Leticia, Bogota, Salento, Medillin,Cartegna, Playa Blanca, Santa Marta
10.08.2007 - 11.09.2007 35 °C
We arrived in Leticia, Colombia on a very warm day; it was a day of burned sweaty faces. We checked into a hotel after traipsing the streets looking for one that wasn’t already full, great idea to arrive on a Friday!! We got there too late to get our visa stamps at the airport so for one day we were illegal, does anyone care, no, it happens all the time here when you arrive by boat. Our first surprise on getting to Colombia was the price of the hotel room, its more expensive here then we originally anticipated, ah well, every country has been, damn guide books are way out of date. For a double room ensuite, with fan and fridge, its 50,000 soles, about US $25. In the town itself there isn’t much to do unless you’re going on jungle tours but already the atmosphere was a million times better then what we had left behind in Iquitos. From nearly every building music spews forward outs a bounce in your step and a smile on your lips. Its hard to describe but you already feel like you’re closer to the Caribbean The nightclub we went to was funny and strange. There was two dance floors, one for singles and one for couples, they didn’t seem to mix, of course we didn’t stick to the rules This isn’t typical of places here, and I still don’t know why they did it here. Two military officers surveyed the place with figure eight walks carrying large weapons with their hands ready to jump into action should anything happen. That’s a major factor with Colombia, there are police and military everywhere, you can tell if its not military but guerilla by the boots or so we were told, normal army boots = army, wellies = guerrilla. Okay so back in the nightclub, around midnight they had a stage show of five ´professional dancers dressed in skimpy versions of traditional Indian costumes doing set dances. The guys drooled a lot and the locals seemed to enjoy the show a lot but really they were terrible dancers, not in tune with the music or each other. It was entertaining though, we probably shouldn’t have laughed but we couldn’t stop so we left....
We had tried to see if we could get from Leticia to Bogotá by bus but to no avail, the surrounding land is no go area, its controlled by guerillas so we had to take a plane, $157 later we reached the capital. Bogotá is a bustling city that has more people then the whole of Ireland. It’s very modern and cosmopolitan, from its fancy restaurants, bars to suit every taste, sky rise buildings, huge malls to the usual designer names beaming out of shop windows. It also contains a lot of charm in its old buildings, pride in its history and culture and the variety in street performers. It feels like a young city with the hustle and bustle of many college students going to the universities or gigs. But for all you could see through rose tinted glasses (which I seemed to wear there for the first few days) like every other city there is a seedy undertone. One evening when we were in an Internet cafe a prostitute kept hassling Arjan, she wouldn’t leave us alone, even following us to a cafe later, eventually she got bored but as she was so freaky it can unsettle you. There are many beggars and junkies on the streets, a lot of shops, restaurants and pubs close completely very early on a Sunday evening so it can be a depressing city to walk through were every second step is followed with hassle on dark streets. But still I don’t dislike the city, the gold museum was as fantastic, as the Botero gallery was funny. By the end of the week we spent there I felt like I could get around the place without a map easily, but then it is very easy, the road names are in a grid system, similar to American streets of avenue and street numbers.
From Bogotá we got the bus to Manizalles. The center is forgettable, on our first night we stayed in it, we found it hard to get accommodation as with the bank holiday weekend nearly everything was full, the only hotels not were the love hotels, the ones you can also rent by the hour, the hotel neuva york was a bit dirty but at 25,000 soles a night it was somewhere to sleep before moving on to a hostel in the suburbs the next night. In Mountain house they are very helpful and it feels like you’re in a home rather then a hostel, similar to a bnb but without imposing on people. If you’re going to Manizalles its worth staying there, 20 mins walk from the centre and close to the surrounding mountains for good walks.
After two cities we felt like it was time to go to the countryside for a while so we headed to Salento in the coffee region, close to Valle de Colca. Our original choice of hostel , Plantation house was full so we stayed in a hospedje managed by the Lisa, the daughter of the Palm hostel owner, for 30,000 soles we basically had our own mini apartment, it was great and after seeing how busy the other place had been we were glad that we had been moved. As we had tried to stay at plantation house they made us honoree guests which meant we could avail of their facilities, book exchange, broad band internet and the coffee farm discount. The owner Tim had struck up a deal with two local coffee farms that if he sent people from the hostel they would get a discount, instead of paying 10,000 soles they would pay 4,000. The farmers agreed to the price for a tour as there is a lot of competition in the area and this meant they would have nearly guaranteed regular additional income. The deal was with a large coffee farm run by Don Raul and a smaller family runs one by Don Luis. There is a nice walk down to the farms through country paths, the farms themselves are in a town called Palestine, the border between there and Salento was a burned out house. The walk back was harder, well after an hour and a half of downhill we could only go back up and decided since it was a nice day not to take the bus. We had been told about a shortcut, which was shorter in distance but included a lot of climbing and sweat. We looked wrecked at the end Anyway we had chosen to visit the smaller coffee farm, and it was really good, the owners son did the tour and he was a really good guide, as he had no English and we had little Spanish, he spoke slowly, repeating when necessary and even tested our understanding at the end, that was a bit cheeky but he was really proud when we did understand the process (so were we!!!). At the end of the tour they roasted the coffee beans in front of us and then served us cups of coffee. I normally don’t like coffee but wow here it was fantastic. While in town we also decided that we had to see the regions highlight - Valle de Colca. You can get a jeep to the edge of the park for about $1.50, from here there is a five hour circuit walk through the mountain paths, a private house that opens its gates so people can see humming birds,
cloud forests and the famous wax palm tree forest. The palm trees can grow to 50 meters high (that’s 25 Arjans), the trees are so tall and skinny that I kept expecting to see one break.
The walk was really nice, even the muddy uphill crawling. The last climb is about 50 mins uphill at a steep incline, from here we emerged from the cloud forest into a fog filled field and out walked a white horse, maybe from the tiredness or the strange scenery we both expected to see Gandolph from Lord of the Rings to be walking behind him. It was like being in a fairytale. When we got back to the base we found out we had missed the last jeep back to town by 15 minutes, so we had to walk the 10km back. The walk was long and involved a number of hills but we weren’t too worried, okay well a little. It was starting to get dark quickly, our torch batteries had died, it was starting to rain and we had no coats. We had also been told to be careful as there had been guerrilla sightings recently and people didn’t like to pick up people on the road just in case. Millions of fireflies lit the road for us until the rain got too heavy, after we had walked about 6km and gotten soaked in the storm we heard a beeping horn. A local woman in a jeep felt sorry for us and told us to get in and she would drop us back to town, she wouldn’t take no for answer and told us not to worry about soaking her seats, she said she couldn’t just leave us there. Normally I would be cautious about getting in strange cars but we were just so grateful for the lift and the shelter back to the town.
From Salento we decide to travel up to Medillin, our chosen hotel was really good value, 25,000 soles for a very clean double room ensuite, cable TV (with all kinds of stations), fan, phone, and room service. We were in the middle of the city centre but the reason our hotel was so cheap, it doubled up as a love hotel and was on one of the worst streets in the centre. The shops sold produce through steal bars; our road was home to many drug dealers, junkies, sex shops and prostitutes. In general there was not much to see in the city, it wasn’t very pretty, etc. Botoro plaza was nice to walk around and look at the statues but that was about it. The surroundings of the town were much better. While we were there though there was a music weekend festival going on so there was many street performances, which was really nice.
Drum role......... we then went to Cartegna, which is by the Caribbean, the old city is really nice, beautiful buildings with nice balconies and though its very touristy there isn’t too much hassle from sellers etc.
We decided that we just had to spend some time at the beach so we spent three nights on Playa Blanca. It’s a boat journey into the Caribbean Sea away from the city. The beach was really nice, the water was clear and when all the tourists left the place was practically deserted, it was pure heaven. On a busy day there was about 15 people on the beach in the evening, by the day there was more when the tours arrived but that was for 3 hours only.
Even then the beach was big enough not to be crowded. The first two nights we stayed in Wittenburg, its run by Gilbert from France. You can pitch a tent for 5,000, sleep in a hammock with mosquito net for 8,500 or have a room ensuite for 20,000 per person. It was so nice to be able to wake up and run to the sea and swim for a few hours before breakfast. The sun was very strong though and my factor 50 wasn’t strong enough, ah well.
On the third night we had to move to another place further down the beach because Witterburg was being knocked down. The Colombian owner had sold the land to the Sheraton hotel chain that had bought up the whole beach. They were going to destroy the desert island effect to make it an exclusive place for the rich...so if you see a Sheraton hotel spit on it for me!! As we were getting ready to leave Gilbert told us they had been told they could still use part of the land for the camping and hostel for about another two months and then after that it was all over. It’s terrible!!! The local people have all lost / are losing their jobs in the restaurants, hammocks accommodation, etc and they have been told that they don’t have any chance of getting jobs with the hotel because they were bringing in specialized people. The local people live in a village one hour through the forest that backs the beach. It’s such a shame to have seen something so basic and perfect and know that in a few months it will have changed beyond recognition. If you are in the area, visit it soon, so many of the other islands now have high rise buildings and are all so expensive that you can already see that they are going to change all the beaches eventually.
Back in Cartegna we visited a local fishing village and a mud volcano. The mud volcano was great, you could sit in it and have a mud bath, and it’s supposed to have healing properties and did ease the pain of my sunburned pealing skin. On the trip we met a Dutch guy Willem who was very funny who had been traveling for a year and a half. So that night we went on a pub-crawl and dancing with him. We had a great time but it was time we started moving again.
So now we’re in Santa Marta, we’re here to arrange a tour to the lost city. You can’t get to it without doing a tour. It takes about 6 days of hiking there and back and is supposed to be an amazing experience so I’ll let you know about that next time. While in town we took a day trip to Taganga which is a local fishing village, I was so disappointed by it, I’d heard how nice it is but after Playa Blanca I found the beach terrible (more gravel then sand), the water is not as clear and well the only thing to do there is drink.........