Miami

At Bogota airport, we said goodbye to Chivers who travelled to Rio, and I said goodbye to my Colombian family who had come out to send me off. Soon enough we were on our flight and fast asleep.

After landing in Miami airport, and going through the familiar immigration gates that seem to take an eternity we were soon informed that Chris had to be taken away for a boarding pass error, that ended up taking a full 2 hours and we eventually left the airport well after 10pm.


During our cab trip from the airport to the hostel on South Beach, we saw the pretty lights and islands of Miami - as they lit the boarders of the various bridges, houses and water ways. By the time we got to our hostel it was late and we were soon checked into our 12 person room.

Regardless of who you're sharing with, you quickly learn just how busy a 12 person dorm feels. And we had to feel sorry for the lone girl traveling with her friend. We had a reasonably early night and were finally on the last leg of our journey.

The next morning, Saturday, we headed out to a couple of malls - Aventura, and Bal Harbour. Aventura was enormous and any shop desired could be found in the 4 three-storey wings of the complex that dwarfed anything in Sydney. On our return trip we stopped at Bal Harbour and admired the designer boutiques (and felt very ball). Perhaps the most impressive thing about Bal Habour is the car park - lined with Lamboghini, Ferrari, Bentley and Mercedes vehicles all on show.

The night, after Sutho and I made spaghetti for the 4 of us, we headed to Club Space: a 3 stage night club, and it is renowned to be one of the best clubs not only in Florida, but in the US. We partied hard till well into the morning and watched the sun rise from the dance floor full of 500 others. We left the club around 8am and were back in the hostel around 9am and spent the remainder of the day either in bed or in front of the TV in the commmon room.

Medellin to Bogota

After returning from our sight seeing the day before we headed to the local bar strip. It was quiet and a local bar tender began to entice us into his bare establishment. We negotiated lowering the price of beer and having control over the music (we got over Reggaeton very quickly) and we spent the night there until the city's 2am curfew.

The next morning Sutho and I were up early, packed and in a cab on the way to the airport. We'd be meeting Chivers the day after as he wanted to go paragliding. Sutho would accompany me to see my Colombian family again before we left Colombia.

Driving back through Medellin you realised how modern the city is and the beautiful place t is situated in, surrounded my mountains. At night, the city glows an orange colour and is a sea of houses and buildings.

We were exhausted and slept for the entire plane trip. When we arrived in our hostal (reccommended by another hostal in Cartagena) we were pleased to realise it was in a much better part of Bogota, and with plenty of other tourists. We got a hamburger and pizza from a local restraunt and had an early night.

Chizm and Chris soon arrived at the same hostal some time after midnight.

Medellin

Determined to make up for the lack of activities the day beforewe headed out after making some quick breakfast. First stop: the grave of Pablo Escabar, which, as far as graves go, is nice enough but a fair 15 minute drive out of town to the graveyard which is in the industrial estate.


It's still popular with tourists, and I believe it has a Lonley Planet listening, but we were the only ones there at the time. If you know a little of the history its a great stop along the way.


With no taxi anymore, we headed out of the graveyard and caught a (very) local bus into the city central. Next stop was the Museo de AntioquĂ­a. Which features not only histortic and contemporary art, but the sculptures and paintings of the world renown artist Botero. Often nick named the Museo Gordo (translates to the 'Fat Museum') his round figures were only used to symbolise the circle (a representation of a cycle) which he saw in everything in the world around him.

Getting to the museum was not quite as simple as that, the bus dropped us in the commercial district of the city, and after trying to ask him for directions, a local man at the fruit stand near by over heard us, and offered to take us there. A little suspicious at first, the three of us felt we'd give it a shot, and soon enough we were walking down town getting a breif history on Medellin and the first of the Botero sculptures that can be found throughout the city.

We sound found ourselves in front of the museum and Eddy (our new local friend) explained a few more things about the city and its national buildings. We thanked him prefusely, and were expected to give him a little tip or something, but he simply wished us well and headed off himself.


It was great to see the 3 levels and the styles each of them contained, the 3rd was dedicated entirely to Botero. The picture above I quickley snapped after being told earlier no photography was permitted, but this I had to have.


Afterwards, we headed to the metro. This is the only metro in Colombia, and is a great way to travel above the city. Its fast, clean and reliable. Really puts Sydney trains into perspective. Our next stop was the Metro Cable - which is a purpose built cable car to lift passengers to the residencies in the steep side of the city. Its included in the price of the train ticket and you're free to get off at any one of the 3 stations at anytime. We took it right to the top and got a fantastic view over the entire city of Medellin.


A group of young school girls started giggling, and we soon realised how few tourists were coming up to this area. As usual Chivers was the first to be spotted, he's far taller than us and with blonde hair and a loud voice is quite obviously not local. They tried to talk to us thinking it was rather funny.

Very soon after we headed back down the metro cable to the main metro station and caught our train back to the suburb we were staying in 'Suramericana' to return to the Palm Trees Hostal.

More Medellin

The next morning I headed out to the local super market and bought some rolls for lunch and soon enough Sutho and Chivers arrived after their 16 hour bus trip. We decided that we'd take it easy and head out to the soccer game followed by a bull fight. After a quick visit to both the soccer stadium and the bull fighting ring, turns out neither was on like we had first hoped.

We soon headed back and made hotdogs and pizza for dinner and soon afterwards we headed to the local bar strip for a few quiet beers before Sutho and I headed back for an early night.

Night One.

Landed safe and sound in a tiny little propeller plane. My cab driver was far more dangerous. Not a word of English and no idea was a hostal was. The address eventually lead him to a tiny one way street which he reversed down.

Never the less I got there, and the hostal staff were some of the nicest we've met so far. I booked in grabbed my bed, dropped my gear off and went to the club to meet Alex. Unfortuantely I recieved some bad info from the girl at the front of the line and turns out some other gringo was in a motorbike accident, but not knowing that at the time, I went down the road to the huge bar scene.

Quickly ran into tourist after tourist in this huge quadrangle full of colourful clubs and bars, before I jumped in a cab again and headed to Mangos where I had a few beers watching the girls, boys and midgets dance in cowboy outfits.

Headed back to the hostal about 2am and met up with my room mate Conner and an English couple Helen and Mike and we continued the small party into the wee hours of the morning.

Volcano Mudbath


Up early for our last day together in Cartagena. By 9am we were on a bus to the Volcano Mudbaths about an hour out of the main city of Cartagena.
It was great. The viscous mud kept you aflot and it was strangely warm and comforting. Entering via a ladder, the guides already in the mudbath would get you to lie back and shift you like sardines between one another. Massages by the guides were given in the mudbath. You could stand, sit, float, lie whatever you wanted, but you always stayed afloat.

We surrended our camera to a guide who was holding about 50 camera, and he'd call out and hold up a camera (over the mud without fear) and you had to just yell out it was yours.

Afterwards you hopped out and headed to the lagoon where a young Colombian woman would insist you strip down while she washed you head and neck (and even your ears) and then whatever you wore into the mudbath. My faithful bonds boxer breifs mind you.

During Chiver's wash down he went to get up before the girl grabbed him and a few of the locals laughed out loud.

Walking back to the bus we realised all these friendly guides and locals wanted a tip. All of them. Individually. Luckily, $2000 (about $1.20) was very acceptable.

We had lunc at a nearby fishing village before getting onto the bus and heading back to the hostel. Where after another quick internet session I made an overdue call back home to mum. The other 2 had now left to get their bus and I jumped into a short cab ride to the airport.

I've checked in and waiting with a scotch in the lounge. I'm enjoying the solitude even if I am a little anxious of the tiny propeller plane I'm about to get onto.

Cartagena Continued



The nights (much like in Santa Marta) are hot and humid, but bearable. We were up early and left for a quick session at the local internet cafe before heading out to explore the old city and the Naval Museum which was very interesting. A cross of cultural and military history as you learnt how present day Cartagena came to be.

Because it was the middle of the day, and incredibly hot, most of the shops close between 12 and 2. So we had a couple of ice creams while we (eventually) came to the decision that I would leave on my own and fly to Medellin a night early and Sutho and Chivers would ride the 16 hour bus the following day. Because I was already heading back to Bogota early, I wanted to see as much as Medellin as I could.

We said goodbye to Petra (although we later would run into her two or three times in Medellin) and went back to the old city one more for dinner and some street seller haggling. Had a fantastic meal (first thick steak Ive had all trip, nice and red and bloody) and went back to shower before we hit the bars.

But in the end, we came home showered, and beer in hand, the three of us crashed out, dressed and ready for the night. A little embarassing :)

Cartagena

''Is this the bus to Cartagena?'' - the movie, Romancing the Stone has been in my head for most the of the trip and this was the pinnacle of all that.

We were up really early from Tayrona, about 6am, and walked the path back to the very first camp (where the car dropped us off) and were fearful that we'd need to walk the 2 hour road back to the main street. However we were in luck, and we caught a return trip in the back of a truck to the entrance after waiting only about 5 minutes.

We went back to the hostel and picked up our packs (we only took very, very small day packs to Tayrona) and inquired about the bus to the Cartagena, which was due to arrive in only 20 minutes outside the hostel.

Soon enough we were on the bus to Cartagena and along the way we stopped at a tourist company office to use the bathroom. On the next block we saw the golden arches, and ran to McDonald's to grab some familiar food (Quarter Pounders are the same everywhere:). Cartagena is only 4 hours from Santa Marta, so it was very berable.

We soon arrived at Cartagena. The city itself is split into two main cities - the old city and the new city. Our hostel was only about 5oom from the old city (which is the more tourist part of town and was always highly reccommended). Petra was still with us, so the 4 of us were able to book a full room to ourselves at the Hostel Holiday.


After we got settled, we headed out to explore the old city at sun set, had a (very expensive) drink at Cafe Del Mar - an atmospheric restraunt right on one of the points of Cartagena. I managed to knock my first straight Johnny Walker Black right off the table (onto my leg and Petra), so I bought another.

We headed into the center of the old city where its full of restraunts, street sellers, entertainers and a quadrangle full of tables and chairs for the various restraunts. We had dinner here and again it was a very, very different part of Colombia.

Afterwards we headed back for a few quiet rums with the other guests of the hostel before calling it a night.

I was up early with Sutho to go find breakfast (which ended up being 2 eggs, toast and coffe for all of about $2) before heading to the supermarket with Chivers, Sabrina and Andy to pick up supplies for lunch etc at Tayrona Beach.

Caught a local bus (which was so uncomfortable sitting next to the fattest woman in Colombia) from Santa Marta to the entrance of Tayrona National Park to which then we were greeted by a $25,000 entry fee and a 2 hour walk. Luckily, there are people making a living of dropping people to the entrance of the beach, so we hitched a ride and arrived at the first camp. And again, were welcomed by a sign letting us know that now we're only 45 minutes from the beach.

After running into Alex and Mike along the way, the reccommended not staying at the first beach, but to continue on to the next bay to El Cabo Beach. Which was definitly worth it. That night we met a Bjorn, who was born in Belgium now living and working in Bogota. Soon the three bottles of scotch we got at the super market were flowing and we (eventually) made a beach fire. With small media speaks and a full sky of stars to stare at, we continued on well into the wee hours of the morning. It was brillant and very surreal.


We decided to stay a second night, so day two was spent lounging around the beach, nursing our souls after the 6 day jungle trek. We ate at the sole restraunt for three meals (which evidentally was the money maker of the whole operation) and the food was always good.

That night we had drinks and our final game of 500 (which became a Olympic sport of sorts during the Jungle trek). We knew we would be up early so we said goodbye to new friends Andy and Sabrina, before heading to our hammocks.

La Ciudad Perdida


Overall, this was harder that any of us expected. And it truly was the journey itself that made it so worth while, but of course the feeling after walking for 3 days in the humid jungle along rocks, mud, dirt, water, mule shit and sweat was just as sweet.
The people we met were just as fantastic, and made every step just as enjoyable. The days were really hot, and the ''paths'' were sometimes just a few foot holds from a 50m fall into sharp rocks or endless jungle.

Day 1:
  • Arrived at the tour company, unloaded stuff we didnt need for storage. Managed to spill a full powerade in one of my packs. Wasn't at all happy.
  • Met the other 8 people we were travelling with. We all jumped onto the converted land cruiser you see above for the 2hour journey out of Santa Marta to the base village of the trek
  • Met Alex Worker (AKA Kiwi) and the NZ vs AUS rivlary kicked off right away. Also met Andy and Sabrina (The Swiss), Mike from the US, Pedro and Juliana (The Brazillians), Tommy from Denmark, Petra from Czech. And of course our wonderful host Jose Garcia, and the chef, Raphael.
  • 1st hour was speeding out of Santa Marta till we met the Military Police at the entrance to the 2nd part of the drive, who made us all get out of the car and open our packs. They were actually all really friendly by the end of it.
  • 2nd hour was spent negotiating a ''road'' to the base village. Heads were banging against the roof and sides of the very, very squashed car.
  • Were treated to a great lunch with real bread (none of the sweet bread we keep getting) and the getting-to-know-you started
  • Before we headed off everyone bought a bottle of rum.

  • This first days trek was the hardest and went for about 4 hours, its first uphill is the longest, and steepest of it all. Its here we realised that yes, our packs were (even when emptied a little) too heavy for the journey ahead.
  • That night we had our first cooked meal from the chef, Raphael, and it was great. Polished a few bottles of rum before heading to bed in our hammocks.

Day 2:

Will be continued shortly..











Perhaps the best thing about returning to Santa Marta from the exhausting jungle trek is the amount of new friends we returned with. All of us (save Alex and Mike who had left early) - all who came on the trek booked into the same hostel (Casa Familiar).

We all settled in and had our first real shower for a week. Then we headed upstairs to the roof top patio (doing our best to ignore the strong winds that constantly blow over Santa Marta) for a few drinks before heading to the main street of Santa Marta to watch a live Salsa band.

Soon enough the three of us, along with Petra, Andy and Sabrina, decided to head to Tayrona early the next morning for at least a night.

Santa Marta


After a fantastic time in Bogota (and yes, I'll back track this time when time allows! But everything went really, really well) we headed to Bogota airport with a lift from our tourist guide Fernando - who we gave a small Australian flag.

After a really short flight we landed in Santa Marta (which is one of the shortest runways in the world) and instantly felt like we were in a different country. The airport is right on the edge of the sea with a backdrop of jungle-full mountains.

We jumped in a cab and it took about 30 minutes to reach the main strip of Santa Marta, which was our first stop. Instantly we knew we were in a very different part of Colombia. The people much darker, their accents far broader and the strips were lined with tiny mini buses honking novelty horns as they sped along the main strip, right next to the Carribean Sea.

We went straigh tto the tour company and paid for the 6 day trek which left the following morning at 9.

The lonely planet reccommendation for a hostel wasn't really what we were after (being so exhausted), so we had a quick walk and found a cheap hostel that was really quiet, and for the sake of one night, it would do (even if the bathroom looked like something straight out of the horro flick Saw).

We ventured out to see the sun set with beer in hand, before making our way to dinner. Originally we had plan to hit a bar or two, but after returning to the hostel, and packing for the following day, we had an early night and watched a couple of movies.

Beautiful Bogota


Last night we asked Fernando to take us back to Santa Rosa, which is a beautiful part of Bogota, full of restraunts, bars and parks. We had dinner at ''Dixie´s BBQ'' and it was by far the best meal we've had while we were away. Everyone swapping parts of their dishes and enjoying the local Club Colombia beer.
We all noted the fact that if you thought of the captial city of Bogota, you would never imagine having a fantastic meal outside surrounded by other people. We felt very safe, and headed to the Irish pub for a whiskey before heading home (no where in the world can you escape Irish pubs it seems).
Overall, the thought that I could have grown up in Bogota both makes me curious and scares me. I feel so lucky to be back in Bogota and able to enjoy it like this. I'm already dreading leaving and cannot wait to see more.

Bogota, Colombia




We got up later than we would have liked and had breakfast at the hotel's restraunt. While we waited for the others to get ready we ventured out to our first ATM. We were nervous, but everything went fine. When we came back we met the hotel's tour guide and negotiated an hour trip for later in the afternoon. His name was Fernando and he was very friendly and had a great sense of humour.

We walked down our main street and were met with scores of bicycles riding down the street with no cars in sight (this occurs on Sunday mornins between 8 and 2 as far as we could tell). While Chivers was buying another map of Colombia, a bird shat on him. It was so funny considering we'd only been outside a few minutes. We laughed and contined on.


Camera in hand I took a quck photo which we believe must have drawn the attention of local pickpockets.

Soon enough, I felt something wet hit my neck, and, convinced it was bird shit, I spun around to wipe it off and was greeted byt an elderly woman who apparantly had also felt the same thing, suddenly, similtanously, another eldery woman ran into the back of me.

It hit me (yes, I know, again).

My camera case was gone. Thankfully it was just the padded case, and nothe camera. Itwas the only ting in my back pocket. But they were gone just as quickly as it happened. It then dawned on me it wsant bird shit, and probably some spit. I was furious, but thankful everything else was in my money belt, or in my hand.


We headed back to the hotel after a quick trip to the end of the street (which is Bogota's principal building site - church, congress, president's house etc) where we met Fernando.

Out trip quickly become a 3 hour adventure around Bogota. Fernando was not only really informative but incredibly funny. We saw every part of Bogota including the CBD, sporting grounds, night clubs, restraunt strips, suburbs anda look outs over the city.

Also, thanks to Fernando - I now have a huge satin Colombian flag. He told the seller he was buying it for himself, and negotitated a price of only $20,000 pesos. Which is about $12. Normally, tourists can expect to pay between $50-$100.

Talking and listening to Fernando allowed me to really test how much Spanish I know. And to my surprise, it was a lot more than I first thought. It was fun translating as he spoke, and trading English and Spanish words between 6 men had us laughing.

The accent here is much more Spanish/European than in Mexico. The people are beautiful and friendly, like the old city (which we toured through it's brightly coloured walls as well), the mountains and the modern areas.



Durinoung our tour we also were met by the 'tourist police' who appear to be young men in the service who show you around. Our guide was Damien, and it was his first day on the job. He was eager to trial his english with us as we toured through the main church of Colombia. As well as share his dream to become a singer and move to London one day.

Sitting on the plane now from Miami to Bogota, Colombia. Usually I'm more occupied with flying (after watching too many Flight Diaster shows with Dad) than where we're going, all I can tihnk about is the fact I'll soon be back in the city I was born in more than 21 years ago, for the first time.

Although the two flights today will only amount to just over 6 hours (about 3 hours each) we've been in and out of transit/airports for about 9 hours now, and by the time we reach our hotel in Bogota, it'll be move than 12.

My mind is a bit of a mess at the moment: I'm excited, nervous, and scared about everything. Most of all about what I don't know.

I am certain that I will try to see as much of the country as I can.

Volcano in Toluca

Standing some 4,500m ontop of the volcano crater is something I´ll never forget. Sutho, Chris and newly met Imogen (from Brisbane) decided we´d climb the side of crater to the top of the volcano during our tour group.


At the base of crater we noticed the thiness of the air. As we rock-hopped the base of the crater we quickly noticed how steep it became. The higher we ascended the wall became steeper, the grass disappeared and some ice and snow were near by. The air began really thing and wee needed to stop occasionally to control our breathing and get some water into our system.



Soon enough we were on all fours, but after 30 minutes of climbing the crater wall, we soon found ourselves ready to give in as the rocks became steeper and the path less clear. We kept going and about 20 minutes later we were at the top.

It was one of the best things I´ve ever experienced: standing ontop of the volcano crater looking either side at the huge valleys that surrounded us, and listening to our voices echo in the mountains (resonating for nearly a full minute).




Looking at the picture, we started at the base of the crater near the water, and ended up on the very top of the crater (directly above Sutho´s head).

Coming down was just as fun, the gravel was so loose, you quickly learnt to 'ski' down on your shoes in the gravel. We got some great footage of this too.

Update: I've uploaded plenty more pictures not here now to Facebook.

After recovering after last night's pub crawl, we spent the morning recovering over lunch and headed out to see the cathedral next to our hostel. From there we walked through the streets of Mexico City until we came to the markets.


After walking around for some time we headed back on the metro and walked the rest of the way. We've just come back from a great meal as we celebrated our last night with Joanie and Shmo.


The authentic food we've had here is fantastic, and we've thoroughly enjoyed every meal. Really over the beer (and good whiskey is hard to find), especially when they mix salt and lime into it. Overall, there dark beer is far better than any Corona.
Tomorrow we're all heading on an all day tour to the Volcano.



Not Alone

Last night I also met a Sweedish bloke named Miguel. He was adopted from Chile as a child and 4 years ago reconnected with his mother in Chile, and is headed back in the coming weeks himself. It was great to chat with someone who understood the very essence of what this all about. As Miguel said, you'll remember every step until that moment.





Fiesta

After our fantastic tour of the pyramids, we ate a fantastic meal at a local restraunt. Later regrouped with our new French Canadian friends Joanie & Simon (or ''Shmoo'' as we like to call him) and others from the hostel we set out to find a pub.

We ordered our first roun and were joined by two local Mexicans one of the group had befriended that day, who became our personal tour guide to the city's night life. We ventured to the local cab rank, and after negotiating a price for 4 cabs between 11 of us.

One thing to note: road rules, commen sense, and street signs are all totally ignored in Mexico. Only minutes in our cabs decided to race through the streets of the city. None of us knew we were headed, but our drivers were all following one another to the other side of town.

I guess we all thought we were heading to a club of some sorts, but what we came to was so much better. It was a public square (one of the only places legal to drink outside) filled with Meriachies (the musical trio to quintents), street sellers, liqour stalls and everything else.

Unfortunately none of us had a camera, but partying with the locals was something none of us will ever forget. The atmosphere, culture and litres of cheap tequila could not be matched. So with cigar and cocktails in hand we continued on. The police were everywhere, and even someone passed out or pissed on a wall, they would be quickly escorted.

After sometime we jumped in another 4 cabs to the main strip of clubs and pubs in Mexico. Surprised to us, we werent actually allowed into a few of the upmarket electronica and R&B clubs due to excess males and dress! Even our local guides were astounded at this, and got into a few arguements.

Eventually we settled in a local rock pub. Great music and wall to wall full of locals.

Los Piramdes

Today Sutho andI climbed the third largest pyramid in the world - the pyramind of the sun of the pre-aztec inhabitants of Mexico. It was really amazing and utterly breath taking.

Along the way we also visited the largest Catholic church in Mexico, which is the site of the first miracle in Mexico. As well as having a great traditional Mexican buffet - which is the best meal we´ve had all trip.

I´ve also uploaded some pictures to past posts (scroll down). We've only been away a week, but it feels like forever.







 

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