5 Months in South America – our Review

We sat in the bus on our way to somewhere in South America. The tickets for the bus we bought 30 minutes before departure. I looked out of the window, seeing the half-done houses, the street dogs, the indigenous women with their colorful clothes and I turned to Jakub, saying: „We have to write a last sum up about South America…I don’t wanna forget what we liked so much about these countries…okay, and we should also mention what we didn’t like…“ 😉

So that’s what this text is about!

WHAT WE REALLY LIKED ABOUT SOUTH AMERICA

The uncomplicated and spontaneous planning: you wanna go on a hike tomorrow morning at 7am, but it’s already 6pm? No problem for SA, the tour agency would just call one of their 34 contacts and book you on some transport available

Nature in every kind: no matter if it was the ocean in Peru, the mountains in Ecuador, the banana plantation in Colombia, the lake in Bolivia – everything was breathtaking beautiful

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Tradition: the amazing colorful skirts of the indigenous Ecuadorian or Peruvian women, the strange sounding native language as old as the country itself, the music played with flutes and guitars,…so different to our European culture, but simply wonderful to witness

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Menu del Dia: wow, where do you get a whole menu including soup, a main dish, dessert and a drink for 2,00 – 4,00$?! Only in SA!

Different food in different countries: Colombia was super famous for its fried platanos, whereas Ecuador served corn, Peru has its potatoes, and so forth. Generally, we rarely didn’t like the food in South America – if so, then it was because of a certain spice…Ellen found out that she doesn’t like Cilantro AT ALL when we ate a soup in Colombia, full of Cilantro 😀

Encebollada - the soup which helps against any hangover ;)

Food markets: whether you wanted to buy fresh vegetables from native women, fresh fish from the ocean or enjoy a good Menu del Dia lunch, the food market was the place to be. This huge variety of fresh fruit and veggies, combined with the smell of 37 food stands cooking delicious things is indescribable.

  Food Market

Street markets: you need headphones? New sunglasses? A North Face windblocker jacket? Just walk the main street and you’ll find everything you need and more 😉 Okay, the North Face jacket might be a fake…as well as the Ray Ban sunglasses…but they look pretty real at least 🙂

Baby transport: most likely every European woman when having a baby spends a lot of money on a baby buggy. In South America, you take a big multicolored scarf, roll the baby in a very sophisticated manner in the scarf and put it on your back. Done. No big deal. No pushing the carriage through crowded streets or trying to get in the packed bus. So convenient.

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Transport: we Germans think having the Deutsche Bahn is so handy because it takes you everywhere! So wrong. So expensive. So late. South America is certainly not known for their punctuality, but when it goes to bus schedules, hell yeah – then they know what „departure on time“ means! We’ve had so many comfortable, cheap and friendly bus rides…we’ll miss that, for sure

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Public transport system: well…where do we even start?! 😀 First of all, in countries like Peru or Bolivia, basically everyone can be a bus driver as long as you have a mini van or something alike. You just put a sign on the windshield indicating where you go and that’s it 🙂 And wherever people wanna get off they yell the the driver to drop them off at the next corner. So funny. Okay, let’s consider the situation having a normal public bus as we know it in Europe. Honestly, we only saw those in Argentina and Chile, the most developed countries :D. And you couldn’t get off wherever you wanted, no no, only at designated bus stops.

Bus Culture

Taxis: mainly because they were cheap, but also because every scooter,  motorbike, trike or whatsoever could possibly be a taxi!

The fastest Taxi in town

WHAT WE COULDN’T REALLY HANDLE IN SOUTH AMERICA

Environmental treatment: unfortunately, most of the people in South America don’t care at all about rubbish in the streets or emissions of cars. We have seen so much dirt in backyards, on the street, next to rubbish bins, in corn fields, you name it…only in very remote villages where people live from their own grown veggies, the nature was clean. Same problem with exhaust gases: the cars are so old or badly maintained that we kept putting a scarf or our sweater sleeves over our noses when we stood at a busy street. Even worse were the buses…they blew so much dirt in the environment that you could feel how little oxygen your lungs got! The dirtiest city among many was probably Guayaquil in Peru. Next to the street, small water puddles were black and sometimes even green from all the dirt! We hope that the education about pollution at some point starts at school so kids learn from early age what a clean environment could look like.

Toilet paper: might sound funny, but the toilet paper in South America doesn’t go in the toilet – it goes in the rubbish bin next to the toilet…might explain the big amount of rubbish they have to deal with

Hygiene standards: okay, when travelling through South America you don’t expect the same hygiene as in your own country, because you know they have less officials controlling these standards. That’s okay and you’ll survive anyway there – maybe with some stomach issues at a certain point, but still alright. 😉 What really shocked us however, were the prices for hygiene products, such as deodorant, shower gel, tampons,…it was so expensive that we completely understand why the poor natives cannot afford any of these!

Organization: We’d say that’s most likely one of the bigger problems as well. Yes, we both do work in a country which is so organized that you have a rule or law for every possible situation, whether it’s business related, daily life or school. 🙂 Maybe that’s the reason why it was especially difficult to understand why for example when boarding an airplane in Colombia, the last row passengers take the stairs at the front door and the first row passengers at the back door…or why 7 men are busy on a construction site, but only 3 are working and 4 are talking,…we could continue endlessly.

Tourist prices: Yes, as a tourist you will be ripped off many times, but they do it so obvious that we sometimes wondered if we should just walk away and don’t buy the bananas…or the street food….or book the trip… we have no problem paying more money on something when we know,  the right people who really do need it ask for more. But mostly the ones who already have enough rip you off.

We would say spending a couple of months in South America,  especially in countries such as Bolivia, Peru or Ecuador opens your eyes. The poverty there sometimes breaks your heart and if you hear on how much money some people live there a day you cannot imagine you’d ever be able to survive. And still, these people were so happy and friendly! They just see their happiness in other things as we Europeans do. Sometimes we arrived in a hostel and didn’t have hot water or maybe no water at all for a couple of hours. Internet was a precious thing – we just take it for granted in Europe to have water coming out of the grief or high-speed Internet everywhere. But most importantly: you don’t need a lot to be happy. We have our backpacks which still contain the clothes we brought on our trip and it’s totally sufficient! A good Menu del Dia, mountains and nature around you and the right travel companion is all you need sometimes. 🙂

 

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Guatape, the Lake Village

08.09.2016 – 11.09.2016

Our last days in Colombia have begun and we cannot believe that 4 weeks here are almost over! Our last destination will be Guatape, a small village 2 hours outside of Medellin, surrounded by an artificial lake. The village is probably best known for its rock formation “La Piedra de Peñol”, a 200m high stone which is visible from almost every ankle in Guatape. But let’s start from the beginning! 😉

Overview of the Lake

Overview of the Lake

Of course our first plan for Guatape is to visit THE ROCK. 🙂 Taking the local bus we arrive at the access point within 10 minutes. And there we stand, “only” 700 steps more to go all the way up. We start climbing up the staircase located on one side of the rock and are surprised to meet some really old ladies on our way. Not that the climb is very challenging, but for a 70 year old I guess it might be pretty tough! 🙂 But if you want the best picture, you need to pull yourself together and go for it. Reaching the very top of the rock, we really do enjoy the view. From up here, we realize how big the lake is and see the beautiful landscape surrounding it.

Sooo many steps!

Sooo many steps!

The Lake

The Lake

Some random people :)

Some random people 🙂

Jakub enjoys cheesecake-caramel icecream

Jakub enjoys cheesecake-caramel icecream

Checking the area from up there, we decide to not take the same way back to Guatape, but to go for an easy hike around the area. According to maps.me, it’s 8km to Guatape. The weather looks good, we have enough water – let’s give it a try! And we didn’t regret it – we passed several marvelous Fincas on our way, walked through smaller villages and passed farms where the people greeted us curiously. Unfortunately, we forgot to put on some sunscreen and looked like red crabs in the evening, but it was worth it. 🙂

The next and last day in Guatape, we start relaxed in our favorite café, the place to be in the village since it is located right at the corner of the big plaza and we can observe all the people from here. 😉 We enjoy a really good cup of coffee for 1000 Pesos, which is 0,35$ and decide to head in the direction of a waterfall close by. In the end, we didn’t find the waterfall and got lost on the way, but had a great day anyway! 🙂 We were being joined by 2 dogs belonging to our hostel. It’s much more fun when you have dogs with you on a walk, we realized… I think we might buy a dog when we’re back. 🙂

Guatape

Guatape

The fastest Taxi in town

The fastest Taxi in town

Since we take the night bus to Bogotá from Medellin, we head again to our favorite city to visit it for the last time and catch the bus at 10pm from Terminal Norte.

All in all, Colombia was just amazing. We were probably most surprised by the very modern and highly developed cities. If we compare Bogotá or Medellin to San Jose in Costa Rica, we have to say that the Colombian cities offer much more quality and are easier to travel for foreigners. Even the rural areas and villages look more developed. The friendly people and their openness towards us made us feel so welcome. It happened to us that mostly older people approached us and asking where we’re from, what we do in Colombia, how we like it. 🙂 Everyone helps you out when you’re lost and we never felt not secure. It was wonderful and we highly recommend this beautiful country as a vacation destination – it is worth the long flight and even if you have only 2 weeks you can see a lot!

Muchas gracias Colombia, but it’s time to say Good Bye…Ecuador, you’re next! 🙂

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Medellin and our First Experience with Volunteering

29.08.2016-08.09.2016

Finally we reached our destination Medellin in the late afternoon, after a very crazy and highly dangerous ride with our shuttle bus and with no AC. The rules on the streets here are that there are no rules! Since Medellin is surrounded by mountains, the streets there are all dusty, bumpy and winding. But we survived again, we’re so lucky, and hop on the public bus to get to our hostel.

We planned to get a quick shower, change and head to the famous neighborhood “El Poblado”, when the hostel owner takes a closer look at our strange-looking mosquito bites… suddenly, her eyes are wide open, she takes a step back and says: “OMG, chicos, those are definitely no mosquito bites – you have bed bug bites and additionally brought bed bugs here!!!” No f#*%ing way!! We knew the risk would be pretty high for us getting in touch with bed bugs sooner or later, since we change hostels every 3-4 days and sleep in beds where probably 2 Mio people have already slept in. 😉 Okay, so what do we do now? The hostel owner was super helpful, told us to get every piece of clothes in her laundry, empty our backpacks to desinfect them and she sprayed our room right away with bug spray. Typically, bed bugs travel with their hosts and so they get into hostel bed. Obviously, there’s nothing worse for a hostel than having bed bugs and afterwards, having people to write very bad comments about the hostel having bed bugs. Good, all the clothes were in the laundry (except the ones we were wearing 😉 ), only we still looked like having a massive allergic reaction to something – the bites are small as long as you dont scratch them. But if you do, holy crap, they turn into big red pustules and since you typically have many bites on one spot, it looks terrible. Luckily, they’re not harmful – only annoying. 🙂

So we anyway head in the city and realize right away: this city is amazing! Not only are the people very friendly and welcoming, the city itself has something special and indescribable, we just feel good here. Our first evening in Medellin ends with the best dinner we had in a long long time, and we fall happy in our bed-bugs-free beds 😉

Medellin

Medellin

The next day we had planned a free walking tour, since this is just the best way to get to know the city as well as getting some insider knowledge. Again, it was so worth it to participate in! We learnt about the drug trafficking in Medellin, the political fights among the guerilla group FARC and the paramilitaries and how much Medellin has devloped into a safer place after Pablo Escobar. During his peak times in Medellin in the late 80s, police officers wouldn’t were their uniforms because they were afraid of getting shot by one of Escobar’s henchmen. He might have helped the poor, but most of the colombians nevertheless call him “loco” – crazy, for his ruthless killings of innocent. We also learnt that the people living in this region Antioquia are called “Paisas”, which is why one of the most popular dishes is called “Bandeja Paisa”.

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This dish contains probably 5600 calories and the main characteristic is the generous amount and variety of food: red beans cooked with pork, white rice, carne molida (ground meat), chicharrón, fried egg, plantain (plátano maduro), chorizo, arepa and avocado. Yes, it’s ONE dish! 🙂 Of course Jakub had to try it the same day and thought it was “muy rico” – , after this dinner he didn’t eat for the next 5 days. Haha. 😉 We ended our day taking the famous cable car and got off in a very tranquil forest area, a place to hide away from the buzzing city – and it only took us 20min!

Cable Car to the Forest Area Santa Elena

Cable Car to the Forest Area Santa Elena

What is our plan for the second day? Let’s take the metro, for the people in Medellin something they are very proud of btw. during their worst years in the 80s/beginning 90s, they had the metro built and it symbolized change and economical boost. That’s most likely the reason that this metro is the cleanest we have seen after the one in Singapore!

Clean Medellin Metro ;)

Clean Medellin Metro 😉

We got off at the stop “Industriales” to head to Pueblito Paisa, a viewpoint letting us sense the width of the city. Back in the city center we decided to see the “Museo de Antioquia”, a museum, we had hopped, displaying the history of the region… well, not exactly…it rather had a big collection of paintings by antioquian artists. Since Jakub and I are very well educated in arts and huuuge fans of such, it took us 10min and we fled. 🙂 More time for something else, such as eating deep fried Empanadas, which are so good, having a sweet Arequipe dessert or drink Guandolo, a lemon drink with Aguapanela. Or sitting with a coffee in the Parque Bolívar and observe the many different types of people. 🙂 Our evening we spent at the “Parque de la luz”, which used to be a dangerous place to be, but was turned into a meeting point by lighting it up.

Square of the Lights - Medellin

Square of the Lights – Medellin

Our last day in Medellin unfortunately came faster than expected, and mentally we prepared ourselves for our very first volunteering experience, helping out at a finca wefound on workaway.info! The next day we took the bus to the small village Amagá, 1 hour outside Medellin in the mountains. With the mototron we drove another 10 minutes and herer we were, “Eco hostel Tio Nacho”, our home for the next 10-14 days. 🙂 The principle of workaway and volunteering in general is, that travellers help out in e.g. the garden, reception, basic construction work and have free accommodation or food in exchange.

Finca Terrace

Finca Terrace

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The first impression of this hostel was marvellous – the finca welcomed us with a beautiful terrace, overgrown by flowers, banana trees, a veggie garden… paradise we thought…. sadly, the owner of the hostel most likely didn’t quite know the description of the hostel on workaway, which his girlfriend posted. It was supposed to be a vegetarian finca, smoke and alcohol free. Nacho, the owner, however was actually just having a couple of beers with his neighbor when we arrived and later that day,was super drunk and smoked a joint. 🙂 Oh my, we could continue endlessly with sooo many stories about him, but to sum it up: in the end, we stayed only 7 days. 🙂 It was nevertheless a good experience, because from the 7 days we spent 3 all alone on the finca and fell in love with this house and the property. Additionally, we could relax from the sometimes hectic backpacker live – no sights, no tours, no plans.

Taking care of our breakfast

Taking care of our breakfast

Time for Slovakian Gulasch...?

Time for Slovakian Gulasch…?

Though, the feeling of moving further left us impatient and we decided to head to Guatape, a beautiful village 2hs from Medellin surrounded by a stunning lakescape. Back to the backpacking life!

 

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The Coffee Region Salento

26.08.2016 – 29.08.2016

Huh? What happened? Did we seriously arrive EARLIER in Pereira than we were supposed to arrive? That’s something new for us, since most of the time indications of our Colombian friends so far failed miserably and we always arrived later than expected! 🙂 Well, 5am in Pereira, waiting for our next bus to Salento, which doesn’t leave until 6:40am. Lucky us that Colombians have great coffee and the bus terminal is filled with cafés and bakeries. Our bus ride was comfortable, although we didn’t sleep that much… one reason for our lack of sleep might have been the temperature in the bus, which was probably around 15C!

Stunning nature and green green green – that’s what we see the closer we get to Salento. This small mountain village is surrounded by a beautiful landscape inviting us to do some hiking and coffee tours during the next 3 days. We enjoy another cup of coffee and coca tea on our mountain view terrace in the hostel and – another surprise! Who is sitting there next to us? James, our friend from the sailing trip San Blas! 🙂 In the end, the world can be a small village and sooner or later you meet your travel companions again. Unfortunately, James was about to leave Salento with Nush, another friend from the boat and we said “hi” and “good-bye” at the same time.

Coca Tea

Coca Tea

Our day started in the afternoon with a nice walk through the landscape of Salento and we ended the tour at a small coffee plantation, where we learnt more about their business, had some coffee (I think by now, we might be addicted to at least 3 cups of coffee a day), and met Ali & Pieter, an American couple, as well as Frauke, a girl from Germany. We decided to extend our walk and all together took the longer way back, having lunch on the way. For the next day, we agreed to go visit the Cocora Valley Park together and start early in the morning at 7:30am.

Coffe Tour - Salento

Coffe Tour – Salento

Everyone was very punctual the next day when we met at the main plaza to hop on one of the Jeeps called “Willy”, which would bring us fully loaded with people to the park. Well, that’s also something typical Colombian to us: only when the vehicle is packed up to the last millimeter of possible space, the driver starts the engine – so thoughtful in an economical way. 😉 Another girl joined our group, who we invited from our hostel to join us for our day trip: Emma from New Zealand. What we read about Cocora Valley sounded promising and it is actually quite famous:

In a country full of beautiful landscapes, Cocora is one of the most striking. It stretches east of Salento into the lower reaches of PNN Los Nevados, with a broad green valley framed by sharp peaks. Everywhere you’ll see palma de cera (wax palm), the largest palm in the world (up to 60m tall). It’s Colombia’s national tree. Set amid the misty green hills, they are breathtaking to behold [read more on: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/colombia/valle-de-cocora/introduction#ixzz4JaVemimf].

We expected a lot from our hiking day…our expectations were exceeded. This tour was one of the richest in variety we have done so far and we enjoyed it a lot! We started the hike walking the left trail (you can choose between right and left) and it mainly lead us through dense cloud forest trails steadily uphill. Unfortunately, after 1 hour our friend Frauke needed to return to the valley feeling very sick. We continued uphill, narrow trails and beautiful views over the valley were our reward.

The famous Palm Trees

The famous Palm Trees

Hike through Cocora Valley

Hike through Cocora Valley

After 2 hours, Cocora Valley astonished us again with an amazing vast overview of the region.

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Cocora Valley

Continuing further through forest trails, we reached our first destination  “Acaime”. It’s a small cottage where you can find plenty of hummingbirds feeding and the owner offers hot chocolate with cheese…yes, with cheese! Quiet a new mix. 😉 With new strength in the legs, we made our last 2 hours back to the start of our trail, which led us mainly though grassland and we felt like being in a movie set of “Lord of the Rings” – that’s how great the nature was! We rewarded ourselves with a great dinner this evening and went happy but exhausted to bed.

The next day was a Sunday, so we decided to take it easy and rent some mountain bikes – no hiking today! 😉 Approximately after 5 minutes on the bike I realized that “taking it easy” on a mountain bike in that region is impossible…it was actually hell. 🙂 Anyway, we enjoyed nice roads, a short trip to a waterfall and then real hell began. The last 2km of our trip was a concrete road, winding its way to the village, steadily uphill. In the lowest gear and with one small break we made it all the way up, but it was so exhausting! We were more than happy to return the bikes and get off that uncomfortable saddle at the end of the day, haha.

Our last evening in Salento we spent playing the famous local game “Tejo”, which rules are basically to throw a stone on small gunpowder filled envelopes and make them explode – we threw stones from a distance of 4m, the locals, however threw them from 15m!

Playing Tejo

Playing Tejo

Salento

Salento

Good night, Salento, it was wonderful here! But now we wanna discover the next city in Colombia. It used to be the most dangerous city in the world a couple of years ago and when we hear the name of it, we think of the criminal history and get goose bumps…Medellin, we’re coming! 🙂

 

La Nevera de Colombia – Bogotá!

22.08.2016 – 25.08.2016

Yes, “fridge” is actually the perfect description for the capital of Colombia! We walked out of the airport and wanted to put on some gloves and a scarf – 15C difference in the temperature from one city to another is something!

Okay, so how do we get in the city center? Ah and by the way, do we know where the hostel is? Funny things happened to us in these 2 months of travelling… in the beginning, we would search every hostel adress in google maps, set a pin point, take a screenshot and we were prepared. Recently, we were glad knowing the neighborhood of the hostel 😀 A couple of days ago however, we downloaded this great app called “maps.me”, which works pretty pretty well offline and we never get lost again!

As we wait for the bus to take us into the center and neighborhood “La Candelaria” of Bogotá, we asked one lady at the bus stop, who obviously worked for the bus company, which one we should take. And there something very Colombian or maybe even Latin American happens:

We: “Could you tell us how to get to Candelaria please?”
Lady: “Yes, you take this bus until Portal Dorado, change it and take another one until the stop <Universidades>.”
We: “Okay thanks! And do we need to buy a ticket beforehand?”
Lady: “Yes, you need a card which you have to charge.”
We: “Ah, and do we buy the card at the driver?”
Lady: “No.”
We: “Oh okay, where do we purchase it then?”
Lady: “I sell them”….
So instead of offering us the card right away, she would only give the exact information we had asked for, and not more. 🙂

Once we arrived at the hostel after asking several times for the right street, we changed into some warmer clothes for our free walking tour. This tour was very special, as the guide took us to this tiny street in La Candelaria, where a lot of small cafés are located and street artists sell their artesanias.

Street Art in Bogota

Street Art in Bogota

Street Art in Bogota

Street Art in Bogota

Street Art in Bogota

Street Art in Bogota

We went in one of the cafés and tried a typical drink called “chicha”. Smelling it, we would describe it as being very sweet, but once we tried it, it actually tasted really bitter and reminded us of very old beer. 😉 It is a fermented or non-fermented beverage usually derived from maize. The second thing we got to try is called “chucula”, a hot chocalate mix made from roasted grains. It was the best thing we could do to not get too cold in Bogotá! Continuing our tour, we learned more about Fernando Botero, a famous artist from Medellin having his very own style of paintings and about “La Violencia”, a 10 years period of violence and civil war due to the assassination of a popular politician called Jorge Gaitán [https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Violencia].

Our Favorit Painter - Fernando Botero ;)

Our Favorit Painter – Fernando Botero 😉

Chucula

Chucula

Right after we ended the tour we headed to Monserrate, a famous viewpoint which can be reached by cable car to watch the sunset over Bogotá – what a huge city!

Montserat - Bogota

Monserrate – Bogota

Montserat - Bogota

Monserrate- Bogota

Bogota

Bogota

Ending this infomative day with a good and light dinner (ha, such a lie, it i impossible to eat light in Colombia! Just google “Sancocho” and you know what we mean ;)), we started the next day early to go to Zipaquirá , where the famous Salt Cathedral is located. It is built within a salt mine 180 meters underground and mainly serves as a tourist attraction and a place for pilgrimage during Easter time. You can easily go by public transportation there, taking one of the super long TransMilenio buses to the stop “Portal Norte”, from where you can catch a bus to Zipaquirá. The best thing is to always ask people for the way, because they seriously take you by the hand and bring you to the exact bus stop/location you need to go. 🙂

Zippaquira Salt Cathedral

Zippaquira Salt Cathedral

Our last day in Bogotá we spent in the “Museo del Oro”, the museum of gold. It exhibits thousands of pieces of gold from the major  pre-hispanic cultures in Colombia. Furthermore, it shows the findings by regions as well as how these pieces were used in rituals. Definitely one of the most interesting museums we’ve visited.

Museum Del Oro

Museo Del Oro

Later this day, we started our first night bus trip, how exciting! 😉 In 7-8 hours it would take us to Perreira, a short stopover on our way to Salento, and we would safe money on a hostel since we travel through the night. We had booked the tickets  in an agency in Bogotá the same day with the bus company “Bolivariano”, although it is very common to purchase them at the ticket counter in the terminal shortly before departure. The tricky part was to actually get to the terminal where the bus would leave. Everyone told us to take a taxi as it is the easiest way – no, we will accept the challenge and go by bus! 🙂 The big terminal is called “Terminal de Transporte” and sometimes you would find it additionally under “Salitre”. We took the bus line K, direction airport, from the stop “Universidades”, and needed to get off at the stop “El tiempo” (not Salitre, that would be too far!). From there we walked over the pedestrian bridge to the right side. Once we crossed the street over the bridge, we kept walking right until Carrera 69, then left. We continued for another 15min walking always straight until we saw the “T” tower and the terminal [find a detailed description here: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/colombia/bogota/transport/getting-around/local-transport].

Let’s see how our first night bus trip goes…

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Cartagena and Santa Marta, the Boiling Oven of Colombia

17.08.2016 – 22.08.2016

Cartagena

We touched ground, thank you all magical and heavenly help we had during our boat ride!! 🙂 The first thing we need to do is book a hostel for the next 3 nights in Cartagena. As we browse through booking.com, we cannot believe that we found a room with PRIVATE bathroom and AC. For a reasonable price. Did we eventually die? Haha. Well, we didn’t, we just ended the phase of expensive hostel prices. And it makes us smile when we think of such small things as having a private bathroom or generally a room with more than 5m2, which let us feel like luxury backpackers. Travelling makes you start appreciating the small things, that’s for sure! 

And since the prices were literally the best for these hostel rooms in town, 6 of the 10 friends we made on our sailing boat booked a room there, too! The first day in Cartagena we spent more or less showering for hours to get rid of the sweat and salt from the boat, standing in front of the AC to admire and thank the inventor for it and in the evening we met our sailing friends for some Tapas. Cartagena is without a doubt so far the hottest place we’ve been to! The temperature in the subtropical region lies all year long between 29C and 32C and the humidity is +/- 80%. Even in the night the humid air and heat can be felt, a typical Caribbean coast city. For the next day we signed up for a free walking tour through Old Town, being really happy to actually find such a tour in Colombia. We learned a lot about the city itself, but also got a very personal point of view from the guide about the civil war and drug cartels in Colombia, particularly about Pablo Escobar. To cite our guide : “We have gone through hell in Colombia, but we wanna be better and have a better future for our kids. And with you guys who come visiting our beautiful country without fear, we have already improved so much! Please let your friends and family know when you return home, that Colombia is not the country it used to be 20 years ago, but it is warm hearted and welcoming, focusing on the future and not the past.”

Cartagena Old Town

Cartagena Old Town

Cartagena

Cartagena

Cartagena Old Town

Cartagena Old Town

After this tour we felt even better in Colombia – it is not a particular thing we could describe about this country  to explain why we liked it right away, but rather the feeling you get when you’re here…it’s simply amazing.

As we enjoyed Cartagena for 3 days, mostly spent in the Old Town, as it has beautiful small streets full of street vendors, musicians and artists and houses from where flowers almost grow down to the pavement, we decided to head a little bit further north and visit Santa Marta.

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Hello :)

Hello 🙂

 

Santa Marta

Oh crap, why do we keep relying on the time indication of locals!? Our bus ride to Santa Marta was supposed to last 4 hours, of course we needed 6 hours… gladly, every bus ride sooner or later stops for a bathroom break where typically street vendors sell some candy or chips, we didn’t starve. 🙂 Arriving in Santa Marta late in the evening, the only goal for the first night was to get some dinner. Surprisingly, our hostel was really close to the main restaurant street in Santa Marta, where we ate delicioius falafel. When Cartagena had a heat factor of 12 on a scale of 1 to 10, Santa Marta was an 11! We felt this the next day when we left the hostel to stroll around the city… even in the morning, it is impossible to not sweat after 3 steps on the street. But there was a lot to discover, for example the Tayrona Nationa Park, which is why we had to get over it. Spoiled Europeans. 😉

Tayrona Indian in Santa Marta

Tayrona Indian in Santa Marta

Street Art

Street Art

One of thegreatest attractions around Santa Marta is most likely the trek to the Lost City, Ciudad Perdida Trek. Depending on your personal fitness, you’d hike in the mountains Sierra Nevada for 4-6 days to the lost city, spectacular ruins of an ancient indigenous town called “Teyuna”. It sounded very adventurous, especially because the nights are spent along the way in hammocks and the hike was supposed to be pretty challenging. Most people described the trail itself as doable, but what made it super tough are the weather conditions. The constant heat saps all your energy. In the end, we decided against the trek. The strongest reason was indeed the climate – we simply couldn’t imagine to handle 4-6 days on such a trek, since we’ve spent the past 2 months in regions with the same climate and were still not acclimatized to it. Another reason was that Ellen got sick and was knocked out for one whole day. Instead, we went to Tayrona National Park, a very different National park from the ones we’ve visited, since it is a combination of tropical forests and a part of caribbean coast to jump in the ocean! Of course we started our small hike at the perfect time for this climate: 12pm. It was freaking hot, so nothing new. 🙂 Nevertheless, we enjoyed walking through the area, seeing a lot of small geckos and even a snake! After 1,5 hours we arrived at the beach part of the hike, excited to jump in the ocean and get refreshed.

Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park

Having only a short break we continued to our final destination Cabo San Juan, from where we planned to get a boat to Taganga. Since we started our hike late, we also got there pretty late and realized that this was a big mistake. The last boats would leave in around 15 min, already almost full with people. At that point we’d say we had some experience with boats yet, but the boat ride which followed was one of the craziest, dramatic and unbelievable thrilling rides we’ve ever had. Not only was this small boat, made for 20 people completely overloaded with 32, we also had huge waves we needed to fight our way through! Everyone got soaking wet from the splashing water, girls were screaming from hitting the waves with the boat (I think it was a mix of joy and fear of dying) everyone was so glad when we finally saw the beach of Taganga after 1 hour. How did we even manage to get there without either sinking, crashing or killing our captain!? That was for now and ever really the last boat ride for us!

We decided that we were ready for a different climate and booked a flight with “VivaColombia” airlines (oh and sure, it didn’t work out at all due to a declination of both of our credit cards and eventually a non-working website, which is why we ran through Santa Marta on a Sunday trying to find a travel agency who could book the flights for us) which will bring us to the so called fridge of Colombia (spanish = nevera), which is the capital Bogotá! From 32C to 18C… thats why we’ve been carrying our long sleeves and jeans with us all time 😉