Bogota, Colombia

Technically this is Bogotá; revisited, as I was first here for a night after flying from Leticia 2 weeks ago. It’s people are stylish, urban, quirky. There’s graffiti everywhere. It’s streets are arty and edgy, yet at the same time there are immaculate galleries like the Museo Botero. Now I don’t really get art, but this place is fun. The walls are lined with things like this Fat Monalisa by famous Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Made me laugh. There is also a Salvador Dali, which is always worth a ponder for its pure bonkers value.

I then (accidentally) wandered into the Museo Historico Polica. No I haven’t been blog hacked by someone cultured. They were giving out sweets. Before you know it you are ushered on a private tour by one of Bogotá’s finest. Crime must be slow today. It’s disturbing, interesting and dull all in equal measure, but I was too polite to leave. From what I can gather the gist is an exercise in PR for The National Police force. They proudly tell you how many bad guys they’ve shot this year. Which I think is meant to make me feel safe as a tourist here but you can’t help thinking; Inaprops much? They do however have an interesting bit on Pablo Escobar – Colombian drug lord supremo. They have his Harley motorcycle and the bloodstained jacket he was shot in. Again, slight bad taste maybe? It is however a perfect excuse to watch Johnny Depp in Blow, the 2001 film about the Medellin cartel.

Later a group of us headed to the Zona Rosa, the posh area of bars/restaurants just North of centro, and home of the Bogota Beer Company. The specially brewed ales tasted drinking a pint of fabreeze to me, but boys get excited about draft beers, bless them.

Nothing however could overshadow Bogota’s best culinary invention; Chocolate Santafereno. Yes that’s right, hot chocolate with a slice of cheese to drip in. La Puerta Falsa, is a cute ye old bakery in Le Candelaria, has been serving it for over 100 years old. Genius.

Santa Marta & Taganga, Colombia

Santa Marta
…is an uglyish little seaside town. Simon Bolivar, the Venezuelan revolutionary off of the 17/1800’s died here. He tried to unite South America in independence against the Spanish, so the guy’s a ledge (end) here.

I prefer my beaches not over looking shipping yards, call me fussy, so me and yo yo Joe head 10 mins out of town to El Rodadero beach. Joe is Cusco friend from volunteering at Yanapay. He’s also a hiphop artist/producer from Manchester. Brap. Hence Rach, Poppybobs and I nicknamed him thus. It’s nice hanging with a fellow Northerner.

So it’s a scortching Saturday, Rodadero is choc-a with Colombian families. It’s like a South American Benidorm. We come back from a little swim in the sea, to the spot where we left out clothes/pesos. Alas, they are ALL gone. Vanished. Gutted. After staring at each other is disbelief for a few minutes, it’s not the couple of quid im bothered about, it’s the fact that I’m at least a 30 min walk from Santa Marta in only a bikini. Upsetting. Walk of shame indeed. There is a happy ending however, because being the idiots that we are we realise we are a few meters left of the correct palm tree, where all of our stuff is fine. Doh. So that’s my nearly robbed in Colombia story.

Taganaga
…is 10 mins from Santa Marta in the other direction. Once a small fishing village it’s now popular for low price PADA diving courses. Which of course equals annoying backpacker hell. There are a couple of sweet looking white washed, blue trimmed cottages on the hillside as you enter, luring you into thinking you are in Greece. Be it a poor drinking man’s Greece, with disguarded glass bottles of Aguila beer everywhere. I hid in the tranquil gardens of Casa Felipe for most of my time here.

So back in Santa Marta I’d been having my ‘I don’t get the fuss over Taganga’ argument all day. Jo was not convinced so to proove what a shithole it was, and a little drunk, we took an impromptu taxi ride here at 2am. All I proved however was that Taganaga is in fact a half decent out, as we partied on the packed rooftop of El Garaje club till the early hours. Dam.

Parque National Tayrona, Colombia

This place stuck in my head after reading Mark Mann’s ‘The Gringo Trail’ a few years back. Although I think the main character dies here after too many drugs and a riptide on Arrecifies beach. So hopefully that won’t happen.

You enter the park at El Zaino, shuttle bus to Canaveral, and then trek through the jungle that lines the coastline . Even in the shade your clothes melt onto you. It’s the hottest I can ever remember being. The irony is, after praying for sun for so long, for a few split seconds I longed to be transported back to an icy Bolivian night. There’s just no pleasing some people.

You walk 45 mins to the aforementioned Arrecifes beach. Although it’s only a teaser, the currents really are too deadly to swim. Then you continue 20 more mins to La Piscina, where you have the dilemma of ‘shall I stay here, or will there be a nicer beach just around the next corner?’ It’s the classic urban myth. I kept the faith. After about 2 hours you reach the promise land; Cabo San Juan de la Guia.

I rock up at a hut, gasping for air. This must be the entrance to the magical kingdom where the hammocks for the night are. Excellent. The gatekeeper of the hammocks however must have been channelling the energy of the Amazon sloth from last week, as he was going about his business in actual slow motion. After at least 20 mins of suspense we have the exchange of:

‘Top or Bottom?’

I instinctively say top, secretly wondering how exactly that works in a hammock. I’m too tired and sweaty to care as I walk across a small campsite towards crushed rows of bunched up, moth bitten rags swinging against each other like those desktop magnetic ball stress things. This must be the ‘Bottom’ option. Brilliant. I lower my expectations.

When I realise what ‘Top’ means however, I actually double-take. Where the crux of two perfect beaches meet looms a small hill on its own island. Perched upon it is a round wooden cabana, with 12  pastel colour hammocks. It’s like sleeping inside a pretty kaleidoscope. One that looks out over the Caribbean. The whole place felt like a castle turret from a fairytale. Except a treehouse version. It’s the beach equivalent of the Garden of Eden.

I befriend a few hammock neighbours, which easy to do when you are sleeping inches from them. I luck out as they are also the guys that brought a stash of rum. We toast to our ocean breeze penthouse for $25 Pesos (£8) a night, and laugh at the plebs camping in mosquito ridden tents below. Its dog eat dog here in backpacker-ville.

Being cocooned in the tropical warmth of a hammock watching a storm circle around you at 4am this morning was slightly surreal. If I didn’t know better I’d have said it was CGI’d.

I’d of stayed longer but to be honest I was itching to get back to civilization after I’d exhausted  two days reading my stray copy of ELLE cover to cover.  Don’t judge me.  I might still need to know what’s in fashion, even though I only live in the same three outfits nowadays.

I left, but no jungle bound walk back for me. We meet a man with a speedboat, as you do, and tear off like Foxx and Farrell in Miami Vice, flying air-bound across giant waves. Coolest getaway ever.

Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena is beautiful. A  25 hour bus ride North of Bogota, it’s a little like Colonia del Sacramento Colombia Uruguay, or a tropical version of the shambles, York.

I meet Christine (America) and we go to the Volcan de Lodo El Totumo; a mud volcano. Lowering yourself into the 15m pit has so be one of the strangest sensations in the world. It’s consistency is like wallpaper paste and cake batter. Apparently it has therapeutic minerals, which feels great when villagers massage it all over you.If mud in your ears, hair, mouth isn’t weird enough, stranger still is the fact that you become super buoyant. Unlike water, it’s is impossible to sink. It’s what hanging out on Mars must feel like, and you emerge like an alien to walk 20 meters like a swamp monster to a lake to wash it all off. It was pretty fun.

In an attempt to shed dried mud from our pores, (and just hangout on a stunning beach to be honest,) the next day 8 of us head to Playa Blanca. 20km from Cartagena on Isla de Baru, this is where the Caribbean, and a little authentic Colombia, kicks in.

Amazon River: Iquitos, Peru to Leticia, Colombia

Leticia is the Colombian border town that mirrors Peru´s Iquitos. Cept it´s much nicer. Notably as there less of a sex trade than Iquitos, which could give Phuket a run for it´s money in the seedieness stakes. Again, plane or river are pretty much the only way in or out of Leticia, so it´s still very much gateway to Colombia proper. I don´t really feel like i´m quite in the land of cocaine and kidnapping just yet. The climate and vibe is much more like a tropical island. Yes, I´m gradually edging one step closer to the Caribean.

The change of currency messes with your head slightly if you, like me, have the division skills of a 7 year old. Too many zeros hurt my brain. $10 is 20,000 COP (I´m aware i´m not American, there just isn´t a pound sign on this keyboard.) Anyway, it´s a cute town to wait a night for a flight, but not for much else. Therefore there is nothing much exciting to report, namely because after yesterday I am NEVER speaking to new people again. Well, for a day at least.

So far I have restrained from relaying some of the truly painful conversations I have had with people. I would litch be here all day. But as i’ve nothing else to report and this pushed me over the edge, here are a couple of snippets.

I should pre-empt this by saying I have met some amazing people in my 8 weeks so far. They mostly fall into the following categories:

´Border friends´- People you meet in planes, boats, trains and misc transit. Sometimes they are nice but they serve a purpose i.e split taxi fares. They are for small talk and purely practical. You can completely bin them off afterwards. They know the score.

´Puppies´ – They follow you around all lost, waiting for you to come up with a plan and are major keenos. You have to fake destination them to get rid, or make up elaborate lies to spare their feelings and disappear in the night.

´Peops you´d defo go for a drink with´- these are good, qwerky, or interesting. You like them, you share funny stories, they are good company for a night out.

´Keepers´- As in you´d be real life friends, or often they remind you of your real life friends. They are harder to find but amazing to travel with when you do, you wake up after a week or so realising you´ve spent every waking minute together and you are still laughing. You are in mourning and wear black for the day when they are gone.

Then there are the frickin nightmares.

So. I gets on the 12 hour ´fast´boat at 5am. The ´slow´ boat is a hammock in a cargo ship. Sounds romantic, but it takes 3 days. Snooze.

It´s already crowded and I sit next to the nearest normal looking gringo. Travel 101. In a slight aside, I also need to vent about the crazily loud bible basher and his god squad mate that were sat behind me. American. Course they were. So multiply the word ´loud´by ten. They tried to handout leaflets on how to be mormans. Tragically, they weren´t even my biggest problem.

Back to gringo boy. He opens quite normally. His name is Paul, he´s Canadian, he started in Ecuador and is heading to Brazil, yada yada. All was good for 10 mins. He lured me into a false sense of security where I didn´t even have a chance to get out my ´don´t dare talk to me´ earphones. Then he dropped this gem:

Me: So what do you do…

Him: Oh im only 21 (strike 1) I´m still studying.

Me: Whatcha studying? (this is a good test to spot the international rah gap ýars. They are sometimes in disguise and the accents throw you.) All are still obsessed which which Uni they went to though and still do rah courses like Law, Architecture :) Medicine etc.)

Him: Evolutionary sciences, majoring in Herpetology and Etomology.

Me: Huh? (turns out it´s lizards and bugs and stuff). Me, once he´d explained: That sounds interesting (lolling in my head at my own fakeness)….I saw lots of things in the jungle yesterday like this really cute frog….

Him: (Cuts me off.) It wasn´t a frog.

Me: Oh (confused) I´m pretty sure it was.

Him: It would have been a toad. Do you know the difference between a frog and a toad? (Not stopping for an answer) Well…..They he proceeded to tell me in excruciating mind numbing detail.

This is at least ONE hour of my life that I won´t get back people! I kid you not.

He then decided to tell me (Er, didn´t ask) about ALL of the Amazon animals, birds, insects – and that´s rather a lot, until I finally snapped and grabbed my laptop. You might be thinking that given I was in the jungle, it might be nice to learn from such a scholar. You know, in case I wanted to win a pub quiz, but GOD he was a patronizing snooze.

The next two hours were made bearable by watching Fight Club. Brad at his best (by which I mean fittest.) He worked on his research paper whist I did this. Then it started again.

(We get given food on the boat….)

Me: Grr, there is no veggie option. I can´t really eat this beef/rice meal they have given us. Do you want it?

Him: I’m a veggie too.

Me: Oh ok, i´ll give it back then. No worries.

Him: Hang on. We shouldn´t waste it. (Get ready for this…)

“I am more of what you call a ´flexitarian.´??!!”

Me: WTF is that then?

Him: I only eat meat when it´s been sustainably/organically/locally/ethically sourced. Or if there is nothing else, or if I order it accidentally in a restaurant(!?) I don´t agree with Peru´s treatment of livestock or sustainable fish farming. I think it´s obismal that they don´t eat more vegetables and fruit.

Me: Firstly: You are not a veggie then, and ´Flex-a-whatever´is not a word. Second, It´s quite a poor country, maybe they have other things to worry about rather than popping to a deli for organic humus and blueberries, like we do?

(Luckily, before I chin him, a guy come round giving us a drink too….)

Him: Oh no (Looks like he´s going to cry.) It´s cola cola.

Me: (In my head) FFS! I know what´s coming.

Him: I only drink natural juices back at home, never fizzy drinks. I only go to independent supermarkets too. Coca cola are the epitome of evil blah blah blah…….

There are no words. I spent the rest of my 12 hour journey with my head out of the window so the river spray and boat engine drownded out his voice. If I could have hurled myself out of there I would have done.

An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

Blasts From The Past…

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