Cartagena, Tayrona, Medellin and Bogota
12.11.2009 - 23.11.2009 32 °C
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!