Patricks New Zealand Weblog

Boundary Waters National Park

My overly generous sister & husband gave Maaike and I a 5 day trip to Boundary Waters National Park. Basically it’s a massive park filled to the brim with lakes and streams.

They only let a certain amount of people in the area at any one time, so you have to book ahead and get your permit. There are designated campsites that you have to stay at, and all have a fire grate and toilet. The first day we didn’t see anyone else, on subsequent days we saw a couple of canoes in the distance, so it really is quite remote, especially for a national park.

Our paddling skills increased a bit, I’m still not sure I’ve got the J-Stroke properly, but we mostly went in straight lines and didn’t have any catastrophes. Did come across beaver dams, which again renewed my absolute hatred of the creatures ;)

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We did have to suspend the pack from the potential of bears being around. In the event we didn’t see any, and I’m not sure the bag was high enough / far enough out from the trunk anyway. Still, it was Maaike’s bag ;)

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Mozzies were in plentiful supply, but if you don’t scratch them it didn’t seem to bother that much. Also “biting flies” were around. These guys look like flies, but damn they hurt.

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We saw some wildlife, not heaps, but chipmunks and loons were about.

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Carrying the boat was easy enough for one person. It weighs in at 20lbs ish, so about 9kg. There are pads for the shoulders at the centrepoint, so you can just carry it easily enough for the portages. Well, at least for the canoes we hired it was like that :). All the distances are given in rods, conveniently about the length of a canoe (16 1/2 feet). The longest portage we did was 150ish rods & yes, I took a break in the middle. Still, at least it wasn’t a metal boat like these other two had to carry…

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I think if we were going to do it again we’d change a few things around.

  1. We now know what distance we can paddle in a day. At least 8 miles or so. We’d have gone for longer days at the start of the trip to get “out there” a bit more
  2. We would learn which fish are good to catch, and how to fillet, as most people go fishing while they’re here

There’s probably more, but that’d be the main things. All in all a great trip. It’s a nice spot up there, certainly one of the more remote areas you can get to in the States, at least easily anyway.

 

p.s we used the http://elyoutfittingcompany.com/ and were very happy with their service. They had great information and talked us through our route with plenty of tips for points we needed to watch out for, nice campsites etc.

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The Cabin

Tim (my sisters husband)’s family has a log cabin, which they built themselves, up in the lakes area of Minnesota. I’ve long wanted to visit. Tim totally downplayed it, but damn it was amazing. Tim’s dad did a week long course, and then over the course of 2 summers, Tim’s eldest brothers built the cabin (as 20 year olds). I definitely didn’t take enough pictures of the place! But it was great to see the old picture book of how they built it. Seeing the clever tools you use. This isn’t about their cabin, but there’s quite a good blog about building a cabin here.

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It was a wonderful little retreat. We headed up there on the Friday evening, and spent a lovely long (Memorial Day) weekend fishing, canoeing, eating, playing games and just having a really lovely time. Even got to see pelicans.

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First stop after South America – Minneapolis

We flew up to Minneapolis from Bogota. There was some nasty weather in Houston (storms) and flights were delayed. We opted for a 15 minute delay and upgrade to 1st class. It was only a short hop, but still, good times.

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We spent a lovely week in Minneapolis with family. We took in a quick trip to the “Mill City” museum, which was great. Minneapolis used to be a major centre of flour production. One interesting thing I learned was that flour can be more explosive than gunpowder.

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We also had a trip out to the farm where my sisters family is growing grapes and making wine (with collaboration with their friends – as it’s their friends land the grapes are being grown on). The wine was even quite drinkable! Impressive. Also played this strange bolas type game. Well, we think we got it right. Threw the bolas around the struts. Apparently there were supposed to be different points for different levels. Maaike crushed me at the game ;)

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We visited the local bookshop called the wild rumpus. It had the boat from Where the Wild things Are in the roof, and the most excellent front door.

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We also happened across a Fernando Botero which was somewhat strange after seeing a lot of his art in Colombia.

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Anyway, lovely to see family again, it has been a long while since I was last in Minneapolis, and great to be there in winter, when the lakes are water not ice!

Finally, a picture of my sister and I at the Minniehaha falls, last time I was there in 2006 it was winter, and I’ve put those pictures along side it. It’s a different place in the winter!

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Thoughts on Colombia & Travel in South America

When Maaike strongarmed me into taking a year out & 6 months travel through South America, I was a little nervous to begin with. I thought there’d be robbers around every corner and that my limited abilities with languages would be painful. I never thought we’d go to Colombia, because I thought the only people who lived there were murderers, drug runners and thieves.

I was quite wrong. :)

Travelling in South America was great. You do want to have your wits about you, but no more than anywhere else really. Do learn at least rudimentary Spanish before going, it’ll stand you in good stead. You’d be surprised how far you can go without having any Spanish as now you can book hostels online in your own language.. and most receptionists will have at least a bit of English. Still, definitely learn a bit. I also strongly recommend downloading an Open Street Map program for your phone. I use (and love) OSMAND+ for Android, I believe Maps.me ? is also good. I’m not sure if that is for Apple only or not.

I also had a little lock that my friend Myra had lent me, quite handy for locking your bag just to stop simple opportunism. Always keep your little bag on you at all times, even on busses. Never put them up in the luggage racks, people come on board before the bus has left, and just casually walk down the bus and will take a bag if they can and just get off. So yes, keep it where you can see it and lock it if possible.

The rest of my travel tips are on my wiki and might even stay up to date.

Colombia

Like I said, I thought it was going to be super dangerous. However, every traveller we came across who had been through it recommended it very strongly. So off we went. Colombia was great. The people were lovely, still quite a bit cheaper than anywhere else we’d been. The fruits (and smoothies) where amazing. I can happily recommend visiting. Again, be sensible. We did hear stories of people having smart phones snatched out of their hands while using them in the street etc, but we were fine ;)

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San Gil

After Palomino it really was nearing the end of the holiday. We couldn’t quite, or didn’t, make it all the way from Santa Marta to San Gil in a day. I think we could have done it in retrospect, but we stayed the night in Bucaramanga. An eminently missable town I reckon, at least, if you’re short on time. We did chance across a Frenchman who was there to go climbing an hour or so South of there… apparently a really good climbing spot. Hey ho.

Anyway, next day on to San Gil, a very nice little town. Probably the Wanaka(Queenstown) of Colombia, in that it’s the adventure capital. We opted for caving, not least because it was the cheapest option ;) . I was actually quite surprised they brought regular punters down the cave.

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At one point it involved a 2m duck (where you have to put your head fully under water) you can see Maaike holding a rope in one of the pics, you could use that to pull yourself along under the water … I must admit, I’ve done a little caving in NZ link, and I really never liked having to do ducks there, but the water in the cave was almost warmish. Odd.

There were bats, and their guano was a place where plants grew in the cave. Plants which would die if exposed to light (or so we’re told, seems like an odd thing for a plant to do but there you go). Nice formations too. Yes, really very happy we chose caving, it was a great way to close out the adventurous part of our Colombia holiday.

Oh, and a picture of a weird fruit..

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Palomino

From Santa Marta we took a 3 hour or so bus ride to Palomino. It’s on the beach. Well, it’s a beach resort. In a hot country. Hot, sandy, beach (with a strong current). What on earth were we thinking ;) Well, we were thinking it’d be a fine place to relax before getting back into the hurly-burly rough and tumble world of the US and Europe (our next destinations after Colombia).

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Anyway, off to Palomino. I was confused by the toilet, just what exactly is it trying to say?

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More fantastic thunderstorms, it lashed rain most days for at least an hour, and we had one spectacular lightning storm far out over the sea. It was really impressive. Probably the loudest and closest thunder I’ve heard too.. very much like those really big fireworks which you feel in your chest.

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We had cocktails and nice food, lazed around and read books, played table tennis, and generally had a very relaxed time.

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Santa Marta

A quick note on Santa Marta. It’s a nice little town in and of its own right. We spent a few nights here before Ciudad Perdida and before and after Palomino. We found a very nice little street market just down the road from the hostel. Very tasty pizza for just a few $$’s a slice, and very nice fruit juices. Oh, and we had a most spectacular storm as well.. just a damn shame about the street lights :(

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Ciudad Perdida – The Lost City

Spoiler alert: We found it. And it was at the end of a track, so I’m surprised it has been lost for this long.

We arrived into Santa Marta for our trip to Ciudad Perdida (The lost city), on our friend Val’s advice. Ciudad Perdida was built in ~700AD and was “lost” when the Spanish invaded, as the city was abandoned. Some treasure hunters eventually found it in 1973 (getting info out of an old man by getting him drunk :( , and looted it. The story we were told was that three brothers found it. They’d collect gold, bring it back to town and then drink the proceeds. A brother in law got jealous, followed them, shot one and the others escaped. I don’t think the story related what happened to the brother-in-law, but he was chased off anyway. Ultimately though, a hunter who wasn’t getting a fair cut decided to sell the location to the government in 1975, after which it was mostly protected.

The walk is hard enough, and very definitely hot enough. I was so completely drenched in sweat after only 30 minutes or less each day. It’s so hot and humid. Fortunately, at every stopping point there’s a river to bathe in. There’s price-fixing amongst the tour operators, so it’s 900,000 Pesos whether you do the trip in 4, 5 or 6 days. We opted for 4 days, it really doesn’t need any more.

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Just a quick side-note here, this is a local carrying Maaike’s bag bag up a big hill after it fell down. What a gentleman. As it’s a Cactus bag it had no damage at all.

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There are indigenous in the area, three different tribes. We’d see them daily running past us up the hills etc.

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I really enjoyed the city. It’s lovely to be there with relatively few people. I’m not quite sure what the limit is on the number of people, but far less than Manchu Pichu anyway (and it sees far fewer tourists regardless of limits). In the pictures below is a hole. This is where you were put for a week or so if you’d transgressed the rules. Our guide Wilson told us a story of an indigenous friend of his who’d left his wife (and kid) and run off with another. When the village found out they captured him and make him carry sand up a hill, locking him up at night. The sentence was 3 months. He managed to escape, and had to leave the area as they kept looking for 3 years. Actually seems cheaper & more straightforward than getting an actual divorce…

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Our group was awesome, really nice bunch of people, and all at similar fitness levels. I had fun introducing (most of) them to werewolves and villagers. Annoyingly the werewolves won every round! even once I’d reduced their numbers! hey ho.

Also annoyingly, I’d left the ISO on the little camera stuck on 800.. so a lot of the pictures were overexposed. I need to get some camera pointers.. for example, look at this picture (taken with my DSLR)…

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the brightness? contrast? seems quite off… but I’m not quite sure what I’m doing wrong. The colours just don’t look vibrant at all (and it is ISO 100). Pointers most welcome. The colours on the little camera come out way stronger.

Oh, one thing about the rivers, respect the local advice. We were swimming in this one (after the heavy rains), and the locals came and told us to get out, so we did. 10 minutes later it completely flash flooded…

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Oh, a note on the food, or at least the drinks. Fruit juices in Colombia are amazing. Simply amazing. Just had to share.

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Cartagena

Another tick on the UNESCO list which I’m not keeping. Cartagena. It was one of the storage points for merchandise sent out from Spain, and for treasure collected from the Americas to be sent back to Spain. It was also heavily fortified and the remains of some of the forts can still be seen and visited. We spent a couple of nights here and had a very nice day walking around the old city, getting properly rained on and enjoying the sights.

The rainy season really is a thing. It lashes down for anywhere between 20-40 minutes and then clears up, usually accompanied by lightning.

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We visited Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a very significant fort back in the day. Riddled with tunnels they still haven’t finished exploring. Maaike wasn’t that impressed when the lights went out while we were in them..

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Stunning sunset. This place needs a timelapse ;) Seriously, I’m considering putting a little bit of effort into making my little timelapse website more accessible and then making it into a public geek-art project. It’d be awesome to see timelapses from around the world, especially from groovy views like this one!

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We also went for a swim in the sea. Not sure if it’s technically the Caribbean or not, but it was really really warm, even I enjoyed it ;)

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Medellin – Not the murder capital of the world any more!

I wussed out for Medellin. We’d met some girls in the hostel in Salento who told us that they’d been robbed at gunpoint, at 11am, by the bus station. Also, the hostel owner in Manizales told us that he’d been robbed at knifepoint (though I’m not sure when)… so I wasn’t that keen to go at all, let alone stay a few nights. We did basically have to pass through though, but I negotiated Maaike down to just 1 night.

In the event, Medellin was fine… I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say it was a “nice” town, but it was fine enough. A few years ago it was the most dangerous city in the world (when the drug cartels were more in power), but they have really cleaned up the place. A lot of tourists go there to see where Pablo Escobar had one of his houses, but we didn’t go. Part of the reason for not visiting was the aforementioned wanting to get the hell out of dodge, and the other was that Colombia is (understandably) wanting to move past the drug image.

Anyway, we did the walking tour, it’s great, would recommend. It’s also where Fernando Botero is from, and he has donated a lot of art. Below you can see two birds, one partly destroyed. A bomb was placed there and several people (including children) killed. The authorities were about to take it away when the mayor got a call from Fernando basically saying “don’t you dare take that away”, and he then donated another bird to go beside the bombed out one. A powerful reminder of where they were and hope for a better future.

 

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One of the actions which spurred positive change in the city was electing a new mayor back in early 2000’s. He was a maths professor and prioritized a couple of things.

  1. He installed artwork in dodgy parts of town. So, places that had been historically bad areas were rejuvenated.
  2. He prioritised libraries. So anyone in whatever part of town had (free) access to libraries.

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The other thing was the metro system they have. It connects across the city, from the poorest areas to the richest, and all tickets cost the same, regardless of distance. So this means that no matter where you live you can get to work in the city if that’s what it takes. There is no damage / graffiti to be seen, and from talking to people, it seems like it’s one thing they all agree to look after.

So, I was probably wrong not to give Medellin a longer stay. They really have turned the city around, and while muggings & theft still happen, it’s unlikely that you’ll run into it. Just keep your valuables out of sight (preferably in a money belt), don’t use your smartphone more than necessary walking in the street (snatchings happen), keep things in zip pockets where possible, have a small lock for your bag to prevent opportunistic thefts (thanks Myra for the combination lock!), and once you’re checked into your room, leave most stuff there and only go out with enough cash for what you need. That should do it. Oh, and cover your ATM combination when typing it in!

And yes, it used to be the murder capital of the world.. but no more!

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