Cali and Salento- the end of Colombia

Hola amigos,

Cartagena was stunningly beautiful, but incredibly hot and humid. It almost ruined it in a way, as we felt we couldn´t walk around during the day due to the heat. Once the evening breeze rolled in it was a different story, and we took the time to explore the city and to sit on the wall that encloses the old part of town. It was a very romantic little place, with lots of good food. It was expensive though, as it is a tourist destination. We celebrated my birthday with a huge sushi feast, which was the best sushi either of us has ever had. We got a full boat (40 rolls) of fresh, delicious, and unique sushi. Definitely was worth the splurge! (Pictures included in last post)

From Cartagena we flew down to Cali, in southern Colombia. We ended up spending 4 days here as we met some amazing people at our hostel (Pelican Larrys) who had been in Cali for over 2 months as they had each met Cali ladies-so it was nice having some locals to show us around! We went out salsa dancing one evening as Cali is the world capital of salsa dancing. Lets just say Chris and my dance skills were laughable in comparison to these dancers, just amazing. The bar had a huge tree in the middle of the dance floor and a rooftop patio, so it was a great atmosphere. Another evening we went to a mexican restaurant for margaritas.. that each had half a quart of tequila in them. Delicious..but dangerous. Chris did a hike the next morning up to a lookoff with 3 crosses, I chose to stay in bed. Lol. We then had McDonald´s (which was exactly as it is at home) delivered to the hostel. It was what dreams are made of. Canada needs to start delivering. We also visited a zoo in Cali, which was interesting as most of the inclosures were questionable at best. It added a certain element of danger thats for sure.

From Cali we backtracked a bit to Salento, which is the coffee region of Colombia. It was a beautiful little town with a relaxed atmosphere, tons of fresh coffee, and plenty of nature to explore. We did a 5 hour coffee tour with the owner of our hostel, and learned an amazing amount about the coffee trade. It made me realize how much goes into producing coffee, and how hard it is for small farms to make it. It also made me realize that the “highest” quality coffee sold in Canada is a blend from all of the different coffee beans produced from all over Colombia, all of the beans do not come from 1 farm which is what I had previously thought. We had 2 cups of coffee from the beans from the farm roasted and brewed right infront of us, it was probably the freshest cup of coffee we will ever have. We did a 5 hour hike in the Valley De Cocora which was lovely, it went through a cloud forest and overlooked the Valley, which contained wax palm trees. It was very beautiful, hard to describe in words. We got several pictures but then our camera died, boo. We will post more pictures soon! We also went to a lovely little spot called Betatown owned by a family in Salento that is aimed at providing entertainment and quality food to locals and tourists alike. Here we were able to try the game of Tejo (Colombias national sport), which is essentially washer toss with gunpowder. You throw a metal stone like object (the tejo) at a clay board that contains a metal ring in which the packets of gunpowder are placed. If you get the tejo to stick in the clay and are closest to the ring, it is 1 point. If you hit a packet of gunpowder and make it explode, it is 3 points. If you get it in the middle of the ring WITHOUT setting off any gunpowder, it is 6 points. And if you get it in the middle of the ring and make any of the gunpowder packets go off it is 9 points and the game automatically ends. Otherwise the first to 27 wins. We played with a dutch couple we met at the hostel and sweeped them 2-0 (graceful winners as always). As we won, we did not have to pay for anything! For a video check Betatowns website, and our video is one of the last uploaded. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Betatown/601112526579944 Not going to lie, I was really good at it. I am certain I am going to get called up to play on the Colombian´s Tejo team. (Chris agrees 😉

From Salento we took a minibus to Armenia, then boarded a night bus to the boarder town Ipiales. It was a 15 hour bus ride, but it was on a luxury bus so we slept like babies. From there we crossed into Ecuador and took a bus from Tulcan to Otavalo, which is where we are now. We can hear the collective sigh of relief from our parents that we made it out of Colombia without being kidnapped. On that note, I think everyone needs to put everything they have ever heard about Colombia aside and start with a fresh perspective. This country was absolutely amazing and I anticipate it is going to become one of the more highly backpacked countries in the world in the coming years. The people were extremely kind and welcoming (knowing spanish is helpful, english is not spoken in most areas), the landscapes were breathtaking, and the diversity is what sealed the deal for both Chris and I. The change from the North to the South, East to the West was mindblowing. If you want it all, Colombia is your ticket. If you are considering places to travel, in our opinon, Colombia should be high on your list.

We are staying in Otavalo until Saturday when there is the largest open air market in all of South America. We are hoping to buy some souvenirs as we didn´t buy a single thing in Colombia. The beauty of the market (we have been told) is the local indigenous people in their traditional dress with all of their handcrafted goods. We are excited! We shall post about it in our next update.

1 country down, 4 to go.

Update on Chris´s shoulder dislocation count: 1 full, 6 partial.

Chow! Much love!

Tayrona National Park and The Lost City Hike

Hola!

Sorry it has taken so long for an update, we have spent 6 out of the last 9 nights sleeping outdoors, and Chriss phone sustained some water damage so it is rather difficult to complete blog updates. They may not be as frequent, but we will do our best to keep up with them!

Since my last post we made it to Santa Marta which is a gateway city to access Tayrona National Park and complete The Lost City hike. Santa Marta itself is a horrible city, very loud, dirty and with not much to see. We tried to spend as little time here as we could. We first went to the national park which is very expensive to enter (35 000 COP each) and we were told the food is expensive as well so we tried to bring as much as we could with us. We were searched more extensively at the entrance to the park then the entrance to the country, it was quite comical. They were looking for booze as they want you to spend your $$ in the park so it is strictly prohibited, but they dont have camel backs in Colombia so we were just fine. Lol. It was a 2 hour hike to El Cabo San Juan which is the first beach you are able to swim at due to the rip tides at all of the other beaches. It was a difficult hike with all of our food and drinks but it was well worth it when we saw the outrageous prices of food at the tiny restaurant at the beach. The beach was absolutely stunning. It was white sand, turqoise water, and surrounded by mountains. The water was just like bath water so we spent much of our time swimming and the rest of our time was spent playing an intense tournament of crazy 8s- thank god we brought our cards!! My 25th birthday was spent here, which is what I wanted. I couldnt have asked for a better location or company for it! We slept our first evening in hammocks on the beach, while our second evening was spent on a cliff overlooking the ocean in a tiny hut with only a few hammocks. I cannot begin to put into words how cool this place was, especially when the thunder and lightening storm hit and we sat on the little deck to watch. This country has so much to offer and is so diverse, it truly amazes us. The only downside to this location? The GIGANTIC crabs that came out at night and scurried around our feet. They were terrifying.

We hiked out of the national park on the third day and decided that we wanted to do The Lost City hike the next day. We splugered on a private room at Hotel Miami in Santa Marta which was so relaxing and had excellent air conditioning which was welcomed in the humidity of Santa Marta. The next morning we left for The Lost City. It began with a 3 hour cramped jeep ride on some questionable roads into the mountains. We planned on doing a 5 day trek as we heard 4 days was too intense, and 6 days was too long. The first day was 3.5 hours of walking, and the guide said there would be 1.5 hours of uphill climbing. I heard this, and thought “he must be exaggerating, there is no way it is 1.5 hours of uphill climbing.” He was NOT exaggerating. It was tough, but a good way to get our feet wet. Unfortunately we left a bit late and we were 10 minutes away from camp when it began to pour rain, so we were quite soaked by the time we reached the first camp. But happy, how much harder could it be?

Day 2 was suppose to be a shorter day for us, but our guide wanted us all to hike 6 hours with the people doing the 4 day hike so off we went. There were more hills, lots more hills. But it was absolutely amazing, you would walk along a TINY path and on either side of you were mountains and the most amazing scenery you have ever laid eyes on. And then you look down. And see it is a drop that would surely kill you if you take one wrong step. “Dont look down…dont look down” became my mantra during most of the hike. I realized it got scarier when you were on a cliff and below you was not solid ground but a raging river. All of this just added to the excitement and magic of the trek. Our 6 hour day was actually a 9 hour day as we breaked for lunch and stopped to swim in a few rivers along the way. We reached a camp 1 km from the lost city and stopped for the night. Here there were beds, but because nothing truly dries due to the climate they were stinky and damp. Luckily I was so exhausted I barely noticed.

Day 3 started with a 6 am wake up so we would make it to the lost city when the sun was rising. To reach the lost city we had to climb 1200 stairs. And not regular stairs. Tiny, shallow, uneven stairs. It was quite difficult, especially since it was all before 7 am! But it was so worth it. We reached The Lost City and were greeted with brilliant sunshine and some of the most spectacular views of our entire lives. On one side was mountains, another the ruins of the lost city, and on the other a giant waterfall. And it was so quiet and peaceful, it was incredible. There were signs everywhere not to walk within the rings of the ruins, to stay along the rock paths which we stuck too as we did not want to disturb anything. 30 minutes later we witnessed a military helicopter bringing supplies to the soldiers that guard the lost city land their chopper directly in the middle of the rings. Hilarious. Thank god we took so much care not to walk on them. It was so interesting to watch, the chopper only comes 2 times per month so we were lucky we were able to see it. The soliders set off flares to let the chopper know where the ruins are and to help with the landing. The chopper was also carrying some rich tourists that paid to fly into the lost city rather than hike, so they paraded around in their dock martins, jeans and pressed shirts while we were all filthy, sweaty, and covered in bug bites. I thought for a moment “must be nice,” but then I realized that the hike was 90% of the fun and I wouldnt have it any other way. We were given some history of the lost city and taken down to a beautiful swimming hole before beginning the long hike out. It was another 6 hours of walking back to camp. At this point we could decide if we wanted to continue with the 5 day trek or choose to hike it all the way out the next day and complete the trek in 4 days. We decided we had done most of the trek no problem to this point and that it would be 2 very light days of hiking or 1 big day of hiking and the ability to shower and sleep in a dry bed, so we went with the 4 days. At this camp we were lucky enough to be able to speak wih a local indigenous man to learn about the Cogi people that live in the mountains surrounding the lost city. It was so interesting to hear about their way of life and culture, we were able to ask as many questions as we wanted and a girl in our group translated for us. He was also interested to learn about the group so he asked us questions as well. It still blows my mind that people can live entirely off the land and have no connection to our way of life. It was a beautiful conversation that enlightened both Chris and I. It will stay with us for a long time.

The last day it was 33 degrees and we were exposed most of the day, and had another hour of straight uphill climbing, but we were happy at the end of the day when we finished. In total it was 46.6 km of hiking, through rivers, mountains, waterfalls, cliffs, country side, and indigenous villages. Hands down it was one of the most beautiful and inspiring experiences of both Chris and my lives. I could not recommend this hike any more to anyone interested in this type of thing. Word of caution: it is very challenging and not for those who do not like heights. Be prepared. If I did not have proper shoes, a small day pack that was packed as light as I could and a camel back (this was the most crucial!!!!!) I would not have enjoyed it nearly as much. Others in our group had only sneakers, large heavy packs and plastic water bottles and I think they had a MUCH more difficult time. Lots of blisters and the guides ended up having to carry a few packs, and then they had to leave the packs at the camps and continue on with sobeys bags. I guess in Cape Breton those are considered suitcases.

We are now safely in Cartegena, which is considered one of the most romantic cities in the world.We only arrived last night and have not explored much but so far it has lived up to its reputation. The balconies, architecture, colors of the buildings, horse and carriages everywhere, and the sounds make it enchanting.

We are happy, healthy and having a blast. We miss you all back home and hope to chat soon!

Villa de Leyva and San Gil

Hola!

We left Bogota early Monday morning arriving in the town of Villa de Leyva by early afternoon. Villa de Leyva was preserved as a national monument in 1954 meaning there are no modern buildings or roads in the town. It was a perfect stop on our way north to get some R&R and a break from the hustle and bustle of Bogota. The best part of Villa De Leyva was definitely the meal we had at a restaurant called Mercado (Ironic as Ilmercado is one of my favourite restaurants In halifax). For $5.00 usd we enjoyed a pumpkin curry soup to start, followed by one of the best chicken diners of our lives (sorry moms) that included a delicious breast, half a plate of pan seared vegetables and oven roasted Potatoes and a fresh smoothie to drink. To top it off was a slice of fresh raspberry cheesecake. Hands down the best meal we’ve ever eaten per dollar spent. We then walked around the town enjoying the architecture and cute shops.The next day we hiked to the look off which was absolutely stunning – Villa de Leyva sits In  a valley surrounded by mountains giving a breathtaking view from the top. We are getting more acclimatized as we were only slightly dying on this hike.

We then hopped a mini bus to Tunja and from there a slightly bigger bus to San Gil. We came to San Gil with high hopes of meeting people to do some of the outdoor activities the town offers, but instead our hostel is full of guests content  to sleep late and not participate in much. Yesterday we went white water rafting with 2 German girls which was a blast- we opted for the level 2-3 rapids vs. 4-5 as we have never gone before and didn’t know what to expect. The level 2-3 was a good introduction to rafting, we were able to jump out and swim through some of the rapids which was really fun (ultimate lazy river). I am sure we could have done the 4-5 now, but with nothing to compare the levels too we thought it was better to play it safe (isn’t that responsible of us moms?)

We decided last night we weren’t having as much fun as we hoped so we are leaving on an overnight bus to Santa Marta tonight vs. tomorrow night. Since we had some time to kill today we opted to pack a lunch and beers and hike to a local waterfall. It was such a beautiful and relaxing day- it made up for some of the disappointment we had with San Gil.

We are looking forward to the Caribbean Coast we have ahead of us ! 

Bogota 2, The good, the bad and the ugly

Hola!

I have been debating dearly over whether I should post the events of the last 24 hours. My end decision is it is part of the journey and it is easier to blog about then send numerous emails to everyone explaining the lack of pictures in the next few weeks of blogs….

I will begin with the good. We headed to the salt cathedral yesterday morning with another couple we met at the hostel. It was quite a trek away- 30 minute cab ride (18 000 Columbian pesos which is equivalent to $9 USD) and then a 40 minute bus ride (4000 pesos or $2 USD). The bus was much cheaper as it was a “chicken” bus aka the locals will bring their chickens on the bus to ride on their laps. However, compared to Africa and El Salvador it was luxurious so Chris and I did not mind in the least. Upon arriving in Zipaquira it was a 10 minute walk to the salt cathedral. We opted to tour the cathedral and to tour the salt mine. The cathedral was absolutely amazing, the amount of work it would take to hand carve the entire thing was astounding. Unfortunately there were no English tour guides so I know very little of the history of the cathedral, only that it can house 8000 people. The authentic salt miner experience was laughable, it consisted of donning a miners hat with a light which we did not need and walk around for 15 minutes picking up axes. Again, no English speaking guides. But it was interesting enough! We opted for a private van back to Bogota as the people we were with were not so enthusiastic about the chicken buses. It turned out to be a good idea as the traffic into the city was crazy and it would have made for one uncomfortable ride.

Now onto the bad and ugly. We arrived back at our hostel which was full of police officers, and we were very quickly told one of the rooms had been ransacked. Unfortunately when we got to our room we realized it was the room that had been broken into. We are in a 10 person dormitory, and our lockers were facing the door. I could see that both locks were gone. The owner of the hostel told us to check our things as a lot had been stolen from the room. The bad news? We did have things stolen. The good news? All of it is replaceable. In total I had my phone (sad panda- thank god I just paid $100 dollars to have my cracked screen fixed for whoever buys it on the black market) and charger stolen and Chris had one of his smaller travel bags stolen with clothes and a few pairs of sunglasses. 7 or 8 of the people in our room had their passports, visas, debit cards, cameras and money stolen, so comparatively we got away pretty good. Also, no one was hurt it was purely for cash, cards and documents so that was also a positive. I tried to remotely wipe my phone of all of its contents, I am unsure if it worked but luckily I did not keep anything of importance (besides pictures of my cats 😦 ) on it. We have started an insurance claim (this is why you always buy travel insurance!!!!!!) and so we should be reimbursed for our losses. For our fellow guests who are suppose to catch flights tomorrow and no longer have passports, it will be a little more difficult.

Now to answer some of the questions I am sure my parents are asking as they are reading this. Are we staying in a questionable place with low security? The answer is no, it is a very secure hostel that in the 5 and a half years that the current owner has run it, it has never been broken into. Was it entry by force? Again, no. We were robbed by a high level thief.  He booked a room in the hostel and checked in using a passport from Honduras. He went to his room, put his empty backpacks that we assume he stole from the last hostel he broke into in his locker and locked it, and then walked around the hostel until he found a room that was empty. Which just so happened to be the largest room in the hostel, a thief’s paradise. He proceeded to cut all of the locks and ransack the lockers, basically grabbing anything that was in the open and small enough to carry. Hence why we only had a few things of ours stolen, vs. everyone else who had their important things just laying out in their lockers. He then walked right back out the front door. Definitely not this guys first rodeo. It is unfortunate, especially with how soon into the trip it has happened, but Ce la vie. It has just taught us to be more vigilant with our belongings and not to fall into a false sense of security. If this is the worst thing that happens to us on our travels we will consider ourselves lucky. We are healthy, happy, and having a fabulous time.

Unfortunately, as I alluded in the opening, the lack of phone means I will not be able to upload photos as easily. Which is a bummer but I am going to try and buy another phone down here. We were planning on leaving today but stuck around to ensure we receive copies of the police report and just to get everything in order. Tomorrow we will head out to Villa de Leyva bright and early happy with our experience in Bogota, bags a bit lighter (may as well be positive) and excited to continue exploring this beautiful country.

Bogota, Colombia

Sorry for the delay posting – it has been a very busy and exciting first couple of days! We arrived safe and sound to Bogota on Wednesday evening around 9 pm, after 21 hours of travel. The day couldn’t have gone any smoother – and our bags arrived with us which was one of our main concerns. We ran across the street from our hostel for a quick bite and then hit the hay hard after our long day of travel. I would like to mention our hostel has a resident cat and dog. Chris and I feel right at home with the little meow meow ! Thursday morning we woke up and chatted with a Cade and Dan from Colorado who were interested in heading to Cerro de Monserrate which was our day plan, so off we went! Lets be clear- going from basically sea level at home to 2600 m in Bogota we were definitely feeling it. As opposed to taking a day to acclimatize we decided ascending to 3200 m was a better plan. Taking a cable car up was boring and expensive, hiking it was the only way. We paid for it. Dearly. We struggled our way up, but come hell or highwater we were getting to the top. I can only imagine that is what smoking a pack a day feels like. So worth it though ! Especially since I can tell my Goddaughter Monserrate I was there one day 🙂 Thursdsay evening we continued our day with Cade and Dan with dinner, and free salsa dancing lessons at a local bar. There were 4 left feet involved, if anyone has a right foot please send it our way. It was great fun!!! I tried keeping up with 4 boys drinking beer ….it ended in a fairly early night for this kitty cat. Lol Friday morning Chris and I got up early and chatted with a fellow hostel guest who suggested a great way to take in Bogota in a short amount of time was with a bike tour run by a California dude. After my bike tour experience in Africa I vowed to NEVER bike in a different country. I don’t bike in Canada for god sakes so I don’t understand why I would in other countries. And I was hungover. But nevertheless we decided we would do it. (Heather and Mallory I hope you are shaking your heads at me, as you should). It was as terrifying as it gets really. Weaving in and out of traffic downtown and through pedestrians that are annoyed by gringos on bikes (don’t blame them) was very nerve racking, and did I mention it was a 5 hour tour? It was absolutely amazing at the same time as being terrifying. We were able to cover so much ground, and experience so many things. We went to a local market and tried 10-15 different fruits and vegetables, many found only in Colombia. We took in all of the graffiti that the government pays to have done, which was mind blowing. We went to a cemetery and were able to see the graves of many famous Colombians. We learned so much about the current and past history of Colombia. So was it worth it? Absolutely. Will I go biking again while in South America? As of right now- NO WAY. But this rubber arm of mine is easily twisted. Last night was spent at a bar watching the Fifa world cup qualifying game between Colombia ans Ecuador. Such an intense and exciting atmosphere. We went with a few people from the hostel, including Cade and Dan who Chris refers to as “beautys.” Colombia won 1-0 , which made for a loud evening in the streets. We opted for pizza (acceptable at best) and sitting around the hostel with a guitar and singalongs. Needless to say, we are having an amazing time.

We are off to the salt cathedral today, I will try to post in the next few days.