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Published: June 15th 2008
Searching everyones stuff at the entrance of the park.
I flew into Bogotá on a day that I would have rather been in bed, getting rid of the cold that had been plaguing me at the end of my Guatemala experience. Nevertheless I made my way from the Bogotá airport, to the Bogotá bus terminal, and promptly was on an overnight bus to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast in the north. I arrived nice and early in Santa Marta and decided on the Hotel Familiar as I was too lazy and sick to find something that wasn’t in the Lonely Planet.
My first day I basically wandered around the beachfront and the area near my hotel, happy to not be confined in a bus, or plane. I did find the costal Spanish hard to grasp, being very similar to an islander dialect in English, just in Spanish. I did find out that to its reputation Columbia is still a hot spot to find cocaine, as I was offered by a man running an Internet cafe a medley of drugs. But this was not why I came to Columbia, and thankfully there is another side that I would find and truly enjoy during my month traveling in Columbia. I
passed in Santa Marta, what would have been the peak time for Carnival and quickly met an English man who was robbed rather distinctly twice in Columbia in less than a week, the later during a Carnival party in Barranquil. This was an unfortunate way to start a journey, but I think I gave him some good advice and after finding a nice spliff, thanks to internet man, my new friend finally found a taste of peace in Santa Marta.
The reason I came to Santa Marta was nothing to do with the city itself, but rather a lost city ¨Cuidad Perdida¨ that I quickly signed up for the next organized trek, and was on my way for a bit of adventure. The trek itself started like every other trek in South America, dreadfully late. But no worries I found myself practicing my Spanish with an Italian who had also signed up for my trek, and we laughed about the shopping spree that our guides made during the jeep ride to the start of the trail (you would think they did nothing ahead of time). But well enough we made it to the security check point at the entrance
Local indigenous kid with in front of his village.
of the national park, had all of are bags searched by the military (standard order here), and started up a good old four wheel drive road. Once to the end of the road we had lunch and started out with our mule train for day one of the 6-day trek. We had a kind of funny group, and the couple who stood out right away was an American in his sixties with his Columbian girlfriend who was in her twenties, clearly in it for the money. Besides the obvious, they stood out because neither was in near the kid of shape one should be in for a 6-day trek, and quickly they became a bit of a hassle for the guide and help. But the walk was overall easy, a little hilly but short (about 4 hours), saw a nice coca field, some other interesting farm country, and ended up at camp in time for a swim. This was probably the best part of these days of walking, each day there was a nice swimming hole in the river for cooling off from the days hike, that and all the swimming holes where a bit picturesque. In camp we slept
in hammocks covered with mosquito nets, this seemed to work nicely for me although others complained of back trouble. We spent are evenings visiting by candles as our campsites had a bathroom, kitchen, shower, but no electricity. This was all right though, as I wanted adventure and was finding out that the trek was not by my standards "super adventurous". However it would prove to be interesting, relaxing, and a good way to get the body moving again after being sick.
The second day we got to see some of the indigenous people and their villages, which are conveniently located along the trail. We had a bit longer walk, about 5 hours, and started to enter areas with more jungle and less farm area. The campsite the second day was nice as there was no one living nearby; also we had a swimming hole with some nice rocks to dive off of, and room to do some laps. It was this day that we figured out that my Italian friend, a Kiwi who has a law firm in Japan, and a couple representing Denmark and Portugal, along with me, where the cool people on the trek, and thus formed
The picture that I sacrificied my flip-flop for.
the bullshitting circle at night.
Our third day we set off a little earlier as this was to be the long day, but we would finally reach the ruins. This would consist of 9 river crossings, and due to the fact in was dry season, we just had to wade across. This was the day with the best views of some true wild Columbia mountain country. Another group on the trail that was doing the trek in 5 days joined us, and thus the moving was slow. I decided because of this that I needed to explore and take some extra pictures. I also decided to jump off a tall rock in flip-flops and which is when the strap of my flip-flop decided to explode. This made walking interesting as I decided to continue in the flip-flops in the river after "McGyvering" a makeshift strip with an old shoe lace and tooth floss. When we finally hit the steps that led to the Cuidad Perdida I decided I had had enough of the pace, and set off at my own pace. I reached the ruins second (behind are canine companion) and had some 5 to 10 minutes alone at
the entrance of the ruins, as the ancient staircase leading to the ruins was quite long and I took it at a Harder mountain goat pace. When we had the group together we set out to the campsite, which was located in the ruins funny enough. Basically in the Cuidad Perdida, there is no one except the groups that make the treks there, occasionally the indigenous doing rituals, and your odd archeologist at times. So our two groups had the ruins to ourselves. We spent the evening relaxing in the ruins with free time as we had the whole next day in the ruins, while the other group had to leave in the morning.
I decided to go for a swim, follow the river upstream, climb a little waterfall, and soak up the atmosphere of camping in Pre Incan ruins. That evening we discovered our new game to pass the evening, watching the random bugs fly/crawl to there doom in our candles. The highlight was when the tank (beetle) launched a surprise attack from behind the fortifications, totally changing the battlefield and then in almost slow motion getting taken out in the lava field. Nothing like feeling like a kid
View of the main Terraces from above.
We started our day in the ruins very relaxed, getting a somewhat later start and heading out on our tour after breakfast. The ruins here are of the Tyrona culture and are different then most ruins in that there are no building structures, there homes would have been made out of wood, mud, leaves and the like. What they did have where large terraced platforms as these parts get very rainy, along with lots and lots of steps, irrigation type lines, and other worked rock for grinding food and medicinal plants. The thing that makes this place so special is that you literally have it to yourself; I found my self-exploring different trails, checking out all the different plant and animal life, and generally relaxed to the core. I again went for a swim, but this time in a different spot, which proved to be better suited, and braver for those than like to climb rocks and little waterfalls. Overall playing in the water here is very cold, as we had climbed a lot of elevation during the hike in, but sometimes a nice cold swim is super invigorating. To end my day I did a bit of
exploring above on a tiny little trail and found where our drinking water was coming from, a funnel with a tube hooked to I, which was located above a waterfall higher up on the mountain. Nothing but sophistication, that’s what I like to see.
We left the ruins somewhat early on day four, but very relaxed and began the decent from the ruins to the camp of night number two. I found that I was waiting a lot for everybody, broken sandal and everything, although the broken sandal made the decent more interesting and a little more challenging except in the river crossings where I blew are the barefooted people away. Managed to find a fairly large frog, which I think had its picture taken 20 some odd times, and made it to camp well early enough for a good swim in the good old swimming hole. This night would be our last, but also the most interesting as far as bugs in the candle would play out. This was due to a very large grasshopper/locust that decided to arrive at the end of the night, terrorizing the spectators, as it would literally fly at our faces at times.
Typical Hut in the Cuidad Perdida, used at time still by the head honchos.
However the main surprise came when I went to go to sleep. As I crawled into my hammock, mosquito net and all, I settled in and was quickly taken by surprise as something started jumping around in my hammock. I captured the beast and found that it was the same grasshopper that was at the candle game. The little bastard must have crawled onto my shirt or pants and stayed there until I crawled into my hammock, then coming to life as I chased it confused in my small "bug free" sanctuary. Thus ended my last night on the Cuidad Perdida trek.
Our last day was a nice little hike as we covered the same distance of the first two days in one. Because of this the odd couple decided to pay for two mules to ride out, which made the day go very slow. At the camp for the first day I had one last swim, and fresh juice made of raspberries. After a nice little lunch we made the last leg out, I burned one tick out of my leg, and we arrived quite late as the driver argued with the guide. However the slow couple gave
Yet another view.
us time for a victory beer and we headed home. That night three friends from the trek and I found an awesome seafood dinner, which was maybe the most expensive of my trip, but awesome and well deserved after 6 days of mountain food.
I came out of the Cuidad Perdida trek feeling good, but for some reason was plagued my first night back with bad stomach problems during the night. This proved to make life interesting as I tried to decide if I wanted to go to the Parque Tyrona with Luca or head to Cartegena. I decided the last second to go to the park as I had heard great things about it and did not want to miss out. So I gathered myself, hit the toilet one more time, and we caught a bus to the entrance of the park. Parque Tyrona, like any Columbian park, has some sort of military guard at the entrance to search your stuff, as tourists in parks are evidently a large threat to their security. Once in the park we hiked to a campground that proved to be cheap and accommodating with the only downside being that it is located
The map of the region.
a bit inland from the beach. With the remainder of the first day we hiked around and checked out the gorgeous beach areas that make Tyrona so popular with locals and tourists alike. The second day we made an all day hike to the ruins that are located in the park, which proved to be a smaller version of what we already had seen on the Cuidad Perdida trek. After the ruins we did some exploring of La Playa Brava (the brave beach), which is given its name for a reason, unless you are on Olympic swimmer I would suggest staying on the dry sand. Afterwards we hiked back, did a bit of snorkeling, and relaxed for one more night in paradise. Our last morning I awoke to water dripping on me through my tent, and thus ended our stay in Tyrona as our plans of more snorkeling turned into hiking through a bit of rain to catch a bus back to Santa Marta. To complete a very fast trip we arrived in Santa Marta, got our bags, and caught the next bus to Cartegena.
Arrival in Cartegena was late, so we quickly made our way to the center
and precautious walked around the area for the backpackers which the locals said was safe, but I have my doubts. We settled on a rather nice Hotel for the night as it was late, we were hungry, and I don’t like walking around with all my things in strange Columbia cities at night. The following day was a day of exploring the city, which is quite nice during the day with its fortified walls, striking old architecture, and Caribbean atmosphere. I would find that at night the atmosphere changes to something much different. We both changed are living quarters, Luca for a decent hotel and me for a cheap dorm in a hostel called Casa Vienna which I found out is the most well known in Cartegena (I went there for the free internet). I found that wandering around at night, the streets of old Cartegena are basically full of hookers, and people selling coke and hookers. This is not exactly my kind of scene, so I did not do much at night in Cartegena. I do remember my favorite description of a night out in Cartegena came from some gringo friends in my hostel. They started the night at
The camp site in the ruins.
a bar that seemed great as it was full of women who all seemed very interested in their presence, this changed when they figured out all of these women were prostitutes. Their last story of the night was standing in the street, well tuned, and watching in disbelief as they could see out of one eye police eating some sort of pastry on the corner and out of the other eye a hooker snorting blow off of a bar.
I did however find a couple interesting things to do during the day in Cartegena, the first being a bath in a volcano. Yes if you take a bus outside of Cartgena you can find yourself in front of a large dirt cone that is the mouth of a type of volcano. Once there you strip down to your swimming stuff, climb a ladder; give your camera and sandals to the help and jump into a mud bath inside a volcano, which is more or less something indescribable. I will say it is hard to move, you cannot sink much deeper than your chest due to the density of it, and well its a mud bath, it’s supposed to be
Games with bugs and candles, this little bastard followed me to my hammock.
good for you. To make the day more interesting the people working there all work for tips, so when you are in the bath a Columbian with give you a massage and take you your picture, when you get out a Columbian women will bathe you in the lake, and when you are all done you better tip them or they will be pissed, but a normal tip is not much and its more than worth it. To make it even more interesting I met a Dutch girl in the mud bath who seemed cool and interested and we both had a good laugh as the Columbian women stripped every bodies suits off in the water so they could wash them, nothing like laughing naked. To make it an even goofier day it was Valentines Day and we made plans to meet up for dinner after walking around the city talking. It gets better though, to cap it off she never showed where we decided to meet, I left to eat an hour later with a friend and we managed to enter the restaurant that the same girl was eating with another guy. To cap it off she seemed annoyed,
Jumping from Waterfalls
as she asked why I didn’t show up and then we realized that somehow the plan had got confused and we had waited in different places for each other. So we went our own ways and I never saw her again, nothing like confusion with foreign girls in foreign countries on American holidays, so I had a good laugh and decided it wasn’t meant to be. The following day I explored the city again with a American friend, we checked out an old fortified building and then played with bazookas and dead fish in the Naval Museum, nothing to crazy but entertaining. The main attraction for me in Cartegena was a day of scuba diving, which would prove to be my last venture. I left early in the morning with a group of four and we did a double dive off of the islands outside of Cartegena. The day proved to be fine, good weather, ok visibility, saw some fish, a decent sized cod, played with a jelly fish, stared down a giant lobster, and ended the day with one afternoon and night on the Playa Blanca (White Beach). This was great as I got a cheap massage, ate some
fresh fish, slept in a hammock, swam around a bit, and generally relaxed on a beach for the last time on this journey.
My next leg of Columbia would take me to a place I first heard about in my days in Buenos Aires, that is Medillin. I came to Medillin to visit a friend (Mike) and to see the city that I had heard so much about. I was given directions to a hostel of a friend of Mikes, which proved to be the most posh hostel I have been to yet. The Pit Stop in Medillin is immaculate and as you first walk around it I couldn’t help but think of the money that used to be in Medillin due to the cocaine cartel that ran the city years back, and that maybe this used to be some sort of hangout for a rich drug lord. The place itself has a pool, great billiards area with bar and flat screen TV, a large TV room with a giant flat screen with full surround sound, a huge movie collection, and satellite TV for both areas. The kitchen is huge and immaculate and as you go up the two
Bathing in Volcanoes
flights of stairs you can’t help but admire the crystal like railing. Finally my dorm room had two sinks, great shower, whirlpool tub and sauna (tub and sauna not yet hooked up unfortunately). But enough about the hostel, the city itself is the most modern I have seen on my trip and the women are gorgeous. Otherwise I was quite bored in Medillin, I had a great visit to the home of Mike, his girlfriend, and her mother, which is located in Santa Elena in the mountains above Medillin. After that I had a good "last night" with my friend as we hit the club and I found out why guys flock to Medillin, not only are the girls beautiful, but also very friendly. But enough about girls, the interesting part of Medillin came when I decided to stay for the weekend.
I awoke Friday to a new crowd of travelers entering my hostel, and not just more Irish, but rather a group of Argentine girls and some other randoms from different parts. I went for my daily swim, ate and drank the closet thing I could find to hangover medicine, and pondered as I was packing up my
Nothing quite as sexy as being coated in mud.
stuff why was I leaving so soon? This went on until the last minute, as I knew the times for the buses to Popayan and there were very few. Finally I talked myself into staying the weekend, I had a good spot and it would be a shame not to see the nightlife. So I visited with the Argentines, as I had been using far to much English the past few days, and after a couple beers it was off to dinner with the girls and an Aussie who could actually speak good Spanish. We decided that the hot ticket afterward was to find a club that played salsa; we were not in the right neighborhood to find salsa. So we walked, asked, entered and exited several clubs and finally decided that there was no salsa to be found and so we danced to the normal techno-rock-pop mix and finished the night walking back to the hostel to find the Irish extremely drunk and throwing each other in the pool as it was someone’s birthday.
However, the real excitement was Saturday, because of course Saturday was the day I was to tired to want to do anything. I did some
The cone of the Volcanoe
sightseeing with the Argentines, then decided to go to a futbol (soccer) match as I said goodbye to the girls. The futbol game turned out to be a pretty crazy experience as it was the biggest rivalry between Medillin and the National team, which was also based in Medillin. Lets put it this way, the last time the two teams played the fans on one side killed someone on the other side. How I didn’t get the full story, but if you where sitting on either end of the field you better be wearing the right colors. Luckily we were smart and bought our tickets in the middle where it was more relaxed and we could watch the fanatics. This was especially good as we found that my friend Alfie and I were wearing colors of opposing teams. The game itself was pretty decent, but the atmosphere was what made it interesting with all of the field sized flags, confetti, fireworks and whatever randomness that the crowd was up to. After the game we saw a man in the wrong jersey get thrown of his motorcycle, a small beating, and then lots of riot gas from the policia, however we
View of an old Fortress
were watching above in the subway so no big scare. Afterwards I went back to the hostel, decided to have a beer with my Aussie friend and accompany him to where he could visit his ex-girlfriend. After a beer we returned to what I wanted to be a quiet night, yeah right.
So I got talked into getting in a cab with a bunch of Irish of which one girl had promised me drinks as I had barely any cash on me. We proceeded to Mangos, the supposed best club in town, and I was wearing shorts. Yeah that doesn’t fly for the guys letting people in, so we begged, pleaded, and found a solution. There were two guys on the street making food for the night crowd, and one was nice enough to rent me his jeans for 40,000 pesos (about 20 dollars), so with some money one of the drunken Irish had given me I paid half the rental price and swapped my shorts for his pants there on the street. The night did not stop from getting stranger. As we entered the club I started to realize that this place was a little different. Picture one of
View on top of the Fortress
those restaurants with weird stuff all over the wall, add a little bit of bar raunchiness to the weird stuff, add lots of dancers in different costumes, add midget dancers, add random prop people wearing giant foam heads of dictators or maybe dressed to look like they had just left the hospital missing, an arm, bone jutting out still dragging the IV stand and bag around, and yeah you have Mangos more or less. I had not a peso on me after paying the entrance and the place was of course expensive, the drunk Irish girl somehow forgot to share the bottle of rum she bought with me, and so I danced with the other more attractive one. And did I mention these Irish were going apeshit crazy, spanking everyone with a small towel that came out of no where, picking up dwarfs for pictures, and pretending that the jello shot container was their male member in order impress the ladies. It kept a very sober person wearing rented street jeans somewhat entertained. So I observed the absurdity until my group decided they had their fill and we went back to the hostel. After that I somehow couldn’t sleep at
Me, Sloth, and part of the Policia who had the sloth.
3 in the morning, so I listened to random travel stories and got beat at pool by a prick Irish pool shark and finally called it my last night in Medillin. My last day I managed to crawl onto a bus to Popayan in the afternoon and that finished my stay in Medillin.
From Medillin I arrived in Popayan at a typical night bus hour, super early before there was any daylight. So I had to do the fallback of taking a cab to the hostel that I had been recommended and wake someone up to let me in. This backfired as I checked out the next morning to catch my bus to San Augustin and the hostel wanted to charge me for two nights. Now maybe I have been lucky, but I have not had to pay for three hours of sleep before as I have always been charged for just one day when I show up in the morning, but I guess it is a policy in a lot of places that I just had not had to deal with. So I ended up paying a night and a half and left on my all day head
The Bell Tower
jarring shuttle bus ride to San Augustin. Otherwise I just explored Popayan the day that I arrived. It is a very nice quaint little place, but I did not have the time to spend in this whitewashed Columbian city. Funny though it just so happened that Popayan had a very destructive earthquake pretty much when I was born, but I brought no disasters this day.
San Augustin started out very quiet, looking for and finding a very chill hostel that I had been recommended, the Hostel Francois, which turned out to be a pleasure with their homemade bread, jam, and honor system on beer in the fridge. I spent the first night well finding some generous traveling couples that fed me and shared a few drinks as well, thus starting off my days in this small Columbian town very well. I decided I was to walk the most archeological sites possible in San Augustin in one day, and that I did. Some how I managed the park and a two more off the beaten path sites that turned out to not be marked well (basically no signs), so I was happy to ask the locals for an idea of
Another city view.
which farm trails to walk. Bought some backwater drink (I think a type of Chicha) as I was very thirsty and found it to be very alcoholic as I spent the afternoon walking through farmland and looking at ancient statues that had been placed where important people had been buried ages ago. Some very interesting and funny looking statues can be found in the San Augustin circuit, but the best thing about these parts I found was the friendly locals and more laid back atmosphere. It was so nice that the day I had told myself I was going to leave turned into a all day Jeep tour with an American girl, which hit the highlights that were to far for the day hiker. We saw more statues, tombs, waterfalls, and the narrowest part on the Rio Magdalena, which is important, as it is a very large important river in Columbia, but when it enters a rock canyon near San Augustin the results are quick striking.
So after an extra day I finally got out of san Augustin and had a full on day to get to Tierra Dentro, which started in a little truck shuttle to a bus
Playing in Museums
station in the neighboring town of Pitalito. From the bus station the next bus to Tierra Dentro was yet again another truck shuttle, which was a long, bumpy, and striking drive to a tinier town, and another truck shuttle to Tierra Dentro. I lucked out and only had to sit in the bed part once, but still made for a long day. Once in Tierra Dentro I found my surroundings to be that much more chilled out, which was perfect after many months of traveling and many cramped truck shuttles. The basic meal options where my hotel and about three other restaurants/hotels all serving the same normal Columbian dishes. So I decided to make it easy and ate with my hotel, which served every meal with fresh made juice of whatever fruit they had that day. Needless to say it was good. In Tierra Dentro the main draw is the ancient underground tombs, some of which are elaborately decorated with different carvings, pillars, some with red and black colors and patterns. So my first day I again did the all day hike everything tour that I would not recommend to the light hiker. It made for a full day, but
a good day for me; I started in the most developed part with the museum and tomb that actually have nice concrete steps and at times even lighting! In the afternoon I did a big hike to the top of El Aguacate, a large hill overlooking the whole valley, which also has a lot of tombs. The difference is that a lot of these tombs had been found by tomb raiding treasure hunters and thus were not well preserved. I did have a grand old time crawling in and out of ancient tombs with my headlamp, enjoying a more than sunny day and not seeing hardly a soul. Yet again I got talked into one more day as I pushed forward my departing date for another random tour. This time it was with a Swiss couple, an American and an English man. We were to see the mysterious Pyramid of Tierra Dentro and why not, sounds like a good time. The mystery more than anything are the underground tunnels that we checked out underneath the pyramid, as no one is sure how old they are if they are just from the Spaniards or made by the indigenous before. They do
The Pit Stop Hostal
know that the Spaniards were there as there is a cross carved into the entrance of one tunnel. Above the tunnels is a natural Pyramid of rocks that is quite interesting as it looks more or less like a natural pyramid. For a bonus we got to check out a local farm, which was a pure treat. As I entered and started taking pictures I felt as if I was shooting a rustic home for “Better Homes and Gardens”. The whole place was so interestingly decorated, with awesome plant life in every direction and to add a final touch fresh baked bread and cheap bags of mandarin oranges! We scored big there, and afterwards we got to check out one more elaborate house near Tierra Dentro, which is owned by a well know Columbian Professor who is fascinated by the stars, natural things, and humming birds among other things. Afterwards I found myself hanging out until the last hours of this one horse towns night life, visiting with my fellow travelers and guide and trying the local home made alcoholic beverages with my guide (chicha and another more powerful drink with a name I forgot). Overall a beautiful experience in
a very middle of nowhere Columbian town, the way I like it.
I got up before the sun did to catch the only bus from Tierra Dentro to Popayan in order to get my bag that I had left at the hostel. This was only a half-day excursion, so I pushed it to the border. The interesting part came when the bus stopped for lunch and all over the news was a conflict with Ecuador and Venezuela (Ecuador being my destination for the next day). The Columbian government had killed some Farc members stationed near the Columbian border, but in Ecuador. They had found a laptop and where making accusations saying that Venezuela, Ecuador, and Venezuela’s president (Hugo Chavez), where directly connected to the Farc. This did not make either of these countries happy, things where hot and there was talk of a war with Venezuela. I arrived at the border town where I would spend the night, calm and ready for anything at the border. The next day I got up, went to go see what is probably the most impressive church I have yet visited. Santuario de las Lajas is built on a river with a rock
from the canyon as the wall for its altar, because as the story goes, years ago there have been several religious experiences with locals seeing the Virgin Mary of all things in this rock. I was not disappointed though, had a spiritual feeling as well when I left to attack the border. As far as the border goes it was easy, the only annoyance was a wait at the Columbian side for the lady working to return to the office. I do feel bad for a couple that I met while crossing the border, one German girl and a Columbian guy. They where entering Ecuador with a dog that the German girl had taken as a pet in Columbia. I was told that she had stayed three months past her Visa but had managed to bribe someone beforehand to stamp her passport to avoid the huge fine that would incur. After some stories on our bus to Quito, the bus got stopped for a random ID check, which would have been fine but for one reason or another the Columbian was carrying a fake Columbian ID. So he had to get off the bus and the German girl followed, as
Hanging out with Argentines
she didn’t want to leave her partner. Poor hippies, who knows what happened to them.
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