Ninja turtles packed and reporting for border crossing duty at 6.30am! As an increasing, underlying sense of anxiety regarding the day ahead came over us. We booked a taxi at reception for 07.00am, enabling us to be the first in line when the crossing opened at 07.30am. Picking up a hint of disapproval from the man at reception for such an early morning request, we shrugged off his bad temper and headed for breakfast. After describing endless breakfasts in my previous blogs I won't bore you with the usual, but any breakfast spread I have described could never come close to the one currently before us. The only problem was breakfast clearly wasn't open yet as the endless platters were sealed air tight to avoid any vultures, such as ourselves, delving in before the time was right. Yet, looking at our clocks, the time was right and in fact 10 minutes past being right which annoyingly meant we only had 15 minutes until our taxi arrived. The kitchen staff were nattering away which only added to our impatience, so between us we gave the ladies such daggers that they allowed us to tuck in. As we filled our pockets with all kinds of cuisine we heard the dreaded car horn and unsatisfied, we headed out to the taxi.
We requested to our driver to be taken to the border as we wanted to cross into Leticia. "Leticia, sí" he nodded and off we went. The roads were bare only for the odd stragglers that were in need of a good wash and the token rabies-infested street dogs. We sat tight for five minutes, nervous that every bend would produce a snaking queue to the spine tingling border crossing. As another five minutes passed our driver turned to us, and pointing out the window, exclaimed "Leticia". We searched the streets for the border crossing and the essential military forces that guarded them but there was no crossing or human in sight. Yet as we looked closer at the shop signs speeding past us we soon noticed they were written in Spanish and just like that we had arrived in Leticia, Colombia. Within moments, we had pulled up to our hostel and both registering the fact we were illegally trespassing on Colombian soil, sheepishly paid our driver and rang the bell on the door. A grunt from behind unnerved us and when the door swung open the expression on the guy's face looked the same as a students when being woken early. After explaining our situation, the guy shook his head and laughed. Firstly he highlighted, our clocks were an hour fast, it was in fact 07.00am - This would account for the slow breakfast service we must have demanded at 06.15am. Secondly there was no border crossing, only an immigration office that didn't open until 08.00am - This would account for the easy, but illegal entry access we had just made into Colombia. Although, feeling foolish and apologetic for the early morning disturbance, I couldn't get my head around the fact that there wasn't a border between two countries that were very integral in the thriving narcotic industry in South America. Yet as George reminded me, unless you were willing to traffic the drugs across either side of the Amazon until you reached the mainland then really there wouldn't be much point. Despite that, knowing that this straightforward crossing was possible, definitely offered up an explanation as to why both of these two border towns felt shady and unsafe.
The good news in all this mix-up was that we had to make a quick trip back into my favourite Brazil to visit the immigration office. Already confused by the mix-up of two languages in my head, I was further confused when one moment I was paying for a taxi in Spanish but then after crossing an imaginary line was now purchasing a bottle of water in Brazilian. Bilinguals I take my hat off to you, I sure won't ever be one! After eventually gaining our stamp in the immigration office, our departure was now official and we strode forward onto the next chapter of our adventure. Our one evening in Leticia was pretty unexciting apart from, to my delight, I discovered the infamous Indian Tuk Tuks were also used as a means of transport in parts of Colombia, which we made full use of for an hour or so.
The following morning, George and I fell victim to a tropical bug (or an abrupt return of the parasite from our Manaus burgers). We decided the best way to escape the sickly heat was to arrive at the airport early and make use of the cool interior. How wrong we were! Leticia airport was almost as small as our first apartment in Waverley House, with two rickety wooden fans that made you feel sick just hearing them. As I lay on three seats that could allow me to uncomfortably recline horizontally, I began to feel extremely disorientated and dizzy. What felt like hours passed and eventually we were called to board the flight through a small door that I imagined led out to the plane. I had been lay under a large board that, below a list of medical ailments, read "If you experience any of these symptoms please consult the airline before boarding" and unfortunately as time passed I could tick almost all of them. George understood the predicament and whispered "hold it together" as I nearly lost my balance whilst handing over my boarding pass. Selfish or not, I couldn't bear to talk to anyone and the thought of being trapped in this condition, in this heat, was unbearable. As guessed there was near to nothing in terms of security levels and thus my initial concern at the lack of border crossing was heavily reinforced by the suspected ease one could get almost anything onto the plane into the mainland. The flight to the capital city Bogota passed quickly and I asked George if he minded booking a hotel for that evening. We were supposed to be staying with Conor and Will and after a long awaited Birmingham reunion, there would definitely be a party in order that night that I couldn't begin to face. George, also feeling extremely unwell happily agreed and we made a quick selection on booking.com and jumped in a taxi eager for a bed.
Our first impressions of Bogota was that it was a huge, overwhelming and overcrowded city and the location we were dropped off in was described by our taxi driver as 'dangerous' - perfect. But at that moment we couldn't care less about the outside world and were thrilled to close the door on our hotel room and jump into bed. However as we went to pull the blinds down we noticed a few females loitering on the corners and through the night guessed we were in the prostitution area. After being told a hotel jacuzzi was situated in 'room 101' we quickly altered any intention we may have of having a relaxing bathe, to avoid a Hugh Hefner soirée only with less attractive bunnies. What we didn't realise is that we were in the 'prime' prostitution district and rising the next morning assumed the world was set for a normal Monday morning. Yet clearly prostitution is normal in Colombia as every possible size, shape, race, age and gender (or cross) paraded themselves down the street. A handful were lucky, the majority ignored but either way we felt a little better and were glad of some entertainment to pass the morning by.
Due to Tamara's 3 week absence from the trip, it is my pleasure to inform you on all things Bogotá. Kicking things off with a quick word association, here are all the words that spring to mind when I reflect back on my month in Colombia's capital; grey, wet, cold, hostile, seedy, dangerous, dirty. I can't say my month in Bogotá was the best of my life; this may be attributed to the abysmal weather, absence of soul in the city and being chased through the streets by a maniacal crackhead. However, I would be lying to say there were no good times whatsoever. To save our blog audience from a depressing recount of all things bad, I will omit these parts and simply say I spent most of my time buried in my iPad, attempting to craft brooding techno tracks whilst I quietly yearned for Tamara's return. But now, on to the good!
Meeting up with Conor had been an eagerly anticipated milestone in our travels. With both of us having lived with him for 2 years of our uni life, we were keen to meet up with a familiar face once again. To make things better, our other former housemate, Will (who we had met up with in Rio) was also currently attempting to forge a living in the cold streets of Bogs. Both of them had taken up the career of being an English teacher, Conor already had 1 and a half years experience in the job, meaning they were reluctantly forced to choose accommodation fitting for their Colombian wage packet. Residing in something akin to student halls, we arrived at their apartment to greet them and were surprised to find 6 Venezuelans also taking residence at the location. It seemed their salaries permitted them only a poky room with a shared kitchen and 2 shared toilets. Despite their humble abode, the welcome was warm and everything we expected it to be. With Conor and I exchanging greetings, we both immediately proceeded to inform the other that they looked much different, I had finally filled out and he was looking much more trim. Due to Conor's seemingly difficult shift pattern, 7-10am & 3-8pm, we were only able to hang on for him for a few hours in his midday break but that didn't stop us heading out with Will to explore the surrounding area. To my joy and eventual demise, I was initially excited to see that a McDonalds and a Subway were one block round the corner. Furthermore, it seemed that Bogotá's own beer brewery had set up a handful of tiny bars around the city offering their multiple variations of the ubiquitous cerveza, these provided the perfect environment for stories to be traded between the four of us as we caught up on tales of old. Tamara and I spent the next few days getting to know the area and catch up with Conor whenever we got the chance until Tamara unfortunately had to leave the party for her university interviews.
As mentioned previously, I filled my time waiting for Tamara by proceeding to make 6 songs in the 3 weeks that she wasn't there. Despite the excessive lounging around in Conor and Will's apartment, we did actually do something. Due to the high percentage of Colombians following the Catholic faith, Easter was kind of a big deal. The Easter holidays in Colombia are better known as La Semana Santa - The Saint's Week. Instead of an Easter bank holiday, they instead take Thursday, Friday and Monday off work. To top this off, many of the work shy Colombians decide to book the preceding Mon, Tues and Weds off work giving them a full week of holidays. Settling in to the Colombian way of life, Conor had already cancelled all of his classes in preparation and it had been decided that a group of 9 lads would go to a finca (a countryside estate). Combining 2 other old uni friends and a few other English teachers Conor had become friends with, we booked ourself 2 nights in an estate for a mere £10 per night. With our bags packed on Saturday night in Bogotá, we caught what will now be known as the worst overnight bus in the history of buses. Upright seats, Colombians chanting until 3am, needing a wee every 5 minutes having paid a visit to the pub before the bus, Conor taking liberties with seat space and much, much more made this trip to Cali a soul destroying experience.
Once in Cali, we met up with the crew and made our way to the finca. The house itself was rather dated and felt like stepping into a time machine but the party wasn't in the house, it was definitely outside. Facilities and attractions of the house included a huge pool (fit with water feature and hot tub), an unforgiving wonky pool table, a ping pong table and a game that involved throwing balls at a metal frogs head (still not sure what this was about). In true lad fashion, we all quickly grabbed a chair each, got the tunes on and proceeded to get started on the 120 beers we had bought in preparation. The day proceeded as such as we all had a few casual games of ping pong or pool whenever we felt it was necessary to get up from our designated chairs. Being a group of 9 lads however, it appeared we had lacked a certain degree of foresight, failing to realise that there was no food for miles. With all food money spent on beer, we suddenly realised our problem the following day. Stupidly trusting in Conor to sort the situation out, I gave him what little money I had left and requested some food and water. What came back was, in a way, correct but not quite what I had in mind. Conor arrived with a packet of lime flavoured crisps and a 300ml bottle of water, declaring that it was actually okay to drink the tap water here. Not trusting anything Colombian at this point, I resigned myself to my packet of crisps (which eventually were eaten by someone else, as I left them on the side for a moment) and grabbed myself an early night. The following day I paid for my laziness. The headache to end all headaches gripped like a vice around my head with every movement causing a pulsating effect that hindered my progress with every step. The car journey back over a dirt track certainly did not help the situation but we were soon back in civilisation and I pounced on the first 3L bottle of water I found.
With the finca done and a few more tunes made, the day rolled around when Tamara finally returned. Ditching the shared apartment as soon as I could, I raced over to the luxurious Casa Dann Carlton hotel. As a welcome back treat, we were put up for our remaining time in Bogotá in one of the cities finest hotels. The available facilities included a gym, rooftop jacuzzi, pool, hot tub and spa. Despite this plethora of options, we decided to utilise the most important of all hotel facilities - the rom service. With the menu being reasonably priced for Colombia and pretty exceptionally by European standards, we attempted to work our way through the menu during our 4 night stay. With Tam back I instantly felt my spirits lift and we both decided to give the historic district of the city a chance. After a trip up the cable car to the lofty Montseratte cathedral, we headed back down just in time for a monstrous storm to begin. Attempting to flag down any taxi that drove past we eventually caught one willing to stop for 2 soggy gringos. Our suspicions should have been roused when he began his over friendly charm began to show as he engaged in pointless conversation. After dropping us off in front of the most popular tourist destination in Bogotá he eventually made his move. With the meter reading 10,000 Colombian pesos, we offered a 20 thousand note. Claiming he had no change he quickly began snatching notes from the seat, saying he saw a way how the change would fit. I quickly refuted this and asked for the notes back which he had taken only to be met with the classic response, 'what notes?' A shouting match ensued in Spanish but the confrontation ended in us down by £6 in total, we cursed the taxi driver and with both clothes and spirits dampened we decided the best move would be to get back to the safety of our hotel room.
Our final send off to Bogotá was styled to suit our company and our needs. On our last Saturday in the rainy city, we discovered that an American house duo of particularly notoriety were playing in one of Bogotá's best underground clubs. Finding out about this only on the night, the four of us anxiously looked at one another, not wanting to be the first to say the lethal combination of words that would set us off into the night. With a little deliberating on the pros and cons it was quickly decided that we would see what Bogotá had to offer the international clubbing scene. We arrived at the club at around midnight and made our way through the queue to pay the pricey entrance fee. It appeared Bogotá thought style in clubbing was important as we entered the very boutique club. The night was like many others we had experienced in each other's company, 4x4 house rhythms accompanied flashing strobes and over priced drinks. If I shut my eyes, I felt as if I could have been back in Birmingham. With Will going missing several times due to his sudden attraction to the Colombian girls, it was left to Me, Conor and Tamara to hold down our position in the centre of the dance floor. Despite my distaste for Bogotá I couldn't help but love the club and we found ourselves still moving and shaking as the lights began to switch on. It was a perfect club night and I had to tip my hat to the organisers.
Our final two nights were spent in the hotel as we recovered from our overexertion on the Saturday but we ensured we made use of all facilities. Upon reflection I must say I was upset the city had jaded my reunion with Conor, often dampening my spirits when I began to miss Tamara but looking back on the good times and ignoring the bad I can't say I left the city empty handed.
Desperate to escape the grey clutches of Bogotá, we hastily jumped aboard one of the better buses South America had to offer. The service included (actually) fast wifi, unlimited films in English and super reclining seats. The journey was set to take around 7 hours before we arrived in the village of San Gil. The quaint pueblito, set in the foothills of the Andes, had been in the throes of an identity crisis in recent years as it had begun its transformation from a sleepy town to Colombia's adventure sport capital. Activities such as white water rafting, paragliding, mountain biking and horse riding had all become staple pastimes on the gringo trail as scores of adventurous travellers dared to test themselves against the rugged terrain San Gil had to offer. The town itself consisted simply of a main plaza, with an impressive cathedral and no more than 20 surrounding blocks. Shops lined its colonial streets, with all types of produce available to buy, whilst street vendors attempted to flog their wares, creating a varied consumer market for locals and foreigners alike to spend their coffers. One of the towns signature features was its devilishly steep roads, the incline was steep enough to invoke a thick film of sweat on one's brow should they attempt to scale the street too quickly; we soon learnt the locals trick of ensuring we merely strolled from one destination to another, slowing the pace of life right down. With all bags off the bus and loaded into the taxi, we muttered the name of our hostel to the driver and sped off into the night. Having experienced the thieving elite of the Bogotá taxi world, I was somewhat dubious as to the mans honour. I tentatively requested the price at the beginning of the journey and upon hearing it was the equivalent of £1, sat back into a journey of tranquility knowing that all I had to worry about now was a rogue donkey in the middle of the road.
We arrived at our hostel around 21:00 and were warmly welcomed by its French owner. Having been shown to our room after a quick tour of the facilities, we settled into our private room (we still weren't prepared for social reintegration) and began researching what San Gil had to offer. Having gained my first proper experience of downhill mountain biking on the infamous Death Road in Bolivia, I was keen to see what another country had to offer in terms of adrenaline pumping cycling. My eyes had been set on a certain company who had received multiple awards and reviews on TripAdvisor for their outstanding tours and service, Colombian Bike Junkies. Enticed by the name of their business, I knew they wouldn't just offer a run of the mill ride. Whilst the Death Road was exhilarating in its fast turns and rocky descents it didn't offer the challenge of the 'single track'. For the non-bikers reading this blog, a single track is any terrain deemed too dangerous or impossible for two bikes to complete at the same time. The tracks we attempted during our trip included the narrow peaks of solidified sandstone, uneven boulder passages and further uneven rocky passes. Having had no experience of single track riding in my life, I failed to take into account that less is more when it comes to speed on these incredibly technical lines. Seeing myself as the experienced rider, most certainly quickest on the downhills, I took it upon myself to attempt each single track first and proceeded to make a hash of it as my unchecked speed consistently lead me to a pile of bones and bike in the dirt. Undeterred by the crashes, I proceeded to push my bike to its limits, always keeping up with the leading guide and rarely sparing a thought for the slow mules behind me. The day was professionally split up into distinct sections, downhill gravel roads and single track, lunch, more gravel and a dream piece of tarmac followed by some very testing single track and finally cross country. As you could all expect, upon hearing we had 'cross country' to finish the day, I dug my heels in. I had specifically signed up to complete the course that required no physical exertion and only required that gravity do the hard work of getting the bikes moving. However, it seemed that the company had other ideas and had changed the trip from the one I had requested to another option at the whim of the other individuals embarking on the tour. Aside from this, the day had been perfect, a particular highlight being a lunch stop on the river bank beneath a towering bridge. Returning to our hostels at around 18:00, having spent the whole day on the bikes, it appeared I took home more than memories from the trip as Tamara gasped at the impressive array of cuts, bruises and grazes I had acquired in my multiple crashes. Good job those teeth are still in order..
Whilst I was busy throwing myself around the Colombian countryside, Tamara had opted for a more tranquil alternative, just outside of San Gil lay a network of natural swimming pools that were available to visit free of charge. Having been given a lengthy set of instructions on how to reach the pools, I feared Tamara's navigational skills may fail her. With visions of her aimlessly wandering the wilderness, I was relieved and somewhat surprised to see her back in the hostel room upon my return. After telling the story of each of my bruises, I sat down and listened as Tamara regaled me with her story of adventure. To reach the natural pools, Tamara first had to take a local bus from the very local bus station to a nearby village, so small it may not have even had a name. From this point followed a 40 minute hike 'past the church' after which she had to 'take a left'. By some miracle, the directions were followed and Tamara arrived safely, the pools were empty and Tamara began to kick back and relax, basking in the sun whilst reading a novel. It was only after a few moments that she realised that she was not the only one enjoying the pools that day as across the water she spotted an ageing man. With no cause for concern, Tamara continued to sunbathe and enjoy the beautiful surroundings but suddenly became unnerved as she began to sense a pair of eyes beating down on her. It appeared the old man was a little fascinated by Tamara's presence, whether it was due to her female or gringo nature, we will never know but it was safe enough to say, Tamara did not hang around long enough to find out. With her shoes on in a flash, she hastily returned to the unnamed village and caught the next bus back to San Gil.
With time to kill on our last day, we decided to check out the last of San Gil's attractions. Despite being a small village, the townsfolk of San Gil are able to boast a beautiful natural reserve found just outside of its limits. With a small entrance fee to pay for entering the reserve, we bumbled past the ticket gate and strolled through into natures open arms. The reserve may have been mistaken for a park due to the paved paths leading to all corners of the area however, with wild flora and fauna begging for attention, the unkempt beauty of nature shone through and gripped our attention. Wandering through the reserve, we encountered many beautiful areas, all secluded from the main pathways they offered us romantic moments of privacy. A particularly memorable spot was a rocky area by the river, climbing over stepping stones and inevitable getting stuck led to great laughs as we wondered how we would get ourselves back on to dry land. The day was completed with a full lunch at Gringo Mikes where I polished off a 1/2 pound burger in 3 minutes flat, setting me up for the overnight bus journey to Minca.
Alas, seven months into our trip and finally a night bus that was both comfortable and quiet enough to at least sleep a couple of hours. At 6.00am we should have soon be pulling into Santa Marta and as George covered his face with his hood, closing his eyes within moments the bus stopped and the driver shook him to tell him we had arrived. Half-asleep we grabbed our bags and noticed we hadn't arrived at a usual bus station but instead pulled alongside a petrol station on a busy main road. The usual chorus of taxi drivers and hostel owners shook us from our daze followed by the tiresome pushing and pulling of desperate business men trying to earn their way. Our initial driver yelled to us and pointed at a local bus passing by but amidst the chaos we darted the crowds and headed towards a young man sat inside a TukTuk. We needed to get a shared taxi to Minca (our next destination) whose taxi station was situated in Calle 11 con Carerra 12, a cross junction between two streets in a marketplace. Cramming our bags into the impossibly small back seat we were soon aware this wasn't the most practical method of transport. However as a tuktuk has no windows, it allowed us to catch our breath in what we could already tell was going to be a horrifically humid city. The driver firstly took us to an ATM so we could get a sufficient amount of money for Minca (which lacked any ATMs) and then headed to the cross junction. Despite there being a small market nearby our destination led to a dead-end road with no one in sight. Our driver shrugged and spent the next ten minutes driving around and asking local taxi drivers if they knew where 'Estacion de minca' was. Gormless faces and hands pointing in all different directions confirmed no one had a clue, and at 6.30am we were hot, tired and bewildered. Our instructions were clear and simple and Minca was a tourist hotspot, how could no one know how to get there? Our driver had run out of options and he cut out his engine before pointing to a small local bus, the same bus we had seen when we first got off our main bus. Without time for debate an efficient man grabbed us and almost pushed us onto the bus shouting in our ears "Santa Marta, Santa Marta". As we squashed ourselves amongst the locals (with me nearly crushing a poor boy's art sculpture) and spent the next 45 minutes utterly perplexed at the situation, it soon dawned on us that we were never in Santa Marta, but in fact an unknown town 20km away. The overnight bus may have been comfortable, but a reliable transportation to our paid destination - certainly not. Eventually as the bus drained with passengers on their way to work, we were then dropped off on the side of a major highway (again not where we needed to be) but at least the chorus of motor taxis was positively shouting "Minca". A taxi driver and a moto-taxi driver pounced in for the kill, both making ludicrously costly requests. There was no way a moto-taxi could take us up the mountain with our turtle shells but George had managed to do a deal and with his love of moto-taxis I knew this was now a done deal. We both apprehensively jumped on a bike each with bags flying all over the place and the calm, unfazed expression on our drivers faces made me laugh - it's these moments that aren't necessarily safe but are the most memorable, chaotic and amusing moments you will experience whilst travelling.
For me personally, I can't say the journey to Minca was especially enjoyable. As my poor moto-taxi struggled around every steep, winding bend, I tried to focus on the beautiful mountainous scenery before me rather than the fact my huge backpack was pulling both my driver and I nearly off the seat. As George sped ahead I relaxed knowing he was having the time of his life which he confirmed by his huge beaming grin once we had finally, thankfully, reached the top. 600m up into the mountains of Sierra Nevada above Santa Marta we had arrived in the small town of Minca, a hotspot for early nights, birdwatching, coffee and organic meals. We followed the instructions to Casa Loma Hostel which directed us behind the small white church and up the hill for ten minutes. Easy we thought, but again we thought wrong. With no exaggeration, the trek up to the hostel was one I imagine they could use for SAS training. As we passed tree-houses and huts we were relieved to have arrived, only to be repeatedly told by a man below to keep going upwards. Sweat poured off us and George in front had stripped to the last remaining garments that provided some dignity for our arrival. After a few more fundamental pauses and a few non motivational small signs saying "keep going"/"your almost there" we had finally made it - sweaty, speechless and shattered we flung ourselves on the sofa closest to the entrance. It took us a while to compose ourselves and as we looked up we could see the grins on the other guests faces. Amusingly you could laugh and pity anyone that had just walked up that hill but when it was your turn to do it, it sure was anything but a laughing matter. The check-in staff were straight on the case, offering us water and a breakfast menu. As you know for the Wozzles, food makes the world a much better place and instantly we were in a much better mood. I ordered us two egg sandwiches and as we waited for check-in to open we had an explore of the site.
Casa Loma ('house on the hill') is owned by a man from London (Jay) and a lady from Germany (Anne) who invested in the land several years ago. Deciding to build, they hired locals to assist in bringing everything up the hill and even building a pathway. After you realise every building around you, every ingredient for the meals and drinks for the bar has been brought up that hill, you definitely appreciate everything a thousand times more. The initial entrance is a tree house filled with hammocks to relax in and tables to eat on. As you walk up further stairs you arrive at the 'camping area' where dormitories, rooms with hammocks to sleep in, tents and private hut cabanas lie as well as a yoga and massage platform and a honeymoon hut with a view over the mountains. To George and I, the location and the hippy guests looked like the Glastonbury healing fields after a post-festival party and we instantly felt right at home. We were staying in the far tree house seven bed dormitory emersed in the forest which definitely had a earthly feel as mosquito nets covered each bunk and the chirps of exotic birds sounded from nearby. We were called for breakfast and as I quickly changed and joined George a little later, his face of thunder insinuated I was in trouble. He pointed at the two plates before him which had two strange fried substances on with a tiny piece of cheese balanced on top. "These are arepas, not eggs you ordered the wrong thing" he whispered with a stern look on his face, "Arepas are disgusting". After a very long morning I admitted I had mistakenly ordered the wrong number but as I waited for George to scold me again I looked up and noticed he had polished the whole plate off in less than 10 seconds. "Oh, my..., they are AMAZING" he shouted and began to make his way through my portion. Casa Loma only served organic, vegetarian dishes but with two fantastic chefs meant every meal was extra tasty. Relieved I was off the hook, we finished our food and decided to have a walk down to the town to find 'Pozo Azul' - the natural pools you could relax in.
We care freely sped down the hill, ignoring the realisation we would have to come back up it later that afternoon. As we reached the bottom, George who was now a budding photographer after being Mark Woodall's apprentice for a little while decided to explore the deserted buildings and take some 'class' photographs. The air was warm and clammy but nothing compared to that down below in Santa Marta so we decided to make a walk for it. There is always a beauty of arriving in a new place early morning as it gives you a whole extra day to explore! As we turned a corner we bumped into a couple we had seen repeatedly on our journey through Brazil and realised the world really is smaller than you think! We walked roughly 45 minutes through the picturesque Minca, admiring the rolling hills and thick bamboo clusters that shielded you from the rising sun. We passed coffee farms and small cafes dotted along the way that offered exceptional views over the mountains (and each, of course offering organic, vegetarian options). Eventually we crossed a rickety bridge and arrived at the natural pools where unfortunately a lot of tourists had already made their mark in the water. With Minca seeing 200 tourists passing through its tiny town every day, whether they were staying in the remote hostels or on day trips, it was often difficult to escape the crowds. We made our way to the second pool and noticed a group of guys competing as to who can do the best jump off the rocks into the water. I saw George edging forward and before I knew it he was climbing up the rock. Like a pack of wolves these guys didn't like a new competitor, they stopped their conversation and watched in silence, eager to see what George had got to give. The first jump, a simple straight pencil jump, did anything but grab their attention - "amateur they laughed" but as George's confidence grew, he presented a dive Tom Daley would have been impressed by (probably due to Georges looks more than anything). Now, the guys were interested and quickly assembled in a line, each one doing something more ambitious than the last. When the final guy made the sign of the cross and performed a backflip, I smiled when George resigned from the water and called it a day - thankfully I am not in a relationship with an egotistical idiot. We headed back to our retreat, eager for a healthy dinner and an early night - that is until we met James.
James, a big bubbly teddy bear, would become our good friend from Australia, who like all Aussies loves a good drink. As the clock hand approached 5pm we were approached by an equally bubbly blonde from France who declared (to our delight) that the sunset bar was officially open. To compliment our frozen daiquiris we were treated to a stunning red sunset over the mountains - another perk to this beautiful life positioned on the hill. As we made our way through the board games and the flowing drinks we unveiled a new love for chess. After only unwillingly attending 'chess club' as an activity at school, I acted as an observant student to a very patient teacher (George) but to both our surprise after two games I began to get quite a knack for it. George on the other hand has been training to almost chess grandmaster level - Bill watch out, you are always a few moves from check mate. The following two days were filled with new friends, an evening dancing around the campfire and many drinks to equate to a hefty tab upon check-out. Unfortunately we can't say we felt necessarily rested after our two day retreat break but with our hearts left in Casa Loma we signed up to return in a weeks time for two weeks volunteering. As I write this blog two weeks on watching another beautiful sunset, I still find myself looking at my surroundings and having to catch my breath. It truly is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in the world.