A Travellerspoint blog

Colombia

Cartagena, Tayrona, Medellin and Bogota

sunny 32 °C
View Chris' round the world trip on dezmondos's travel map.

After the shock of the sailing trip it was nice to be on dry land. I fell in love instantly with Cartagena – it is such a beautiful city. Me and Emil decided to stay in Getsemani – which really is the rough part of the city – I think they round up all the bums and put them in this area – but hey – it was cheap. The first few days were just exploring the city, inside the old walled city it is beautiful, its like walking back in time. Now one of the reasons I came here was for the carnival – Catagena’s Independence Day, which included the final of the Miss Colombia competition ;-).
The city was starting to warm up already for the carnival – this was 5 days before!! The main square was full of acts such as dancers and fire eaters – we spent hours just wondering around watching all the entertainment.
We went to see the famous fort – Romancing the Stone with Micheal Douglas was a film that was made in the 80’s and it is one of my favourite – and it was set in Colombia with the final seen being at this fort – so it was good to have a look around.
Colombian Flag

Colombian Flag


Now Colombia is now up and coming as a tourist destination and the government are ploughing money into the tourist areas – unfortunately this mean all the prices are rising, at present they are ok but you can see that will only go up. It is starting to get a little tiring with everyone trying to rip you off as your white – you learn that whatever they say the price is – half it! (at least) and that will be more or less the fair price.
Now I did have someone try to steel my camera out of my pocket when we we wondering through this dodgy area – I saw him walking slow next to me out the corner of my eye and was ready for him to do something. Then he tried to snatch it! Now if you have been reading my blog you will know that this is my 3rd camera in 6 months so there is no way in hell this guy is getting it. I pushed him off and luckily he just ran off – all the locals gave a bit of a cheer and told me I should have hit him… I was just glad to have my camera to be honest. That is the first time I have tried to have anything stolen, but it probably wont be the last.
Fort at Cartagena

Fort at Cartagena


I still had a few days before the carnival so I decided to go up to the Tayrona National Park for a couple of days – I heard it was amazing. If you get the chance read the ‘Gringo Trail’ – I read it before I came on this trip and some of it was about this park.
It was a bit of a mission to get there I have to admit… I got a shuttle to the Santa Marta which is about four hours east along the coast from Cartagena – which I met to English girls that I met on a bus in Panama City – Milly and Laura. Which proves again how small of a world it is. Anyway I was quite glad to meet them as it was quite a mission finding the local chicken bus to the national park. After a very long chicken bus ride we finally made the entrance. Now we picked up a couple bottles of rum for the few nights in the national park but when we got to the entrance there was a bag search and they told us that no alcohol was to be brought into the park – we were gutted as they said we had to leave it with them… After a bit of negotiation they agreed to let us go away and tip one into a water bottle and leave one with them. It seemed like a fair enough deal, one bottle of rum is better then no rum!
Colombia baby!

Colombia baby!


Then there was even more problems when it came to paying… the guide book said that it $9 entry and $2 a night once you are in the park to sleep. So I had enough money for a few days in the park as obviously there was no cash points – but no, the entrance fee was double and the hammocks were $8 a night. Now that not seem a lot for you guys at home but it seemed like robbery to us! We argued for a while thinking that they were ripping us off but we found out why the prices had increased later on that day. The Colombian government had sold the rights of the national park to a private company which means all the prices were rocketing up each year.
After the shock of that they were trying to sting us for another $2000 pesos for a lift for the first 3km. Hell no! So we started to walk and luckily 2 minutes down the road a couple that were driving pulled over and gave us a lift… thank god as we were no way prepared for the trek that was coming up – now I say trek not walk as it was 3 hour walk to the area where we wanted to go. There are three beaches that have shacks with hammocks that you can rent in the park and apparently we heard that the furthest one is the best (it would be). So we started trekking through the forest – it was one of the most amazing experiences so far, it was a very muddy trail and involved lots of steep climbs – at this stage I was sooo glad I left my big backpack at the hostel and just brought my daypack.
Tyrona National Park

Tyrona National Park


So after about two hours we arrived at Arrecifes the first beach where a lot of people stop but Cabo – where we were heading was another 45mins along the coast. I can honestly say I have never seen scenery like this. There were giant boulders everywhere and the forest was right on the beach – it was definitely worth the trek. So we arrived at the camp ground and went for a wonder and a swim. I just had to keep pinching myself to see if I was awake and not dreaming – I know it sounds like a cliché but seriously it was that spectacular. So me, Milly and Lolly had some dinner, rum and beers and called it a night. Now sleeping in a Hammock makes you wake up early as the sun comes up around 6.30am and I woke up looking out at the beach – could be a lot worse views to wake up to…
We picked a good time to visit as I would say as in as little as two years I could see hotels being built on the park the way things are going. It was a bit of a mission getting back to Cartagena we got the chicken bus and made it to the bus terminal where there was loads of touts trying to get you to use their bus company – so we went with Brasila – a big bus company out here and they bloody lied to us! When we bought the ticket they said the bus leaves in 15 minutes – like hell did it – one and a half hours later when countless other buses to Cartagena had left we got a refund and chose another company.
Isa's home

Isa's home


The next couple of nights were pretty mental, you couldn’t wear any decent clothes as floor, paint, foam and just about anything else was being thrown around. You couldn’t even go to the shop without getting covered. There was a big parade just round the corner from our hostel with floats and everyone dressed up in costumes in true carnival style. The party then continued to the main square – now it was a bit dodgy to take cameras out as they would get stolen so sadly I have no photos of the night which is really annoying. Now one thing I don’t like about Cartagena is the prices – you cant go to bars as its so expensive! I was paying less in America for a rum and coke – even the off licences were more expensive than the USA. I thought South America was meant to be cheap!
Now my next stop in Colombia was Medellin to see Isabel who I met when I was working at RLC back in May I was so excited to see her – it was going to be a good weekend. Although it did mean a 13 hour overnight bus trip, doh. It was $40 to get the bus or $80 to fly – it was tempting to fly, but nope bus it was.
Me and Isa

Me and Isa


I have realized on this trip that I cannot sleep on buses, no matter what and this ride was no different. I came prepared with my sleeping bag and within 20 minutes was wrapped up tight in it. You may think its crazy sitting on a bus in a sleeping bag but it actually is that cold! They go a bit OTT on the air conditioning.
Now Isabel had kindly agreed to meet me at the station and there she was waiting for me. It was so good to see her again – shes always smiling. We got a taxi back to her house and she introduced me to her mum, dad and brother. They were so nice, they fed me so well and Isabel’s mum was a fantastic cook. That day we took the Metro into the city – the metro is a pretty new addition to Medellin – the new major is really getting things moving and they are investing a lot of money in the city.
Medellin is in a big valley but the city has almost outgrown itself and has spread itself up the hills. They have installed cable cars to allow access to all areas of the city. We used this to go and see the library that was donated by Spain, it was a pretty impressive sight, with great views over the city. Now Isabel was telling me a bit about the history of Medellin, about Pablo Escobar the leader of the Medellin Cartell – He offered $3m Pesos to anyone that killed a police officer - and this wasn’t actually that long ago. Medellin is now a totally different place, lots of money has been invested in housing and transportation which is really moving the city forward.
We went to the main square and saw some sculptures by Fernando Botero which are in the main plaza – basically they are all of fat people or animals – they are pretty funny, see the pictures…
Fat art!

Fat art!


Isabel had University so I met one of her friends and we continued the tour of the city, I can actually say I have seen a hell of a lot of Medellin! Now as it was a Friday night we headed to the Zona Rosa, it was such a difference to all the other countries I have been to in Central America, it was almost like being in the USA, the square and surrounding streets were lined with just about every type of bar and restaurant imaginable. We headed to Time Out, a sports bar for cocktails then we went to meet some of Isabel’s friends in a local club. Now it was an experience to say the least, now I cant really dance, sure I can move around to R&B and club music but this was s different story. So there was only one thing for it – bring on the rum! It was a really good night, although Isabel’s friends took it in turns dancing with me as I was terrible – not much fun for them!
It came to about 2am and that was me done, I needed to sleep, two days without sleep suddenly hit me – I felt a little guilty about dragging Isabel away as her friends were in it for the long run she but understood.
Isabel volunteers at the YMCA for people that are looking to work in USA summer camps like she did this year and asked if I wanted to come along. The meeting was in English as they needed to learn English if they were allowed to go, so I thought why not! It was really good meeting people from Colombia that wanted to go to camp, I talked about my experiences, what they can expect etc then Isabel wanted me to ask them interview questions to prepare for the application process – talk about getting chucked in the deep end… but I loved it, again was good to do and see more then the local tourist sites. We spent the rest of the day looking around an expo in the city before getting ready for the concert.
Aventura Concert

Aventura Concert


One of the reasons for me going to Medellin for the 13th November was that Isabel had got me a ticket to a Bachata concert where Aventura were playing. Now I have never heard of them or Bachata to be totally honest, let alone Aventura. But they are huge over here and everyone was going crazy at the concert. It was held at a sports stadium and I would guess about 20 – 30k people were there. I was such a cool night, I will be the first to admit it is not a type of music I listen to but I enjoyed it so much – look them up if you get the chance… We went with four of Isabel’s friends who were really nice and made a big effort to speak English to me.
The following morning after the concert I had stupidly read somewhere that Medellin is excellent for Paragliding as it is situated in a valley and when the sun is out the thermals make excellent flying conditions. Now anyone that knows me knows that I’m not the biggest fan of heights. Now I don’t mind going up in cable cars etc but sitting attached to a parachute scares me a little… So Isabel had booked us in for a flight, after about a 45 minute taxi ride up the side of the mountain we arrived at the site. I’m not afraid to admit that I was having second thoughts – it helped that Isabel was a little scared too – she was brilliant though egging me on to do it. Soo… all strapped up and ready to go. Now the instructor didn’t speak English so Isabel was my interpreter while we were on the ground, but hang on a minute… didn’t really think about what if he needed to tell me something important whilst we were up in the air!
Paragliding

Paragliding


For take off you basically just run off a cliff. I have to say I thought it would be a lot scarier then it was. It was so smooth, I would even go so far as to say it was quite relaxing… (after the initial thought of plummeting to the ground had gone out of my mind). It was about a 30 minute flight and the views were amazing, you could see the whole city spread out over the valley. So that was it, Paragliding is now ticked off my list and I have to say I think I would do it again. Isabel really enjoyed it as well and I have to thank her for booking it as I might not have gone through with it if it wasn’t for her.
Not scared at all...

Not scared at all...


My last day in Medellin was a very relaxed one. The weekend’s antics had caught up with me. I think the next week in Bogota is going to be a very quiet one! I have decided that I really need to progress my Spanish past the basics – so the next week in Bogota is going to consist of me staying in the hostel and studying. We had a look around a shopping mall with me hoping to buy a new shirt as I have managed to ruin all of mine but I became apparent that I am far to tall to clothes in South America, as they are all pretty short.
I have to thank Isabel and her family for the hospitality and generosity they have shown to me in my time at Medellin. It really has been the highlight of my stay in Colombia, nothing was to much trouble for them. Isabel showed me so much around the city that without here I wouldn’t of even seen half of it. Again, its great to go out with the people that live here as you really get a feel of the city. If anyone goes to Colombia I would say Medellin is a must visit City.
A night out with Isa's friends

A night out with Isa's friends


So it was time to leave my Colombian family, I took the bus to Bogota – which was one of the best scenic bus journeys I have ever been on but also one of the worst journeys… The views were stunning – we were going up and down through the mountains with huge drops and only a 1 foot concrete barrier to stop us going over the edge. We must have got stuck behind every tractor and truck possible – it ended up taking 10 and a half hours through winding roads – I was so happy to get of the thing. I got a taxi to the Cranky Croc hostel – I would recommend it – it is pretty cool. Now I had booked my flight to Cuzco in Peru for the Sunday so I had a good five days in Bogota. I know that I said that I will bus it all the way but I decided not to do the Galapagos islands (well my budget made that decision) and I didn’t really fancy the 5 day bus journey – spending over 70 hours on buses. Also I want to get to Cuzco so I can get used to the altitude before the Inca trail.
Now I have heard that all there is to do in Bogota is party – which is pretty much true. We went to see most of the important sights – cable car up the mountain to look over the city, the police museum and the Gold museum. The gold museum was touted as being the best in the world… I wouldn’t go that far but it was ok. I would recommend the Police museum as its free to get in and you get a tour explaining all about Pablo Escobar – It was really interesting.
CIMG0900.jpg
There were so many Irish and Australians staying in the hostel – which isn’t always a good thing as you speak English all the time and tend just to hang around with them. We had a few decent nights out – now Alex the chef in the hostel was also in charge of planning trips out and he was more then happy to take you around. Me and a couple of the Aussie guys went to play Tejo, a local Colombian game – now we walked into this place and we instantly stood out. This is a proper locals hangout and in walks a group of white boys. The locals were brilliant though – really made the day. Now it is free to play Tejo if you buy beers so it was $10 for all you can drink beers and free Tejo – Tejo is pretty simple – there is a square box of clay about 10 meters away and you have to throw a steel puck into the clay. There are three ceramic triangles that are filled with gun powder and when you hit that they go bang – that’s three points – if you get the puck to stick in the centre its six points. Now it is a lot harder then it sounds, especially after a few beers – one of the Aussies missed by a mile and smashed the light of the wall, it was pretty funny. The place was an absolute shit hole so it didn’t really make a difference – it was like an English working mans club – but worse! The urinals were right next to the playing area so you could watch while you pee, lol.

Now the weekends are pretty mental in Bogota. One the Friday we went on a party bus, what a night it was. They give you free shots on the bus and take you around to three clubs. The clubs wernt that great but we all had a good night. So after a week in Bogota my time in Colombia had finally come to an end.
Colombia has been one of the highlights of my trip so far. When I told people I was coming some said I was crazy and that it was really dangerous, but I cannot recommend Colombia enough. It is an amazing country with so much to see and has some of the nicest people you could wish for. It may have had a troubled past but that no way reflects the way in which this country is going, it is without a doubt a must see country. Colombia is really going to take some beating so South America give it your best shot!

Posted by dezmondos 05:05 Archived in Colombia Comments (2)

Sailing from Panama to Colombia

Quite the adventure....

all seasons in one day 32 °C
View Chris' round the world trip on dezmondos's travel map.

I arrived at the Marina and found the captain, Bryan Nellor of the Pearl S Buck - my home for the next 12 or so nights. The Pearl Buck was built in 1982 in Hong Kong and was named after a famous writer. If you get a chance read 'Good Earth' I read it on the boat and its a pretty good read. The boat was 42ft long and was originally built for cruising around the world.
Pearl S Buck

Pearl S Buck


Emil a guy from Sweden was joining us on the trip, he seemed nice enough. He wanted to get into sailing for himself so was really into the knots and learning all about sailing – a lot more enthusiastic then me, I think it may have showed... It was a nightmare of a first days sailing. To break the ice we decided to go through two bottles of rum the night before we set sail. Boy did we pay for it the next day, we were all sick - not knowing if this was down to sea sickness or a very bad hangover... I was hoping it was the hangover as if I had 12 days of feeling like this it was not going to be a pleasant trip.
The first leg of the journey took us to Portobello, a port just south of Colon, it took around 24 hours sailing to get there. It was so strange sailing at night - we worked on a rotation of 2 hours on 4 hours off to keep watch for boats on our course. It was pretty smooth sailing apart from the lightning that kept cropping up, luckily it passed us by.
A worried Captain

A worried Captain


We arrived at Portobello that morning around 6am. We took a walk around the village and saw the black christ. Apparently it is really famous, there is a statue of Jesus Christ carved out of black wood. I ve seen more impressive sights I have to admit but it was a interesting little town. It was an old port and you could still see the ruins of the forts on the hills that protected the port. From there we set sail to the San Blas islands - now these I have heard are like paradise - picturesque desert islands. The sail was amazing - we stuck by the coast all the way. I had to pinch myself that I was actually doing this. One thing I have found since I started traveling is that you have to take a step back and really take some of these countries in.
San Blas island

San Blas island


On the way to the San Blas we ran into one hell of a storm! It did get me a little worried when the captain came out with the quote 'well, it beats sitting at home in my rocking chair waiting to die'. He was 66 – I am still 27 - not quite waiting to die, or wanting for that matter.
Now when your sailing water conservation is a big deal - so showering was fun... After having no shower for the first day I took the storm as a perfect opportunity for a shower. It was hilarious, I only wish people could have seen... There is me standing on the deck of this boat in the middle of a storm with my shower gel! To be honest it was one of the best showers I have ever had - Have you ever taken a shower in the rain on the Caribbean sea? I think not lol.
One hell of a storm

One hell of a storm


That night we arrived in the San Blas - the Island of Proveiner where we had to check in at the morning. The fun and games were not finished there, we hit a sand bank and got beached for about 10 minutes, luckily there was no damage and we managed to get off. Sailing at night is not recommended around here due to all the reefs, as we found out!
The next day we checked in with the Kuna's. The Kuna's are the natives that live on the islands there are about 27,000 living on 200 - 300 islands. Its crazy as you see tiny islands with one palm tree and a hut. Some life hey.
We had a look around a few of the islands around Poviener - went and met the locals - it felt strange as we just walked into there village and started to look around - they didn’t seem to mind though. We had heard that Dog island had a pretty cool ship wreck that you could dive on - so I went down to check it out. The fish and coral were amazing, a must if you ever visit here. Until now it had been pretty overcast but we stuck gold the following day and then I could really appreciate the islands. I have never seem anything like it in my life. If you want a big resort and a nice beach go to the Caribbean - If you want true unspoilt paradise come to the San Blas We headed to a few other uninhabited islands over the next few days and took the outboard out to explore - we found an island with just one palm tree on - again, paradise. The sea life is pretty cool, we saw dolphins, rays which I have been eager to see since I started my travels.
San Blas small island

San Blas small island


Some of the local Kunas make their living from the boats that pass through. The sell handmade moles – a fabric with intricate designs made up of layers of different material – I bought a couple to help the local economy. I paid $20 for two pieces that took a month to make – not bad hey? Also there was the ‘Banditos’ locals that come around and sell just about everything. 3 large lobsters for $15 – you cant complain really.
The next day we decided to make the crossing to Colombia – before we got to Cartagena the plan was to stop for a couple of days at the Islas del Rosario, a Colombian national park but the crossing decided otherwise. We set off at 8am and the planned journey was to take 27 hours. So far it had been a motorboat ride rather then a sailing trip as the wind had not been in our favour.
Sailing

Sailing


The morning was calm and sunny – after the first 12 hours we were boasting about how easy it was and that there wasn’t anything else we would rather be doing at that time… (Well done Chris tempting fate). First of all the weather turned bad, all around us were lightening storms – and not small ones either. Other boats were radioing in saying they were getting battered in 60 Knott winds. Luckily the really bad weather was behind us and we were heading away from it. Until at around 2am while I was on watch that the engine died. Bang went the transmission. So there is us over 80 miles off shore (it doesn’t sound like much, but it is when your out there in a 42ft sailboat in bad weather with no engine. Life is great huh! It was shocking that all of a sudden you feel so insignificant. Here we are on this tiny boat in a massive ocean with no engine. I am not afraid to admit I was shitting myself – the lightening showed no sign of stopping and the wind was against us meaning that we were only doing 1.5 knotts (about 1 mile an hour – the computer was reading 55 hours to go to Colombia! Doh.
At this stage the seas were getting rough, I started to feel a little quezzy and I was swearing never to set foot on a boat again. But the next morning I kind of had a different perspective on things, I mean we were still alive, and it just meant that we would spend another couple of days at sea – get over it Chris! We had a bit of wind the next day – nothing special but managed to get to around 4 knotts and we also got in contact with a few other boats to let them know what happened and our position just in case anything happened. And things did happen….
Emil on Desert island

Emil on Desert island

It took us around a day and a half to limp to the Colombian coast – it was around 2am – not a perfect time to be navigating past all the big container ships into the bay at Cartagena so the captain made the decision to circle round offshore until the morning. Which would have been fine if the weather stayed calm… but did it?? Hell no! The wind got up to 30 knotts and we found ourselves getting blown at around 10 knots without any steering and with about 20 meters visibility! Then all of a sudden we saw lights up ahead through the rain – it was obviously a boat so we got on the radio to the coast guard screaming to try and warn the boat ahead that we had absolutely no steering! No I say boat, when we got closer we could see it was a huge, and I mean huge container ship. Now there is now way I can describe the way I was feeling at this point. Imagine the situation, we were in a 42ft sailing boat, no engine or steering in a 30 knott wind on course for a 100,000 ton container ship (im guessing it must have weighed around that, probably more lol). Our boat would have snapped like a match stick. We just felt sick, I actually thought that was it… Emil was getting ready to jump it was that bad. Luckily the ship ahead had its engines running and heard us on the radio and started to move – the next minute was like it was in slow motion – there is us screaming on the radio watching the cargo ship move across the front of us. It was a close shave – we were within about 40 meters of hitting it. My heart was in my mouth!
The rest of the night was spent with me on the radio speaking to the coastguard giving them our position so that they could relay it the ships so they could avoid us. I was sooo happy to see the sun come up – and the coast guard coming towards us.
Being rescued by the coast guard

Being rescued by the coast guard


They attached a line to us and started to tow us in – at this point I was promising to kiss the ground when I got onto dry land. Then even more drama – we had to anchor in the marina but the coast guard was pulling us pretty fast and then they cut us free – we were heading straight for another boat! Then all of a sudden about 10 of the boat owners in the marina were jumping on their outboard motors and attaching lines trying to stop us. It was pretty impressive that everyone was helping – there is a real community amongst all the sailors, we were pretty much celebrities in the Marina as people had been following what was going on through the night on the radio.
But that was finally the end of our adventure, at the time I was swearing never to go on a sailboat again! But now I have had time to reflect on it, it was an experience – one that I will probably remember for the rest of my life.
Coconuts and rum

Coconuts and rum


I think I need a bit of rest and relaxation time but I doubt Cartagena is the place for that – especially over carnival week…

Posted by dezmondos 12:20 Archived in Panama Comments (12)

Panama

Panama City and Boca Del Toro

sunny 34 °C
View Chris' round the world trip on dezmondos's travel map.

We made it to the Panama border - I was a little nervous about getting in as there were signs everywhere saying that you need and onward ticket to be allowed in – something which I did not have. But no problems what so ever! I love being English - its so easy to get through borders. I didn’t even have to pay, Eddie and Erin had to pay $5 each though as they were from Aus. It was the strangest border crossing ever - you had to do it on food over this long - very rusty bridge. You walk along planks that have been layed on top. It was a pretty cool experience.
Panama Border

Panama Border


From the border we had to get a cab to the water taxi to take us to the Bocas. The view was out of this world! The sea was so calm and there are just tons of small islands all around - it was beautiful! We booked into our hotel and I could tell instantly that I was going to like the Bocas. It was crazy, as it was out of season everywhere has been pretty quite so far on my trip - but not the Bocas - even in low season its still full of life.
I love Island life - everyone knows everyone! Now I just want to say before I go on with the next story that I have not actually been going out drinking that much. Probably a couple times a week. My mum emailed me saying that all it sounds like im doing is drinking! (im not honestly, lol). We decided all to have a big night out as it was our first night in the Bocas. We heard that it was happy hour in one the hostels so we headed there. It was happy hour alright... 50 Cents a beer - we could not believe it - so the drinking games began - even one of the locals joined in. Now I should not be allowed to play Shithead when im drunk - I lost a lot! It was then ladies night in the aqua lounge on the neighboring island so we went over and kept sending Erin to the bar for our free rum and cokes. Yep I now drink rum and cokes, doh. The Aqua Lounge is a pretty cool place - there is a diving board in the middle of the dance floor, which I am sad to say that we were all jumping off - fully clothed! Then disaster struck - bye bye camera. Now lost or stolen I dont know but im gutted - I had some awesome photos from that night which are now gone. Along with the fact that you cannot buy a digital camera for love nor money in the Bocas - so sadly there will not be many photos of Panama - but hey - its insured. I headed to the police station to log a claim the next morning – I am not sure they believed me at all but they have me the form etc to fill out. It was such a nice camera as well, but I suppose that’s life hey. So I have now gone through 2 cameras in 6 months of traveling - this looks like it could get expensive!
Starfish Bay

Starfish Bay


The next day we found a local fisherman that said he would take us out for the day to see the other islands and to go snorkeling. We first went to dolphin bay which is where everyone sees dolphins... apart from us! A little disappointed we headed to the next bay which was amazing. We went snorkeling and I have to say I have never seen coral like it. It was sooo many different colours - now there wasn’t that many fish but that was about to change. We went to this restaurant that was built over the water and we decided to take a snorkel underneath - I have never seen so many different species of fish in on place ever. They were huge. We started chucking in bread and it was a feeding frenzy!
Boca Del Toro

Boca Del Toro


We next headed to Red Frog beach, which wait for it.... had red frogs on it. Well actually we had to pay the local kids 50 cents to find them for us - but they were pretty cool. It was about a 20 minute walk to the beach and on the way we saw three sloth’s, and they were moving! It was pretty cool to see them in their natural environment.
Now one thing that I really didn’t like was the jelly fish - I must have been stung about 10 times! they were all over the place, but I manned up lol. We made one more stop at Hospital point and then made it back just before the heavens opened. Boy, did it rain! we had a good 6 hours of rain - which was made even worse by the constant power cuts - it makes you realise how much we rely on power for everything.
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The nightlife is pretty mental on the Bocas - it ladies night almost every night - so girls drink for free - which is good as me and Eddie were just sending Erin to the bar. Now I was planning to sail to Colombia but I had changed my mind when finding out that it was about $400 to do so. So I was supposed to be flying - I found a flight for $150 which was pretty cheap. I was just about to book it when I saw an advert in the hostel - an American guy was sailing down to Cartagena and wanted a few people just to cover expenses. I went to meet him in the morning and he seemed like a really nice guy. He was retired and although he hadn’t done the trip before he had 5 years sailing experience. So i signed up - it was $20 a day to cover costs and we were to stop in the San Blas islands for 4 or so days on the way. I was over the moon - I really wanted to do this sailing trip and now I found a cheap way of doing it - he even offered to train me up on sailing along the way which is pretty cool. The trip left on the 1st November so I had a week or so to kill. Not knowing if my liver would survive another week on the Bocas I headed into Panama City. I mean it was a $46 return trip but going to Panama and not seeing the Panama Canal would be like going to Egypt and not seeing the Pyramids! No?
Cycling through Panama City

Cycling through Panama City


Now it was an overnight bus which was good as it saved a nights accommodation. However if you ever get a bus in Panama be warned they like the air-con. Oh my god I was freezing! I met four English girls on the bus and two Germans - they were in their sleeping bags it was that cold!
The two German girls (Kat and Steffe) were staying at the same hostel as me so we decided to do all the sights together. In the morning we walked around Casco Viejo - the historical centre and then embarked to a mammoth walk to the city centre - where I had to buy a new camera - Im going to look after this one!
I have to say I am impressed with Panama City - its actually a pretty cool place. All the capital cities in Central America (excluding Mexico) are pretty much hell holes that you need to get out of asap. But Panama has a bit of an American influence - not everyone’s cup of tea I know but it was a nice break from the San Jose's and Teguchigalpa's.
Panama City

Panama City


We spent the next day at a view point on a hill over looking the Panama Canal and the city. You could see all the big cargo ships lined up out at sea waiting for their turn to go through the canal. It was a pretty amazing sight! We then headed to the Canal itself at the Miraflores lock. We did the whole tour (my general knowledge on the canal is pretty good!) and watched a big cargo ship go through the canal.
We saw quite a few sights over the following days - we cycled along the causeway which is a man made strip of land connecting the islands at the mouth of the canal - Went to the national Canal museum and partied in Calle Uruguay, the best nightlife in Central America apparently. It was pretty good.
I m getting an expert in negotiating taxi prices now, being as there is 3 of us it is cheaper to get a taxi everywhere then the bus - basically its $3 anywhere in Panama - pretty cool.
There has been some major rain in Panama - the mornings are really hot and sunny but come 3pm you have to make sure your not outside! We found that out when we hired the bikes.
So that was the end of my short stay in Panama City. Back on the dreaded bus to Boca - another freezing overnight bus journey! But you kind of get used to it.
Panama Canal

Panama Canal

Posted by dezmondos 07:17 Archived in Panama Comments (1)

Costa Rica

Slight change of plans...

28 °C
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Well my next stop was supposed to be Nicaragua. I was going to do a volcano trek and spend some time surfing on the coast, but after looking at Costa Rica it seemed I could do both of those things and more, ok its more expensive but from what I read it seemed more my kind of place. So after a night in Nicaragua back on the road to San Jose, Costa Rica. I hoped that I wouldnt regret missing out on Nicaragua, but I cant do it all, and im still hoping to be able to afford the galapogos islands.
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Now Im getting pretty good at haggling for taxi's so after refusing about 6 of them I found one for $4 - and that was expensive! We turned out having a massive arguement as he took me to a different hotel, after saying that I wasnt gonna pay him he finally agreed to take me to my hostel, whilst pointing out all the brothels on the way! I have found out that apparently Costa Rica is where gringos go to pay for sex, hhmm, not my cup of tea.
Anyway, I made it to my hostel, it even had a pool! and bumped into Tim, an Aussie guy that me and Tahnee met when we were staying in Mexico City. Its such a small world... out of all the hostels and countries for that matter, I bumped into him here! It was a really social hostel so I ended up just dinking with a load of Canadians, Americans and Brits. Karen from Ireland and Jim from the UK had booked a tour the following day to see the sights in Costa Rica - I decided to tag along which meant another 6am wake up, doh.
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The tour first took us to a coffee plantation where we learnt all about Costa Rican coffee and how it is grown - was actually really interesting. We then headed up to Poas Volcano, one of the volcanoes that is still active in Costa Rica. Now the weather in San Jose was crap to say the least - it was cloudy and was raining alot - however that day the sun was out and we got a panoramic view from the top of the volcano. It was a pretty steep climb to get to the top - it is almost 3000m above sea level. I was hoping to see lava but sadly not... there was a pool on top of the volcano which was steaming, appartently its around 50 degrees. The smell of sulphur coming from the volcano made me a little queezy - it basically smells like rotton eggs, nice! On the way back from the volcano we stopped at the Paradise lodge where we saw the La Paz waterfall, it was also a bit of a Zoo, we saw butterflies, Toocans (which would perch on you), wild cats such as Pumas and Jaguars and monkeys. It was a really cool day, the lodge was in the middle of the rainforest so it was good to see all the wildlife that lives there.
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I was planning to go to Tamerindo which is 4 hours north from San Jose on the Pacifc coast, Karen and Jim were heading on a white water rafting trip that dropped you off in Puerto Viejo when finished. So I went on the trip aswell. I consider myself a pretty good rafter now, we we right in the heart of the Pacuare National park which has the 4th best white water rafting in the world apparently. The bus journey was a little hairy, we were going down these winding roads with no barriers and a vertical drop. The white water rafting trip took about 4 hours and we went for 21 miles down the river. The rapids went up to class 4 which was pretty cool. In white water raftiing you are responsible for the person next to you if they fall out... just my luck to have a 300 pounds Costa Rican next to me - try pulling that back in the raft - it wasnt easy! I didnt fall out once!
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We arrived in Puerto Viejo that evening and were told that we had to stay in Rocky J's hostel. Now this was a cool hostel! It was $6 a night for a hammock and it was right on the beach. The floor, walls, pillars were covered in moziacs. We spent a couple days chilling after a few days of constant travelling - it was nice to have a break. The weather was not great in Puerto Viejo, I was going to learn to surf but apparently its out of season. We hired bikes one day and cycled a few miles down to another beach called Punto Uva. It was like being on a desert island... the rainforest came right up to the sand and it was deserted. It was only a few miles but the road was a nightmare - the bikes were not really designed for that type of activity. But it was good to get out and see the coast. Then the rain came... doh.
I was umming and ahhhing about whether to go to Boca del toro - some islands just off Panama or go back to San Jose and get a bus to Panama that way. I ended up deciding for the Bocas. I met two more aussies in Purto Viejo called Eddie and Erin so we set off to the Panama border - which luckily isnt that far from where we were.
So my time in Costa Rica has come to an end. I have to say im in two minds about the country... One part of me absolutly loves it. There is so much to do! The wildlife and surroundings are something that I have never experienced before. But sadly Tourism is now Costa Ricas biggest export as we keep on hearing...
That brings American prices, I would 100% recommend it as a holiday destination however - just not for those on a tight budget. So it was time to move on.

Panama here I come...

Posted by dezmondos 17:14 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Honduras

With a brief visit to Belize...

sunny 35 °C
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Last time I left the blog I think I was heading through Belize, making my way towards Honduras. We ended up getting a chicken bus from Belize City to Indepence at town in the south of Belize - it took around five hours which was bad enough as it obviously had no air conditioning but I'm sure the driver had a death wish! I actually thought the bus was going to turn over at times.
We headed to Independance as I heard there was a water taxi which could take us to Placencia where we had to get our ferry to Honduras. We made it to Placencia and found what must have been the cheapest and grottiest guest house on the island. But hey, for $5 a night I would sleep anywhere - well almost. It actually looked like it was going to fall down!
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The next day the ferry was at the dock, I was relieved as I had only heard of the ferry through word of mouth and some people were saying it didn't even run anymore! So very relieved we headed to Honduras. No I have to admit I'm very impressed with how cheaply we made the journey. To get from Chetumal in Mexico to Honduras on bus and boat had only cost us $78.50 - which beats over $400 for a flight - OK it took the best part of three days but we got to see a bit of Belize on the way. The ferry dropped us in Puerto Cortez and had to get to La Cieba where we had to get another ferry to Utila, on the Bay Islands.
The Bay islands have some of the cheapest diving in the world and I wanted to get my PADI certificate so I can dive in other countries on my trip. It was about a four hour trip to La Cieba which meant another 7 hour bus ride - which after three days of buses we didnt really fancy. We had met two Aussies on the ferry, Rupert and Alice so we all decided to get a taxi - I know, a four hour taxi ride? only in Central America baby! Now I know I have been talking about crazy driver's a lot but this taxi driver was a nutter - I would rather have been on a roller coaster for 4 hours! He would have given Micheal Schumacher a run for his money, he was over taking on blind bends, screeching around corners - we were all shitting ourselves.
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We arrived safely (thank god) in La Cieba, where we stayed in a hostel to get the ferry in the morning - now I was itching to get out to Utila to start my diving but as was low season the hostel offered us a cliff diving and white water rafting trip in the jungle with a nights free accommodation for just $22. We had a crazy time - in the morning we went for a trek up the river and went cliff jumping off some pretty high rocks - id say around 7 metres which was pretty cool and then swam down some of the rapids. Then came the rafting, now the rainy season had not started so the rapids were only grade 3 but it was still a great experience. We spent the rest of the time at the lodge swimming in the river which had a 10 metre jump (depending on who you asked, some said 8, some said 15) but whatever it was pretty dam high.
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We headed up to another lodge we heard about and bumped in to two New Zealand guys that worked there - now after a lot of vodka, we started to try and catch Cane Frogs - quite random I know but apparently they loved the pool! The night ended back at our lodge stupidly jumping off the rocks in the pitch black - I don't know how but we all made it out in one piece.
The next day we all had a hell of a hangover but by far Tahnee was suffering the most - and we had to be up at 7am to make the ferry to Utila - no the ferry is notoriously known for being a rough ride - and boy they wern't joking. Im so glad I don't get sea sick that's all I can say.
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Now for those of you that don't know, Utila was the first place on my list when I was planning this trip - it is on the second biggest reef in the world and has the cheapest diving in the world. We were confronted by a barrage of workers trying to sell us their dive schools. I wanted to check around a bit first so took up an offer of accommodation for $3 that had a swimming pool - not bad hey?
We had a day walking round chatting to all the dive schools to find out which one suited us the most. Now there was a lot of competition for us as it was low season and there was four of us - we struck a deal - $225 for a 4 day PADI open water course, 2 free fun dives and 5 nights free accommodation - I bet you couldnt find that cheaper anywhere in the world!
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Our first dive was a just a practice one at 3 metres which got us used to all the basics. The next day we were meant to all be going for our first open water dives - well that was the plan. We ate the chicken wings at the hotel the night before and had food poisoning the next day - I wasnt so bad so me and Rupert went ahead with the dive but Tahnee and Alice had to wait a couple of days to shake it off. I only managed one of the two dives that day as I was rough as hell - I suppose it serves me right for ordering suicidal hot sauce on my wings!
We went ahead and completed the course over the next two days and I have to say it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, I have only ever been snorkeling a couple of times in my life - let alone been diving! We went down to 18 metres, it was like being on another planet - we saw some cool fish and a few Sea Turtles - but no sign of the Whale Sharks that hang around the islands in September/October :-(.
Now Tahnee was supposed to be staying until December going as far as Bolivia with me but as it turns out she had to go back to work - which is a shame as we have had some pretty crazy times over the last 5 months. I saw her off at the ferry which was a pretty strange feeling - I am now on my own! I'm a big boy though and I'm really looking forward to doing the rest of the trip by myself - its what I had planned from the beginning and the prospect has got me really excited. I'm gonna miss Tahnee heaps but I'm sure ill be crashing on her couch in four months time when I get to Aus.
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So I set off from Utila at 6.20am - these early morning starts are really messing up my body clock, I m waking at 6am every morning! This would be the first true test of my Spanish skills and I have to say I didn't do to bad... I made the 9am bus to Tegucigalpa - the Capital of Honduras. It was an interesting bus ride to say the least, at the first stop I got off to use the men's room for a number 2 (too much information I know but wait...) now these toilets were disgusting - a bucket of water to flush, floor covering in pee and obviously no toilet seat (cant remember the last time I saw one,lol) so I was hovering over the toilet when I heard this splashing sound - I looked down and saw a Rat the size of a small dog coming out of the toilet! Fuck me, never shit myself so much in my life. Needless to say I lost the urge to go to the Bathroom!
After 7 hours on the bus we were almost at the capital when the bus was pulled over by the army, a guys with a huge gun came on and marched all the men off the bus and told us to stand against the side of the bus with our hands out... hmm, I didn't really like the sound of this - I thought the rubber gloves might be coming out! It was pretty hilarious to be honest, it was all ok they were just checking for firearms - I had a bit of a laugh with the guards - I dont think they see many white tourists on that route, so we had a bit of a joke in my very broken Spanish and they let us go.
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Now Tegucigalpa has no hostels as it's not a touristy place, so I got a taxi to the bus station which I had to leave from at 8am the next morning and found a hotel. I did this all in Spanish - very impressed with myself! I'm now getting to the countries that you have to bargain for everything so I managed to get a taxi, a night's stay in a private room with double bed, a chicken dinner and beer for under $10 - not bad hey! It was a totally seedy area, you couldnt even go in the shops - they all had bars and you have to point at what you wanted from the street - I did find a bar which was showing the Argentina match so I had a couple of beers then got told by a local that it's not safe round here at night for a white boy so I'd better go.... hmm, I took the warning and headed back to the hotel for a quiet night - its stranger then I thought being on my own... I suppose it would take a bit of getting used to after spending the last 5 months travelling with some amazing friends.

I have had such a good time in Honduras - it's been nice to stay in one place for more than 3 or 4 days - I feel recharged now for my trip down though Central America. It would be so easy to just stay here, it's cheap the weather is amasing and its a pretty laid back place but I need to make myself move on. I've been making a few plans for the coming months - I have just booked my Inca Trail trek for December - booked a flight to spend Xmas back in the Dominican Republic with Katherine and her family - and decided that I want to be in Brazil for the Rio Carnival in Feb - so my plans have made some major changes yet again but plans are there to be changed.

So next stop Nicaragua...

Posted by dezmondos 17:06 Archived in Honduras Comments (0)

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