Week 34: Buracamanga, San Gil, Barichara, Guatalupe ,Villa de la Levya & Bogota. Colombia.

We made our way to Buracamanga to meet friends of Nils. It is not exactly a major tourist destination but  is often compared to Medellin. We spent 3 weeks on the Caribbean coast and I absolutely loved it but was  ready for some cooler weather. Santandar is famous for eating ants (hormigas). They go mad for them over here and I can confirm they are absolutely disgusting. We drove to a nearby Canyon with Lina which was really impressive and here we tasted the local delicacy of corn arepas with sweet chorizo. They cook the chorizo in panella which is Colombia’s natural alternative to sugar. Like most of the food in Colombia it’s only OK and we all agreed the chorizo would have been a lot nicer if it hadn’t been covered in sugar (like everything else in Colombia).

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Nils, Me, Lina and  Laura eating sugary chorizo and corn areapas
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This woman made a mean arepa
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Lina, Nils and Laura at a nearby canyon

Given the volume of things I have lost in the past few weeks we decided to take a trip to a shopping mall to buy some new clothes to try to feel human again. I was done and dusted in about half an hour (and exhausted). Nils on the other hand likes to research and consider his purchases so I left him to it and I camped out in a coffee shop.  Hours later decisions finally made we headed back to the air b and b. En route home we both bought new phone chargers. Mine broke the following morning! South American electronics leave a lot to be desired. I also replaced my sunglasses, lost them the following afternoon. A new record! Since leaving Dublin I have lost a total of 20 pairs of  sunglasses. Impressive even for me.

We took a trip to Barichara which is described as one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia. It has apparently remained unchanged in the past 250 years. There are amazing craft shops where they specialize in shoes (they kind of look like elves shoes). We both bought a pair and almost missed our bus home because I was getting mine remodeled to fit my abnormally large feet. We spent the day strolling around and watching the world cup. Big statements from Nils saying he had his best South American empanadas in Barichara. It was stuffed with delicious pulled pork and served with some excellent picante. My best still remains the ones from Salta in Argentina but these guys were a close second. Colombian empanadas have been  generally a big disappointment.

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Typical cobbled streets of Barichara
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Beautiful Barichara
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Local children in Barichara
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Peeing is best done when outdoors

Next stop was the adventure capital of Colombia; San Gill. We both wanted to go rafting so signed up for the following day. We went for the extreme option of grade 4 & 5 rapids. Nils has rafted loads before so it was a walk in the park for him. As for me I thought I was going to lose my life and screamed for the entire journey. I only fell out once so I would call that a success.  Amazing experience. It is the second best place to raft in south America after Futaleufu in Chile, Patagonia.

We both wanted to go mountain biking the next day but it was booked out. I had a contact for this woman who did cheaper tours so I decided to join her the following day. It was just me and Yuan from Argentina (thankfully not the same Yuan I knew from the woods). We biked down into this canyon v scary  as the roads were really bad and we had no protection but miraculously I managed to stay on board the bike. The weather was amazing and the subsequent steep uphills were hell.

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Yuan in San Gil

We stopped off for some fermented panella a traditional drink in the region. It was alright definitely a taste that could grow on you. The locals from the countryside are completely different to that you meet in the cities. They are seriously friendly and love seeing gringos. They couldn’t have been more welcoming we were even treated to a round of free beers (which were badly needed).

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The crew

Back on the bikes for some more steep inclines until we reached a secluded waterfall where we went for a welcomed dip. It was glorious and we had it completely to ourselves. We then made it to a quaint village called Palmar for lunch. This was an experience where the place was hopping with drunk Colombian men feasting on maize and beers. After a great feed of shock horror; rice, beans, plantains and meat. Followed by some drunken spanish conversation  and another local drink (beer, fermented panella and soda) we were back on the bikes (not able to feel my arse). A fantastic day with some really nice experiences in rural Colombia.

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Happy out
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This lad invited me to come live with him….Gent!
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Beers, maize and mates
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This fella was loving the camera (and his maize)
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Delicious local maize

Next on the agenda was Guatalupe a tiny colonial town. There is absolutely no one here and completely off the beaten track We mainly went there because we wanted to visit Las Gachas. At the moment it is quite unknown that will probably change soon. This place is really cool and contains natural water holes on a river with amazing colours.

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The resident people watchers in Guatalupe
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Main plaza in Guatalupe
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Pretty church in Guatalupe

The views were stunning and kind of reminded us of Austria. En route I bought myself new flip flops moments later I ended up in a mud hole. Destroyed!

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Doing what I do best ….falling over

Once you arrive at Las Gachas it is pretty lethal walking on the rocks and I had a serious fall  for the second time that day. This place is scattered with  waterholes where you can just chill and have your own private jacuzzi. There was a backdrop of rolling green mountains which was incredible. We basically had the place to ourselves.

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Stunning walk to Las Gachas
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Waterholes with a view
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Las Gachas
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Stunning colours

Our accommodation for the night was gorgeous. We stayed on this guys farm with stunning views of the surrounding mountains. I spent the evening chatting to him and he was obsessed with his cows so was very eager to get some professional  cow photography so I happily obliged.

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View from our hostel

The people in Colombia  are great the buses not so much….I firmly believe they have the worst transport system in all of South America. It really is a joke. So we had planned on making the very acceptable 120km journey from Guadalupe to Villa de la Levya. This turned into a disastrous 12 hour journey requiring 4 different buses. 9 months of backpacking has turned me into an expert at making the most out of bad situations. At this stage if anything is bad it’s an experience or a story ( and there have been plenty). It’s the only way  of dealing with these situations otherwise you would go mad. Also time predictions don’t include the bus man’s compulsory stops for sopas, secundos, postres and god only knows what else they stop for. The beauty of travelling for 1 year is time is most definitely on my side. The other good rule of thumb is if they predict the journey will take 2 hours double it (at least!!).

We eventually arrived into Villa de la Levya and we didn’t regret it. It was definitely worth the effort. It is quite similar to Barichara but there is definitely a lot more happening here with lovely little coffee shops, ‘french’ bakeries and bars selling vino caliante! We explored the town and got some excellent coffee. We both decided to get overdue  hair cuts. My last one was months ago, a DIY job  from my Mexican friend Brenda. Nils’s had been only 2 weeks ago but he is definitely more into up keep than I am. The hairdresser asked me if I wanted wet hair, damp hair or dry hair so I treated myself and went for the dry hair. Really pushing the boat out!

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Villa de la Leva
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Gorgeous buildings in Villa de la Leva
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Having a chill
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Lots of Colombian politicians have houses in Villa de la Levya

Dinner was a delicious steak for Nils and Salmon for me followed by 2 mulled wines. Nils was absolutely frozen so I suggested bringing my minus 20 degree sleeping bag to the bar trying to get some use out of it. Needless to say my idea was rejected. The days of the Caribbean are well and truly over.

The next morning we explored the town some more and went up to the Christ for an amazing view of the city. A quick coffee and a few empanadas later we were bundled into a bus to Bogotá all going far too smoothly for our liking. We made record time of 2 ½ hours and made the last of the England Croatia match and even had time for 2 beers to celebrate Croatia’s win!

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School children playing football
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Amazing views of Villa de la Levya

We decided to splurge on our last night together and stayed in a fancy hotel. When I say spurge I mean 20 euro per night. We couldn’t have looked more out-of-place. My backpack is a disgrace  at the moment. Contents currently hanging outside backpack; a mattress, tent, sleeping bag, knicker bag, hiking boots, runners and a bikini so the hotel staff were delighted to see me coming. Without delay I made my way straight to the free food counter.

It was our last night together as Nils was ending his 6 month trip by finishing in Cuba.  We went to a rooftop bar (we were v lucky to get in). There were stunning views of Bogotá with  live Cuban music. People watching the rich civilians of Bogotá was most enjoyable. We usually only  drink aquila beer for 3,000 pesos (less than 1 euro) but we stretched the budget and went for delicious mojitos.

Like I’ve said before the Colombian food is OK. It is acceptable but nothing you would be getting excited about. The exotic fruits are probably the best thing going for them. When researching restaurants for once I opted for the most un traditional option; French. It was amazing from start to finish. We got free nibbles at the beginning (always a good sign). We went for aubergine and goats cheese starter with homemade warm bread (not laden down with sugar!). Mains were filet steak with béarnaise and salmon. Sides were potato gratin, ratatouille and salad. All this washed down with Chilean red wine. Dessert was  café gourmand where we split 4 mini desserts; crème brule, chocolate mousse, marinated oranges, and a chocolate and orange tart. Gorgeous. I loved it all and it was certainly a welcomed changed from the reliable arepas. We were even given freshly made bread rolls as a present going home. Thanks so much Assumpta for the most delicious treat it was so nice for one night not to feel like a backpacker.

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Finally getting to drink wine and eat real cheese!
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Buen viaje Nils thanks for putting up with my madness for the past few weeks and keeping me out of trouble

 

 

 

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Week 33: Cabo de la Vela, Punto Gallinas, El Rio & Playa Costeño. Colombia

Having hairy legs while exploring the Caribbean is a bit of a no no. Proactive as always, I decided to invest in a professional waxing job despite the horrific eye brow experience. Anyways this wasn’t much better. I pick them well and ended up with a transvestite from Venezuela who ‘specializes’ in waxing. Who cares as long as he/she gets the job done. I knew it would be a disaster as he/she attempted to wax my legs using a pot of honey (no joke). This obviously wasn’t working out so well when a large blade was produced and he attempted to get rid of the hair (+honey). I had to stop him midway as we had to catch a bus. I thanked him  and exchanged whatsapps in case he ever comes to Ireland (sorry Una and Dom!)

The bus was a funny one  It  was crammed with locals and  as I was trying to secure a seat I realized my food bag ripped open and that the cork screw  had gone missing. This meant only one thing the vino had to be consumed. I shared it with a Colombian sitting next to me. He too happened to have a bottle of vino so he also cracked his open.We recruited another Colombian and a Venezuelan and got  the party started. It’s certainly one way of making bus journeys go fast.The vino party was in full swing as I was trying to negotiate with another angry bus man not to rip us off once again. On this occasion I was successful so happy days.

We decided to try to reach South Americas most northernly point called Punto Gallinas, a relatively untouched part of Colombia. All of the guides books were telling us the only way to make it to the desert was to take a tour.  We  found a few frenchies in our hostel who also wanted to do the trip independently so we joined up with them. The journey is renowned for being long, rough and very puke inducing. In the middle of the night  the two French girls and a German lad (not Nils) almost had a physical fight over a fan and the heat of the room. I was saying nada and just listened to my sleeping playlist of Eminem. Next day myself, Nils, grumpy Frenchies and grumpy German all bundled into a jeep en route to the far away desert. Nice and cosy for a wild few days together.

The first stop was Cabo de la Vela. The drive was so interesting and at times quite shocking as we saw first hand how the Wayuu Indigenous people live. The people living here are so poor that the children (and some adults) have built barriers out of sticks, ropes, bicycle chains and whatever they can get their hands on. They frequently  stop the passing jeeps begging for water, food and sweets but especially water. There is a huge scarcity  here. We were both sorry we didn’t bring more for the people.

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Barren landscape of Cabo de la Vela

Our driver, Darwin completely ripped us off. He also had no idea where we were going and got lost a number of times. That being said, he turned out to be very generous with the locals stopping and speaking to almost all of them giving them rice, water and other food items so he redeemed himself in my eyes.  He was a likable divil and definitely a chancer.  On our last day with him he told us to be ready at 5am and he then casually rocked up at 8am. Not a bother. Needless to say Frenchies were bulling.

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Julian exploring rainbow beach
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Views from Pilon de Azucar Cabo de la Vela

The beaches are out of this world and not like anything I’ve seen before. It’s so strange being on a desert and then swimming in the Caribbean sea. We were the only two chilling on the beach drinking beers. Beers and cigarettes are dirt cheap here because they are getting everything from the Venezuelan boarder. We spent the day visiting different view points off the coast. The winds were incredible and pretty lethal at times where you could have been easily blown away.

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Stunning views at Cabo de la Vela
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Nils getting blown out of it
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Nils, Pilon de Azucar
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The desert and the Caribbean
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One of the most stunning beaches
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The most amazing crabs at Villa de la Vela

Myself and Nils camped on the beach and  surprisingly wasn’t too bad (compared to our previous disasters). The next morning  we wanted to leave early so that we would make the Colombian match. Of course we were waiting for Julian the German who was constantly late. Frenchies were steaming in the car and tensions were high when he rocked into the jeep 25 minutes late. You could cut the tension with a machete and everybody was v pissed off with Julian. There’s always one I suppose….

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Me at Pilon de Azucar
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Where the desert meets the sea

Punta Gallinas is as remote as it gets and is officially the most northern point of South America. We were worried about not getting to see the Colombia match because everyone had us warned that there were no TV’s in Punta Gallinas. So a brand new TV was brought in especially for the match plastic still in tact. After a successful  win we were piled into the jeep with Julian, Frenchies and some welcomed new recruits; Sophie from England and Flo from Germany. At last some nice people not wanting to kill Julian. We were brought to the official most northern tip of South America which is a little bit of  let down and just a handful of rocks and a dull sign. They definitely could have made more of an effort but quite cool to make it there nonetheless. Really delighted I made it from Ushuaia the end of the world in Argentina all the way to the most northernly point in South America. A total of 10,636.1 km travlled!!!

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Punto Gallinas
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The top of South America
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Me at the sand dunes
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Punto Gallinas

Back at the hostel myself and Nils shared a fish and with a few others we walked to the nearest beach to watch the sunset. One of the lads Martin got stung by a jelly fish while bravely going for a dip. It bought me back to my days when I ended up in hospital  caused by a jelly fish sting on my right boob on a trip to France. Nasty little feckers.

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Sunsets on Punto Gallinas

That night dinner consisted off more fish (cold on this occasion), chicken but the star of the show was the goat. A  delicious local delicacy in the desert. Nils was devastated and changed his order last-minute for the chicken. Martin the only smart ones amongst us all milled into the goat. This trip gives you an amazing insight into the culture of  the Wayuu indigenous people and the difficult circumstances in which they live. We were both dying for a bed and fresh water. Showers consisted of using  buckets of sea water and we also had to use sea water to brush our teeth. Violent!!! A memorable experience but both of us happy to leave the desert behind.

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Leaving Punto Gallinas on boats

I thought travelling with an organized German would solve my problems of loosing things and just being a mess in general. In fact the opposite has happened. Since meeting Nils I have managed to loose a record amount of things; a new pair of havianas, 2 towels, 3 pair of sunglasses, 3 phone chargers (1 broke so doesn’t count), shampoo, shorts, t-shirt, lap top charger, camera charger, camera battery, ear phones, pepper spray, pad lock, countless amounts of knickers and socks, sun cream and an entire bag of food and cutlery. I think that’s about it (for now). Nils looses nothing but since meeting me he has managed to loose his shoes so he’s catching up on me (kind of). I used to get very upset about loosing things but since it has become such a regular occurrence I’ve become quite accustomed to it. Also, having just come back from the desert you realise how futile and unimportant these things are and how lucky we are to easily replace them. Una reassured me that as long as I don’t loose myself that I am doing well. So as always looking on the bright side of things.

El Rio  is voted best hostel in Colombia so we were dying to see what the fuss was all about. When we arrived we were both booked in for hammocks but I ended up pitching my tent instead. A preferable option to a load of irritating snorers.  The day we arrived the hostel had organised 5 aside football against local Colombians. It was the perfect setting, right in the middle of the jungle. We had to trek through rivers for about 40 minutes to get there. It was a surreal setting for a football match. It was a little bit over whelming at first against the Colombians. They were in a different league but I decided to get stuck in nonetheless. Nils ( a previous professional footballer!) scored a few goals. I unfortunately wasn’t as successful on the goal scoring but my strong suit was assisting (a very important task). I loved it and definitely one of my Colombian highlights so far. Walking home in the dark was always going to be a tricky one and true to nature I fell over and landed into a pile of muck +/- poo (who knows).

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The most perfect football pitch
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Myself and Nils getting hammered by the locals

The next day we were signed in for tubing where we met Martin and Lisa a couple from Holland who we knew from the desert. Tubing is where you float down the river in a rubber ring drinking cold beer ( really tough going).  Naturally I got into some difficulties and couldn’t move my tube so I bribed a young Colombian Kevin to push me down the river in exchange for a few sips of beer. A fair deal even though Kevin was probably around 14. We stopped off to jump off some cliffs and rocks. Plenty of belly flops later myself and Kevin were back on the tube. That afternoon resulted in an extremely competitive game of volleyball where we were joined by more friends from the desert Sophie and Flo. Nils struggled at  the volleyball and tried to redeem himself in the ping pong tournament. Unfortunately this was not the case where the score was a miserable 11-1. I fared a little better with 11-5.

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Lisa, Martin, Nils and I tubing in El Rio

So not one to miss out on any freebies I signed myself up for yoga the following morning thinking it would be a nice stretch. It was a torturous hour with the best part being the namaste day bow at the end. After stocking up on the free breakie of granola and delicous fruit we got motorbikes to take us Costeño. beach.  I lost my reliable sombrero en route to the beach. This was almost the worst of the lost items as I relay on this for covering up dirty greasy hair. We both agreed that this was our favourite beach on the Caribbean. It was  pretty much deserted with crazy waves and palm trees coming out of your ears. Nils checked into a dorm and I decided to camp for the night trying to save on the dolla bills.

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Caribbean paradise, Costeno beach
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Stormy sunsets on Costena beach
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An intense game of huam sized jenga!

We left early the next morning wanting to be back in Santa Marta in time for the Colombia  England match. Sophie and Flo joined us as the atmosphere was electric especially with Sophie swinging for the other side. Credit where credit is due she had a Colombian jersey and geniusly drew English flags on her face using tooth paste and lipstick.  Backpacker improvisation at its best. With the match resulting in penalties it was a devastating end for Colombia.

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The best supportors!
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This gal!!!!

Myself and Nils got a little too excited at the game  resulting in an unnecessary extra bucket of beers. Afterwards Nils ended up falling asleep on a hammock and I took a visit to the supermarket. Dangerous.. Anyway long story short we missed our bus so ended up having to stay in a random holy man’s house that night. On the plus side we had plenty of food from my ridiculous shopping.

 

Week 32: Santa Marta, Minca, Parc Tyrona & Palomino. Colombia

The journey to Santa Marta was a disaster. It started off with me getting my eye brows done (a long over due job). I asked the lady just to wax them but she had other ideas. Nils was mortified and insisted I wear a hat and glasses to cover the monstrosity. Note to self never ever get your eye brows dyed in South America.

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Just going for the subtle natural look

I also had the genius idea of buying ingredients to make carbonara when we arrived. The eggs escaped from the bag and burst on the bus. The problem was they were rotten eggs and I can honestly say I have never in my life smelt anything more toxic. The bus man ran of the bus to be sick and refused to let me or Nils back on until we disposed of the eggs. I still hoped there was some salvaging them hating the waste. Another staff member came over and was also almost sick with the smell so it was time to abandon ship. Nils got the honors of dealing with the egg situation. Back on the bus every few minutes the bus man would spray his perfume on Nils’s hands trying to mask the smell. We eventually arrived in Santa Marta eggcited for the next few days!!! (if you will pardon the pun).

Minca is about 1 hour from Santa Marta. It is a relatively new area to tourism because before it was an area largely occupied by Gorilla war crime. It is set in the mountains with lots of different coffee and chocolate plantations.  For our first night we stayed in Casa Elemento on top of the mountain with stunning views of the valley. It’s about a 3 hour hike up but most people just get a motor taxi for a steep 20,000 pesos. This place is apparently home to the world’s  largestt hammock. We both got up early the next morning to watch Colombia’s disastrous first match where they lost 1-0 to Japan.

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Me on top of Casa Elemento
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Myself and Nils on one of Casa Elemento’s hammocks
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Sunset at Casa Elemento
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Sunsets at Minca

I got the job of booking the next nights accommodation. Usually I leave the research in Nils’s reliable hands as I couldn’t be bothered. I have spent the past 8 months just sleeping in tents or the cheapest possible options. Nils researches within an inch of his life I’ve never seen anything like it. Anyway a guy I met on the Galapagos recommended a hostel called Nuevo Mundo in Minca so without batting an eye light I booked us in. The fine print: It was a 6 hour up hill hike on the completely other side of the valley. So this went down really well with Nils who isn’t a big fan of walking! Needless to say I was in the bad books. We bumped into the locals playing soccer and kind families who let us pass through their homes eventually leading us to the hostel. We arrived at dark and the dorm I booked was full up so we got up graded to a private deluxe room. So after world war 3 I had semi redeemed myself.

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Walking through the gorgeous hills of Minca
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That look you get when it’s only a 6 hour walk left to the hostel

Next day we visited a chocolate farm but unfortunately there were no tours instead we drank cups of hot chocolate and watched  Tuki the toucan having his lunch of pineapples and bananas.

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Seeing my first cocoa plant in the wild
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Tuki the toucan having lunch
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I was having a nap when this giant appeared out of nowhere

We spent our time in Minca tasting craft beer at a brewery in the middle of the jungle!, drinking local coffee and exploring the nearby waterfalls.  Motor taxis will bring you just about anywhere you want but it will cost you. Instead I insisted we walk everywhere even though my bag weighed a ton. The bottles of wine in hindsight were obviously not the best idea. Anyone thinking of coming to Colombia should have Minca high up on the list.

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Minca’s valley
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Myself, Nils and my eye brows at one of Minca’s waterfalls

That evening we made it back to Santa Marta where we planned our trip to the famous Parc Tyrona the following day. This is where we the Caribbean sea meets the jungle. On  our way to the campsite Arrecifes we spotted lots of monkeys and exotic birds. The mosquitoes and ants were out of this world and we were eaten alive. That night we tried to start a fire to cook dinner (miserably). After about an hour of trying to keep it lit with a palm tree a local Colombian came to the rescue. Obviously I learned nothing from my wood cutting days in Argentina.  After a feed of smokey pasta and some beers we were ready for the leaba.  I was dying of the thirst so I ended up drinking out of what I thought was a spare beer can. It turns out it was warm piss from earlier that day. I was straight to the toilet to try to disinfect my mouth. Absolutely rotten. Nils also unucky ended up sitting in a pile of rotten mangos and destroyed his only remainly clothes. After that we decided to call it a night. It was another sleepless one in the 1 man tent getting drenched by a rain storm.

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Desserted beaches in Tyrona
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Parc Tyrona
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Our sad excuse of a tent
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Day 1 sweating in Parc Tyrona
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Monkey Spotting in Tyrona

The next day we headed to Cabo San Yuan to pitch our tent for the second night. This was a stunning beach albeit a little touristy. Tyrona was a lot more expensive that we expected. You pay for entry, a place to pitch your tent and naturally enough food and drink are pricey too. As a result were on the sandy tuna wraps for the few days. We hiked up to the small town of Pubelito which is often compared to a smaller version of the famous lost city. I loved the jungle walk despite the desperate humidy. Nils on the other hand…….not so much. In the afternoon we chilled on the gorgeous beach where I did some really nice snorkeling. That night was spent singing disney songs in spanish with a bunch of Chilain guys over a few bottles of Pisco! A perfect combination.

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Stunning walk to Peublito
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Medieval town of Pueblito
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Cabo San Yuan
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Cabo San Yuan
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More Monkey Spotting

We arrived back into Santa Martha  looking fairly dishevelled after a few sleepless nights. We wanted to watch the Colombia Poland match in a big city. True to nature I decided to go ridiculously over board and luckily Nils was completely on the same page . We bought all the merch and made our way to a locals sports bar which was hopping. I was interviewed for a Colombian radio station and somehow there was a bit of a language barrier and they all thought I was from Berlin. I went along with it anyway. I predicted the score to be 3-0 to Colombia and miraculously got it right. The locals went wild at the end and my score prediction secured myself and Nils lots of free beer and the disgusting aguardiente. Happy out that evening we bundled ourselves onto a bus to Palomino, a small beach town on the Caribbean coast.

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Colombia’s biggest fans
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Celebrating the win against Poland with the locals
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Me and my radio interviewers

So the next day it was my 26th birthday. I couldn´t have asked for a nicer place to stay (or better company). We decided to treat ourselves and stayed in a hut near the beach. The free breakie was the best I’ve had in 8 months all you could eat freshly made crepes (just like the French ones) and omelettes with all the trimmings and homemade bread. Colombians love sugar and all the bread here is sickly sweet so it was a welcomed change. Nils surprised me by booking us both in for massages with this Man called Gerson. This guy was the real deal. I had a massive fit of giggles during it as Gerson started massaging my face. I couldn´t stop laughing for the remainder he was fae from impressed. The rest of the day was spent on the beach drinking mojitos and gin and tonics. Dinner was had in the hostel where they had a french chef. We had this amazing beef dish washed down with chilean red wine followed by a stunning dessert of pastry filled with coconut cream served with mint, pineapple and coconut shavings. It was divine. Good desserts are a rarity in South America and something I miss a lot so it was such a treat.

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Lots of hard work going on in Palomino
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The best birthday buddy

The next morning I booked  myself in for personal training with a chap from Venezuela called Hose (why??). One of my impulsive decisions made before cracking into my bottle of vino the night before. I just about made it through the hour having not done any proper excercise in the last 8 months. I was barely able to walk later that day. I avoided Hose like the plague as I didn´t want him to catch me milling into a plate of chocolate crepes after my ‘workout’. Hose was also availing of one of Gerson’s famous massages. People know how to treat themselves here in Palomino. It felt so good to do some excercise again even if it was just me jumping on a trampoline underneath a coconut tree on the Caribbean. Es mejor que nada and for 6 euro an hour it wasn´t too shabby.

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Palomino

After the most relaxed birthday in paradise we packed the dreaded backpacks and made our way to the bus terminal. Paradise was soon over when there was an argument on the bus because we were being charged 50,0000 pesos for the journey and everyone else paid only 10,000.  I eventually managed to negotitate with an extremely angry bus man. Next stop the most northernly point in South America; Punta Gallinas.

 

 

 

Week 31: Cartagena, Isla Grande & Playa Blanca. Colombia

So most people take a flight to Cartagena from Medellin but obviously this was too much dolla bills for us.  An acceptable 10-hour bus journey turned into a nightmare 21 hours. Myself and Nils arrived late so had separate seats.  I stupidly was watching Narcos on my phone not exactly a clever idea in Colombia. The Colombians absolutely hate Pablo Escobar (quite understandably) and particularly the popular Netflix series. They say it doesn’t reflect what actually happened in their country during that awful time. That being said the man next to me joined in and we watched Narcos together. He grew up during the violence and was 8 years old when it was at its worst and he told me he has clear memories of hiding under his bed during attacks. Anytime there was a sex scene he would cover my eyes and started giggling. I obviously chose the episode full of sex!! An uncomfortable yet hilarious experience. Eventually the giggling Colombian left the bus and Nils was able to sit beside me. The journey was painfully slow and true to South American nature the bus man stopped every few minutes whether it be for a sopa, secondo or simply to stop for no reason. Half way through the journey the toilet exploded and all the contents were flowing up and down the bus a perfect combination with the stifling heat.

Arriving in Cartagena I almost lost my life with the heat it was v intense and apparently is like this all year round. I’m definitely more a cold bird and  kind of miss the Patagonian weather. The historic centre of Cartagena is stunning it’s really touristy but this doesn’t take away from the stunning architecture. We re hydrated with a beer and some people watching.  We tried to scout down some cheap food in town not the easiest task. There are gorgeous places to eat but it’s expensive. We finished the night off with some whiskey and wines on our balcony.

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Historic centre of Cartagena
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Old town Cartagena

We came across a gorgeous café run by an Australian couple who hire locals from poor parts of the community. It’s called cafe stepping stone and the food is very two boy’s brew. Coffee was also excellent. Ironically good coffee is not something  you can easily find in Colombia because they export all the good stuff. This cafe was an amazing place and a great escape from the heat. I went back twice to get their banana bread with real butter all it was missing was a dollop of Dom’s infamous raspberry jam. On our second night we checked out plaza Trinidad which is in the more laid back part of the town located in Getsemani. This place has great street art, food and dancers. There was a massive Zumba session going on outside for everyone to join in. Nils got a hotdog for dinner and a random man offered me the leftovers of his plate of meat so dinner was a freebie for me that night. Happy days.

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Colombia getting ready for the world cup
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Colombian hats
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Me in Getsemani
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Street art Getsemani
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Getsemani street art
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Getsemani street art

The next day we decided to go to one of the nearby Islands. We planned to camp, excited for my new tents first outing (and Nils’s first South American camping experience). Isla Grande  is only a 45 minute boat ride away and is a stunning paradise a world far away from buzzing Cartagena. Our first job was to suss out a free camping spot. We walked for about 1 hour until we found playa libre. I was told before hand you must check with the locals before pitching your tent so the only man I could find was one with few teeth selling lobsters and crabs on the beach. Probably not the best idea asking someone trying to sell you something for a favor. Anyway he said claro no hay problema you can pitch your tent wherever you like. So happy days we had a gorgeous day snorkeling and swimming in the crystal clear water.

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Not hot at all……
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Nils at playa libre our camping spot, Isla Grande
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Brand new tent’s first outing out in Isla Grande

Dinner for the next few days was going to be tuna and wraps (the island is v pricey for food and drink). I decided I wanted to make guacamole, a ridiculous idea on a sandy beach. After painfully chopping everything in the darkness  I was delighted with my guac (made with hot slimy avocados). When I turned around my bag of guac was knee-deep in the sand. The rest of the dinner was alright albeit a little sandy. Nils a little more careful on the food side opted for none of my few week old cheese I’ve been carting around. Mid dinner I ended up screaming the beach down as a local Man appeared out of no where blabbering in Spanish. I eventually managed to translate that it was illegal to camp on the beach and lobster man was lying and that we needed to move asap.  A disaster as it was pitch black. There was no convincing the angry man so I set off to find an alternative. Lucky me I found a group of Argentinian hippies selling bracelets who have been sleeping on the island for the past 3 weeks. So we moved house and camped beside them for the night.

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Paradise at Isla Grande

I’m used to camping in freezing cold temperatures and bringing my -20 degree sleeping bag to the Caribbean was probably a bit overkill. The two of us so squeezed into my 1 man tent and I thought I was going to pass out with the heat. After a few hours I opted to sleep outside the tent trying to escape the heat. It was still boiling but better than the sandy sweaty tent. The entire night was spent with ants, bug and spiders crawling over every inch of my body including my hair, knickers and ears.  I relocated to the pier for a morning nap and to see the sunrise. It was so nice seeing all of the local children waiting on the pier to catch a boat to school at 6.30 am!!!

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Children’s waiting to catch the boat to school on Isla Grande

The next day we befriended the two most amazing dogs who we had met when we arrived on the Island. We named them Johnathan and Lorraine. They followed us absolutely everywhere. We found out they were really racist towards the locals and loved to protect the foreigners. We walked across the ‘town’ to check out one of the other beaches where they followed us every step of the way. We walked, swam, napped and ate lunch together. We bought the dogs some bread rolls and water. It’s amazing the street dogs here are so polite they never once begged for food or water but it was quite clear they hadn’t eaten or drank in days. After another sandy tuna wrap for dinner. We decided to abandon ship on the tent for our second night and just sleep on the pier with the hippies. At the beginning it was heavenly with no mosquitoes, a gorgeous breeze and looking up at the stars. This soon changed…. Mid listening to some music a huge wave came crashing down on us and this pretty much continued for the whole night with both of us absolutely soaked!!  The whole night we had Johnathon sleeping in between us ñtaking up pretty much the whole mattress. So Nils isn’t exactly convinced about my love of camping yet (fair). Next day  myself, Nils, Johnathan and Lorraine made our way to the other side of the Island to chill out before catching a boat to Playa Blanca. We stopped off for a compulsory coca cola; Nils is addicted and gets a minimum of 3 per day!!!!

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Nils, Johnathan and Lorraine after a rough night on the pier
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Birds and butterflies, Isla Grande

We splashed the boat out and shared a delicious sea food lunch sick of the tuna wraps. Sea food here is amazing and makes up for the bland Colombian food. I was swimming when the boat arrived to take us to Playa Blanca the boat man literally sprinted onto the beach grabbed my tent and all my baggage and carried me / flung me onto the boat. South american efficiency at its best.

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Not wasting a crumb! Definitely getting our monies worth on this one
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Me and Lorraine, Isla Grande
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The legendary Johnathan

After the islands we decided to spend 2 more nights in Cartagena just wandering around trying out the gorgeous cafes and tasting the local ceviche. We did a free walking tour and food tour around the city with an Indian guy who didn’t really know what was going on. Anyone going to Cartagena don’t do the free walking tour so much nicer walking by yourself. We were there during the presidential election where for 2 days it is illegal for restaurants or shops to sell alcohol. One poor divil was caught selling cans of aquila (the Colombian beer) when about 12 policemen all armed tried to chase him down!!!

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Locals selling fruit

I wanted to visit a local food market in Colombia because I haven’t seen one yet. Nils isn’t a fan of walking anywhere and a big fan of taxis. Something during my last few months of travelling I’ve rarely taken. I think it has been instilled in me since being a child never to take a taxi. Dom also not a fan of taxis would insist we walk absolutely everywhere. Bazurto market was amazing and definitely the real deal with no other gringos there. The people in Colombia are famous for being the most friendly in South America and they haven’t disappointed. Lots of the locals were showing us around and trying to help us. After strolling through the offal, meat stands and the sea food (defo our favourite) we made our way to taste some of the market’s food. We had gorgeous prawns, sea food and turtle (tastes a bit like chicken). A huge plate of food for only 10,000 pesos (3 euro). We spent the day chatting to the locals having a few beers and watching the world cup. They are football obsessed here and the atmosphere leading up to the world cup is electric. I got chatting to a lovely man and bonded over a few cervecas. The kind man  gave us an invite to his house for a seafood BBQ to watch the Colombian  match the following day.

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Cartagena’s street food: Cheesy Areapa (a pattie made out of maize, stuffed with cheese and fried)
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Fish Market Cartagena
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Street vendors

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The face says it all
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Stellar hygiene standards
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Lunch at Mercado Bazurto