Colombia...Now to see if all the praise we heard from annoying travellers in Ecuador was true...

Cartagena Travel Blog

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And Luckily for us.. It was !! Hosah !!
Bogota was a real eye opener after leaving Venezuela, as we jumped into our taxi ( the simplest process, buy a ticket in advance for your destination and get in a cab..totally rip off proof !) we knew that we were back onto a winner ! H got a bit confused with the currency and after we had driven off we realised we had given the lad who helped us get the taxi the equivalent of 10 USD instead of 1 ( they look very similar !), but he was EXTREMLY friendly which was a nice set up for the day !
( this , by the way is a great hint for a good time anywhere !, it happened to me on a stag doo once, a mate accidentally tipped 40 euro instead of 4, but we then got the BEST service all night long in this really packed bar ! it was worth every penny !!)

But I digress ! as we drove into town past loads of coffee shops, nicely paved pedestrian areas etc we could not wait to get out and explore ! Even when we explained to the taxi driver where we were staying ( the Platypus hostel) and his response was " hmmm, not pretty !" , we were not dismayed. And on arrival, it was a charming little colonial house ( Ok , its on gringo alley,so all the passers by were gringoes) but we were well chuffed with the nice room, free introductory beer, nice people, kitchen etc etc. All the things we had been missing in Venezuela, back on tap ! ( as was the free tea and coffee!) what a winner ! Ok, the internet was out as someone had robbed all the copper from the ISDN lines from the entire street the night before, but this did not matter. The nice owner (Hermann) was, just as the guide noted, VERY friendly and a source of excellent information... why can't all hostels be like this ?! it can't be hard to have a chart of bus timetables, tourist trap costs etc, its only basic stuff travelers need, and it makes such a difference when the hostel makes the effort ( which this one did in Spades!)

Anyway, we had a wander around town, but in general we were knackered, so a few cafes and dinner later, we hit the hay, looking forward to a good days exploring on the morrow! and to be honest it was good job we did go to bed early, as at 7am some american backpackers also staying at our hostel decided to have a detailed discussion about their travels and future plans right outside our room ! now I understand with communal living this is a common hazard, and we have been saved a lot of this by not being in dorms, but why do our american cousins insist on speaking at a decibel level that can be heard above a jet engine ! I try not to be swayed by national stereotypes, but in this case it seems to ring true, i guess that the US is so big they all have to shout too hear each other as they are so far apart, but why this behaviour needs to be continued in the confines of a small courtyard outside MY room at 7am, I have no idea ! Anyway, it got us up early ready for a good days exploring of the capital !

I can recommend Bogota to anyone, traveller, tourist, great granny sue, it has something for everyone ! we spent the day wandering around the old town, visiting the plazas, the museums, the churches, all the great cultural stuff that I think traveling is all about ! In the afternoon we also took the cable car up to the church on top of the hill ( it is always great seeing a city from up high, even the crappest looks kinda nice - it must be good to be superman !) The views were spectacular, but the church and accompanying 'religious artisan market' were a bit crap, (but better than the Swiss crystal shop on top of sugarloaf mountain in Brazil, at least the religious crap was relevant to the location! It was before this walk that the blissful aurora of unawareness of how dangerous Bogota could be was a bit punctured (it was to be re-soundly popped later on !) as Hermann advised us to take a taxi.. it was only a 5 minute walk ( and we did walk) but just this word of advice did make us think about how safe we were in this apparent utopia !
That evening we pretty much stayed in the hostel, Cooking and drinking and swapping traveller tales ( Travelers love horror stories, like the old campfire tales I guess, but now updated to muggings, robberies and nasty tropical illnesses.. ghosts don't get a look in any more !) As the evening wore on and H went to bed, I stayed up with some chaps who were celebrating their last night traveling. As it got later, and we heard that three people had been mugged on the street directly outside out hostel ( horror stories.. told ya !) we walked one chap down the street in a gang of 5 at about 2am so he could get a taxi. Nothing of consequence happened during this jolly stroll (so I thought) but we did loose the chilean lad for a moment or two, and as we met him again at the hostel, he promptly brought out the whopping pile of coke he had just bought in the 90 seconds we were outside the hostel and commenced tooting it up his snout like we were just about to go clubbing. ( we weren't, we were all actually going to bed.) I didn't see him again after that, but assume for him this was the norm, and we were just being squares ! hey ho.

Day three and time to see the outlying sights, we selected the "number one tourist attraction (self publicized) in Columbia.. the SALT CATHEDRAL !" We had met a nice South african couple and a girl from New Zealand who joined us on this jaunt out of town. The Salt cathedral ( self explanatory really.. but incase you were interested ..
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_Cathedral_of_Zipaquirá) was in a charming little town, and we got there no problem. We had an english speaking guide who really loved his job and took us through the 14 stations of the cross in detail, his favourite phrase being "in situ" which he used at the end of every sentence! The cathedral was VERY impressive ( not so the faulty 3 D cinema at the end, this was just amusing). As a nice treat on the trip, we bumped into dave the aussie who we had been on the boat with in Brazil. He had made his way to Columbia via the amazon and regailed us with tales of catching and eating Caymen for dinner, all with the usual antipodean dry humour.
Later that evening, H and I went out for Thai and seemed to find ourselves in the number one Gringo hangout in all columbia ! 5 minutes after we had sat down and ordered ( at the last free table) hundreds of people were trying to get in, queuing for ages etc. We felt quite chuffed ( and the thai curry was excellent). Again we were joined by Rob and Nicky ( the south africans) who were looking for a table, so we sneaked them onto ours, past the queue, and had a few nice beers before retiring ! A very nice day !

Day 4 (and I can see now why some people get 'stuck' in Bogota, it is a very alluring city with so much to do !) we did some chores ( including sorting out our bus out of the town, we only had 2 weeks in the whole of Columbia, so had to move on) and then went to the VERY impressive gold museum. My highlight being the famous gold raft http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Dorado , and H's comments that she thought it would be full size ! he he he ! We met up again with our chums to try to see the changing of the guards ( missed it) and the guinea pig racing (couldn't find it) but did find a very funny gay miming singer who entertained the crowds for a while. Evening was spent in a very pleasant restaurant, and was enlivened by the threat of danger on the walk home. It was not so late and as we approached Gringo alley ( where all the hostels are) a street kid started walking along side hassling for money. I had nothing and tried to explain this, but he was undeterred. As we continued walking ( and he trotted to keep up) he kept hassling me and I kept trying to tell him I had nothing for him, until at one point I looked down and he was holding a razor blade to my legs ! Well, at this point I seem to have turned magically into James Mason, and in my most english voice, cried out " what, you seem to be holding a razor blade, you silly little man, be off with you !" or words to that effect, and carried on walking. At which point he gave up ( after punching Rob in the back !). I guess he was more used to the scare tactic working, as i think he never had any intention of using the blade, but I like to think it was the spirit of James Mason that saw the ruffian off !
Next day was Bus day !! 8 hours to San Gil, the adventure capital of Columbia. We had wisely repacked just what we needed into one bag, leaving one at the hostel to be picked up in a week or so ( Yay! no more carting guidebooks around !) and jumped onto our bus ( which was actually quite nice). As you can imagine, not a lot happened this day, lots of scenery and bumpy roads, and we arrived in one piece in the very pretty, very steep town of San Gil. Again our hostal was excellent, full of friendly gringoes, run by a really nice aussie and full of pertinent information about what to do in town, trips etc. We booked ourselves onto a white water rafting trip in the morning, immediately met some nice folks and all went out for Pizza and beer
The rafting trip was advertised as being for beginners.. and families.. and OAP's , in fact is was more of a leisurely cruise down the river in a dinghy. There was a more extreme one ( grade 4/5 rapids) but H was not up for that so we thought this was better. Well we were picked up on time, kitted out and taken to the river with the minimum of fuss. Our guide was really nice and we set off with little or no trepidation. I have done rafting a couple of times and thought this would be a real doddle, but during the course of the morning, I was to be the only one to fall overboard, not once, but 3 times !! yep, for some reason I had lost all sense of balance and at the first hint of a wave, plop, over I went. Which caused much amusement to those still happily sitting in the boat !! Even with this minor embarrassment, it was still a great morning out, and an absolute bargain!
In the afternoon, we caught a bus to the even more beautiful town of Barichara, which had the most spectacular views, and wandered around for a while enjoying the architecture and the countryside. That evening it was more beers and food with the new chums we had met ( who had incidentally been on the 'proper' rafting trip, some of whom's raft got beached on a rock and spent 3 hours clinging to a 2m square rock in the middle of the rapids while the boat was fixed.. rock on kiddy rafting !) and tried some of the local specialties, like jerked beef and goat stew !

On our last day in San Gil, we explored the beautiful botanical gardens and ate some of the regions speciality delicacy, Giant deep fried ants ! (not that great actually!) we said goodbye to the new friends we had met and jumped on the 12 hour overnight bus to Cartagena, ready for me to relive all those classic moment from "romancing the Stone" and to check into the poshest gaff we would have all trip, the Hilton Hotel, for a couple of nights pure pampering!

Next time, my last blog entry as we leave Columbia and return home.. hopefully ( if I have time) with STATS !!!

Byeeee
M&H. xxx

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Cartagena
photo by: vulindlela