Lima and Columbia

Published: March 8th 2014
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Columbia Cuzco and Lima

We celebrated our 2 year wedding anniversary on 17 dec, after a bad nights sleep at our hostel in Cuzco. The altitude was still affecting my sleep and I kept waking up gulping air. We had a chocolate quinoa croissant breakfast at a recommended (by the only other South African we met on our whole trip) organic restaurant before hopping on an open top tour bus. The tour was average because we could hardly hear a word the guide was saying. Nevertheless it was nice to look at all the old churches, the ancient inca ruins and the imposing white Christ which towers overs the city and mimicks Rio's Christ redeemed. We found a restaurant that had hubbly for lunch and Skyped Gav before catching a cab to the airport.

We bumped into Franklin ( whom we had met at the sun gate at Macchu Pichu) at the airport who was heading to Lima. We arrived in Lima 4 hours early due to catching a direct flight and with franklins advice negotiated down a cab to Microfloras, which is a beautiful seaside district of fancy restaurants and exquisite views in Lima. Jamie stockwell and his girlfriend met us at Mango (one of the aforesaid restaurants) we we sat for 4 hours drinking g and t's and ordering plates of traditional Peruvian food. Sivichi, which is squares of raw fish with lemon juice, red onion, chilli and fried corn, is delicious.

Our flight to bogota was at 12.20 with an 8 hour lay over before heading to Santa Marta. All the drinks the night before suddenly didn't seem like such a good idea when we were rudely awoken from our bench in the bogota airport by a Columbian policies official prodding us with his baton.

It was a relief to step out of the plane into the heat that announced the Caribbean coast.

We were so excited at the thought of a swim in the sea that despite the terrible nights sleep on a bench we took a boat to playa grande on arrival in tagagna. We were amazed at the flocks of pelicans and pettols in the area. It was so relaxing lounging in a beach chair with an ice cold beer and a cup of sivichi bought from a beach vendor. No need for a shower after 24 hours of travel when u can have a swim in the Caribbean instead.

The lost city trek

After a good 12 hours of sleep in our overpriced hostel we were fetched by our tour company, magic tours to start the grueling 4 day hike through the jungle which culminates in Ciudad Peridida, the ancient ruins of the extinct Tayrona people which date back to the year 700 AD, almost 800 years older than Machu Pichu. Our group consisted of 14 people including Mark (an Aussie) and his fiancé Tina (a Dutch girl), Blanche and her friend Manu (Dutch people living in Aruba). The first day was mostly traveling and a 4 hour hike up an almost vertical mountain through beautiful forest with crystal clear river crossings to our camp of hammocks.

Day 2 was johnnies 30th birthday with an early start of 5.30 before the toughest day of hiking on our whole trip. The trail wound through 3 indigenous villages, up steep never ending hills, through open fields with the views of thick jungle and included many river crossings which saved near heat exhaustion. Our guide explained the interesting plight of the indigenous people who are truly indigenous unlike so many fake touristy tribes throughout the world. They cannot speak a word of English or Spanish and don't seem too friendly when you come across them on the jungle paths dressed in their traditional white outfits. They have features similar to the red Indians of North America who are their ancient ancestors. They are nomadic people who hunt and gather in the jungle and only use the villages we chanced upon for ceremonies and big events. Our guide also explained to us that up until 2006 there had been guerrilla warfare in the very area of the jungle we were hiking through. Guerrillas had held local villages hostage and threatened their lives forcing them to grow coca. The villages were completely exploited and received next to nothing for their contribution to the drug trade. In 2006 the new Colombian president had signed a treaty with the USA and handed over the person who was running this particular syndicate. Now the villages main income is generated by tourism. Interestingly the lost city of the tayrona only became a tourist destination after 4 Europeans were kidnapped by said guerrillas in 2002 and held hostage in the jungle for over 80 days. Official tours opened in 2008 and slowly grew in popularity, last year 3000 tourists did the trek, 2013 saw numbers increase to 15000. The best part about the lost city is the fact that it hasn't yet reached that critical level of tourism where they start making curios and every man and his dog can recognize the site in a photo. The lost city is still relatively untouched by mass tourism, as with the whole of Columbia.

After 10 hours of hiking through 40 degree heat with 100 percent humidity we finally reached our destination for the night. The hike goes deep into the jungle with no roads or real infrastructure. As a result there is no supply of fresh water besides the jungle streams which the guides are supposed to boil to rid them of parasites and bacteria. Unfortunately our water wasn't properly treated and both John and I got quite sick. This still didn't stop us from buying a bottle of agua diente to celebrate johns 30th with our group.

Day 3 started at sunrise with our guide waking us up with the famous words 'vamos' to start the climb of 1500 steps dating from the year 700ad to the ancient city of the tayrona people. As we reached the top of the city a beam of sunlight broke through the mountain shining over the thick jungle which had enveloped the city for thousands of years . It was really a magical experience. We were exhausted and the walk back was another 15km. We stopped at a crystal pool for a dip and a plunge off a rock and evently reached the camp after 12 hours of walking. That night we took a short walk into the forest to listen to the hundreds of frogs playing an orchestra in tune to the lighting of half as many fireflies.

The final day of the lost city was exhausting. My Dutch friend Blanche kept us going with her hilarious stories about her crazy dad and hysterical laughter at our stories about our crazy families ( the story about the frozen dog was a winner). After 8 hours of pain we were finally rewarded with a beer at the end. The pain wasn't over as 12 of us then had to squeeze into a double cab bakkie for a 3 hour bumpy ride home. Everyone had had enough of the heat, the water and the rather annoying American couple who had just got engaged and were throwing around words like 'boo skittle biscuit'. Well that was actually hilarious!

We spent the night in tagagna and set off early again the next morning for 2 dives in the Caribbean Sea. The most exhilarating thing about diving was definitely the 80 kn per hour boat ride over massive swells into the ocean. I was more terrified than death road. The first dive was average with freezing water. The second dive was more interesting with strong currents and lots of interesting tree like corrals. We saw a school of bat fish, a few barracuda, a couple of lion fish and lots of crocodile fish. When the diving was done we took a taxi to the entrance of tayrona national park where we hiked for 3 hours before reaching cabo San Juan, rated the 2nd best beach in the world and for good reason. Here we met our friends from the lost city trek Alex and Maena, the Germans and mark and Tina the Aussies.

We woke up to the most exquisite deserted beach and spent the day snorkeling and lazong on the beach. That evening was Xmas eve so we shared our wine we had smuggled into the reserve with our German friends. Xmas eve is the night of celebrations in Columbia and all the guards had a huge party playing awful music until 2 am and getting completely pissed. I woke up at about the time they were going to bed and noticed John wasn't in his hammock. I freaked out remberimg all the stories of tourists being kidnapped and spent the next 1 and a half roaming the beaches with a flash light and a pissed guard hysterically looking for John. Turns out he'doved hammocks coz the drink arc next to him had been snoring too loudly.

Xmas day started with an early morning swim in the 2nd best beach in the world followed by a horse ride through the thick riverine jungle and out the park. A short bus ride and then a longer walk until we reached the surf camp of Costeno beach. Designed for maximum relaxation and pleasure, Costeno beach is a rustic surf camp set between palm trees on the white sands of northern Columbia. They play super chilled dance music on the beach all day long and leave you with a choice of surfing in the near perfect beginner waves, playing volleyball or just lazing in one of the many hammocks and drinking rum and eating chocolate brownies. We did all three! John said Costeno beach was the highlight of his whole holiday, the top moment being when he was sitting on his surfboard beyond the break as the sun was setting over the columbian jungle with the empty white strip of Caribbean beach running as far as the eye could see in either direction and a flock of over 100 pelicans flew over.

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