Friday, June 28, 2013

Cartagena and Playa Blanca

After my volunteering didn't work out I was at a loss on what to do next so I got the bus back to Bogota. From here I spent a few hours on the internet looking for cheap flights to the Caribbean coast. I found one for the next day to Cartagena and booked it. Of course after I'd done that I actually found a few cool things to do just outside Bogota and had buyer's remorse. I could probably have stayed a few more days. Oh well, too late for that now.

The first thing you notice coming to Cartagena from Bogota is the heat. Bogota is pretty cold (like, normal cold, not Aberdeen cold) given it's location in the mountains. Cartagena on the other hand is still 30C at 3am and about a thousand percent humidity. It was a nice change.

I arrived at the airport and lined up to get some taxi ticket thing. This is actually good cos they print the price of the journey out for you so the cabbies don't rip you off (which they love doing over here). So I get in the cab and off we go. Then we get to area we are supposed to be in and suddenly the cabbie can't find the street. I'm like "I think it's that one" cos I can read.  But no, he gets out on three different occasions on the same block and asks three different people, including a bunch of guys just sitting around. I can see them all pointing in various directions and not having a clue. Anyway, we drive around some more (including back to where I said) but he goes too fast and we missed the hostel. Plus it doesn't have a sign out the front which didn't help. Then we drive around some streets which clearly aren't it and he tries to call the hostel but the number isn't working. Then we go to an internet cafe and it's exactly where I thought it was. So we go back to the street and I tell him I want to get out and walk to see if I can see the number. Of course I find it, and it was literally around the corner from where we were originally 45 minutes ago. Fucking cabbies. Most of them are so shit over here and half the time haven't got a clue where they are going unless it's the bus station or airport. And of course none of them have sat nav. Anyway, I think this guy wanted more money since some of them do deliberately drive around 'pretending' to be lost. Luckily for me, I had the right money, so he got the amount printed out on the piece of paper. Take that, shit cabbie!

The hostel was in the part of the city that I would describe as the Gold Coast (but with Darwin weather). There is even a building that looks like Jupiters Casino from a distance.



The thing about this part of the city is it's nice (the rich people live here) and feels very safe. The annoying part was you had to catch a bus in and out of the old town unless you wanted to die walking 45 minutes each way in the heat.

Then there's the poor parts of the city, which remind me of the Caribbean (which this is) or what I imagine Africa to be like. People just throw rubbish everywhere. It's odd, cos Cartagena has curbside rubbish collection, so basically the poor people are just being lazy.

This guy on top of the rubbish was eating watermelon from the skip. Mmm. Tasty.



I don't really have any photos from Cartagena that show the poverty as I only went through these bits on the bus. But the contrast between rich and poor areas in this city was quite alarming.

There's the old city. It is nice and safe and touristy.











Me being greatly overshadowed by some street performers.



I'm not sure what you are supposed to do with a big wooden penis except take amusing photos!



As you may be able to see, these are taken on different days. There was a big-arse storm brewing here.







This was the result when I got back down the Gold Coast end. Yep, crossing roads was fun (it really wasn't). Interestingly, for a city that I would assume regularly gets tropical storms, their drainage system was very average. 

And the power went out for a few hours.

As you can kinda see, no one in South America obeys stop signs. At best, they might give way.




The old city is surrounded by a wall. They also built a fort which you can get to from the city centre by walking through a dodgy part of town for a few hundred metres. I'm glad I had some mates with me for that, although it's probably fine during the day.



The fort had some cool tunnels. A lot of them are closed off now but you can still walk around some of them. Like most places in Colombia they smell like piss. You also need a torch to see where you're going.

We found some tiny bats in one of them.



The fort also had a massive Colombian flag.





And nice views of the Cartagena Gold Coast bit.



There are three vegetarian restaurants in the city centre and I ate at two of them. This one had a set lunch menu which was fine, nothing overly special. They also did empanadas (not vegan) and sold a bunch of other goodies including some vegan dips, which were excellent. I would love to get my hands on more of them.

The second place was a hare Krishna place that offers yoga and a cheap set lunch, which was yum. The best part about this restaurant is they offer you seconds for free! I love Hare Krishnas.



At the hostel, five of us sharing a room decided to go to Playa Blanca for a night or two. A Polish girl named Jolanda was the main motivator. She did all the research into getting there on the cheap, and her Spanish is excellent so she was not afraid to argue with all the lying locals who constantly tried to rip us off.

It took a while to get going while we waited for people to find ATMs that would work.



And then we were off on a bus through the shit part of town, through the industrial part of town, and finally arriving at the ferry. Of course once we got off the bus all the moto taxi drivers swarmed on us to take motorbikes at a rip off price to go five minutes down the road to the ferry. We walked but several of them rode beside us for a while hoping we'd change our minds. 

The ferry goes across a channel and takes about two minutes.



Then we got a jeep of questionable road worthiness to the beach!



The water was really warm and calm. Perfect for lazing around in without getting cold.



Like most beaches in South America you get no peace and people constantly walk up to you trying to sell you stuff at inflated prices. Some of it is useful, like fruit salad or cocktails, but some of it is really pointless. And after about five minutes it's all really annoying. However, three of us did indulge in 30 minute massages on the beach. Ben was offered a happy ending but I'm not sure how that works when you're lying on the sand surrounded by families.

After about 4pm when all the day trippers leave (so do all the people selling stuff), it is a lot quieter and the beach becomes really nice and peaceful.



On the first night, we stayed at Hugo's Place and I took a bed in a cabana (as opposed to a hammock).



We should have stayed here the next night (I'll get to that).

Jeremy and I enjoying happy hour!



There are a few beach dogs here. I feel so sorry for them as they all look severely underfed. There seems to be very limited supplies of fresh water here so they are all really thirsty as well. It rained one night and we collected water from the awnings for a few of the dogs. They drank like they hadn't had water in days (which they probably hadn't). I tried giving them a bit of food, but they didn't want veggie food.




The lack of water also meant there were no showers. Where we stayed we could take a 'shower' which involved them giving you about 2L of fresh water in a bucket in the evening only. Still, that was better than nothing.

On the second day, two of the boys left and Jolanda, Ben and I moved to another place down the beach that was cheaper. This was my first time sleeping in a hammock. It was terrible. I hate sleeping in hammocks.

A massive storm came in during the evening and about a million mosquitoes came out. This place had no mosquito nets over the hammocks and we all got eaten alive!



Skipping ahead, I met a guy in Santa Marta (the next destination) who was there when we were. He showed me his back and no part was bite free. It was insane. I have never seen anything like it.

I'm pretty sure they all breed in this swamp at the back of the beach. I also think this is probably where all the sewage goes. It's gross.


Anyway, back to the storm. The wind picked up massively in the middle of the night and I was absolutely freezing since all I had was a sleeping bag sheet covering me. The hammocks were undercover but you're still outside.

None of us got any sleep. It was horrible. And because we moved, we no longer had access to the bucket shower or toilets (unless you wanted to pay). So by day three I felt disgusting. Imagine sunblock on top of sweat, on top of repellent, on top of sea water. And I wanted to wash my hair like it was nobody's business. Urgh. I felt disgusting and just wanted fresh water again. I needed to get off the island!

Thankfully we left in the afternoon after finding a place way, way up the other end of the beach that made lentil burgers and massive jugs of fresh juice. It was a good veggie find but I don't know what it's called.

But getting the boat back turned into an ordeal. Some guy convinced us of a good deal on a speed boat that would take 30 minutes. Then the boat guys took our money and disappeared. Then we were not on the boat we thought and had to wait for the last boat which left about 30 minutes after the first one (which left late anyway - there was A LOT of dicking around). Finally we get on a boat and it stops at some place before Cartagena. Then the boat guys lied and said it doesn't go to Cartagena, but then it did. Seriously, what is wrong with these people? Why are they all scammers and liars? It's so frustrating. It's tiring arguing with these people all the time.

Anyway, after arriving back in Cartagena we said goodbye to Ben, and Jolanda and I got the fuck out of there. Next stop: Santa Marta!








Tuesday, June 25, 2013

San Gil

San Gil presents itself as the adventure capital of Colombia. It is kinda like Banos, in that you can go rafting, canyoning, paragliding, etc. However, I did none of these things. Not because I didn't want to, but I had a shitty cough and I didn't want the river water to make worse. Instead, I enjoyed relaxing for a few days. San Gil is very nice and has a good vibe.

The perfect breakfast spot on the hostel balcony overlooking the square.






The town.







One the things you can do is visit 'el Gallineral', a park in the town with some beautiful old trees covered in moss that give the place a Lord of the Rings feel.








The park was really nice to walk around. Like everywhere in Colombia, cops were stationed there. One started following me around asking me all the important questions like "are you travelling alone?", "do you have a boyfriend?". You know, information that is clearly important for national security. Seriously, I am getting sick of being asked these questions by every local man who speaks to me. I need some lesbian friends to travel with. Although, that might just encourage them more.

The natural pool (aka: dirty river water pool).



There were also some cool animals. 

I never know if squirrels are native or pests when I see them but they are cute.



This macaw seems stressed and has been picking the feathers on his chest. Poor guy :(



I don't know what these scary looking birds are.



But I saw them again on the walk up to the big cross. The bit on their heads makes them look like knights I think.





 Nice views back down over the town.




This is the main square, where all the trees are.




In terms of veggie places to eat, San Gil is fairly limited. I ate at Elementales on my last day, which I think had an all veggie menu. Regardless, it was really good. Most of the time I made stuff in the hostel kitchen. The fresh market in San Gil is excellent and very cheap.

I shared a room with some American guys for a couple of nights. They were cool and had a van and were driving around South America. Interestingly, this van had Czech plates on it, and looked like it had been doing the Gingo run for quite a while. How it ended up here and has changed owners several times, but European plates remain is a bit of mystery. Still, this is South America. It's not like moving interstate in Oz where you have to change your registration. On one the days, the boys decided to go Barichara, a nearby colonial town. We also rounded up some other Gringos they met drinking in another hostel and off we went. 

This canyon is rumoured (by one of the backpackers) to be the biggest outside of the Grand Canyon. I don't know if this is true or not (and I can't be bothered looking it up), but it was cool. This is where you do the paragliding too.



You can then do a two hour walk down the canyon to another colonial town, Guane.







Somewhere along the way we all got obsessed with taking photos of each other taking photos.






Both towns are very pretty and the walk was really nice, but when you've seen one colonial town, you've seen them all.

This dead bug and the crazy Swiss guys provided a few minutes of entertainment.




Time for a drink with my room mates while we wait for the bus back to Barichara. I had a beer while they had some horrible fermented corn drink. I think locals make it just to see if tourists will buy it. It was truly gross. And yes, two Asian guys and a blonde chick do get a lot of strange looks. 


The next day I headed further south to Duitama for a volunteering project. Sadly this did not work out and I did not stay in the area since it was expensive and not really set up for backpacker tourism. That said, there are two places I would still like to see but couldn't get to. If I end up back down that way, I will try and not be there on a long weekend when no hostels are available. 

So next blog post: Cartagena on the Caribbean Coast.