A Travellerspoint blog

Colombia - Tayrona National Park & Cabo San Juan de la Guia

My Love/Hate Relationship with Camping

Camping out in the forest is a large part of Canadian culture. I love everything about camping EXCEPT for the following: the tent, the bugs, the bathroom situation, and the dirt.

At Cabo San Juan de la Guia most of my worst fears about camping came true… and more. My disdain for camping comes with some history. First, I have never liked the tent situation because Derek has been duct-taping this “inflatable” mattress for the longest time, insisting that it would stay inflated. In the course of 8 hours of sleep, the mattress always deflates 10 minutes into it and I’m left with sleeping on the very hard, cold ground, thus NOT sleeping well or at all. At Cabo San Juan de la Guia, we were provided with a tent and these dirty and dusty mattresses that basically decorated the tent floor. They did not provide any cushioning. It was exactly like the “inflatable” mattress situation all over again.

Secondly, the bathroom situation at Cabo San Juan de la Guia was every OCD nurse’s worst nightmare. There were about 100 people staying at this site and there were only 4 smelly, grime-ridden, unisex bathroom stalls with no toilet paper. And there was only ONE SINK for the ENTIRE campsite. SERIOUSLY! ONE SINK!! The shower situation was worse with only 4 unisex shower stalls WITHOUT DOORS so that everyone can watch you shower. Of course, you have to shower with your bathing suit on but it is quite strange soaping and washing yourself in front of members of the opposite who are not your significant other. I felt as if I was giving a free show.

Dirt and bugs just come with camping. I am a wet-wipe and bug spray mega-user.

But camping at Cabo San Juan de la Guia is actually worth all of the trouble! Here's why....

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Click here for MANY more pictures

Posted by krisses 15:14 Archived in Colombia Comments (2)

Cartagena - Night Photos


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

This city is beautiful both by day and by night. It has a bit of an edgy feel to it by night but it's still safe and the lightning on the old colonial building creates some truly unforgettable scenes.

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Click here to see ALL the Pictures

Posted by dariusz 12:29 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Colombia - The Hay Festival of Cartagena de Indias

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Derek and I were fortunate enough to be in Cartagena during the Hay Festival – a literary and visual arts festival promoting social and literary responsibility through dialogue, art and music. We bought tickets based on this description in the programme:

[65] 18:00 - 19:00. Domingo, 29 de Enero 2012 CFCE - PLAZA DE SANTO DOMINGO (Patio).
Frente Cumbiero & Quantic
Frente Cumbiero lleva desde 2007 trabajando con grupos británicos, mezclando la cumbia con estilos más vanguardistas. La más sonada de estas uniones ha sido con Mad Professor (legendario productor de dub). Para 2012, Mario Galeano, líder de Frente Cumbiero, ha invitado al productor inglés Will Holland, de Quantic, a sumar fuerzas para producir un disco en Medellín que luego se presentará en concierto en el marco del River of Music, el espacio cultural de los Juegos Olímpicos de Londres 2012. La idea: una mezcla de sonido tropical-nacional, con un combo de músicos de primera línea que represente la vieja y la nueva guardia de la música nacional. Los lugares: Hay Festival Cartagena y a orillas del Támesis en julio de este año.

Yeah… We did not understand most of it either but were quite excited to attend a cultural event in Cartagena!

The concert took place in a Santa Domingo Plaza – a beautiful colonial building that surrounds a picturesque patio setting. There was a stage, an open area for standing room, and bleachers. The crowd was well dressed, trendy, and ranged in age.

Since I cannot provide an apt literary description of the sheer talent that performed that night, here are some snippets of what we enjoyed and I hope you do too:

Posted by krisses 05:05 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Colombia - The simple pleasures


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

It’s those little day to day things that make a trip to a country either very enjoyable or a chore. The attractiveness of the major attractions or tourist spots is important but what makes or breaks the trip is how comfortable, safe and welcomed you feel. Colombia is one of those countries that have it all. The major sights are breathtakingly beautiful but it’s the little day to day things that put it over the top as one of my favorite all time destinations. Here is a short list:

1) People are genuinely friendly and curious. They will ask where you are from and will really want to know if you are enjoying Colombia. When you say you love it they literally light up and you can see how proud they are of their countries rich cultural history. They may not always be entirely honest but even when the taxi driver pretends he doesn’t have change and scams you out of 50 cents he does not do it with anger or malice. He apologizes and offers you a shirt he just bought in place of change. You know he has change, and he knows you don’t want the shirt, so in the end you end up leaving the cab having paid $2.50 for the ride instead of $2. Not a big deal.

2) There is modern Colombian music incorporating traditional sounds EVERYWHERE. It’s a little thing but it’s important. You can see people in the restaurant kitchens and in public squares moving their feet and swaying their hips to the music. Taxi drivers turn it up and sing along to the music. You feel like there is a sound track to your trip and I’m still trying to figure out if I can find out the names of some of the songs that are stuck on repeat in my head.

3) The coffee is AWESOME. The traditional Colombian cup of coffee is called a “tinto” and it is a tiny cup of pure liquid energy served BLACK. I hate drinking my coffee black back in Canada. It tastes bitter and even if I add sugar to it makes my mouth contort in various uncomfortable ways. I have no idea what they do to the coffee here, or maybe rather it’s what they don’t do, but I LOVE sipping these tinto’s just the way they are. No sugar, no milk. It doesn’t taste bitter at all and it has a certain faint natural sweetness to it that reminds me a bit of dark chocolate. The best part is they are usually provided free of charge wherever you may be staying. I will miss my tinto’s!

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4) There are a ton of street food vendors and many of them are absolutely delicious. Most countries have excellent expensive restaurants but it’s a rare place where you can just go down the street and pick up amazing tasty food from a guy with a cart. One my favourites to pick up are these little balls of breakfast goodness they all serve called “Papa’s Rellenos” which basically means “stuffed potato”. It’s nothing more than some ground meat surrounded with chopped up potato and deep fried. It’s delicious and it’s been my best friend for breakfast this entire trip. The cost? Between 50 cents and 1 dollar depending on the vendors mood that day.

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5) Freshly squeezed fruit juices. They are everywhere, street vendors, restaurants, bars and they cost between 1 and 2 dollars for a giant cup. There are even street vendor stands that are just giant juicer machines with an attached cart carrying all types of fruit. You point to what you want and they make your juice right in front of you. Yummm.

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Here are some more pics of us enjoying the excellent Colombian street food:

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Posted by dariusz 07:46 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

Colombia - Adventure to the Rosario Islands and Baru

Cartagena is abundant with things to do just outside of the city. We decided that we visit a couple of the most popular sites outside of the city – Playa Blanca in Baru and the Rosario Islands.

We booked a day trip through a hostel in Getsemani. As you walk towards the port terminal where you take the boat, you’re bombarded with people offering agua, boat trips, and other random items such as chiclet gum and cigars. There is a port tax and National Park fee to pay, and once you pay it and cross into the port area you are separated from the street vendors. It’s almost as if you’re paying a tax to be free of the street vendors!

We were herded and squished into a boat with 20 other people. One lady brought her adorable 2 month old baby with her. She was quite strange with her child because I saw her place the baby on a sheet over the concrete ground and let her have “tummy time” in a crowded area. The baby could barely keep her head up and kept squishing her face into the ground and crying while her mom happily cheered her on. Why she would want to risk having her baby trampled over I have no idea, but this very baby was sitting right beside me on this jumpy boat.

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The ride to Playa Blanca was gorgeous. You can clearly see Cartagena’s skyline and the huge ports where gigantic boats dock after their long journey across the Atlantic or the Pacific via the Panama Canal. The plan for the day was snorkelling, lunch, and hanging out at Playa Blanca.
We stopped at an island to pick up snorkel gear. As we approached the island, children ran from the docks, jumped in the water and swam towards the boat. They climb onto the side of the boat and ask for money. The Colombian tourists on the boat seemed to know that if you throw coins off the side of the boat, the children will dive after the coin and catch it with their mouths. I found it seemingly cruel but impressed when they resurfaced triumphantly with coin in mouth!

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There are 2 choices when visiting the Rosario Islands: visit the aquarium or go snorkelling. Derek and I opted for snorkelling and were the only ones to go. After dropping a bunch of people off at Playa Blanca and the aquarium, the boat driver took Derek and I to the snorkelling area and told us that we had to pay the National Park Fee. Derek and I were not prepared to pay this fee because we thought everything was included. Derek gave him the quoted amount and all we had left for the rest of the day was $1. Unfortunately I was having stomach cramps so stayed in the boat. But as Derek left the boat to snorkel with another group, the boat driver took the money we gave him and divided it up between himself and another boat driver. Why would he divide the National Park money amongst himself and another boat driver if it were to be given to the National Park? Later, we pulled out our port tax receipt and realized that we already paid the National Park Fee! Had we remembered this we would not have been outsmarted by our boat drivers who proactively ensured themselves an excellent tip. The boat parked by the Aquarium and the boat driver let me sleep off my cramps.

About 30 minutes later, Derek climbed onto the boat! The group he was tagging along with dropped him off at the aquarium and he had a hell of a time trying to find the boat. He thought he was going to be stranded! He also said that while snorkeling, the coral was all brown and there were not a lot of fish to see. It seemed to be such a short time for snorkelling but if there wasn’t much to see it then it wasn’t too much of a loss.

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The next interesting thing occurred when the boat driver let a “junior” drive the boat. This “junior” driver didn’t even look as if he’d hit puberty yet but if he was learning the ropes, he might as well do it with the few passengers from the aquarium and us. We went from amused to fearing the worst as he drove the boat over shallow waters, hitting the coral below with the motor, and then providing a consistently jolting ride towards Playa Blanca. We anxiously looked at the boat driver but he peacefully fell asleep on top of a bunch of life jackets. Thankfully he didn’t run over any snorkelers along the shoreline as he let us off the boat.

Playa Blanca in Baru is a beautiful, white sand beach with clear, warm, and swimmable waters. However, the beach area is quite narrow due to the vast number of small tents to shield day-trippers from the sun (for a price), people offering a massage (for a price), dreadlock extentions (people actually buy these!), and an assortment of jewellery, drink, food, and souvenir vendors. Therefore, it is quite difficult to relax without someone hassling you to buy something. After talking to other backpackers, it is best to visit Baru and camp overnight to enjoy the beach while it is not littered with day trippers and vendors. This way, you can enjoy the island in uninterrupted peace.

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Boarding our boat became quite the fiasco. Most other boats had picked up their passengers and left but our boat was having trouble coming toward shore as the waves picked up and the tide came in. Of course, “junior” was the one driving the boat and just barely missed decapitating snorkelers along the shoreline. One German couple, Derek and I stayed back and watched what the German guy called “madness” – everyone was trying to get onto the boat while being knocked down by the waves. There were 10 people hanging onto the side at one time as others tried to toss their belongings onto the boat as others were unceremoniously and literally tossed on by the boat crew. After this 20 minute ordeal we finally boarded the boat.

I happily sat next to the adorable baby and her mother. The baby’s mom was trying to put on her life jacket while holding the baby, so I offered to hold the baby. It was great to hold the baby – she was so cute! But then “junior” started the boat and we were rockily on our way. Since the waves were higher, the boat bounced around more and I had trouble trying to keep the baby covered while her mom started putting on soaking wet, white leggings under her dress. Why this was priority over her baby that was being hit with waves and barely covered with the tiny blanket, I have no idea, but I can’t judge because I am not a mom. Fortunately, the baby seemed unbothered by all this but I guess it’s no different from having your face smushed into concrete while your mom makes you do tummy time in a crowded area.

“Junior” unskilfully tried to dodge the waves and it was such that he was TRYING to freak us out as the boat went airborne countless time. The boat drivers finally switched after the passengers’ screaming crescendo reached a fortissimo and several people begged for the driver to slow down. But did it REALLY have to get to that point?

Despite all that happened, we actually had a great time! The Colombian tourists, the people of Baru and the boat crew alike were hospitable, jovial, and friendly. The seafood we had on Baru was delicious. Playa Blanca is quite peaceful and pristine once the day-trippers and vendors leave the beach. We would definitely visit Playa Blanca again, but on an overnight camping trip.

When we arrived on shore and exited the boat, I saw the mom put a thin blanket down on the crowded concrete ground and place her baby on its tummy again as it cried in protest. Several moms watched in horror, shaking their heads and mouthing the words “¿por qué?” I am still shaking my head in wonder…

Posted by krisses 09:03 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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