A Travellerspoint blog

Some photos for those not on Facebook

My adventure in pictures...

My dream to go on an adventure through South America, to seek out beauty in people, places and experiences has been completely fulfilled. Here are some of the highlights...

Iguazu Falls, Brazilian side
Bohemian neighbourhood La Boca Buenos Aires
Floralis Generica, Buenos Aires
Perito Moreno glacier, El Calafate Southern Argentina
Windy El Chalten
Patagonia...the land of blue and pink colours
Great girls I met in Argentina...Hagar and Sivan from Israel and Lidwien from Holland.
Trekking in El Chalten..climb every mountain
The Fitz Roy!
Whitewater rafting on the border of Argentina/Chile
Climbing another mountain in Bariloche, Argentina
Funny hitch hiking experience number 1...
Mendoza, Argentina
Wine tasting, Mendoza
Charlie's mullets...our take on Argentina's fashion faux pas
Dancing in Salta, Northern Argentina
Holy llama :)
The seven-coloured mountain, Purmamarca Northern Argentina
San Pedro de Atacama desert, Chile
Geysers, Chile
Salt plain, Chile
Lake containing so much salt you don't sink
Bolivia...cold, basic, diverse, beautiful
Laguna Verde
Our transport for the 4 day Salar de Uyuni tour
Geysers, Bolivia
Laguna Colorada at over 5,000 metres altitude...blew my mind
Hitting the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia (largest salt flat in the world)
Rainy season turned the salt flat into a huge mirror
Train cemetary, Uyuni
Yes these are the "roads" in Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia. 4,100 metres above sea level
Mountain biking Death Road, Bolivia
New Brazilian friends I made in Sao Paulo
Carnaval, Rio de Janeiro
Street bloco, Copacabana
We accidentally hit this girl over the head with our umbrella, after being covered in rain water her response to our apologies was to welcome us to Carnaval and have a photo
100 points to Amanda
Sambadrome, Rio
One of many amazing floats
Bogota, Colombia
Overlooking the huge capital
Coffee plantation tour near Salento..awesome!
The stunning Valle de Cocora, Colombia
Making friends with the military
Overlooking beautiful Medellin, Colombia
The infamous Pablo Escobar, really interesting tour
Eating out with Devi in Medellin
Hitting the Carribean coast :)
Playa Blanca
The beautiful old town of Cartagena, Colombia
Volcan de Lodo..mud volcano!
Park Tayrona, Northern Colombia
Getting used to sleeping overnight in hammocks
Getting used to 90% humidity in the jungle
Night at Cafe del Mar, Cartagena
The Lost City Trek...5 days hard trekking in the jungle...amazing!!!
An indigenous community in the jungle, my ovaries skipped a beat haha
We found the Lost City!!!
1,200 steps, smiling through the pain
My Birthday, final weekend in Colombia
Leaving Medellin and one final look at the city

Posted by hanaldinho 05:05 Comments (0)

The rest of my Colombian adventure (part 2)!

Santa Marta, Taganga, The Lost City Trek, Medellin, Bogota...UK!!!

sunny 27 °C

So, continuing on from my last blog but without so much ranting about the inaccurate perceptions people hold about Colombia. If you don't believe me come and experience Colombia for yourself. You won't be sorry..

Santa Marta was the place where I realised I had fallen in love with Colombia. Like I said previously it took me a while to develop such a strong affection, this country for me had been a hard nut to crack. I'm always aware that when travelling any country my experiences are going to be limited to the places and communities I can access safely or easily. But wherever possible I wanted a taste of real Colombian life and culture. And if I'm honest, I wanted to be accepted by Colombians too; to know I was welcome and free to explore and delight in the country I was so intrigued by. Being a female traveller, sometimes travelling solo didn't cause any issues, the biggest barrier as I've said before was the language. But the north of Colombia was really very friendly and clearly more used to dealing with travellers and our gringo ways :) Cartagena was pretty but too touristy, Santa Marta was not that pretty but I loved it. Most travellers either base themselves here to visit the nearby National Park, Lost City and la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and a lot of people choose to stay in the more touristy town nearby called Taganga. Santa Marta was steaming hot, humid and loud. The streets were full of little market stalls, food stalls and crazy taxi drivers. The reggaeton or accordion sounds of the popular vallenato songs blared out of the shops, and often enticed me in even though I had no intention of buying anything! Even the beach wasn't that pretty but I felt a lot of warmth from the people in this city and somehow we managed to communicate pretty well. Best of all, the city had that wonderful relaxed Carribean feel and I started to really chill out. Even my spreadsheet itinerary took a back seat as I enjoyed spending time just walking around, taking everything in, sampling the street food and returning the smiles of passer-bys. The only annoyance I did experience was the mosquitoes, despite covering myself in repellent I was continuously attacked by them and man did the bites itch for DAYS after. Devi, who usually gets attacked too seemed to be perfectly fine if I was around.

(Continuing from previous blog) After getting back to mainland Cartagena from Playa Blanca Devi and I managed to get a late bus to Santa Marta. This was an amusing journey for me as I watched one of the bus drivers stare in awe at Devi for the whole journey, and when we were stopped by the Police for a standard roadside check she also managed to get the attention of a particularly attractive officer. Despite the usual arctic air conditioning on the bus we both fell asleep and were woken when we reached Santa Marta two hours late. Even though it was past midnight and the roads were deserted we got safely to our hostel in the centre. Our hostel was called La Brisa Loca and was modern and comfortable, established a few years ago by a couple of young Americans who saw a good business opportunity created by the growing tourism here. Nights were a little on the uncomfortable side since it was very hot and we only had a fan in our room. The next day we decided to take a local bus to the Tayrona National Park which is famous for its beautiful beaches. The bus journey was awesome, cramped and bumpy with the reggaeton blaring from the radio and a very cute old man sitting next to me who kept talking to me quickly in Spanish when it was obvious I had no idea what he was saying. When dropped off at the park entrance we decided we wanted to walk the long route into the park and onto the beach trails. While trying to establish how long this was actually going to take we met an American doctor called Carl who was happy to walk with us into the park. The walk was really nice, we had lots of interesting conversations with Carl, saw millions of ant trails and the beaches we reached were impressive. However the humidity was high and even though it wasn't that sunny it was very warm when walking. 4 hours later we arrived at a camping area. We ended up staying overnight in the park, paying a whopping 20,000 pesos to sleep in a hammock (compared to the 5,000 we had paid on playa blanca). The next day we walked back to the entrance and saw a lot of wildlife along the way include a boa snake (up a tree!), bats, a sloth, some beautiful butterflies and some very noisy monkeys. That evening we sampled nightlife in Taganga which was fun but I still preferred Santa Marta, probably because the ratio of travellers to locals was less! After this I had two days left with Devi before she went home, we ended up chilling out and laughing at all the stupid travel mistakes we had made together on this trip. The highlights being: Getting into a car with Colombians we'd just met on a night out in Medellin, travelling to a remote island in the Caribbean we knew nothing about, then arranging to stay in a hut on the island where the lack of security meant we had stayed awake most of the night praying we wouldn't be attacked, taking two speed boat rides driven by adrenaline junkies, accepting a cockroach infested dorm because we were too tired to inspect it properly and sunbathing all day on Mucura without adequate sun protection and then complaining we couldn't move.

When Devi left Colombia to go home on Saturday 2nd April I was gutted. I'd loved travelling with her and now nearing the end of my trip I was alone again and not sure what to do in my remaining time. I wanted to end my travels on a high but I wasn't sure how quite to accomplish this. This is what happens when you purposefully don't finish your travel spreadsheet itinerary! I ended up wandering the streets of Santa Marta contemplating whether I should do the 5 day Lost City Trek or just chill out on the beach, reading a book and getting tanned. The latter certainly seemed very appealing, particularly as a lot of people had told me the trek was quite hardcore in the humidity of the jungle. After eating a huge delicious mango off the street I felt quite energetic so decided to book myself onto the trek the next day. I also booked plane tickets to Bogota and Medellin for my final/Birthday weekend, I knew it would be tiring but it was my last weekend in South America and I wanted to go out with a bang!

The Lost City Trek was INCREDIBLE!! I've since read the travel advice given by the UK's foreign office on their website, it states "we advise against all but essential travel to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, including the ‘Lost City’. Armed groups are still active in this area, there is extensive cultivation of illegal drugs and the risk of kidnap remains high. While tour organisers may assure you that the trek to the ‘Lost City’ is safe, we do not believe it to be so". I don't want to be flippant about what can and does happen to some travellers, and clearly our Government has access to a lot more information about the country than I do but from my experience, and after talking to a number of travellers I met in Colombia, many of these risks seem to be exaggerated and based on incidents that happened several years ago. The area is actively patrolled by the Colombian army (one of whom gave me his email address haha) and the tour groups involve the local indigenous communities so that they aren't exploited. Interestingly the people who did the trek with me also checked their Government's advice, Australia for example didn't advise against doing the trek. Anyway, my point is I'm glad I did this trek, I saw some of the most beautiful scenery in Colombia. It was also a demanding trek so completing it felt like a personal challenge. Basically it involved 3 solid days steep climbing up and around a mountain, through lakes, over rocks and up 1,200 steps until you reached the Lost City ("Teyuna" as the locals call it). The fourth day was especially hard as you combined all the walking in days 2 and 3, and while a lot was downhill the landscape and rocks meant it put a lot of pressure on your knees. Each day was spectacular, the abundance of plants and wildlife incredible, and just when you thought you couldn't sweat anymore we would get to a lake we could jump into. A further highlight was seeing an indigenous village and meeting some of the native Indian people, the children were just beautiful. Our tour guide and cooks were both Colombian, only spoke Spanish, although Omar would purposefully speak slowly and clearly so that he was easier to understand. We also had someone in our group who could speak Spanish well so helped to translate a lot about the history of the Lost City which was fascinating. I had a lot of fun with the other people in my group which was again Muy Internacional with two guys from Austria, one from Poland, one from the States and a couple from Australia. I was also really happy with the food we were given, our cook actually knew how to season food...it came in large quantities and was delicious. I was sad when the trek was over, but also exhausted. And with 37 mosquito bites, legs like a sumo wrestler and a rucksack full of clothes wet with sweat I was glad to leave the jungle. That night we all cleaned up and went out for good food and drinks in Taganga.

My final weekend in Colombia was brilliant. On returning from the trek last Friday 8th I met a lovely girl in my hostel, we ended up going dancing in a club called La Puerta in Santa Marta with another very funny guy from the UK. On the Saturday I took a flight to Medellin via Bogota, I was driven to the airport in Santa Marta by the most lovely taxi driver who wanted to practice his English as much as I wanted to practice my Spanish. When he found out I loved the reggaeton he got very excited and played me his personal CD of hits which was very funny. I was sad to leave Santa Marta and its people. When I got to the hostel in Medellin they had no spare beds in dorms left so for the first time in three months I had my own private room. This was great to chill out in and not be conscious over the security of my belongings but not brilliant for socialising so I ended up speaking to people in the internet area and at the bar! I spent the Saturday night with Colombians who wouldn't let me pay for anything, I tried to learn Salsa and reggaeton and saw in my Birthday, it was brilliant fun. On my last day in Medellin my Colombian friend Sebastian insisted on driving me to the airport, even though it was over an hour outside the city. We went via the mountains which provided a spectacular view over Medellin and then ate amazing cake in a pretty town nearby called San Antonio de Pereira. Once I arrived in Bogota I stayed again with my friends Juan and Carlos who took me out for a beautiful and expensive dinner and insisted on covering the whole bill. The weekend was a perfect example of the generous and hospitable nature of Colombians who want you to feel at home in their country.

Have also posted photos of my whole trip for those not on Facebook!

Posted by hanaldinho 03:14 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

The rest of my Colombian adventure (part 1)!

Exploring the coast, jungle and some hidden gems along the way. Tolu, Mucura Island, Cartagena, Playa Blanca, Santa Marta

sunny 26 °C

Out of all the countries I´ve been to in South America, I've found Colombia to be the most challenging. And not for any of the reasons you would expect. Colombia doesn't possess a very positive international reputation, yet the perceptions of it being a lawless country overrun by drug cartels and guerrillas must be held by people who have never visited or travelled here, or at least not within the last few years. There is no denying that Colombia has a turbulent political and social history but it's been an amazing place to travel; full of surprises and actually quite different to what I was expecting. When I informed people back at home that I was going to be travelling alone in Colombia, most people told me I was very brave and that they were worried about my safety, my parents were horrified and there were even jokes made about me being fleeced by drug gangs. Most people think Colombia and they think "coffee, cocaine and kidnapping". Well my experience is as follows...firstly the coffee. The coffee is fantastic but very upsetting for me it appears Colombia exports the majority of its good coffee because ive found it really hard to get the good stuff here. Secondly, the safety. I've been travelling all over the country for the last five weeks and have had no problems whatsoever, the infrastructure and transport systems are good, the cities modern and the people passionate, proud and friendly. Of course there are some areas which are not safe for travellers or Colombians alike but, whether a good or bad thing, there is a definite gringo trail being established here which makes travel easy. That said, since foreign tourism only really developed more widely in the last five years you do need to speak a basic level of Spanish to get around. There are also some hidden gems in the form of small towns, islands or places which haven't yet attracted a lot of foreigners, probably because they are not yet on their radar. Some parts have felt more edgy and definitely undiscovered and i'm so glad Ive experienced Colombia at this time, before more and more people realise it's such a great travel destination. And finally the cocaine. While Colombia remains the largest supplier of cocaine in the world, the majority is exported to meet the large demand abroad. All the Colombians I´ve met out here lead ordinary, hard working lives with no connection to the drugs trade whatsoever. Infact I've personally been exposed to more cocaine taking in the UK than anywhere here. It may surprise people but from my experience I think it's very easy to travel around South America without getting involved or even exposed to drugs, although of course its also easy to obtain them cheaply if you want to. Maybe people realise that drugs aren't my thing because in all my time here i've only been offered it twice; once in La Paz, Bolivia and here in Cartagena. Understandably a lot of Colombians really dont like the negative drug related images and connotations dominating the international media and a number are quite hostile towards tourists who come here just to snort cocaine cheaply without acknowledging that its production has caused mass civil conflict and continues to profit violent military groups. There is still drug related violence in a number of communities here and the sad fact that Colombia has the world´s second largest internal refugee problem. I'm more ignorant than i'd like when it comes to knowing whether what I consume on a daily basis has been produced and sourced ethically so im in no position to preach but after visiting Colombia I'd have no problem telling someone considering taking cocaine what the impact of the industry behind it has on innocent people here.

However, I don´t want to write anymore about the negative stereotypes regarding Colombia...I want to tell you all what an amazing, intriguing and diverse country it is! The reason I have found it so challenging was because i've been fascinated by all that I have seen here and desperate to get under the skin of the place..to really understand what life is like for the people here. Sadly my Spanglish has not supported my desire to access the culture here! Since English is not spoken widely by Colombians I´ve felt at times that my experience has been more observatory and this has been quite frustrating for me. It also took me some time to get into the pace of things here and start enjoying the country properly. It didn´t help that I´d come from Brazil which always fills me with a longing to be back there, or that all the travellers who had been to Colombia had told me such great things that my expectations had been raised very high which is never helpful! But slowly Colombia started to seep into me and I´m leaving here with a strong affection to the country and towards the people. I've been shown incredible warmth and hospitality by the people of every country Ive visited in Latin America and Colombia has been no exception. What i have found is that Colombians are hugely proud of all things Colombian and they want to know exactly what you think of their country. I've especially loved the music, the dancing and the diverse geography. Colombia has a beautiful landscape, you get everything here from lush green valleys, mountains, volcanoes, jungle and the white sandy beaches on the Carribean coast. The food has been a bit hit and miss, the fruits are spectacular (I will really miss my daily mango and lulu juice), the meals a bit on the bland side and i´m leaving here really craving a curry just so I can get some spice and flavour! Everything is fried and I started to get bored with eating fried fish, coconut rice and plantaine every day. Still, I´m not going to complain too much about that!

So, since my last blog (I know it's been a while but i've been very busy!) I left Medellin which was a fascinating and beautiful city. Devi and I took an overnight bus to Tolu, a simple seaside resort on the coast which is popular with Colombians going on holiday but not really on the radar of gringos. As soon as we arrived in the morning we were hit straight away with the strong, humid heat which was very different to the climate we had just come from in Medellin (known as the city of the eternal spring). We were quite tired from the bus journey since the roads had been quite bumpy and the drivers too enthusiastic with the air conditioning. We also realised very quickly that no-one spoke English and the Spanish here was more difficult to understand. However we managed to negotiate a "taxi" ride (by this I mean a man pedelling on a bike) to a basic hostel run by a very sweet old man who saw no problem in leaving the gas turned on with the cooker while trying to find matches so that we could have some hot water to make coffee. Tolu isnt the prettiest of towns but we both really liked it, it felt very real, relaxed and best of all you can reach the beautiful San Bernado islands in the Carribean sea from here. When we were in Salento we had been recommended by a fellow traveller from Chedder in England to visit Mucura, one of the San Bernado islands. So after spending a night in Tolu we arranged to take a speed boat to the island. At this point I had begun to realise that when Colombians tell you how long a journey is going to take, what they actually mean is the optimum time without potential complications. In reality you need to add at least 25% travel time onto your journey or you will get continually frustrated about how long it takes to get anywhere. The speedboat was supposed to take 45 mins to an hour to get to Mucura. 3 hours and one island stop later, we approached Mucura...the place was spectacular. Clear, warm turquoise waters, bright white sands, huge palm trees and only a handful of people in sight. We got off the boat with our small rucksacks (all our main belongings had been left on the mainland) and started to follow the hand written map drawn for us by the guy we had met in Salento. He had advised us that if we walked around to the other side of the island we could find a lady called layla who had a hut on the beach overlooking the sea for us to sleep in. We walked for a while trying to decifer whether we were going past the "odd little resort" or the "ugly new development" and eventually found layla and the hut which looked amazing. We negotiated a good price, left our stuff in the hut and went to sunbathe on the beach nearby which was totally deserted apart from a few pelicans who would fly past regularly before diving into the water to catch some fish. The place was heavenly and totally relaxing. Devi and I saw a spectacular sunset and then chilled out in the hut. It was then that we started to freak each other out. The hut had no lock on it so could be approached by anyone, Layla had no security and we had told several people on the island where we were staying (clever I know). As we both lay in bed the wind from the sea was quite loud and the hut which was high off the ground started to creak with noises that could be interpreted as someone climbing the steps into the hut if you were feeling pretty paranoid. Neither of us slept very well that night as we worried that we had gone to an island we knew nothing about and if one of us had gone missing in the middle of the night we would have felt pretty stupid explaining ourselves! Fortunately the only thing we were greeted with the next morning was Layla and the offer of breakfast. Another day in the sun we realised we had both burnt and it was time to return to Tolu (neither of us could cope with another night on the island). This is when the second heart stopping experience occured because the driver of the speed boat seemed to be in a hurry and gave ourselves and the other passengers a pretty hair raising ride back. The sea was particularly choppy and several times we were either completely off the water or at 90 degrees to one side. At one point I realised that if we capsized, I would have to make a decision about whether I saved Devi (who can't really swim) or my camera memory card which had some amazing photos stored on it. Somehow we managed to get back to Tolu dry and in one piece and rushed to the bus station to catch a bus to Cartagena. This driver of this bus must have been related to the speed boat driver because this journey was equally hair raising. In the end Devi and I just laughed at the whole experience and prayed we would get to Cartagena in one piece....

Cartagena: very popular with tourists and a bit crazy! We arrived in Cartagena from Tolu a few hours later, for once on time, which wasn't surprising considering the speed we were going. It was incredibly hot and sticky even though it was late and I started getting attacked by the mosquitoes. We grabbed a taxi which was driven by a very funny and friendly guy who insisted on taking us out for a cerveza. We politely gave our excuses when we got to the main street where all the hostels are, quite near the old town. As soon as we got out of the taxi we were accosted by what I can only explain as Cartagena's pimp daddy, a very confident, slightly pushy man who spoke pretty good English and told us he could help us get a hostel. Neither of us felt particularly threatened by him so we agreed to walk across the street to a hostel which looked ok. We just wanted to check in, take a shower and go out so ended up taking a room at the hostel shown to us. Big mistake. It was only when we got back from our night out that we realised the room was infested with cockroaches :( Without being able to do much about it we got into bed and just hoped we wouldn't get eaten alive in the night. The next morning we checked into another hostel called Media Luna across the road, definitely a gringo hostel full of cool laptop carrying travellers but it was bright, airy and had a pool and lovely roof top terrace. We spent 3 days in Cartagena, exploring mainly the old town (which is absolutely spectacular, both day and night), trying to find reggaeton at night and failing miserably (all the bars were heavy on the salsa) and one night at the open bar "Cafe Del Mar" with its spectacular views over the sea and city (and hugely overpriced drinks). We also took a day trip to "Volcan de Lodo El Totumo", a mud volcano which you can climb into. It was soooo much fun! The sensation of being in the mud was incredible, you don't sink and the mud is really thick, the smell reminding me of the geysers I had seen in Bolivia. Once in the volcano a man gave each tourist a quick massage (3,000 pesos), another took photos (3,000 pesos) and then when you got out you could be washed by one of the local women (another 3,000 pesos). The cost was nothing and I liked that it was supporting something local so I went for the full experience! The river washing was particularly funny, with no time for modesty the woman fully wiped off my bikini and started scrubbing me down! I enjoyed Cartagena although it was a bit too touristy for me and much more expensive than the rest of Colombia. I also didn't particularly like the area where all the hostels are, it's the red light district of Cartagena and there were some disturbing propositions being offfered on the streets. That said, Devi and I walked around alone at night feeling completely safe and we got no hassle, apart from all the hissing from the taxi drivers which although annoying was not threatening. We also met a couple of lovely Australian girls in the hostel and they told us they were going to a nearby island called Playa Blanca for a couple of days so we agreed to go with them.

Playa Blanca was also a bit too touristy for me, and although beautiful it did not compare to the beauty of Mucura. However the beach was very pretty, I got a nice massage on the sand from a local woman and I had my first experience of sleeping overnight in a hammock near to the sea. Two days and one night was enough for me, and when it was time to get the speedboat back I realised just how burnt I had become. I put on lots and lots of moisturiser in an attempt to rectify the situation but this unfortunately meant that when I was being helped into the boat I got all slippery from the sea water and fell heavily, and in a very undignified manner, into the boat which amused my fellow travellers greatly but really really hurt :( The speedboat ride home was another hair rising experience and made me realise I am too old for this form of transport. Once we got back to Cartagena we grabbed our bags and took a bus to Santa Marta. The bus company had told us we would arrive at around 10pm but in fact we arrived nearer midnight which wasn't great but we managed to get a taxi with a lovely guy who took us to our hostel. I really, really liked Santa Marta and I can't really explain why. Most travellers use it just as a stopping point to get to the National park and Lost City Trek but it felt really Colombian, noisy, a bit crazy and full of friendly people.

Since this blog is fast becoming an essay, I will write about my last few days in Colombia another time. Some amazing things happened in my last week, including the Lost City Trek and celebrating my Birthday in Medellin. Will update in a few days! xx

Posted by hanaldinho 16:05 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

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