Our first stop in Colombia was Medellin, a beautiful city which felt more European than anywhere we'd been for a long time!
It has to be said, one of the biggest highlights here was spontaneously being reunited with Jelly and Charlie, and who we managed to trick into spending the next couple of weeks with us from here. Ridculously good company from two reasonably ridiciulous girls!
The Pablo Escobar trip! Colombias most infamous drug lord ever lived here and made this the cocaince capital of the world at once point. It was amzing to do the tour and find out all the history behind it and how it all tied into football, and the ocuntries history etc. Even more amazing was going to his brother's house, meeting his brother and seeing all the gadgets they had in the 'safe house'. His brother was the accountant in all of Pablo's work, so was by no means innocent, and at one point had a very large reward for his head. He is very humble now and plays the 'poor reformed sinner' very well. As sceptical as we were about his actual state of poverty, we had an amazing time and learned loads too.
Gareth's Birthday! Whilst we were here Gareth turned 23, so we all went out for a meal and some cocktails in the centre of town. A great night with a horribly early start the next day to top it off!
During Gareth's supper we had asked the waiter to bring out a desert with a candle in it as it was his supper. They also played happy birthday over the sound system, which was really sweet until we realised they had put on a happy birthday remix cd with hundreds of different versions of the song, it certainly gets wearing after 10 verses!
Next, came the delights and wonders of our journey Capurgana. We stopped off in a couple of places along the way, and I'm not sure I could pick many 'highlights' of any of them so I'll be brief in my descriptions...
Monteria - a bus station with not much else there... expensive toilets but working cash points as a silver lining??
Turbo - the lonely planet says of Turbo 'Best seen from a rear-view mirror on your way out'. This is one of the few times where the lonely planet has got it bang on. It smells like it should be called Banos, looks like it should be called Banos, and we most certainly wished we didn't have to spend the night there. Unfortunately its the only place to get the boat from. We had a VERY dodgy Chinese, and didnt even look back as our boat left the port.
The boat to Capùrgana deserves a blog entry in itself. A two and a half hour journey on a speed boat. We were at the back of the queue as they call the Gringos last, and sat right at the front, with a row to ourselves. We were literally high fiving each other at how we had our own 'First Class' seats, and laughing at how al the locals had crammed themselves into the back when the front was so free. Never have I felt more stupid than when we realised that the boat was so bumpy it jars your whole body as it hits each wave, and the front is the very worst place to be. Jelly almost knocked herself out, and none of us could walk for two days afterwards due to extreme back ache. STUPID TOURISTS!
So we did, eventually, reach Capurgana, from which we visited Sapzurro and La Miel (in Panama so technically not part of this blog but making a guest appearance) during the days. And it was most certainly worth the trip!
The Beaches! La Miel, Sapzurro and Capurgana beaches are all beautiful and as yet not too full of tourists to ruin the really local vibe. You can spend almost all day on the beach alone, play volleyball with the locals and entertain Gareth with a ball whe he gets bored. Spectacular getaway places which really are off the beaten track.
The tiny town! It is so small that there are very limited places to eat, but all super keen to impress. They do have electricity intermittently during the day until midnight, and life is VERY slow!
The first hostel we stayed in here was owned by the nicest guy you'll ever meet. Really great and will go miles out of his way to get you what you want.... unless what you want is a good hostel. Within a few hours of being there Charlie had been concussed by part of the top bunk falling on her head, and our room was attracting all the insects in South America. We were pleased to move into a nicer hostel where we could sleep in proper beds, in Lord of the Rings themed rooms. The name of the hostel? Light of the Orient, the decor? Nautical. Confused but perfect for our needs!
During our stay here, it was my boyfriend, Matt's birthday and I wanted to give him a call as there was no internet in Capurgana to Skype. Everyone had told me that there was an international phone at one particular hostel so I set out to use that. When I got there and enquired however the phone was a girls blackberry that she had managed to link up to an international network... So after begging her to let me use her phone for an extortionate rate, she dialled the number for me and then wouldnt let me leave an answer phone message ad tried ot leave one herself! Bizarre, no idea why, and not sure it was the best money I have ever spent but hey ho!
We had heard good things about a beach a ten minute boat ride away from Capurgana called Bahia so paid a local to take us there one morning, and bartered on the price to get him to stay for as long as possible so we could have maximum beach time. When we got there however we foudn that there was no real beach, none big enough to fit four people on it anwyay, so we had to explain to our confused local friend that actually we didnt want to stay long at all. He told us he had a few things to do so to wait an hour... In line with our new found 'festival bod regime' we had a small exercise class on the lawn, very public, very embarrassing, but as Jelly kept saying, 'soon I'll be Britney'.
The journey to Cartagena was much less stressful, we had learned from out first mistake and sat at the back of the boat! The only small hiccup being a broken down bus on the way to Monteria... a problem solved by hitching a lift on a lorry filled with bananas, and for a short while Gareth and I too!
The Old Town! This colonial part of the city is really beautiful, and Charlie, Jelly and I went around it on a romantic horse and cart to get a feel for the place. Beautiful beach and port with little plazas of restaurants and cafes. Lovely!
The Hard Rock Cafe! The three of us really splashed out for one meal and had a three course meal here. It was worth every penny and every street food meal afterwards to make up for it. Charlie is officially addicted to burgers and enjoyed her last one here for almost three weeks, a serious challenge for her I promise.
Th Convent. Although not quite the ´finding myself´ experience expected of most travellers, the convent provided us with: beautiful views of the city, a friendly sloth, a taxi ride from Erick Morillo's supposed cousin (although still strangely unable to spell his name), perfect planking opportunities, special donkey sights and a really nice building!
Our horse and Cart tour guide. He was great, the clarity with which he read the names of the hostels and hotels we went past was superb. That was all we wanted him to tell us anyway....
The Volcano trip. With Cara having gone home, Jelly adopted her position in the team as the resident reluctant, and never was this more apparent than on the tour to the mud volcano. To be fair to her, it was the most budget thing I have EVER seen. A big mound with mud which rises from inside the ground. We climbed up the stairs to the top and were confronted with approximately 20 Colombians in a ten meter squared pool of mud. Jelly nearly cried as they lowered her in and moved her to her allocated position (the sensation inside the mud is very odd, you can´t touch the bottom and moving is very difficult!). They charged extra for a shower afterwards so we washed in the lake and went home. It was hilarious from start to finish, if only because of Jelly´s apparent desire to punch someone.
From here we moved on to Playa Blanca, a beach a boat ride away from Cartagena with very basic facilities for overnight accomodation!
The beach! Long thin white sands with plam trees all around and not enough tourists to ruin the ambience. Pure paradise!
The hammocks! The ´hostel´we stayed in had, quite simply, four hammocks on the beach front with a very questionable toilet a bit further back. Sleeping on the beach and waking up to the waves crashing was literally post card perfect.
The Beach games.... With two in our midst Harry Potter obsessed we played games involving the 'golden snitch' (tennis ball), and fighting eachtoher in the sea to be the catcher of the snitch. We also played lots of other ball games, needless to say Jelly was NOT a fan, so Gareth buried her!
The rum fuelled evening.... for Gareth. After our supper we had a few bottles of rum on the beach in the very bright moonlight. Gareth drinks faster than us girls but on this occasion went all out... He did not have any problem getting to sleep that evening, on the table or on the hammock! After our drinks we all decided it would be a great idea to have a swim in the sea, it was VERY cold and is much nicer in the day time!
From here we moved on to Taganga for a day before heading into the National Park!
Predictably by now, the beach! It was stunning and hot, I've really run out of ways to describe nice beaches so just take it from me it was beautiful!
Babaganouche the restaurant. A fabulous set menu for the evening with a super long happy hour. Definitely a highlight, especially with such a cracking white chocolate mousse to finish!
Banana Boating! In Taganga you pay per fall from the banana boat! We should have known when we paid for three that we wouldnt last long! They throw you off with such force that the three of us were in pain for a long time afterwards!
The Pasta Sauce! We had heard that at our next destination food was very expensive so we made to most of the supermarket here and stocked up on meals for the next few days. We made a pasta sauce to feed the five thousand (or us for the next four days) and then confronted the issue of carrying it with us for the duration of the journey. We sat wiht it on a bus, took it through a security check, and trekked for an hour with it along the world´d muddiest horse track. It was definitely worth the one thousand pesos (less than 50p) we saved per meal in the end...
The walk through Tayrona National Park was most certainly worth it, although it is also a nightmare to get away from!
I would promise to stop saying it but I would be lying, the beaches! A walk away form our jungle campsite, the beaches were fab with lots of rocks for climbing, and really warm sea!
The campsite! Don Pedros is really great. Weirdly, for the middle of the jungle, no one gets bitten there when staying in hammocks even without mosquito nets, it has great facilities and we were told the food is awesome (not bitter at all). We stayed up one evening with Don Pedro´s grandson who now runs the place, and he is incredibly generous with his rum and loves chatting and partying with any gringos who are keen.
The pan au chocolats! We had read in the Lonely Planet that there were Panaderias here that did great loves with melted chocolate running through them, naturally we had to sample them and they are DIVINE! Too big, very gooey but an incredible way to break the 'festival bod' diet!
On entry to the park, our bus driver asked the bus if anyone had any alcohol on board so he could declare it as we entered. Being the cheapskates we are, we had bought our own rum to take in instead of paying the inflated park prices! Embarrassingly, we were the only people on the bus to say yes, and then had to hand it all forward. Oh the awkward, 'wait, theres more' moment.
The wasp mugging. Almost. For those of you that know me well, you may already know by now this is a slight exaggeration. But I did get stung by four wasps at the same time, two on my head, one on my back and one on my finger. I clearly do not have good bug Karma in life, this trpi they have truly gotten their own back!
Our first real Carribean storm experience! On our second day on the beach we saw a proper storm as we huddled in the restaurant. Rain like I've never seen and an unbelievable amount of lightning. Horrendous, but when swimming in the sea in it, the water feels much hotter! It aslo made the walk home thorugh what were previously streams interesting. Bags on heads and wading up to our shoulders!
It was here that we left Jelly and Charlie to begin our journey to get on a boat to go to Panama. We had the most incredible time with them, despite having a rather large language barrier (they are from London!), and were gutted to leave them!