A Travellerspoint blog

Bogota

Bogota is a fabulous city and for me at least, it was love at first sight. The city is at quite a high altitude (2600 meters) and is surrounded by lush green mountains. It was much cooler so high up which was a nice reprieve from the scorching hot desert surrounding Santa Marta.

Bogota is South America's version of New York City. The city is very vibrant with tons of great neighborhoods, bars, restaurants, parks, you name it! It also has a 'scene' for whatever you might be interested in such as music or arts.

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We stayed in an area called La Candelaria which is in the older part of city. It has what remains of the colonial part of the city and doubles as a government and business district.

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There are also several universities in this area and the vibe was great. Amazingly, the university students in Bogota are very much into the heavy metal scene but the music is about 15years old now (think Metallica before they sold out...). We were surrounded by students sportin' a ton of leather, metal studs to match their piercings and many a fine mullett to be admired.

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Bogota is a very progressive city and has events such as closing the downtown streets to traffic on Sundays so that pedestrians and cyclists can move about without the fear of getting ran over (which is a very serious risk as cars have the right of way without question in this town).

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We spent several days just checking out the city and could have easily stayed longer. The city is massive with nearly 8 million people so there is alot of turf to cover if you really want to get to know the place.

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We took a day trip to another small city near Bogota called Zipaquira which is famous for its Salt Cathedral. The Cathedral is actually an old salt mine that was reclaimed and made into an underground church. It can hold up to 8400 people and is 200 meters underground. All of the statues and pedestals were carved out of salt rock. It had the most amazing feeling of grandeur when you stood in the middle of the main hall.

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The time has come for us to head Southwest to make a run for Ecuador. There are a few more cities that we'll be visiting on our way but we should be in Ecuador within a week or so.

Posted by ReneeJared 07:31 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Santa Marta

We headed up the coast to a town called Santa Marta. It's in a big stretch of area where the desert meets the Caribbean and so was a very strange mix of turquoise water mixed with parched desert. We drove through miles of cactus forests like the one below.

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The city itself was rather uninspiring as the its waterfront was banked on each side with port. We also drove through a lot of shanty towns to get to Santa Marta which we found shocking having never seen something like that before. It still amazes us that so many people in our world live with so little.

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We did seek out one of the nicer beaches in the area which involved a ride in the back of a pickup down a very dusty road but it was worth the effort. The beach is a popular area for fishermen and so we got to enjoy some fresh fish hot off the grill while chillin' on the beach.

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The best thing to say about Santa Marta is that we discovered motorcycle taxis. There are hundreds of guys scooting around and you just flag one down and get a lift on the back of their bikes for $2000 pesos (equals $1 CDN). They drive like absolute madmen weaving through traffic, on sidewalks, you name it and you get where you're going quickly. We caught a ride back to our hostel with two of these guys and loved it. Good times!

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We spent a few days here before deciding that it was time to head inland.

Posted by ReneeJared 18:33 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Cartagena

The first major city that we've visited in Colombia is Cartagena. It proved to be quite the task to make our way there. When we hit the coast of Colombia after our sailing trip, our captain left us in a small fishing village called Capurgana. It was very lovely and relaxed with the only means of transport being horsedrawn carriages. We spent a couple of days here waiting to catch a boat (the village is accessed by boat only) up the coast.

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When we were finally able to head North, it was via a very bumpy 2 hour ride in a speedboat with people so crammed in that you couldn't scratch your nose if you wanted to. The boat dropped us in another town called Turbo and we were greeted at the docks by dozens of guys trying to sell us rides to the next city where we could finally catch a bus to Cartagena. It was madness being mobbed like that and when we told them we would just make our way to the bus station, they continued to follow us down the street. When we stopped to ask a lady where the bus station was, they all started shouting at her not to tell us. Jared and I had to make ourselves a human shield in front of her so she wouldn't be intimidated.

We bought tickets for a shuttle at the bus station but what they didn't tell us was that we would be sitting in the back of a pickup truck for hours cruising down dirt roads in the middle of nowhere. Our driver was a madman and we ended up with a flat but thankfully, it was just outside of the city that we were headed to.

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After two long days of travel, we finally arrived in Cartagena. The city itself is massive and very spread out. We headed to the Old City which is surrounded by a wall that was built a few hundred years ago to ward off pirates.

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The Old City is absolutely beautiful and almost seemed as though you might be somewhere in Europe. Most of the buildings have stood the test of time and it was great to spend a couple of days just wandering around.

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There is a huge fort in the centre of the city as well that was amazing to visit. It's unbelievable that men used to live and fight in this monster.

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We stayed in an area just outside of the Old City called Getsemaní which definitely had the local flavor of the city without the glam of the Old City.

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Cartagena was a great intro to Colombia. However, Colombia definitely lived up to its reputation for drugs. In our first hour in the city, we were offered cocaine on the street three different times by guys with names like 'the Wizard' and 'Johnny Walker'. Outrageous!

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Posted by ReneeJared 08:58 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

San Blas Islands

We left at 5am in the morning to make the 4 hour trek via collectivo and 4x4 truck to meet our boat off the East coast of Panama. Our home for the next 5 days was a 36 foot sailboat called Mats de Capo that came complete with a very salty Swedish captain.

Our first day, we sailed for a half day and got our first taste of the paradise called San Blas. These islands are nothing more than white sand and palm trees with some being little more than a tuft in the middle of the Caribbean.

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The islands are inhabited by an indigenous group of people called the Kuna. They are separate from both Panama and Colombia and govern themselves. They are a matriacial society and are known for their unique form of quilting using reverse appliqué called Molas.

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The Kunas main source of income is from fishing and a small amount of agriculture. We were lucky enough to enjoy a very fresh lobster dinner one evening. Apparently, the Kunas simply dive to the ocean floor (up to depths of 20 meters!) and snag these lobsters with small lasoos. This was one meal that we couldn't help playing with...

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We spent 3 days sailing around these islands which were truly one of the most beautiful places that we've ever visited.

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On one of our last days, we visited one of the largest Kuna villages (pop. 300). The locals were so friendly and were happy to have us visiting.

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The absolute best thing about visiting this village were the children. The moment we hit the dock, we were surrounded by kids begging to have their picture taken so that they could see themselves when you showed them. It was so fun to see them so excited and willing to socialize with us.

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The village itself was very rustic and you could tell that things haven't changed much since the Kuna first settled here. We found their choice for a nations flag to be interesting too...

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On the last two days of sailing, we were lucky enough to have a few different pods of dolphins visit us and ride the wake of our boat. Having never experienced something like this before, all the passengers on our boat were so excited! The dolphins would do huge jumps out of the sides of the waves and the more we shouted and cheered for them the more they seemed to play for us. Awesome!

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We finally made it to Colombia after 5 days of sailing (with only one bout of seasickness on my part during an afternoon of rough seas). We were covered in salt, very sunburned and happy as clams. It was nice to be on land again and we're ready to explore Colombia.

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Posted by ReneeJared 06:29 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

Panama City

We splurged on a flight from Bocas del Toro to Panama City. It saved us 2 days of sitting on a bus and an overnighter in David which doesn't offer much other than a place to crash for the night.

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Panama City's skyline is quite glamorous. If you didn't know better you would think that you were looking at New York or Chicago. The city is booming and very, very hot!

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We had several days to spend in Panama City and so were able to get a real feel for the place.

The seafood in this city is amazing and a visit to the local fish market is not to be missed. We enjoyed a lovely lunch on the pier before heading into the old part of the city called Casco Viejo.

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Casco Viejo is undergoing an urban revival but it's definitely a work in progress. There is great contrast between the crumbling ruins and the newly renovated buildings sitting next to them. The area is also bordered by slums that you had to skirt around which made the walk back to the hostel interesting.

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And of course, the coolest thing to visit in Panama City is the canal! We all know that it's an engineering feat but seeing the oceanliners squeeze through the locks was way more impressive that we expected.

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And so, our journey through Central America has finally come to an end. It has been a huge learning experience!

We've booked passage on a yacht which sails through the San Blas Islands on its way to the Colombian coast (which takes 5 to 6 days depending on weather).

But before we leave Central America behind, we have to share with you one picture of the famed chicken buses. These buses take you everywhere in these countries and are known for their wicked paint jobs and the craziness of their drivers. We're gonna miss cruising around in these old wrecks...

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Posted by ReneeJared 13:48 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

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