chapter.
Joe spent a lot of time organizing the shipping of the truck. We ruled out shipping from Florida or Texas because of the extra driving from Ottawa. We chose to ship from Baltimore which was about the same price as Florida and allowed us to come back home while the truck was in transit. The shipping process in Baltimore was quick and straightforward, Joe made sure he had all the paperwork, the escort picked him up and took him to the office to sign off on everything and we were done in less than an hour.
The Heffalump safely delivered to the port in Cartagena.
We flew into Cartagena on Sept 25th we had to wait a week for the truck because the ship was delayed and it took a couple of days to get it released from the port. While in Cartagena we decided to hire a broker to help us through the importation process. This was a very good idea especially because our Spanish was very basic. Our broker held our hand through the whole process and it was a great comfort.
Please click here to view our latest Flickr album.
While we were waiting for the truck in Cartagena we visited the historic district which is a beautiful part of the city, the architecture and colorful buildings make it very photogenic. Cartagena is very hot and has lovely beaches but as Joe and I are not keen on the beach scene we left as soon as we got the truck. Driving in Colombia was EPIC, for two reasons, 1. the traffic in the cities is chaotic mostly due to the motorcyclists that don’t obey the rules of the road, traffic lights and signs are seen as “guidelines” and 2. the stunning landscapes. Outside of the cities there is not one bit of straight flat road. We drove through most cities, only stopping for groceries or fuel, preferring to camp on the outskirts which was usually cooler. The only way to get a reprieve from the Colombian heat is to gain some altitude. We understand now why some of the best climbers in cycling come from Colombia!
A typical curvy, scenic mountain road
We were not sure how people would react to the truck in South America because plenty of Overlanders drive South America but the Heffalump still got plenty of attention, all positive, lots of thumbs up, waves, smiles and “welcome to Colombia!” We were told that Colombians were very friendly and welcoming and indeed they are. We have already made new friends. In fact a couple we met shortly after leaving Cartagena were beyond welcoming, inviting us to stay with them and helping us with anything and everything, including dental surgery and planning a last minute trip into the Amazon! Please click here to view our latest Flickr album.
The Amazon river, like most rivers around the world, provides suitable living conditions for people with easy transport and a fresh supply of food. It was a bit of a shock to be in cities and villages and be in the Amazon, I just didn’t put those things together in my mind. The Amazon, for me, was this mythical, magical place with strange and fascinating creatures but thousands of people call it home, in fact the estimated population of the Amazon river basin is 23 million.
We spent four wonderful days in and around Puerto Narino. We spent as much time as we could looking for wildlife, local guides were extremely valuable in this endeavor, without them we would not have seen several three toed sloths, an animal we have both wanted to see for a very long time. We also got to see the famous Boto or pink river dolphin as well as the Tucuxi which is the smaller, gray counterpart to the Amazon river dolphin. It was easy to see the difference in color as we always saw both species of dolphins together. Interestingly the Boto does not jump out of the water, (according to World Wildflife Fund) which was why we found it impossible to photograph.
But there is more to Colombia than Cartagena and the Amazon, one of the first places I wanted to visit after leaving Cartagena was the Valle de Cocora famous for having the world’s tallest palm trees. We did the very scenic five hour loop trail ending in the valley surrounded by these otherworldly palm trees. As we made our way South we also visited the UNESCO world heritage site in San Agustin which has the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America. Getting to and leaving San Agustin meant driving through some of the most spectacular scenery we have seen it also meant driving the “trampoline of death” or Colombia’s death road, our average speed was 10km/hr and there were moments when we had to decide whether to scratch the truck or get uncomfortably close to the edge, ah well, the Heffalump needed a few new battle scars. Our last stop was the beautiful Gothic style Las Lajas Sanctuary , a basilica church built inside a canyon, a beautiful spot to end our time in Colombia. Click here to view our Colombia flickr album.
During our two weeks in Yellowstone we spent a lot of time driving and looking and waiting for wildlife. We have found that this is what you have to do to have great wildlife experiences. Let’s face it spending hours driving around Yellowstone is hardly grueling as the scenery is so stunning. Spotting wildlife isn’t terribly difficult either because when you drive up to an overlook and see lots of people outside with tripods and their eyes glued to the eye piece you know there is something special, like wolves. It has been a dream of ours to see and hear wolves in the wild. We knew Yellowstone was going to be our best chance, we have yet to hear wolves howling but in the Hayden Valley we were lucky and we saw several, all quite far away but easily recognizable as wolves.
Interestingly we did not do any hiking in Yellowstone we wanted to spend our time looking for wildlife. Yellowstone truly is the Serengeti of North America, the diversity of wildlife is fantastic. We saw Bison, Elk, Pronghorn, Deer, Sheep, Wolves, Coyotes, Fox and Bears. We left Yellowstone with great experiences, wonderful memories and some amazing photos.
A beautiful bull Elk
Please click here to view our September Flickr album.
We spent two weeks in Yellowstone, we have heard people say “yeah we did Yellowstone in a day,” a day?! are you kidding me? OK, you will see Old Faithful, a few other thermal features, the “grand canyon of Yellowstone” and Bison in one day but there is SO much more to Yellowstone than that. We spent three days just visiting the thermal features, all the boardwalks are pretty short so you can easily do several of them in one day. If you want to see the most impressive geysers, no Old Faithful is NOT the most impressive, then you need to park your butts and wait, wait and do a little more waiting. To get the most out of your geyser experience you also need to speak to the “geyser gazers” these passionate, kind and friendly folks really added to our experiences in the park. If it were not for them we would have missed two really impressive geyser eruptions.
Within 20 minutes of arriving at the Old Faithful Visitor Center we saw Old Faithful erupt but as we walked around the area we heard that Beehive was going to erupt within the next three hours. We were told that Beehive was more impressive because more water shoots out of a narrower opening. Beehive was amazing, we ended up waiting for almost two hours for the eruption. One of the really cool things about Beehive is that it has an indicator geyser which starts shooting water 20 minutes before Beehive and indeed it did. In fact they announce it on the PA system when the indicator is going off so people can get there to see the eruption which only happens every 15 hours!
Walking around the thermal features of Yellowstone is mind boggling. Being surrounded by the strange smell, the sight of steam the sounds of the geysers (best sound effect award goes to Veteran Geyser) you are constantly reminded that you are on an active volcano. Mind boggling. Please click here to view our September Flickr album.
We had earmarked 4-6 weeks in the Fall to spend in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We had high expectations of these parks and wanted to give ourselves lots of time for wildlife viewing. We spent a week in Grand Teton to start and during that week we did some great hikes. We dragged friends of ours on the 18 mile Cascade Canyon trail, our friends are 64 and 67 and we were SO impressed with them. In addition to the stunning views in the canyon, which was full of wild flowers, we saw three bull moose! Joe and I also hiked Garnet Canyon and Amphitheater Lake which were both amazing. The view of Middle Teton from the Garnet canyon trail is fantastic. You don’t see it until almost the end but you come around a corner and then BOOM, right in front of you, Middle Teton, WOW. We were told by staff that any hike with “canyon” in the name would be great and we agree, sadly we could not access a few of those trails with the Heffalump because Moose Wilson road has a vehicle length restriction which was disappointing.
We returned to Grand Teton for a few more days at the end of September hoping to see more Moose and fortunately we struck gold. There were several moose staying in and around Gros Venture campground, the most southern campground in the park. We spent three days there and were able to photograph a few different males and females. We had never been this close to moose and it was incredible!
We found the Grand Teton campgrounds expensive so we used a nearby national forest campground (Atherton Creek) just outside the park as our base. We were frustrated with not being able to access some of the roads and corresponding hiking trails but we loved this park and would not hesitate to come back.
Please click here to view our September Flickr album.
On August 20th we were in Kennewick Washington and we had decided that we wanted to see the eclipse so Joe looked into how far we would have to drive to get into the “zone of totality.” We decided that Cascade Idaho, which was in the zone and on our route to Yellowstone, would be ideal. We found a reservoir with free parking and waited for the show. There were about 40 of us, mostly families, the kids did a 30 second countdown to totality. It was great fun. It was certainly worth the ten hour, scenic, drive to get two minutes of viewing. This was the first solar eclipse we have ever seen, to be outside at mid day and have the world go dark was really weird, eerie, amazing and cool.
Friends of ours had told us that they really liked Idaho and strongly urged us to spend some time there. We are so glad we took their advice. The drive along the 95 and 55 through Hell’s Canyon was stunning. The city of Boise had a nice vibe and Twin Falls “the gateway to Snake River Canyon” is a beautiful area. We stopped to see Shoshone Falls just outside of Twin Falls which to be honest was a bit of a disappointment but only because it was late in the year so the falls were not at their fullest and most impressive.
Our last stop in Idaho was Craters of the Moon NM. We have visited several volcanic areas in our travels (El Malpais NM in New Mexico and Hawaii) and Craters is more of the same but certainly worth a visit. The visitor center has a great display illustrating the geology of the area and the North Crater Trail to the spatter cones is really neat. Please click here to view our August Flickr album.