Friday, October 17, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Ryan and Off to Cartagena

Today was Ryan's last day in Columbia. Over the past two weeks, we've seen and done a lot! I'm pretty sure he enjoyed himself and he remarked that Columbia was way better than his expectations. Yay! I'm glad.

Yesterday I booked a shuttle for dad and me to Cartagena for noon. Ryan had previously booked a flight from Santa Marta to Bogota for the same day. We paid our bill at the beach hostel (770,000 pesos!) and I tried to reconfirm our shuttle, but it was a woman running the front desk and her English was not as good, so instead of confirming our noon shuttle, she made a new reservation for us for 11:00am.

I sent some emails inquiring about sailboats to Panama and had a few exchanges and ended up making reservations on a catamaran called Nacar. It's the next boat leaving, on October 22, they had room for only two more people in a private double cabin. $600 per person for a 5 day trip, includes all your food.

About 10:40, we headed to the front of the hostel to wait for the shuttle while Ryan had the desk get him a taxi.

The taxi showed up in no time, and Ryan was off to the airport. Our shuttle showed up about 11:30.

The shuttle was uneventful. We stopped in Baranquilla for a 20 minute stop (about 2 hours from Santa Marta), then another 2 hours to Cartagena. The shuttle stopped at the shuttle office, then the driver, in his very broken English, asked where we were going, I showed him the name and address of the hostel from the email, and he seemed to know where it was. Dad was all concerned, asking me if he knew the address, if he was taking us there, did I have a picture of the hostel to show him. Dad needed to chill, the driver would get us there! I asked dad to turn on his Wi-Fi, so I could get a better map of the place. Once on, I started getting IMs from Ryan, he was at the Santa Marta airport and really struggling. There were no screens showing the flights, all the announcements were in Spanish, the plane (he thinks) was late, and he had no idea what was going on. And nobody at the airport spoke any English. He sounded so confused. I guess he eventually found a doctor that spoke English and the doctor helped him it.

Dad and I got checked into our hostel and went out for supper. It was raining cats and dogs and thundering like crazy, the streets were starting to flood. Dad had a hankering for something a bit familiar, so we choose a fried chicken place, essentially a Colombian version of KFC.

It stopped raining while we ate, so we headed back to the hostel to see if we could find our way through the maze of very tiny streets. We made it with the help of Google maps.

I tried IMing Ryan when we got back, but no reply, so he must have got on the plane eventually.

We headed back out to explore the old city in the evening. It is soooo bustling with people. Dad wanted ice cream, so we stopped at an ice cream place. As the evening wore on, everything just seemed to get busier.

The old city is huge. Every few blocks is a square or small park. Many of the squares have outside restaurants and patios in and around them. We'd look down a road and it won't look like there's anything at the end, but you'll walk it anyway and around the corner is another bustling square filled with activity.

We wandered near the part of the wall where a huge outdoor seating area was, and loud music. There was a large outdoor restaurant/bar area with all kinds of folks sitting around watching some dance (looked like flamenco dancing) with other guys playing music on drums. Of course you also have the street vendors and hawkers wandering around trying to sell you their wares. Over the edge of the old wall you could see the tall masts of a sailing ship, so we walked up the wall and saw the Cartagena waterfront cityscape. Across the road was a tall sailing ship in the harbor, another older looking sailing ship was also tied up and was obviously a bar, tons of people on it having a blast, and a lineup on the wharf to get on. Tall skyscrapers all along the waterfront made it look like a very modern, cosmopolitan city.

In short, my mind was blown, this was quite amazing. I wish Ryan could have seen it.

We ended up walking around for maybe 3 hours and still didn't see everything in the old city, but decided to head back around 9:30, everything still very bustling all over. Lots of tourists, both backpacker t types and higher end types staying in one of the many expensive and fancy hotels here. And so much shopping!

Dad went to bed and I stayed up and read, then went to bed around 11.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tayrona National Park

We were up early, like 6am. It's uncomfortable sleeping in a small bed to Ryan. It's like a twin bed, so not much room for the both of us.

Yesterday we booked a trip to Tayrona National Park for Ryan and me. This morning dad decided he'd go as well, if possible. We packed stuff for the day and headed to the front of the hostel to wait for our 6:30 pickup. When they arrived, we asked if our was possible for dad to come, they said no problem.
We piled into the back seat of the car. We have a driver and a guide. Both speak just bits of English.
It was about a 30 minute ride to the spot where we hiked to the park. We started hiking and it didn't take long to realize this was going to be a strenuous hike. We saw some titi monkeys. They started dropping nuts and other stuff on us as we passed underneath. Up and down and up and down and pretty soon we were all drenched in sweat. Ryan had told dad it was a short walk on the jungle. Not! We hike for maybe 2.5 hours in the scorching heat. It was clear and sunny today. Dad wasn't really complaining, but I don't think any of us was expecting another hike like this.

We finally made it to an old indigenous village, Chairama or El Pueblito in Spanish. It was inhabited by the indigenous people up until about 1600, when the Spanish arrived. It was not unlike the Lost City, bit on a much smaller scale and not at the top of a mountain.

After that was even more crazy hiking, down an old river valley with absolutely massive boulders that we had to climb over and under. This went on for a long time, probably another two hours. Very hard hiking! Just before noon we finally arrived at Cabo San Juan, an absolutely beautiful beach and backpacker hangout. You can hike in to here and sleep in tents or hammocks. There's also a restaurant. Stunning!

After a swim and lunch at the restaurant, we hiked out via another (much easier) trail, that kind of went along the coast. This was another perhaps 2 hour hike, ending at a parking lot in the park. We hopped on a minibus for the trip outside the gate, then onto a local bus to Santa Marta, then a taxi back to out hostel. We arrived back at the hostel around 5pm.

We didn't do too much in the evening. Ryan beat me at a game of chess (it was a good game!), we had supper, then just read and used the internet and such.

I stayed up until about 11:00pm, when I went to bed, Dad and Ryan were already in bed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Boring and Hot

After going to bed so early, Ryan and dad were up at 6.

Ryan kept hogging the bed, but kept telling me to stop taking over the bed. I had body parts hanging over the edge, so I was not hogging the bed.

I got up sometime after 7.

Today was pretty much a nothing day. The sun was out in full force today, something we're not used to, it's been pretty overcast for much of the trip so far.

Ryan and I grabbed the kayak and took it out past the headland, and there was a small secluded beach with some cool rock cliff formations. We hung out on the beach for a bit, then Ryan broke his paddle trying to push us off the beach. He was wondering how much the hostel would charge him for that! I had to paddle most of the way back.

When we got back, Ryan got on the internet and ordered a new paddle on eBay and had it shipped to the hostel. Haha. When he told them he broke it, they weren't too concerned and told him not to worry about it, but he ordered a new one anyway.

Both Ryan and myself got a bit of a burn with the sun out today. It's soooo hot today.

We had lunch then went for a long walk down the beach to see what we could see. There's a ton of new condo developments going up all along the beach. Dad was curious to know the prices, so went into the sales office of a huge development. Ryan asked how he was going to communicate. As expected, the woman working the sales office didn't speak any English, but she was sure excited at the thought of selling a unit to him. Dad ended up giving her his email address.

We walked back to the hostel and tried to stay out of the sun. Talked with Eva, one of the British girls for a bit in the restaurant.

Arranged a day trip to Tayrona National Park for tomorrow. Only Ryan and myself, dad seems to just want to relax for another day.

Had supper around 6:30.

The hostel was very busy tonight, a whole bunch more people came throughout the day.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

At the beach

Didn't feel to good this morning. To much to drink last night. After we got moving, we went next door to the party hostel for a western style breakfast. Well, Ryan and dad did. My stomach will not let me eat yet, which sucks because I was really looking forward to a yummy breakfast.

After breakfast we went back to the room and packed, checked out and got a taxi to Playa del Ritmo Beach Hostel (http://playadelritmo.com) about a 20 minute taxi ride south of Santa Marta. It's supposed to be the most prime beach offering in the area. The hostel is pretty good. The rooms are a bit run down, but the restaurant/bar is very nice and right on the beach. It's got brand new condo towers going up all around this area. The beach is very nice and his for miles and miles.

When I booked the room, it said it had three beds. When we got there, it has one double bed and they put in a spare bed. That means that me and Ryan will be sharing a bed. Blah.

After checking in, we relaxed. Ryan and I went for a swim in the ocean. The only other people on the beach where we are were three British girls suntanning. Ryan turned to me and said that this was awesome, we pretty much have the whole beach to ourselves. There's a few locals walking up and down the beach selling something, but they don't bother you at all.

Ryan ordered some ice cream and ended up getting a brownie sundae, which looked awesome. Dad walked over to the restaurant and saw it and had to get one for himself too.

After the trek, most of our clothes reek of sweat, so dad and I did a load of laundry in the provided washing machine. Dad complained about having to do his own laundry, he wanted somebody else to do it for him. (Mom, you need to make him do laundry once on a while at home!)

We generally just hung around for the day. I got a burrito de pollo, which was freaking awesome. I walked the beach, dad fiddled on his laptop, Ryan went swimming again, you know, just boring stuff.

Around 6 we headed to the restaurant for supper. I had sea bass and it was delicious. At 8, they turned on the tv and tuned to a soccer game, Canada vs. Colombia. Nice!

Ryan and dad went to bed early, before 9, but I stayed up to watch the game and cheer on Canada. Canada lost 1-0.

I went to bed after 10:00 sometime.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cuidad Perdida Trek - Day 4

In the middle of the night the dogs started barking like crazy and woke us up. Ryan jumped out of his hammock with his headlamp on to see if he could figure out what they were barking at. My suspicion is they keep dogs to keep jaguars and pumas from going after livestock. I'll bet a jaguar or puma was roaming close by. I'd love to see one in the wild.
We had a bit of a sleepin this morning, I think. Probably up around 6. We had breakfast, which wasn't very good this morning, and started on the hike. It was actually sunny this morning, which I was dreading. It's hot enough with the overcast skies, now we're going to have to hike in the sun. We started hiking before dad started on his mule. After a while, as we were climbing up and up and up, I turned around and dad was gaining on us on his mule. Ryan saw him and said to me he wants to stay ahead of dad, and started running up the trail. It was pretty funny. Dad eventually caught Michael and Michal and then myself. Michal seemed to be struggling today on the uphill, they were lagging behind. Dad's mule actually kept a comfortable pace for me, so I stayed with the mule for most of the hike.
We eventually found Ryan waiting at the side of the trail much later. He ended up catching another group and didn't want to pass them.
Super tough hiking again, but it didn't seem as bad as going up.
We reached Adan, which was as far as we booked dad's mule to, so after a short break there, off we go again.
It ended up that Adan wasn't quite as close to the start as we thought. Once we got going again, dad really started struggling again. There was still a lot of up and tons of down, down, down. Ryan ended up taking dad's pack again and I took his big camera, which is quite heavy, but it was really tough for dad. I walked with him most of the way. Along a flat section, he remarked that he felt like he has no brain, just a walking zombie.
We made it back to the start point around 2 in the afternoon, I'm guessing. They weren't expecting me, Ryan and dad until tomorrow, so they had to whip up some different food for us. Dad was so happy it was over. He did remark to me at one point over the trek that he was a bit disappointed in himself that he couldn't do the while thing.
After eating, we got in the truck for the rough ride back to the highway, then into a mini van for the ride back to Santa Marta. Remember the guy on the side of the road trying to sell a piece of plumbing hose. We saw him on the way out to the hike, on the way back he was sitting in the exact same spot along the highway, waving the exact same piece of tubing.
The van dropped us off at our hostel and we said our good lucks to Michael and Michal. Laura, the chick working the reception at the hostel wasn't expecting us for another day, but fortunately our room was available.
After cleaning up, Ryan asked Laura where to get hamburgers, as he and dad were really hankering for a burger and fries. Laura suggested the hostel next door, so we headed over. The hostel where we ate is run by some white guys, so we were expecting western type of meals. We weren't disappointed, the burgers were amazing. Ryan and myself had some beers, dad was dehydrated from the trek and was downing water and Gatorade. At 7 the bartender girl (from Norway) rang a bell and announced it was happy hour, 2 for 1 rum and vodka drinks. Of course we all started drinking rum and cokes.
I have no idea what time we headed back to our hostel, maybe 10, pretty drunk and to bed. After going to bed I had to get up and hurl in the toilet.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cuidad Perdida Trek - Day 3

I slept decent, but felt something crawling on me in the middle of the night. I finally grabbed at it, squeezed it as hard as I could, then put it down and shone my light on it. A damn tick. I left it there and tried to sleep again. My mattress was shaped like a V, sagged in the middle big time. No snoring tonight, though.
We got woken up early, 4:30 or 5. We packed our stuff and stored it, then went for breakfast. Once again, dad barely touched his food.
After breakfast we headed to the Lost City. It was a short hike to another river crossing, this time the only option was waking through the river holding onto a rope stretched across the river so you don't get swept away by the strong current. Then the steps started. There are something like 1300 stairs you must walk up to reach the Lost City. We weren't sure how dad would do. It was quite a walk up, but we all managed to make it, dad did good.
The Lost City was quite something, much bigger than expected. You only see one typical picture of it, and it looks kinda small, but there's much more to it, and apparently only 10% had been excavated so far. It's not as grand as something like Machu Picchu, but still exceeded my expectation.
After an hour or so we headed back down all those steps and back to El Paraiso for lunch. Dad barely touched his food once again. Dad is not himself.
We started the trek back down to Wiwa, concerned for dad. Ryan and I shared carrying dads stuff so he didn't have to worry about it. He would only need to carry himself.
It's so humid, clothing gets drenched in sweat.
Dad did OK today. I had my doubts whether he could do it, but he managed to make it to Wiwa in reasonable time. The guide and tour company are taking good care of him as well, helping him cross rivers and such. Once in Wiwa, they asked us if we wanted a mule for dad tomorrow. We discussed it and we will get a mule for dad to take him part way back, over the most difficult terrain.
Supper was rice and potatoes and a beef stew, very delicious. I just started eating mine and looked over at dad's plate and it was nearly empty! His appetite is back and he was ravenous.
Thunder rolled all day long and it started raining pretty hard for much of the hike.
After supper Santiago asked us (well Michal, as she's the most fluent in Spanish) if we wanted to know anything. It ends up that Wiwa tours is a family business run by him and his brothers. Santiago is 30 years old and married. Apparently in their culture, when a boy turns 14, he gets to be with an older woman to prepare him for marriage.
We hung out with Michael and Michal for the evening. I grabbed my headlamp and went for a walk down the trail near the river. It was pitch black and kind of creepy being all alone in the jungle. I felt very vulnerable as well. Anything could have jumped out at me. I turned off my headlamp, total darkness. Momentary flashes from fireflies in the jungle was the only light. The rushing river, the croaking frogs/toads and the insects provided the soundtrack for me. Pretty amazing.
I headed back up and Ryan was just coming out, so we coaxed Michael to come along and we went back down and did it again, stood with our headlamps off. I imagined how freaky and frightening it would be if I turned my headlamp on and Ryan and Michael were no longer standing near me.
Dad went to bed early and was snoring like crazy again. It's hammocks again for sleeping. When we headed to bed, we all chose hammocks as far away from dad as possible. His snores were just more background noise now.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Cuidad Perdida Trek - Day 2

Sleeping in a hammock sucks. I can't sleep on my back, and the snoring! Dad was the worst, at one point Ryan got up from his hammock and poked dad. Dad stopped snoring, then Ryan feel asleep and started snoring himself! Then dad stated again, and Michael was going at it too. It was like snoring in surround sound for me. I did manage to sleep sometime after 1:30.

We got woken up at 5 by Santiago and had breakfast, then started a three hour hike to a place called Wiwa, stopping for watermelon along the way. Well this is a HARD hike. Up and down the sides of mountains. Dad was really, really struggling going up and down. It was steep switchbacks and went on for an hour. Dad would have to stop every few meters and rest. He was starting to go a bit loopy. I offered to carry his pack, he refused at first, then accepted my offer, but it was to late, dad was done, and we still had a 5 hour hike after lunch. We finally made it to Wiwa for lunch and dad simply couldn't go any further. We discussed our options, and decided to get him a mule to take him and his pack to the next village where we'd be sleeping, El Paraiso, which is also the last stop before the Lost City, in Spanish Cuidad Perdida. Unfortunately, dad would have to hike another hour or so, to a bridge, as the mule could not cross the bridge.

Lunch was fish, super delicious, with other stuff that I don't remember, but probably some rice and potatoes and salad. Dad hardly ate anything. After lunch off we started. As I took dad's pack for the first bit, Ryan took it for the next bit.

Our guide has no concept of time, he'll say something is 15 minutes away, but we'll end up walking for 45 minutes.

The rain forest here is absolutely amazing. So lush and green, and it helps that we're here in the rainy season.

We made it to the bridge and the guide indicated to dad that the mule is on the other side of the bridge waiting for him, so off he went with the guides helper, while the rest of us went for a swim in the river.
 
The next time we saw dad was at a little snack place, dad was sooo happy with his mule. He was loving it. After we arrived and saw dad, he was off again while we finished resting and snacking.

The trail is insane, well maintained, but so steep and such huge steps up and down, rocky in parts, muddy in other parts, sometimes slippery clay. Me and Ryan couldn't comprehend how that mule could walk up and down these trails with nothing on its back, let alone a 200 pound man on its back. This is not like any trek I have ever done before. It's apparently rated as the hardest trek in South America.

There are numerous river crossing and of course more insane steep up and down as we went along. Climbing over huge boulders, trudging through mud. It started to rain really hard as well. We wondered how dad and his mule were getting along.

Dad's big camera stopped working as well. We think it got to wet from humidity in the plastic bag. You need to keep your stuff in bags to protect it from the rain.

We eventually came to the last river crossing before El Paraiso. You could either take a little platform suspended on a cable over the river (usually used for cargo), pulling yourself across with a rope. The alternative is to get your feet wet and walk through the river. Michal didn't want to get her feet wet, so Michael had to carry her. He picked her up like a sack of potatoes and started across, slipped and they both went in the water along with their camera. It wouldn't work after that. I chose the cable car as it looked like fun.

After the crossing, the trek got even more insane! Climbing up almost vertical rock walls. Scaling along thin paths along mountain ledges. Over and under massive fallen trees, it was nothing like anything we could imagine. Ryan has a massive grin on his face and kept saying how amazing this was. We wondered if the mule took dad up here, or whether dad to do it himself. Poor dad.

After about an hour of the most amazingly difficult trekking we finally arrived at El Paraiso. Dad was there in one piece. The mule only took him to the river, took him across the river and that's as far as the mule could go, so dad had to navigate the final super difficult stretch by himself. The guide helper helped dad navigate these cliffs and vertical ascents. Dad said that he fell off the mule at one point, the saddle strap wasn't tight. Apparently the mule ride was quite something as well, the mule going up and down these massive trails, navigating it.

El Paraiso is a full on backpacker place, you have the choice of hammocks or very crappy beds in a big dorm type scenario, all open to the air. They all have mosquito nets. After the crappy hammock sleep last night, we choose beds. Getting here is something that only backpackers would do anyway. The only pampering one might get here is a mule ride.

I should also say that there's no electricity anywhere either. We're out in the remote jungle here.
We had supper of pasta (spaghetti) with hot dogs. Very delicious. Once again, dad hardly ate anything. He had absolutely no appetite.

On the way up and down, all the tour groups stay at different places, so we were alone last night, but all tour groups end up at El Paraiso, so it was fairly busy. It's the low season, so there were three tour groups, I think, maybe 15-20 people all.

There's also a Colombian here that rode his mountain bike up. I remember him passing us on the trail. Crazy guy!

Dad went to bed really early. All the other tour groups went to bed early, we tried to stay up until 8, but failed.