Patricks New Zealand Weblog

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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Manizales – and a timelapse :)

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I loved Manizales. Specifically I loved our hostel – if you’re looking for somewhere nice and relaxed (i.e not a party hostel), then definitely go there. The food was amazing, and the place just super relaxing. There are things to do in the area, but we pretty much just chilled. We did a walk down the hill to the stream/river, and completely failed to properly look for the waterfall, however, a nice walk, even in the heat (and that at nearly 1500m ish?)

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The owner, a Canadian (of Iranian? extraction?), has a small hobby farm/animals there. It’s the sort of place he couldn’t afford to have in Canada, but way easier in Colombia. Maaike got her animal fix.

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I also got the Raspberry Pi out again (I can hear the collective sighs of relief, this blog was getting a little slack on the timelapsin’ front). They gave me an extension cord and all was well. The camera had actually broken on the trip, but I just pressed the sensor back in again and all seemed to be well. There was quite a bit of cloud in the morning – so there’s a good 20 seconds of quite white footage here.

Anyway, loved our stay, would happily recommend.

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Salento – very nice spot

I did like Salento. And quite a lot of Colombians like it too, it’s #2 or something on their most popular places to visit. We stayed at a nice hostel that our friends Isidor and Michelle recommended. Great spot, run by a Canadian couple who I suspect are quite shrewd in their investments. Tourism (or was it GDP?) is growing at 15%/year, so it’s a good time to get in.

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We visited a coffee farm. Apparently Colombia is the third largest producer of coffee in the world. We certainly learned a bit about how the process works, the different varieties they use, blight, shade (they like it), how many times you can use a plant/tree (3 – chopping it back each time)

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We also went to Los Nevados. It’s a large national park, but we just went to one small part, mainly to see the hummingbirds. Nice walk though.

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Finally, I must mention “Brunch”, a wonderful wonderful wonderful diner in Salento. Probably the best thickshake I’ve had in a very long time, possibly even since Eddie Rockets in Dublin, and just phenomenal peanut brownie with homemade ice-cream. If you’re in the area go!

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Bogota

Well, very pleasantly surprised by Bogata. Colombia seems to have changed in the last few years, at least, every traveller we have met has spoken very highly of it. There are still robberies (snatching iPhones seems to be a favourite), but on the whole it’s not a nest of thieves waiting around every corner.

Anyway, flew in at night, took a taxi to the hostel… our guidebook was quite specific about only taking yellow taxi’s from the registered stand. My driver didn’t know where the hostel was.. but Open Street Maps to the rescue again. Worked out.

We went on a couple of free* walking tours. Free as they always ask for a donation at the end. Fair enough too as they were both great.

First up was a “generic” walking tour. We certainly got a flavour of the place, learning some of the unfortunate history. People getting assassinated etc. Plan Colombia seemed especially nasty, and, according to our guide there’s a “Plan Mexico” going on at the moment. To quote:

The plan awarded monetary compensation for the dead bodies of guerrilla members and therefor incentivized the murders of hundreds of people, including innocent civilians.

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Anyway good tour, including the trip to the gallery of Fernando Botero. Quite fun.

The second tour we did was a graffiti tour. Some of these buildings are worth quite a bit now. E.G. the gate with the fish on it is worth 10-20K! I did like the Ronzo pieces especially, will have to keep an eye out for those. He goes around and puts up little signs to blend in with the surroundings. Very neat.

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Finally we took the tramway up to Monserrate for the view. We would have walked but there has been so little rain lately that erosion is a serious worry. I’m not sure it was worth the money to go up, but as a walk it’d be a fine option.

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Lima – in the top 5 (least amazing places so far ;) )

We flew from Cuzco to Lima. It’s a 25 hour bus ride, or just an hour in a plane. The price difference wasn’t that much – internal flights are pretty good here, definitely check out Skyscanner for good* deals (except in Colombia, there use – or at least check out – Viva Colombia. We didn’t know about that one, and it would have saved us 600USD!

Anyway, Lima Lima Lima. Not as nice as Cuzco. We used AirBnB to find a place. It was pretty cheap, fairly central, had a nice little local restaurant down the road which served big portions and yumbly Ceviche. We went for a nice walk around Miraflores, ate some churros in chocolate sauce. Humid days.

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Probably the highlight was the Larco museum which was great. They brought you through the history of the major civilisations of South America. Like most places, the latest civilisation built on top of the last one and extended. When people think of South America (or at least when I do) the “Incas” is what springs to mind, but they were only around from 13th Century to the mid 16th, not that long. “Civilisation” goes back to 8,000BC (probably more). Larco traces these civilisations through their ceramics and textiles mainly, and some metalwork.

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It was quite cool that they left the museums storerooms open too, so you can see all the other articles they have in the collection.

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Finally in the museum, there was a pretty extensive erotica section of pottery. Those Gods did enjoy fertilising the planet.

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Also, while we were in Lima, we heard about the Earthquake in Ecuador. Poor people. We know what destructive earthquakes are like, since we were in the Christchurch quake.. It didn’t take much discussion to decide to fly from Lima to Colombia skipping Ecuador entirely. I feel very very sorry for what Ecuador must be going through. Christchurch 5 years after our quakes is still mostly roadworks and empty building sites where buildings have been demolished. It will take Ecuador years and years to get over this. And remember, while the story will go out of the news, the people there will be experiencing daily earthquakes for months and months, if not years. It is not just a “quake”, there will be thousands.

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