Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winding Up Colombia



21 to 25 January, 2012 – Barichara, Bogotá (Colombia)

So, it happened again. Avianca flight from San Andrés to Bogotá was running late, leaving us with an extremely shortened connection for our flight to Bucaramanga. Huffing and puffing our way through Bogotá airport is becoming the norm, for us! Off the plane, out of arrivals, around, in we go, and straight on.

Landing in Bucamaranga was amazing. The city sits in valleys, while the airport is on a "meseta", hundreds of metres higher in altitude. Coming in, at dusk, we were admiring the city, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, land appeared just off from the wing. As I was about to comment to Jo that we were passing a mountain awfully close, we landed on that very piece of land.

The drive between Bucamaranga and San Gil is also amazing. Winding down into a cavernous canyon and ascending the other side. Beautiful, but hairraising. Our nerves were not helped by the fact that in Colombia, double lines are treated as a suggestion to not pass...

From Our Delightful Room - Barichara, Colombia
From Our Delightful Room - Barichara, Colombia
The hotel is almost 300 years old, and the room was decorated with antiques. But the best thing? Hot water! Haven't had hot water for about a month. And here, it ran very hot, very steady. I had the longest shower I've had on this trip.


Filet Mignon - With Ant Sauce
Filet Mignon - With Ant Sauce
Yes, that's right. Hormigas culonas, or fat bottomed ants. Steak, with an ant sauce, topped off with a handful of fried ants. Actually, it was a tasty dish. Although, the fried ants themselves actually resembled, in both taste and texture, burnt peanuts. Barichara, Colombia.


A Close-up of an Ant on My Steak
A Close-up of an Ant on My Steak
One of the fried fat-bottomed ants on my steak. Hormigas culonas are a regional culinary tradition, around Barichara (Colombia). Apparently, they are quite the aphrodisiac...


A View Down a Street in Barichara
A gorgeous, non-touristy Colonial village in Colombia. An enchanting place to stay.
A gorgeous, non-touristy Colonial village in Colombia. An enchanting place to stay.


Snapped From a Hurtling Bus...
Snapped From a Hurtling Bus...
While rocketing between San Gil and Bucaramanga, we wound to the bottom of this canyon and followed a river out of it again. An incredibly beautiful part of Colombia, and it allowed us to take our mind of the erratic driving for a bit. Did you know, for instance, that double lines in Colombia indicate that you have to drive faster to overtake another vehicle? "High accident zone" on a sign indicates that you must drive in a fashion that allows this zone to hold on to it's title. And numbers on signs with red circles, while elsewhere in the world this may indicate a limit of some sort, here it indicates a bare minimum speed.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

From Reggaeton to Calypso



17 to 21 January, 2012 – Isla San Andrés (Colombia)


Did Two Letters Fall From the Sign
Did Two Letters Fall From the Sign
"I drive really slow in the ultra-fast lane; While people behind me are going insane."

A very unfortunate name for a business, methinks. Isla San Andrés, Colombia.


Now, on to more serious things... San Andrés (and nearby Providencia) are politically part of Colombia, although geographically much closer to Nicaragua, and historically part of the English empire. Thankfully we missed the highest point of high season, and still found it as paradisical as expected, although if a few more tourists had been thrown in to the mix at remoter places around the island, then we may have lamented at paradise lost. Nearby islets, Johnny Cay and Acuario, could not have held many more people when we visited. But in contrast, we still found some little spots that we could call ours for a couple of hours. There were opportunities for snorkelling, and while it was fun with the fish, there really was not much coral to be seen.

Happy Fishies
Happy Fishies
Acuario Cay, Isla San Andrés, Colombia.


I Never Thought I'd Get a Cuddle From a Sting Ray
I Never Thought I'd Get a Cuddle From a Sting Ray
They told us that we would find manta rays here. I am no expert, but am fairly sure this is not a manta ray, but rather a variety of sting ray. In any case, it had no qualms about being handled, and was very gentle when held. Acuario Cay, Isla San Andrés, Colombia.


"We Like To Do Everything Together"
"We Like To Do Everything Together"
A fish couple. Acuario Cay, Isla San Andrés, Colombia.


An Iguana on Johnny Cay
An Iguana on Johnny Cay
Johnny Cay, Isla San Andrés, Colombia.


Cool Camouflage
Cool Camouflage
Another iguana on Johnny Cay, Isla San Andrés, Colombia.


Throw a White Cap On Him and Call Him a Smurf
Throw a White Cap On Him and Call Him a Smurf
An incredibly blue lizard. Another reptile resident of Johnny Cay, Isla San Andrés, Colombia.


The Oldest Church on San Andrés
The Oldest Church on San Andrés
A 170 year old Baptist Church. A beautiful wooden structure in the English speaking part of Isla San Andrés, Colombia.


Guess Who?
Guess Who?

We Can Never Resist a Cute Pair of Kittens
We Can Never Resist a Cute Pair of Kittens

View of Johnny Cay, Isla San Andrés
View of Johnny Cay, Isla San Andrés
Johnny Cay sits about 1.5 kilometres from the beach at San Andrés, Colombia. A popular day trip takes you out there to sunbathe with the iguanas. It is a picturesque place.


Incidently, while most people come here for the sun, the sand, and the sea, another attraction is all the duty free stuff. For us, this equated to really cheap beer. 50 cent cans, and that was from the 24 hour mini-market. Buy them from the shop, head down to the beach, park yourself within 300 metres of a club, and enjoy the music for free. Incidently, no person in Colombia plays music at a level below ear-splittingly loud, so you can be certain of hearing a club's music from this kind of distance. The only real problem, is that wherever you sit, you are within 300 metres of many clubs, so you have many tunes at varying levels that you need to perform audio gymnastics to separate. Still some reggaeton, which dominated the mainland coast, some calypso which always makes an appearance on Caribbean islands, and some other more traditional styles of the Latin region. We were, however, surprised to not hear any Bob Marley.

Getting here involved us making the second shortest air connection we have ever done. Co-incidentally, the shortest connection ever for us was at the same airport, but in 1997. Then, we ran through the airport with blank boarding passes and had the door of the plane closed behind us as we wandered up the aisle looking for any empty seats. This time, it was slightly more organised, only in-so-much as we had proper boarding passes with allocated seats. Even so, ten minutes is not a long time to exit one aircraft, leave the arrivals area through baggage claim, make your way past all the check-in counters, go through security, in to the departure lounge, and board your next flight!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Extreme North of the Continent



13 to 16 January, 2012 – La Guajira / Punta Gallinas, Santa Marta (Colombia)

We got whipped by the wind and drenched by the waves. Ploughing along the northern coast of Colombia, heading to Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point of the continent. Our tiny boat was tossed around. Salt water crashed over us, almost like somebody was standing above us emptying one bucketload after another. Looking at each other, we hung on to the belief that in this particular instance, it was all about the destination, not the journey. This was a bit more adventure than we had thought we needed.

Thankfully, we were right. The destination is magnificent. It's remote. It's wild. It's barren. It's so beautiful.


Early Evening Light
Early Evening Light
The rugged landscape near Cabo de La Vela, Colombia.


Inlet Beach
Inlet Beach
Near Punta Gallinas, just 50 metres from where we were staying, is this lovely beach. Mangroves...


The Northernmost Point of the Continent
The Northernmost Point of the Continent
Punta Gallinas, Colombia, as far north as you can get on the South American landmass. Wild, remote, and totally otherworldly.


Climbing the Dune
Climbing the Dune
Ascending on the landward side of the dunes at Taroa Beach, near Punta Gallinas, Colombia.


Slide Down the Dune, Straight Into the Sea
Slide Down the Dune, Straight Into the Sea
Gorgeous windsculpted dunes at Taroa Beach, Colombia. Perfectly formed and positioned hard up against the water's edge.


Beach Goats
Beach Goats
Early morning. The farmers have let their goats out to roam and feed. They descend over the cliffs on to the beach below. Punta Gallinas, Colombia.


Caracara
Caracara
Perched on a windswept tree, surveying the land for a meal. Punta Gallinas, Colombia.


"Langosta"
"Langosta"
The locusts of "La Guijara", Colombia, (nicknamed langostas - lobsters), leap wildly in...


Locust - Close-up
Locust - Close-up
Climbing on a cactus...


Cactus Spines
Cactus Spines

Lobster for Every Meal
Lobster for Every Meal
Actually, on the last day at Punta Gallinas, I chose to have the prawns. I had eaten lobster for pretty much every other meal.


The return boat trip was much more sedate. It was a very pleasant crossing, with the wind and waves coming from behind. This made the boat crossing over an hour shorter.

But the adventure was not over. The 4WD journey had its hiccups.

Flat Number Two
Flat Number Two
This was the spare. We had already had a flat tyre, and a few kilometres down the road, this is what happened to the replacement.


We stopped in Uribia on the way back. It is the capital of the region. It only numbers a few thousand residents, but swells every day with locals from the surrounding countryside. Organised chaos.

A Goat Transported by Bike
A Goat Transported by Bike
At the market, there were a couple of guys who seemed to have the job of getting goats on to bicycles. Uribia, La Guijara, Colombia.


Tax-free Black Market Petrol
Tax-free Black Market Petrol
Smuggled over the border from Venezuela. No bowsers, though, just syphoned directly from cans. La Guijara, Colombia.


And here's a lovely photo to finish on.

My Beautiful Wife
My Beautiful Wife
At Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point of South America.





Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reaching the Colombian Caribbean



5 to 12 January, 2012 – Tolú, Cartagena (Colombia)

After a long haul on the bus, we arrived at the Caribbean coast, at a town called Tolú. Largely bypassed by foreign visitors, but a popular place with Colombian tourists, the town partied till all hours. Tolú is a base for boat trips to the Islas San Bernardo, tiny Caribbean islands with white sand beaches surrounded by mangroves. Despite the disappointing snorkelling, we had a great day trip, enjoying some sun, some swimming, and a beer or two.

Wonky
Wonky
A pier on a tiny island in the Caribbean archipelago, Islas de San Bernardo, near Tolú, Colombia.


Those parties? They happen anywhere and everywhere. Even at our hotel! One guy had a pair of speakers, about a metre high, in the doorway of his room, plugged in to his laptop. A variety of music blasted out for many hours, on to the terrace and across to all the rooms. Surprisingly, this is not something that a Colombian hotel thinks is a problem. At one point, amongst the random tunes, a couple of tango numbers made an appearance. Jo commented that "Unless they are actually doing a tango, there is no excuse for the music to be that loud." I had to look - and yes, a few couples were out of their rooms and on the terrace, tangoing!

But, it was a nice place to be to celebrate 22 years of marriage – you can't complain when you are at the Caribbean, can you. We did have to leave our anniversary dinner until we were in Cartagena. Limited options in Tolú meant that, despite our seafood stew there being one of the most amazing dishes we have ever eaten, the atmosphere was lacking somewhat.

Cartagena, on the other hand, overflows with atmosphere. The centre is full of centuries old Colonial architecture, photogenic on every turn. It turned in to nearly a full week. Much of that time was spent wandering, exploring, discovering.

Luna Llena
Luna Llena
The full moon rises, Cartagena.


Hamburger Flavoured?
Hamburger Flavoured?
The picture implies it is not just mince meat flavour, but tomato, lettuce, cheese, and bun. That's a lot of tastes to cram in to a chip.


Cheeky
Cheeky
A bat in the old storerooms of a fort near Cartagena, looking up to pose for the camera.


Cartagena
Cartagena
A plaza in Cartagena, Colombia.


Saintly Skull
Saintly Skull
A monk, known for devoting his life ministering to the slaves of Cartagena, now entombed in a glass coffin in the church altar.


Iguana Door Knocker
Iguana Door Knocker
Cartagena, Colombia.


Smiling Wife
Smiling Wife

Kite-surfer at Sunset
Cartagena, Colmobia.
Cartagena, Colmobia.


Cartagena Street-lamp
Cartagena Street-lamp

A One-eyed, One-armed, One-legged Hero
A One-eyed, One-armed, One-legged Hero
Statue of Blas de Lezo. In previous battles, he lost an eye, an arm, and a leg, Despite this, and against all odds (25,000 to 2,500), this Spaniard successfully led the defence of Cartagena from a British naval attack. In the process, he lost his other leg, and ultimately his life. But he did get to become a statue!


Part of the Maze
Part of the Maze
One of the many tunnels that twists and winds underneath Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. This clever network includes dead ends and false passages to confuse attackers, and runs at multiple levels.


The Magnificent Castle of Cartagena
The Magnificent Castle of Cartagena
The Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, an impressive fort of Cartagena. This view is from a nearby shopping centre food court, a nice air conditioned spot for a break and a bite after a few hours exploring.


Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia
Cartagena, Colombia


There were a couple of day trips, too.

Three Adults Share the Front Seat in a Taxi
Three Adults Share the Front Seat in a Taxi
After a convoluted sequence of transport changes, we ended up in an overloaded and cramped taxi, which then stopped to pick up two more passengers! I really didn't think there was space, but apparently I was wrong.


Mudding Up
Mudding Up
This was in Volcán de Lodo el Totumo., Colombia. After ascending this tiny volcano of mud, we joined the hordes of Colombians and immersed ourselves. The mud was thick, almost like a gel, and kept us extremely buoyant. The bottom could not be touched, but sinking would not even be possible. The biggest danger was letting your feet get near the surface, because the most difficult thing was fighting the tendency to float, and get your legs and feet back down.


Everyone Gets In The Mud
Everyone Gets In The Mud
Fun for all the family. Volcán de Lodo el Totumo, Colombia.


Rinsing Off
Rinsing Off
After the mud bath, it is down to the river to swim yourself clean. Volcán de Lodo el Totumo, Colombia.


On an entirely different note, there are the odd products one finds for sale in foreign countries. I'm not just referring to hamburger flavoured chips, but how about hair products with sheep placenta to help stop hair falling out and encourage regrowth. Or bottles of treatments made from "real duck embryos". Hmmmm....