Thursday, September 25, 2008

Parque Nacional Tayrona -Paradise

Was given a beautifully hand-drawn map and sent on my way with well wishes, bound for Parque Nacional Tayrona. Decided to go solo, so shunned the tours and got on the first bus out of town to the park entrance. I'd remembered reading that from the park's entrance it was another 4 or so km to the admin building where you needed to pay the entrance fee, but that there would be colectivo jeeps making the journey back and forth.

So, as soon as I got off the bus I noticed a jeep and walked towards it, enquiring with a couple of local dudes on my way. They told me that "yes, it would go up" but that I'd have to wait and they then pointed me towards a shelter where I could do just that. Cool. So I started walking up the road a few metres, past a police shelter, manned by 2 police officers.

They called me back and through my basic Spanish and their heavily accented version, they explained that they wanted to check my bag. Sure. I've had this before. They usually ask me to take things out, one by one, and check them over. Nope. A bit different here. He wanted no help, actually moved my hand away and proceeded to take every small object out of my pack (which was luckily only a day pack and not my huge "bag-o'-shit" which I'd left behind in Santa Marta). I wouldn't say he was "rough" with my belongings, but he definitely wasn't gentle. "Thorough" would be a better description. Nothing went unchecked, except my person (I just love saying that). I then gave him my passport and when he seemed satisfied with all of his checking, there was some brief, misunderstood communication as I said I was waiting for the jeep, then the next thing I knew, the officer who had checked my bag was firing up his bike (although I'm guessing it was someone else's because he pressed the horn by accident to start it - laughter), then I was handed a helmet with not much option but to get on. There's something about saying "no" to a man dressed up in army greens, carrying loaded weapons that just doesn't feel right.

So...I sat behind him on the bike, right on top of a sexy lady's face, and we took off. He took me (what I later realised in hindsight) towards the park entry office, but then just ahead of it and off to the side, to avoid paying any entrance fee. We got off, then I followed him down a jungle path, asking if it's been a busy day, trying to determine if this was a well frequented path. "Sure, no worries, very safe. Just if someone asks you where your pass is, say you lost it in the sea". This took a couple of goes until I fully understood (damn coastal accents), but in effect I'd paid this police officer the park entry fee and entered just past the official entry point where I would have been given a wrist band.

Ah ha! Nice and dodgy! "No worries, can do" I said (he'd saved me $2 on the ride up), then he walked me to the right turnoff in the path, we shook hands, and he bid me good luck before returning to his post (although not before asking me if I had a boyfriend, to which I lied, said I did, and that he'd be joining me tomorrow).

I've come to realise that there are 2 types of boyfriends over here in Latin America. Ones that are with you, and ones that aren't in that particular moment. When I told the officer that I had an Argentinian boyfriend (a lie, but fresh in my mind because I'd just been travelling for the last week with an Argentinian guy) he said "right, but do you have a Colombian boyfriend?". This happened the last time I made up a story about so called boyfriend . On that occasion when he wasn't with me at that particular moment, I was asked if I wanted one for right then and there. Again, I'm going to have to devise a better story.

On my walk further into the jungle, I passed armies of leafcutter ants forming 8 lane highways across the path, dodged flying insects that sounded like bomber planes, narrowly missing my eardrums, heard wookpeckers pecking away at the trees (they make me laugh they do), and saw vibrantly green striped lizards scuttling away from my heavy footsteps.

I made the hour long trek (relieved when I saw the first lot of people as I was slightly disheartened walking through this unknown jungle, alone, in Colombia), and came out in paradise, to one of the most beautiful beaches I've laid eyes on on this trip so far. No beach-front restaurants, but a long, white sandy beach with wild waves and big rocks jutting out of the sea.

I spent 2 nights camping just behind the beach at Recife, got taken to hidden beaches by a local guide, ran into my Argentinian friend again by chance, and basically swam, ate and slept. Alot! (although I didn't sleep very well because I couldn't fit inside the tent and it was super hot inside. I was sleeping diagonally and I still had to lie curled up. Twas a wee tent!). Walked to the next beach in gorgeous afternoon light and sat on a big rock, watching the ocean, the entire beach to myself. I've missed the ocean. I never thought I'd say it, but the Caribbbean can get kinda boring sometimes with it's warm, flat beaches (gosh life's tough huh?). Nothing like the wild energy of an ocean.


Caught a bus down the road to a much more touristy, but significantly smaller and much prettier fishing town called Taganga. Managed to get a big, open room overlooking the sea and spent the next few days chilling out to the sound of the sea and Bob Marley (I'm still wondering if people realise that there's other types of music that can be played at the beach, that'll still create a relaxed, holiday vibe), and reading, and recuperating from many rum fuelled nights out on the town. Am loving that Colombian men can dance. Only wish my feet could keep up with them. Still, they're very patient, and don't seem to mind so much. Must enquire with my insurance policy as to whether I'm covered for inflicting injury on fellow dance partners.

Finally managed to have a hangover free day, so got up early and walked around the surrounding hills to the next beach. What a view!

Decided I was ready for a new view, a bit of "me-time" and to give my poor wee liver a well deserved break, so I said "Hasta luego, Che", to my Argentinian friend and hit the road solo again.

If my friend's accent is anything to go by, I'm in for a lot of problems when I finally move to Buenos Aires. My level of understanding droppped from about 60% to 12% every time he spoke. Oh well, practice makes they say...

Cartagena to Santa Marta

Said farewell to my Aussie companion again, and left Cartagena with an Argentinian, from Buenos Aires, bussing our way to Santa Marta without drama (it's nice to leave the communicating to a native Spanish speaker, even if I don't understand his accent, everyone else does).

Got so excited to have a room with a TV that we spent the first night in, watching movies. (It's the simple things really).

Went to the beach resort of Rodadero and spent the day lying in the "shade" of a palm tree, strolling the beach and drinking tropical juices. Returned to Santa Marta in the evening, pink as a prawn, and checked out the local amusement park. Quite small, pretty pricey and not a lot of people, but my Argentinian friend made the whole experience so entertaining. Just watching him cling on for dear life to the walls of the graviton made the ride so much more fun. He was squealing with fright and I found it all so hilarious. So we did it again...and again.

Was in too much pain from laughing at my friend to continue (oh, my poor broken rib), so we left to eat some "cheap" street food. Ended up paying more than we have so far, so retired back to the financial safety of our room again. And telly!!!

¡Hola Colombia… Suramérica aquí venimos!

Almost one of the easiest journeys and border crossings to date. No real delays to speak of. Tiny propeller plane, that initially had us holding our breath and crossing our toes, but landed like a dream both times, putting Ryan Air and Easyjet to shame. Arrived in Cartagena, and got through customs with a smile and a quick chat, so easy! Then went to collect my bag. Oh. As soon as I asked its whereabouts one of the flight staff told me with a smile that it was still in Panama because there wasn't any room for it, even though I'd seen it on the tarmac as we were about to take off. How she knew it was my bag that had been left behind before I even gave her a description of it is beyond me. So, after I asked for a quick call to locate it for sure, we proceeded to fill in the necessary paperwork. The 2 girls helping me didn't seem too worried about my bag, and as they were taking my details and they discovered my name is the same as a famous Mexican singer, they began to serenade me with her songs. Bless! Lots of giggling, I'm thinking the formalities here are a bit strange, but whatever, so long as my bag shows up.

We finished for the moment with the bag dilemma, then moved on to the final customs check. This proved to be just as comical. My friend and I were stopped by 2 men in their army greens sitting at a table, wanting to check our bags (well, my friend's anyway). I think this whole bag checking thing is just a decoy to flirt with girls. They questioned us on where we were going, whether we had boyfriends, and if we'd like an accompanyment while we were here in Cartagena. Nice and professional boys! And a lovely entry into your wonderful country!

Flagged a taxi and headed towards a budget hotel, but beginning to display slight hesitation because both the airport staff and the taxi driver reacted with surprise and shock when we gave the address of our hotel, asking why we'd want to stay there. Anyway, being the penny savers that we've become, we stuck to our guns and continued to said budget hotel, and never looked back. It was close enough to the myriad of nightlife venues, the beautiful old town, and even closer to cheap food ( which we soon found out was a luxury in this part of the world).

We went out pretty much every night of the week, met some great travellers and locals alike, I did some much missed interpretive dancing with a couple of Norwegians and got some invitations for a night or 2 out on the town when I finally make it to Bogota. Starting to think that Colombians are lovely folk, and so far I'm absolutely thrilled to be here in their gorgeous country.

I had a moment of snap happy psychosis come over me and proceeded to take over 100 photos of Colonial architecture. No surprises there, I knew I would.

On our first day in Cartagena, we were led to a bar so we could celebrate finally making it to South America, and we got surrounded by 3 teenage boys, all with braces. My eyes did a quick sweep of the bar, and I spotted a few more metal filled mouths. That's the first time that I've seen that in a long while. I wander if it's because it's cheaper here, or because vanity plays a bigger role in the hearts and minds of fellow Colombians (am I in the land of beauty pagents? I think so). One thing's for sure, we've definitely landed in a wealthier country.

Ended up spending 6 days in Cartagena, towards the end of which we visited a volcano and swam inside, in its magical mud. In theory this would have been an extremely realxing activity, but I was so hungover I became claustrophobic and delerious, and found the whole situation so hilarious, I couldn't see through my tears of laughter. I think some of the folk trying to relax thought I'd lost my marbles. I think I did too. My friend ended up having to drag me out because I was stuck in the mud and couldn't move. Weeeeeee! Rinsed ourselves off in the lagoon, then went to a nearby beach to lunch on fried fish. Mmm...super tasty!

Panama City and our last days in Central America

22/07/08 - 24/07/08
Stayed in a pretty decent hostel in a pretty decent part of town and found a more than decent supermarket (like a city of temptations that I haven's seen the likes of since I was living in France) that made us so excited we spent a heap of money and walked out with nothing really to eat except olives and dips. Ate all of it really quickly, felt sick, and then decided to stick to cheap local food in the future.

Visited the Parque Nacional de Metropolis, saw some wee monkeys, but much to my disappointment weren't able to see any sloths (even though they were there that morning, and every other bloody day). Explained my dismay to the park ranger, who then let me hold their stuffed sloth. Does that count?

Ran into a couple of Irish lads that we'd met a couple of nights ago, and on their good recommendation decided to follow them and walk back to Casco Viejo, the old part of town (should have known early on not to follow Irish lads). Of course, they took a wrong turn and we ended up walking down a sketchy looking road, towards a getto. It took us until we saw a man literally jumping up and down on the other side of the road warning us not to walk any further to take notice of where we'd ended up. Oh oh. Just at the moment that we looked ahead and saw a group of "bad boys, bad boys, what ya gunna do", a police car came to our rescue. They asked us where we were heading, and explained to us that had we continued along that road, that we would have walked out the other end naked, robbed of every last thread on our body.

Ah... So, we got in their car and they drove us to a safer part of the city, very close to the old part that we originally wanted to visit. We stopped for lunch (sat next to a sign that warned diners not to let their bags out of their sight) and STUPIDLY set out again following the Irish lads to the old part. "Oh, it's grand, we're staying near here,we know where to go"...only to be led in the completely opposite direction to our destination. We walked a way down a small street and were approached by a little girl, no older than 6, shaking her finger at us, and warning us not to continue down that street, and to turn around and go back. Just as we were walking closer to ask her what she meant, and man walked out of his house, towel wrapped around his waist, telling us to turn back, that it wasn't safe to be in this area.

This is where my friend and I said our goodbyes to the Irish boys (to the sounds of their protests "ah, no, like, now we really know where we are") and got in a taxi and left for safer parts. We returned the next day in a taxi (to the exact place where we wanted to go), walked around and saw the beautiful architecture of the old town and decided that that was the last time we would voluntarily follow the lead of two Irish lads in unknown territory.

We made it back to our hostel safe and sound, booked our flight to Colombia and said farewell to Central America. It's taken me 5 months to get from Mexico City to Panama City, and I've had the time of my life!

¡America Central, hasta luego y gracias por las memorias! Me lo pase muy bien en tu paises.

It's a gas

Drove past a TEXACO petrol station, and the only letters that were lit up on the sign were "ECO". Kinda ironic really.

Plastic Bags and Elephant Steps

I am officially sick of sharing a bunkbed in a dormroom with people who don't understand the concept of respect, who have never lived out of home, and whose mummy and daddy are paying for their life-altering volunteer experience in the comparatively safe country of Costa Rica. These kids in this room have even asked for some extra cash so they can "get away from it all" and don't understand that you don't need to turn on the light before 6am and repack everything you own into plastic bags whilst talking shit really loudly and stamping heavily back and forth...all the while, everyone else in the room is sleeping.

Bocas del Toro, I'm sorry I never gave you a chance

Am starting to get bored of my broken rib now. Not a whole lot I can do on an island with this thing. Can't swim, so can't snorkel, can't paddle a kayak, can't even lie down on the sand comfortably. Am executing the sidewards-roll manouvre to get up and am feeling like a bit of a dick! So... decided to leave Bocas del Toro after only a day. Heard great things about this place when I left (always the way) but didn't feel like hanging round for very long when I was there. Felt nearly twice the age of everyone in the dorm too (where are all the old bastards?).

And...I wanna know...why does everyone working in hostels on the coast always have such an attitude problem. They're so busy being cool it's like they're doing you a favour if they serve you, let alone smile (unless you're 15 and half naked of course). It doesn't seem to happen so much inland. It must be something in the water...


Mi Jardin es Tu Jardin

Mi Jardin es Tu Jardin

Quetzal Trail (Sendero Los Quetzales)

Quetzal Trail (Sendero Los Quetzales)

Quetzal Trail (Sendero Los Quetzales)

Quetzal Trail (Sendero Los Quetzales) - cloud forest

Boquete. So pretty. I really enjoyed my time there, rain and all. I went on several walks; through the town, out of town past coffee and banana plantations, and into the cloud forest. I was stopped by local kids on my walk out of town, who wanted me to take their photos, and asked only to see it when it was taken. Their sweet smiles had me glowing on the inside for hours afterwards. We love Kodak moments!

And, I finally got active and decided to walk the Quetzal Trail. Unfortunately I started us on a bad note (or a tiring one at least) with my bad taxi bargaining powers. I was nominated as the official Spanish/English translator (a very bad idea when it involves understanding directions or any important information) which got us dropped off 3km from the start of the trail, at the bottom of an incredibly steep road (which ended up being the hardest 3km of the entire treck) only to save $1. By the time we reached the start of the trail, I would have happily paid at least $5 not to have walked that bastard of a hill and save my energy for the actual Trail.

We saw a fat rodent and were lucky enough to spot some monkeys playing up in the trees. No quetzals though, but I think we were out in the wrong part of the year.

Didn't really give much thought to my broken rib when I set off, but was constantly reminded of it throughout the treck. Had nauseating pain when I had to pull myself up onto the stairs and thought I was going to pass out or vomit.!. The only way I could fill my lungs with oxygen was if I was doubled-over, perpendicular to my legs. The combination of my rib and the altitude (and, ahem...level of fitness) made it slightly more difficult than it really needed to be.

We walked to the lookout, looked out, and saw...clouds (funny that, being a cloud forest and all!) The walk back was a delight, except for having to spend a couple of hours in heavy rain with a "waterproof" jacket that really is not. Arrived back to the hostel and had my first warm shower in ages. Mmmmm...nearly hot!

Visited "Mi Jardin es Tu Jardin". This garden is like something out of Alice in Wonderland. I spoke to one of the guys working there and it turns out that the man who owns the house has a lot of money, loves his garden, and wants to share his joy with as many people as he can. Weeeeeeeeeeee!!!! I felt like I could have skipped over a rainbow when I left his magical land.

Didn't end up going on a tour of a coffee factory, but was just as happy smelling the coffee from the coffee roasting factory as I strolled through the surrounding hills. Sweet, sweet coffee...

Adios Costa Rica... Hola Panama

Arrived solo in San Jose, had no idea where to go. Landed in a typical backpacker hostel. Really wished I could afford my own room. Checked out a couple of cool contemporary art galleries, walked downtown (ugly, ugly), and walked past a comtemporary dance company in practice. Got the feeling that there'd be a nice creative vibe in this city, that the average tourist would never get to witness. I saw it only by peeking through a semi-closed curtain.

Got to the bus stop without a ticket just as the sun was busting a move, and got the last seat on the bus. Fate was in agreeance with me that I should get out of this town.

The border crossing was cruisy, friendly and practically trouble free. My only gripe is that the bus drove off ahead of us, leaving us to walk across the border in the pouring rain, only to get back on board 200m further down...wet!

Decided to jump straight on another bus when I landed n Panama and head out to the cooler mountain climate of Boquete. Arrived in the late arvo, and checked in to a crazy hostel (where the owner made me feel like I had ADD too).

Already feel more relaxed in this seemingly pretty town.