Is this the bus to Cartagna?
Day 61- Friday 3.5.13
Check out today to meet up with our Dragoman trip. It has been nice at Adelia's but quite quiet. Elena has been lovely, a real home from home.
Staying in the Marsicle for one night, so go to find our hostel for the night. We have a last wander around town getting things we need for our trip. We have a hot chocolate in our favorite coffee shop that sells 55% cocoa hot chocolate. It also does 70% and 100% but we think 55 % Is too die for!
Back to the hostel with a bit of intrepidation we go to our first group meeting. We meet Katie and Domingo our drivers and guides, Karen from Canada, Adrian from London. It is a small groups including ourselves but seems like we will all get on, similar ages so looking forward to the next 19 days.
We go out for a meal nearby. All drinking and chatting and suddenly there is a big commotion with one of the waiters. He goes outside, lots of yelling, then the shutters come down of the restaurant. We all look a bit anxious at this point but still order our food and carry on as normal. It turned out that some people tried to leave without paying. Food arrives, lovely evening, drinks and chatting.
We then all head for dancing. There are some people from the Dragoman trip that has just finished. We all end up in this crazy R&B/ Reggae club that is playing old school R&B. Laurence shaking his booty to snoop dog, 50 cent and the like, Brilliant!!!
Day 62- Saturday 4.5.13
We head off on the truck, Gus at 8 am heading north. We have been given strict instructions not to call GUS a bus she is a Truck, if the word bus is used there is a forfeit to wear the largest pants ever with a picture of a truck on them - The Truck Pants! We continue north to the Miter Del Mundo (equator). Although where the monument and park are is actually built about 200 meters south of the equator!!! So it is the 'not the actual equator'. There is not much to see but good to say we have been there.
loll across the (not)ecuator!
not the ecuator
We continue North to Otavalo where there is a huge market- fruit and veg, local crafts, new products- the market stretches nearly the whole length of the town. In the veg market there are food stalls which we venture to for lunch. Looking around there are pigs heads lots of roast pork. Karen and I spot some rice, pasta veg dish and head over. We sit in front of the stall where there are a few benches. The lady asks if we want everything, I say yes, she then proceeds to mix in an unidentifiable ingredient and serves up a huge plateful of rice, spaghetti, veg, potato, fried egg and salad. I pick around the unidentifiable ingredient either meat or chestnut or something, but well worth it a lovely lunch and only $2. Much better for the budget. Laurence and Adrian go for a meat option.
After wandering the whole market and town we go to our hostel. A beautiful little spot apparently surrounded by Volcanoes but the clouds have rolled in and we can't see any scenery, the rain starts falling! We get the tents up quickly and settle into the restaurant area with a nice cuppa and a beer. We sit and chat waiting for dinner. Going to bed we have to get all our stuff from the truck to make our beds, next time we need to do this before darkness sets in. Crawl into the tent for the night as the rain hammers all through the night.
Day 63- Sunday 5.5.13
Welcome to Colombia :-) our 4th country!
We set off early towards the border. We get through OK, no issues, but we had to change money at the border. There are lots of cambios (men) with wads of cash in their hands asking if you want to change dollars. We agree a rate after much discussion with different men and hand over our money. All very strange but everyone seems to do it.
We continue through Ipiales. There are loads of cafes serving Guinea pig. We decide to stop for lunch. We all wander after Domingo as he negotiates which is the best place to eat. We find a cafe with an outside table. The group orders a nice roasted guinea pig set menu, soup, guinea pig with rice and plantain. I opt for corn soup.
The guinea pigs are roasted on wheels with about 6 animals on one wheel.
“Guinea pigs live on a wheel and die on a wheel”. I have to credit Adrian for that one.
Laurence gets the head section which he is not too keen on and picks slowly round the animal. He reminisces about a school pet he had called Boris! I eat my soup and wonder what all the fuss is about so try a very small piece of guinea pig! It doesn't really taste of much and I don't see what all the fuss is about.
what great advertising
I then go to the toilet and there is a little girl trying to use the hand dryer. I come out and say no trabajo (no working), and she smiles at me. She then asks where I am from. I say England. I have a love chat in broken Spanish but get that her name is Nicole and she is 8 years old. Very sweet.
After the hearty lunch we go to see the neo gothic church nearby El Santuario de las Lajas. There is a vision of the Virgin Mary, that appeared on the rock face and they built the church around it in the middle of the valley. I don't know how they ever discovered it. It is a neo classic church and the last sections were built as late as 1960's.
El Santuario de las Lajas
There is a mass on and as we are leaving everyone was singing Blowing in the wind, by Bob Dillon, in Spanish. On to the hostel in Ipiales where we are staying, prob the worst hostel we have stayed in so far. I have a shower and it is only really a hose that splutters hot water at me. No point in putting the cold on as would just get bursts of cold water when the hot splutters out. Not a very refreshing shower.
Go out to dinner, change up some more money. There are loads of cambios on street corners in town as well, same rate as the border. People come up in their cars and hand over money; I can't believe this is the norm. Laurence, Katie and Adrian all have street food. Sausage on a stick and kebabs. We go for a couple of drinks, where they sell slices of pizza so I opt for one of those. The only one they do by slice is tropical. It comes out and it has peaches, pineapple and glacé cherries on it. Surprisingly it works and tastes very nice :-)
Day 64- Monday 6.5.13
Long drive north to Popayan. This is the stretch of road that is meant to be a bit dodgy with Para military activity, only unsafe if driving at night. No issues. There is amazing scenery all the way.
You forget we are traveling in a black, white and orange truck and get some very funny looks driving through small towns. Waving and smiling at people as we past them, it is really nice when they wave back.
Stop for lunch in the middle of nowhere but still get amazing food very cheaply- Loll has meat, sauce, rice, potatoes I have eggs rice and plantain, very filling.
We stop at numerous traffic lights and people try to sell things. It is great chatting to locals out of the window of the truck.
We stop at a police check, and Katie and Domingo are getting paperwork out, we have stopped by a football pitch. There are loads of kids about 8 to 12 years old all very curious about the truck and us. We have a nice chat through the window, where are you from? What’s your name? They are very funny. We say chao and wave goodbye as we drive off.
At another point we stop at road works. There is a girl selling jelly and a couple of boys younger than her about 8 or 10. The boy starts chatting to me and she just stands there are says to me He is ‘loco, loco’ (crazy). They just laugh and have fun, it is great to have local interaction. They make me laugh.
Loll on the truck
The hostel we are staying at is our first dorm. We are only sharing with Adrian but even so shared bathrooms. I am on the top bunk for the first time since I was about 10! We have a nice Italian meal with everyone and have some drinks back at the hostel.
Water log issue no. 1- I head to bed, where I promptly go and drop my IPhone down the toilet!!! I can't believe it. I grab it as quickly as possible and dry it off with a towel. I turn it off but the light is still on so go back in to try and turn the light off. No joy. I then see the screen do very odd things so turn it off straight away. Sleep very badly worrying about my phone :-( Really annoyed.
Day 65- Tuesday 7.5.13
I tell Adrian about my phone and he says I need to put it in bag of rice or something to absorb all the moisture. Laurence goes out at 8 am to get some rice! I carefully package my phone in a sealable bag and leave for a min of 36 hours :-(
We start taking our malaria tablets today, we have taken them after breakfast not great on the stomach, as we are walking round feel a bit ill so have to get a cheese empanada as a snack. We go off to look for the market, Popayan is a nice town, white washed buildings, quite small, lots of churches. We walk around it in about 30 mins and can't find the market. So we head in the direction of the local market (which sells everything you could possibly want). A lot of shoes! Nice to see.
Go back into town and look at San Francisco Church and the Cathedral, both had severe earthquake damage in 1983 but have been fully restored. Head back to hostel before the heavens open!
Jump in the truck for drive to Cali. Arrive in Cali and we are all in a dorm together. Getting used to this!
There is a ceviche restaurant across the road that Katie and Domingo have been raving about for days so we all head there for dinner. I have never had ceviche as a full meal but as an appetiser. Amazing flavors but the texture was not for me, Laurence loved it! We then head to an ice cream place for pudding. Chill in the hostel as weather was poor, watched a few films.
Day 66- Wednesday 8.5.13
It is hot, hot, hot, in Cali. Katie, Karen, Adrian, Laurence and I all go out for a city tour that we have a route for. We walk around a lot of Cali, churches, churches, museums. We go round the gold museum, park, hill, water stops, it is very hot. See cat alley which has lots of cat statues decorated in different ways.
one of the sights of Cali
Get back to the hostel a bit exhausted. I grab some veg rice and everyone eats back at the ceviche restaurant.
A guy has turned up at the hostel that has travelled across the Panama Canal on a raft he made with his motor bike in the middle of it for power! It reminded me of the ‘life of Pi’ book. He does a photo show and tells some stories of his travels. He has been traveling on his motorbike for 3 years around the world and his last section was building his raft and mounting his bike on it to help power the raft. He filled it with food and water and petrol for the journey and set off, apparently with not any navigation or sailing knowledge- which I find hard to believe. It took him 6 weeks as he got pulled out by the current, but it doesn’t sound like a sensible thing to do. There were a couple of moments he thought he was not going to make it, but moments of sheer joy when dolphins swam with him for a long stretch. I think he was loco! What different people you meet.
Day 67- Thursday 9.5.13
Cali/ Manizales- Hacienda
Up early to be at the supermarket for 7 am to do a group shop for food the next few days. We manage to overspend and have to put things back. My mental arithmetic is obviously not as good as I thought it was!
We then get on the road for the coffee plantation. We arrive in a beautiful spot right in the valley. Hacienda Venecia. We put the tents up as we are camping.
Try my phone after 2 days in rice - nothing! Think it is dead :-( but put it back in the bag of rice just one last time.
Loll has been saying ‘Bus’ way too much, so Katie has finally said he must wear the truck pants! It has been a long time coming and I am surprised it is only now that he has had to wear them! Very funny though as he wears them in style and struts his stuff to the whole group cracking up!
Chill for a couple of hours and then start dinner on the industrial camping stove, in the outhouse at the back of the hacienda. Nice dinner and then to bed- it rained most if the night- it is wet season.
Day 68- Friday 10.5.13
Up early to be picked up at 8 am to head into Manizales.
We are ready on time and wait for our pick up to arrive. 40 mins later as we are all starting to doze off, Katie appears and is 'why are you all still here?' We look blankly and say jeep hasn't turned up. She sorts it out and we all jump into an old army jeep holding on for dear life in the direction of Manizales.
We arrive and meet our guide and arrive at a local childrens charity (I can't remember the name of the frailty, but want to publish this so will update later). This is a small charity to help children of deprived backgrounds. It is a kindergarten that has 2 sites and looks after 120 children. We are going to visit one of the sites in town. We learn a bit about the charity and then go to see the children who are 2-5 years old. We visit each class of different age groups. What an amazing place. The children all look very happy to be there. In the older group we get given pictures that the children have drawn and they sing us songs. One of them started dancing- body popping to some music. Very sweet. We say our goodbyes and go for lunch before our walking tour.
A slow start to the tour as the new area of town doesn't have too much of interest. Go on the cable car over the city.
view of manizales
It is nice to see the full view of the place. By the time we get into old town we see a few churches- we walk into one and there is a funeral going on we promptly leave again, the main square, the market, and then we walk up this hill, stop at a point, think it is the top, no, keep walking to another point, think it is the top, no, keep walking to another point- finally get to the top. Amazing views of the surrounding area. There is a sculpture depicting the city and founding of it. The sculpture is as good as the views.
only part of the amazing statue
After a long day of walking we are pleased to get back into the jeep to the hacienda. We seem to go the back route as it is much bumpier than the way there. Get back to the hacienda to find 10 Dutch men have arrived for the night. Katie and Domingo cook dinner for us, a lovely paella. We then have an evening of card games and drinking. Animal snap is hilarious!!!
Day 69- Saturday 11.5.13
A day at the Hacienda. We spend the morning chilling in hammocks, dozing off at every opportunity. It is nice to have a day to relax. It is a little overcast so not really warm enough for the pool which is a shame. In the afternoon we do a tour of the coffee plantation. Ruben our guide tells us all about coffee; where it is from, where it is grown, different types- really interesting. After an Espresso we head off to visit the fields. (yes, I have resorted to drinking coffee in Colombia, there is no tea anywhere)
Absolutely fascinating- I could have a career change and become a coffee picker in harvest time. I would be very happy to stay here or could become a coffee buyer! Seeing as I don't drink coffee but here have had the odd espresso I could change my habits :-) Laurence is in his element loving the free coffee.
After a really interesting tour we go back to chilling out for the rest of the day in hammocks. This is the life :-)
Day 70- Sunday 12.5.13
Pack up our tents and have breakfast before a long drive day to Guatape. It is glorious sunshine today. A shame it was not like this yesterday and showering today as we are on the truck. Stop for lunch by the side of the road. There are a few shops. I have a potato thing which I discover has meat in it, So I have to pick around it. Otherwise there is just chicken. While standing outside we cause quite a commotion with the locals. One wants to get mine and Laurence's picture in front of the truck with his family. So we pose for the picture. This must be what it is like to be famous!
We continue on to Guatape and a rock called El Penol, which has 740 steps to climb to the top to view El Embalse del Penol a huge artificial lake that generates most of Colombia’s electricity. It is well worth the hike for the views.
what a view!
Then on to our hostel. Lovely views of the artificial lake, although it seems to be drying up at the moment. The water is so low from the trees. We then head to town for another group shop.
Water log issue no. 2- we have been keeping our passports in a very safe place and went to get some money out as we were going into town and our passports plus our money was soaking wet!!! Absolutely drenched through- pages curling up, stamp ink running all over the place, Very upset :-) We take everything out of the safe place to dry over the next few days. Hopefully they will be ok.
We do our shop, not a very big supermarket and it is very heavy rain. Back to hostel to drop bags and then head back to town for dinner. Nice local trout. As the heavens are still open we opt for a tuc tuc back. They are the taxis in Guatape, all brightly painted, a very cheap ride.
Day 71- Monday 13.5.13
Slow start. We chill at the hostel, have lunch and then head for a boat tour on the lake. We wanted to do waterfall walking but apparently the water levels are really low and it is likely to rain so will just get very cold. So we all opt for a boat ride on the lake and to visit the sunken town.
We are now in Colombia raining season, it is still a pleasant temperature, but the heavens can open at any time.
The boat trip was fun. We walk to the jetty and find our guide. We all climb on the small motor boat. Our guide gets us off into the lake. He then gestures to me to drive the boat! Very funny, he keeps telling me to go faster; I opt for a safe speed. It is pretty easy as you just need to steer, avoiding the other boats. After about 10 mins he gestures to Laurence to drive, at this point I make sure everyone know he cannot drive a car- so with baited breath we all hold on very tight and away he goes! Very funny.
racing driver 2!
We see Pablo Escobar’s old mansion that is not a burnt out wreck and then on to a town that the government basically moved so they could have the artificial lake. There is now a cross showing where this town used to be and a small museum with pictures. We then get back in the boat for our return journey and it is Adrian’s turn to drive, he goes full throttle. Again very funny, we are all holding on for dear life.
We head back to the hostel and a cook group meal and watching a film, with the heavens opening again and thunder storms overhead.
Day 72- Tuesday 14.5.13
A slow morning, Laurence and I then make sandwiches and take water for a walk to the rock from the hostel then continue the circuit into town. It is about a 4 hour walk. It is very hot and we nearly run out of water but get to a shop just in time for rehydration and an ice cream :-) and continue along the road into town. We wave at a bus to carry on and it stops and asks if we want to go to Medellin, we say no and it continues on. Every time a taxi goes by it asks if we want a ride into town, I think the locals think we are mad walking in the heat of the day. We arrive in town and go for a beer as a reward for our long walk. We decide to head back to the hostel and see all the guys walking up the promenade to get sweets from a local stall as they have just been round the factory to see how it is made. We join them and buy some local sweets and then we all stop for another beer before heading back to another cook group dinner.
Day 73- Wednesday 15.5.13
We leave Guatape sitting in the roof chairs on Gus! Very strange. There are seats at the back of the bus which open onto the roof. We all take our positions and off we go, having to duck every now and then for low flying branches. One such branch caught my top and I thought it was going to rip it off and I would be left in underwear, but luckily I shouted loud enough for Gus to stop and I could sort myself out. We drive the route that we walked yesterday and then all hop back in to our normal seats.
We arrive at lunch time to a very rainy Medellin. Have lunch at a nice vegetarian restaurant and head out to our city tour in Gus, with our guide. It is a shame the weather is so poor, we get out on top of a hill for a view point and get soaked. It slowly brightens up. We see a lot of the city, going on the subway, cable car, on Gus and on foot.
After an afternoon of information we head back to the hostel. As it starts raining again and no one wants to venture out in it. We decide to have beers and order pizza into the hostel. It is a shame as it is rain that just continues with no break.
Day 74- Thursday 16.5.13
We get up to go on what has to be described as the strangest tour we have ever been on. A Pablo Escobar tour. We get picked up and told what we will be doing. First we drive to a derelict building that used to be the headquarters of the gang. It is now having building work done on it to be made into a hotel. We are not very impressed- Don't really understand why we have been brought here. We continue to Pablo Escobar's grave, while watching in the car a DVD documentary about football and the cartels. Then we go to his brother’s house to meet his brother Roberto. So weird. We arrive at his house which has kind of been turned into a museum to Pablo. We walk around hearing stories and then meet Roberto, have our photos taken and get a signed wanted poster! Very weird, we are not really sure what to make if it all. Apparently all the proceeds are going towards medical research! The oddest experience yet.
Laurence doing a Pablo impression!
on the boat!
Lunch is a local affair, but as we are out it starts raining cats and dogs and does not stop, even when we leave early morning it is still raining.
Don't see much more of Medellin due to the weather which is a shame as lots of people say it is a great city, but in torrential downpour you don't really want to go out!
Day 75- Friday 17.5.13
Up early for a long drive day to Covenas. Leave the hostel for 5 am. All sleepily get in the truck. It is raining still from yesterday. Try and get some sleep but don't manage much. We pull over at 8am for breakfast at a local side street café and do a shop for our evening meal.
After a long drive, we stop for a late lunch, I have fish and Loll has chicken with the usual rice, plantain and salad.
We arrive just at sunset in Covenas at a hostel we are camping at. We are actually now in the Caribbean. We set up the tents for the last time. It is so hot within about 5 mins we are sweating away- Very different from the heavy cold rain this morning.
We have a great BBQ, with loads of food and a few beers. It is still so hot before we go to bed we all (apart from Domingo) go for a night swim. The water is like a bath it is so warm. Really calm and lovely just to float in the dark. After a long day on the truck a refreshing end to the day.
Day 76- Saturday 18.5.13
Covenas/ Cartagena/ Playa Blanca
Pack up the tents for the last time and last drive in Gus to Cartagena. We store our bags at the hotel and take day packs to Playa Blanca.
We start our journey on a local bus, which gets really busy. People get on with shopping and it is handed to anyone with a free hand to hold it! We stop for about 20 mins near a market where the driver gets off and loads of street sellers get on to sell food and drinks.
Domingo, Adrian,Katie and Karen on the bus
The bus finally heads on its way. It is about an hour till the place we get off, which is then a short walk to a boat harbour. All these motor taxis are hassling us to use them to get to Playa Blanca, we walk on. We arrive at a port where we board this ferry that is powered by a small motor canoe strapped to the side. We get off the other side of the river, to lots more motor taxis wanting to take us to the beach. Domingo does a deal and we all hop on the back of these bikes. Very odd experience. The first road is a mud track so slow and easy but then when we get on the main road the bikes shoot off. I can't see anyone and it then dawns on me I have no idea where we are going, how long it is where everyone is. I then see Domingo and calm down. So long as he is in front of me that is ok. My guy then decides to overtake and again I cannot see anyone. About 25 mins later we turn off onto another dirt track sign posted Playa Blanca arrived at last! Everyone is ok.
can you call it a boat?
We met a guy Alfonso on the bus who has been with us the whole journey and he lives in the area, he takes us to a friend who has hammocks and cabanas to hire. We check them out and decide on hammocks for the night.
What a beautiful beach. Turquoise water, white sand, great relaxation at the end of a busy few weeks.
Domingo sets up a slack wire (like a tightrope) and all the locals get really involved.
We eat a local dinner on the beach of fish, rice and plantain and have a few coco locos - a dink served in a coconut! It feels like our last proper night as a group together. What a great night. A really nice highlight to the end of our trip. We all crawl into our hammocks for a night under the stars.
coco loco anyone?
Day 77- Sunday 19.5.13
Playa Blanca/ Cartagena
It is hot on the beach today. How lovely though to wake up from the hammock and go for a swim at 7 am. Although we have all been bitten quite badly, where my feet were sticking out the end of the hammock I have loads of bites on my feet and ankles
We spend the day chilling in the sun, swimming, reading books. Then we head back to Cartagena on the boat. All a bit crazy.
Our boat is at 3.30 so arrive to get on at 3. There is a small boat on shore to take you to a bigger boat. There was pandemonium to get on this boat, everyone just pushed their way on. We wait for the next boat. Second boat comes along we are first in line, but the guys can't even tie the boat up before everyone piles on again. Karen manages to get on but the rest of us don't, have to wait for the next one. Finally get in the boat and are taken to the big boat. We find seats on the top deck and wave goodbye to Playa Blanca. As we set off some dolphins jump by the side if the boat.
There is some music on the boat and a guy singing and dancing salsa. He then goes off and comes back about 15 mins later reincarnated as Michael Jackson himself! He does the whole dance routine to Dangerous to a load of applause and cheering. Never seen anything like it- It is hilarious. Finally we arrive in Cartagena port.
We all head out for our last meal as a group of 6 to a nice pizza place, but it is just very hot and we are all melting. It feels very odd as Katie and Domingo head off tomorrow to get Gus to Lima in 6 days!!! It is sad that another chapter has come to an end on our trip. We really enjoyed Dragoman and it will be strange back to just us two again!
Our last supper :-(
Day 78- Monday 20.5.13
We say our goodbyes to Katie as her and Domingo need to leave early. A 6 day journey with a lot of driving. Unfortunately our walking tour starts before we get a chance to see Domingo.
We start out on our walking tour it is so humid after about 5 mins I am sweating, we walk around the old town, what a pretty city. But too humid! After 3 hour tour we are all ready for a cold shower.
streets of cartagena
streets of cartagena
Loll, Adrian and I all head out to a recommended ceviche restaurant, which is nice. Laurence and Adrian have ceviche and I have non ceviche.
We then do some research on Santa Marta and getting to Tyrona park for the next leg of our journey.
The 4 of us head out to dinner, a nice Mexican and a couple of drinks. Then Laurence bumps into the crazy man- George.
At this point I feel Laurence guest editor should write this but I want to publish this and will get him to update it.......
Basically George was very annoying and wouldn't leave us alone.
Day 79- Tuesday 21.5.13
One of the funniest days ever! We are all booked to go to the mud volcano, recommended to us by Katie and Domingo. We all jump in the bus and head south to the volcano. It starts raining on the way, but luckily stops as we arrive at the volcano. The first site of it is not what we were expecting. It looked like a mountain of earth with a crater of mud in it!
We all change into swimwear and head up the steps to the crater. It looks like a massive hole of mud! But apparently it is an actual volcano.
Mud Volcano or a pile of mud?
We all one by one climb into the pit where we get a massage. More like having mud rubbed all over us, and then lie/ float/ mess around for about 20 mins. It is really odd feeling as you can't sink in it, it is very buoyant and you can't move very well in it. More and more people were getting in and it was feeling quite crowded so we decided to get out which took another 10mins to get to the stairs out, which were all covered in mud! Manage to get out and head to the lagoon where you are washed off by these ladies. They literately douse you in water and then take off your bikini top, and bottoms! While about 5 other people are getting the same treatment. The blokes get their swim trunks whipped off too! The only saving grace is the water comes up to above your waist and everyone has water in their eyes from being doused in water. We then went for a shower and changed. The whole experience was hilarious, and not quite what I was expecting. But glad we did it and a nice last group activity.
After we are clean and dry and dressed we go to lunch, we stop on the beach for a typical Colombian affair. Fish, Loll had chicken, rice, plantain, salad- yummy.
We get dropped off back in Cartagena and sort out getting to Santa Marta tomorrow. Book our hostel and bus and head out to the bank. Who should we bump into but crazy man, who wants to walk to the bank with us!!! I am freaking out at this point, but Laurence says it will be OK. It is fine and we manage to shake him off, by saying we need to meet our friends.
Adrian, Karen, Loll and I all meet for our last meal together. It feels very strange to say goodbye again and will miss the group. We have had a great 3 weeks together and had some amazing experiences.
Safe journey home Karen. Adrian we will see you in Bogota!
Apologies all for the delay in publishing, we have had many tech issues (my phone being one). We wanted to add more photos but again can't get things off the camera properly :-(