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Wednesday 3rd March 2010

Colombia

We arrived in Colombia quite exhausted after the Carnival festivities in Rio. Clarkey’s uncle Peter met us at the airport in Bogota and took us back to his apartment. After a couple of good sleeps we were back in the game and spent the next few days relaxing and exploring the city. Bogota is nestled amongst two arms of the Andes and is a very cool city. Everyone is so well dressed and the city has a very European feel to it. The temperature was usually around 20C which was a nice change from Rio.

We checked out the old city and also the art gallery which has quite a few works of Fernando Botero who is famous for his sculptures and paintings depicting objects that are larger (fatter) than life. We also caught the cable car up to Monserrate which is a small mountain overlooking Bogota with a church on the top. The views from the top were very spectacular indeed.

Another day we caught a bus to the nearby town of Zipaquira which is famous for its underground cathedral built in an old salt mine. You walk down an underground tunnel for a few hundred meters then it all opens up to reveal a magnificent cathedral! Quite amazing! I’d never seen anything like it before.

Bogota was generally very safe although we did stick to the nice areas and avoided the dodgy areas. It wasn’t unusual for people to stop and stare at us in the street. Peter and his girlfriend Lucia live in a very nice part of town in a secure apartment complete with gym and squash court (we made good use of the facilities). We didn’t have any problems during our time in Colombia but a story that Lucia told us about how some bandits threatened to kidnap her children only 3 years ago reminded us that the threat was still real.

Our next destination was the town of Santa Marta located in the North of Colombia on the Caribbean coast.  Santa Marta was quite poor and run down which was quite the stark contrast from the Bogota we experienced with Clarkey’s uncle. There are quite a few beggars and they hassle you while you are trying to eat your dinner.


Tayrona National Park was only a stone’s throw away, so we caught a bus there to check it out. We walked through the jungle for about and hour and eventually made it to the coast. The only wildlife we saw on the way was some monkeys. The beaches were quite spectacular and it was a beautiful day so we went for a swim. If we had know there were camping facilities there we probably would have stayed a night.

Another day we visited nearby Rodadero where we rented a little shade tent and chilled on the beach all day! Very relaxing indeed!

We found a cool bar and had a couple of fun nights out. Both times we ended up meeting some locals and having plenty of laughs. One night at dinner a local girl invited herself to our table. I saw it as a good opportunity to practise my Spanish so started firing questions at her but the situation turned awkward pretty quickly when she asked to have a sip of my beer, ate one of our slices of pizza and whispered some inappropriate comments in my ear. Funny stuff.

Cartegena was next on our list and the so called 4 hour “directo” shuttle service wasn’t very direct in the end and it took us most of the day to get there.

Cartegena is quite a large city with a very picturesque old town. Out first day was spent exploring the city and walking around the old town. There was an international film festival on so we checked that out as well. Saw a couple of “interesting” short films.

The next day we caught a bus to Volcan de lodo el totumo, a mud volcano. The “Volcano” actually looks more like a mound than a Volcano and instead of spewing lava, this volcano heats up mud. You ascend the stairs to the top and then there is a ladder that allows you to lower yourself in the luke warm mud. You get absolutely covered in mud, so you give your camera to one of the guys up the top and he takes photos of you while you are in there. There are also creepy looking guys waiting in the mud to give you a massage upon entry. I wasn’t up for a man-ssage but the girls on our tour who were got a little more than they bargained for .. hahaha. The mud volcano was like nothing I had ever experienced before, it’s extremely relaxing as you can either just lay back and float on the top of the mud or totally immerse yourself. Apparently there are over 50 minerals in the mud so it’s extremely good for you. After washing ourselves off in a nearby lagoon, we hopped back on the bus and stopped at a nice little fishing village for lunch.

Another day we caught a boat to Playa Blanca which the Lonely Planet described as one of Colombia’s most beautiful beaches. It was pretty nice but wasn’t worth the 2 hour boat ride each way. A better option would have been to get a speed boat there directly.

At the hostel in Cartegena we met an American bloke called Christian who over the last 14 months had cycled from Pantagonia in Southern Argentina all the way up to Colombia (12,000kms), and was continuing on through Central America. Quite amazing and inspirational!

Photo Gallery here:
http://www.danscapers.com/gallery/Colombia




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