Santa Marta and the Lost City

Santa Marta

8 May

Today turned into quite a marathon and not what I expected. The bus station in Cartagena is quite a long way out of the city so I had to get a taxi at some expense. On arrival at the Terminal de Transportes, I was immediately accosted by one of the bus company hustlers and guided to the ticket man, who sold me a ticket. I thought it was leaving at 10.15am (it being then 10am) but, in fact, it only left at 10.45am. We drove around the corner to a petrol station and waited and waited for the bus to fill up. I can only assume that this particular company has a quota of people, before which it will not leave!

We eventually got going and it was a very slow trip to Baranquilla, which is just over half way to Santa Marta, my destination of the day. I had been told the journey would take 3 1/2 hours. Not so! We didn’t go to the terminal at Baranquilla but ejected people for that destination, by a roadside rubbish dump. We then continued on and stopped and started with the conductor desperately accosting people along the roadside, to see if they wanted to go to Santa Marta. We eventually came to a complete halt whilst he rushed around  trying to commandeer people. As he was unsuccessful we were told to move onto another bus. It was now 2pm.

Island off Santa Marta
Island off Santa Marta
The waterfront in Santa Marta
The waterfront in Santa Marta

The other bus was almost full and I managed to get a broken seat, so had something sticking into my back for the rest of the journey. The conductor wanted more money from me, which I complained about bitterly and eventually, the Peruvian man sitting next to me, realised that I had already paid to Santa Marta and shouted to the conductor to give me the additional money back, which he did. Obviously, a gross misunderstanding all round due to the language barrier. I was fairly disgruntled and extremely hot by this stage, having moved from a semi-comfortable bus to one that most definitely wasn’t and just wanted to get under way. The very nice Peruvian man insisted on chatting, even though I had no idea what he was talking about, but he was very jolly and very persistent. Eventually, as we approached Santa Marta, a young English speaking Spaniard took pity on me, and things became a little easier.

Plaza in Santa Marta
Plaza in Santa Marta

We arrived about 4pm at the bus terminal and I shared a taxi to the hostel with the Spaniard, who was very nice. The hostel wasn’t particularly welcoming, but was in the centre of town, unlike the last one. It was extremely hot and sticky, but I settled in and went for a walk down to the waterfront, where there were a number of people in the water, even given the proximity of the container ships. (I was thinking more of pollution than danger to life and limb!)

Back at the hostel, I waited for a message from Nick and Maddie, which didn’t arrive and chatted to the Irish owner, before going to bed. For some reason I felt very tired but think the heat is really draining me at the moment.

Santa Marta

9 May

Today, for the first time, I woke up with the feeling that I wanted to go home, a mood that persisted throughout the day, even though I took myself to the beach, which is normally my cure all for everything.

One of the most well known attractions near Santa Marta is the Tayrona National Park, an area of outstanding beauty where the rainforest meets the sea, according to the tourist blurb. This, then, was my destination for the day and getting there turned out to be another mission in itself.

Walking in the forest
Walking in the forest
Ocean view in Tayrona Park
Ocean view in Tayrona Park

The hostel directed me to the bus stop, which was on the edge of the market place. Apparently, it was very easy to find and there were ‘big’ buses going there. I walked around in several circles in the market, not finding the street because, as is common, there were few street signs. Also, the market stalls had virtually obliterated the street, so that it was hard to determine whether it actually was a street or just an alleyway in the market. I eventually arrived at the crossroads, where there were no ‘big’ buses. However, I was pointed to a somewhat broken down Collectivo type bus and was encouraged to see a back pack or two being loaded amongst the assortment of boxes that the locals were piling on, so thought it must be right.

The bus was very full as we set off for the hour long trip to the entrance to the park. Needless to say, it was a stop, start journey and would have been interesting if I had been in the mood to enjoy it, which I wasn’t. We eventually arrived at the Park, where the ticket collector wanted my passport, with which I never travel. However, normally, I have a copy in my bag but, as luck would have it, today I had left it in my other bag. The solution to the problem was to accost a Chilean backpacker and use his I.D. as mine! All they seem to have wanted was a number, so I could probably have made it up. The Chilean didn’t seem too impressed and was quite keen to escape from me, once we got going.

Tayrona Park Sign
Tayrona Park Sign
A prickly tree trunk in Tayrona Park
A prickly tree trunk in Tayrona Park
Termite nest in Tayrona
Termite nest in Tayrona

The next stage of the journey was a small van. The Chilean and a bunch of teenagers, mostly girls, who were obviously on a school trip accompanied me. The latter spent a lot of time giggling and I’m not sure if they were laughing at me or with me. (Major language barrier again!) However, one of them thought my eyes were beautiful and wanted a photo of me and her, so, of course, I obliged. There was certainly much snapping of cameras (phones, of course) in the van and a lot of excitement.

I then had a nearly two hour walk through the forest to get to the beach, by which time, I was extremely hot and tired, so plonked myself down on the sand, with all the other tourists, and went for a swim. I was surprised at how quickly the bottom dropped off and certainly wouldn’t have wanted a child swimming there but the water was a wonderful temperature.

View from the hammock tower in Tayrona
View from the hammock tower in Tayrona
View from the hammock tower
View from the hammock tower
Who would take an ipad into the sea? (And, yes, there were waves!)
Taking an ipad into the sea was a risky business! (And, yes, there were waves!)
Hammock tower on top of the rocks
Hammock tower on top of the rocks
Hammocks for rent in the tower at Tayrona
Hammocks for rent in the tower at Tayrona

I stayed on the beach for a couple of hours, topping up the sun tan, and watching the people, which is always entertaining. After a wander over to the adjacent beach, I then started my walk back, knowing that it was going to take at least 3 1/2 hours to get back to Santa Marta.

I spent much of the walk talking to a young German girl, which made the time pass very quickly. We had to wait for a while for the mini van to fill before heading back to the park entrance but we were then lucky, in that a bus to town came along very quickly. Even so, it was getting dark by the time we arrived back at the market place.

Horse transport for those who don't want to walk
Horse transport for those who don’t want to walk

I walked with the German girl for a while before we parted company, with her going to one hostel and me to mine. I was too tired to go out to dinner with Nick and Maddie, so spent quite a while wandering around the supermarket, picking up some supplies, and then coming back to the room.

Santa Marta

10 May

As I had had a fairly full day yesterday and was intending to go jungle trekking tomorrow, I decided that today could be a rest day, as I really didn’t feel like doing very much.

Main Street in Santa Marta
Main Street in Santa Marta
Clock tower of the Cathedral in Santa Marta
Clock tower of the Cathedral in Santa Marta
Cathedral in Santa Marta
Cathedral in Santa Marta

After breakfast, I strolled into town, which was extremely busy with a large number of stalls lining one of the main streets, so that there was little space for pedestrians to walk through. It was also extremely noisy with music blasting from the various stands selling CDs and DVDs, as well as vehicle horns honking constantly.

I visited the Magic Tours office, chatted to the lovely young French man who was the office staff for the day and booked my trek starting tomorrow. Let’s hope I can cope with 4 or 5 days worth of heat and mosquitos! At the time I booked, there were only two of us going so hopefully more will book during the day, as it would probably be better with a few more people.

The marina in Santa Marta
The marina in Santa Marta
Santa Marta waterfront
Santa Marta waterfront

After this, I wandered down to the waterfront, which stretches from the port at one end, past the marina and along to some high rise buildings, which presumably are hotels, at the other. There were a number of people already at the beach, some children swimming and, of course, the inevitable food sellers. However, it wasn’t appealing enough for me to want to swim.

Chairs ready and waiting on the waterfront in Santa Marta
Chairs ready and waiting on the waterfront in Santa Marta
Park in Santa Marta
Park in Santa Marta
Inside the Cathedral in Santa Marta
Inside the Cathedral in Santa Marta
Bouquet of flowers on a bike
Bouquet of flowers on a bike

I found my way back to the Cathedral and sat inside for a few minutes, admiring the flowers that must have been arranged for a wedding, until a service began. The priest’s intonations were accompanied by the loud music emanating from the skateboarders speakers in the plaza outside, which was drifting through the open doors.

I sat in the window of a cafe (the only one in the plaza) and watched the aforementioned skateboarders, whilst I drank my coffee. There seemed to be some sort of demonstration or competition happening but it was hard to tell which.

After this, I fought my way through the people and stalls back to the hostel, where I spent the rest of the day idling. And very relaxing it was too!

Swimmers at the port in Santa Marta
Swimmers at the port in Santa Marta

Lost City

11 May

Today began with a mixture of trepidation and excitement, as I was going to begin the trek to the Lost City (or Ciudad Perdita), which I knew was going to be hard in the heat and humidity. The Lost City is in the Sierra Nevada, the highest maritime sierra in the world, in the Park Tayrona.

I had been told to be at the Magic Tours office by 9.15am in order to leave at 9.30am so, after breakfast, I packed up and walked the two or three blocks, arriving in plenty of time. There was a German couple and an English chap on the tour with me. We were introduced to our guide, Jesus (!), and then we ended up waiting in the office until nearly 10.30am, during which time, I decided to transfer the belongings I was taking on the track to my big back pack and using that instead of my day pack which had no waist strap and which I had intended to use. This was a decision that I was to be grateful for many times over, in the days to come!

Filling up with petrol
Filling up with petrol

The reason for the delay in departure from Santa Marta was that none of the ATMs in town were working (not uncommon) and Jesus needed cash to pay the horsemen, the cooks, the camp fees and food. They eventually obtained cash somehow and we were underway in a 4WD along with the French man from the office and a couple of other people, children and teenage girls (whoever they were!)

Petrol and laundry - an interesting combination!
Petrol and laundry – an interesting combination!

We headed towards Tayrona Park, stopping along the way to check the tyre pressure, drop the French man and the girls in the middle of nowhere, and then Jesus in a small village. The latter was a little disconcerting, as he didn’t reappear when we stopped for petrol a little way down the road. It seemed a little early in the tour for the guide to abandon us! The petrol was tipped into the truck using a can and funnel, a method that I had also seen used on a public bus between Popayan and Cali. As there are plenty of proper petrol stations around, there must be some obscure reason, that is not obvious to me, as to why they should stop at wayside shops to do this.

We turned off the road and drove up a very rutted track with the driver making no concessions for the road or his passengers, so it was quite a bumpy ride. After an hour or so, we arrived at the village of Machete Pelao, which is where we were to start walking and where we were relieved to find Jesus, who had obviously arrived independently and ahead of us somehow.

Butcher's shop in Machete Pelao
Butcher’s shop in Machete Pelao

There were a number of other people at the cafe where we had lunch before we started walking. These were travelling with other tour companies and other guides and were either just starting or just finishing the trek. The village itself, seemed to be quite busy as it was a Sunday and people were obviously relaxing. It is a very small place, and we ate our lunch to the accompaniment of bursts of exploding gunpowder, which was emanating from the local game of pehoe. This involved throwing disks at a board, in which pockets of gunpowder are placed. If they are hit with the disks, not surprisingly, the gunpowder goes bang. It caught me by surprise and made me jump each time. The place where the game was being played, also housed pool tables and a butcher’s stall and there were two other places on opposite corners of the street where pool was being played. It is a popular pastime in Colombia.

Horses loaded with our food for the trek
Horses loaded with our food for the trek
The first of several swimming holes
The first of several swimming holes

We eventually started walking at about 1.15pm so it was quite hot. It was a gentle stroll at first and after half an hour or so we stopped at a swimming hole in the river Buritaca, whose course we were to follow for the next few days. The water was very refreshing!

After this, however, the hard work really started. We climbed and climbed and climbed, very steeply up the mountain until we eventually reached a small stall where there was some very welcome water melon waiting for us. Then we continued on. Simon, the English man, had steamed ahead, but Jesus stayed with the German couple and I as we progressed slowly along at our own pace.

A pastoral scene
A pastoral scene
View across the Sierra
View across the Sierra
Beautiful red flower (but I don't know what it is!)
Beautiful red flower (but I don’t know what it is!)

As the afternoon progressed, the weather became more overcast until it started spotting with rain. The track became muddier and more slippery as we descended steeply and I fell just before we arrived in to the camp for the night. Lots of lovely red mud stuck to my shorts and back pack but as we were near camp, it didn’t really matter. The group coming behind us, however, arrived when the rain was pelting down and were absolutely drenched. As we found out, it is impossible to dry anything as the humidity is so high, so they had to wait for a break in the middle of the next day before they had the opportunity to dry their clothes. Luckily, we had no more rain for the rest of the trek.

Swing bridge into Cabana 1
Swing bridge into Cabana 1
Steep descent in the slippery red mud
Steep descent in the slippery red mud

The camp, or Cabana 1, was located right next to the river, in the valley, which made it quite dark and gloomy with the rain. We all had bunk beds enclosed by mosquito nets, so it was very cosy! After having showers (cold, but that is not unusual in Colombia), we sat around chatting whilst waiting for dinner. This was very welcome and afterwards someone produced a pack of cards and about 13 people (including me), ended up playing something that various people seemed to know, although the rules varied amongst countries, which meant quite a lot of light hearted argument!

Bunk beds covered in mosquito nets
Bunk beds covered in mosquito nets
Dining area in Cabana 1
Dining area in Cabana 1

I went to bed earlier than everyone else and lay in my bunk, listening to the quiet chatter of the people playing cards, the crickets and the frogs, which seemed to be prolific. It was very relaxing.

Lost City

May 12

Today was the hardest day and I am reassured that it wasn’t just me that found it so but all the young people as well.

Last night I had to make the decision as to whether to do the trek in 4 or 5 days. I opted for 4 as I didn’t particularly want to spend a lot of time hanging around in the camps. The guides, working for 3 different companies, then sorted out who was going to be in which group and I ended up with 12 others from Belgium, Switzerland, America, Ireland and England, all of whom, with the exception of me, were in their mid twenties. By the end of the trek we had all bonded very well! We had 3 guides, Jesus, Mila, who spoke English, luckily, and Wilmer.

Marker for the track
Marker for the track

Doing the walk in 4 days meant that we had two 3 – 4 hour walks today, one before and one after lunch. We were woken at 5am with the intention of leaving at 6am. However, for some reason, this did not happen and, by the time we had all had breakfast, it was about 6.45 before we left.

Very dry area of the Sierra
Very dry area of the Sierra
In the jungle
In the jungle

It was a most beautiful morning after all the rain of yesterday, for which we were very glad. The local people, however, I think would have liked a little more, as it was the first time it had rained in 7 months.

The day followed a pattern of very steep uphills, followed by steep downhills. A number of local Kogui tribes people passed us as we were walking but none of them seemed to want to engage in any interaction. We stopped at one small village in which there was one lady and a couple of children, the rest, apparently, out working in the fields. The children were given some lovely teeth rotting lollipops by the guides, who knew them well, and we were able to take some photographs, which normally they would not allow.

Mother and children of the Kogui tribe
Mother and children of the Kogui tribe
Kogui huts
Kogui huts
Mud construction of the Kogui huts
Mud construction of the Kogui huts
Kogui boy with a very large machete!
Kogui boy with a very large machete!

In another small settlement, there were more children and a mother who had a 2 day old baby. We were told that they have many children and start from the age of 18. I would not like to have given birth in the conditions in which they are living. It is difficult to tell which are boys and which are girls, as they all wear the same, somewhat sad looking dresses and have long hair.

In the second village, a house was in the process of construction for a volunteer doctor, who is going to come and live there. Otherwise, the tribes people rely on the shamans and local medicine people. Having said that, during the course of the 4 days, the guides stopped to give painkillers to two people with headaches.

We stopped at Cabana 2 for lunch and went for a lovely refreshing swim in the river. There was a small, very young looking family, who were doing their washing in the same place and they seemed to be as much amused by us as we were by them and I noticed the small boy/girl copying the Irish couple, who were rubbing sun screen into each other’s backs.

Kogui man doing the washing
Kogui man doing the washing
Kogui family found us as entertaining as we found them!
Kogui family found us as entertaining as we found them!
Food prep and washing up area in Cabana 2
Food prep and washing up area in Cabana 2
The stove in Cabana 2
The stove in Cabana 2
River Buritaca
River Buritaca

We had a delicious soup for lunch, which stoked us up for the second part of the day, a 3 hour walk to Cabana 3. I found that I was walking by myself for much of the afternoon as most of the group were walking much too fast for me. However, I always knew that there were a couple of people behind as well as the guide.

A conglomeration of leaf cutting ants
A conglomeration of leaf cutting ants
Banana tree
Banana tree

We arrived there at about 4pm to find it had been invaded by 30 Ukranians, who were in the river taking, what appeared to be, fashion photographs. They had very large backpacks, transported to the camp by horses, and spoilt the evening by their loud, brash behaviour.

As the camp was full that night, we ended up sleeping in hammocks, which was quite a novelty. The guides and their helpers slung them on hooks under cover (like an open sided shed) and I felt that I was so tired that I would be able to sleep anywhere.

Farm land on the Sierra
Farm land on the Sierra

Mila had told me that there was another Kiwi on the track, about my age. This is a first as I haven’t met any other New Zealanders the entire time I have been away. He was very easy to spot amongst the crowd, although I think I must have aged about 10 years if Mila thought that I was about the same age. Admittedly, there is quite a lot of white hair around the edges at the moment! I spoke to him briefly before dinner and then had a longer conversation afterwards. He was an extremely fit tramper from Nelson and was regretting taking 5 days to the trek as he was always first in camp by a long way.

The bedroom in Cabana 3!
The bedroom in Cabana 3!

At dinner, I was seated by two American girls, one of whom had already informed me that she was in the top 10% with regard to I.Q. of Americans and the rest were basically idiots, a Venezuelan turned American and an older Belgian man. This all tested my patience as I found the Americans extremely arrogant and the Belgian was extremely angry. Unfortunately,the latter had decided that I was a good audience so I had to listen to him making his points by banging on the table and tightening his lips for quite some time before I was unwittingly rescued by John, the Kiwi.

I ended up retiring to my hammock quite early and listening to the Ukranians, as they drank beer and talked very loudly.

Lost City

May 13

Some of the 1200 steps leading up to the Lost City
Some of the 1200 steps leading up to the Lost City

Whilst sleeping in the hammock was more comfortable than I anticipated, I did not sleep well. I was cold, even though I had asked for an extra blanket, and I also needed to go to the toilet. However, I could not face unravelling myself from the hammock cocoon and finding my way through all the other hammocks to the toilet area in the dark and on an uneven path. Consequently, it was a very disturbed night and I couldn’t blame it all on the Ukranians!

Today was the day we climbed to the Lost City. We started early, although, unfortunately, later than the aforementioned foreign group and the other smaller group that John was with. We had a slightly strenuous walk, along a track beside the river, before wading across and ascending 1,200 steps to the outer area of the ruins. The steps were extremely narrow and I had difficulty with my small feet climbing them, so it must have been extra hard for the boys and their big feet. Luckily, though, they were not as moss covered as the images I had seen and this was probably due to the lack of rain.

Old storage shed in the Lost City
Old storage shed in the Lost City
Staircase leading to the Chief's house
Staircase leading to the Chief’s house

We arrived at the top in what was once the commercial area, where it was probable that grain and other food products were stored. Wilmer gave us some information, which Mila, and one or two of the other Spanish speakers in the group, translated for the non Spanish speakers. The city was built in 700 AD and lasted until the Spaniards arrived in the 1500’s. The cause of its demise is not known, as the invaders never actually reached the city (not surprisingly, given its location). It is likely that the Teyuna (from whom the Kogui descend) were either killed in battles or died from diseases, such as TB, which were unknown until the Europeans arrived and for which the indigenous had no resistance.

Chief's throne in the middle and Jesus walking up the steps
Chief’s throne in the middle and Jesus walking up the steps
Looking up from to the Chief's house
Looking up from to the Chief’s house

We continued up the main staircase until we reached the Chief’s old house. (This, incredibly, is where the Government lands the helicopters to bring supplies to the military that are stationed there.) From here, the view was magnificent across the mountains, especially if you could ignore the yellow shirts that were being sported today by the party of Ukranians. I came to really dislike this group! They appeared in all our photos as they lingered around the top of the City and one of them even had the cheek to ask me to move out of her picture!

View of the mountains from the Chief's house
View of the mountains from the Chief’s house
Birds nest hanging from the tree
Birds nest hanging from the tree
The Lost City
The Lost City
Sitting on the Chief's throne
Sitting on the Chief’s throne

However, they eventually left and we were able to enjoy the peace. It was well worth the effort of walking there. The stones that the tribe used to construct the buildings were either from the site or brought up from the river, which must have been a feat of some magnitude. We had quite some time to wander around and just sit and enjoy the location before our guides called us over for the two soldiers to talk to us. They are stationed there to deter any guerrilla trouble although, now, it is probably unnecessary as there has been no guerrilla activity for ten years.

The group at the Lost City
The group at the Lost City
View from the Chief's house
View from the Chief’s house
Descending from the Lost City
Descending from the Lost City

After an hour or so, we started, somewhat reluctantly on my part, to walk back down the mountainside. The local Kogui were having a spiritual meeting in the houses that are used each September when the shamans from the surrounding countryside congregate to eliminate the negative energy that is left by the visitors throughout the rest of the year. We had to leave the area quickly, as we were not supposed to disturb them.

The outer area of the Lost City
The outer area of the Lost City

Unfortunately, we encountered one of the rude Ukranians a little further on. A shaman that Wilmer knew, was sitting on a wall, obviously sick, and the Ukranian was intent on taking photographs even though our guides asked her not to. (Almost all of the group seemed to have the latest camera, many of them with very large lenses. This particular one, had even got the guide to carry her camera bag.) Our guides were not at all pleased and blamed their guide, who seemed to have little control over the group.

Bedroom cleared of hammocks in Cabana 3
Bedroom cleared of hammocks in Cabana 3

We continued back down to Cabana 3 where we had lunch and a rest before making our way to Cabana 2, another three hour walk. The Ukranians left whilst we were eating and, as there are two cabins at Cabana 2, our guides had made sure they were not in the same one as us, so we saw little of them after that, thank goodness. They really made the place feel as though it was just another mass tourism place to go and not something very special, which it is.

Bags of the Kogui hanging outside the cabana
Bags of the Kogui hanging outside the cabana
On the dusty track
On the dusty track

I found myself walking alone again for much of the afternoon. This was something I didn’t mind as I could go at my own pace. It was extremely hot, once again, and it was not a question of perspiring gracefully. The sweat was pouring off in bucket loads and if my t shirt had not been strapped down by my back pack, I would have done what all good Colombian men do, and lifted my t shirt to wipe the sweat from my eyes and face, exposing an undesirable stomach! As it was, I did the best I could with the top of my t shirt, which will certainly find itself in the rubbish bin before too long.

On the track - spot the rear end of a pig!
On the track – spot the rear end of a pig!
Swimming hole in the Buritaca river
Swimming hole in the Buritaca river

I was almost the last to arrive in camp 2, with the Irish couple a little way behind. Unfortunately, she had fallen and her hand was very sore and swollen. The track is very uneven and in some parts, quite dangerous, so you have to watch your feet, rather than the view, the whole time. Any momentary lack of concentration, could result in a twisted ankle or a fall.

Kogui herdsman driving horse laden with Ukranians packs
Kogui herdsman driving horse laden with Ukranians packs
Arriving back in Camp 2
Arriving back in Camp 2

We had dinner again at about 6pm, and, once again, by candlelight. There was a very good atmosphere in the camp tonight, with many of the young people playing cards, whilst I spent a long time chatting to John. It was very nice to have someone to talk to with a bit of a common background. He is a ‘classic Kiwi’! Unlike the rest of the nights when I have been one of the first to bed, I actually lasted longer than the young ones. Tonight we had bunks again so it was little more comfortable than last night.

Lost City

May 14

Each time I woke up in the night, which was frequently, I was very conscious of aching muscles all over my body. The morning proved no better, as I eased myself out of bed and resorted to ibuprofen to get myself in a mode fit to walk for 6 hours.

Kogui village in the early morning
Kogui village in the early morning

We started early, being woken (as if I had been asleep!) at 5am and, after a quick breakfast, we were underway at 6am. John had already zoomed off, and I spent the morning at the back of the group, usually on my own. There was no way I was going to be able to keep up with the others today!

Kogui hut in the morning light
Kogui hut in the morning light
Kogui girl with bird in her bag
Kogui girl with bird in her bag

It took 3 hours to retrace our steps to Cabana 1 where we were to stop for refreshments and a swim if we wanted one. It was another beautiful morning, following the pattern of the last couple of days, with blue sky and sun, followed by slightly overcast, humid weather in the afternoon. 6am was definitely the best time to be up and about.

Herding cows
Herding cows
Early morning light
Early morning light

Whilst I was last, it seemed I wasn’t so far behind the others. At the camp, we all had tamarillo or tree tomato, as it is called here, juice and a slice of chocolate covered something or other, which was an excellent energy booster, and then some people went to the swimming hole in the river. I went but just watched, as I couldn’t be bothered to change into my swim suit.

I then made a head start on everyone else as the first part of the walk was straight up a muddy hill and I knew they would catch up with me very quickly. As it happened, they didn’t and it was only when I stopped for a rest to admire the view that the group appeared. Mila seemed a bit concerned that he had lost me as they hadn’t seen me earlier!

Sierra Nevada vista
Sierra Nevada vista

We arrived back at the village for lunch at about 12.30pm. It was definitely a welcome sight. We all had cold drinks and then lunch and there was a definite feeling of camaraderie, which was lovely. I was also somewhat gratified that several of the young people felt it necessary to comment to me that they respected/admired my endurance, as they were all tired and they were supposedly young and fit! John, of course, put me to shame, as he had arrived at the village about 2 hours earlier, had had lunch and was wandering around. As I said, not all Kiwis are created fit! (He had also had two artificial hips and a triple bypass, so maybe that is the secret.) I think I need replacement knees now though.

Walking along the dusty track
Walking along the dusty track
Swimming hole at camp 1
Swimming hole at camp 1

We were all divided between the trucks to go back down to Santa Marta and various places. I was in the truck with the Swiss girls, as we were all going to the same hostel on the beach south of the city. I hadn’t got a reservation but was hoping for the best.

We arrived back and I had to pick up my belongings from the Magic Tour office and we all wanted to go to the supermarket, as there are no shops at the beach. After this, the office lady hailed us a taxi and negotiated the price and we all piled in. And there began another adventure!

Bridge over the lagoon
Bridge over the lagoon

The taxi driver had obviously not realised where the hostel was and under quoted the price. Also, judging by the state of his driving, I really wondered whether he had a driving licence at all. After asking a couple of other taxi drivers in completely the wrong area, the Swiss girls told him which way to go. Unfortunately, he missed the turning and we were on a dual carriageway with not many turn around places. We weaved and wobbled our way along, almost hitting the median barrier at one point, whilst he rummaged around his seat, and eventually arrived, luckily in one piece. Then came the argument about the price. The Swiss were remarkably steadfast in their refusal to pay more, but as I only had a 10,000 peso note he got an extra 1,000 more than he had quoted.

Playa del Ritma hostel
Playa del Ritma hostel

The hostel had a room, which I immediately changed for a slightly more expensive one downstairs with a patio and a hammock. I had a swim, a wonderful shower and feeling like a normal human being once again, lay in the hammock with a rum and coke and watched the sunset through the barbed wire fence.

A little later, the (half) bottle of rum and coke and I joined the Swiss girls and one or two others and a convivial evening was spent chatting around the table. There might be just enough rum left for me for the next night or two!

Santa Marta

15 May

Mural on the hostel wall
Mural on the hostel wall

I woke up today to find a young man sleeping in ‘my’ hammock, which temporarily put paid to any idea I had of reclining myself. However, I had plenty to do catching up with 4 days worth of blog and sorting out a large number of photographs. I spent the morning doing this in my nice air conditioned room. The room itself is basic, to say the least, with bare concrete walls and floors. However, it is large and ten metres from the beach, so I can’t ask for more.

The weather was overcast and hazy today so I didn’t feel too bad about not being outside. It took hours to upload my photos as the internet connection was so bad and I got bored with diary writing after doing the first couple of days, so adjourned to the beach for a little while.

Along the beach
Along the beach
One of the many ships waiting to come into port
One of the many ships waiting to come into port
Beach in front of the hostel
Beach in front of the hostel

When I was walking back to my room, the hostel owner called to me and said there had been a problem with the bookings and I would have to move to the original room I had booked, which was upstairs and with a fan. The fan I didn’t mind but the lack of hammock was more of a problem! However, I didn’t have a choice, so reluctantly packed up my scattered possessions and shifted upstairs.

The rest of the day was spent pottering between the beach and the room, chatting to some of the other residents and doing some washing. People seem to arrive and are reluctant to leave, something I can well understand as it is a very relaxing place.

I had dinner at the cafe and retired early to my room to read after an extremely lazy day.

Santa Marta

16 May

View from my position on the beach
View from my position on the beach

I was still tired and achy today and was beginning to wonder if I really might need replacement knees, as they were extremely reluctant to bend still!

I did a bit more diary writing, spent some time on Skype, had a coffee at the convenient cafe attached to the hostel and then retired to the beach, where I read an entire book that I found on the bookshelves here. (This was not a great feat, as it was a fairly short Ruth Rendall detective book.)

The hostel owner called to me again as I was walking back to my room, to say their booking system was messed up and the room wasn’t available for me tonight. There were lots of apologies and I was given one of the staff member’s rooms, at no cost, for the night. (Not quite sure where they slept!) At this rate, I will have sampled almost all the rooms in the place.

View on the beach
View on the beach
Hostel from the beach
Hostel from the beach

I packed up my possessions, once again, and moved to a very nice small room, complete with all the staff member’s clothes etc, wrote a bit more diary and then went back to the beach for a while, where it was a perfect temperature although a little windy.

The day was certainly not very strenuous but just what I needed at the moment. It was the first time for a while that I could relax and not have to worry about where to go, where to stay and how to get there. And I was on the beach. Bliss!

Hostel cafe/bar
Hostel cafe/bar

I had a shower and took my rum and coke to the beach to watch the sunset, then came back and sat at the tables outside and chatted to an Israeli girl for a while before having dinner, once again, in the cafe. I have now managed to do no cooking for 6 months, which I think is quite impressive!

Sunset
Sunset

A lot of the other inmates were chatting outside, which is something that seems to happen every night here and which sometimes generates into a spontaneous party, apparently. I am usually asleep by this time and, quite amazingly, have not, so far, been disturbed by any noise. Everyone is very friendly and will take the time to chat to me, which I, for some reason, always find quite surprising, given that they are all much, much younger than me.

I was in bed relatively early, with the intention of reading for a while, but the ‘while’ was very short before I was ready to put the light out, as I was falling asleep.

Santa Marta

17 May

View to the beach from the bridge
View to the beach from the bridge

When I got up this morning, after a very comfortable night in the staff member’s bed, the aches and pains, thankfully, seemed to have abated and my knees were just about back to normal, so maybe I won’t need replacements after all!

It was a beautiful day and I decided to go for a walk along the beach before it got too hot to do anything. There was nobody else up in the hostel, as they all seem to have very late nights and then sleep late in the morning.

Early morning at the lagoon behind the hostel
Early morning at the lagoon behind the hostel
Fishing boats on the beach
Fishing boats on the beach

I walked along in both directions on, what is meant to be, one of the more exclusive beach areas in Santa Marta. There are certainly a large number of condominiums along the waterfront, as well as a few more being built but there did not appear to be too many hotels though.

Early morning at the beach
Early morning at the beach
Pushing the boat out!
Pushing the boat out!

Back at the hostel, I put my possessions in my backpack in preparation for the move to another room, and then went down to the beach, taking an Elmore Leonard book from the bookshelf with me, so that I had something to read.

It was another very leisurely day and so hot that I had to retreat into the shade on occasions. However, it wasn’t too hard, lying on the beach, reading and going for a dip in the (very warm) sea when the heat became unbearable.

I retreated to my latest room for a little while but had a last couple of hours back on the beach in the late afternoon, when it was marginally (but only marginally) cooler.

Chairs ready and waiting!
Chairs ready and waiting!
Large fish models suspended outside a cafe
Large fish models suspended outside a cafe

After a shower, and a sorting of the possessions to see what I could dump, I just about caught the sunset. The evening then took a very unexpected turn. Whilst sitting on the beach, with my rum and coke, a couple of Colombian ladies approached and introduced themselves because, they said, I looked so happy!! (Must have been the rum.) Anyway, one of them owned an apartment in the condo next door and there were five ladies, who all played tennis together in Bogota, staying there. They said they were having a barbecue on the beach and asked if I would like to join them. Who was I to say ‘no’?!

The barbecue was actually held in a very smart barbecue area, next to the very fancy swimming pool area in the grounds of the condominium. Ice was produced by one of the staff members, who would also clean up the barbecue grill when we had finished.

My new Colombian lady friends
My new Colombian lady friends

I would say, that at least one or two (or all) of the ladies had had more than a little to drink on the beach already as the owner, particularly, seemed to be swaying a little as we walked to the barbecue area. Anyway, there was ample food and drink for us all and I was encouraged to eat, drink and be merry. Luckily for me, most of them spoke some English, but they were fascinating to watch as they had some very heated discussion, particularly about Gabriel Garcia Marquez of whom Colombians are very proud, even though he lived in Mexico for most of his adult life.

I eventually staggered back across the beach to the hostel at about 11pm having had a totally unexpected and thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Bogota

18 May

It was another beautiful morning but, unfortunately, I was heading to Bogota today, so had to say farewell to the beach. There was nobody around when I got up this morning, apart from the lady cleaning the cafe. She had to find the staff member, who was supposed to be on duty at 7am (at least, according to their sign), but was not in evidence at 7.45am. The place is very relaxed! With the bill paid, I was soon on my way in a taxi to the airport, which was only about 10 minutes away.

Playa del Ritmol sign
Playa del Ritmol sign

I checked in and read in the departure lounge whilst waiting for the flight, which was very full. Everything went smoothly and we landed on time in Bogota at 11am. In no time at all, I had my bag and was in a taxi, once again, on my way to the hotel.

Sun shining on a suburb of Bogota
Sun shining on a suburb of Bogota

The rest of the day was spent in my room, apart from a quick trip to the shop round the corner for supplies and a wander up to the top floor to see the view. I felt cold for most of the day as the temperature in Bogota is considerably lower than Santa Marta.

Bogota City Centre
Bogota City Centre
Bogota
Bogota

I had no desire to wander the streets or go into the city and I managed to fritter away the afternoon quite successfully. As I had a large TV in the room, I also caught up with a bit of world news, something with which I am sadly out of touch at the moment.

Medellin to Cartagena

 

Medellin

2 May

Sculpture in Alpujarra administration centre
Sculpture in Alpujarra administration centre

This morning was spent doing an excellent ‘free’ walking tour (we could tip as much as we liked and a guideline was given), run by Pablo, the owner of Real City tours. Seven of us were collected from the hostel and travelled on the metro to Alpujarro, where a few others joined us and we began the tour proper.

Pablo had grown up during the worst period of the drug wars, when Medellin was the most dangerous city on earth, and he gave us a very honest insight into this time, as well as the history and culture of Medellin and Colombia, as a whole.

We started at the Old Railway station, which had been built during the Industrial Revolution to provide transport for gold. We then moved on to the Centro Administrativo Alpujarra (Administrative Centre), which is a large pedestrian area with a lot of fairly ugly, concrete buildings of the 1960’s and 1970’s era. There is also an enormous sculpture depicting the history of Medellin, in which there is a small box containing the ashes of the architect, whose name I have forgotten.

Square of Lights in Medellin
Square of Lights in Medellin
Fountain in the Square of Lights in Medellin
Fountain in the Square of Lights in Medellin
Church dome in Medellin
Church dome in Medellin

Next stop was at the Parque de las Luces or Square of Lights. This used to be the most dangerous place in the whole of Medellin where you were guaranteed to get robbed, raped or killed. There were also a couple of buildings that had been derelict and that had provided homes for prostitutes and drug dealers. Pablo had to pass through here every day on his way to school and, in his home area, there was the constant threat of grenades and shootings.

Nowadays, the Square of Lights has been transformed into a park where people are happy to sit and watch the world go by. There are fountains, stands of bamboo and scores of pillars, which, apparently, are lit up at night. This area represents hope to the people of Medellin, ‘light’ also meaning ‘hope’. The derelict buildings have been restored and now house the Ministry of Education and a school for manual and technical skills.

Street musicians in Medellin
Street musicians in Medellin

We walked through a very busy and bustling shopping street and into the previous National Palace, which is a beautiful building inside.  It now houses a multitude of small clothing shops. However, it used to be renowned for people attempting suicide by jumping from the balcony on the top floor, which, unfortunately (or fortunately) for them, wasn’t so high that death was guaranteed.

Inside the old Palace of Justice in Medellin
Inside the old Palace of Justice in Medellin
One of Botero's statues
One of Botero’s statues
Botero Square in Medellin
Botero Square in Medellin

We had a brief stop to refuel outside the Veracruz church, where there were a number of places to buy snack food. I tried the traditional Colombian cheese bread, which is basically a deep fried dough ball with cheese in it. All traditional Colombian food seems to be deep fried! This area also accommodates the prostitutes, who locate themselves inside the telephone booths that are directly outside the church and next to the police station. As Pablo was quick to point out, anything goes here!

Botero Plaza was next on the agenda. This is a large square, housing a number of disproportioned statues, created by the Colombian architect, Botero. There is also a church the building of which was begun by a European architect and completed by the Colombians. They thought they could do it better and cheaper but soon discovered they couldn’t! Consequently, the building that was supposed to be all black and white, is not, and there is one very European like dome on the one side and some quite boring concrete with very mismatched windows on the other.

Church in Botero Square in Medellin
Church in Botero Square in Medellin

We stopped under the metro whilst Pablo explained the murals and also about the metro. The latter was built during the most violent period 20 years ago and, at that time, gave hope to the people of Medellin. As a result, they are extremely proud of it and never deface it or leave rubbish. I had already noted how surprisingly clean it was earlier.

The metro overhead
The metro overhead
The Metropolitan Cathedral
The Metropolitan Cathedral

According to Pablo, no drug money has been used to reform the city. There is absolutely no doubt that the drugs are still here, but the area of conflict has shifted to the jungles, particularly along the Brazilian border. (According to Pablo, submarines had been discovered in the jungle.  These had been built there with the specific intention of using them for transportation of the goods.) The operation of the drug business is now spread between a greater number of smaller cartels rather than being controlled by the drug lords of the big five cartels that existed a few years ago.

Our tour then took us through some bustling streets (Pablo had warned us to be very careful of our bags here), in which very explicit porn DVDs were openly being sold next to the church.  The Parque Bolivar and the Metropolitan Cathedral area was an ‘interesting’ one in which a strong smell of cannabis prevailed, even though the police station was on the edge of the plaza.  There were also quite a lot of odd looking people around. It would have been fascinating to sit and people watch  but we had to keep moving!

Bolivar Park
Bolivar Park

Our last stop was at Parque San Antonio, a large paved area that had been built specifically for staging concerts. There are two of Botero’s sculptures here. One of these was just the remains of the original, which had been blown up by a bomb during a live concert in 1998, and had been left to serve as a reminder to the population, and the other, a replica of the original that represents hope and new beginnings.

Colombians, generally, I have been told several times, deal with the bad things of life by laughing at them. Pablo tells us that the people of Medellin have wiped their memories of the bad times and this is why they are so happy. They maybe happy because times have changed so radically, but I find it hard to believe they have forgotten those times when hundreds of thousands of people were violently killed.

A busy intersection near Parque San Antonio
A busy intersection near Parque San Antonio

By the time the tour had finished, it was pouring with rain and, naturally, I had no jacket or umbrella. Maddie, Nick and I decided to try a restaurant, recommended by Pablo, and  the very traditional local dish, whose name I have forgotten, which basically comprised of beans, avocado, sausages and egg, most of which was deep fried! Luckily Maddie and I had decided to share a plate as it was enormous and I would never have been able to eat it all by myself. The restaurant was somewhat kitsch but the sausages were very tasty!

Restaurant in Medellin
Restaurant in Medellin
Lunch - a traditional dish!
Lunch – a traditional dish!

We caught the metro back to the hostel (which, incidentally, is Kiwi owned and operated), and then paid a visit to the travel agency in the supermarket to book flights to Cartagena. The distance is vast between Medellin and this Caribbean city and, whilst it can be done, would take many hours on rough roads in a bus. That done, we wandered the supermarket and Maddie and I treated ourselves to cakes on the way out (custard square in my case!). These were wrapped up in some very dinky little boxes for us to carry home and very tasty it was too (the cake not the box).

View of Medellin from Poblado
View of Medellin from Poblado

Medellin

3 May

Today was a fantastic day. On the spur of the moment, I had signed up to do a trip, arranged by the hostel, to go to Guatape, a small town and large rock about one and a half hours away, if you go directly, which we didn’t. To say today’s tour was unconventional is probably a slight understatement!

Smog over Medellin
Smog over Medellin

Rafael picked eight of us up in his old blue Bedford van at 9am. There were supposed to be only 7 of us (the number of seats in the van) but there was a mix up with one of the girl’s bookings, so she ended up in a nest like arrangement, comprising a sleeping bag and pillow or two, in the very back of the van. When we arrived at Rafael’s hostel for breakfast, she was upgraded to a white plastic garden chair, which was carefully lodged in the back.

Washing drying at the flower garden in Santa Elena
Washing drying at the flower garden in Santa Elena
Flower arrangement
Flower arrangement
View from the garden of the breakfast house
View from the garden of the breakfast house

To start off with, we wound our way up the very steep hills surrounding Medellin. It was difficult to see very much of the city though as, firstly, it was covered in smog and, later, we were above the clouds. However, once at the top, the skies cleared and we headed off on the main road towards Santa Elena, where we stopped briefly at a flower farm. This was not in production but just had a few (now very dry) arrangements left over from last August. Apparently, there is a big flower festival at that time, in Medellin, and the flower growers produce massive arrangements for this. The countryside was beautiful though, even if the flowers weren’t exactly spectacular!

The Van!
The Van!
Doorway with a view in El Penol
Doorway with a view in El Penol

From there, we drove to Rafael’s village, turning off the tar sealed road and onto a rutted, unsealed track that became steeper, as we progressed. This set the tone for the rest of the day. Here, we were provided with a wonderful breakfast (or rather, brunch, as it was now nearly 11.30am) of eggs with spinach or tomato, fruit and some delicious bread.

On the way back out of the village, the road proved too steep for the van with all of us in it, so we had to get out and walk whilst Rafael drove up the hill. We then continued on along a country road until we joined up with the main Medellin to Bogota road, which wasn’t exactly a four lane highway. No wonder it takes 10 hours to do the 400km!

The swing bridge at Guatape
The swing bridge at Guatape

We continued along the road, stopping for Rafael to purchase tomatoes in one town, which was very busy with buses and collectivos, and arrived at the replica of El Penol town, which had been flooded to create the lake. We stopped for a while and admired the view as well as the town, before heading off again.

Very quickly, Rafael veered off the road once again and down another rutted track, which ended in a highly precarious suspension bridge. Apparently, we were off for a swim! The bridge would most definitely not have met any safety standards anywhere I know, as it had broken slats, holes in the slats and the safety rails had bits missing, but we all made it across without mishap. Most of us went for a swim in the lake, which, surprisingly, wasn’t particularly cold, although it was very, very deep and looked a little murky. One or two of the boys had come without their togs (swimming costume), so swam in their underwear, so when we set off again, we had various articles of clothing, flapping from the windows!

View from the top of the Rock
View from the top of the Rock
View from the top of the Rock
View from the top of the Rock

It wasn’t then far to go to get to the Rock, which is huge and made of granite.  It towers over the landscape and has had a staircase built into a fissure, which resembles a giant zip. There are 755 steps (approximately) to the top of the tower, which, for some strange reason, has been built on the top of this rock. All of us ascended, some more quickly than others, and marvelled at the view, which was quite fantastic.

It was very busy at the top, primarily with Colombians, who seem to enjoy venturing out at the weekend. There were also some very nice houses, and a lot of boats on the lake, so I assume that it is a very attractive destination for some of the more wealthy people from Medellin.

Lunch at Guatape
Lunch at Guatape

Having made the effort to go up and down hundreds of steps, it was time for lunch, it now being 3pm! Rafael had brought everything with him and we had an extremely enjoyable picnic next to the van in the car park, overlooking the lake.

Eating lunch at Guatape
Eating lunch at Guatape

We finally arrived in Guatape at about 4.30pm and were given half an hour for a wander. This was most definitely not enough as the town was enchanting, with all the houses painted in bright colours and all of them having some type of fresco under the windows. I would have loved to have stayed there. However, I had a quick walk around the town and along the waterfront, where there was a market in progress and the ziplining seemed to be popular. Then it was back to the van to start our trip back to Medellin.

Lake front in Guatape
Lake front in Guatape
Cafe in Guatape
Cafe in Guatape
Desserts!
Desserts!

There was more in store though! Rafael had only allowed us half an hour in Guatape, so that we could stop in another town (I have no idea where), for dessert. On the way, he stopped at a roadside stall and bought something like falafels, which were extremely tasty. We were certainly not being starved today. We then wiggled our way around yet more back streets and stopped in a very bustling town. It was now dark, and we all piled out of the van in a dubious looking area, and walked up to the plaza, where the dessert shop was located. Here, there was a horseshoe shaped table upon which glass dishes were set out containing, what appeared to be, homemade desserts. We each paid and then selected the type we wanted. They were delicious!

After this, we thought we were on our way back to the hostel, but next up was a bar. Not just any bar though. This one had horses and a rink outside and inside was definitely cowboy-ish, for want of a better description. Unfortunately, we were the only patrons, so there wasn’t much atmosphere. It was probably too early in the evening for the Colombians to be out, as it was only 7pm at this stage.

Our final stop was at the lookout over the city, where the air was now clear. There were hundreds of cars packed into a small space and hundreds of people loitering around. It was obviously a very popular place for a Saturday evening!

Medellin by night
Medellin by night

We finally arrived back at the hostel at about 9pm. I, for one, was exhausted, but it was such a good day, it didn’t matter. Rafael really made the trip, as he was always cheerful and willing. He made us all laugh, when he called out to people, as he was driving through the city and seemed to enjoy honking the horn. The group also got on well and I had quite a bit of Aussie/NZ banter with a chap from Tasmania, which I’m sure, must have bemused the rest of the group.

Medellin

4 May

Cable car in Medellin
Cable car in Medellin
Orderly queue for the cable car in Medellin
Orderly queue for the cable car in Medellin

After the very long day yesterday, I was still quite tired this morning, so spent some time pottering about the hostel, chatting to people, and also in my room, sorting my photos. In the late morning, I caught the metro through the city and then the cable car going up to Alvi.

The metro only costs the equivalent of $1 US and this enables you to travel from one end of the city to the other on one ticket. This also includes two cable cars that rise up the steep hillsides that surround Medellin. The intention behind this system was to enable the people from the poorer barrios/flavelas on the hillsides to be able to get to work cheaply and easily anywhere in the city. Prior to the construction of the cable cars, it was extremely difficult, given the nature of the terrain. Consequently, in the past, these areas were riddled with crime and drugs.

Gliding over the tree tops
Gliding over the tree tops

Over the last few years, a huge effort has been put into improving conditions, with not only the cable cars being built, but also libraries. Unlike other parts of the world, where Councils seem intent on reducing services like this, in Medellin, three new very large and very modern libraries have been built in the hillside barrios, in order to encourage education. The one at Santa Domingo has been built in black slate and has the appearance of a big black box but, apparently, the libraries have been extremely successful and are well used as community centres.

The metrocable is very well organised, with orderly queueing at the bottom and staff counting the number of people through the barrier each time a car came around. There are two cable cars climbing up the hillside on this side of the valley, one going as far as Santa Domingo and another continuing on to Alvi for an extra fee.

Originally, I thought that I would only go on the first one, but whilst I was going up, I thought I might as well do the second one as well. I was so glad I did! We climbed up and up, over some extremely poor areas, where we could hear and see young people playing soccer and children playing hopscotch. There was music blasting and lots of people in a public swimming pool. After that, we ascended out of sight of the city and glided, almost silently, (apart from the chatter from the Colombians in the car!), over tree tops for a total of 1.8km until we reached the park at the top at Alvi. It was quite magical.

A popular bar at Arvi
A popular bar at Arvi
One of the poorer barrios in Medellin
One of the poorer barrios in Medellin
Barrio in Medellin
Barrio in Medellin

Once there, I had a wander down the road and had a look at the stalls in the small market. It is obviously a popular destination for the ‘paisas’ (locals) on a Sunday afternoon as there were quite a number of them ambling around and buying food from the stalls.

After an hour or so, I caught the cable car back down again and returned to the hostel, via the supermarket. I just had time to write up my diary from yesterday and Skype a friend before going to the barbecue that the hostel owner was cooking tonight. This was extremely well attended and I think I ate more meat in the one meal than I have done all year. It was a true Kiwi barbie!

View from the metro up to the cable car
View from the metro up to the cable car

Cartagena

5 May

Waiting for the metro
Waiting for the metro
Second hand toilets for sale
Second hand toilets for sale
Second hand clothing
Second hand clothing

After breakfast and packing up, I caught the metro to Cisnero station, where I was to join an Exotic Fruits tour in the market place. I arrived early and met the two guides, one of whom was in training, and then waited and waited for the three other people who had booked. After half an hour, they decided that I should go on ahead with Maria, whilst Hernando (I think that was his name!) waited for the others.

The market was about 10 minutes walk away and, as we walked, we chatted about Medellin and Colombia. Maria is only 20 and had not known the violent period so had a different perspective to Pablo on the City tour. The others eventually caught up with us, and we were first taken to a couple of big buildings which contained small shops selling second hand goods of everything imaginable, including computers, car parts, animals and birds (not second hand!), fridges, toilets and clothing. Apparently, this is the main place for people from Medellin to come if they are looking for a spare part.

Refurbished fax machine, anyone?
Refurbished fax machine, anyone?
Second hand goods for sale
Second hand goods for sale
Fruit for sale in the market place
Fruit for sale in the market place
Chontaduro
Chontaduro

After that, we strolled around the large indoor fruit and vegetable market, whilst the two guides purchased fruit for us to try. We found a quiet area above the bustle of the stalls and sampled 17 ‘exotic’ fruits. I think they were a bit disappointed when I told them that I had grown feijoas, tree tomatoes (or tamarillos), and passionfruit in the garden at home! Whilst we were eating, the life of the market place continued around us. We had an extremely strong smell of mangos wafting up, as well as a man throwing boxes down to stall holders below and, astonishingly, someone washing the rubbish bins next to us.

Once we had tried everything and I was starting to feel a little over fruit, we migrated to a juice bar. Colombians love juice, which they drink either with water or milk. Everyone, it seems, owns a blender. I had one made from chontaduro with milk, which was interesting but I can’t say I would rush back for another one!

Pitaya or prickly pear
Pitaya or prickly pear
In the fruit market
In the fruit market

Once the tour had finished, we walked back to the metro and then on to the hostel, where I had to collect my pack and make my way to the airport. I was intending to get a taxi to the bus station and then a bus, but when I asked Kelvin, the owner, to call me a taxi, he said that he had just called one for another girl and asked if I would like to share. This resulted in a relatively luxury taxi ride all the way to the airport for not much extra cost than the bus would have been. Excellent!

As I had allowed plenty of time for the bus, I then had plenty of time at the airport as the taxi, of course, was much quicker. As luck would have it, the plane was also late, so I sat and read whilst I was waiting, which was certainly no hardship.

Late afternoon sky
Late afternoon sky

The flight was very short and we arrived in Cartagena at about 6.30pm. The temperature was just right when we arrived, although I had been warned that it gets extremely hot. I got a taxi to my hotel, which is very nice, with a roof garden, from which I could see the dome of the Cathedral all lit up, as well as a stretch of water and what looked like a castle. However, the area itself looks a little dodgy, so I don’t think I will be walking around by myself at night.

Cartagena

6 May

Today was very mixed with a wonderful morning and an extremely disappointing afternoon. After breakfast, admiring the view from the hotel roof top and booking a Chivas tour for the afternoon, I took off to explore the old city of Cartagena.

View from the rooftop
View from the rooftop
View fro the other side of the rooftop!
View fro the other side of the rooftop!
The rooftop in Cartagena
The rooftop in Cartagena

The city is about 15 minutes walk from the hotel, through the more local side of town rather than the tourist area, so was fascinating in itself.

The street outside the hotel in Cartagena
The street outside the hotel in Cartagena
View in Cartagena
View in Cartagena

The old city was absolutely beautiful with something to admire on virtually every street corner. It is a 16th century walled town, built by the Spaniards to protect themselves from the very many Caribbean pirates, and, currently, there appears to be a lot of renovation underway.

Cafe in Getsemani, Cartagena
Cafe in Getsemani, Cartagena
Dome of the Cathedral in Cartagena
Dome of the Cathedral in Cartagena
City Wall with Bocagrande in the background
City Wall with Bocagrande in the background
The Library in Cartagena
The Library in Cartagena
Looking down the street towards the Cathedral
Looking down the street towards the Cathedral
Street in Cartagena
Street in Cartagena
Along the City Walls in Cartagena
Along the City Walls in Cartagena
The old and the new in Cartagena
The old and the new in Cartagena
Fruit seller in Cartagena
Fruit seller in Cartagena

It was a wonderful place for wandering, which is exactly what I did, stopping first to buy some much needed sunglasses to replace the ones I had lost along with my bag. I walked right around the very thick walls, sat in the Cathedral, where there was a service in progress, went into, what was, the main library and had a coffee in the (very) Green Cafe. I loved it all!

After stopping at the supermarket, where they must reward their checkout operators by how slowly they can scan items, I walked back to the hotel for half an hour in the air conditioning before being picked up for the tour. Whilst waiting, one of the hotel staff was very pleased to introduce me to a Polish Canadian from Montreal, who was also travelling on her own and who was also going on the tour.

Nothing like a bit of colour!
Nothing like a bit of colour!
The Green cafe in Cartagena
The Green cafe in Cartagena
The Chiva bus
The Chiva bus
Inside the Chiva bus
Inside the Chiva bus
A hat seller in Cartagena
A hat seller in Cartagena

We were picked up by taxi and taken to the Clock Tower, which is the main entrance to the Old City and a local landmark. Here, there was some discussion about payment, which we had already given to the hotel (in cash).

We then boarded the Chivas bus and waited, and waited, whilst very slowly more people boarded and all the other buses left. We finally started, with music blaring, and drove to Bocagrande, one of the beach areas of Cartagena, where we acquired more people. The commentary then commenced. In Spanish. As the tour was not cheap, (I found out afterwards that other people had paid less), and I had asked specifically if it was in English, I was not overly happy.

Hawkers
Hawkers
Bocagrande
Bocagrande
Sun shades at Bocagrande
Sun shades at Bocagrande

At the first stop for photography, where we were swamped by vendors, I asked the guide if he spoke English, which he said he did. Seemingly, he had asked if there were any English speakers aboard, but strangely, none of the four of us present heard this, so maybe he asked in Spanish? From then on, we had to listen to about 10 minutes of Spanish for 2 sentences of English, so, to say none of us were very happy would be an understatement, and all of us left the tour early.

Some sort of monument
Some sort of monument

Our next stop was at a monument that was two large shoes. I have absolutely no idea of the significance or what the monument was dedicated to, as it wasn’t explained clearly in English. The English speakers (the rest were all Canadian) loitered, whilst the South Americans took pictures of themselves in and around the shoes and bought items from the ubiquitous and persistent street vendors.

View from La Popa
View from La Popa
Lots of gold on the altar in the church at  La Popa
Lots of gold on the altar in the church at La Popa

After this, we wound our way up the hillside, through the slums, to the Convent at La Popa, which is the highest point of Cartagena. This was originally built by Dominican monks, had fallen into disrepair and had recently been restored. Pope John Paul had visited, much to the delight of the Polish Canadian, and there is a lot of gold on the altar.

The fort, or Castile de San Felipe, was next on the agenda. There was, apparently, only one way into the fort and this was through tunnels that led right up to the main part. People could be seen coming up, but the visitors couldn’t see the soldiers waiting for them, so the inhabitants in the fort were never taken by suprise. The Spanish had apparently tried to persuade the local Indians to be their slaves, but the latter were not very keen on the idea, so took off into the distance. Consequently, slaves were brought from Africa and these did some of the manual work of building the fort before they, too, escaped. There were beautiful views over the city and outer area from both La Popa and the castle.

The fort in Cartagena
The fort in Cartagena
At the fort in Cartagana
At the fort in Cartagena

We continued back down to the old city, where we stopped for 15 minutes at an arcade of ‘handicraft’ stalls where we were pointed in the direction of a particular one. (Guide’s grandson’s apparently.) By this time, the guide realised we weren’t very happy and encouraged us to stay until we had walked to the Clock Tower. One Canadian had already departed but the rest of us continued on. We were given little information, but as neither of the other Canadians had set foot in the city, they were quite impressed.

View from the Fort
View from the Fort
A roadside barbecue
A roadside barbecue

Once at the Clock Tower, the Canadian that was staying in my hotel and I went in search of something to eat. I suggested we start walking back and finding something along the way. She had decided she wanted fish, and picked on a hotel restaurant that she considered not too expensive and that I normally wouldn’t have gone near. There was nobody in it and, when a waiter was eventually found by the Reception, he suggested we ate on the roof. This was the best part as it overlooked the plaza in front of the Clock Tower, which was very busy, unlike the restaurant.

View from the restaurant in Caragena
View from the restaurant in Cartagena
Cathedral at night
Cathedral at night

The fish, when it arrived, was extremely average and didn’t warrant the price. The Canadian thought it was very good and then tried to haggle for a discount for cash. Strangely, at this point, the waiter, who had been managing English up until then, lost his comprehension!

By the time we arrived back at the hotel, I was desperate for the rum I had bought from the supermarket earlier. The rest of the evening was spent trying to import and upload, a large number of photos into my very ailing ipad that I am trying to nurture along, and which really didn’t want to play the game! Thank goodness for rum!

Cartagena

7 May

View from my bedroom window
View from my bedroom window
View of the Cathedral in Cartagena
View of the Cathedral in Cartagena
Statue outside the Convention Centre in Cartagena
Statue outside the Convention Centre in Cartagena

This morning I felt obliged to walk in and around the city with the Canadian, who had not travelled on her own before and was apprehensive about walking on her own.  It quite quickly became apparent, to me at least, that we had different interests. She seemed keen to look at shops, whilst I just wanted to wander and take photos.

We walked along the waterfront and into the town where we visited the Cathedral and then the small Gold Museum, which was reasonably interesting.

Fancy boats and straddlers in Cartagena
Fancy boats and straddlers in Cartagena
Cartagena
Cartagena
Gold earrings in the Gold Museum in Cartagena
Gold earrings in the Gold Museum in Cartagena

All the other museums had charges and we we were lured into a couple of places that called themselves museums but which were, in fact, shops, so I’m not sure how that works! I also wanted to go into the Santa Domingo church but the only way to get in before 5.30pm was to pay to go to the attached museum, which then entitled you to visit the church.

Exhibit in the Gold Museum in Cartagena
Exhibit in the Gold Museum in Cartagena
Horse drawn carriage in Cartagena
Horse drawn carriage in Cartagena
Statues in the Santa Domingo plaza in Cartagena
Statues in the Santa Domingo plaza in Cartagena

By this time it was midday and extremely hot.  I decided to use the heat as an excuse to escape back to the hotel. The Canadian decided to continue wandering on her own and I had a blissful afternoon reading in my room with the air con on.

I was expecting a message from Nick and Maddie, as I had arranged to go out to dinner with them tonight. However, when it didn’t arrive, I assumed that they might have stayed at the beach, so went for another walk into town.

View from the bridge near the hotel in Cartagena
View from the bridge near the hotel in Cartagena
View from the other side of the bridge
View from the other side of the bridge

It was a bit cooler by then (although only a bit!) and the light on the coloured walls was beautiful. I had a look in the Santa Domingo church, which was now open, wandered around some streets I hadn’t visited yesterday, called in at the supermarket, where the length of time spent at the checkout was excruciating, and then came back to the hotel as it was getting dark.

White bird conveniently located in the foreground of the photo!
White bird conveniently located in the foreground of the photo!
A very yellow part of Cartagena
A very yellow part of Cartagena

To round off the day, I had a rum and coke on the rooftop, where I could watch the locals sitting and chatting down below.