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September 21st 2012
Published: October 22nd 2012
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Cartagena, Colombia
Ok I've given up on the idea of catching up with my blog since we were in Honduras so I'm skipping ahead to Colombia... Cartagena, a beautiful city on Colombia's Caribbean coast. Possibly the most picturesque city I've ever been to.After a somewhat blubbery farewell with John in Panama city I arrived here on a Saturday afternoon. Stayed in Hostel Mamallena. Wandered around that evening. Managed to find myself a Spanish school in the old city called centro catalina and started that Monday on an intensive beginners course. There were just four students including me! Very small school! Excellent though, glad I took the chance on them. They also organised a home stay for me so I moved to that house on Monday night. That week was the most holy awkward time I've ever spent in someone's company, I arrived and Señora Maria Isabel was having dinner with who I assumed was a boyfriend. I had prepared some stuff so that I might be able to answer questions but that was pointless, I hadn't the foggiest what she was saying to me, and vice versa! So that was a quiet week in the house!!up at 7every morning for breakfast, I've had enough eggs to last me a lifetime! She didn't really have any understanding of privacy either, always just walked into the room, only sometimes knocking, lucky she didn't catch me in the nip! And one night I woke up in the morning and was about to throw the spare pillow onto the other bed when I turned and realised there was a body on the bed, she had snuck in to benefit from the air conditioned room! Anyway enough about my lovely home stay. Hung around Cartagena old town most days, visited the beaches nearby, Castillo grande and boca grande. You would think beach time should be relaxing, not here, you're plagued by masseuses who out of nowhere grab your foot and within seconds you've got lotion and are mid massage, then they get nasty when it comes to paying even though you didn't want the damn thing in the first place!Visited the volcan Totumo with Janine and Marc from the school, two Swiss people. This was fun, basically a small hill with a mud pool at the top, smooth grey mud that you float in, don't really want to know how deep it went! Cool experience standing vertically upright in it and not sinking any lower than shoulder height no matter how much i jumped up and down! The wash off in the lagoon after was also full of surprises as a lady with a bowl drowns you with water and then without so much as a warning she whipped my bikini top off over my head, rinsed it and put it back on! Efficiency I tell you, thankfully I was underwater. They also kept trying to get Marc out of his shorts!Did a nice bike ride with the school one evening, lovely sunset photos.i took up Zumba while I was here too, great craic, the most fun class I've ever been too bar none, everyone was buzzing full of energy. They even held an outdoor class in a square nearby on sunday night, so I was doing Zumba with an audience at 10pm, fun though.Had a fun night dancing in tu candela, a bar in old town on my last night here...sad to leave but also happy to get away from señora Maria! Flew to Medellin, what used to be Colombia's most dangerous city due to the Medellin drug cartel run by Pablo Escobar who was eventually killed in the early 90s. The city has an excellent metro system so really easy to get about. The city is long and thin and in a valley with the metro running straight through it. I went to pueblito paisa on the first day, it's a tiny old style model village on top of a hill in city centre with great views. Went further into city to visit some nice squares, people watching is nice in these places it's interesting to see how people spend their days. Had a brilliant afternoon when I took the metrocable up into the mountains surrounding the city, passing over the much poorer areas of the city with houses literally perched on cliffs in the mountains. Amazing views and such fun riding the cable car, went so high up. Took a second cable car all the way to Arvi park at the top of the mountain, spent a little time there and enjoyed the journey back down in the cable car again. Definitely a highlight of Colombia.Did the Pablo Escobar tour also, really interesting, visited various places around the city, his grave, and then got to meet his brother Roberto which was too weird. Brutal, ruthless guy, Roberto was certainly no angel either and he lives a nice life now which seems unfair having been involved in so many murders. Very strange experience. Surely the cartel still exists, although not according to him?! I find it hard to believe it disappeared just like that. Hmm.. Left Medellin and headed south to Manizales only to find out on arrival that the park I wanted to hike in is closed due to volcano activity. Fair enough I guess! So I made plans to go to the small town of Salento instead the next day. Met a great bunch in the hostel in manizales, two English guys chris and sam and a South African couple, graham and Leigh. Trend out they were heading that direction so very hungover the next day we all went to Salento. Really cute cowboy style town in the countryside surrounded by coffee plantations and a stunning national park. Visited a small coffee plantation run by a farmer called Don Elias the sweetest guy ever, got to see the whole process on a small scale and then taste fresh coffee. Took one of the many 1940s willys jeeps from the square up to the national park the next day at 7.30am, passed by all the farmers with their donkeys and milk churns waiting for the milkman. Hiked up into the mountains for about 6hours stopping at a lovely farm to have some hot chocolate and cheese, odd combination but the guys said it worked! Continued up to the top, stunning views along the way and especially at the top, very beautiful place. Started the hike down through the valley. The park is home to lots of wax palm trees, the tallest palm tree in existence. Got to stand up on the back of the jeep on the drive back to town, great fun!Rented some mountain bikes another day, biked downhill through the countryside and a bit cross country all the way to a river and took a break before the tortuous cycle all the way back uphill to Salento! Fun day met a friendly farmer who gave us some 7up and was only too happy to advise us on how to get to the river, we were a bit off the beaten track!Dinner that evening introduced another weird combination of foods Colombians seem to like, we got veg soup with a banana on the side...hmm..not so bad! Moved on to Popayan, just stayed one night here, left at 4.45am next morning on a bus to the border, crossed into Ecuador and arrived in Quito a long 15.5hrs later!....


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