It is our last day in South America!
2 and a half weeks ago we flew into Bogota (Colombia). We arrived in the sinister darkened streets of La Candaleria (the old town) where policemen with ferocious looking dogs punctuated every corner and the smell of weed hung thick in the air. Feeling tired, overwhelmed and a little unsafe (after hearing several accounts from people in our hostel of muggings at gun point!) we hurried out for some dinner and then retreated to the hostel for an early night.
The next morning we stepped out into the sunlight and La Candaleria was transformed into a harmless and beautiful area of the city colourful and interesting and with a distinctly bohemien vibe. We spent a relaxed day in Bogota, the feeling of danger distinctly receding! The Following day we set of with Susie (a new friend from London) to Cartegena on a 25hour bus ride.
Cartegena is a potent reminder of the class division in Colombia. The old walled city is un-utterably beautiful; colourful old colonial houses line narrow cobble stoned streets into which vivid flowers pour abundantly from wooden balconies and it is almost entirely framed by the sparkling turquiose waters of the Carribean sea. It is full of expensive restaurants and unfortunately large, pasty, ageing American tourists who, as observed by Susie all seem to wear tight white socks over which pale, generous flab seems to spill somewhat uncomfortably. An army of overweight individuals identical to this is dropped off daily by huge cruise ships. Outside the old city, Cartegena is less beautiful, along the beach area huge white tower blocks gleam in the sun above swaying palm trees and inland is the 'real' Cartegena, dirty, smelly, poor, run-down and dangerous (we were warned). Despite several warnings from our host on our second day in Cartegena, the 3 of us took a taxi to Bazurto market. Fresh from the old town Bazurto is a shock, a giant maize of wooden and plastic shacks navigated by tiny, dark and crowded passages. Bazurto shows you Colombia full in face and hides nothing. As we navigated the smelly, dirty passageways topless men hacked at huge fish with machetes sending showers of scales onto our feet, towers of sweet smelling fruit and herbs cluttered the passages masking the the warm decaying smell of sweaty un-refrigerated meat, filthy men with sinuey bodies and bare feet pushed laden wooden carts through the tiny corridors and individuals covered head to toe in grime sorted lumps of coal into sacks. And the heat, the heat was stifling, cloying and clinging to everything. The thing that struck me was such tagible poverty among such abundance; these people so poor sitting lazily among some of the biggest, ripest produce I have ever seen! This was a fascinating insight into the lives of working class Colombians and an experience I will never forget.
We spent 4 days in Cartegena, seeing the sights, swimming in the sea and eating a lot mango! Despite the beauty of Cartegena, we were impatient to leave and start our journey to Capurgana. We spent a day on the bus (with just one frightening stop on the darkened jungle road by the narcotics police armed with huge guns) before we arrived in Turbo, where we spent the night before getting the boat to Capurgana. The boat bounced for 2hours over the Carribean sea before we got out first glimpse of paradise. Capurgana is a tropical paradise, it has a sandy beach dropping down to cobalt blue sea and fringed by shady palms ,inland it has teeming, steamy jungle trails. Despite all it's beauty Capurgana's best attribute is that it remains a sleepy fishing village, with boats bobbing in the harbour,no cars and nothing to eat but fried fish and coconut rice. The local taxis are horses pulling carts with legless plastic chairs nailed to the bottom. There are no pumping beach bars, just a little wooden shack selling juices and cocktails. We spent a blissful week in Capurgana, staying with Edaurdo and Marcela who took us diving and instructed our open water PADI course. The diving was unforgetable, especially getting the chance to see a nurse just a meter away! When we weren´t diving we spent time swimming, reading, eating papaya, mango and passion fuit and trecking in the jungle (we even got the chance to walk to Panama). This was one of the best weeks of our trip and we were really sad to leave.
After leaving Capurgana, we spent one night in Medellin on route back to Bogota. Were back in Bogota the next morning and not wanting to waste our last full day of travelling we went straight and signed up for a bike tour. The tour was run by a journalist from California who has lived in Colombia for 8 years and seems to know half the city. He took us to local markets where we tried all the local fruits, we stopped at a tiny shop on the road and I sampled the local viagra (a mix of fruit, milk and A LIVE CRAB all blended happily together and downed in abundance by local men seeking more love in their lives!). We cycled around the very leftist University which is covered in political graffiti, we were told that abortion was illegal as we cycled through an area dotted with underground abortion clinics, we stopped in a rough neighbourhood and heard a anti-violence rap from some local youths, we went to a coffee factory and drank some amazing Colombian Coffee and finally we had the surreal experience of cycling through the red light district, where scantally clad women displayed themselves in doorways and a little further on transvestites did the same! It seems a little counter-intuitive that prostitution is legal but abortion is not! It was a fantastic day, we got a real feel for the city and saw parts we would have never seen.
The next day we took our flight back to Quito, and here we are, waiting for our flight back to the UK later tonight! Back to 2 degree February and grey skies, back to fruit and vege wrapped in plastic, back to order and structure, toilet paper and hot showers. It has been the most amazing four months and my itchy feet are satisfied...for now.
Goodbye and see you anon. :)
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