Colombia Wrap

The old adage is you can’t judge a book by its cover.  Yet often it is the very way a majority of us from our opinions.  The Colombian “book cover” (in a lot of people’s eyes) is still very tattered and has faint images of the ‘War on Drugs’, ruthless cartels, cocaine, and violence.  The fact is, today’s Colombia is newly released, revamped, and in a completely different book store.  Colombia is a country of extremely genuine and pleasant people.  If there was a straw poll for the world’s most friendly people, Canada might actually have a run for its money.  Even with a language barrier that would make Helen Keller shake her head with dismay, the locals still found ways to help us: get off the bus at the right stop, warn us about bad neighborhoods, save us money by not getting off the metro, and the list goes on.  Granted we ran into travelers that had some problems: being robbed at gunpoint, held up by four kids with knifes, and the list goes on…  But if you do a quick check of the police blotter in your own city, you’ll find violence on par if not worse.  We personally never felt unsafe anywhere we went.

The two of us enjoyed Colombia enough that it made it on the short list of places we plan to visit again (with there being so many places in the world to go, to return to a place takes away from experiencing somewhere new).
After spending almost five years in Seattle and still not fully knowing the city, we know that our short time in Colombia hardly makes us experts.  But there are a few things that we did notice.

I am a fat kid at heart.  I love food. If you like the county fair, Colombia street food is your heaven.  There is a simple solution to everything, deep fry it!  Aside from the stale empanadas (which for some reason we continued to get and mildly loved) the deep fry is a pinch overboard.

When it comes to restaurants, we managed to eat at a couple of good ones and there is one thing that is consistent, fries.  Whether its a set meal for $3 or filet mignon, fries will find their way to your plate.  After serious reflection, the only thing that we both agree scored high on our food meter in Colombia, was this spicy mayonnaise sauce that seems to make everything taste better.

Colombia had a tough time when it came to impressing us with it´s beaches.  We approached their offerings in reverse order.  We started with the seven layer death chocolate cake and ended with a dainty side salad.  We started with San Andres Island, which is on par with some of the best beaches either of us have ever visited.  When you get on the mainland it isn´t that the beaches are terrible, they just don´t have the 5 different colors of crystal clear ocean water and perfect white sand.  However, the surrounding geography (especially in Tyrona National Park) is amazing.

Top Rated For The Trip:

We both agree that it is very hard to top kicking back on the beaches of San Andres and drinking industrial amounts of rum.  Salento had to be a very close second.  The lush green mountain ranges that surround the postcard perfect town is only enhanced by the coffee that even God probably imports.

Random Trip Facts to Date
Items lost:
– Bret’s cologne:  left at parents house in Seattle
– Bret’s sunglasses: left at hotel in Cartagena
– $150,000 COP (apprx. $80 USD): taken from private hostel room in Medellin

Items acquired:
– Bret’s sunglasses: retrieved from hotel in Cartagena (4 days later, luckily!)
– Airplane blanket: given to us by a lovely English/Canadian couple in Santa Marta in preparation for our long bus ride to Medellin.  They crank the air-con on busses in Colombia.
– Random spices picked up from the “free food” section of the Black Sheep Hostel in Medellin.

Uses for duct tape:
– To hang towels in hostel window in Bogota to block the light shining through
– Wrap up torn bag of rice
– To hold band aids in place (on Sally’s hand) while doing burpees in hostel room
– Remove lint from clothing


After a week in Medellin we decided to head south to Salento, a small town in the Zona Cafeteria area in Colombia that is famous for its coffee and amazing scenery.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon after a six-hour bus ride to Pareira, followed by a one hour drive in a local bus.  The bus dropped us off outside the town’s fire station and we made the short 150 meter walk to our hostel, The Plantation House.  When we reached the end of the road and had the option of turning left or right, we were greeted by a young boy about three years old who enthusiastically yelled in Spanish and pointed in the direction of our hostel.

After spending all day on the bus we were restless so we checked in, dropped our bags and headed to the town square.  It was about 5pm and the square was buzzing!  There were food vendors everywhere, bars were pumping out the tunes, competing for whose system was the loudest and Colombian tourists filled the streets.  We spent some time walking the square, grabbed some groceries and were about to head back to our room to freshen up until we noticed the stunning sunset.  Of course every sunset should be enjoyed with a beer or wine in hand so we picked up a few Club Colmbias and enjoyed the sunset from the square.

We had heard that Salento is a very sleepy little town that only gets going on Friday and Saturday nights so we had no option but to check out the scene.  We started with beers at a corner bar that had a small dance floor going.  I coud have spent the entire night there watching everyone dance but Bret dragged me out to grab a quick bite to eat.

After dinner Sally dragged me back to the first bar with dancing on her mind.  She had salsa on her mind since the day we touched down in Colombia and had yet to dance a single step.  As we were getting ready to step into the first bar (where the dancing was) a 20-something Colombian kid approched us.  He didn’t speak English but gestured for us to join him and his friends.  This had warning signs written all over it.  We had actually received a lecture from our Pablo tourguide not to drink with anyone we didn’t know.  There is a drug here in Colombia that is pretty much a functional ruffie.  There is no odour, no taste, and it whipes your memory.  You are pretty much at the disposal of your predator.  But the bar was crowded, we were in a small town, and besides, they had a table!  We sat down and were introduced to his two friends.  The rest of the night consisited of a little Spanish, a little English, and a lot of hand gestures.  Two of the kids were
pretty good dancers and were able to get Sally was able to get out on the dance floor.

We managed to keep each other entertained until the bar closed down.  Afterwords the group of us poured into the street with the rest of the locals.  It didn’t take long to notice we were the only gringos in sight.  We felt pretty lucky to have been selected by the locals to hang out.  The group of us decided the party wasn’t over and managed to find a back street booze vender that was willing to “open” (slide a bottle through a cracked door) and sell us a bottle of rum.  Mixers weren’t available so we had to drink Colombian style, shots.  We ended up saying goodbye to our kick ass hosts around four in the morning.  Sally and I both agree that it was the best night out in Colombia by far.


Coffee Plantation tour
The Plantation House hostel was originally one of the first coffee plantations in Salento.  The owner, Tim bought the property when the land became more valuable as real estate than the coffee it was producing.  About three years ago he brought the coffee back to the Plantation House by buying some neighboring coffee fields.  He does tours of his coffee field and production plant.  He takes you through all the different stages of producing coffee.  At the end of the tour he takes the final skin off some beans, roasts them, grinds the beans down, and brews up what I consider the best cup of black coffee I have ever had.  Sally doesn’t like coffee at all but was a trooper and tried it.  She didn’t get very far though.

Coffee Plantation Tour

Valle de Cocora
Valle de Cocora (Vally of Palms) has a collection of wax palms that can reach up to 60 meters and live up to 120 years.  The popular valley is a must do in Colombia, as we soon found out when we came to the country.  The valley is a short 40 minute Willy Jeep ride from Salento and can be hiked in various ways.  Sally and I opted for the five-hour round trip hike that took us up a parallel valley to a humming-bird sanctuary and down into the valley from the top of the ridge.  As we set off on our journey, to our amusement, a local dog decided to follow us.

The path starts by weaving its way through some local farm fields where you spend most of your time trying to dodge the horse shit, then quickly turns into a jungle hike. As we began to navigate our way through woods, over several rickety bridges and up the steep path, we began to chat with several of the hikers that were trekking at the same pace.  Justin from San Fransisco, Owen from England, Sarah from Sweden, and to our surprise the dog (soon to be named Chico) from the beginning of the hike.

After about two hours the group of us made it to the humming-bird sanctuary.  Chico must have been familiar with their warning not to bring pets because as we went through the gate he scampered off.  The humming-bird sanctuary was really quite amazing.  An old couple was there to great us and provide a cold beverage.  They claimed to have six different humming-bird breeds on the property but during our 45 minute rest, unfortunately we only managed to see three.

Once the feet were rested and we fulfilled our goal of taking a million photos of the humming birds, we set off to complete our journey.  As we made our way down to the entrance of the sanctuary our guide Chico was waiting on us!  We continued to hike what quickly became very steep terrain.  At the top at La Montana we were blown away by the amazing view of the area we just hiked.  A quick rain sent us all ducking for cover and helped cool us off quite nicely.  As we set off to walk down the valley we lost Chico to a group of hikers that were sitting down to have lunch.  I guess when it comes to dogs one thing holds true, food trumps all.

The descent down the dirt road into the valley is nothing short of amazing.  Massive Wax Palms sprinkle the lush green valley as far as the eye can see.  I would try to continue to describe the magnificent scenery but I’ll leave you with a link to some photos instead.

Velle de Cocora

Our last day in Salento was spent wandering the town some more, taking plenty of photos, eating trout, taking in the sunset over the stunning countryside and playing Tejo!  Tejo is one of the most kick ass games I think I have seen created.  It is all the skill of horseshoes with a little Colombian flair!  There are two clay pits that stand 80 meters apart.  Each pit is about 3 ft by 5 ft.  There is a metal circle placed in the middle of the pit about the size of a softball.  Four folded-up triangle gun powder packets are placed around the metal circle.  Each player throws a softball size solid piece of steel toward the clay pit (half court for beginners and gringos or the starter/kids pit).  If you stick in the clay and are closer than your opponent, you score a point.  If you throw and explode one of the gunpowder packets, you get three points.  If you land in the middle of the circle it’s six and if you land in the middle of the circle and blow up all of the gunpowder, it´s nine.  There is no cost to play the game, you get to stay on the court as long as you continue to buy drinks!  Bret and I actually did quite well our first time playing (on the kids/gringo court)!

Salento was well worth the 12-hour round trip from Medellin.  It’s such a peaceful town and the locals are incredibly friendly.


Medellin is beautifully nestled between two impressive mountain ranges.  It crawls through the valley and up the sides of the mountains like a group of red brick ants.  The “Land of Eternal Spring” keeps it at a warm 22 – 27 C (mid 70’s to low 80’s?).  The rain often rolls in around 5pm to cool things down before the night begins.  The city has a metro that runs the length of the valley and two cable cars that run up each of the mountain ranges.  One connects the poor neighborhoods to the city, the other takes you up to a vast national park.

Our first full day in Medellin we headed out to the Jardin de Botanico, a beautiful park in the city that is free to enter and on Sunday is full of families and groups of friends out enjoying the sunshine.  We spent a good couple of hours wandering the gardens and some time just chilling, taking it all in, remembering how lucky we are to be doing what we´re doing.

Jardin Botanico de Medellin

The next day (after a late night out) we decided to stay close and head to Parque Berrio.  Fernando Botero is a famous Colombian artist who is well-known for his disproportion and large depiction of people and animals. He was generous enough to donate several of his works to the local Colombian art museum, which includes a large collection of statues.  We actually got caught in the rain while we were trying to visit Parque Berrio, where the statues stand and were reminded of just how much we hate the rain.  The 80 degree heat had us in shorts and flip-flops and we were in no mood to suck it up.  We made our way into a library/museum which served little purpose other than keeping us out of the rain.

A visit to Museo Antioquia a few days later, where a large collection of Botero’s art is displayed, made up for our nonexistent motivation to culture ourselves our first day out, in the rain, hungover.

Fernando Botero

Pablo Tour
How can you not do a Pablo Escobar tour while visiting Medellin?  For only 30,000 COP ($15) we piled in the back of van and had a local tell us the history of the famous drug lord.  The tour took us by several of Pablo’s buildings and one of his houses.  They are constructed in white to pay homage to the occupation that gave him his wealth.  His house (one of many) could be mistaken for a small hotel.  The government has taken over these properties and hasn’t really done much with them.  According to our guide, there is a Colombian law that anything taken from the drug business is to be sold/used and half of the money is to go back into the community.  The government not wanting to part with the property or give up any cash, has found a loophole.  By not using a majority of the building (only one story) or any of it at all, they claim they don’t need to give money to the people.  The tour ended out front of Pablo’s aunts house where he was shot and
finally to his grave.

When he was alive, he owned a huge estate in the conuntry side where he kept a vast collection of exotic animals to include several hippos!  After he was killed the government took all the animals to the Medellin zoo, leaving only the hippos behind.  His hippo collection is actually still roaming the jungles of Colombia.  The estimated number is now at 37 (with the reproduction).

Pablo Escobar Tour

Parque Arvi
We took the half hour gondola ride up to the national park.  With our lack of Spanish, we were overlooked by the welcoming committee and missed out on a map of the park.  We were having a “constructive debate” about which direction to go when two middle-aged women approached and asked if we spoke Spanish.  We informed them that we didn’t and were surprised by one women’s perfect English.  Jennifer works as an interpreter and was wondering if we knew where we were going.  It turns out the map wasn’t overly helpful to them, as they couldn’t orient themselves.  Thus, we found some park friends and set out together.  The women were interested in visiting the police station at the top of the park and had talked a policeman into giving us a tour of the police grounds.  The station is almost 100% self-sufficient.  The gas is created from the horse shit.  The water they use is recycled and dispersed into the woods.  Solar panels were used for their electricity and
the entire building was constructed using local recycled wood.  Our “guide” was eager for us to meet all 50 of their horses as well as the eight or so dogs.  After forewarning from the officer about the danger of leaving the main path, we set off to see the view of the city (about a 45 minute walk).  unfortunately the viewpoint was obstructed by the hazy weather.  Interestingly enough there were two mounted police at the end of the path that gave us an escort back to the police station once we were done taking pictures.  The fact they thought they needed to escort us made us wonder just how bad the crime can get in the park?  Funnily enough, we met an English guy a few days later who was robbed at knife point by four kids from the nearby barrio, one of which wore a Bin Laden mask.

Parque Arvi

The frustration of not being able to speak Spanish finally came to a breaking point after the “ticket incident” on our way from Santa Marta to Medellin.  After a long discussion with a couple of backpackers that were once in the same boat, we decided to sign up for Spanish classes.  The owner of the Black Sheep hostel (where we were staying) Kelvin, had a Colombian wife that had a great reputation for teaching Spanish.  We signed up for a two-hour session and by the end of it decided to schedule four more sessions.  Turns out that there is more to Spanish then just throwing an “a” or an “o” at the end of english words.  Yadi definitely lives up to her reputation and we are both thoroughly enjoying our classes with her.  We still have a long way to go but she has given us plenty of material to work with.

After spending seven days in Medellin, Bret and I agree that it is a gorgeous city with wonderful people who are friendly and always eager to help although it took us a little while to get used to all of the stares (being gringo and sticking out like a sore thumb in our shorts and flops while everyone else is in jeans).  We stayed at the Black Sheep hostel in the Poblado neighborhood and would highly recommend this place.  The rooms are spacious and clean (always a plus) and there are a number of great spaces to chill.  Kelvin puts on a bloody good BBQ every Sunday night where for only $6 you get chicken, steak, sausage, grilled veggies and several fresh salads.  That Sunday was the best meal we’ve had in weeks!


Zona Rosa – Medellin

This is it, Medellin.  Home of the man who single-handedly fueled disco, kept models thin, gave rap 80% of its content and Eric Clapton the only song of his I can stand, Pablo Escobar.

The groundwork had already been set prior to our arrival.  We heard of a place of high crime, late parties, and a history that keeps it forever associated with narcotics.  In fact the first night we were in our hostel we spoke to an individual that told us about another traveller that had been robbed at gunpoint, two blocks from where we were staying, at 6pm.  For anyone that lives far enough from the equator to think that might not be in broad daylight (winter), think again.  The very thought of it actually began to excite me.  I went over all three karate moves I learned when I was 12 in my head.  I wasn’t really interested in being involved in any street violence but I wouldn’t mind observing some from a far!  All of this being said, it made the decision easy on what to do with our first day in town.  Not knowing the area, not having anyone we know to show us around, not speaking any Spanish……. not seeing any reason why we shouldn’t take a nap and head out on the town!

Zona Rosa is the “happening” place in Medellin.  Comprised of around 25 to 100 bars, the actual number is debatable (between Sally and I) and frankly if you really want to know, google that shit.  Regardless, it is a ton of bars, clubs, and people ready to enjoy the night.  We tipped back a bit at the hostel to save money and headed out.  Walking down Calle 10 you can feel the bass and hear the people before Zona Rosa even comes into view.  We did a full walk of the area to scope out our first watering hole before posting up.  A reggae bar with a hip hop twist pretty much put us on house arrest.  We sat down and started our attempt to get over our 16 hour bus ride hangover.  We had heard that the party didn’t really get popping until 1am so we hadn’t even bothered to go out until 11pm.  Early came and early went.  Right on time came and right on time went (right along with our drinking budget).  Still the Colombians are seated in groups, kicking back shots of the local brew Aguardiente (taste like Sambuca).  At 1:30am  we decided we might be at the wrong spot if we wanted to dance.  We did a couple a loops around the immediate area (contributing to the unknown amount of bars) and couldn’t seem to find any place to unleash the sprinkler.  Around 2am we were pretty impressed that nothing was going yet.  “These guys must party late!”  We made it to 3am and decided that if shit gets popping this late….. we might be better off just waking up early to party…

After speaking with a couple of people from the hostel, it turns out we were in the “bar” area of Zona Rosa.

Last Days In Santa Marta

On our last full day in Santa Marta we decided to check out Taganga, a once sleepy fishing village about 15 minutes away.  We had not heard very good things about Taganga from other travellers and locals.  In the last few years it has apparently turned into “gringo town” and been overrun by backpackers, which brought with it an escalated crime rate.  Bret was a little hesitant but I had to see what all the fuss was about.  If all these travellers were flocking there, it had to be for a reason.

We set off on our adventure of riding the local bus and made it to Taganga (in 45 minutes, not the 15 we were told) without any drama (always a relief).  As we made our way around the final bend and descended into the small fishing town, I was blown away.  I could instantly see the attraction of this town and why it is now overflowing with foreign tourists.  The bay was lined with colorful fishing boats leaving a small section of the beach free to lay out in the sun and swim in the crisp waters.

Off the beach is roughly a ten block radius of hostels, small stores and cute cafes serving everything from fish to Italian to the popular fixed Colombian meals consisting of your choice of chicken or beef with rice, fries and salad.  Being the budget conscious travellers we are trying to be, we ate before we left our hostel and chose to find a chill looking bar on the beach and enjoy a few ice-cold Club Colombia’s.

Once we had our fill on beers, we made our way to the beach to lay out, enjoy the sun and go for a swim.  It was a very relaxing afternoon, escaping the hustle of Santa Marta and a nice way to wrap up our time in that area.  Unfortunately, because of the stories we had heard of muggings in broad daylight, we decided not to take our camera with us and sadly don’t have any pictures of Taganga.

The next day it was time to move on again.  We had an overnight bus booked from Santa Marta to Medellin at 6:30pm.  This allowed us time to enjoy one last day in the sunshine, chilling poolside at the lovely Dreamer hostel.

We arrived at the bus station with double the recommended time before the bus left and handed over the vouchers we had purchased from the hostel.  The guy behind the counter asked for our passports and being the cautious travellers we are, handed over our US drivers licenses instead.  That’s when the confusion began.  He looked at my license, brought something up on the screen in front of him and had a perplexed look on his face.  He then called over what we assumed was his supervisor.  The supervisor grabbed both licenses and immediately got on the phone.  Afer about ten minutes waiting at the counter with a short explanation in Spanish we were asked to go around to the back and wait in their private seating area.  All we picked up on from the Spanish was “no problema”.

No problem?  Why were we being sent to the private area with no tickets and no ID while other people were checking in, getting their tickets and getting on the bus?  I was not happy.  I tried to tell myself everything was fine.  But of course I would start to analyze the situation again.  Why do they still have our IDs?  Why don’t we have our tickets?  Why is the guy still on the phone?  What the f&%$ is going on!?  Ten minutes passed, no tickets, no explanation.  Twenty minutes passed, still nothing.  Thirty, forty minutes passed, and we were now about ten minutes from when the bus was supposed to leave.  Of course with our non-existent Spanish, we couldn’t simply ask what the problem was or if there even was a problem?

Thankfully, a girl from Belgium came into the room to charge her phone and she spoke Spanish.  She helped us out by asking one of the staff members about our tickets and then explained that everything was fine and they were printing our tickets now.  At the same time another couple from the hostel we were staying at arrived at the counter and seemed to be having problems as well.  After a little more waiting, we finally got the okay to leave the waiting area and were handed our tickets and IDs and were off on the bus!

We’re still not sure why it took almost an hour to get our tickets but put it down to the fact that we purchased the voucher from the hostel and not directly from the bus company.  We also decided then and there that we need to learn more Spanish and quickly!

The 16 hour bus ride was surprisingly uneventful and not as rough as I had been expecting (it is probably because I chose where we sat).  We watched a cheesy movie in Spanish about some guy who goes on vacation with his wife and spends the entire time trying to cheat on her.  The bus was pretty comfy with seats about twice as wide as those on airplanes and that reclined almost all the way back.  The bathroom on the bus was respectable but trying to use it while the bus was in motion, in the dark, using my iPod for light was rather challenging.  Turns out there was a light in there, you just needed to lock the door for it to come on.

We both managed to get some sleep and before we knew it the sun was up and we were only five hours from Medellin.

Tayrona National Park

The plan was well thought out.  It set us up for success.  The only problem was it was poorly executed.

Tayrona National Park offers several beach areas to hang out and camp.  The first beach is a 45 minute hike, the second was 70, and the third beach is two hours away.  The 90 degree heat and jungle cover are a great motivation to start your trek early.  The plan was to be out at the bus stop by 7:30am, grab the hour-long bus to the entrance of the park and be on the trial no later than 9am.  That would put us arriving at our destination (Cabo San Juan – 2 hour hike) around 11am, laying out on the beach and cooling off in the ocean just as the heat really starts to roll in.  That was the plan.

We weren’t able to get checked out and lock our bags up with the hostel until around 8am.  We finally made it to the bus stop around 8:45am.  This isn’t detrimental to our hope of beating the heat at all!  Simply a minor, hour, set back.  We waited for the bus on the side of the street exactly where the informational pamphlet in the hostel told us.  The bus that goes to Tayrona only comes by every 37 minutes.  What differentiates the bus we need from the other 200 zipping by?  A little white card in the front that has its destination written on it.  We were only there for about 10 minutes when a small unmarked white van rolled up packed full with tourists.  He had about 12 seats and there had to be 16 people with bags filling up every seat and floor space available.  The driver pulled over and asked if we were headed to Tayrona.  The kid who was sitting on the floor next to the sliding door looked at the driver as if he were crazy and then back at us as if to say, “Please, oh fucking please, get the next bus.”  Considering it was an hour and we would have had to literally ride on top of people, we decided to pass.

Another ten minutes passed and a taxi pulls up.  He asks where we are going and we let him know Tayrona.  He says he would be happy to take us.  Had we not been warned at the hostel that a cab ride can run us about $70,000 COP (The bus is $5,000 each) we might have jumped in.  I went back and forth with him in my broken Spanish explaining we only had $10,000.  He said that would be fine and to hop in.  The problem is Tayrona is a fairly large park and his interpretation of getting us to our destination and ours probably didn’t match up.  Due to the fact that we can’t express exactly where we want to go and the forewarning about the cab we told him to beat it.  After the full 37 minutes our bus approaches.  We excitedly grab our bags and stick out our hand.  The bus blows right by us without even slowing down.  We looked at each other dumbfounded.  “What the fuck?”  Maybe it was full?  We grovelled for a couple of minutes and continued to wait.

Another 37 minutes go by and we see our bus again.  This time I make sure I look the driver in the eye and wave my hands blatantly.  The bus whips past again without slowing.  “Fuck this!”  We were convinced there was a conspiracy against us.  The word had been spread to not pick us up.  Some kind of underground transportation mafia had decided to 86 us from getting to Tayrona.  Sally mentions of a bus stop about 200 meters away.  We decide to walk down and see if anyone can help us.  A quick chat with the girl waiting on the bench and we find out that the Tayrona bus only stops at the bus stop.  This is some pretty useful information considering every other bus we have ever caught in Colombia you wave down.  We wait for a third 37 minutes and our bus comes to a gentle stop in front of us and we hop on.  The incident gave us more than enough to talk about the first 20 minutes of the ride.  How much time we wasted, how stupid we are, how stupid the bus system is, how stupid we are, and so on.

We finally get to the entrance of Tayrona National Park around noon.  We pay the entrance fee and grab another bus for a couple thousand to take us 5k up the hill.  On the short bus ride up, Sally met a Julie.  Julie is an Aussie that quit her job in 2010 to do some travel and just hasn’t decided to stop yet. (A true inspiration)  The soothing sound of English, the fact that Julie was on her own, and could translate, created  a natural hiking group.

The three of us made our way along the trail.  The start of the trail is shared by both hikers and those on horseback.  So the first 15 minutes are spent looking down as opposed to absorbing your surroundings.  Once the trails break into their separate directions I finally was able to take in the Colombian jungle that engulfed us.  The trees were thick enough that you couldn’t make out the skyline and also killed any chance of a breeze making its way across your face.  It wasn’t really the heat, the trail its self was fairly easy, it was the extra five liters of water, bottle of wine, and two bottles of rum in my bag that made it a little more sweaty then it needed to be.

The deep jungle trail was broken up nicely with cliff top views of the ocean and beach walks that allowed you to cool down and be reminded that there was a purpose behind this walk.  We made it to Cabo in just about two hours.  We strolled through the camp and debated our accommodation choices.  There were two rows of hammocks (24 in total) under a thatched roof that were down close to the tent area.  They had a fine powder dirt for a floor that jumped into the air every time a foot struck the ground.  The tents that were for rent came with a sleeping pad and had to be positioned in the tent area.  This was close to where the horses chilled out, the treeline, and bugs.  The third option was a group of hammocks about 50 meters up on a group of boulders.  They over looked the ocean and the breeze pushed away any thought of getting tagged by the mosquitos.  We had read about these hammocks in Lonely Planet and knew to bring every piece of cold weather clothing we had incase we ended up “sleeping” there.  They were damp and dirty, but by comparison the hands down best choice.

We chilled on the beach for the few hours of sunlight we had left, enjoyed our wine and rum chilling on the rocks, overlooking the ocean and enjoyed dinner with Julie.  The hike, food, and booze had me ready for bed pretty early.  We made our way up the rocks to our hammocks and bedded down for the night.  The cool ocean breeze and the sound of waves crashing helped me fall asleep quickly (the bottle of wine and rum might have had a small part to play in that as well…?).  It must have been less than three hours when my liquid in, needed to be liquid out.  My plan to make my way back down to the ocean was foiled by the overwhelming smell of other travelers liquid out.  It seems the idea of even taking TWO steps off the cement was out of the question for more than a few.  Not me, I had fucking standards!  I walked about ten steps before I handled my business.

The rest of the night was pretty much a battle with being uncomfortable, cold, and damp.  I would look over at Sally and see she was in the same position.  Just waiting for it to be daylight.  We watched the sun come up from over the ocean.  As light poured over the beach and jungle it almost made us forget about the last 8 hours of trying to sleep.

We hung out at camp for an hour or so then decided to start making our way back, stopping at La Piscina for a quick swim.

While waiting on the side of the road for the bus back to Santa Marta, we heard a voice behind us “Where did you get that Seahawks hat?”.  Bret and I turned around and I replied, “Uh, Seattle”.  We got chatting to Don and it turns out he lives in Capitol Hill, only ten blocks from where we lived.  Small world!

The ride back to Santa Marta was fairly uneventful . . . until the bus broke down.  Luckily we had a rough idea of where we were and it was only about a fifteen minute walk back to the hostel.

Our trip to Tayrona National Park was well worth the effort and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting this part of Colombia.  The hike was fairly easy and enjoyable (even Bret was glad we did it) with some fantastic views along the way.  Yes, the hammocks were uncomfortable and we didn’t get a lot of sleep but the experience of being fifty feet up, overlooking the ocean and waking up to the stunning sunrise more than compensated for it.

Tayrona National Park

Santa Marta

We arrived in Santa Marta via MarSol bus service.  A door to door bus system that works great, depending of course on who you’re sitting next to (see First Bus Ride).

We had got the recommendation to stay at The Dreamer Hostel from a Colombian girl we met in Bogota.  The name of the hostel is more than just a cleaver marketing ploy.  The hostel itself is wrapped around an open courtyard with a pool as its center piece.  An outdoor kitchen is nestled next to the pool table and a bar.  The Dreamer even has its own restaurant that serves up three meals a day, to include an $8 filet mignon!  The rooms are named after countries and we both chuckled as they took us to the Australia room.  We unpacked and planned what we were going to do with our time in Santa Marta.

The second day we made our way to Rodadero.  A long strip of beach that many of the locals visit.  Nothing against Rodadero, it’s certainly better than chilling in the park on a hot day in Seattle.  But after visiting San Andres our standards were set pretty high.  It’s about a 45 minute bus ride away which we caught from just outside our hostel.  The bus system in Colombia is interesting to say the least.  You can catch the bus from anywhere by waving your hand.  To get off you only need to yell stop at the bus driver, a word we have yet to master.  This combined with the fact we don’t know how to express where we want to go, guarantees an adventure whenever using public transport.

The hot bus ride there and the confusion as to where to get off cost us ten blocks of walking in the 90/34 degree heat.  This put my Northwestern patience to the test.  I broke down once we finally made it to the beach and we had to shell out $10 for two chairs and some cover.  The price itself isn’t that bad, it’s the fact that every hustler on the beach now thinks you have money and they want their share.  Necklaces, hats, snorkel trips, jet skis, beer, candy, and repeat.  It takes about three times of explaining we have no money and don’t speak Spanish for them to let go of the hope you are going to buy something.

One lovely, heavy-set local with a gold tooth was convinced I needed a massage and no wasn’t an answer she was going to take.  She reached out and started to rub my shoulder.  I told her no for the fourth time as she oiled up her hand and quickly moved behind me.  She oiled up my back and told me that this one is free, as she looked over my shoulder and gave me a smile with a wink.  “I just want to show you.  Make you feel good.  Tomorrow you can get a full massage.”  My explanation of being broke and not planning to return was falling on deaf ears.  The more I said no, the more she rubbed.  I finally did a dip and spin move and told her that was nice and I will be looking for her tomorrow.  From the smile on her face I wasn’t sure if she was trying to convince me to buy or if she just wanted to cop a feel.

After a chill day at the hostel we tried to let Santa Marta redeem its beach reputation.  We went into Tayrona National Park and visited the “best beach in the area”, Bahia Concha.  It was a very nice, very chill bay and full of locals, however, I think it would have been more enjoyable if we didn’t have to battle the wind for most of the day.  It came in waves about every five minutes.  Small blasts that would raise your towel and slap sand on your sweaty body.  You would convince yourself that it wasn’t that bad while shielding your face.  Then you would get the monster gust that would leave little welts on any exposed skin, forcing you to leap from your prone position.  It would die down just long enough to cause your sweat and confidence to build back up.  All in all, it was a great day and a fun way to spend our anniversary.  Later that night we headed down to the bay in Santa Marta and treated ourselves to a good meal.

Bahia Concha/Santa Marta

Next stop, the other side of Tayrona National Park.  Sally has convinced me to hike and camp in the same trip!

The First Bus Ride

Never let Bret choose where to sit on a long-distance bus ride.

Other than local city buses, so far on our trip we have managed to avoid the dreaded long-distance bus rides I have heard so much about.  Our first one would turn out to be a warm-up to what lies ahead as it is only a “short” 3.5 hours from Cartagena to Santa Marta.

The first option was to squeeze on a local bus with our backpacks and ride one hour across town in the 90 degree heat to the main bus depot and hop on another bus that would take us to the depot in Santa Marta, then walk with our packs to our hostel.  OR we could book a door-to-door, air-conditioned service through our hotel or only a few bucks more.  Door-to-door it was!  We were excited to move on to somewhere new and get there backpacker luxury style in a Mercedes van that only carried 8-10 people.

Travel day arrived and we were ready and waiting for our 7am ride at 6:30am in the hotel lobby.  Around 7:30am our bus picked us up and we were first on!  Sweet, free to sit ANYWHERE we chose.  I immediately leaped into a two-seater spot and called the window seat.  Bret in the meantime went straight to the very back where there were four seats across.  “There’s more leg room back here” he stated.  I hesitantly joined him at the back and again, called a window seat.

The bus drove around to a few other hotels to pick up guests also heading to Santa Marta.  As the bus slowly began to fill up, we still had the entire back seat to ourselves.  Maybe we would get lucky and it wouldn’t be a full bus?  After each stop we grew more and more excited over that idea.  Until the second to last stop. . .   Maybe just one person would hop on and we’d have three seats between us?  Wrong!  A um, rather large couple who could have easily taken up the entire back row themselves had no other choice but to join us in the back. . .  The woman (of course) took the other window seat, leaving the men to battle for what little room remained in the middle.

And so the looks from Bret began.  For the first 45 minutes or so he had a look on his face of utter misery.  About the 46 minute mark that look turned to pure rage!

The following event is not exaggerated.  It is however perspective based and includes integrated visions of imagination.

The foreshadowing couldn’t have been written better by a well thought out and seasoned author.  Sally noting the metal rod that stuck up between seats.  The two of us marveling at the amount of space we had.  “If only they don’t pick up anyone else”, we repeated after every stop.  But this is South America and to have even the smallest thoughts of the bus running at any capacity besides maximum beckoned to be slaped in the face with reality.

The second to last stop, that’s when it happened.  Time went into slow motion.  The chorus of Bob Dylan’s Hurricane filled the bus like an amphitheatre. “Here comes the story of the Hurricane.  The one the authorities came to blame.  For something he never done. Put him in a prison cell but one day he could-a been the champion of the world”.  I could have been a champion.  It felt so destined to be and yet my prison cell awaited.  The right side of the bus had a sudden and sharp tilt to the right which put us at almost at 45 degree angle.  Her head emerged into view as she took each of the three steps with monstrous force.  She turned toward the aisle and realized that regular forward movement would be restricted by her size.  A slight look to adjust to a sideways shuffle, a smile to the crowd, and then she locked eyes with me.  There was no other option but to make her way to the back seat.  She plopped down next to the window, leaving one seat (half of one seat) between her and I.  “This isn’t so bad!”  It might actually deter anyone else from sitting on what was left of the seat next to me.  Just as I was getting through those very thoughts her husband boarded the bus.  She smiled and waved to him, gesturing that there was an available seat next to her.  My heart sunk as a man who had clearly been matching his wife’s eating habits made his way to the back of the bus.  He wedged himself between the two us, not even acknowledging the fact that he was hanging over into my seat.  This mother fucker.

My heart started to pound, my head throbbed, and I knew it would be a battle.  This wasn’t trench warfare being conducted on neutral ground.  The way he slung his shoulder over the top of mine (right over the fucking top!) and used the weight of his hairy leg to wedge extra space was an invasion my country, my space, my self worth as a man.  I took deep and slow breaths.  I slid my leg slightly away to avoid the flesh to flesh touching that made me want to jump out the window of the moving bus.  Only to have that void filled immediately and then some by his invasive left calf.  The pressure on my leg was more intense than before, as if he could sense my retreat.  Holy shit.  Breath Bret, breath.

I looked at Sally and she could see the frustration consuming my body.  Just then we hit a bump and I flew up, hitting my head on the plastic ceiling.  We swung around the corner and made our final stop.  Sally and I whispered to each other about the situation.  Her half-smile not matching her words of sympathy.  The driver packed the final bag into the back of the bus (directly behind us) and slams the door.  The seat jolts forward as the back door bounces off the over-packed luggage.  He repeats this attempt four more times, sending us forward with each thrust of the door before he adjusts the suitcase that didn’t seem to fit.

At that point I felt like a postal worker.  My face relaxed, eyes blank, masking the horrendous travesty I was plotting in my head.  I need a distraction.  I quickly found reggae on my iPod.  Knowing that if Bob couldn’t keep me from focusing on every millisecond that was slowly passing by, I would be in for the worst ride of my life.  My right arm began to sweat.  I could feel every wrinkle of my t-shirt making an imprint on the side of my body.  The AC for the bus blew right over the top of our heads and the body heat that was being put out by the two large bodies next to us could very well be responsible for a portion of global  warming.  My willpower to not forfeit any more of my seat finally gave in to the conscious fact that I was only moments away from using this mans face as a break on the pavement the next time our driver made a dangerous pass around a blind corner.  I leaned forward and put my elbows on my knees.  The rush of body into my seat behind me created a small shaking sensation that was felt throughout the entire bus.  After about five minutes of leaning forward I started to calm down.  I was almost able to unclench my fists and return my heart rate to normal.  That’s when Sally leaned forward and pointed.  “You see that guy in the red hat?”  It was a man who was almost six feet tall sitting next to his wife and looking quite comfortable.  His seat kicked back as he took a little nap.  “That’s where we could have been sitting.”  The steam that shot from my ears must have been noticeable because Sally’s giggle turned into a muffled laugh.  I shared a few words that expressed my displeasure with her statement and noted that I wasn’t able to enjoy her joke at this time.  She did a great job of pressing right up against the window to give me a little more room.  As I slide over to use part of her seat my left ass cheek was reminded of the metal rod that stuck up.  It took every man gene I had in me to keep from crying like a small child.  Sally wedged her scarf down between the seats to cover the rod as best she could.

It was only two and a half hours of self-pity until we dropped off enough people that I could move to a different seat.  The last 20 minutes of the ride was enough time to decompress and remind myself things could be worse.  I could be sitting in a cubicle, looking out the window at the cold dark rain, trying to excite myself that it was Wednesday, and I only had two more days left until the weekend.

We are now two nights into our week-long stay in the Santa Marta area and life is great!  A day of chilling poolside at our hostel allowed us time to catch up on the blog.  Over the next few days we will be spending time at one of the best beaches in the area to celebrate our anniversary.  We’ll also be venturing out to Tayrona National Park for a little hiking and camping.  Yes, that’s right, Bret is thrilled to be hiking AND camping, all within 24 hours!


We touched down in beautiful Cartagena on March 7.  Cartagena is one of the oldest cities in Colombia, dating back to 1533 and is arguably the most beautiful city in the country.

After the taxing one-hour flight, we dropped our bags and took off for a wander. Unfortunately we are not used to the 86 degree heat/90% humidity so after no more than sixty minutes of scrambling from one piece of shade to another in the old town, we ventured back to our room for a rest, grabbed a bite to eat and called it a night.

With a decent sleep (likely the best we’ve had since leaving Seattle), a good workout, and a tasty breakfast (we finally splurged and treated ourselves to a restaurant meal after living off peanut butter sandwiches and potatoes), we felt well-rested and ready to explore this gorgeous city.

We toughed it out in the heat and humidity and spent a good four to five hours strolling the streets of the old town in more depth, as well as the neighborhood of Getsemani where our hotel is located.  The old town, where we spent the majority of the day is full of cobbled, narrow streets, colorful buildings with large balconies covered in flowers and many plazas.

I have to admit, Bret and I are not overly cultured in the museum scene but we decided to take a gamble (it was bloody hot and we needed a break from the heat) and visited the Palacio de la Inquisicion.  It is a palace that was constructed in the 18th century for the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.  It is where the Inquisition would question and torture accused witches.  We appreciated the history section about Cartagena, which was the only part of the museum in English.  Otherwise it was a swing and a miss in sparking an interest in the museum scene for both of us.

With the exploration of the old town under our belt I thought we deserved a good drinking session (I mean some time taking in Cartagena’s night scene!)  I was excited to check out Havana, a salsa club down the road from us so we freshened up and made our way there.  We peeked in and noticed it was rather empty so we spent the next half hour or so walking the streets (beers in hand) debating whether or not to head in or wait for it to get kicking, all the while eagerly checking the time.  After much debate we decided we’d save some cash and head in before they started the cover charge.  The salsa music was blaring and the stage was set, ready for the band to arrive and do their thing – I was eager to dance but it was too soon, as there were roughly (exactly) four people in the bar.  We pulled up a seat at the bar and checked out the drink menu – shit, the cheapest cocktail on there was half our budget!  Damn it, we can’t just leave!  We hesitantly ordered their famous mojito and boy did I savour every last sip!  Bret tried but he was done within seconds.  Sadly, I finally finished my drink and due to the prices, it was time to leave – my dancing feet would have to wait.

After my little sulk we decided to grab another beer from a store and wandered around, checking in at the odd bar, seeing how much a beer would set us back – about four times the price of one from the street!  “That’s US prices!” we would grumble to each other.  So, another beer from the street it was and off we went wandering again (apparently we’ll be doing a lot of that on our budget), checking out the scene some more.

Closer to home, we spotted a guy with a street food set up cooking chicken, beef, sausage and all the fixings.  We grabbed a chicken meal with yucca, potato, salad, etc for only USD$3.50 and damn it was good!  This guy definitely redeemed the Colombian street food in our minds.

The third day in Cartagena we felt brave enough to venture the half mile across the bridge to Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.  A defensive fort constructed to defend the city from its enemies.  Being the smart gringos that we are, we waiting until peak heat when the sun was directly above us.  That way we didn’t have to worry about any shadows obstructing our attempt to burn off yet another layer of skin.  At the entrance we discovered that for an extra hourly fee we could rent an audio recording of the fort’s history in English.  This seems to be the standard in Colombia.  There is an entrance fee and then essentially a second entrance fee if you don’t speak Spanish and want to have a clue what the fuck is going on.  Luckily we have been in country long enough that we have become quite used to not knowing what the fuck is going on, so we passed on the audio rental and decided we would speculate and or create our own analysis of the history that took place.

The castle was pretty impressive.  The various layers of fortified brick created a great defensive structure that surely kept most enemies at bay.  I even got Sally to go pretty far down into the maze that was constructed to confuse the enemy and hold the area finals for hide-and-go-seek.  After we marveled at the view from the top of the fort where Felipe had his morning breakfast (which also served later in the day as a tanning area and or dance-off location), we made our way back to the hotel.


We are now packing up and heading back to the states for an unexpected detour from our world tripping.