Our eyes were opened to the corruption we'd heard and read so much about as we made our way from Venezuela into Colombia. The bus we were travelling in was pulled over twelve times by the military police for passport control throughout our journey and each time we were pulled over we had to pay a bribe for the 'convenience' of continuing on our journey! We couldn't believe it. We had no problem with the police searching our bags but by the time it would have taken for them to search all ten passenger's bags (at each check point) it would have taken days to complete what should have been a two hour bus ride. We were left with no other option but to cough up the cash. By the time we reached the Colombian border we had run out of money and were unable to pay our departure tax from Venezuela!
We eventually made it to the coastal city of Santa Marta for our first encounter with the Caribbean. As expected, there was a party vibe to the city, the rum was flowing, music pumping in the streets and people splashing around in the sea. Instead of diving into this
scene, we thought we'd earn that right and signed up for a grueling six day trek to The Lost City.
With no prior experience of trekking and not much information on what lay ahead, we set off in a group of twenty one. It was a really rewarding experience, challenging and testing at times, climbing steep inclines under the midday sun. We stopped off by the river in the jungle where we cooled down in the pools. We passed by indigenous villages, where the majority of the people living there have never had contact with the outside world. The trek took us down small jungle pathways, through tiny streams and across bigger rivers. The views all around us were breathtaking.
Throughout the whole journey, we were escorted by a team of armed military police, who were there to protect us from the guerrilla activists in the area. They were nice guys (the military, that is) and shared many of their stories with us along the way.
At seven o’clock in the morning of the fourth day, we reached our destination, The Lost City. We felt such a sense of achievement after we climbed the twelve hundred steps that led us
to the top. We spent a few hours up there, learning about the history and wandering around the ruins before making our return journe. Pushing on hard for the two days that followed, trekking longer hours; we finished our trek in five days rather than the planned six.
With tired, blistered feet, we headed straight to the fishing village of Taganga, for some well earned rest and relaxation. This was the first beach time we'd seen since Australia so chilling out by the sea was the order of the day. After many lazy days there, our batteries were fully recharged as we went back to Santa Marta to welcome Caoimhe to Colombia.
It was so brilliant to see here and hear all the news from back home. We walked the streets of Santa Marta, sampling the traditional food from the local vendors and drinking Mishelada's - Columbia's speciality - beer, mixed with lime and served in a salt frosted glass. We chilled on the beach in Taganga, along with hundreds of Colombian holiday makers, away to celebrate Holy Week and went diving in the Caribbean Sea. Luckily, these dives were a lot more fun and enjoyable than the last ones
we did together!
Not far from Taganga, is the vast Tyrona National Park, where we trekked and camped for a couple of days. We really were at one with nature. With no electricity, we played cards under the light of a torch and ate coconuts that had fallen from the trees right next to our tent!
From Tayrona, we made our way to the beautiful city of Cartegena for five unforgettable days. The old town was protected by massive walls and the architecture within was really stunning. It gave us ample opportunities to wander up and down the narrow streets past all the vendors selling their wares. It was here where we met our Colombian friend Johny, who organised a night out for us in a 'Chiva Bus'. This is an old fashioned Colombian bus that is used as a party bus, complete with traditional live music and an open bar! We sang and danced as the bus brought us on a tour around the city, eventually dropping us off at a nightclub, where we salsa'd the night away. We could have stayed in Cartegena for a lot longer, time seemed to just stand still there but we were ready
for more activities so hopped on a night bus to Medillin to try our hands at some paragliding.
Once we were geared up and strapped on, we just ran off the side of a mountain and started flying! As easy as that. The views across the sprawling metropolis were awesome. Caoimhe and Paulo loved every second of the the thirty minute flight, I on the other hand was petrified during the whole experience, with mental images of me falling from the sky - not helped by the strong cross winds that were catching the parachute and tossing us from side to side. My fear grew as we kept rising higher and higher and Caoimhe and Paulo were getting smaller and smaller. The whole time I was trying to get to that happy place in my head so I didn't really fit in the time to enjoy the experience until I saw that we were coming in to land. That's when the smile came back on my face. After a few "free styling" swoops and maneuvers, my feet were back on the ground, but there was no sign of Caoimhe or Paulo! As it turned out, they landed in a completely
different area to me and it took some thirty minutes in a taxi to get me to them.
We joined a small group and set out on the Pablo Escobar tour - Escobar was the biggest drug lord in Colombian history. It took us to many of his homes, to bombsites around the city, the site of his eventual assassination and to his grave. We learned so much about him, the people he killed, the life he led and the Colombian politics of the time. It gave us a real insight into how bad life was for the people of Medillin less than twenty years ago.
Realising that we'd been in Columbia a month already, we thought it best to continue south to the Cafeteria Zone. We based ourselves in Manizales and checked into a brand new, Irish-owned hostel, where we met a great group of guys. Although partying appeared to be the main activity, we did manage to squeeze in a tour of the coffee plantations and visited a fabulous cathedral. Once the sun set however, the dancing shoes came out to play. Everyone from the hostel met at the bar and headed into town together.
Colombian nightclubs really
take some beating. They are modern, stylish, clean, the music is brilliant and the service is second to none. At one stage during the night, one of the bar men was juggling fire and the waitresses were walking around with free treats. When one club closed, we moved onto the next, dancing the night away.
All in all, it was a fun few days and a nice way to bid farewell to Colombia.
As we sat down to plan our journey to Ecuador, we discovered that it was a little further away than we thought. The journey is due to take twenty eight hours, with five change-overs, four buses and six taxis; fun times ahead!
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