Archive for April, 2008

Turtle TLC – Sorapta, Panama

April 30, 2008

Our living quarters at the Sorapta turtle project, getting a new turtle mural addedLocal boatman on the river at Sorapta

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Hola from Panama

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So I got on the water taxi to Sorapta. This involves winding your way down the river and hopefully slowing down for the local boatmen pictured above. According to the Lonely Planet this is a must journey in Panama and I have to admit it was pretty spectacular, really grass roots. 40 minutes later, I was dropped off and met by Scott and Chris at the ferry pier in Sorapta. Unfortunately the ferry pier had collapsed the day before so it was a case of wobbling my way over the remaining wood (it has now been fixed). Basically I’d come here for 3 nights to do some volunteer work with Leatherback turtles. I’d seen a sign at the Bocas boat pier and at Heike hostel with a man pictured next to what looked like a giant turtle. We’d joked that the turtle looked so huge next to him that he must have been a dwarf – how wrong we were !!

Immediately I was introduced to the sloth family that live in a tree near the pier. I sneaked down to take a look at him later and after 15 minutes of trying to see the thing saw him moving along the branches to his little cubby hole position. They have a really peculiar face, almost monkey like. Little did I know that he wasn’t actually going to move again for the next 3 days and none of the other volunteers had yet to see his face.

Scott introduced me to the project. There is a dorm block which sleeps 12, several hammocks and then a kitchen and dining block. We were to be supplied with 3 meals a day. There is no running water or electricity in Sorapta so a torch is a must. The rain water is gathered as a drinking supply and there is a well where water is collected and filled in to buckets so that you can take a shower and flush the toilet – pretty basic but definitely an experience !! The cost of volunteering just $20 per day, so very worthwhile if you ask me. The project here is run by a couple called Scott and Sarah who have dedicated the last 5 years of their lives looking after the smaller Kemp’s Ridley turtle found in Guatemala. There’s also another project in Panama at Playa Largo on Bastimentos (Bocas Del Toro) but for that one you need to stay for a week and unfortunately I didn’t have the time.

On to the Leatherbacks. These are the largest of all the sea turtles. The males are larger than the females and the biggest to date was found on a Welsh beach measuring 3.7m long. Now I’ve worked with the largest it would be hard to downsize. The turtles that come here also lay their eggs on beaches in Costa Rica. Their migration distance is amazing. They swim from here up to Scotland as they live on a diet solely of jellyfish (I’m liking them more and more) and the largest jellyfish are found off our shores. I wouldn’t dare go near the insides of their mouths which look like something out of Alien but I guess they need to be in order to shred all that jelly. They’ve even been found swimming in ice in Alaska and have specially developed lungs so they can dive up to 1000m (very impressive !!). There are now laws to prevent people taking the eggs, but unfortunately this was not always the case and so the Pacific population is down to only 1% of what it used to be. Which is why help is needed. This wasn’t realised for years as turtles lay from the age of 20 and can live to more than 100. So by the time people realised turtle numbers had dropped considerably there were hardly any left. In some places the eggs are the only source of income the locals can get, they sell them to make money and the eggs are believed to have an aphrodisiac like quality (although of course not proven). Eggs from this beaches are still sold in bars in Bocas, our job is to save as many eggs from the poachers as possible. Before the project was started dead turtles were even found cut open where poachers were too impatient to wait for eggs to be laid, but thankfully this doesn’t seem to happen here anymore. Guatemala is the only country in the world not to have made the stealing of eggs illegal so there Sarah and Scott came up with a situation to get a 10% egg donation from each nest the locals find. After much education this seems to be getting through. I think the problem is that the people in Latin America are struggling to survive so in many cases they just think about where the next meal is coming from rather than about the future. They are slowly beginning to understand that if they don’t donate in a few years there will be no eggs left. The other issue for turtles is fishing regulations worldwide. Most countries simply do not follow them and many turtles are captured and accidentally killed in nets or longlines. Each Leatherback nest usually contains in the region of 70-100+ eggs which take around 70 days to incubate. The sad fact though is that out of 1000 eggs only 1 will reach maturity hence why more needs to be done to save them.

Time to go and meet the volunteers. There are 4 people here all from England (what givers we are !!). Chris (who seems to spend his holidays doing this kind of stuff. He’s done jaguar conservation and to my deepest darkest envy has worked at the Sepilok Orang Utan sanctuary in Borneo), Ellie, Alex and Johnny. They’d all signed up via a company in the UK and had previously been in Costa Rica. These companies are an easy way to get on a project but I think after seeing what’s available in various countries I’ve been to I’d just rather turn up and join. They are also quite young and seem to all be on their gap year. So after finding a bed I chat to them for the rest of the afternoon.

Our pasta dinner is served around 7.30pm and then it’s time to find out what patrol you are on. Yes, this is pure night shift duty. The patrols go out at 8.30pm, 10pm, 12 midnight, 2am and 4am. You go out with at least 1 other person. Although Sorapta beach is protected so in theory noone is allowed on it we have to be careful of poachers, who may or may not come from the 3 houses located by the beach. The patrol takes in around 8km of beach, which when walked each way is 16km and should take around 4 hours, well that is if you don’t see any turtles. The last few nights have been pretty hectic. Tonight I am booked to walk with Scott the project leader at 8.30pm (bonus…the worst shift is definitely midnight).

NIGHT 1

We head out with our torches. We use a red light filter on our torch as this is harder for the turtles to see and so doesn’t disturb them as much. The beach is next to the accommodation so we stand for 30 seconds or so to wait for our night vision to improve. Time to start walking. The beach is literally littered with loads of trees suspected to have floated down from a local banana plantation. This makes it quite hazardous and we often have to turn the torches on to see where we are going. The moon so far is keeping a very low profile so it’s incredibly dark. At one point I do manage to stub my shin (oh well, no point doing something if you can’t get a few war wounds). We also come across a whole herd of cows which belong to an adjacent farm. Great, just what you need, nests potentially trampled. We reach the end and not a turtle in sight, so wait and chat and drink some water as tonight it’s really humid. The downside of Sorapta is that it is teeming with sand flies, so when you sit down to chat they manage to devour the gap in between my jeans and top on my back. I am getting loads of little bites everywhere despite using tons of repellant. Okay, time to head back. We find Johnny with a turtle (sounds like a bad joke !!), they don’t know if she laid eggs or not. It was too difficult to tell by the time they found her. A turtle doesn’t always lay eggs. She often comes up and then goes back to sea and will return or go to another beach within the following few days. All they can do now is hide what may or may not be a nest as efficiently as possible to stop the poachers finding it. The poachers have to get to the eggs within a day or so for them to be any use otherwise they will already have started to solidify. I have to say, it’s my first encounter with a turtle and I am completely blown away. This lady is huge. She’s 160cm in length and 120cm wide – that’s bigger than me (I know, not that difficult !!). She really comes across as almost prehistoric, she’s covering her nest and grunting around. She then turns around and uses her flippers to navigate her way back down the beach and in to the sea, funnily she generally waits for a bit before she goes back in, maybe it’s to catch her breath after all that exertion. The tracks are huge and really wide, it looks like a tractor has been on the beach. I am stunned. It’s a shame but understandable that you can’t take photos. I want to show you how large it is but obviously can’t distress her in anyway. Twice this year a turtle has still been on the beach at daylight (that’s really unusual), so then you could take a picture. So get an idea of the size it’s good to look at the following link….

http://images.google.co.cr/images?q=leatherback+photo&hl=es&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=X&oi=images&ct=title

Each turtle can lay up to 10 nests per season. In fact they can mate with the male for hours (that’s if he doesn’t accidentally drown her) and then store the sperm to fertilize future batches of eggs. We carry on walking. Sorapta beach seems to be eroding at a really fast rate, this is going to make it increasingly difficult for the turtles to nest here. We arrive back to the accommodation and as Scott has a very early start in the morning he decides we don’t need to walk the remaining 2km on the other side. 12.30am quite a short night. Although there’s always time for a packet of biscuits when we finish the shift !!

The next day I wake up at 9am and so miss breakfast (must be the last 2 nights of partying in Bocas that have done me in). I go to check on Mr Sloth, no movement. Then look at the turtle board. They have already recorded more turtles than last year even though they are less than 2 months in. Their aim is to try and get to 500 turtles this year (or nests). All turtles are tagged, so if you come across a new one you get the honour of tagging and naming it. Funnily the one called La Difficil does not live up to her name and has been to the beach 8 times already this year. Alex and Johnny are both art students and start to work on the mural for the dorm building as you can see above. All adds to the home comforts !! I decide to read and then hike the nature trail. This brings me to the cows at the lagoon who are definitely more scared of me. After lunch, I read some more and even manage a little sleep before dinner. At this point Thomas an Aussie guy arrives to stay for 2 nights. He’s also worked with turtles elsewhere, but here it’s definitely a case of more hands make light work. We seem to have a lot of time to relax whilst Scott and Sarah are busy with the day to day running of the project. I don’t know how they do it !!

NIGHT 2

After our dinner of curried mince, I was given the 10pm shift to walk with Sarah. She had been ill the night before with either worms or an amoeba (the joys of faraway lands) but had taken some medication and felt a lot better. We bumped into the 8.30pm shift and then came across what could be a small party on the beach. We couldn’t really see who was there so didn’t want to risk two women walking past some drunk Panamanian men on a very dark beach. We turned back and when out of sight sat for a while and chatted. Then we walked back. Not a turtle in sight. We realised when we got back to base that we hadn’t seen the midnight shift so Sarah went to wake them up (it’s now 1am). Then, I got to walk the other side which I’d missed the night before. If I was a turtle I’d lay my eggs here. You’re further away from poachers and there’s less debris to avoid. It’s actually quite nice to walk on and we didn’t need to use our torches at all. We came across some tracks. A turtle had definitely laid a nest. We knew because as she’s been walking back to sea she’d dropped some of the little infertile eggs which come out last. Sarah disguised the nest whilst I covered up the tracks. The 4am shift also cover and count all tracks as it’s easier to do once the sun has come up. We were back by 1.50am, I have been lucky with short shifts so far. It seems so light tonight though so I just take a few minutes to appreciate my surroundings and of course the stars (corny but true !!) before heading for bed.

This morning I wake up in time for breakfast, there were 4 turtles the night before in the end. It seems to come in 4 day cycles, as to quite a few and then a drop. Sloth still hasn’t moved and I fall back to sleep in the hammock. I’m dreaming about being trapped in a sofa when I wake up so have obviously been trying to get out of the hammock in my sleep. Today we have 5 new arrivals. They have all come from a project in Costa Rica for a few days where they’ve been teaching football, Ellie knows them so gets reacquainted. I seem to spend the whole day reading, bliss !!

NIGHT 3

Pasta again but that’s fine by me. Again I have the 10pm shift and I’m with Chris, Thomas and Eduardo one of the Panamanians who works on the project. We set off and just where the cows like to hang out we see tracks. This turtle is new so Chris tags her. She’s also picked what must be the worst part of the whole beach to lay a nest. There’s a huge tree blocking her path back to sea so not sure how the babies would get over that, the cows are nearby so could trample the nest and even worse it would be in danger of being washed away. She flails around for ages, flippers coming in contact with fallen trees. We move what we can out of her way as we’re worried she’ll damage a flipper. She seems to be going round and round in circles but we just wait patiently. She then decides that maybe she’ll go back to see and heads straight back to the huge tree blocking her path. We use torches to act as a moon and small light to get her away from it. Personally, I wouldn’t want a bite from her !! Next she gets stuck in a V shaped tree. It’s awful, I’m hoping she can get out. The effort of moving seems to be sapping her energy. Eventually she moves sideways a bit but is still stuck. So I talk to her and use my torch to give her what I think is the easiest escape route to sea. It seems to work and she is in the water once more. It was possibly her first time, the whole episode took an hour and twenty minutes and we’ve barely covered any of the beach yet. We carry on and almost immediately find more tracks. This turtle only has one tag, so Chris adds another, she’s the biggest I’ve seen to date at 1.63m. She’s only just found her spot and after some movement starts digging the wide beginnings of her nest. When she’s happy she picks a spot within the large hole to start digging deeper. Her back flipper suddenly turns in to a scoop and is like a spade. Behind her we help dig. The midnight shift appear and two of the boys who turned up today decide they can’t do the walk so Ellie carries on with her helper while they join us. When the hole is deep enough (and it’s so deep !!) she starts to lay. The policy here is that if the nest is too far away from base you leave and cover it, if it’s close enough which this one was you bring the eggs back to the hatchery and build a new nest for them. Although this has to be done within an hour or they could die. Chris adorns a rubber glove and picks up the eggs as they are dropped on to the sand. It’s amazing, 1 or 2 even sometimes 3 (when smaller) drop out at a time. They are a bit slimy but not too bad. Whilst she is laying the eggs we touch her back. Leatherbacks don’t have the traditional type of turtle shell and it does feel leathery, the whole back almost looks like it could have been a shield in medieval times. In all she lays 95 large eggs and 40 smaller or tiny infertile eggs. Then she starts to cover up her nest. We help her so she can get back to sea as soon as possible. It’s weird to think that even with these people standing around her she is covering up a hole with nothing in it and doesn’t realise. The whole experience has been amazing for the nest newbies like myself. Now though there’s no time to lose, we have to get back to the hatchery. The tracks will be covered by the 4am shift. We dig the hole in the next designated nesting area and then bury the eggs. We try to create the nest in exactly the same way. New nest accomplished we are done for the night. It’s 2am. Poor Ellie didn’t get back until 6am, she had 4 turtles in all, 3 of which were in a 10m area. It’s all very unpredictable. In total there were 9 turtles tonight.

The next morning I grab a coffee and say goodbye. I’m catching the 8.30am water taxi to Changuinola. There is a debate as to whether it will stop even though it’s been confirmed, oh well let’s just see what happens. I must say my powers of controlling my movements have impressed me and I need to find a new hostel so I can go. I think it was the thought of running out of water in the bucket mid flush that put me off. Other than that it was great !!

I have to say I am pleased to have finally have done something useful with my time. I have learnt so much and will definitely be questioning my seafood consumption greater in the future. These creatures have been here a lot longer than me and definitely need to be saved (although they’d be a bit big to bump in to when diving). It is back to basics but great fun. I think the sleep deprivation would get to you long term but for a few days or a couple of weeks you will definitely get a lot out of doing it. So I can’t really encourage people enough to help. Anyway, I’ll sign off now as I think I’ve gone in to more detail than usual but it was really to get people with time and in Costa Rica or Panama to sign up…….

Time for me to head in to Costa Rica. Panama has been great, I am definitely coming back, hopefully when Ambose´s new pad is finished so I can crash it. I didn´t have time to get to the Darien province or the San Blas islands which are supposed to be like paradise and you have the added bonus of spending some time with the Kuna Yala people. I´ve taken a bit longer here so will shave a bit off Costa Rica, too many places and too little time left !!

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 107, Train = 2, Boat =18, Sunglasses = 8, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 28 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all and remember Turtle TLC

Sally

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Basking in Bocas Del Toro !! – Panama

April 30, 2008

Red Frog BeachBocas Del Toro main pier

Hola from Panama

I got up and left the hostel relatively early to catch the bus back to David. Upon arrival I was ushered to an awaiting minibus which was going from there to Almirante. We are driven through cloud forrests and everything looks very similar to Columbia. At Almirante we are driven by taxi to the boat pier and a water taxi was almost full and was taking us to Bocas Del Toro. I have to say these Panamanians certainly have their transportation systems sorted. The main Island in Bocas is Colon, but it’s basically an archipelago of several islands. I think I missed the main street and headed down the coast road looking for accommodation. Erin from Boquete recommended one place but that looked like a complete dump and another place I checked out was full. I eventually stumble upon Hotel Angela which was out of my price range but had a friendly Kiwi receptionist called Nerissa. She was earning extra money working that job as well as her full term employment as a marine biologist. She recommended a place called Iguana run by her friend Raul. He came to pick me up and I had my own room on the other side of town complete with TV. I decided that I’d have a night of relaxation before venturing out and seeing what Bocas had to offer.

I get up the next morning and after a rather wholesome breakfast at cafe Lux head further in to town. After checking the web I found out that my Auntie Eileen has decided to come and visit me in Nicaragua (how exciting !!) so I decide to do a bit of research so that she’s properly innoculated and the like. It’s pretty hot today but although Bocas is known as the party area of Panama it is really easy to relax. Actually all in all I did have a very quiet day.

The following day I decide it’s time to go back in to the land of the living to socialise and move to hostel Heike which is in the centre of town. It’s really nice and is currently being managed by 3 really lovely Americans. I check in and get chatting to a girl called Katie who is in my dorm. I then head to Lil’s for brunch which includes a splash of her “Killin me man’s” sauce. Attached is a picture of the main Bocas boat pier that you can see from the restaurant. The place does have a very Caribbean feel to it, must be the sea !! After chatting with a few of the boat hustlers on the pier I decide to head to Red Frog beach for the day. I’ve heard this is the nicest beach in the area. My driver is Carlos and though he looks Panamanian, when I close my eyes and he speaks I could be anywhere in the Caribbean. I meet an American girl on the boat who lives there and gets me to carry a couple of her bags on to the island so I don’t have to pay the admission fee. Naughty but nice !! Red Frog beach is lovely and it’s safe to leave your stuff on if you fancy a swim (a picture of it is attached above). There’s nothing there apart from a cool beach bar. It’s located on Bastimentos, one of the quieter Bocas Islands. The accommodation in the main part of town on the other side of the island is far more rustic aswell. A boat is required to move to the two areas. I head back to Bocas around 4pm, courtesy of Carlos.

When I get back to the hostel Sean and Craig have arrived. Craig’s on a bit of a budget so Sean and I decide to go for an Indian. I have been craving that and a Donah Kebab for ages – I pity my local fast food places when I get back. To my horror the Indian is closed so we have a look around and find an Asian fusion place called Lemongrass. I order a green curry pie. Oh my word, I am definitely making that when I get home. It’s basically Thai green curry with mashed potato, topped with grated cheese which has been put under the grill. Delicious, I can assure you !! After that we go back to the hostel to find Craig. He’s been drinking far too much of the local rum with 3 Americans, Tony, Tim and Travis. How is it possible that people can get that drunk so quickly ? To line their stomachs we head over to the kebab stand and make the owner of it very happy as they keep ordering more. Well, it’s time to start partying in Bocas so we head to Mondo Taitu, the sister and party hostel of Heike. It’s the weekly 80’s night party, some people have even dipped in to the fancy dress box to make the occasion more realistic. After a few catching up shots we then have to have a shot of beer every time the music changes (it’s the rules you know !!). I am amazed at how many songs these younger people can name. Of course at my age I have no trouble, maybe I should have dug out the    ra ra skirt for the occasion, I have heard they are all the rage again at home – heaven forbid !!. I also bump into Mickey from Boquete although she’s definitely looking a little worse for wear. Next we head to Iguana bar, one of the owners gives us more free shots and Sean is trying to make a move on an Aussie girl called Terry, she is soooo drunk. Then finally we head to Barco Escondido, a bar with a sunken ship in the middle. Sean is still trying with Terry and Craig confesses to having a little crush on me. For God’s sake he’s only 22, time to head home !!

The next day after a well needed lie in I decide I’m just going to potter about and enjoy the town. I even manage to catch a little of the Champions League football. I book my boat ticket for the next day and head back to Lil’s – well the food is so good there and you sit right on the front, I just can’t help myself. In fact the water is so clear you can look down and see loads of starfish and other sea worthy creatures. I meet the boys back at the hostel and they decide to leave to head to a beach area near David. Really they want to mix it up with a few more of the local women, after all Bocas has far to many Gringas for them. I meet Mickey and as it’s ladies night agree to see her at her hostel later for happy hour. I say goodbye to the boys, they have been great fun. Then have quick lie down before my night out. I head back to Mondo Taitu for happy hour and then head to Aqua Lounge with Mickey and Dana. Aqua Lounge is situated across the water on another island, another party hostel, and we have the pleasure of free drinks until 11pm. It’s Mickey’s birthday so it’s constant rum and cokes all around. The US coastguard are also in town, not a bad posting if you can get it. We hit the dance floor and I catch up with Katie but just like Cinderella I’m home by midnight as I have to be compos mentis tomorrow.

I’m up and checked out and down by the boat pier in time for my 11am ferry. On the way I bump in to Harley (last seen vanishing off for a volcano hike) but i can’t stop to chat as I have a boat to catch, or so I thought!! It turns out that the tides are too low so I am going to have to wait until 2pm when the boat can leave. Oh well, time for a quick salad in Bongo’s before my next very special destination.

I’ve really enjoyed Bocas, even though I should have done a bit more sunbathing. What I like about it is the choice, I mean you can have the wildest time or the quietest time, it’s really up to you. I’m pleased to say I’ve had a bit of both. It is growing rapidly and they are in danger of running out of water. I heard there were rumours to build a 1000 home development on Red Frog beach which would just be disasterous. It must be because Panama has been voted the 4th best place in the world to retire. Yes, Panama is certainly coming up in the world. I do find the currency a little weird here though. It’s called the Balboa but you actually use US$ although there are some Panamanian coins. I was thinking maybe we could do that in England, you know join the Euro but still call it the Pound. All sounds like a win win situation to me !!

Oh well, time to pick up the rucksack and head on………

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 107, Train = 2, Boat =17, Sunglasses = 8, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 28 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Bubbly Boquete – Panama

April 28, 2008

Me stroking Monty the CapuchinNicky the Kinkaju

Hola from Panama

I woke up and caught a taxi to the bus station. My plan today is to go to Boquete, it´s been recommended by everyone but first that means catching a bus to David which takes around 7 hours. At the bus station a man takes me to the correct ticket office and the bus is leaving in 40 moniutes time. I´m actually pleasantly surprised by the bus, I have heard horror stories for Central America. At David I catch what looks like an old yellow American school bus straight through to Boquete. My plan is to stay at Hostel Nomba also owned by Ryan in Panama City. It’s a short walk from the bus stop and the door is answered by a guy with his right arm in a heavy plaster cast. This must be Craig, Martha told me about him. He went through a pot hole whilst mountain biking and ripped all his muscles away, nice !! I am offered a glass of wine by an Israeli girl called Mickey and spend the evening chatting to her, Craig and another Irish guy called Sean. The first wine tastes so good (it´s been a while) that I decide to go and buy some so Mickey and I get through it before heading for bed.

The next morning I lie in and after helping Mickey carry her guitar to her bus head of to Paradise Gardens which is where Sean and Craig do volunteer work. Martha recommended it to me as she said you can actually go in and play with the monkeys (just my thing !!). It´s basically a rehabilitation centre for local animals as well as trying to start breeding programmes for endangered species, and is highly worth a visit. Sean meets me and gives me the guided tour. First we see a Hyacinth Macaw. They are the largest of all Macaws and this one is actually owned by someone but the people at the gardens are looking after it. Despite his huge beak he comes over to say hello to me and immediately wants the backof his neck stroked, ahhh !! We had parrots as children so I´m not at all intimidated even if he has a monstrous beak. After that I meet Benjy the squirrel monkey. I have already heard a lot about him. He is very horny to say the least and walks around with an erection most of the time. He usually even relieves himself in front of the boys when they turn up for work. Today he appears to be on his best behaviour and is happy to take some fruit from me. He even curls up for a sleep later on, something Sean said he´s never seen him do. Maybe he´s pining after his old friend the howler monkey who was rehabilitated lately after their friendship deepened too far and she was caught giving Benjy a blow job. I don´t think the centre were in favour of any inter species breeding, so she was released. Next on to Monty the Capuchin monkey (pictured above). He´s also recently become the only occupant of his cage as the other male Capuchin was caught doing very naughty things to him. There must be something in the air here !!

The centre also has a butterfly and bird house and then I got to see another Capuchin called Ringo. Women can´t go in his cage as he´s very sexually aggressive. Time for another pair of Hyacinth Macaws who they are hoping will breed. There are only 500 pairs estimated to be left in the wild and one of them decided to do a bit of dancing and play peek a boo with me. On to the colourful Scarlet Macaws who were confiscated from a drug dealer and the Gollahs who can even talk. Then we meet Lottie. At first it was thought she was an Ocelot but she´s actually a Margay. Sean woke her up as there was a bird in her cage and Lottie just loves stalking birds. She missed this one but it´s great to see given the condition she was brought to the centre in. Her original owners got her when she was a baby and when she got too big to play with the children put her in a wire bottomed cage so they wouldn´t have to clean her out. As she grew and the children tired of her she was put in her cage at the back of a dark shed. When the centre were told an animal needed rescuing they found her. Her legs needed massaging so that she could walk again and she still bares a permanent kink in her tail. At least now she can run around and climb trees like she´s supposed to. In fact, a lot of the animals here have very similar stories. Next was Sam, a salmon Cockatoo. He is so loveable and again really enjoyed being stroked on the back of the head, I think he would have sat there all day given the chance. Finally, two baby owls whose mother had died in a road accident when they were found. We laughed as their heads turned 360 degrees. They will be released very shortly. Last but not least Nicky the Kinkaju, a first for me. She´s pictured above and is sooo cute although she´s far more playful at night.

Time to go in with Monty, he loves playing and attention. I went in  with another girl and one of the volunteers. First things first, remove hair bands and sunglasses. Monty was jumping from one to the other in turns. As he put his teeth against my skin I did have a brief moment of thinking rabies, abola ? Luckily, he was just playing and didn´t bite through the skin. We fed him some fruit and I even managed to avoid his pooh, which he did whilst perched on my head. After grabbing fistfuls of my hair whilst sliding down my back he then became fascinated with my watch and bangles. He´s so fast but so cute. They are incredibly intelligent and some are even trained to help disabled people (think Marcel the monkey in Friends). Oh well, trime to go but not before Sean made me a quick cup of tea.

I walked the 30 minutes or so back in to town. Boquete is pretty quiet but seems to be filling up with older Americans using it as a place to retire. I am struck by the amount of real estate companies in town. It does have a lovely feel to it though. As I walked around I was stopped my a man who asked me to come in to his store. I thought he was trying to sell me something but it turned out that an American guy was trying to get some sheets made. I had to explain in Spanish so the guy could understand, let´s call that my good deed for the day. I got some food in the cafe and then caught up on the blog before heading back to the hostel.

Upon arrival, I grabbed a beer. We have two new arrivals, Erin and Harley. Sean and Craig were going into town for a beer and invited me to join them. We go to a bar, order a bucket of beers and are soon joined by Erin and Harley. We head backto the hostal for some vodka shots (oh no, looks like it could be turning into a big night !!). Then Erin decides to stay whilst the rest of us go to another bar called Zanzibar. After one there we head to a club which is a bit of a walk out through the other side of the village. Several beers later the boys are up for meeting girls, so I bring an American over called Gina who lives there. The club is closing at 2am and Gina tells us about another bar where there is a lock in. I am feeling a little drunk but get the owner of the club to agree to driving us there. Harley and I have a deep and meaningful on the pros and cons of travelling with someone versus without. Don´t think we got to the bottom of that one. In the mean time, another local guy is going that way so gives us a lift in his pick up which is just aswell as I thought Harley was going to try and swim backacross the river. We are screaming with laughter as we are thrown about in the truck and I´m trying to take photos. The bar is full of people and pool tables. Sean and Craig decide to play pool and before I know it I´m playing with the locals when they lose. The locals are pretty damn good here, there must be nothing else to do. I am now very drunk but Craig starts us on the rum and cokes. My pool playing was less than impressive and Sean is becoming very competitive ( I think the drink brings that out in him). He´s a bit jealous I think that my Panamanian pool partner is better than him. The police then come to raid the bar so it´s time to leave. We all stumble home, let´s just say it wasn´t my most graceful performance but at least I didn´t go to bed with 5 packets of Doritos like Harley did !!

Oh my Lord !! I feel awful. In fact I´m staying in bed. I think I dragged myself out at 2pm to go to town for food. Apparently I even slept through the drilling and renovation work going on on the adjoining wall by my bed. I have to go back to bed again after the food, I´ve found a second sleep helps cure the hangover these days. I get up again and do some of my blog. I think we´re all feeling the same (except Harley who´s gone to climb a volcano…the fool !!) so just stay in and watch ¨Rome¨for hours and hours. Craig and I get a pizza in between and then I head to bed. I feel like I´ve wasted a day. I love the feel of Boquete, there´s loads of hiking and rafting here, but now I want to get some sun so it´s time for me to head to Bocas del Toro.

 

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 105, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 8, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 28 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Perky Panama City….that’s the capital of Panama of course !!!

April 28, 2008

Panama City colourful busesPanama Canal

Hola from Panama

Well I have to say until I started travelling I hadn’t heard much about Panama. Like Colombia it is another secret jewel awaiting discovery. My flight arrived on time and immigration didn’t even ask for an onward ticket, mind you I had kept him distracted asking questions about all of the lovely places to see. Norma had recommended a hostel in Panama city which was new. I only had an email address and after searching on the web discovered it was called “La City”. No address and a phone number that could be for anything. I’d been told to go to the upstairs floor where the taxis to town are cheaper. I went to tourist information and a woman there gave me her mobile to call the number I had (I’m liking Panama already !!). No answer but it was Ryan’s no. , the guy who owned the hostel. We called back and he answered and gave my directions. La City actually turned out to be in Marbella and in a new apartment block. It feels like I’m back in Hong Kong but it’s very chilled and lovely to stay somewhere so new and shiny, even if I’m in what feels like the maids quarters.

I read a little about the city and then go out for a wander. Wow, it’s a fast food frenzy right here on my doorstep. It all looks so American. Marbella’s obviously a richer area. Then I see a “Next”, I have been trying to find new jeans maybe they do a “petite” range. No joy, they have no jeans in the shop. This city is really much more modern that I was expecting. There are skyscraper apartment blocks going up everywhere. I then find a shopping centre. Now, generally I’m not a shopper but I am feeling a tinge of excitement. Oh, there are some great shops and I find a department store and jeans !! Usual story, the legs are way to long. Somewhere in this part of the world I am sure there is a denim abyss because barely any women here can be tall enough for these to fit ( well unless they have secretly squashed bodies and extra long legs). Desperate measures lead to desperate things and I head to the children’s department (oh, the shame !!). The jeans are disgusting but I find a lovely pair of pale blue cords ok so they are age 14 rather than size 14 – but I want new trousers !! Maybe I’m shrinking !! They do actually fit, I am now realising new possibilities, I could be raiding my nieces wardrobe upon my return !! Then I found tops, I went a bit mad but it means I have new clothes and got rid of all of the old ones, lovely to have a bit of change after 10 months. Then I went mad on toiletries and hair accessories – someone please take me out of here…..finally 2 hours later, in the dark I left. I went back to the hostel and chatted with a Norwegian girl called Martha and then went to bed.

The next day I am off to see the sights. The obvious stop is the Panama canal. I caught a taxi there and got there in time to see the incredibly large container ships going through. The canal is opened so that ships can travel through the locks one way in the morning and then the opposite way in the afternoon. I was at the Miraflores locks and I have to say it was a pretty impressive sight and certainly slightly larger than the ones on the canal at the back of my house. They are actually going through a process to add some more locks at the moment so they can let bigger ships and more cargo use the canal. The canal itself is 50 miles long and it takes 8-10 hours to get through although most ships spend on average 24 hours there. It’s quite funny waving goodbye to the crew as they go past. It’s the only place in the world where a captain relinquishes control of his ship to a canal pilot. The canal was finally opened in 1914. The idea was originally started by the French as a way to connect the Pacific coast with the Atlantic coast. The canal started as a 9 foot deep ditch (now at 40 foot). Too many of the French died of malaria and yellow fever so the Americans took over the idea and completed it using many people from the Caribbean and worldwide. Which is why I think Panama looks like a complete melting pot. In an expanding world the canal now handles 15000 ships a year which brings in revenues of over $1B. No wonder the Americans took so long to give it back. I have to say it’s pretty impressive watching 26 million litres of water fill and empty in the locks. After watching ships for a couple of hours I go in to see the museum and film. What I liked about the programs here is they seem to be very aware of the enviroment and ecology and everything they are working on for the future is taking this in to consideration. The local wildlife on display looked particularly interesting especially the tarantula eating wasps (what do they do if there’s a shortage ?)

Well time to leave, so I caught a local bus (referred to as a chicken bus or “the red devils” here, I think because of their driving) and went in to town. I got off at the same place everyone else did having absolutely no idea where I was. The streets were really lively and contained lots of market stalls. I asked someone where I was and then walked towards the legislative palace. Not worth seeing, so headed on down Central Avenue towards the old town area of Casco Antiguo. On the way I kept seeing a lot of women in brightly dressed clothes. These turned out to be from the Kuna Yala people that originate from the San Blas Islands. The women had lots of beads around their ankles and although they were dressed up the men and children with them weren’t.

Casco Antiguo is possibly one of the dodgiest areas of the city. It’s okay in the day but apparently at night you have to be very careful. Although I have to say it didn’t feel dangerous. It has the usual churches and square and a lovely sea front where some of the buildings have been completely rennovated. Then these sparkly ones are next to ones which look like they should be falling down. I winced seeing local children standing on the balconies which looked like they were about to collapse.

I walked back through town and spotted the incredibly colourful buses. I really quite like it here…as in the title it really is very perky !!Back at the hostel I spent the evening chatting to Martha and a guy called Eric. Before we knew it it was gone 3am so I went to bed. Oh well, I can highly recommend Panama City, there’s lots of other things to do here but I’m still behind schedule although think I’ll cut time for Costa Rica ratherthan here and it’s now time to head to the countryside.        

Transport count:

Plane = 24, Bus = 103, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 26 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Concluding Colombia in Cartagena !!

April 28, 2008

Catagena\'s old city walls

Hola from Colombia

So sadly it’s my final Colombian destination. I caught the bus from Casa Felipe which offers a door to door service. A few hours in we stopped and picked up some young guys, they seemed a bit drunk to me and sure enough half an hour later I felt a bag drop on to my head. Then there was a smell. One of them had been sick all over the seat and floor and the bag had hit me when his other friend was trying to avoid the onslaught. The bus driver went mad and then the vomit started moving. Unfortunately to the floor of the couple in front. They then went mad. The perpetrator just got up, picked up a carrier bag , gathered some dirt and threw it on it – pretty impressive given his state.  Approaching Cartagena the driver decides it’s not a door to door service (he’s obviously had a bad day ) so we have to argue with him to turn around and drop us in Getsemani where the main hostels are. I couldn’t get booked in to Casa Vienna (not an issue it looked really dirty) so went to Hotel Marlin and had a room to myself. I have to say Getsemani feels a bit seedy at night. I hadn’t been reassured when the final passenger on the bus told me to be careful !! I bumped in to Craig yet again and then went for dinner at Havana a cafe bar that has a good salsa vibe. I then bumped into one of the Dutch guys from my Cuidad Perdida trip who invited me out at midnight but I was too knackered so decided to have a nice early night.

The next day I had a lie in and then went to try and book a flight to Panama. You can catch a boat but this takes up to 6 days although does include a stop on the gorgeous San Blas Islands. I’ve heard some people say this is the highlight of their trip and others have had disasters so I think it depends on who is your captain. I haven’t really got the time so will just fly. Time to go and check out the old town. The book describes Cartagena as one of the most magical cities in South America, it’s pretty nice and has a Havana type feel although slightly more modern. I’ve seen more tourists here than anywhere else in the country. It’s funny when they think you’re a tourist you get hassled to come and visit an emerald shop, once you explain that you’re travellng for a long time they change the sales pitch to “what drugs do you want ?” instead. Oh well, something for everyone !! The city was really pretty though and I took a wander around the squares and churches and then strolled along the very thick city walls. These had taken 200 years to construct and were built after an attack from Francis Drake. The houses are all brightly coloured aswell. I had some food and then got back to the hotel and ended up chatting to a Colombian who was on business from Bogota. He invited me out for a drink but the sun has tired me out yet again and I say that I need to sleep instead. I’m also a bit distracted as I had an email saying there was a problem with payment on my card for the flight.

The next day I find out that edreams want a copy of my credit card and passport by fax to confirm the flight. After trying to contact their call centre which doesn’t seem to work on Skype I give up and cancel the booking. Instead I go to the airport to buy a ticket. There is one office and the person I can buy the ticket from is not back until 2pm which means a long wait..I wait. She then tells me that I can’t buy a one way ticket and need a return or Panama won’t let me in. I explain that it’s very common for people to bus through Central America and I have a ticket leaving Mexico in June. After confirming I have a credit card she finally lets me buy a ticket.

I get back to town and decide to change my Columbian money into US dollars for Panama. The banks don’t seem to do this so I need to go to a money changer. They lock me inside the office whilst completing the transaction. My money is in my secret pocket in my shorts so I decide to head back to the hostel with it. Very subtlely I feel some pressure against my bag which is over my shoulders on my back. I stop to look and a guy looking very guilty walks around my other shoulder. He looks back at me at least 3 times so I casually pretend I need some water. Just as I suspected, one of the zips of my bag had started to be opened. It was the one that contained the new flight ticket, I would have seriously stamped up and down if I’d lost that. At least I realised in time and had nothing of value in the bag. The area had felt a bit dodgy as everyone was asking if you wanted to change money and that’s the one thing that you are advised not to do here.

I had yet another early night, well I need to be up at 4.30am to catch my flight. I should have gone to the mud volcano or the beaches on the island but sometimes I’m happy just to potter about. The airport gave my bags a very thorough search, I had an extremely nervous moment when one woman asked me to sit down whilst she put on her rubber gloves. Luckily she just wanted to check one of my shoes.

That therefore concludes not just Colombia but the whole of South America. I have to say Colombia is my favourite in terms of this area but if you had a country here that combined Argentinian cities with Colombian countryside, full of Argentinian men and Colombian women then that really would be the perfect place in my view. Get here in the next 2-3 years, it’s changing now but retains it’s charm, however I fear an influx of young cocaine snorting backpackers are on their way to change the locals views of us.

My top 3 places  : Cuidad Perdida, Parque Tayrona and San Augustin 

Transport count:

Plane = 23, Bus = 103, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 26 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

My Personal Paradise in Parque Tayrona – Colombia, Caribbean Coast !!

April 20, 2008

Hitching a lift out of the park with the armySan Juan de Cabo beach

Hola from Colombia

Arriving back in Taganga I drop off the laundry and book a room rather than a dorm. I am so smelly I need a really long shower even if it’s going to be with cold water. I decide just to relax for the evening and am not even hungry just exhausted. After a lovely lie in I am rather surprised that my legs don’t ache at all. I thought I’d be walking like a person who’d been on a horse 24×7 but no I have a decidedly normal stance (well, as much as I can). I have breakfast with the Ivan and Paula (the Colombians from the lost city trek) and then really do very little. I read, blog and then have to suffer the humiliation of watching Arsenal go out of the Champions League to Liverpool. But even that doesn’t bother me too much…well I am in Colombia. I have a final beer again with the Colombians and then head to bed.

I’ve kept the room, no harm spoiling yourself once in a while (what is it I’ve been doing fot the past year anyway ?) I had breakfast with Selina and Hennie and then was picked up by the tour company to get a lift to Parque Tayrona. Some people said not to bother going here and just stay in Taganga but I loved it and would not have missed this for the world. It’s so naturally unspoilt !! It takes just over an hour to get there and we are dropped off inside the park where the horses carry luggage (if you have a lot, I’ve just got my day bag). The next stage is to walk to the first beach Arrecifes which takes about 45 minutes down a trail. I was with two German girls who were making me laugh because they kept bickering with each other. Arrecifes is nice and there are places to stay but the sea is really choppy and not great for swimming. There’s also some rather strange pink and purple jellyfish washed up on the beach so don’t fancy swimming with those either. As it happens the guide from the minibus is going to walk us to all the 3 main beaches so that makes life even easier. The next beach is 20 minutes away and is called La Piscina. This is much calmer and has a rocky wall built around the bay. It looks lovely but there isn’t anywhere to stay here. A further 10 minutes down a coconut tree lined trail brings me to San Juan de Cabo (pictured above). Oh yes, I have arrived !! There are two bays and you can stay in rooms, hammocks or tents. I opt for a tent as a hammock doesn’t give you any privacy and let’s face it it’s my first tent of the trip. I bump into Craig and it seems that nearly everyone who has come here has either just trekked the lost city or is a hippy. They make me laugh as they are the first to pounce on the coconuts falling from the trees. In fact you have to strategically position your tent so you don’ get hit. It’s all so relaxing I just want to read so I do that while everyone else arrives. Yes, Ivan and Paula, Selina and Hennie and all of the Israelis have turned up. We get together for dinner and I have the most amazing grilled fish – it’s huge !! Then after a few beers we head to bed as the generator gets switched off around 10pm. I am woken in the night by a huge storm. The wind is really howling, it’s actually a little scary but luckily my tent stays put and I return to dream land – hurray another day in paradise to follow tomorrow.

The next day after a moutain of a breakfast I head to the second bay, today is going to be one of serious sunbathing and getting some of my tan back. It’s lovely and breezy and apart from the odd drink seller I have the beach to myself (maybe everyone else is on the nudist beach nearby). At lunch time I swap beaches and spend the last hour with Paula and Ivan before they leave. We promise to email each other to improve our Spanglish. I would definitely like to keep that up, but good intentions and all that..we’ll see.

I spend the next day on the beach aswell. Selina and Hennie leave and I seem to be in a rather warm alcove and it’s so hot that I have to go in to the Carribean every half an hour to cool down. I’ve decided to head back this afternoon to Taganga and then I’ll make my way to Cartagena the following day. Although I’ve just done nothing here there is lots to do,there’s ruins, snorkelling and great treks but I really just wanted to get some sun after all of the Columbian rain I’ve had. I walked back along the trails and eventually reach the part where the horses were. Now as I’m making my own way back it means waiting for a jeep to take you out of the park or walking for another hour along the road. As it happens I see an army truck and decide to smile sweetly as I walk past. My friends who know me well will know I have a bit of a thing for hitching in official vehicles, I’ve managed fire engines and police vans before but an army truck is a new one for the list. The plan worked and they stopped and I got on top of the truck. Here’s one of my fellow passengers pictured above. Actually the driver did offer a seat inside but I was happy enough as I was. I thanked them as they dropped me right on the main road and then had to get two buses back which again all went very smoothly. I said goodbye to Hennie and Selina and went in to town for food. On the way back I bumped in to Barbara who I hadn’t seen since Salento when she was getting injections for her parasite. We were due to have a beer later but didn’t end of meeting up which was a shame. Oh well, that’s beautiful Tayrona done, time to go to my final Colombian destination which is Cartagena…….

Transport count:

Plane = 23, Bus = 102, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 25 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Mission : Locate the Lost City !! – Cuidad Perdida, Colombia

April 19, 2008

The Tayrona Indigenous childrenLooking down over the lost city

Hola from Colombia

Ok, so this is what I have been waiting for, yes believe it or not this was in my top 5 things to do on my world trip away. For those of you who are thinking what the hell is she talking about, Cuidad Perdida translated means the Lost City. The only way to get here is by foot. I’ve been dying to do it for the last 3 years when someone told me it was better than Macchu Pichu in Peru…we shall see !! The Lonely Planet describes it as a gruelling 6 day trek, since I’ve been in Colombia I’ve met loads of people that have done and have said it’s been their Colombia highlight…yippee !! Anyway on with the story….

DAY 1

I have to pack incredibly quietly so as not to wake up the rest of the dorm and store my bag before having breakfast with Hennie and Selina. I would have done it the night before but we did get a bit wasted so couldn’t manage it. We got to the office and were put on to a minibus and driven to an entrance by an army roadblock. The army searched all our bags and then we were split in to 2 jeeps whilst we played with their little monkey. In all we are 13 – me , Hennie and Selina, 2 Dutch guys, 1 American, 2 Colombian and 5 Israelis. We have 2 guides, a cook and a porter. We are going with Sierra tours, this was who Norma had gone with but I seemed to have a much bigger group. There are only two companies to choose from here, the price is the same and really it’s just pot luck who you get in your group.

We spent the next hour driving over an incredibly bumpy road, visions of the disaster in Kampot came back to me but maybe it wasn’ that bad – could anything be ? Eventually we arrive in a village with lots of bars and loads of pool tables, not sure where the population comes from to fill them but never mind. We are given sandwiches and have to eat them guiltily in front of the skinniest set of dogs I have ever seen since embarking on my travels. Then at 12.30pm we’re off !!

After going through the town we walk along a grassy area until we come to a river. The Dutch and Americans had sensibly picked up some large sticks to walk with. The first river was fine, as for the second my foot slipped on the last rock and went in the water. Actually it was okay in fact nice and cool. We stepped up and down on boulders along the river and then came to a path. After 30 minutes we came to a deeper part of the river and it was time for everyone to go swimming. I couldn’t be bothered to dig out the bikini so just sat on the bank and watched. I think the swim lulled everyone into a false sense of security, the guides were obviously giving us a treat before the hard part. Suddenly, we were on a red earth narrow track which looked like a ditch carved into the hill. This track curved and winded it’s way up and up and up and up…you get the picture. It was really hot. Uphill is fine for me, I can just keep walking but the Colombians and Israeli girls were really suffering. Selina and I stayed together at this part and I just kept zizagging my way up. Eventually we get to the top and there’s a little shack selling drinks. The guides stop and give us fruit and the owners of the shack have a little pig that’s very dirty but very cute. I give him my melon skin and give his head a good scratch, yep think I still want a pet pig when I get back !! Off we set again and around the corner is yet another steep climb. The earth changes from red to white and keeps going up, most people I met who’d already done this told me this was the worst day but I have to say I found it fine, despite the intense heat. The only thing that was really bothering me was that I could feel a blister coming on my left heel. We could see hills and thought we were at the top but as you turned the corner there would be another one. Suddenly we are going down, yes I can see camp ahead. It’s 4.30pm so we’ve only been walking for 4 hours including breaks. The camp is better than I thought although the toilets are not the best. Grab a bowl of water and flush, that sort of thing. We cross a river to get to camp and on the other side are 3 houses. One has a pool table, I pity the poor mules that brought that up. Time to wash, we all head around the corner to a deeper part of the river. I just sit in the shallow part and it’s freezing but refreshing. Back at camp the guides have set up our hammocks – lovely !! They also put up mosquito nets before it gets dark so we just chill out and read. Dinner is served and it’s chicken, potatoes, rice and salad and we get chocolate for desert. It’s all really tasty but as we are spread out over two tables we don’t really end up chatting too much. We have an early start the next day and surprising I slept pretty well despite having to sleep on my back (first night ever in a hammock !!). Well, I say pretty well until at some point in the middle of the night I woke up to find my mosquito net being lifted up (not the best thing to do to me after my robbery), I shrieked rather than screamed at the dark head of hair, he whoever he was was also shocked and put the net back. It couldn’t have bothered me too much as I went straight back to sleep.

Injuries : 1 blister left heel

DAY 2

I am woken up at 6am by someone singing. It appears to be the cook, this man is so happy he sings all of the time, I can’t see how most people can sleep through it. Oh well at least this gives me time to go and find a hiding place to go and get changed (the downside of hammocks). Breakfast is served and we have scrambled eggs and bread and hot chocolate. The nicest Israeli guy comes over and apologises for trying to get in my hammock, he’s actually really nice unlike the other 2 and likes to imitate English accents so I teach him some cockney slang, which he keeps repeating to remember it. Originally I think they were going to split us in to 2 groups but today some of us want to go and visit a little cocaine factory – well, one is in Colombia !! We leave camp and cross a river and then head up through some scrub land on a very very secret path. Suddenly after only a couple of minutes we come across a little wooden shack. Inside is a man who says we can take photos as long as he is not in them and he shows us how cocaine is made. I have to say an addict should come and see this, I am sure it cures some people. After crushing tons and tons of coca leaves they are then mixed with petrol as well as a few other household ingredients. It stinks. Then the petrol is taken away with sulphuric acid (this nearly sets the floor on fire there’s so much smoke). This again is all mashed up and strained and then eventually this becomes coca paste. Once acetate is added elsewhere you can then make it in to cocaine. We decided to rub some of the paste around our gums, within seconds it felt like we’d all been to the dentist and our gums were numb. We were then told that once we got to the lost city we would have to take our memory cards out of the cameras in case the army searched them. No problem, time to start the hike.

We caught up with the rest of the group in no time, but I decided to walk at the back on my own for a bit. I love walking on my own, some of my most important decisions have been made during a good old walk. Today we seem to be walking through grasslands but with a slight incline upwards. Ivan the Columbian guy is having problems with his bag so the guide offers to carry it for him. We cross a village and then we are on a small path hugging the hillside. I catch up with everyone at the water stop where they are all having a wash (it’s boiling hot today), however, I can feel monster mosquitos and just keep going, Suddenly, I feel like I’ve walked in to my dream filmset. I turn a corner and there is the most gorgeous indigenous man I’ve ever seen in real life. Actually, he wasn’t that handsome but his whole look was. He sat astride a huge white horse and was wearing white trousers and a white poncho (angelic). His black hair was long and hanging down his shoulders – like I said my dream look (well I always have been a bit strange). The bubble then burst when I saw his woman and baby behind, but they were standing on the edge, I could have just pushed them over and he could have been mine….oh yes, he could have been mine !! Okay, I couldn’t do it and wife no. 2 would not have been acceptable so time to keep walking but at least I got to say hello.

The hillside path then changed in to jungle for a bit. Then once more a severe uphill bit. I was walking with Henne and Selina and we came across a beautiful green dung beetle furiously rolling mule pooh around. I think they must be short sighted as he kept getting a really big bit, losing it and having to settle with a smaller load. Then we came across an indigenous village. We were granted permission to go in and look at their houses and I gave the children some sweets so we could take their photo. I hate taking photos like this but they are so cute you can’t help it. A couple more corners and we were at camp it was only 1pm so a really quick day. Definitely bring a book !!

The camp was full of army, but they were quite happy to chat and one of the snipers was keen to let us play with their gun. You’re not allowed to fire it but you can look through the sight and hold it. Obviously, the Israelis having all done their national service came over to check things out. Camp was near another river so we all went for a swim even though this camp impressively has flushing toilets and showers. It then really started raining so I read in the hammock for ages and then dinner is again served. Tonight is meat, lentils, rice and salad with cookies for dessert. There always seem to be dogs at the camps, this one looked cute but we were told it had rabies so we kept well away.

Injuries : 1 blister left heel, 1 blister right heel

Day 3

The morning started with Justin thinking he was Tarzan and climbing up the vines on a tree. he and the Dutch boys have decided they like going ahead of everyone so leave first. Apparently, they sday it amkes them feel more like Indiana Jones, to which I replied what 70 !! Breakfast is scrambled eggs with pancakes and jam. Time to leave and we hike across fields and past the secret army camps. The day starts along the river with lots of boulders. A family of indigenous come along and the little children are more or less running across them, I’m hanging on for dear life !! Today is a day of crossing rivers and going through jungle. I get bored of taking my shoes on and off so just wade through with them on (rafting shoes are what you really need). We also come across a few fences that need climbing and I’m walking with the Israelis and the Colombians at the front. Just as we come through a real boggy bit we meet some people coming the other way for the first time. They are obviously on the return leg (you have to go there and back as the circuit route is too dangerous at the moment). A man at the front of their group says “what’s the secret password ?”, to which I answer, your name is Craig and you’re from New Zealand. He looks up stunned and starts laughing when he recognises me as we shared the same dorm on my first night in Bogota. Then to let us past he made me hum the theme tune of the Muppets..well, there was no other way we were going to be allowed past and I don’t think the rest of the group knew it. Time to say goodbye and keep going. We are walking through an awful lot of jungle today and some is downhill so it’s all very nice. At 1.30pm we do our final river crossing (I’m hoping my other pair of socks will be dry by tomorrow) and arrive at the steps. I can understand why this place was only found 38 years ago and why the Spanish never found it. I am amazed that anyone actually found it. The steps seem to start up the bank, they are covered in moss so are really camouflaged against the jungle. We grip our way up the muddy bank and then start our way up. The steps are jagged and slippery and to make matters worse there are 1200 of them. Half way up it starts to rain. It does take a while to get up them and over half way we come to some amazing brick terraces. There are trees growing out of the ruins it reminds me a bit of Ta Prohm at Angkor Wat. More steps and we can see the army waiting at the top. The rain is really coming down hard and I walk with Selina over to the main part of the city. We still need to find camp and it’s pouring, we skirt around the ruins and find a camp, it’s not ours though. We have to cross one more river and walk up more steps then finally we are there.

I get changed in to dry clothes as quickly as possible, it’s about 3pm and it’s still pouring, you can barely see anything through the clouds but you do have the sense that you really are in the middle of nowhere. We are given some crackers. Tonight we have mattresses so I grab a blanket and read under my mosquito net. It is so much colder at this camp. Tonight, we are given spaghetti. I’m feeling a bit cold and not that hungry but I stay up for a while and chat with the Dutch and Israelis. I have to say the group hasn’t really bonded which is a shame but they are okay to talk to for a bit. The army then come to get stoned with the American (no wonder they always seem so happy). He must have been pretty gone as he actually walked off without his gun, until he was reminded that he may have forgotten something.

Injuries : 1 blister left heel, 1 blister right heel, 1 blister right little toe

DAY 4

Ooh a lie in and tuna empanadas for breakfast. They were jolly good and I got the cook to show me how he made them. We have all decided to do 5 days rather than 6 which means we’ll spend the morning here and then leave at lunchtime to get back to yesterday’s camp. Today is absolutely beautiful even though it rained all through the night. This means the steps are extra slippy going down. We go to explore the city. The Dutch and Americans have already left so it’s only the 9 of us in the place apart from the army and our guides. That is what for me makes it more magical than Macchu Pichu. You just don’t get the people who turn up on the bus, and that’s really why I prefer it, plus the walk is harder as it’s hotter. The photo above is me looking over the main area, as you can see it really is tucked away in the jungle. As I said it was discovered 38 years ago. Unfortunately, the people who discovered it had to get permits to remove and study the various items, tombs and gold. In that time, the government department concerned informed a few people where it was so a lot of the items were looted and disappeared. There were once 3000 people living here and now two families still do although in the more modern indigenous housing. These people are the Tayrona people. We walked around the whole city and back to the terraces. They still have some strange bowl like items on top of the walls and there is jungle everywhere. Then we go to what was their main water source and have a swim. At noon after some lunch it’s time to go. I am really slow going down the steps. I have 2 little indigenous children running down them in front of me in wellies – just showing off if you ask me !! Time to go back over all the rivers and the Indians keep running just ahead and then letting us catch up before they run off again. It’s weird but they actually run the way you see native American Indians running in films, kind of a slight crouch and the same stance, I have to say I am a bit transfixed. Many, many boulders later I get to the main camp at 4.30pm. It’s raining so I just jump in the shower and get dry. Rabies dog has gone and we have the same meal that we had before here. The American has had rice from the army for lunch and bought bananas from the Indians and now he’s buying dope from them. It’s cheap but smells like rubbish to me (not that I’m an expert, but it smells just like earth). He and the Israeli girl smoke it through a pipe. I chat for a while but find the dope desperation boring so head to my hammock and chat to Selina and Hennie. Tonight, we don’t appear to have mosquito nets which is a real pain as flying things are attracted to our torches. I heap on the repellant as these Columbian mosquitos just love me.

Injuries : 1 blister left heel, 1 blister right heel, 1 blister right little toe

DAY 5

Final day boo hoo !! Mosquitos have ravaged my hands, they must have been poking out of the blanket. It’s porridge, museli and toast for breakfast. The Isrealis don’t eat it – I have to say they are really fussy with their food. Oh well, all the more for me….Today we are covering Day 1 and Day 2 in order to get back in the 5 days so we leave at 7am. The first bit is really up hill. It’s weird how you don’t notice how far you’ve covered when you’re going down hill, actually I probably wouldn’t have wanted to have been reminded about this. Despite the early hour of the day it was boiling. My legs are aching a bit today and I decide not to stop at the river with the others and to keep going. I am now a woman on a mission to get this trek finished. I’m on the paths which cling to the hillside when I turn a corner and a huge cow is coming towards me. I shriek and decide the safer option is the cling to the hillside rather than stand on the side with a big drop. The indigenous Indian boy guiding the cow laughs at my shriek. He may well laugh but he hasn’t met the people mauled by the bull in Salento has he !! They pass, I am safe once again – hurray !! At the indigenous village I hand out cookies for all the children (I’ve been hoarding them after dinner), this also means they are reasonably happy to pose for a photo as you can see above – how cute !! My final river before a break and I manage to slip on the last stone and my hands land in mule manure – lovely !! We stop at the camp from day 1 (I immediately wash the hands) for more fruit and cheese and crackers (Colombia has really bad cheese, in fact a cheese and wine party would be a complete disaster over here !!). It’s only 10.30am, we seem to be covering the ground pretty fast but my blisters are really sore.

Last leg. I must look knackered as the army keep asking if I’m tired when I pass them, I am bombing along, and just say it’s very sunny. I avoid further cows that are eyeing me suspiciously and cross more rivers. Then we get to the bit which was tough on Day 1 only this time we are going down, I am running – it’s a brilliant feeling…. Then the swimming hole. Again I can’t be bothered….I just want it over !! I stroll past and find the track. I end up photographing some rather industrious ants and then I’m walking with the Colombians, who’ve turned out to be my favourite people on the tour. We get to the grasslands and I know we are only minutes from the end, I can barely put one leg in front of the other. Then I feel something. Today, as my t’shirts are all so disgusting from previous days I decided just to wear my crop top. Looking down to where the movement is coming from I can see something burying itself under my skin. Ugghhh !! Yuck !!! What the hell is it ? Then I remember Norma said she had two tic like creatures that buried themselves in her hands and she had to dig them out. Apparently you have to get them out before they get in too deep as they can make you ill. I grabbed the bit of it that was still sticking out and pulled. It was really stubborn and didn’t want to release itself from my nice warm ribs (well, who can blame it, although they would have been extremely sweaty but still smelling of roses at this stage !!). Eventually, after 3 attempts I got it. Well, really it looked like I got just over half of it. There was definitely something still under there. I’ll have to dig around with a needle later. Finally, yes we have reached the village. Unbelievably, we are given another lunch. Well, I suppose there’s 1 hour in a jeep, 1 army check point and a mini bus back.

Final Injury Count : 1 blister left heel, 1 blister right heel, 1 blister right little toe and 1 tic in my side (well only some of it left)

Cuidad Perdida has lived up to all of my expectations, it’s a shame the group didn’t gel a bit better but as I said in the beginning that’s the luck of the draw. I did get to meet a couple of lovely Columbians and a few of the other people were okay too. Simply put it’s been brilliant and definitely a Columbian highlight !!

Transport count:

Plane = 23, Bus = 100, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 25 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Soaring over San Gil – Colombia

April 16, 2008

I survive paragliding - probably because i can\'t see a thingA local in Guane

Hola from Colombia

I’ve hit the 100 bus mark – I fear it may be a while before I ever get on another one when I get to the UK !!

So I caught the two buses I needed to get to San Gil and arrived around 4ish in the afternoon. I stayed at Macondo hostel in a dorm. The owner Sean is a really nice guy although his cat prefers to drink out of the toilet rather than a bowl. Having said that Sean is a good source of info and is seeing the changes that the country is going through as the level of tourism rises. He used to get 350 guests per year, now he gets 150 per month. San Gil itself is trying to promote itself as the adventure capital of Colombia and is a good stopping point to go and see lots of the local villages.

On first viewing the town didn’t greatly inspire me but it seems to grow on you after a while. I think I was just a bit tetchy to start with as I couldn’t find anywhere decent to eat and I was starving. Eventually I found an Italian that would serve me food from 6.30pm, so that would have to do. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, maybe it’s the last 3 weeks catching up but I went straight to bed and slept for a full 12 hours – bliss !!

The next day I got up early and chatted to a Dutch and English couple called Terry and Helena. Then I chatted to Sean about Colombian politics, I love all that kind of stuff (sad I know). I decided to go to some of the nearby villages for the day so I caught a bus to Barrichara. Barichara is described in my book as the town film makers dream about, well could it be coincidence but the local soap opera was being filmed there and then. There was a bride and groom at a balcony window. It all took lots of takes and after a while got a repetitive. I was starving (is this blog all about food ?) so got a set lunch before having a wander. I have to say, it is a really pretty town. It has huge stone slabs as pavement and the usual green and white painted houses and it is set up in the hills so has great views all around. The locals were in church and it was packed with lots of singing going on. Well, it is a Sunday.

After having viewed sufficiently I went to try and find out how to get to the next village called Guane. I heard there was a walk that you could do. I was pointed up a hill and then found a local who took me to the beginning of the trail – The Camino Real. I have to say Barrichara to Guane is the best way to do the trail otherwise you’ll be trekking mostly up hill in baking heat. This way is mostly downwards. At the beginning there were loads of people coming in the opposite direction, sweating profusely and having to take a rest. Then I didn’t see a soul for an hour – it was bliss. Can’t believe I am doing trails on my own in Colombia, just shows how much safer it is now. I had to cross a couple of roads to rejoin the path but mostly it’s quite easy to find the way and there really is a path. The road was originally constructed in 1864 but was reconstructed in 1996, it all feels very historic. Every now and again you come across a house in the middle of nowhere with a goat as guard dog, and you just think how do they live so remotely ? It was really picturesque, hot and full of lizards. As I was nearing what I thought should be the end of the trail I bumped in to two old Colombian men going the same way as me. They jumped as they obviously hadn’t heard me coming. I really didn’t want to alarm them especially as one of them had a huge machete hanging over his shoulder. How fab, maybe I can get Boris Johnson to include in his pitch for mayor, I can see it now “Arm the Elderly !!”, it seems to work over here. Anyway they told me that the town was around the corner and they directed me to the square, all very sweet.

Guane is one of those places where absolutely everyone says hello. When I got to the square I could see why, it’s like the land that time forgot. There was a man sitting in his shop doorway and in the four hours I was there he didn’t move an inch. It’s like they’ve all been frozen in time. I went and got an ice cream and a drink and then as I came back to the square Terry and Helena arrived so we decided to go local and have a beer (here’s one of the locals above watching us). The bus came but we decided to let it go. Then two other guys Mike and Jay turned up, so we had more beer. Young boys of 8 were then trying to pretend there wasn’t another bus and would we like a taxi between us back to San Gil. When we refused they got in the car and drove it themselves – maybe the people have been frozen in time here aswell !! I wonder how many have never actually left the village. To walk around the town takes all of 10 minutes and as the next bus wasn’t until 6pm the boys decided they wanted to play pool. You’re never short of a pool table in this country. We went in to a bar and the locals were watching football. The boys played pool and one of the guys who was very friendly would then play whoever won. He was talking pop groups to me. Well when I say pop groups it was “The Rolling Stones”, “The Beatles” and “Guns and Roses” – like I said I am in the town that time forgot !! The bar also had a little green bird that seemed to enjoy drinking beer from the bottle top. We were getting along great until he really bit my finger, so no more beer from me then !!

We said our goodbyes and caught the bus which went back via Barrichara. The filming had moved on and the bride and a couple of other women had changed into some slinky red outfits. The boys were getting very excited trying to stretch up to see what was going on through the balcony (as I’ve said before the women are incredibly fit here). It felt like I was stuck in Soho in the 70’s trying to look through a dirty peep hole. Poor boys !! The bus was ready to go so we went back to the hostel. Terry had had his sausages stolen, which was miraculous in itself as everyone staying there seemed to be vegetarian. I contributed some chick peas I had left in my food bag and we had a chick pea and lentil curry. I spent the rest of the evening chatting with Helena while the boys went to the plaza to perv at more women and drink beer.

The next day I was up early again and caught up on the blog. I’d arranged to go paragliding (something I’ve not yet tried) but we got a phone call to say it was too windy and it had been called off. I packed and was just about to leave when they called back and said it’s back on. Unusually for me I’d been incredibly calm and hadn’t really thought about it that much. They came to pick me up and picked up my co pilot on the way along with his wife and child – great an audience. We drove for about 45 minutes to the middle of nowhere and stopped at a farm. AJ Hackett this is not !! I’m not sure it would have been allowed in England. Anyway in for a penny !! We walked up the hill (apparently I have to run off a cliff) and alarmed the goat so much that it managed to drag the post it was tied to out of the ground and run away. Ok, what does the goat know that I don’t ? The wife told me she’d done this loads of times but didn’t now because of the baby. They strapped me up and were explaining where I had to put my hands and how I had to run off the cliff. Then they tied on a plastic box full of water as a weight. The next minute I heard my name being shouted and we were up in the air. The wind (remember it’s a bit windy today) just took us, no running required at all. My main concern was to get above the trees. The next minute I’m up in the air like a bird, in fact I’m about 100m up so higher than the birds. The views were great, mostly countryside but I could see a really cool canyon in the distance. After some time of floating around and getting used to it, it was time to swoop around and do some fast twists and turns. That was more like it !! I couldn’t breathe due to the rush of air and then my stomach felt like it was coming up in to my mouth. Ok, I have to say it was a bit tame for me, I need more adrenalin. The fact that I’d confused paragliding with handgliding and I thought that I’d be doing a Del Boy off the cliff was a bit of a relief, or was it ? After 30 minutes it was time to land. The guy on the ground was due to catch me. He missed – cheers pal !! I got dragged across the ground, and now have a nice scabby elbow and all I could think was “my camera, my camera”, as I’d landed on it. Luckily, after a switch on and off it was back to normal. I got up and dusted myself down time to get out of here and head to my next destination. Although unlike the photo above I’d just like to say that I could actually see where I was going when I was in the air !!

I’d decided I’d stop in a town called Giron for the night to break up the journey. I got there late, and as usual it’s raining. Luckily Mike had told me to barter for the room in what appears to be the only hotel in the square so I got it for half the price. Giron is okay but a bit like an old town situated in the middle of the city. Similar square and green and white buildings to some of the others I’ve seen. I decided to leave in the morning to catch the next bus. It’s April Fool’s Day and I’ve played one on myself inadvertently. Rather than check when I got to the bus station last night what time the bus left the next day for Santa Marta I’ve turned up at 10.30am to find the next bus is 8.30pm this evening. Luckily I have a couple of books and the blog to catch up on, it’s going to be a long wait. Oh well the one thing I do have at the moment is time…

I finally board the bus at 8.30pm and we arrive in Santa Marta around 5ish in the morning. I decide to wait until daylight as I am catching a taxi to Taganga and really don’t want to turn up in the dark. Just as well I didn’t as the reception doesn’t open until 7.30am so I chill out in a hammock. It’s the first time I’ve seen real poverty in Columbia. The road to Taganaga is full of tiny wooden and brick houses, it has a real Caribbean feel to it. Taganga itself is a little fishing village with a pebble beach. I’m staying at Casa Felipe which is above the soccer pitch (I mean football !! – how long have I been away ?). They have a great patio area and luckily for me once reception opens they can show me to my dorm straight away. As I go in I see Lucy , oh she of the dislocated shoulder during the mauling by the bull incident in Salento so we go and have breakfast together. Her strapping has finally come off but she’s moving on to Cartagena today. After breakfast I organise my Lost City trek (next blog page) and have a wander. As it happens Arsenal play Liverpool today in their first leg of the Champions League. I move on from the original bar I was in as they all supported Liverpool and watched it at the hostel instead. Later on I catch up with Selina and Hennie, they are also going on the trip tomorrow. We decide to have a few beers and get to know each other before the trip over a few games of Yahtzee. Actually we have quite a laugh so I’m looking forward to the trip even more now after all it’s my main reason for coming to Colombia !!

Transport count:

Plane = 23, Bus = 100, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 25 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Viewing Villa De Leyva – Colombia

April 14, 2008

Villa de Leyva main squareJumping in to the Blue pools

Hola from Colombia

So I got on the 6.30pm bus in San Augustin headed for Bogota. Firstly, they video’d everyone on the bus. In case of potential hijacking ? Not sure. Gave me a bit of an uneasy feeling and the bus wasn’t that full but at least there were two other tourists on there apart from me. We as usual arrived early at 4.30am but luckily as I walked through the terminal I found a bus leaving in 20 minutes for Villa de Leyva so I managed to sleep a bit. That had been a mission on the first bus as they turned all the lights off straight away and then turned them all on at 9pm with the TV for the rest of the journey. I got a taxi in Villa de Leyva to my guesthouse “The Colombian Highlands”. This again is set just out of town but it’s so lovely and peaceful well apart from their little girl who likes to come and play with my breakfast. I decided to have a bit of a nap and then I headed in to town.

The town itself is full of green and white painted buildings. You can kind of tell that it’s a place where the rich people from Bogota come for the weekend (despite being 4 hours away) as some of the houses are huge. The town itself has a square as you can see in the picture and there are huge stoned streets in the centre. It makes the cars drive at 2 miles an hour to protect their suspension so I suppose that´s a good thing. After I’d been walking around for a bit I went into the Anthony Navarino museum. It’s really the house where he died but he like most famous people in South America he had a lot to do with Colombia’s independance from the Spanish. Time for food and I got a great set late lunch – the usual drink, soup and main for $3. After a bit more strolling I had a blog catch up then headed back and had a couple of beers at the guesthouse, I’m knackered after no sleep last night.

The next day I met a girl called Pamela at breakfast and another Colombian couple. We are all off to do a tour on horseback, that’s twice in a week, at this point I am thinking future hobby perhaps !! Our group contains 2 Mares and 2 Stallions, they don’t really ask us how much experience we have and just put us on the horses. It becomes very obvious from the beginning that the other stallion hates my horse. It’s a pain. Every time my horse tries to go past the other one blocks his way, kicks out or tries to bite him. In the mean time I am having to actually try and control the horse and guide him away – that’s a first for me !! The only way to let my horse go past is for the other guy to cover his horses eye on one side so he doesn’t really see us. I’m not enjoying this half as much as last week.

Our first stop is the Blue Pools. We all change and jump in. There’s a picture of me going in off the top wooden plank. Pamela has a bit of a fear of jumping in water so she has to do all three planks building up the the highest last. The water is blue (surprise, surprise), cool and refreshing but nothing like as cold as it’s namesake in New Zealand, thank goodness !! After a while it’s time to get out and continue on our tour. We have a bit of navigating to do down and up tricky slopes and my foot comes out of the stirrup at one point but I stop the horse and put it back in. The horse is called Dollar so maybe he’s okay after all. It would take a lot for him to be better than my Ray of last week though.

Next stop is El Fossil, a museum with a real fossil of a Kronosaurus. At this point the roads have got flat and we are doing a serious canter. I have to say I’m not enjoying it, maybe the horse isn’t as big but he’s definitely not as comfortable as my darling Ray. In the mean time we are still waging war with the other stallion. I really want to get off now !! The fossil is pretty cool and huge. Considering it was a dinosaur that lived in the sea you really wouldn’t have wanted to have met one of those things when diving, it would certainly have given “Jaws” a run for his money. Oh no, more riding, I feel like I am in hell. The archeological park is next. I want to string this stop out as long as possible anything to not get back on the horse for a bit. Unfortunately for me this isn’t possible, the park unlike San Augustin takes 10 minutes to go around. Maybe because all the statues are the same, they all seem to be extremely large penises (can’t wait for all the spam that will get to the blog after that word !!). Yes, they are huge. At one point a bird was on top (the joke shot !!) but it flew away before I could take a photo.

Oh god, off we go again. I am now in pain. My bum really hurts but at least we are ahead of the other stallion. Last stop (I had no idea what the itinery was before I started), the winery. Well, I suppose that’s something. My first taste of Colombian wine, I opt for the dry. I think the waiter has made a mistake. No it’s definitely the dry. Ok, do not come to Colombia for wine, it’s officially disgusting and so sweet. I know their Arequipa (dulce de leche) is sweeter here than Argentina but to do that to wine yuck !! Luckily we are quite near the village. The last canter really hurt we are still ahead of the stallion though. Yes finally I can get off the horse, maybe I won’t be persuing that hobby after all.

I went for lunch with Pamela in town and then she had to catch her bus. Afterwards I went back to the guesthouse to inspect my damage. I’d expected some inner thigh bruising as I was gripping on to the brute so tightly but everything seems ok. I’m not quite sure if I still have my coccyx. Well, I have no skin left on the top of my bum, if I hadn’t have known better it looks like I’ve had a shocking pink butterfly tattoed on (and to think I’d always wanted a dragon fly). That will scab nicely. Then as it seems so usual in Columbian it poured with rain so I read for a bit.

The next day after some emergency ruck sack repairs it was time to catch a bus to San Gil. I wasn’t going to go there originally but it seems to be trying to set itself up as the adventure capital of Columbia so I may just go and see if there’s anything new I can try there.

Villa de Leyva is definitely worth a view. The town is gorgeous and there are some great walks and waterfalls, but I’m saving myself for a longer walk in a couple of venues time.

Transport count:

Plane = 23, Bus = 96, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 24 1/2 (couldn’t get on with Faulkner), Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally

Staring at Statues in San Augustin – Colombia

April 9, 2008

Nick, Sophie, Norma, Me and Mike saddled up mid trip !!A very typical Columbian statue

Hola from Colombia

So Norma, Mike and myself head to San Augustin. It was jolly decent of Mike to head to the bus station last night to get the tickets. The bus is quite small so if he hadn’t got them in advance we wouldn’t have got on. This is supposed to be one of the bumpiest rides in the country so Mike and I sat in the front where as Norma elected for some space in the back (definitely the bumpier option). However, I shouldn’t complain as it’s only been a couple of years since it’s been safe to visit this area and Marty the older American I met in Mexico knew a lot of people who’d been robbed here. We stopped for a tasty lunch break of soup. Everyone got back in the bus but Mike and I had to wait until the driver got in so he could open our door – top notch buses here you know !! Before he did a lorry nearly skidded in to the back of the bus, all inside were very unaware but it could have been nasty. Anyway 6 hours later after the bus driver tried to avoid every possible bump he could we arrive in San Augustin. We grab a taxi to Finca El Maco and they give us a dorm to ourselves. Well I say a dorm it looked more like a huge teepee. We were starving so elected to eat at the hostel as they have their own organic kitchen – yes I can highly recommend the food here. I had a Thai red curry and then Norma and I decide to check out the town. The town is quite small with lots of craft shops and the usual square and a church. Norma wants a machete and a cow skin bag but she’ll have to come back later with the money (we kept forgetting !!). We visit the church and then head to the tourist information office to see what we can do in the area. Then we visit a local bar. And I mean local we practically had to avoid men asleep on tables and staggering to the bar to be served with more drink. There were very few women so after one we headed back to the hostel. That was an ordeal in itself. The path to the hostel is not lit, so in darkness we had to stagger up a very steep dry mud hill, we thought we’d gone too far but no it just seems a longer walk in the dark (must bring torches in future). We came back to find Mike talking to another Canadian couple (Sophie and Nick), well I say another, Mike claims to be Canadian but actually he’s Welsh – well at least that explains why he claims to be Canadian !! We had a beer with them and then Mike went for a wander and Norma and I went to bed.

The next morning I was woken quite early by what I thought was a very hungry horse outside. It turned out to be a herd of cows outside the teepee, yes it does feel rather like being on a farm here. We already had fruit and granola in our shopping bag so ordered some milk from the hostel. It was still warm from the cow – run that one past your eyes – it was delicious !! The 5 of us decided to go to the local archeological park. San Augustin is famous because throughout the surrounding areas there are thousands of statues. Some are painted, some are plain but they are in the range of 3000 years old and are all a bit of a mystery. All people know is that they were put next to tombs with lots of other belongings. There’s an example of one above – although that is a very traditional Colombian figure you see everywhere. We walked up hill until we got to the park. There is a museum with a few artefacts and some explanations in Spanish and then you walk a loop around the park. All in all it takes 3-4 hours. Most of the statues are of faces and then some are of birds and frogs. Some were in groups and reminded me of the Moai statues on Easter Island. After the first set we came to a water area which had some carvings in the rock face and it also seemed to attract loads of butterflies. Then it was time to walk up steps to a hill and see yes more statues. At least here we had some great views. We then walked back and after some further viewing we visited the last park which has a pathway with yes another 35 statues. There were some great expressions on the faces and one rather risque one. After the park we headed back and had a burger at a cafe with the smallest dog I’ve ever seen. We had to keep picking him up when some of the strays come to investigate the food smells as one swallow and he would have been a gonner. Then it was time for some blogging before I headed back. The others had already eaten so rather than walk back down the hill I skipped dinner, the restaurants seem to close really early here anyway. There was a mild panic later on when one of the hostel dogs escaped over to our side of the fence. I say panic because if you see the 4 of them on their side there’s no way you would enter, but luckily they know their boundaries and just look at you without attacking on our side, he just wanted to get a bit of freedom for a while I suppose.

The next day the 5 of us had arranged to go for a tour of more statues in the surrounding area on horseback. We’d been recommended a local guide called Patcho by the Swiss boys in Popayan. Patcho was a little bit late as he’d had one too many the night before – oh well we’ve all done that !! I’m not that experienced when it comes to horse riding even after my recent jaunt in Cuba so I asked for the calmest horse possible, that was Ray who happened to be the largest. We went straight on to mud paths and it was very up and down so we couldn’t go that fast – relief !! Nick, Norma and Mike seemed keen to go as quickly as possible, until I’d got the hang of things a bit better I quite enjoyed the slow trot. Due to the height some of the views were spectacular. The horses seem to like going in a certain order. Norma’s in front, with Nick and his 6 foot something mass somewhere behind looking rather large for his horse. Then my horse liked being in the middle and Mike’s horse wanted to be anywhere where he could bite another horse (but it looked in need of a new shoe so no wonder he was pissed off !!). Sophie’s horse was a bit smaller than the others and liked to hold up the rear which soon would take on a whole knew meaning. Her horse would go quite closely to the one in front and due to it’s size she found her knee up the horse in fronts bottom. Yes the poor girl ended up with horse muck all over her knee, of course from them on we had to call her “Shitney”. If once wasn’t bad enough the horse had a couple of close encounters so we would sing “Oops I did it again”, it was very funny but I think you had to be there.

We arrived at our first set of statues which unlike the ones from the archeological park were painted various colours. The colour was from the yellow and red dye in the nearby trees. I love my horse, I talk to him and he licks my boots every time we saddle up (if only a man would follow suit !!). There’s a picture of the 5 of us above. He’s also a bit frisky at our drink stop, lucky old Katherine the Great !!

At our final stop there was a museum where a local Indian interpreted your birth date by the Mayan Tzolkin calendar. I’m not sure what the Mayan calendar is doing in Columbia but I came out as Lamat and it was yellow, which just happens to be my favourite colour. Lamat is a star and apparently the question I ask is “How can I perfect things ? ” – yes I’ve always thought that – Not !! Apparently I also make things happen (well maybe at work, but that seems so long ago, actually it all sounded a bit similar to my Myers Briggs assessment – very spooky !!). What else, oh noon is the best time of day for me and I listen well. We all got ours done apart from Mike who’d rushed off for a massage with a German man and then bought the corresponding bracelets, I have to wear mine on my left hand. yes, probably a load of old tosh but you never know !! Time to go back on the roads and the horses must have known they were near the end of the trip as they started speeding up. Norma and Nick were still trying to get their horses to go as fast as possible while we went into canter mode (how fast !!). I was incapable of anything apart from managing to giggle and laugh hysterically and keeping a perpetual grin on my face. I looked like I’d had a bad dose of Botox and Norma couldn’t stop laughing at me. We eventually rode back in to town just as the rain started to pour (which always seems to happen when I ride a horse) and stopped for food in Donde Richard. The food is superb, we could barely walk back up the hill afterwards we were so full. Norma and I decided to get some alcohol in for our last night and we all regaled each other with funny stories. At one point we had in fact all been planning to go and see a Shamen. He gives you a special drink which makes you vomit and then I think you hallucinate. Everyone who we met that had been had raved about it but the guy was 3 hours away and it was an overnighter and Norma wasn’t that keen on a good old vomit so we kind of used the one in all in or none at all excuse, but do go if you get the chance. I am already a bit behind schedule so wasn’t that bothered, but would have done it if everyone else had.

The following morning it was time to say goodbye to Norma, we’ve only spent about 2 hours apart in the last nearly 3 weeks and we’ve drunk a hell of a lot of rum. Norma has made my first few weeks in Colombia such a laugh and who knows she may even invite me on one of her mad skiing holidays one day. Mike and I went in to town and then he decided he’d go and get his bus aswell. Although who knows where to as he had about 5 different possibilities in his head – I think his question in the Tzolkin calendar would have been “What is my direction ?”, and I mean that in the nicest posible way !! I in the mean time booked my overnight bus ticket to Bogota where I’ll be going straight through to Villa de Leyva. I just had time for a bit more blogging and one last organic pizza back at the hostel.

So long it’s been a blast !!

Transport count:

Plane = 23, Bus = 94, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 9, Books Read = 22 1/2 (couldn’t get on with Faulkner), Bags lost and then recovered = 2.

Take care all

Sally