Sunday, 25 May 2008

Me gusta Colombia

Its so nice to be back in Colombia! Crossing the border, I felt an immediate sense of relief. I was back with nice, friendly people, in a pretty safe environment. Well, apart from the odd earthquake, and Farc leaders dying...but nowhere is perfect.
I dont want to keep going on about it, but the hotel guy the last night in Venezuela was hilariously rude and nasty, Basil Fawlty would have nothing on him.
After a longish 2 days travelling, Randy and I arrived in the pretty little town of Barichara, a lovely example of Colombian colonial architecture.

Next we headed to San Gil, a bit of a Colombian adventure center, and a pretty nice smallish town. I´d half been thinking of doing a para gliding course, but decided instead on a tandem flight, which was really nice and relaxing, rather than any way scary. The farmland around made for pretty vistas and the weather was just about perfect too.

There's some serious rafting around San Gil, but the biggest river is actually unraftable right now, but we some fun on the little grade 3 running through town. We got to swim through some of the smaller rapids to spice it up a bit, and all and all it was a great way to spend 8 euro.

Feeling a bit spatially challenged on the Latin American dance floors, a few of us in the Macondo hostal in San Gil decide on a bit of Salsa dancing. I have to admit I wasn't expecting a full aerobic workout, but that is what we got, plus some pretty good moves, if I can only remember them. I think I might have to go back a few more times though before I'm on strictly come dancing. I also brushed up a bit on my Spanish for a bit, it's definitely easier to understand Colombian Spanish than Panamanian.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Slight detour

Venezuela was definitely not on my travel plans, so it's a bit of a surprise to find myself in the university city of Merida. It certainly comes as a pleasant change after by brief but too long stay in Maracaibo. Seldom have I taken such an instant dislike to a city (and i guess, by association, a country) as I did when reaching there from Colombia. I dunno if it was the endless litter trail on the way there, the rip off antics of the taxi drivers, or the rudeness of the food servers at the bus station, who looked like they would much rather sever your throat than serve you the sandwich you wanted, but I was very pleased to get out of there ASAP. Merida, thankfully, is a lot different. Nice people, cool weather, good nightlife and the longest and highest cable car in the world.

Before crossing over the border, I spent a few days more on the Colombian coast. First up was Tayrona, a pretty national park where you can sleep in hammocks ( again :( ) and enjoy the beaches in relative solitude. Apart from the mossies. It was a bit overpriced and the over-zealous inspection by the corrupt Army dude on the entrance took the shine off a bit, but it was still well worth seing.

I also went to the fishing village of Taganga, know for its good and (relatively) cheap diving. The diving wasn't half bad - loads of sea horses, lobsters and morays. But the highlight was the gigantic schools of sardines being hearded into bunches by attacking tuna. Amazing.
I almost loved Taganga, but its been ¨discovered¨ by a spring break and pseudo hippie combination that tries your patience after a while. Shame really, cause it has a lovely village feel in parts, and the locals are typically welcoming. A fact thats highlighted after spending a few hours in Maracaibo. Did I mention I didn't like it there?

Monday, 12 May 2008

Lost City

I hadn't really planed on any trekking on this trip, what with my dislocated knee and lack of hiking boots, but when I arrived in Santa Marta I decided to sign up for the 6 day round trip to the Ciudad Perdida. The trek isn't especially difficult, but the rain on the first day made parts really slippy, and I was glad of my investment in a pair of wellies.

We passed through various types of forest, inhabited by indifferent indigenous peoples and very friendly soldiers. Evenings were mostly spent sculpting wax models from burning candles (there wanst much in the way of entertainment provided!). I have to admit that the idea of sleeping in a hammock is much nicer than the reality. It is fun, bu the the relative lack of sleep and the resulting back pain makes it something to try sparingly.

Although the ruins themselves aren't overly dramatic, the sheer scale of the place, coupled with the jungle setting, makes for a very memorable trip. Walking up the 2000 odd steps into the lost city was especially moving, particularly for my calves. The guides were really good, and provided us with great food and typical Colombian hospitality. Although I hate backtracking, the return trip was actually pretty nice, as we had great weather, which made the views beautiful and the swimming holes particularly inviting.

Santa Marta itself was nothing special, though now a bad place. It certainly didnt give the impression that its the oldest settlement in Colombia. Cartagena (pictured) is a few years newer, but a world apart when it comes to the the preservation and renovation of its colonial part. Next up is some beach time and maybe a little diving.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Shakira Shakira

Well, after 7 weeks I finally managed to leave Panama. An overnight bus from David and a short prop plane flight later I´m in Cartagena, Colombia. I'm pretty excited to be on the move again.

Cartagena is a beautiful city. It's possibly the best preserved Spanish city in Latin America, with lovely old buildings both restored and slightly crumbling, complete with abundant colourful plants and equally colourful locals. The streets were pretty quiet when I arrived as it was a holiday, but today there packed with people, as they were last night. Dining out al fresco in the lovely Spanish square of Santa Domingo with great food and a background of local performers was a great experience.

Before leaving Panama, I made a couple of visits. I felt bad having been in the center of Panama´s coffee production and never having seen a plantation, so Neimis took me along to one of the local fincas to see the scenery and sample the produce, which is very good. Its nice to get into the hills around boquete, it still feels like it must have before it became a Mecca for gringo retirees.

We also visited Boca brava, as yet a relatively un-touristed spot on the pacific coast. There´s only one hotel on the island, and you wake up to the sound of waves and wild howler monkeys in the forest. On the way back we called into some friends of Paradise Garden to check out their place, the views are almost reminiscent of Africa, especially as sun sets and the howlers start.