From Bolivia we arrived in Chile through San Pedro De Atacama where we had planned to stay the night, but within the hour of our arrival, we were on the next overnight bus to La Serena. La Serena has one of the worlds best observatories due to the high altitude and lack of light pollution so we immediately booked our trip. Luck would have it that it began to rain. This was the first (and only) rain of our trip AND the first time it rained in that part of Chile in 3 years. Needless to say, the trickle of raindrops shut down the roads and the electronics and we had to stay 3 extra days! The town was cute enough, and naturally, we ran into another parade (for a holiday based on a guy who swung from his Chilean ship to his death and in turn loosing the war…but inspiring many men to join the fight for their country) but we would have preferred to get to the next places sooner. Our final night we got to see with our very own eyes (and the help of a super telescope) the craters of moon and the rings of saturn! And that was amazing.
Next we went to the once prosperous and now very bohemian but hip and colorful Valpariso. Rachelle fell a bit ill and spent one whole day in bed. Luckily we sprung for a private room and the hostel owner leant us his personal laptop. We spent the time uploading 3 countries worth of photos and watching netflix. The next day we spent taking a walking tour and getting a bit of the insides and history of the really cool town. We also got to see Pablo Nerudas house! But quickly had to leave in order to get to Santiago.
We met with one of our besties Rach in Santiago! It was so great to see a smiling familiar face from home and together, explore a new city! Santiago is very “modern” and had most comforts of the US. We were in a great area that was walking distance to restaurants, bars, boutiques, and San Cristóbal Hill that we hiked to the enormous statue of pregnant Virgin Mary!
After a set of really fortunate and amusing circumstances (involving Meg and Rachelle cork screwless and shoving a cork into a bottle of appropriately named “oops” wine) we were put in touch with a gentleman by the name of Domingo from Undurraga Wines. He picked us up, drove us to the vineyards, gave us an extremely personal and detailed tour and tasting, took us out to a Chilean restaurant where Rachelle and Rach had sea urchin for the first time, and dropped us back off at our hostel. It was an incredibly gorgeous day and we felt very fortunate. (thanks Jeannie for the hook up!)
We also went on a walking tour which consisted of a few hours and took us through some of the important but not so touristy spots of town, where we saw the food and fish markets and learned about the bloodshed military coup of 1973 (your welcome Chile).
We checked out all of the cute neighborhoods, saw great exhibits in the museums, tried the local drink and cuisine, saw great live music and Meg’s highlight was getting custom veggie burgers on the street for $0.50 whilst we watched a gaggle of students performing orchestral music outside of the subway!
Rach got to experience being hungry during “siesta” which means that no restaurant is open for a good 3 hours. Honestly, not one. We were starving and desperate and eventually lucked out and found some good cheap empanadas. Later we crashed an art opening with free food and wine. Ya win some, ya lose some… but it all seems to even out.
All was fun, exciting, and going swimingly…until we tried to leave.
Meg and/or Rachelle left the UV water filter (theee single best purchase of our trip…the one that allowed us to drink the water without spending money or adding to the landfills) at the hostel and we just missed the last bus from Santiago Chile to Mendoza Argentina before the road closures due to snow and ice. Instead of taking one 8 hour bus, we ended up taking three buses that totaled 30 hours. It was a sad, expensive, and unfortunate way to spend two days. The (only) bonus was that our last bus served us hot meals, wine AND frenet (the liquor of the Argentinians). This was something we were used to…but poor Rach on her vacation
Our boarder crossing into Argentina was relatively easy, but we all had to pay the $165USD reciprocity fee… for U.S. citizens only.
Side note about Chile – boarder crossing into Chile is extremely strict as they take great pride in not contaminating their fruits and vegetables. They are an agricultural island with the ocean to the west and the mountain ranges to the east. No food or seeds are allowed in and all bags and people get scanned. As a result, they had some amazing produce! If you see an apple from Chile in your local grocery store (when you’re not buying from your local farm of course), pick one up! YUM
Puno, Peru and Copacabana, Bolivia share the world’s highest altitude lake, Lake Titicaca (tehe). Our 5 hour bus ride between the two cities was gorgeous. And had the added bonus of yet another boat ride, which we were completely unaware of until the bus driver ordered everyone out of the bus. We politely indicated that we preferred to stay with all of our bags on the bus, but he wasn’t budging. Ugh, gringos! It turns out that everyone gets off the bus and pays $2 Bolivianos for another putt-putt boat across a portion of the lake because it cuts something like 2 hours off the travel time of going around the lake(not titicaca). The cool part was seeing our bus also get water taxied across on a raft.
We arrived in Copacabana, another 2 street town, in the bright heat of midday. The view of the lake from Copacabana blows Puno’s view out of the water. We decided to treat ourselves to a private room in a hotel (for once!) on a hill overlooking Titicaca and the view from our tiny balcony was striking. The hotel still had shared bathrooms, electrical showerheads with exposed wire and was only $20.We sat on our balcony for a few hours, reading, drinking malt licquor (we thought we were buying beer!), and watching the sun go down on the lake. It was lovely. There’s not much going on in Copacabana, except that its the lauching point for visits to Isla del Sol. So the next day we packed a lunch and lathered up in sunscreen for an island hike.
Its a 2 hour boat ride to the northern end of Isla del Sol, mostly because again, the rather large ferry is powered by a small kitchen appliance. Our plan was to disembark on the northern end, hike 3-4 hours south, and then meet the ferry at the southern port for the trip back. When we arrived in the northern port, we are delighted to find that the locals were having a celebration! They were dressed up like mummers and strutting to brass and Andean pan flute bands. We were treated to the soft repetitive sounds of the Bolivian brass bands for most of our hike. That’s the nice part of the hike, the scary part of the hike was that the trail is unmarked, meaning that at times we were traipsing through people’s farms and having to backtrack and bushwack. Hiking is not either of our strengths to begin with, so there were some tense moments. We took to tracking sneaker prints in the dust and following litter trails, since we infrequently ran into actual people to ask the way. Eventually, we made it to the southern port and in time to catch to boat back, otherwise we would have had to sleep on the island! (Rachelle would like to add that she was impressed by the fact that an island that does not have enough water for drinking or showers on a regular basis, has three types of recycling bins throughout the island… which is better than most US cities)
After Copacabana, we headed to La Paz, the polluted, cold, and breathless Bolivian capital. It is 12,000 feet above sea level and the streets are a constant cloud of diesel Needless to say, we didn’t really dig La Paz. It was almost impossible to get warm even huddled under the covers. Also, we had this crazy idea that we were going to see movies in movie theaters, shop in shopping malls, and just generally live the high life for insanely cheap. None of which happened, so our expections probably got the best of us again. Our big excursion was seeing cholitas wrestle, which was a singular experience. The cholitas wear their big skirts and tiny ballet shoes (but remove their bowler hats for the fight) (Spoiler alert: the cholitas’ bowler hats stay on their heads by balance alone-no pins!) while they wrestle against masked lucha libres. It makes you feel funny, as a woman, to have paid to watch a masked man put a choke hold on a women with 2 braided pigtails, but maybe this is equality? We and the other gringos had seats in the “splash zone” where we were spit on and had people thrown over the gates and break chairs right next to us, the place was mostly full of locals that were practially peeing themselves with laughter of this Bolvian WWF event.
Another site worthy of reporting is the copious amounts of llama fetuses that are sold in the “Witches Market” along with many other SA/Bolivian good luck charms. We were reading the book Marching Powder at the time (which is banned in Bolivia) about the corrupt police and penal system in San Pedro Prison (where inmates pay for cells, have all the comforts of home, have their families live in the prison and make the purest cocaine) and we got to see the prison (they stopped giving tours fairly recently). As per our parade luck, we ran into some celebration where people donned colorful shiny and feathery costumes and played music. Our last day we saw that same major road full of workers and thousands of cholitas (the thousand cholita march?), marching with the beat of chants and gun shots. We were lucky enough to get one of the last buses out of town before they closed off all access in and out of the city. Yikes!
From La Paz we took an overnight bus to Uyuni where we would take a 3 day jeep excursion to see the salt flats, lagoons, volcanos, the dali dessert, and so much more! Our bus twisted and tunred the entirety of the evening and felt like we were on one of those beds you put a quarter in to shake! With very little sleep, we arrived at a corner where we were dropped off in the wee hours of the morning. It was so cold that we could not feel our feet or hands and it was too early for anything to be open. We wandered for a bit until a lady came up to us and made us follow her until she handed us off to another random person to who took us into his…garage? But the garage turned into a restaurant (phew) where we could wait until the town opened. Our tour agency booked up and, against better judgement, we found another by a solicitor. Word is that a LOT of companies have irresponsible drivers that drink heavily whilst driving and often do not feed their customers. We wanted to avoid these companies at all costs, but it seemed to be a crapshoot. It turned out that we had a great driver and an even better group of people in our 4×4. We were with two other couples, one from Romania and another American/Belgian couple, all newlyweds. We saw an abandoned train cemetery and then the salt flats, where we got to take fun perspective photos. The salt is hard and cold and looks like ice or white sand for as far as the eye can see. We got to see people harvesting the salt…which makes ya wonder if YOUR salt has been driven over or played upon. We were served a surprisingly delicious lunch on the flats and then drove to see a cactus island that sits amidst the white white salt. After hours of driving, we arrived at our place of slumber which was a salt hotel. That is correct! Everything, save the mattresses and the toilets, was made of salt. Salt walls, table, beds, and even the floors were sprinkles of salt! Needless to say, it was not clean nor comfortable and we only had electricity for an hour or two. One of our more terrifying events happened that evening when we were awoken by, what we later found out to be, drunk guides (drivers) from other groups screaming and trying to get into our rooms… they were unsuccessful and drove into the night until they had to pick up their morning crew. The second day of driving through the seemingly vast emptiness, we came upon several lagoons with countless flamingos. Due to the borox(?) in the water, the colors were bright and diverse and beautifully contrasting. Bright reds, blinding whites, shiny yellows and deep blues. Spectacular views. We stayed at another terrible “hotel” in the middle of nowhere that night and, despite our 4am wake up call, we partied with the other folks that also were staying there. It was amazing to be sitting around a table in the middle of nowhere Bolivia with people from Italy, Germany, France, Romania, Belgium, and be speaking English! What a unique experience. The last day we woke early and walked through geysers and over bubbling volcanos then to a sizzling hotspring. The temperature difference was so extreme that steam rose around as the sun came up. Despite the terrible sleeping accommodations, the vistas were breathtaking. From there we crossed into Chile… but would return to Bolivia a month later.
More Bolivia to come
Wow. Peru has been an incredible surprise with the vast diversity of it’s landscapes.
We started off with two solid days of bus travel from Ecuador with a short pit stop in Piura. The town was ocean side and had a lot of parks and plazas, but the highlight for us was trying our first cremolada. From there we overnighted to the capital of Lima. Lima is a beautiful city and very reminicent of LA or Santa Monica with its water front, surfer packed ocean, overlooking cliffs… and prices. Quite a shock to our budgets from all of Ecuador. We ran through the many beautiful parks overlooking the ocean each morning and surfed for two days. The only downside of this experience was the multiple faceplants into the rocky beaches (all rocks, no sand) due to the rough waves we had one day and the fact that Meg lost her water shoes. We met some cool people and attended ArtJam which was a live art competition in a super hip bar.
From Lima we went to a coastal desert town called Paracas. There are only 2 streets in the entire town and our room was made out of something resembling balsa wood. We could see the sky through the ceiling and thought we might break it everytime we closed the door. BUT, from there, we took a boat tour to the “poor man´s” Galapagos Island where we saw an Incan mystery inscribed in a sand dune, sea lions, penguins, vultures, and a ton of other birds. It was a pretty incredible experience if you ask Rachelle. It was a ¨very poor man´s¨Galapagos if you ask Meg.
Next we went to another small town with only 2 roads called Huacachina. We stayed along a desert oasis lagoon surrounded by enormous sand dunes. We skipped the dune buggy and sandboarding tour and simply took in the scenery. We ventured to the middle of nowhere with two great Australian gals we met and received, possibly the best tour of a vineyard. The vineyard has been around since the 1500s and we were served large helpings of the wine and Pisco.
Next up was Cuzco. Our arrival was possibly the worst overnight bus experience yet. To spare you the gory details, we got sick…Rachelle especially sick. The next few days were not much better. We think the altitude may have had something to do with that, but luckily we had a whole week to acclimatize before hiking the Inca Trail. Cuzco is a gorgeous city and home to the only plaza with two cathedrals…imagine that. Our first day we ran into a celebration with traditional clothing, music and dance and got to enjoy the festivities in the plaza under the sun. Everyday was sunny and flesh burning hot and each night required multiple layers to stay warm. It was a tricky town to dress for, but the scenery more than made up for it. The majority of Cuzco is elevated and due to getting winded at every step (altitude) we got to really take our time and soak it all in! There were handicraft markets, llamas, alpacas, and mystery street food everywhere! There was also an abundance of rainbow flags…but not due to their tolerance of diversity as much as it is the city flag. We both got killer handmade hats and ate quail eggs from the street AND Rachelle ate both cuy (guinea pig) and alpaca meat!
Our entire travel timeline was building up to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu since it had to be booked 6 months in advance and it was worth it! We hiked 43 kilometers over 4 days with 30 pounds on our backs, reaching 4215 meters above sea level at one point! We slept in tents, ate three 3 course meals, didn´t shower, and had a great family along the way. In fact, we met more Americans on the trail than anywhere else. Along the trail we got to see several Incan ruins and we learned a lot. We both agreed that had we not seen Machu Picchu, we would have been more than satisfied with the hike alone. One day we hiked for 9 hours and arrived to our site in the dark! We saw many types of flora and fauna along the trail, climbed over rickety ¨bridges¨ down thousands of steps (called the gringo killers) through ancient sites and had an amazing time doing it. We also discovered our love for multi-day treks! Although the people, our incredible guide and the 19 porters that were there to set up camp and make us food certainly helped. Words really can´t describe Machu Picchu, so we´ll just have to post some of Rachelle´s awesome photos.
We returned to Cuzco by way of 3 buses and a train and went straight to bed since we had gotten up at 3:30am that morning to hike into Machu Picchu through the sun gate. We spent much of the next day trying to enjoy our last few hours in Cuzco since we were leaving for Puno on Lake Titicaca that evening on a night bus. We arrived in Puno at 5am and again went straight to bed since its nearly impossible to sleep on a freezing cold nauseating night bus. The highlight of Puno is visiting the islands of Lake Titicaca, so we booked a boat to Uros, the ¨floating islands.¨ Its about 45 minutes by slow (read cheaper) motor boat to the closest islands. We were on a 30 person vessel that took about 10 minutes to even get the motor started and then once it did start we were pretty sure the motor was actually a blender. We puttered along at a snails pace, but luckily we got to be 2 of the 6 people allowed to sit on the upper deck (of course evenly distributed on the port and starboard sides to avoid capsize per the capitàn). Yet another questionably seaworthy barge. Anyway, we eventually got there. Uros is actually a group of small islands that indigenous tribes constructed from floating reeds in order to escape conquering tribes. Anywhere from 5-10 families live on each island an they continually have to replace the reeds because they start to degrade and fall away. Its pretty squishy underfoot, but the yellow reeds contrast beautifully against the blue lake and sky. As part of the ¨hard sell¨to buy handicrafts on the islands, we were invited into the reed constructed home of one of the inhabitants. It was a tight squeeze to get 5 people inside. A bed took up about half of the square footage, but there was enough space for a small TV powered by solar panels on the roof. Overall, it was an awkward, though enjoyable experience.
After talking to many other travelers, we decided to change course a bit and travel south by way of Bolivia and cut out Brazil. Both countries require visas for American tourists, but Bolivia´s was both cheaper and easier to obtain. Additionally, Bolivia is just cheaper in general. We heard tell of luxury hotels for $2USD per night, of course this turns out to be false, but our interest was peaked. Next stop? Copacabana, Brazil…I mean, Bolivia.
Despite our good times in Colombia, we did not exactly feel the love whilst there. In 3 short weeks we visited multiple towns and parts of the country searching for the spark. That spark returned in Ecuador! Our travels have been revived and the short time there has allowed us to have so many different types of experiences. We regret having to have left so soon.
We arrived in Quito, a city that we had heard tales of dangers, and, are happy to report that we made it out unscathed. In fact, we really enjoyed Quito and felt completely safe. The old Colonial town had many good markets (food and handicraft) and huge beautiful parks that get utilized! One day we took the TeleferiQo (cable cars) up to 4100 meters and had a gorgeous view overlooking the city and the surrounding mountain ranges. At that altitude it was difficult to walk without huffing and puffing, but the sites made it worth while. We stayed at a place called Community Hostel, and it was just that. We met a handful of really great people and one night we joined them in a night out where we hit a couple bars and then had PIZZA CONES. You read that correctly… pizza shaped and eaten like an ice cream cone. Delish! We also trekked out to the Mitad Del Mundo…aka, the center of the world. We visited the monument dedicated to the 18th century discovery of the center of the world… and then walk down the road to the museum that has the actual GPS coordinates of 0 longitude and 0 latitude. We watched the water drain straight down, counter clockwise and clockwise, balanced an egg on a nail, and felt drunk whilst trying to walk a straight line on the equator and got to see a real shrunken head… naturally.
Due to lack of time (shakes fist at being “stuck” in Colombia) we had to hightail it out of Quito and skip our original WWOOFing (world wide organization of organic farms) destination of Vilcabamba and instead found a yoga eco farm to volunteer at a more accessible location in the Amazon outside of a town called Tena. After several hours of beautiful lush scenery full of trees, mountains, animals and waterfalls over the course of several buses (one with a rooster riding as a passenger) we were dropped off at the side of the road. As we proceeded through the woods, we could hear the Hare Krishna chants growing stronger. Yes, the eco farm was a Hare Krishna commune! What an experience! The majority of the people on the farm were more hippies than devotees, and the “farm” was more of a lot of land with really awesome plants, but no rhyme or reason to their farming. The land grew papaya, cocoa, bananas, plantains, lulos, sugarcane, and so many other things that I can’t even name. But, for as plentiful, colorful and impressive as the vegetation was, the bugs were equally so! We stared into the eyes of supersized flies and were “attacked” by secadas that sang like birds, saw huge moths and butterflies with brilliant colors, neon crickets, a pink snake with some kind of binary code on its skin, and again, things that we had no idea what they were! The toilets were dry compost toilets and we got to pee into tunnels and poop onto banana leaves (TMI?) and could not wear shoes. We had 3 huge vegetarian meals a day each time with several courses and usually tea made from the garden herbs or yogurty drinks made from the local cows (raw milk now banned in most of the US) and nothing could be taste tested…but was still decent. Needless to say, what we thought would be a cleanse, turned out to be a food fest! We worked on compost (food waste, not human) for a couple days, we learned and then taught school children how to make paper from recycled paper, leaves and tumeric root, planted saplings, and Rachelle’s personal favourite farm task was refining her machete skills and getting to chop down banana and sugar cane! We got to see the MilkyWay and the big dipper in a different place in the sky. Lowlights were Rachelle falling down a flight of stairs and on a separate occasion, breaking a lens. BUT, the ultimate highlight for both of us was when we made chocolate! from bean to bar. Here are the stages of making chocolate:
Gather cocoa pods from the trees.
Open pods and suck off the beans (there is a sweet delicious layer of …something).
Let beans ferment for days, weeks?
Dry beans in sun.
Roast beans until they pop like popcorn.
Spend hours and hours getting blisters removing the beans from their shells. (occasionally eating some just to taste the most bitter form of cocoa possible!)
Grind beans into powder with old timey grinder.
Put cocoa powder into a juicer with cocoa butter. (it separates into fine and super fine… the fine stuff gets re “juiced until all is super fine)
Simultaneously, melt down panela (dried sugar cane) until caramely liquidy.
Combine liquid chocolate and panela.
Add extra ingredients. In our case we had ground nuts, mint from the garden, and vanilla beans from the pod (did you know the pods glisten like a disco ball? we had no idea!)
We began this after a huge dinner complete with dessert, made by cake master tommy (who was also building a house from bamboo in the forest) and as we were pouring the chocolate into molds, we were eating it like soup, until we had bellyaches. It was amazing how everyone came together and worked so efficiently. Definitely a highlight of not only the farm or Ecuador, but probably my life.
We hardly slept that night due to the caffiein and woke up with a chocolate hangover. Sadly we had to miss morning yoga (that we did everyday as the sun rose over the palms) and breakfast, but we did grab enough chocolate to serve as our breakfast and lunch that day. oye!
We made it to the site… scroll through a stack of photos and you can see our mugs elated from chocolate making http://wisdomforest.org.4go.to/english/Welcome.html
We walked in the morning heat for about an hour before hitching a ride on the back of a truck into town, like real locals, and took several buses totalling 13 hours taking us to our last Ecuadorian location; Cuenca.
We love Cuenca! We happened to arrive on the weekend of a Cuenca founding holiday which meant the parks were packed with food and vendors and live music.
We went to markets, museums, parks and the many huge beautiful churches, and enjoyed a couple meals out . It was a perfect place for the things we like to do in little colonial towns.
Sadly, after a few days… we had to move on to make it through Peru to meet our Inca Trail/Machu Pichu dates.
We are preparing to leave Colombia behind and are looking forward to Ecuador, but not before reviewing the past 3 weeks.
We arrived in the capital city of Bogota and didn’t let the altitude of 2600 meters hold us back a bit. During our first full day there, we rented bicycles from new friends, Diana and Juan, and participated in Ciclovia. Every Sunday, the city closes large portions of the streets to cars and opens them up to bikers, runners, walkers, skaters, etc. It seems that the whole city really takes advantage of the Ciclovia and for us, it was a great opportunity to see a less touristy section of the city. The next day we tackled the Monserrate, a mountain in the heart of the city that rises to almost 3200 meters above sea level. While most tourists opt for the funicular or the cable cars, we opted for the stairs. An hour and a half worth of stairs. Luckily, we met a French Canadian couple, Keyan and Jean-Philippe who made for excellent company. They live on a cattle ranch and are a part of the locavore movement there. We felt very accomplished and weak-kneed when we finally reached the summit. The only problem we had in Bogota was finding a place to eat. In the neighborhood where we stayed, we frequently found restaurants to be closed during prime dining hours or just straight up out of food. Fortunately, Diana runs food tours around the city and was kind enough to meet us for a few delicious meals.
When it was time to leave Bogota, we decided to take a night bus to Manizales, a university town in the coffee region. We didn’t account on the bus actually arriving on time and unfortunately arrived in the Manizales bus terminal around 4:30am. We were grateful to nap in our hostel for a few hours before exploring the coffee finca, Guayabal. The fatigue probably contributed to our difficulty in getting to the plantation. From our hostel we took one bus back to the Manizales bus terminal, another bus from there to the Chinchina terminal where we were meant to take a taxi to the farm. Our bleary eyes didn’t recognize the Chinchina terminal since it resembled a gas station, and kept cruising. It wasn’t until a routine bus check (when a military-type person stops the bus and checks that there are no unticketed passengers) when we were informed that we were past our stop. Luckily, the bus checker was very helpful and eventually called the plantation owner who came out and picked us up in a van herself! We ate a delicious lunch, which included what tasted like pickled vegetables, before beginning the 2 and a half hour tour of the farm and the coffee process. Rachelle found everything especially interesting. We got to taste not only raw coffee beans, but also raw cocao beans! While we’ve had good cups of coffee in Colombia, we learned that the majority of the good beans are exported to the States. We’re definitely going to come home more appreciative of our morning cups of joe. We also learned that every single coffee bean in Colombia is picked by hand. Buy fair-trade! It was also in Manizales that we discovered our love for Exito, sweet Exito. Exito is a supermarket chain, similar to Target in that it also sells, clothes, electronics, etc. I guess what I’m describing is a big box store, but sometimes it feels so nice to do something familar like pushing a shopping cart through a grocery store. And the air-con doesn’t hurt either.
36 hours after arriving in Manizales we were moving on to Medellin. Our first order of business on arrival was dinner, and boy did we score. Two blocks from the hostel was the vegetarian restaurant, Verdeo. What a treat for the body and soul! On our walk, we got our serving of meat when we walked by muscle men pumping iron at one of the neighborhood outside gyms! Another highlight occurred on the Medellin cablecars. First, Maria Luz, a friendly middle aged woman befriended us and humored our broken Spanish for an hour while she gave us tips about seeing the city. Then, on that same cablecar we met a young Colombian boyscout who astutely asked if we were a couple and was promptly accused of being ¨fresh¨ but we secretely applauded him for his progressiveness. He also gave Rachelle a brand new boyscout journal, which we are obligated now to keep with us despite its bulk because he was so sweet! We owe Maria Luz a debt for tipping us off to the futbol game that was being played that night. We raced back to the hostel, made refried bean and avacado sammies, and raced to the stadium excited to wash down dinner with a few stadium beers. The police in riot gear surrounding the stadium should have given us a hint about what we were in for. Beer is not sold in the stadium because the fans are insane. INSANE. Our tickets were in the ¨fan¨section, which was more like a mosh pit. Every time the home team scored, the fans in the stands above us bum rushed the field and anyone in their way, including us. We are happy to report that we made it out alive. During our time in Medellin we visited the botanical gardens (free activity!), walked the historical center, rode the cable cars to hike (a bit) around Parque Avri, walked up a small mountain and visited a mini-city, and deepened our love for Exito. At the end of a long day, we were a bit disappointed to find that the modern art museum was closed, so we dropped by the Exito on our long walk back to the hostel to find the Exito was throwing itself an anniversary party and we were invited! Free popsicles, free cookies, free granola bars, free pound cake samples with a schmear of arequipe, and a huge bag of nuts on deep discount. You had me at free popsicle, Exito. We really enjoyed our time in Medellin, but the sunshine of the coast was calling to us, so it was time to move on.
Our transportation mojo finally switched on when on the morning we wanted to leave Medellin we bought airfare to Cartagena for WAY cheaper than the 16 hour bus ride we were prepared to take. Finally! In no time at all we were in the sweltering humidity of Cartagena. We sweatily schlepped through the colonial old town and to the disappointing beach. (There was, however, a nice Exito!) The good beach in Cartagena is not actually in Cartagena and we were prepared to make the journey when an opportunity arose to stay at a surf camp outside of Santa Marta, so we took it.
Once again we lost a day to travel on our way to Santa Marta, which is only technically 4 hours away. It was an hour on the city bus to the Cartagena bus terminal, 5 hours on a bus to the Santa Marta bus terminal, a 15 minute taxi ride from the terminal to the market, another hour on a city shuttle out past Tayrona National Park where we were dropped off at a sign on the side of the road, and then a 30 minute walk (with our big backpacks strapped to our backs) through coconut farms before we finally arrived at Costeño Beach. But we found it to be worth the effort. We slept in a thatched hut dorm 50 yards from the ocean. There were coconut trees everywhere and we got to try young green coconuts fresh from the tree. We´ll never be able to drink coconut water from a box again. It was so refreshing. And the coconut meat was like no coconut we´d ever tasted! Truthfully, the accomodations were pretty rustic, (picture yellow water dripping out of a cut pvc pipe in the shower wall) but the luxury was in the coconuts…and the miles of empty beach. Everyday we walked the beach for hours without seeing another person. It was quite romantic! We didn´t surf, but enjoyed cooling off in the ocean and relaxing on the beach. There was no wifi there either, so it was nice to be completely disconnected for a few days. We also enjoyed meeting Chris from Lancaster, our first fellow Pennsylvanian of the trip!
When we returned to Santa Marta we were delighted to find that our hostel (an ex cartel mansion, complete with tacky decor and secret passageways) had wifi, a pool, a sea breeze, a big kitchen, and was only 5 blocks from the Exito. We spent our time planning our next moves, relaxing by the pool, and shopping for, cooking, or eating our meals….at the Exito. In fact, we frequented 3 different Exitos, once, all in one day. One day we escaped our laziness and hitched a ride on a scuba diving boat for a snorkelling excursion. Sadly, there are not snorkel masks large enough to accomodate Meg´s spectacles, so she had to snorkel blind. Luckily, the water was clear turquiose so she was still able to make out tropical fish and coral reef. We breaked for lunch on a gorgeous white sand beach in Tayrona National Park. Definitely, the most beautiful and classically Caribbean beach we have been on yet! The day ended on a burnt and nauseous note when the wind picked up and half the boat ended up vomiting over the side of the boat. An experience to remember!
The breeze helped the heat, but it has still been in the 90s our entire time here, so we decided to visit Minca for a few days. Minca is a town an hour outside of Santa Marta in the Sierra Nevada mountains. We had to hike a windy dirt path through palms and the largest bamboo trees we´ve ever seen, but the view was worth it. From the hostel where we stayed we were able to look down the valley and see Santa Marta and the ocean. The town is tiny and other than going on a walk to the river one day, there wasn’t much for us to do other than relax. So we did alot of that. The fact that the town had no ATM and we only had enough funds for beds and food also attributed to our excuse for relaxing. We met alot of really great people, including the gems of our Colombian trip Krystel and Erin! They are friends from their years spent in Berlin although Krystel is French Canadian and Erin is Australian. We are so excited that they are both relocating to Montreal after their trip, so we can’t wait to show them Philly’s finer side and to visit them there. We were also happy to get to know Lance from Colorado, Cato from Holland, Andrea and Mike from Portland (Oregon), and Kris from Australia. And we can’t forget Lynn and Larry from northern New Jersey who helped lighten our load by giving us a ride in their rental car (!!!) back to Santa Marta. Thanks!
Once back in Santa Marta we hunkered down for Easter and Meg’s birthday. We were surprised that Easter passed by without much fanfare (and Passover, forget about it!), so we focused on Meg’s birthday. We enjoyed drinks with friends at the hostel’s bar the night before and actually treated ourselves to dinner out the night of her birthday. We ate veggie burgers with french fries (with American ketchup and mustard!) and shared a coconut lemonade and a tamarindo slushy. For dessert we shared a passion fruit torte and almond apple crisp. Not very Colombian, but delicious! 31 on 3/31/13 pretty exciting!
Coming up we have 3 flights in one day to get us to Ecuador (Baranquilla- Medellin- Lima and finally to Quito), but that our friends is another update!
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