Friday, July 28, 2006

Cartegena, the colourful city

i've now reached Cartegena which is still on the columbian coast and so still very hot indeed. i'm now travelling with Johanna and Jennie both of whom are swedish and occasionally forget that i'm not only to be confronted by my perplexed face after they've asked me a question! Cartegena is, apart from very hot, very beautiful- in fact it says in the guide book 'one of the most beautiful in South America', (nd if thats not a recipe for disappointment i don't know what is) but actually it is- one of the most beautiful i mean. The old part of the city is still completely surrounded by the original old wall and the buildings within the wall all seem to painted a different colour and are punctuated by pretty shaded plazas. The first day we arrived we watched the most spectacular thunderstorm over the city with lightening so bright it was almost daylight. After the rain stopped we spent the evening wandering the streets and being persuaded to buy pieces of jewellery from some of the many street salesmen. The following day we saved our energy for the evening as we had heard that Cartegena has a reputation as a party city, again we were not disappointed and danced til almost dawn! The next night was pretty much a re-run of the previous and again we had much fun.
You'll be pleased to know we have explored the city to some extent, well we had done lots of shopping and thats has covered alot of ground! We walked along the top of the walls in a thunderstorm- i was terrified and had to sit down half way along! it seems to be the season here for thunder storms and most days we have been able to watch amazing lightening shows (i'm yet to be able to capture this on film but i keep trying) There is, however only so much shopping a girl can do (especially when she's got no job!) and so after a few days of heat in the city we decided to head for a remote beach called Playa Blanca. This is far more remote than Tayrona and had no electricity or even running water- we had to wash in bottled water (how very decadent!). I've now had good oportunity to work on my tan and finally i look like i've been away on holiday! i think in a few days i'll head south and once again seek cooler weather.

a beach paradise

After the ardous trek to the lost city, Johanna (the swedish girl i met on the trek) and i decided to spend some time at the national park of Tayrona. This on a remote penisula close to the village we were staying and can only be reached by boat or by a long hike. Needless to say we took the boat but this wasn't nearly as relaxing as i'd anticipated, the waves were huge, the boat was tiny and by the end of the journey i was as wet as if i'd swum there myself!! Very happy to get my feet back on dry land i looked around and discovered the beaches were beautiful and best of all there were no people trying to sell indescriable pieces of tat of braid my hair so apart from the other holiday makers it was very peaceful. we strung up our hammocks and got on with the serious business of sunbathing. This is how we spent the next few days, sunbathing, a litttle snorkeling and generally just chilling out. The evenings were equally laidback but as we were probably a little dehydrated from the day time it didn't take many cuba libres until we were quite tipsy! That fact combined with the lack of electricity (and so any light after dark) made ordinary things such as finding the toilet block (Johanna managed to fall into a ditch on her way there) and then getting into our hammocks did prove difficult! Much fun and relaxing was had and after a few days we moved on further down the coast to Cartegena.

have you ever seen legs like this?!

this is me after i returned from the lost city tour- i told you i was eaten alive by creatures!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

who knew they had crabs in the jungle?

i've just returned from my trek to the lost city or 'Ciudad Perdida' as its called in spanish; back to civilisation after 6 days in the jungle and 5 nights of sleeping in a hammock. The first day began very early when our guide knocked on my room door at 6am! (-slightly earlier than expected and so i made my first error and forgot to pack my Bikini which had been drying from the previous day). On arriving in the next town i met the rest of our group, i knew it was going to be small because the world cup final was being played later on in the afternoon and just about everyone i had met wanted to stay in town to watch that; but the couple i met in the hotel lobby were a 64year old austrailian couple, not exactly who i'd imagined spending the next 6 days with! But as it turns out there was one more member of our group, Johanna a swedish girl and she too hadn't expected our guide to turn up so early and had slept right through his knocking! she turned up about half an hour later looking a little worse for wear and then spent the initial bus journey fast asleep trying to get rid of her hangover much to the shock of our older companions. Before we reached the small town from which we would start our walk the bus had broken down twice, the final time the driver removed a rather large cable from under the bonnet and then hit the engine with a hammer before it started again (!?) and picked up various people along the way, including a hitchhiker going our way and the guide's 2 sons who would also be acompanying us on the trek too. The hike finally began several hours later than planned and started off quite easily walking out of the town along a shady path beside a gurgling river, stopping to have lunch and swim in the river (in my underwear as i had forgotten my bikini) "not too bad", i thought, "i hope the whole thing will be like this" - wrong! about 30 minutes after lunch we reached the bottom of a large steep hill and started to ascend, after about 40minutes of this i did think maybe i was going to die- never in my life have i ever been so sweaty! not after the gym or even the hottest nightclub ever, it was fairly gross; and everytime i looked up there was more steep hill above me, in fact i was suspecting this was actually a mountain! we continued to walk upwards for about 2hours afterwhich my legs didn't feel like they still belonged to me! finally at the top we walked for a few more hours until we reached our destination for the night( the hut in the picture above). There was no electricity and so after it got dark ther wasn't much to do, which was just as well really as we were all very tired and so fell to sleep in our hammocks strung up on the veranda.
The following morning we awoke around dawn to the sound of the cockerel crowing on the ground beneath our hammocks and i discovered that my legs are obviously faviourite food for the mosquitos. We were on the road fairly early, a blessing as by 8am the sun was already very hot and again i was dripping wet, um attractive! The scenery was beautiful, no roads to be seen at all, just mountains covered in jungle and the occasional small farm, the owners of which, our guide told us, had to walk the way we had already come just to get to the nearest town! We arrived at our destination for the day fairly early and so could spend the rest of the afternoon swimming in the river just beneath our camp, lovely and relaxing day. Which should perphaps of warned me that following day maybe a little difficult...
It was! We got early and left immediately after breakfast and walked straight down to the river, that we had to cross and then up a mountain and down the other side, pausing briefly to sample to bananas, avocado and pineapple that were growing on the trees beside us and pass through a tiny village made of small circular huts belonging to the indigenous people of the area. The people are tiny, we met a woman who could not have been taller than 4'2, had 5 children with another on the way and didn't know how old she was! We reached the river again after a few hours only to find out we had to cross it again, and again and again- in fact we had to cross it another 8 times! Its rainy season in the jungle at present andalthough we had been lucky not not got rained on as we walked, there had been rain in the evenings and night time as a result the river was higher (and faster) than usual, so much stornger that our guide had at some points to carry his 10yr old son across so that he didn't get washed away. After crossing the river for the final time we reached the entrance to Ciudad Perdida, well actually what we had reached was the bottom of an impossibly long flight of narrow moss covered steps that we had to climb; Going up these steps, although very punishing on my leg muscles was nothing like the terror i felt when we had to descend these slippery stairs a few days later. At the top we encountered our first set of ruins, these were circular platforms on which small circular houses had once been built. The entire site was almost overtaken by the jungle so there were vines hanging down, tropical leafy trees and hundreds of tiny pink and orange flowers everywhere we looked, growing right up to the orderly placed, but now slighty green stones of the city; giving the whole place an air of mystery if not an enchanted quality.
We spent 2 days at the ruins before we had to leave and begin our perilous return to the river. The following morning we had a tour of all the ruins; as the city was only rediscovered 25yrs ago not much is known about the way in which the people lived or what really caused the demise of their civilisation and so i was left with many unanswered questions even after we had explored the ruins extensively. Our accomodation whilst at the ruins was a wooden hut where we slept beneath mosquito nets on little roll mats and washed in the waterfall that ran down the mountain side, comfortable enough but rather cold at night- to the point where Johanna and i shared a 'bed' just to keep warm. And the mosquitos... have you ever seen a swarm of them!? by the end of our 2 days there Onix, our guide's youngest son, had 452 bites on his body!
The walk back should, you might think be easier and indeed it may be if we hadn't have to do it in 2 days instead of the 3 it took to walk there. After leaving the city we walked all the way back to the place we stayed on the first night, a full 8 hours of difficult walking and again many crossings of the river. We had seen no wildlife on the journey out and so much to my suprise as i was scrambling over a rock, several miles from the river and large bright red crab tried to bite me! i'm not sure who was more shocked me or the rest of our group as i let out a loud scream, don't worry i left the experience unharmed. After that we did see several more crabs, but rather disappointingly no monkeys or jaguars.
Our final day was only 3 easy hours of walking, most of this downhill and so i was expecting to be back at my hostel around lunchtime but... when we reached the town we had started from we were told that no bus was coming from the tour agency and we simply had to wait for a vehicule travelling in our direction, needless to say it was much much after lunch time when we finally reached civilisation very tired indeed and in desperate need of a good shower.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

open water diver!

its official! woo hoo, i now have my open water diver certification and can dive to a whole 18m anywhere i want. the course was good fun and i enjoyed being underwater as you feel totally weightless and can do silly things like back flips etc but one thing you can't do underwater that i really struggled with, is talk or in fact even smile. Your whole face is covered by a huge and fairly uncomfortable mask and you have a big tube stuck in your mouth, so facial communication is rather difficult. The fish you see look cool, lots of bright colours, strange shapes and interesting coral but i don't know anything about fish and so with noone able to point out the different species or give me information on them after 50 minutes or so its quite enough time for me to come back to the surface and start talking again. thats enough of my little whinge, i'm actually glad that i did it and will probably do it some more if i go somewhere with cool underwater things to see or do- i think more than just looking at fish i would prefer to have a task or little challenge; my favourite dive on the course had really strong currents which it was difficult to navigate through and you could feel the water rushing past, sort of frightening but exhilarating at the same time!
Apart from the dive course i haven't done much else over the last few days, the weather here is so hot and i'm discovering i'm not really a beach person- there's just too much sand everywhere! The coast here is beautiful, the mountains rise almost straight out of the sea and range from being covered in deep rainforest to sparse tall cacti, the whole area here is a natural park and its easy to see why. (the internet connection is far to slow to put photos on here though, sorry)
Tomorrow i set out on possibly my biggest challenge yet- 6 days of trekking through the rainforest in about 80% humidity to some pre-columbian ruins called the lost city. wish me luck, i'll let you know how i get on.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

so many stars

once again i seem to have become somewhat rubbish at updating my blog, this of course is due to rubbish internet conections and not my laziness! After Bogota i headed for a small town called Villa de Leyva it is a popular weekend destination with people from Bogota, but as i got there on thursday there was a distinct lack of people around and i didn't meet anyone til the following evening.friday morning i spent wandering around the cobbled streets and into the nearby hills for a lovely view of the town, in the afternoon and on my way down the mountain i found myelf in the gardens of a lovely hotel and so not to miss the opportunity i spent a few hours beside the poolside pretending i actually stayed there, i think the security guard at the entrance sussed me out but he let me off anyway. that evening i met two couples at dinner, columbian girl and her dutch boyfriend and another columbian girl and her american boyfriend so we spent the rest of the evening speaking a sort of spanglish! we also decided that the following we would go horse riding to some waterfalls that are close to the village.The horse riding was great fun, alot more relaxing than it had been in Ecuador, due to the fact that my horse wasn't totally mental this time! the waterfalls too were very pretty if a little cold! and the scenary was lovely. Our guide was a really sweet girl who was only 14 but had been riding for 12 years!!!- she was ace. it was a long ride to the falls (longer than we hd expected) and by the time we had finished and had to ride back the sun was already low in the sky and our bums slightly sore so to make the return a little quicker we had some races! the american guy had easily the fastest horse (much to his delight) and so never wanted to stop racing, he was just over taking me when we both heard a clatter of metal on the track beneath us. all i saw was his saddle beging to slip and then suddenly everything was on the road-one of his saddle straps had totally snapped, luckily he was fine, somhow he had managed to just dismount!! Our little guide didn't panic at all, she had us all looking for the missing piece of leatherand when we couldn't find it he simply wapped his saddle for hers and somehow managed to temporaily attach it together and she rode back like that. This did however slow our progress to only a trot (probably the most uncomfortable speed ever) and soon it was getting very dark. The sunset over the mountains was beautiful and then as we were so far away from other lights we could see so many stars everywhere and on the ground instead of stars were hundreds of glow worms flashing it was like they put on a little show for us, well cool! i don't know however how the horses found their feet on the track as i could bearly see my hand in front of my face by the time we got back. And after our marathon trek we did nothing but enjoy well deserved meal back in town.saturday midday until sunday morning (!) was spent on a bus to the coast, i arrived, fairly tired, and the heat when i got out of the air conditoned bus hit me as soon as i got off the bus! the first thing i noticed was that the two old men sat at the cafe beside me were tucking into a bottle rum and it was only 8.45am! (welcome to the beach!) i then spent the next hour wandering from hostel to hostel trying to find a room- i had forgotten it was a bank holiday weekend, oops-i have eventually found somewhere nice to stay and there are loads of people here. today i started the first day of my open water diving course, a very early morning-8am in the water (compunded by the fact that i had been drinking on the beach til 2.30!). Finding that my mouthpiece worked was a revelation for me and quite an amusement for my instructor! it is bit scary being under the water and totally depending on my equipment but i think i can get used to it, there i also a massive boring book to study whic was a bit of a shock when i did look at it. i'll let you know how i get on.