Saturday, May 5, 2012

The last step: Bogota to New Jersey!!

Home again home again jiggity jig.

This will most likely be my last post for the bloggy blog, after two and a half years of doing it (or trying to keep up with it). I'm not sure where this post is going to go but it'll have a bunch of everything. (stats, reflections, etc.) Firstly, though, I will start off with our very small amount of time in Bogota.
It was the last overnight bus of the trip!!! and I was actually tired enough to be able to sleep and had 2 seats to myself. I also had a very unhappy stomach. I fell asleep for maybe 45 mins when we suddenly stopped and were told we needed to switch buses (around 12am). The bus we switched to was NOT as comfy as the one we just were in and there weren't extra seats so I had to stay in mine. I think I actually did end up getting some sleep though and on the same bus was an Australian couple we had met in Huacachina! We arrived in Bogota at 2:30 pm and decided to follow the Aussies to Hostel Platypus. The Bogota terminal had something we hadn't seen in any other city regarding taxis. People were lining up and getting a slip from this guy in a booth, then going out to the parking lot and finding the taxi with the license plate number that was on the slip and getting in, price already determined on the paper. We thought this was a great way to do it, until we tried it. We went up to the booth wanting all four of us to go all together but we had a LOT of stuff with us so we asked for a big taxi. He was like 'ok this one is kinda big' and when we went out and gave the guy the ticket (it was not a big car) he refused to take us, as did everyone else who saw all our stuff. Although they would take all of us in the car for 20COP (Colombian pesos). Then we asked to split up and if they could take two of us. "No, that person isn't here anymore, we won't take two but we'll take all four for 20". Since our original quote was 9COP we were like no way! So we went to the road to get one the normal way, got in and asked the price and he was sketch about it. I asked again and he said 15COP. Jeeze. We were quoted 9 from the same place!! So we got him down to 11.

 For our last hostel we splurged on a double room, it wasn't anything special but it was nice enough. We headed out to the Museo de Oro (gold museum) which we heard was nice, and it was! For only $1.50 we went to the best museum out of all we've been to! Very well put together, modern and informative in both Spanish and English. That night we had some farewell drinks with the Aussies and went to bed early since we had to be up for a 8:50 flight back home!!

It was a very quick flight, but with no free movies :( and we got in earlier than expected! Of course Nick had trouble at the border because he always does. We prepared for it but thankfully he got through after a full interrogation. I, on the other hand, waltzed right through and waited. and waited. Then when Nick came through we waited some more together since my welcome commitee was not there! Apparently on line it said our flight would be late! It felt sooo good to be back! Soooo good to see everyone and my house! My dog went absolutely nuts when she saw us, licking and wiggling! It was great. We were ready to be here. My bed is the most comfortable, amazing place ever.

Pottery monkey boy from gold museum

heavy duty door at museum

gold stuff!

gold representation of a shaman and his helpers going to give offerings to the gods at Lake Titicaca I think.

Sadie extremely happy to have us home!

Some thoughts and stats...
We visited 8 countries (Uruguay being counted but on a different trip)
We traveled 10,929 miles (17,588km) starting in Carapegua, PY and ending in Bogota, Colombia
We took 35 buses to get us across the continent
We spent $1,255 on bus travel..$580 alone was just for traveling in Patagonia
I slept a total of 7 hours combined on all the night buses
Peed on 5 times by monkeys
I lost or broke 1 camera, 1 pair of glasses, 3 pairs of sunglasses, 1 raincoat, 1 headband I just bought, 2 hairclips, 1 fleece, I know there's more just can't think of it.
Nick lost ...nothing
Only one thing stolen (the tarp)
Used the tent a grand total of 8 times
Slept in 45 beds
4352 hours doing the blog :p

About the countries:
Paraguay: After 2 years 3 months there I can say that Asuncion is one of my least fav cities in South America (although , of course, I can get around it the best. and it has Quattro D's), it's great to experience a place with no tourism but if you wanted to go just look up a Peace Corps Volunteer on Couch Surfing and they'll show you what PY is all about. At first I hated the food and at the end I craved it! Very curious and friendly people. Worst dogs I've ever met. Most deaths of animals I liked (my pets and others) that I had to deal with. Loved learning how to garden, even if it was in boxes. HOT HOT HOT. Terere.

Argentina: Big country! Highlights: BA, Hiking in El Chalten, nice buses, wine tour in Mendoza. Lowlights: long, monotonous bus rides, expensive buses esp. in Patagonia, expensive tours that you couldn't do on your own, had to be with a company unless you had your own car (penguins). Generally, we would have gotten more out of this country if we had a car to see it with.

Chile: We don't really know Chile since we just went to Puerto Natales. Highlights: Our week spent at Erratic Rock as evacuees (including New Years Eve). Lowlights: Torres del Paine being on fire and getting evacuated and not getting to do it, the whole reason we came down to Patagonia

Bolivia: It was way better than we expected! I heard it was a poorer country than Paraguay so I didn't know what to think, but it was so different from PY and so diverse! The landscape was amazing and always different. What a great country. Highlights: Volunteering at La Senda Verde, Isla del Sol, the scenery, cheapness!!, the women wearing traditional clothing, salt flats, so much to do and see there, best place to buy souvenirs. Lowlights: crappy buses with no bathrooms, crazy, windy roads, coca leaves, had to remember to always have toilet paper with you.

Peru: We didn't want to leave Bolivia but we had to move on. Highlights: The dune buggies at Huacachina and hangin by the pool, Cuzco, tuktuks, we had fun finding cheap ways to get by in Cuzco, the scenery around Machu Picchu. Lowlights: hiking the stairs at 5am to MP!! very touristy, the sellers always coming up to you in Cuzco and us constantly repeating 'no, gracias.'

: We weren't here for toooo long, maybe a week in total so we don't know it as well. We just hit the beaches and got out. It was also so weird to use the dollar as currency! Highlights: Tropical scenery while driving along coast, Montanita had the biggest waves I've seen, finding a cheap place to stay in Montanita during Easter, amazing strawberry batidos (strawberry smoothie with milk), fruit salads! Good seafood and renting a scooter to see the equator. They seem to be more environmentally aware. Lowlights: Food was expensive in Quito, Galapagos too expensive for us :(

Colombia: We were only here a week and a half. Highlights: Cartagena, Mud volcano, scenery in Parque Tayrona. Lowlights: Expensive (on par or higher than Argentina!) I had a tough time understanding their Spanish and they couldn't understand mine.

Things we'll miss about South America:
  • The laid backness
  • community oriented
  • not so driven by consumerism
  • easy border crossings
  • cheaper than home
  • people generally friendly
  • scenery
Things we will not miss at all!!:
  • Littering
  • no toilet paper
  • having to pay for use of bathroom
  • getting lied to and knowing you can't trust what people say when asking about things (like what time will the bus leave, does the WIFI work, who will be on this tour with us.. etc)
  • lack of businesses sense
  • lack of consideration. The things we consider rude are just not considered it down there and we were done with dealing with it! Cutting in line, blasting music from the cell phone on a bus when people are trying to sleep, blasting music on a bus when people are trying to sleep, being in the middle of a sales transaction and suddenly the clerk goes to help someone else while you're standing there waiting to finish paying, hitting the back of bus seats or movie theater chairs, etc..
  • When crossing streets people speed up!
  • Seeing the street dogs and cats 
  • Seeing used, dirty diapers eaten by dogs in the streets

Home Sweet Home

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park

The journey is coming to an end and this is our last stop before going to Bogota to fly home! We took a bus from the terminal at Cartagena to Santa Marta thinking it would take about 4 hours. But look at us setting expectations, we should know better by now! Of course the bus helper lied to us (nothing new there) 1. about what time the bus would leave and 2. every time we stopped he said it would be for five minutes. We got on the bus that was supposed to leave RIGHT NOW but ended up leaving 20 mins later. Ok I'm fine with that it happens all the time, but then we stopped at one spot just sitting there for an hour and another spot for another half hour. It ended up taking more than 6 hours to get to Santa Marta and even the locals were getting upset (so we knew it wasn't just us!). We thought we would have some of the evening to get stuff done at SM to prepare for our trip the next day to Tayrona but we pretty much just got to our hostel (hostel dreamer), ate dinner and went to sleep.
Hostel Dreamer is cool because it has a pool, bar, kitchen, many dorms and an Italian restaurant (owner is Italian) what I didn't like about it was the creaky doors lol. Seriously, oil your doors! The next day we went to the huge supermarket across the street to stock up for our camping trip. We knew that the park would be expensive so we brought all our food with us, plus we could use up our gas cans we had been carrying since Chile in December! We also went to the bus station to get our tickets to Bogota, we ended up saving 40 mil Colombianos by getting from the terminal and not from the hostel. We repacked our bags and headed out to the road to catch the bus to the park. At the park we geared up to pay the entrance fee 35mil or $18 which is more than 2x the price locals get to pay. I don't like that it's like that but that's just the way it is down here and that's all I'm going to say about it : x I heard from a girl who heard from a Colombian that 95% of this park is owned by a French company, don't know if that's true or not. Then we had to pay more money to get on a bus to take us into the park (what! that's not included in the money we paid to get in? of course not..) Now we start our hike to find a campsite. We weren't sure exactly where we would camp, we figured we would figure it out along the way. The first 50 mins of hiking were to get to the beach, the jungle was really beautiful and it was a nice hike...very hot though, water is a necessity. The first beach we go to was Arrecifes. You can't swim on this beach because of the tide but it's pretty to look at. The first campsite we got to was at this beach and we decided to keep going to camp closer to more swimmable beaches. Next we got to La Piscina which is a nice beach you can swim on. The jungle comes right up to the sand and there are barely any waves, very calm with clear water perfect for snorkeling. We though we would hike to Cabo San Juan, the next beach, because you can swim and camp at that beach (the closest camping to la piscina was about a 7 min walk away. Unfortunatly, we couldn't find the path/it wasn't well marked on where we had to go to get to Cabo and by that time we were so tired and hot and just wanted to be there. So we went back to the campsite that was a 7 min walk away from La Piscina.
The campsite was nice with a view of the ocean (Arricifes, no swimmin!) and not many people. The workers were friendly so we pitched our tent for 10 mil a person (around $5) and realized we needed to start making dinner before the sun went down because we both amazingly forgot to bring a flashlight. And you'd think with all our experience...I also found a coconut that nick was able to get into and it was quite yummy. After we had dinner is when things started to go downhill. we had a 7pm bedtime (the time it was dark) I think we fell asleep for ten mins and both woke up dying. It was so hot in the tent we might as well be sleeping in an oven. was hell. We couldn't open the door because of the mosquitoes so i just had the door unzipped a crack so i could have some breeze on my face. It was actually hell. finally around 11pm I couldn't take it and had to get out of the tent. Our tent neighbors were around at that time and we started talking (they were from NYC) and then the campsite people invited us over to drink rum with the which was awesome. We sat around taking shots of rum and watching really bad Colombian music videos and talking until the power went out. At 1pm we headed back to the tent, and I was able to fall asleep with the help of rum. Until 2:30 am when someone came to the tent with a flashlight. I woke up nick and he said 'hello?' and they walked away and went to the neighbors tent for a couple seconds. We though it was either someone going after nick's phone (you could see the glow from outside, it was by the door) or someone trying to sneak into a tent for a free nights sleep.
The next day we decided to shorten our trip from three nights to two (we had pre-paid for 2 nights so we kinda had to stay) because of how awful it was in the tent. We started our day at La Piscina swimming, sleeping and watching sea turtles come up for air. At 2pm we went for a walk up to find Cabo, hiking through more jungle full of crabs. Yes. crabs. They dig little crab holes in the ground in the jungle and hide out in them. When you're walking down the path you see them all run into the holes as you walk by, like little aliens running away. Very strange. We got to the Cabo campsite which was livelier, had a big restaurant and store, plus a beach you can swim in right at the door step. It was more expensive there though, but we were finally able to get a big bottle of water instead of the small ones our campsite offered. We kept walking though to check out the other beaches close by, the next beach was 3 mins away and I think it was a nude beach, playa nudista, but barely anyone was on it and the people who were were not naked. I thought this was the most beautiful beach out of all of them. It had the jungle but also it was like a cove and you could see the hills on one side and big rocks on another. I parked up leaning against a big rock and watched a crab I dubbed Leo go about his business right in front of me. We stayed there chilling for an hour, then we had to make a mad dash back to the campsite as a thunderstorm rolled in. We made it back right before it started raining heavily but had to wait for it to stop to make dinner. We though maybe it would be better since the temp dropped a little after the rain and we could sleep. Oh no. The mosquitoes came out with vengeance. After another horrible, sleepless night in the tent (actually I think I fell asleep for a couple hours) we woke up to find 15 very full mosquitoes in the tent. They were promptly killed for being so indulgent and I quickly got out of the hell tent, only to be attacked by damn sand flies! All over my legs I now have the painfully itchy red bumps I was so used to from La Senda Verde. 15 on one leg and 21 on the other. joy. We packed up and ran out of there as fast as we could to enjoy the pool at the hostel. 
all in all my view of Tayrona:
Junlge hike, cool
beaches...not the best i've seen (mexico!) but not bad. I think they were hyped up a bit much.
camping..horrible. unless you like sleeping in ovens. almost makes it not worth it. You can do a hammock with a mosquito net but I know I can't sleep a whole night in a hammock.
Maybe it's better if you bring a mosquito net and use it like a tent over some sleeping pads.

Next day we actually went back to the park but to a different beach on the other side and as a day trip. We went to Bahia Concha with some others as an organized trip from the hostel. We crammed 8 people into a six person van and drove 40mins to the beach. It was very tranquil there, not many people at all. It was a bay with calm waters and hills on both sides. We sat by the fishing boats under a tree and relaxed knowing we would be in a bed that night. Now we have 2 days to just chill at the hostel by the pool before going to Bogota. We will try to see Titanic 3D tonight at the theater across the street tonight, if it's in English and enjoy the rest of the trip!

Jungle hike

first view of the shore



Beach kitty at Bahia Concha

Bahia concha

Dreamer Hostel

Cartagena: old stuff and mud volcanoes

We only had planned one night in Cartagena, not knowing much about it, but as soon as we got there we wished we had more time. We were dumped off at a crappy bus terminal way out of town and had no idea where to go. We decided to try our luck with a city bus instead of taking a pricey taxi. City bus turned out to be a bad idea since it took way longer than we thought and once we got off we still had no idea where to go and ended up taking a taxi from that point. We did get to see the city though. The outskirts look like any run down town but as we neared the center we were driving with the Caribbean Sea on our left and an old wall that used to be part of the fort on our right. Took the taxi to the hostel (driver didn't even know where to go and had to ask two other people) and got our double room at the Casa Viena. The room was the only one in the hostel that had a balcony looking onto the street which was pretty awesome. We immediately signed up for the tour to go to the mud volcano 45 mins out of town. We had an hour to relax before the trip left at 1:30 PM.

At 1:30 a woman picked us up and took us to a van where we spent the next hour driving around picking up people from different hotels. Finally we were on our way and I passed out since I hadn't slept on the bus the night before (no surprise there). We arrived at the volcano which was smallish and had a lake behind it and some little stores around it. The locals, knowing tourists come here, have set up stands with food and drinks around the volcano as well as other ways to get money. On the bus our guide told us that for a fee we could hire someone to take pictures while in the volcano using our camera. Also you can get a massage inside the volcano and in the lake afterwords you can let a woman help you wash the mud off, all for a fee. Of course you are free to say no..or are you....
We knew it would be worth it to have someone take our pictures but the rest of the stuff we didn't need. So we gave our cam to some guy and went up the stairs to the volcano. I got in first, going down the wooden ladder into the mud. It wasn't cold or hot, just room temp, but the weird part was how buoyant you are in it! The guy helping me down the ladder put me on my back and floated me toward this other guy and i couldn't right myself up at all! Then Nick came in and a couple other guys started to massage us. Now we only brought a little money with us, just to pay the camera guy and get a drink and we knew at the end these guys would want money so we said no to the massage. The guys were just like 'tranquilo tranquilo' and continued to massage us. Nick kept saying no and finally was like 'ok fine but I'm not paying you!' The massage was quite nice though, maybe lasted 30 seconds and then they floated us away so they could massage the next person. Finally we were free to play in the mud and help each other get upright! We realized that by tucking your knees to your chest it helps you get in a vertical position. It was like being suspended in pudding or something, really cool feeling. After 20 mins we were told to get out and go to the lake. At the lake there were these kids wanting to wash your flipflops and the woman ready to go with their bowls to help get the mud off you. Nick and I dodged the woman and got behind the group. They kept yelling at us that we were to far out, but I think they just meant that we were to far away from them so they could get us to wash them. The lake was a really nice temp and it felt good to get the mud off my face.
All in all it was a nice experience up till the end when everyone came at you demanding money for the services they performed. Of course we paid the camera guy but we did not pay the massage guy. I know that they are trying to make a living buy they need to respect that if someone says no it means NO! We've been around too long to let them take advantage of us.
After getting back we walked around by our hostel, which is just outside of the old town, and got some dinner. We then walked around some more looking for fruit juice, I was soo thirsty! We ended up getting pineapple juice, then passion fruit juice, then water! The next day we walked around the old part of Cartagena before catching our bus to Santa Marta. The old town was awesome! It was kinda how I pictured Havana to be. It's surrounded by the old wall/fort used to prevent attacks back in the day and to enter it you walk through an archway. The buildings were so colorful and it just had a great vibe. I would have liked to have had a tour of it to know it's history, but we only had an hour before we needed to check out of our hostel and be on our way.

view from our balcony

mud volcano

first getting in

optional? massages

chillin in the mud, feet floating up

Big kitty at the hostel, he was deff 2x the size of my cats!

Cartagena old city

Our balcony

old city

view of new city from old city

the fort wall

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


ok. I've heard Medellin is a great place. It's got a metro, it's got many museums and many statues about the city, but we didn't see much of it. We were exhausted by a 21 hour bus ride from Ipiales to Medellin so the first day we stayed in the hostel (the wandering Paisa, great place). We decided to stay 2 nights (haven't done that in awhile, and the second day) we went out to unsuccessfully explore the city. I think we missed the good parts of it, in fact I know we did. There are eco parks and whatnot, cable cars and a planetarium but all we did was get lost in the center trying to get money exchanged and find food.
The night was more fun, we hung out at the hostel bar and had a free salsa lesson. Then when everyone else was hitting up the salsa clubs we went to bed because we're old.
The last day we sat around the hostel (catching up on the blog) while waiting for the night bus to Cartagena.

Crossing the Border: Eccuador to Colombia. and also Ipiales

After hearing that the border crossing is pretty sketch along the coast of Ecuador to Colombia we decided to do it from Quito. We took a five hour bus ride to Tulcano, stamped out of Ecuador with no line to wait in. Walked across a bridge and stamped into Colomia with no line to wait in, no paper to fill out, nothing. It was for sure the easiest border crossing we've done. If only it could be that easy for Nick to get into the States!
We then took a Taxi to the center of Ipiales because we heard there was a pretty cool cathedral outside of there called El Santuario de Nuestra SeƱora de las Lajas. It was being built from the 1940s till 70s so it's quite new as cathedrals go. We took a shared taxi from the center. It dropped us off at the top of the hill and we walked down a road, passing stands with all sorts of food, toys and religious paraphernalia. As we got closer the wall became crowded with plaques from families for dead members of the family or with prayers on them. The church itself was pretty impressive. There were two weddings just coming out as we got there, that was neat to see. We spent about half an hour there then went back and watched a movie in our cheap hotel.

Colomia welcomes us

crossing the bridge between countries

wall of prayers

inside catacombs

the church

Quito..time is running out!

We only spent one week in Ecuador and one night in Quito because we're on a mad dash to get to the North coast of Colombia to (more) beaches. Plus our flight out is at the end of the month. We didn't see much of Quito so I don't have much to write. The night bus was uneventful and we arrived at 4:30 am which was not the best time. Fortunately, we met a guy on our bus going to the same hostel as us (the blue house) so we shared a cab. Unfortunately, we didn't have a room till 12pm that day. The guy at the desk was really nice though and set us up with mattresses to sleep on till we could get into a room. At 7 am, though, was breakfast and it was getting noisy (the mattresses were right by the breakfast table) so they moved us to another room to sleep and finally at 10:30 we were moved into a dorm room with 8 beds. So three beds for the price of one! We were taking a bus out early the next morning to the boarder of Colombia, not much time to explore the city. What we did do though was rent a scooter and drive out to the equatorial line! Well Nick drove, I uncomfortably hung on the back.
This is the highest point that the equator passes through and in 1700 or 1800 something some french dudes came and built a statue where they thought it was. Now they've made a park around it called 'Mitad del Mundo' and next to that is a museum of the sun. We were headed for Mitad del Mundo but ended up at the sun museum and it turns out that the sun museum is really where the line passes through and the french guys were a little off. The museum was pretty interesting, it talked about the tribes that worship the sun and the natives who live in the Amazon near the equator in Ecuador. We also did experiments on the line like which way the water flows on what side of the line, balance and strength completely go away when your standing on it, and balancing an egg on a nail is apparently really easy to do while standing on the line. I couldn't but nick did it and became an egg champion. He got a certificate. We also got a stamp in the passport saying we went to the equator. Very enjoyable I'd recommend this place.
We then scooted back and got some dinner and went to bed. nice.

demonstration of guinie pigs being kept in a kitchen...for eatin

a shrunken head with instructions on how to do it

our rented wheels

Yay beaches!! Montanita, Puerto Lopez and Isla de la Plata and Canoa

I had been waiting for this for a long time...beaches! Our first stop in Ecuador was montanita, a surf town that was pretty touristy but had a good vibe. Since we arrived the sat before Easter Sunday the prices of everything were doubled and we were lucky to find a double room with bathroom for $10 each per night. We went to this hostel run by a Spanish woman and when she told us the price for her hostel we were like there anyway you can do us a deal? and she told us about this room that her family members had, the best part was we had the whole place to ourselves. We ended up staying two nights. Something about Ecuador I didn't know until 2 months ago was that they us USD as their currency which was weird but made it easy to figure out prices!
The montanita beach was a strange one because during high tide it would go all the way up the beach to where the streets started so sitting on it during high tide was not possible unless you rented a chair for $5. The waves were some of the highest ones I have ever seen (remember I'm coming from the Jersey shore here) and watching the surfers on them was amazing.
Next we went up to Puerto Lopez to see Isla de la Plata or 'Poor Man's Galapagos'. The island is named that because 1. When the natives looked at the island during a full moon all the bird guano would 'glow' like silver and 2. it's rumored that Sir Frances Drake had lots of pillaged goodies from the new world in his boat but was getting pursued and need to go faster so dumped all the treasure around the island so he could get away. Not sure which one is the true one but prob the bird poo one. The beach in the town of PL wasn't too nice but the waves much calmer than in montanita so it made for happier swimming, not just getting tossed about the whole time. We booked at island tour for $30 and the next day got on a boat with a family of Spaniards to head out. A boat had just come in with the days catch which included two big swordfish so all these people and sea birds were milling around looking to buy/steal some fish. The hole tour was just ok. Most of the trails on the Island were closed and all the birds were flying around the island so you couldn't really see them. We did see two blue footed booby's up close, one little fledgling that was standing on a stump flapping his wings practicing for flying saw us and immediately came up to us very curious. It was cute. They have no fear of humans because it's a protected place. After the tour (which was all in Spanish even though we were told it would be both, nick was not happy) we got to go snorkeling around the island . All the birds were flying above us and diving into the water for fish, it was pretty cool. We only stayed one night here in Puerto Lopez (we found a hotel for $3 a night! very basic), there is a national park next to it with nice beaches but we didn't end up going.
Our last beach stop before heading inland was Canoa. It took us 7 hours and 3 buses to get to it and it's not even that far away from PL on the map! This place was prob my fav because the sea was so warm and calm to swim in and the town was way better than Puerto Lopez. We found a nice hostel across from the beach where we stayed one night, two days and just enjoyed the beach.

sunset on montanita

night time on montanita

yummy fruit salad breakfast!

boat to take out to isla de la plata

sea birds flying around the island

on the island

the curious fledgeling booby


fish we would snorkel with

view from hostel in Canoa