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

Trying to get into Ecuador during semana santa. If only we knew!

We messed up. We messed up by not realizing that semana santa, Easter week, was upon us while we were traveling to the coast where everyone and their mom's dog wants to go for their vacation. We came back from Huanchaco thinking that we could get on a bus out of Trujillo to the top of Peru that same day. Oh how wrong we were. We got to the bus station (once again many small ones instead of one main one) to find it packed with people and all the buses up north sold out. We walked around to every bus company we could find and heard the same story.
We ended up buying a ticket up to Piura for the next day and from there we would get into Ecuador. We spent the night in Trujillo (would not suggest it, not the best looking place) and another night in Piura because once again the buses into Ecuador were all full. Piura wasn't to nice either but we did stay in a hostel for cheap and it had a aviary in it. Finally the next day we had a night bus into Ecuador. We were told it would be a semi cama nice bus but when we got on it it was a normal not nice bus. We were pissed because we payed for a nice bus so right before we pulled out a ran inside and was able to get some money back! The bus ride sucked. The driver was blasting music the whole night and the seats were not comfy and the guy behind me kept putting his knee into my back. The border crossing, though, was very easy and at 1am we were officially in Ecuador and on our way to the beach!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lima and surfing in Huanchaco

 Ok. I've learned something while traveling. We haven't had any trouble (other than the tarp) with people stealing from us, but I am still missing things, and it's myself that is the culprit. So far, I have lost/left somewhere my raincoat, my sunglasses I bought 2 days before, a headband I bought an 2 hours before losing, a hairclip I bought before breaking it the next day, a little notebook with important things inside like passwords, and , the worst one, my frickin glasses!!! and the case!! I left them on the bus from Cuzco to Ica (Huacachina) and tried really hard to get them back but I can safely say they are for sure gone. I asked the bus company in Ica but they said, since that bus ended in Lima, to go there. Went to the company in Lima and asked someone who directed me to someone else who directed me to 3 teens who just laughed when I asked because they probably didn't know what I was talking about and this being South America of course there is no lost and found!! I even went back the next day and talked to the manager!! So now I am stuck with my old glasses that make me look like I have lizard eyes >:( why couldn't I have lost them and not my new ones that change to sunglasses in the sun and are a better prescription!!

First off let me start by saying that we had heard that Lima was a dirty, boring place with nothing to see but we decided to go anyway, just for a night. It is a big place and we stayed in Miraflores which is a nice, chuchi part but a 45 min bus ride to the center. Although, other than some historical stuff, everything one would need is in Miraflores..even some Incan ruins! We were going to stay for two nights but the hostel we found only had a room for one night and all the others in the area were expensive so we stayed for one night. The first night was a Sunday so big hang out night in the plaza of Miraflores. It had a great vibe to it, there were people out walking and people selling their wares and even a Brazilian drum band performing. The next day we headed into the center to see the plaza and San Fransisco cathedral where you can get a tour of the where the monks lived and the catacombs under the church. On the way into the centro we had to get off the bus and buy a bus ticket to Trujillo, unfortunately there is no central bus station so not easy to shop around when all the different bus companies are spread apart. We hopped back on a bus and checked out downtown. It wasn't bad at all. The church tour was good and the catacombs were creepy, the streets were clean and it was a nice day. We found Lima quite pleasant. These people must have never been to Asuncion!! We left that night on a bus to Trujillo and from there we would head to Huanchaco, a surf beach town.

Huanchaco is cool because the fisherman still use reed boats that their ansestors used to fish back in the day. I like that. It's a nice little town where people go to surf or learn to surf. I didn't find the beach that appealing to swim on though and the ground under water is pretty rocky according to nick who had a surf lesson. I sat on the beach and watched. Not a bad deal though, $14 for a 2 hour lesson and rental of the board and wet suit for the day. If we stayed longer maybe I would have tried it! We only stayed for a night though in a hostel that was 10 soles, a little more than $3 (yay budget!) but we needed to move on and get into Ecuador!

Taking feeding birds in the park to a whole new level in Miraflores

the Brazilian drumming


a statue dedicated to shoe shiners

the main plaza

San Fransisco

the catacombs where practically all of Lima was buried back in the day

the reed boats in Huanchaco

drying the fishing nets

going out to sea, kneeling on the top and using a bamboo stick cut in half

Nick surfing