Current Date: Monday, December 8, 2008 7:10 p.m. (Mancora, Peru)
Current Itinerary: We’ll probably stay here for another couple days...it could be the last time we see the coast. From here we’ll head to Trujillo and then to Huaras to do some high altitude hiking. Nothing is solid after that but we’ll probably be doing Macchu Picchu right around Christmas.
New Pictures Posted:
It’s a pretty long list...everything from Colombia is finally done. There are some great pictures of the beautiful city of Cartagena, and some cool videos of us in the Mud Volcano near there. There are also some great artistic shots from the Salt Cathedral in Bogota, and we loved a little mountain town called Villa de Leyva. We ended up doing the Zona Cafetera with my friend Angelica from Bogota and got some great photos from Salento and Valle de Cocora. Last but not least, here’s some pictures and videos of me and Drouyn/Australia getting tattoos in Popayan!
New Journals Posted:
Note #1: It’s a never ending apologies for the delays...the internet in Ecuador was horribly slow and almost never free anywhere so I didn’t get much time for uploading. This is the fastest connection I’ve seen in 2 months so I’m unloading everything I can. There are a lot of pictures and videos up as I said. I’m working on an Ecuador summary...that will be the next thing I send out, hopefully soon.
Note #2: I wanted to address this back in Colombia but never got around to it. It was the best country we’ve been to on this trip for sure. We’ve met an awesome guy, Spencer/California, who is biking his way from Colombia to Argentina. That’s an amazing feat and they guy has one of the best blogs I’ve ever read. Particularly, I want to point people to this entry he wrote, titled “Is Colombia Safe?” I get that question a lot and it says many things I would love to have said but better than I could have ever expressed it. It also gives you a little background on the politics in Colombia and might help some of you folks back in the USA understand a bit more about why many places around the world end up being unstable.
Note #3: You’ll notice in all the new pictures posted, an Australian with a regal and majestic beard keeps making appearances. That’s our buddy Drouyn/Australia who traveled with us the last 3 months. You might remember a brief meeting with him from just before we sailed to Colombia. Just to fill in the gap, we met up again in Cartagena and he convinced us to do the Ciudad Perdida Trek. A group of 8 of us tackled that monster and afterwards, 5 of us stayed together for a couple weeks. We all went to a park called Tayrona in northern Colombia and then headed south together. That’s where this journal picks up.
Wednesday, Sept. 24 2008 (con't)
The five of us started the long 22 hours of traveling to San Gil from Tayrona around 2:00p.m. We waited an hour for the boat to leave and then the guy charged us an extra 5k ($2.50 USD) for the ride. To say we were annoyed would be an understatement but with 20 people in the boat and many tourists on a regular vacation, we couldn’t mount a united front. A few of us begrudgingly held out because there is nothing worse than knowing you’re getting ripped off. It’s a constant battle down here for us backpackers...you win some and lose some, but you definitely know when you’re beat and it sucks. This was one of those situations so we didn’t hold out long. The final hold out on our boat was this one Israeli guy which was of no surprise to us. They have a pretty bad reputation for being cheap and it’s embarrassing how often this stereotype holds up. This is a tough pill to swallow but I’d say when it comes down to the most hated nationalities on the backpacking circuit, Americans and Israelis are at the very top of the list by far. For us, the stereotypes are being clueless, inexperienced, horrible with languages, arrogant, and never traveling for more than a few weeks at a time...and again I say, it’s embarrassing how often these stereotypes hold up. One of the goals of traveling for me is to try and to get people to see us as individuals rather than rely on stereotypes and the politics of our country in judging us. It’s an uphill battle but sometimes, when you really get to know someone and it changes their opinion, it’s pretty nice.
Back in Santa Marta, we had a quick meal at the restaurant I mentioned before and then headed to the bus station. We had heard you could negotiate the prices for bus trips here in Colombia and found out it was true when we got to the terminal. Before getting to the ticket window, we were approached by a guy from one of the bus companies and we got tickets for 40k instead of the official price of 50k. The key for us was that we know the price was supposed to be 50k beforehand. It’s still a really expensive bus ride...but atleast we were saving on a night’s accommodation. We got on the bus at 8:30 p.m. and settled in for the ride. It was a change from what we have been used to on this trip...the buses here are more like the ones I rode in Brazil...nice and roomy and you can almost lay horizontal. The only downside of these buses is that they really crank the A/C and they are absolutely FREEZING. Luckily I knew that and came prepared...experience is the best teacher I always say.
Usually bus rides are uneventful, but this one didn't quite start out that way. About an hour into the ride, the woman and her son in front of me seemed to be frantically searching around for something. I passed them my flashlight to help them look...it turned out the woman had seen a hamster scrambling around her feet! After looking around for a few minutes and causing a little commotion we caught it. A damn hamster running around on the bus! The son ended up asking everybody else on the bus if it belonged to them but nobody claimed it. There's no telling how long the little guy had been on the bus. The woman ended up dumping out her purse and putting him inside. She even gave it a little piece of food, which it devoured in about a minute. We wrapped up the purse and put it in the overhead storage but later discovered the hamster chewed a hole in the purse and escaped. We never found out what happened to it...I guess the little guy is still running around on the bus.
One other thing of note from the ride was that we stopped in a small town in the middle of nowhere around 2:00 a.m. for a food break. This is pretty common on long bus rides no matter what time of day or night you take them. I wanted a little snack so I got off to see what I could find. They had some Arepas, which is sort of like a poor man's pupusa for those who know what that is. Point is, it makes a nice little snack. I bought one and asked the guy for some Picante (hot sauce) and some salt and he placed both items on the table in front of me. The Picante was not in a bottle, but rather in a bowl on the table. This is an important lesson for you folks if you travel down here...if the picante is in a store bought bottle, it's probably not too hot, but if it looks like it was homeade and served in a bowl, watch out! Those are usually almost impossible to eat they are so hot. It's one of those little things you pick up if you have traveled for awhile.
Anyway, in my infinite wisdom I look down at the picante and only put a couple drops on my arepa, knowing that it is probably way too hot. The guy is sort of staring at my while I'm putting it on, clearly wondering why I'm being so conservative with my picante application and non-verbally challenging my manhood, so I sort of smugly tell him in a "look how smart I am" tone, "I've learned my lesson on the picante in a bowl...this stuff is probably way too hot. That is one thing about latin america I've learned!" As I am saying that I pick up the salt and begin to shake it but notice nothing is coming out as the guy responds, "yeah, maybe so, but what you haven't learned is to take the top off the salt shaker!" Everybody standing near us, including myself exploded in laughter. From there we just started chatting about where I was from and how I ended up in Colombia, etc. As I started talking, a crowd of local people started to gather. My guess is they don't see to many foreigners in this small place and even fewer of them who can actually speak Spanish well enough to communicate. Anyway, they were firing off questions quicker than I could answer them but the whole thing was pretty cool. We only stopped there for 20 minutes, but it's a good example of how being able to speak the local language and interact with people can enrich something even as mundane as a food stop on a long bus ride.
Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008
We arrived in Bucaramanga at about 6:00 a.m. and got a ticket on to San Gil for 7:30. That ride was supposed to take 2.5 hours but about an hour in, on the way up a steep hill, there was a grinding of gears and a huge clunk and the bus came to a stop. There are two types of breakdowns...the one where the vehicle just seems to shut off but you can’t figure out why, and the one where you hear a noise that makes you go “uh oh.” This was an “uh oh” type. I was pretty sure from the start we weren’t going another inch up this mountain. Amazingly, I have been on hundreds of buses in latin america, and they break down pretty often, but this was the first time I had been on one where it happened. We waited about an hour and half before they brought another bus and then we continued on. We finally got to San Gil around 11:30 and searched around for the hostel Macondo, which we found pretty quickly but much to our chagrin was at the top of a pretty steep hill. We checked in at 12:00, a full 22 hours since we had packed up to leave back in Tayrona. The amazing apart about that is that if you look on a map, these two places are probably only 250 miles apart as the crow flies. That’s a four hour car ride in the US! The mountains in Colombia can turn short distances into long journeys...not to mention that we had taken a boat, two taxis, and two buses to get there!
The town had a great vibe from the start...it's weird but that happens in some places. You just know right away that you’re gonna love it. I had the same feeling when we got to San Pedro back in Lago Atitlan and I was right on the money. The hostel seemed pretty awesome...and it was only 13k/night ($7.50 USD). The Aussie owner, Sean was really helpful and we found out that not only was rafting only 25k, but we could also do bungee jumping for the same price! Rock on.
We had a great lunch at a place across the street from the hotel and then came back to have our first decent showers in 4 days. The water was actually luke warm! Wow, we are living in luxury now:) I worked on the internet for a bit...all this time off the grid is really getting me behind. A little later Jodi and I went for a walk around town. San Gil has a great feel to it...lots of very friendly people, lots of shops and activity, and very safe and cool place. One could easily get lost here for a few weeks or months.
That night was not so eventful...we went up to a pizza joint near the university for dinner with a couple people from the hostel. After that we went out for a beer but not much happened. I was exhausted...after viturally camping for 10 of the last 13 days, our clocks are tuned into the sunrise and the sunset. It will take a few days to readjust.
Friday, September 26, 2008
I spent the morning trying to catch up on journals...I've done almost no writing for a couple weeks now except for the stuff I wrote by hand when I was doing the trek. I'm also getting caught up in some of the news...looks like there might be an Obama-McCain debate on TV tonight. Hmmm...we will try to catch that for sure if it goes down. I was on the computer all morning, but the afternoon would be considerably more eventful. We had plans to go Bungee jumping!
Things got a little delayed by some afternoon rain, but around 4 it started to clear up a little. Originally just a few of us were going to do it, but as the word spread, just about everybody from the hostel ended up going with us. We all hopped in cabs to a bridge across town where we were would be jumping from. Atleast that meant there would be a river below us to break our fall should there be a mishap:) There was a lot of nervousness/excitement amongst the group...I mean it was palpable. The road to the bridge ended up being blocked so we had to walk the last quarter mile...allowing for the tension and excitement to peak.
We got to the bridge and to me it didn’t really look that scary. We were about 75 feet up or so...truth be told, I wish it had been a little higher. I’d probably jump from 75 feet into a river anyway, even without the cord. The river was raging pretty good below though and the idea of throwing yourself off it was still intimidating. I was up for the challenge so I volunteered to go first. I still felt pretty calm when I was suiting up.
Here is a video I took just before take off. The adrenaline didn’t really start pumping until I stepped over to the other side of the bridge. After some short explanation it was time to jump...3...2..1...BUNGGEEEE!
Here is a video we took of my jump. I think in the end it was a good thing it wasn’t that high because the fear gets you right around the 2 second mark and the free fall was already almost over at that point. The rope catches and you get thrown back up into the air and swing under the bridge...the real fear is that you bounce back up so high that you get pretty close to the bottom of the bridge and feel like you might hit it. Even after the initial jump, bouncing and swinging is still pretty fun for a few minutes before they pull you back up.
The whole thing was an incredible rush! My heart was thumping for atleast 20 minutes afterwards. Wow. Yet another thing crossed off life’s “to do” list. Good times.
Jodi was the first girl to do the jump and went third over all...a testament to her awesome “do anything” attitude. She was pretty nervous suiting up but you can’t tell from this picture.
In the end she made the leap and loved it. Here is her video.
After everybody went, I was so pumped up I wanted to do it again...the guys said okay so I went for it! This time, I decided to jump off backwards though! Here is the video. It was so much better and scary doing it backwards! I could have stayed out there jumping all night. I thought the backwards jump looked pretty nice, but Diego/Switzerland won the award for the best jump for sure. Check out this video.
Everybody was pretty Euphoric in the end and all of us were ready for a few celebratory beers. Back at the hostel we all crowded around our cameras and watch the videos once again...there were lots of laughs and high fives! What a fantastic experience.
Since it was a day of conquering challenges, Diego/Switzerland, Yvonne/Michigan and I decided to go after another small one. Here in this part of Colombia, there are some huge ants that people eat and they are considered common snack...they are not alive but just dried out. It wasn’t that big of a deal...I had a couple and they just tasted like peanuts, but here is an awesome picture of us just before eating them.
After that little snack, we went out in a big group for a great dinner. In fact, it might have been the best dinner I’ve had on this trip...it was at a restaurant called Mana if anybody out there comes to San Gil.
After dinner we headed back to the hostel to watch the debate. There was a pretty good size group of us watching it and only three of us were Americans. The world is watching this election...that’s for sure. I had plenty of thoughts about the debate but I don’t want to use this journal to get too political...last time I did that my inbox almost exploded. I’ll just make this one comment...sitting down “without preconditions” and talking is called diplomacy you jack ass!! It’s what adults do.
Anyway, we headed down to the plaza and had a few beers...it was great. We ended up meeting a few local guys who took us to a club. Our group split in half as the others went to a small rock bar, but it was still all good. We danced the night away and polished off a couple bottles of rum. There was this Irish couple out with us...let me give everyone here some advice...never try to outdrink the Irish!! I don’t know when we left but when we did, they were ordering another bottle of rum.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Very little happened this day. Jodi and the others went paragliding in the afternoon. I didn’t go because I had done it before back in Medellin in ’05. They had a good time though...here is a video of Jodi soaring high above Colombia.
I sat around all day...made a couple phone calls and listened to the ND game on internet radio (we beat Purdue...sweet!). Everybody in the hostel was pretty lethargic and hung over all day.
That night we sat around and had a couple beers just talking about our different countries. Did you know that in Australia, the minimum wage is around $17 USD/hour!!! That is pretty amazing. They explained to me that there are almost no poor people there...it makes sense. They also have a public health care system which I personally thing is a much better way to go. Sometime in the coming 15 years or so our system will probably collapse on us as health care will become unaffordable for even the middle class and social security will continue to dwindle. It’s already happening. It is among one of the many issues that we constantly hear politicians say they will change but nothing ever really happens. Hmmm...maybe I’ll just move to Australia:)
Anyway, it’s pretty cool hanging out in the hostels and having talks about how things work in other countries. Personally, I think it can spawn some pretty good ideas that can be incorporated into our own lives...and you can learn a lot. Back in graduate school, sometime around the fourth year I figured out that the more experiments you have to do, the more you have to reach out and depend on the experience of others. Then you take their advice and guidance and incorporate that into your own specific goals. It’s called learning. You get very good at it after years of running into road block after road block and you start to learn how to approach and solve problems differently and more efficiently (every single scientist I know is nodding their heads right now). That is one of the major lessons I learned in graduate school and I seriously wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t figured out to apply that exact same concept to the way I live my “non-scientific” life. I always feel like politicians become so disconnected from the rest of society and the real problems that are out there...how their decisions can affect the individuals. Part of the reason for that is they lose that “sit at a table with a bunch of regular, educated folks and just listen” part of their lives. They surround themselves with aides and ass kissers that never challenge their views and their only source of conflict is from other politicians that also have no clue. Of course, just listening is not going to solve the world’s problems, but it just might give you a better idea on how to approach things and in my opinion is a step in the right direction.
Later on that night we went down to the plaza to have a few beers. It wasn’t too packed because of a late evening downpour, but we traded a couple stories and had a pretty cool time. We did go to one bar which was weird...it was sort of like a karoke place but all the tables were singing instead of one person. We got out of there pretty quick and went back to the hostel to crash.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
This morning we went rafting down the river here in San Gil! It was pretty awesome. They actually have a few different rivers you can raft on here that differ greatly in cost and skill level. I would have tried the river with the 5+ rapids but it was six times the price! We got to do category
2+ and 3 rapids for only 25k...since I had never done any river rafting, that was cool with me. Only me, Jodi and Hendrick/Germany went on the trip along with one guide, Carlos. When we got to the river about 30 minutes out of town, we dawned our gear and had a short intro and just like that we were in the water. Sometimes I like that about Latin America...in the US, there would have been a 45 minute instructional video, followed by signing of 15 different waivers. Here you get in the van, get to where you’re going in 10 mintues later you in the water.
Right away we went through some pretty big rapids...it was pretty exhilarating...although part of that may have been the FREEZING cold water. (is anybody picking up on the fact that I don’t like the cold). We went down the river for about an hour and a half. Some of the rapids were really fun...we definitely hit some huge waves...we did not tip the boat but we did actually try to a bunch of times for fun. Only Hendricks fell out once on one of the tougher rapids...Carlos tried to tip me out a couple times but I held strong. Because the river was on the calmer side, we were able to play a bunch of games and push each other out of the boat at a few points. It was really a good little intro into rafting and I’m definitely ready to tackle some bigger rapids next time. If we come across another cheap place to do it, I’ll give it a shot. White water rafting, and bungee jumping...my “to do” list is getting annihilated!
We were back at the hostel around 12:30 so we had the whole day ahead of us. They were working on the electricity and water in town that day so we were without both until 6 p.m. No need to sit around the hostel in that situation so we decided to hit the Botanical Gardens. Diego and Yvonne were heading out that day so we said goodbye with promises to catch up with them in Bogota.
We went down to lunch at Restaurant Mana (place with the great dinner from Friday) with Drouyn/Australia, James/England, and David/Australia. It was fantastic once again and definitely solidified it’s spot in the top 5 meals we’ve eaten on this trip. James was feeling pretty hung over from the previous night, so let’s just say his meal didn’t stay with him as long as he might have liked, but the rest of us left pretty satisfied.
We walked down to the gardens and paid 4k for entry. The place was really nice. There were all these really cool looking trees called “Barba de Viejo”.
We meandered around checking out the place for about an hour. At one point we had a funny interaction with a Colombian family that was walking past us. We could hear mumblings of “hey look at those gringos” as we passed them...and a lot of pointing and staring. I never talk about that much but it is pretty common when you’re in places that don’t see many tourists. People become a bit fascinated with people from a different country. Walking around San Gil with Drouyn draws quite a bit of attention since he has such a long, regal and majestic beard...here he is posing with it by one of the trees.
Anyway, once you leave the coast you don’t see many black people either, and there are definitely no light skinned blondes down here so the three of us stick out more than most. People always try to stop us and talk in English a little. I like the enthusiasm. This family eventually stopped us to ask where we were from...the old grandma was so fascinated with Jodi that she actually took a picture of her with her cell phone! Sometimes it’s fun but getting stared at all the time can make you feel uncomfortable now and then if you don’t like much attention. None of us are really bothered by it but it’s admittedly easier for me most of the time because when I’m alone I don’t deal with it as much as the others.
Eventually it started to rain so we caught a taxi back to the hostel...and began the agonizing wait for the water to come back on. I know you’re wondering why it was such a big deal but let me remind you that no water means no flushing toilets. Jodi can attest to this...having intestinal issues and having no flushing toilets is NOT a good combination. Fortunately the water came back on a little early which I’m sure was a relief to many people around town.
I spent most of the night working on pictures and trying to write. I know I keep saying that over and over again, but it’s a reflection of what is happening. We have taken almost 2000 pictures since Panama City...that is not an exaggeration. It’s taking me forever to get through everything. The connection here at the hostel is not that fast so I can’t upload at the moment and it’s frustrating me. I never feel like all the pictures are safe until they are on my server and can’t be touched...not to mention my laptop is starting to crap out on me and I’m afraid it might break permanently at any moment.
Anyway, that just about wraps up our time in San Gil. What a great spot to stop if you love to do some adventure sports...plus everything is so cheap. Hostel Macondo is the place to stay if you come here...the owner Sean knows everything about everything in this town and is immensely helpful. You could spend a couple weeks in this town and do something new and exciting every single day (I highly recommend bungee jumping!). I’d stay if I had deeper pockets but alas, as travelers we have to move on. Colombia has been incredible so far...I can’t wait to see what happens next.