A Travellerspoint blog

Chasing wildlife in Costa Rica


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Well we survived our 16 hours bus ride, excessive border crossing protocols and all - the bus was searched by panama police, then by costa rica police, then stopped a further 2 times to be checked by more costa rican police, just to be sure we had all got our stamps. It was pretty intense!

But we arrived in San Jose, and got to our hostel all in one piece. Went to check out local sites such as the supermarket - it was like christmas - there were VEGETABLES and decent looking meat, so we could make another delicious satay with leftover panama peanut butter. Then to our delight there was a channel with english language movies - Big Hero 6 happened to be playing and is up there with my all time favourite movie, so all in all it was a pretty excellent evening. Going to bed to sleep was even better though (even though we were in an 8 bedded dorm)!

The next day we continued our bus fest, and hopped on a 4 hour bus to La Fortuna (with nearby Arenal national park). This bus ride ended up taking more like 5 hours, and we felt very sorry for the little boy across the aisle from us who got projectile vomiting mid trip, who's parents were less than sympathetic. We also felt very sorry for the other tourists who had their bags covered in said vomit.

But we arrived, not covered in vomit, to our hostel and got settled in. The swaying factor on choosing our hostel was the presence of a swimming pool. We learnt upon arrival that this was a heated pool, and so actually more like a spa. Dulp! This is a place where its a good 30 degrees or more during the day, not somewhere we wanted to be sitting in hot water!

On arrival we met another traveller called Martin (from Scotland), who seemed pretty nice and we ended up hanging out with for the rest of our Costa Rican travels.

Our first afternoon in La Fortuna was filled with supermarket based adventures - to make spag bol (YUM), and rest, as we were feeling pretty jetlagged from all the bussing (and the surprise time zone change on the border).

Next morning Richard, Martin and I headed out for the waterfall (THE waterfall to see in Costa Rica apparently). As there are no local buses here, we opted to walk the 7km along the semi quiet roads. This got pretty jolly hot (as witnessed in the arrival photos), and so by the time we got there man was I ready to jump in! The swim was pretty epic. Sadly Martin's phone (which made waterproof claims) didn't quite survive its visit, but otherwise it was an awesome trip out. Walking home was slightly cooler as it was all downhill.

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The afternoon was spent playing stupid games in the pool, like who can head the ball over the other person onto the wall, reading our books, and plotting our next dinner (more pasta, as its the first edible pasta we've had in months)

Day two in La Fortuna we planned on being a bit lazier, and just to visit a small wildlife sanctuary slightly out of town - here we were promised we could see sloths (2 toed variety), poison frogs, butterflies and more. We did see all of this, but hadn't bargained on all of the mosquitoes (there really hadn't been any for days!)

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poison frog

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two toed sloth

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three toed sloth

That night Richard cooked mince fried rice, which was pretty delicious, and played some cards.

Day three in La Fortuna, was the day to move to Monteverde - via jeep-boat-jeep, saving ourselves an extra 4 hours driving around the lake.
Arriving in Monteverde, we had our first major hostel dramas, with overcharging and an unreasonable owner - in the end booking.com has had to come to play and save us.
Spent the afternoon wandering around the town (which is tiny and mostly forested), and spent some time staring out at the view while Martin visited the butterfly garden (and then being let in free of charge to see the tarantulas and giant beetles which was great!)

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Hercules beetle

The following day we organised ourselves to go up to the Santa Elena Reserve and go wander around in the cloud forest. This was pretty cool - lots of punga ferns around, though didn't see all that much wildlife, but it was definately nice to get out and wander the hills at an appropriate temperature (I even had to wear a long sleeved shirt!)
The afternoon was whiled away with movies and game of thrones catch up marathon - it was pouring with rain outside.

Next day (today) we decided to increase our chances of spotting wildlife and do a tour of another nearby reserve. Another early start- tour began at 7:30, but within minutes we had seen 2 different types of tucan, a motmot, and a bunch of other birds. All up the tour lasted 4 hours and was totally worth it!

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Motmot

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Emerald tucan

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Regular tucan

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Richard chasing birds

On the walk back to town we side tracked to a nearby waterfall - although there was this high quality bridge that needed crossing on the way. Not encouraging when the first bit you step on cracks and breaks with less than half your weight. In the end we forded the river.

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High quality bridge

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The waterfall

This afternoon we spent a bit of time on skype (first time to skype people in over a month!) which was really nice.
Tomorrow we are heading back to San Jose (5hours south), to the following day head 9 hours north - as Costa Rican bus systems make so much sense!
But then it will be off to Nicaragua!

Posted by VGH on tour 15:26 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Caribbean cruising

off to panama


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Our last morning in Cartagena was spent running around taking photos, as we had forgotten our camera every single time we went out so far.

Here are a few of our favourites...

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After that (meaning a later start) we set off on our buses to Carpugana, via Necoli, Monteria, and some other random town. The bus boys were super good to us and made sure that we found the next bus before driving off, and then even found us the cheapest place to stay in town and ensured we had a room before leaving. It was great!
Just before arriving in Necoli (where we needed to spend a night before boating to Carpugana), it started to absolutely pour down - soon the road was covered in flash floods, and we were thinking uh oh, this is not how we wanted to arrive to look for accommodation. Luckily, the hostel was pretty much the bus terminal (the town is tiny)
Managed to buy our cheapest dinner in a long time, at a dollar each for some local food, also at the bus terminal.

Next morning we headed across to Carpugana, after getting stung for extra baggage costs with their faulty scales - we'd had our luggage weighed recently and the boat company were claiming up to 30% more per bag. We were not impressed!
Arrived in Carpugana and ended up staying at the dive shop in their accommodation.. They had this dog there which was the size of a small horse. And it was not fully grown. Said dog's favourite place to sleep was under our bed, and so occasionally we came home to find it in our room after it had been cleaned for the day. Silly thing.

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But we managed to go out for a dive or 2, and saw a turtle and a few barracuda. Visibility was not quite as good as it was pretty currenty.
The rest of our time was spent just chilling on the beach / reading in hammocks / going for random jungle walks along the "roads" - here are no cars there and there is no way to drive here.

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Setting up hammock in the garden

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Beach time

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We had a moment of panic when we arrived and found the San Blas tour office shut for 1.5 days, and then were told there was no space on their trips until the 25th (and the last time we'd had internet there had been space on the 19th). This is a massive deal in Carpugana as there are no banks, no ATMs and so no way of getting cash out. So we had enough to last until the 19th but definately not until the 25th. Luckily after a few hours of waiting, we heard yes we could book with them. Phew!

The tour headed off by first taking us around the bays to Sapzurro - the place we had planned to go in the first place. Here there was a nicer beach, and a 'waterfall' which we were encouraged to walk to, which was literally a wet rock. hah.
Spent the afternoon playing ball in the water, and got to enjoy the shock on the boys faces when I could actually throw/catch.
It was nice to spend the time that night getting to know some of the others on our tour - we were the only kiwis, but plenty of brits and ozzies, all of whom seemed pretty nice

Next morning was the time to head off on the fast boats. Sadly it was absolutely pouring with rain as we headed around the point to Panama and immigration. Luckily immigration was a breeze and soon enough we were away on the boats, and the rain had mostly stopped.

After two hours on a fast boat in not so smooth conditions, we were all rpetty ready to get off. Luckily the rain had pretty much totally cleared (though still cloudy), for our first taste of San Blas Islands. There were coconut trees, a volleyball net and not much else. It was pretty much bliss!

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Headed off for some snorkelling, which was admittedly reasonably average, as the rain has stirred up the visibility. Saw a lion fish - it was nice to not see more, apparently they are a "pandemic". Swimming back was a nightmare, as the far side of the island's water was 30cm deep, but corally and so unwalkable.
Some local kids were playing with a homemade sailing boat - made of a few sticks and plenty of plastic bottles. It was actually very sea worthy and pretty cool!

The island we slept on that night was not quite so pristine and lovely - we were unable to swim, as the toilets go directly into the sea, and there were 800 people living on this island. yuk!!

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View down the toilet

Richard and I being a couple, were treated to our own room, which was sea front, and excellent until the storm blew in around 6:30am and blew open our windows, covering our bed in rain. Luckily we were mostly up by then anyways.
While on the island we were treated to a traditional dance, and a tour of town. I couldn't help but think if they had any serious horizontal rain (like we got the next morning) that their walls made of bamboo sticks wouldn't fare very well and everything inside would soon be soaked.

On the second day, again our boats were delayed by the rain, and some epic thunder and lightning, but once again, luckily the rain stopped by mid morning and we were away.

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Looking stormy

The island we arrived at was not super exciting - there was no beach, but supposedly some better snorkelling. So Richard and I donned the gear and headed out, and managed to find a small channel out to the deeper water to be able to actually look at the reef. Snorkelling was again thwarted as this side of the reef was full of coconut debris and so not pleasant swimming, so we soon tried to give up. But what we hadn't realised is that that channel we swam out was actually really currenty, and we were swimming as hard as we could and making no ground (we had no flippers). There was a moment of, oh I wonder if they will need to send a boat to get us, before we managed to swim horizontally into shore.

That afternoon we headed across to Monkey Island - named so as two spider monkeys live there with a local family. Sadlythe monkeys came to be there because the family killed their mother to eat her, and since hand raised the babies. While they were ridiculously cute and cuddly, I couldn't help but feel incredibly sorry for them.

Soon enough it was time to go back to the other island, where the night was whiled away with card games and rum.

Third morning, surprise surprise it was trying to rain again. SIlly mother nature held off in raining properly until we had arrived at our last island. This island was by far the highlight - white sandy beach, swimming, nearby reef for snorkelling, sleeping in hammocks. It was everything you think of when you think Caribbean Island (that most of the other islands so far had not quite achieved).

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Afternoon was spent dodging the rain after a pre lunch snorkel - saw a barracuda, and spent a bit of time trying to find a gap in the reef to move out of 30cm deep water. Richard spent most of the afternoon playing beach volleyball (which I quickly relearnt that I am terrible at)

That night the aim had been to have a bon fire, but as there had been so much rain, we had no dry wood. It didn't stop the boys managing to get one very smoky fire going, that needed plenty of TLC.

This final night was easily the worst nights sleep, as where my hammock was, was not totally watertight, and so I was awoken to dripping on my forehead. The only solution was to rotate 180 degrees and get wet feet instead, as there were no hammocks going spare.

The last morning arrived, and the rain did finally clear up permanently. We headed to a nearby island, which was even more perfect than the one we slept on! It was tiny, surrounded by crystal clear waters with palm trees in the middle. Here again we headed off snorkelling, and spent a while watching an eagle ray having a feed as he lazily circled around us. Unfortunately I had sunscreened up while still wearing shorts, and so managed to get a sunburnt bum. Dulp!

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I tried to stand on this palm tree, but it was so bouncy, I couldn't make it to the end without risk of landing in the corals

All too soon it was time to leave this island, and head for mainland Panama.

Highlights of the San Blas trip included; peanut butter available for breakfast (I haven't had ANY since February), hummus for lunch, and one night feed of so much crayfish (and no one knew you could eat the legs, and so we went a little crazy)

The road through to Panama City started off ridiculously windy and steep - and we came up over a rise, to go down one steep section, and came across a truck upside down in the ditch. Luckily the driver seemed fine.
Arriving in Panama City seemed like a very different world - massive high rise buildings, infrastructure, able to drink the tap water! It all seems a bit much!

As it seems like there is not heaps to do in Panama City, we decided to hit the canal. Getting there proved to be a bit of an adventure - we caught a local bus to the bus station, where we would have to change buses. But turns out there are two bus stations and get got off at the wrong one, and so then had to get on the subway to get to the right one (as a local woman took it upon herself to not let us try and get a bus as it was "unsafe"). Finally we made it to the right bus station, and then found out we needed to wait for the bus for about half an hour. Fine!
Eventually we arrived at the canals, which while initially disappointing, we finally decided were really cool.

The canals are actually 3 locks - areas which have been made to help bring the massive ships up to 26m above sea level, so they can cross the lake in the middle of Panama, and then back down to sea level when they reach the other side. We hung around long enough to witness one huge ship coming through, and the changing water levels. Interestingly, the canals are expanding, and so the lock we saw will no longer be used (as its replacement is a whole 17m wider or something), and this switch is happening in 3 days! Meaning that if we had been just a few days later, we wouldn't have been able to see any ship action at all, as there is no ability to view the other 2 locks, and the new one is also not set up for viewing.

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A huge ship arriving from the lake side, awaiting the dropping water level to head to sea (100 million litres in each pen)

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Notice the water level going down

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And down some more

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And finally the gates open, for the next pen to drop the ship some more.

After the canals we headed back to the bus terminal, and grabbed some food - we cooked with some UK boys, and had delicious sweet chili stir fry. Getting back from the bus terminal to our hostel was actually really hard, as we didn't know what bus we should catch. We wandered round while I asked everyone how to get to our suburb - to be met with the response "oh thats quite difficult" great! All the locals were again really helpful though, and made sure they had successfully palmed us off to someone else that could help us / bother the bus drivers before leaving - even when we delayed some of them by a good ten minutes.
The other part of bus fun is to ride you need a card - you cannot pay in cash. Of course we don't have a card, and so the way around this is to give your money to a local and get them to swipe you on. Easier said than done when there are 5 of you! We always did eventually get on though.

Today we are having a quiet day before a 16hour bus (yay!) to San Jose in Costa Rica tonight. While Panama looks like it has some cool places, we have realised we only have 6.5 weeks left, and some things we would like to see in the (non USD using) north.

Posted by VGH on tour 06:49 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Island time


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Our last full day in Minca was pretty great.
We went bird watching - which sounds super lame, but was actually pretty awesome. Firstly, at 5am when we got up, IT WAS COOL. Like I wanted to wear a cardigan, cool.
Secondly, we saw tucan. Two different types in fact.
And woodpeckers. They are hilarious! We saw these great big birds who make their nests to hang from trees - they look a bit like brown shopping bags.
Plenty of hummingbirds as well. Richard went a bit nuts in the photo taking department (maybe good as we have been so slack lately in taking any of anything), and now you can watch a hummingbird zoom around our camera screen in a series of photos...

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Santa Marta in the distance

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Woody woodpecker climbing the tree

By 9am it was starting to get hot again, and the birds had all but gone back to bed, so we headed back for some breakfast and more serious book reading / hammock time.
After a while we headed off to the Lazy Cat for milkshakes - and to try out the place we had heard so much about as "The best food anyone had eaten in months". The milkshakes were pretty good.
Later in the afternoon we decided to risk going for a short walk to a nearby swimming hole - and sure enough just as we arrived the thunder clapped loudly overheard and we thought we'd be drowned rats before we even got in the river! But alas, the rain stopped about 2 min later and we got our swim. The river was even cold enough to give goosebumps!

That night we had dinner at the Lazy Cat, and sadly Richard found a burger that can compete with "World's Worst Burger" as purchased in Palomino. Luckily my stirfry was delicious, and the first time I've had ginger in months!

Next day we were off back down to Santa Marta to get a bus to Cartagena. Some how the collectivo again ended up being our own private taxi - for the normal share taxi price. Lucky us, as we drove us all the way to the bus station, rather than us needing to get a second taxi!
Soon as we arrived, we were hussled onto the bus, that had lots of reassuring signs about air conditioning on board.

Those signs lied. Holy gods that bus ride was hot. It was made all the worse by the heat coming up through the floor from the engine, making the floor so hot you couldn't put your feet down even with shoes on!
Fun times for 5 hours. Including an extra fun hour where we sat in the halfway town waiting for the bus to refill.

Finally we made it to Cartagena, and it was still ridiculously hot. Luckily our hostel had A/C in the bedroom, so we quickly took up refuge until it was getting a bit darker outside, and maybe cooler?
In our evening stroll around the street, we happened to run into Jess and Josh - who we met on our first day in Buenos Aires, and have kept in touch with since. Each time previously we had been missing each other by like a day, so it was great to see them after all this time!
We arranged to go out for dinner with Jess & Josh, and Wanda & Josh. Post dinner, we wandered the streets with J&J, checking out all the local sites in the comfort of a balmy 31 degrees. I can see why everyone raves about Cartagena. Its really beautiful. But a place I think I can only enjoy at night.

The next day, being our only proper "day" in Cartagena, was mostly spent being a vampire, hiding from the sun. We were unfortunate enough to go for a walk in search of some snorkelling gear while it was 35 degrees. But otherwise we slowed into tortoise mode.
That night we had our flight to the tropical island of San Andres.

San Andres is actually near Nicaragua, but part of Colombia. We hadn't realised it but we arrived on a public holiday, meaning that the entire island was out in town that night having a great time - and we just thought it had an awesome vibe. We did think that the roads were pretty busy, so later google informed us that in fact, San Andres is the most densely populated area of Colombia, with 80-120 thousand people living in 36 square km of island.

Our week here was mostly spent on the beach, or in the bath temperature waters. Josh and Wanda were also out on the island, and so we made sure that we got down to their beach on the bus, and made good use of their hotel's sun loungers for a day or so. And equally, they came up to ours and made sure the cards table saw some action. It was a good week.

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Our beach as the sun goes down (one of the only times we remembered to take the camera out..)

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Chilling in our grandpa chairs outside our apartment

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But the water was pretty nice

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So was the beach, though a little busy

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Richard and I went out diving twice. The first time was a bit of a dud. The divemaster really just didn't care, and we didn't even use half a tank each.
The second time Josh came too and we were with a different company, and it was great. Got out on a boat, saw a turtle, puffer fish, walking fish, barracuda, lion fish and all sorts!

While in San Andres Richard also got a year older. We celebrated with the more successful dive trip, and Wanda booked the 4 of us in for a meal at the best restaurant in town - holy moly it was good sea food! It was right on the water front, and had a resident sting ray. There was bubbly wine, and Wanda even managed to arrange for a birthday cake brownies and candles.

But sadly the island time came to an end, and we flew back to the mainland yesterday. Again we realised that we took almost no photos during our stay there.. ops!
Back in Cartagena, we wasted the day worrying about our GP interviews that were this afternoon - thank god they are over!
Again, we headed out for a night time exploration of the town, and still think its beautiful.

Tomorrow we are heading to the NW corner of Colombia, to begin our journey into central in about a week. It seems crazy that we have been in Colombia almost a month, and will end up only seeing about 1/3 of the country.

Posted by VGH on tour 19:07 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Caribbean Colombia

I didn't know we could sweat this much...


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After our downpour on our first night in San Gil, things improved a lot...
The first day we just spent relaxing and getting the lay of the land.. explored the local supermarket and found we could buy a litre of rum for $16NZD!
And it wasn't bad either... Makes for passing the time while pouring with rain each afternoon much more fun

Day two we headed to Curiti, a small nearby town to go caving, in the Cow Cave. Apparently named as the locals were losing cows to the drop into the cave (which now has a ladder).
The cave begins with a 'military crawl' through some surprisingly cold water, and then opens up into a series of 5 rooms with stalactites and mites. It was pretty cool, and even involved some underwater swimming to get from one room to another, while pulling yourself with a rope. Richard managed to pull the "I'm too big for that tunnel" card for one low crawl, and took the high road (where you could walk like a normal person, directly over the top of the rest of us crawling on our hands and knees through a tight spot). All in all a good morning out. The couple from Bogota who came through the cave with us kindly gave us a ride back to our hostel (well a block from it, as the street its on is probably steeper than Baldwin street and not suitable for cars), so we weren't soaking wet on the bus.
Final day in San Gil was marked with a rafting trip, along some grade 4 and 5 rapids, with a bunch of UK Drs and a Frenchie. We were the only ones who had been rafting before and the others were suitably nervous. The rapids were pretty fun, and we only had one man overboard. I did manage to headbutt Richard with my helmet.... twice... while we were going down some big rapids. I also managed to wear my paddle accross my thigh at one point. Naturally now my leg has a bruise the size of my hand, and Richard's face is unscathed.

Each afternoon in San GIl was passed with further milkshakes, and eventually a meal at the same restaurant, so it was lucky we were only there for 3 days, as my god those portions were huge!

After rafting we had time for a final quick milkshake, before heading to the bus terminal. While doing a final clean up at the hostel, the owners cat sprayed Richards pack, and so we got a free taxi ride to the bus station out of it.
This was to be our first Colombian night bus, and we didn't have high hopes.. It was not great - like a normal NZ long distance bus but the seats went back further. Not much space. Richard quickly figured if he pulled his windfleece over his face it doubled as a blanket and an eye mask, and claims he slept like a log. Me not so much..

Arrived in Santa Marta, and got a ride with surprising difficultly to the hostel - eventually getting grossly over charged as it was "sunday". We figured it was probably as it was so close by. But when its 9am and already >28 degrees with 95% humidity we weren't walking ANYWHERE.
That day was spent in the hostel pool half asleep, and was exactly what we needed.

From there we tried to calculate our next move - to go stay in Tayrona National Park (which everyone said was amazing), or go diving in Targanga (which everyone said was super cheap). Eventually NP won, and so we went to the supermarket and bought 5L of water in preparation.

That evening we met a Kiwi/Dutch couple Josh/Wanda who had been living in Chch but now moving to Amsterdam. After spending the whole evening chatting, and able to extend the conversation beyond recent travel activities, we aimed to head to the park together the following day.
In reality we left an hour before them, as our whole dorm was up, and by 8am it was stupidly hot again. We won the transport lottery and got ourselves what ended up being a private collectivo (share taxi) to the point where you start walking, where as the others got squashed onto a local bus and couldn't sit down, almost dying of heat.

Getting into the National park was not as straight forward as we thought it should be - there were no signs explaining anything, so I lined up to pay for entrance, which I was refused until we had watched some conservation video and gotten a ticket to say we had done so.. so went back to do that, at which point our dirver got in an argument with ticket man about having to wait for us, so I was recalled to be told to go and sit down again, and then recalled again and finally allowed to pay our entry fee and given wrist bracelets for the two of us. Meanwhile Richard actually did see the entire video anyway.
Finally walking time... I did not know we could sweat that much. God it was HOT! Sweat was running down into our eyes within minutes of starting. We did see some cool lizards and hear plenty of cool insects and see some monkeys though. All up we walked for 2 hours, and we vowed that after this trip we were not going to go hiking again in this heat.
On arrival to the beach we threw ourselves in the sea and eventually cooled off, before finding ourselves some shade under a few palm trees, settling in and reading our books.

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Josh and Wanda arrived around hammock check in time, so we all got our beds lined up pretty nearby, and then it was back to the beach. Managed to while away the whole afternoon reading and swimming on the beach. It was great. Somehow we managed to get burnt, despite sunscreen and being in the shade all day.

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(And applying heaps of sunscreen, which was sweated off pretty quick!)

Evening time and the four of us played some cards, drank some beers, and generally had a good time. Then it was off to the hammocks for the night. Other than feeling that my knee was getting a bit hyperextended I slept surprisingly well!

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So next day we started off with more of the same - beach and book. The area felt much less busy than it had the day before which was quite nice.
All too soon it was time to head off, so the four of us started out and all sweating within seconds. It was ridiculous!
On our walk our we met this girl who was dragging her wheelie bag behind her. So this track goes up and down, has stairs, goes across some rocks and 2 beaches, and she was making the easy bit look hard. We tried to tell her that it wasn't worth it and she should hire a horse, but later while waiting for our collectivo to leave, we heard that she had continued anyway and still making it loo just as hard.

Hilariously, on this NP trip we met more Kiwis that we had our entire trip - there was another group of 8. They had been organised and prebooked their transfer from Tayrona to Palomino. We were slightly ahead of them on the walk out, but naturally jumped on the opportunity to get a direct ride to Palomino with promise of a real seat. Little did we realise, but we had hijacked their private transfer.. ops!

But we did make it to Palomino after a bit of a wait, and eventually found our hostel (which was about as far away from the beach as you could get). Luckily Wanda and Josh has a hostel close to the beach with a pool. We spent enough time there that the staff probably thought we lived there too.

After settling into our hostel we went for a wander around town and down the beach, quickly establishing that there was very little to town, and that the beach was a bit like New Brighton with a 20degree temperature increase. All this time we were supervised by our hostel dog, who we named Jaffa. Now Jaffa walked with us for about 2 hours, through town, down the beach. chasing waves, he came into a restaurant, he came into Josh and Wanda's hostel and supervised Richard while he swam lengths in the pool, and then walked us home. It was hilarious!
That night, we had pizza, at what would be the best pizza restaurant we have been to in all south america. It was delicious!
While we were there the evening rain started.. and continued.. and then the power went out. We hadn't bought our torches as after careful consideration we decided there were enough street lights not to warrant it. In the end. it was closer to our hostel than theirs, but even still our walk home was pretty dicey, filled with fireflies, and my brief wonder about whether there would be snakes. Wanda and Josh also had to contend with puddles that took up the entire road, but were kindly given a flaming beer can as a light to get home... not sure it helped.

The next morning we had another walik down the beach, and then planned to go tubing down the river - kind of like Vang Veing, but more BYO styles and no slides. Sadly our plans were derailed by early rain and thunder and lightning, so the afternoon was passed with Yatzee instead. This time the power seemed to hold out, but we headed home in a break in the rain before it got dark to avoid a repeat performance.

Take two at tubing was the following morning - good weather, no overnight rain and so we were off! Seemed slightly odd to be buying beers at 9:30am, but totally worth it after the 30min walk over a hill to get to the river entrance. But once we were there, the river was cold and amazing.
Navigation was slightly hilarious, as we kept ending up sucked into the trees on the edges without a lot of forward paddling. But was a good morning out, even if we did get a little burnt.

After that it was seafood on the beach time - delicious prawns two days running, and then bus to Santa Marta. Man the bus was hot when it stopped. Like unbelievably hot!
In Santa Marta, Richard and I said a temporary goodbye to Wanda and Josh - who will join us again in San Andres, and got ourselves a collectivo up to Minca. But first we went to the mall and we are now the proud owners of matching long sleeved rash tops haha.

Arriving in Minca was interesting - it was well after dark, and the driver dropped us off, and then said just walk up this road and then take a right up the track.. so we did, in the dark, head torches well buried, into what quickly became a mud track, and then a staircase.
We did eventually find our hostel and settled in for the night.

Today we went for a wander in and around the village and on nearby roads, with the plan to go to a swimming hole this afternoon. We picked up some delicious ham bread around lunchtime and headed home for a brief rest before continuing for the afternoon. Here our plans were derailed by the POURING rain. The staircase was a river within seconds, and the rain continued for 2 hours. Some girls arrived in the middle of it, after initially being lost as they thought the staircase was an aquaduct.

Hopefully tomorrow we will head out bird watching and maybe go swimming in the afternoon. But mostly we are just grateful for a respite from the heat - man Palomino was HOT.
Following that we will head to Cartagena on Sunday to get our flights out to the islands for Richard's birthday.
Oh and we finally have heard that all our Bolivian efforts have paid off and we have GP interviews! Win!

Posted by VGH on tour 15:42 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Bogota and around

A successful change of scene


View Taking on latin america on VGH on tour's travel map.

So our last day in Peru was pretty uneventful - though we did see a dead turtle on the beach - it looked like it had just walked up and was sitting there, but on further observation its shell was a bit busted and it was pretty dead..
It was pretty exciting travelling out to the airport and getting reading for a plane! Vivacolombia is a pretty budget airline - so budget in fact that it doesn't assign seats, just calls you up in groups and you can pick your seat. Lucky for us, the flight was full of other gringos who had no idea what was happening (our check in lady told us), so we scored some pretty sweet seats.

My lovely friend Dani (who I met on my last trip to Ecuador), came and picked us up from the airport at midnight, and took us to our hostel. So nice to not have the taxi battle and see a familiar face.
The next morning we were greeted with an exciting change for breakfast - eggs and juice! No dry bread and jam in site! Another surprise was to find that I knew 2 other Kiwis in the hostel from school/the halls. NZ sure is a big village.

We had an excellent lazy morning, wandering the streets of Bogota and finding which ATM would give us more than $150 at a time. Bogota, though a city of 10 million people, has a calm feeling about its centre and a nice chilled out vibe that we'd found lacking in other capitals.
In the afternoon we signed up for a graffiti tour, a little reluctantly. All the walking tours we have done to date we have left after 10minutes out of sheer boredom.

The graffiti tour was different - the guy was interesting, understandable and passionate about the street artists. It was awesome! We learnt about the political implications of the art, how the mayor of town wants to wipe it out, how its becoming more accepted amongst the neighbourhoods and so now the artists can get away with daytime painting.

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This is made of paper mache, and sits atop a wall. It has been so well painted that its been there for something like 10 years or more!

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Would you like a banana? Also paper mache, painted to look like copper

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This wall is supposedly worth over $10 000USD

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Some political street art

While on the tour we learnt that some of the artists would be painting shirts / other items of clothing the following day, and we'd be welcome to go and check them out..

After the street art tour, we wandered the streets a little more - initially in search of juice, but we ended up in an art gallery. Saw our first Picasso - thought it was done by a child. Ops!
Bought some churritos (baby sized churros, which are like straight sugar covered doughnuts). Richard enjoyed telling everyone after that I'd eaten EIGHT churros. Not mentioning each was like 2cm long.

Next day we had another lazy morning with eggs and juice. We then broke our golden rule, and visited a museum. Our very first in all of South America. It was the museo del oro - it was fine, for a while, and we did learn some things about how they used bees wax and clay to make their metal jewellery and the like over a 1000 years ago. Not in a hurry to revisit another museum.
We also checked out the handycraft market across the road, where we required all of our self control to not buy my brothers the clay penis flutes that we found there...
Then thought it was time to head across town to check out this T shirt graffiti thing.
Navigation was initially straightforward - grid system, but then the road signs disappeared and replaced by complicated block numbers. Eventually made it, after like an hour and a half of walking... to spend less than 5 minutes there as it was so disappointing.

But we got to catch the biggest bus we have ever seen back - the transmilenum is Bogota bus system, and its pretty awesome.

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When you sit at the back, you can see the front of the bus already around the corner!

That night we went out for dinner with Dani and her husband, to a fancy restaurant (which cost like $25 each for entrees, drinks and mains!) I had some cocoa flavoured rice - really strange to eat sweet rice, but it mixed well with my meat + sauce. Richard had lamb and some spuds covered in some kind of amazing sauce. Dani and her husband hit the jackpot with their pork though. Man it was good! We were told we had to try a particular entree, but then they wouldn't translate it out of spanish until after we had tried some. When it arrived, it became apparent why - deep friend intestines. In the end it mostly just tasted crunchy.
Post dinner, we headed up the hills (Bogota is in a basin), so we could try agua de panela - a local sweet hot drink, and look at the city lights. It was really beautiful, and there was some epic lightning going on. Several party buses drove past too - man they put the NZ ones to shame! Epic music, dance floor in the middle, and everyone partying hard, even as it winds up the side of the mountain.

For our final day in Bogota we decided to make a day trip to a nearby town to visit the Salt Cathedral - supposedly the best thing to do in Bogota.
We are not really sure why. Its an underground church, very plain, but very large, with many different rooms. We suppose its something different?

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Inside the cathedral

The highlights were; the natural orange juice, the passionfruit / condensed milk icrecream, and being offered "big assed" deep friend ants.

Next, we were off to Villa de Leyva - about 3 hours from Bogota for a few days. Villa de Leyva is famous for being a place to go and chill out on the weekend with the rest of Bogota - so we made sure we went during the week, and having the biggest central plaza in Colombia - yes its huge. Found ourselves this awesome hostel just out of town, with nice hammocks to sit in the garden and look out over the valley and read. It was perfect!
The thing to do here is to hire bikes and go cycling to visit El Fossil - some giant water dwelling dinosaur fossil, housed in the nearby countryside. So we did, and it was actually quite cool. It was also cool cycling around the gravel roads checking out some very nice houses, and seeing this crazy clay house that someone has built themselves.

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The giant fossil

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Look at those teeth!

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Looked kinda like the Flintstones moved out

Richard also made sure he got all the photos of the dinosaur road signs, and was very vigilant in looking out for any dinosaurs that might be roaming nearby...

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We finished our ride off with a visit to the blue pools - which apparently you used to be able to swim in. Rules changed, and we slogged our way back up the last bit of the hill for a disappointing visit to some ponds that looked like they were used for irrigation.

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Feeling skeptical...

Back to our hammocks with a sore butt!

Today we caught 3 different minivans, and moved to San Gil, which is a small town en route to the coast, famous for its adventure sports. We arrived late to some blackening skies. Sure enough while out for dinner the rain began in a hurry. Ten minutes later the roads (they are reasonably steep), were rivers. Half an hour later, there was so much water coming down, it was washing over the top of the parked motorbikes. It was insane!
Naturally, we were pretty reluctant to walk home in this, and all the taxis were occupied. Luckily we moved to the bar next door and had the best milkshakes we've ever had - mine peanut butter and nutella, and Richard's coffee and Baileys. I think they even beat Sweet Mamas cafe in Welly.

With a small break in the rain, we bolted home. Not quite fast enough... But its now been pouring for another 3 hours solid, so we're pleased we made a move when we did!

Overall, first impressions of Colombia are AMAZING!

Posted by VGH on tour 19:03 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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