Monday, October 20, 2014

Segways, a Castle and the Theater

We had booked a tour of the old city done on Segways for 10:00 this morning. We got up, did our morning routine, then walked over to their office. I've always wanted to ride a Segway, but didn't know if, when and where, so I was excited to do it. Dad was as well.

We put on helmets and he gave us a quick lesson on using them. Simply lean forward to go forward, lean back to show down, stop and go backward. Push the handle bars to the left or right to turn. It was slightly weird at first, bit after a few minutes it was really easy to get the hang of it.

We drove around the old city and talked about the various history of the city. We stopped at the theater (live theater), which was originally a church, and remarked that there was a presentation tonight at 6, and that it was free to get in, so he recommended that we go see the inside on the theater.

Prices in the old city are incredibly high. In the traditional upper class neighborhood, houses sell for between 1.5 million - 2 million US dollars. In the middle class area, between 800,000 and 1 million US dollars.

I was really enjoying the Segway. It was a blast.

The tour lasted about 1.5 hours.

We arranged to meet Ashley at noon to head to the castle, so headed back to the hostel. Our Segway tour guide also suggested a great restaurant, so the three of us headed to the restaurant for lunch before walking to the castle, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.

We hired an English tour guide for the castle. Her ended up being not great at English, and stuttered a lot as he tried to think of the English words, but it was all good.

The castle (more of a fort, really) is built upon a hill, so even though it looks high and mightily, much of its height is because of the hill. It was built to defend against attacks from pirates, the English and the French. It took 150 years to build. It has a while bunch of neat defences built in, like sloped walls to allow cannon balls to glance of, a vast tunnel system, with hidden rooms, and wooden bridges between sections that can be cut down, preventing attackers from being able to access parts of the castle. Quite impressive.

We got back around 4, then around 5:30 walked over to the theater. The show started with a couple of speakers, then a 40 minute weird movie done by some artist. It revolved around some guy who was sleeping work two women, who were cousins. One had epilepsy, and she died, so the guy ended up killing the other woman too. Then he was shot and killed as well for some reason. Keep in mind, everything was in Spanish, so Ashley was trying to quietly translate, I imagine lots was lost in translation.

Then a woman played some songs on a piano. Then another woman sang a couple of songs, including "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", then a panel of people sat on stage and discussed the movie they showed. We left at that point.

We went to an outdoor restaurant in a square for supper, then walked around, had a beer in another square and back to the hostel after 10:00.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas (almost)

Had a great sleep last night in the dorm, there was only three of us.

We got breakfast and decided to go see the castle that's supposed to be pretty awesome. We saw Ashley in the morning and she expressed interest in seeing it as well but she had some friends to meet. I told her we'd probably be heading there around 2.

We didn't really do anything all morning. I'm reading George Orwell's 1984, and it's pretty astounding. Mom had some hot water issues, so dad was trying to help her out, and we didn't get away until after 2:30 sometime. Ashley didn't show up, so were headed out and walked to the castle.

We hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, so stopped at a restaurant in front of the ticket office. By the time we finished eating it was after 3:30 and the castle/fort is huge, and I read you needed at least 2 hours. Plus, there were really dark stormclouds approaching, so we decided we'd come back another day a bit earlier instead. It looks super awesome, though.

We walked back to the old city area, went to the bank machine again, then browsed a few shops. It's Sunday, so not much is open today. Then back to the hostel.

I decided to check my money again and found a wad of 50,000 peso bills that I had hidden. Now I have way to much money! First world problems.

We meet Ashley in the evening and the three of us went out for pizza, then to a small bar for mojitos. This small bar has a guy out front, yelling at people that walk by, in a very American accent, "best mojitos in town, folks, if you don't agree, it's free". He's been trying to get us in there since we arrived, so we decided to stop in this evening. He remarked to us that he's been trying to get us in there for 3 days now, and her finally got us in. Haha. He was born in the Dominican, but grew up in Miami.

Anyway, after trying two mojitos, I can say they aren't really for my palette. They're OK, but I wouldn't probably get one again.

We headed back to the hostel after that.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Walking Around Cartagena

We got up around 7. I slept awesome.

We went for the free breakfast (toast, cereal, jam, coffee and juice), then went to pay for the same room for tonight, but it was already reserved. They told me all they had was 6-bed dorms available for the night.
I talked to dad and instead trying to find another place, we'd just take the dorm.

We then walked to Hostal Mamallema, which is the main hostel that books most of the sailboat trips to Panama. We gave them copies of our passports and asked a few questions. We'll need at least one million pesos to pay for the boat. We also booked a room for the night of the 21st, as we'll need to be in that area for the captains meeting the evening before the boat leaves.

We went to an ATM and withdrew 700,000 pesos each, then wandered around the old city for a bit, then back to our hostel at 11:00am to make our room change to the dorm. At the same time, I reserved the twin room for the following two nights, and had to pay for it.

We then went to work figuring out how many pesos we had and how much more we'd need. Both of us are confused because we had just withdrawn 700,000 pesos, but we didn't have nearly that much on us. Dad was convinced the ATM shortchanged us and was swearing about it, but I knew there must be another explanation. Fortunately I kept my ATM slip this time (something I rarely do), and sure enough it only dispensed 400,000 to us. Mystery solved! This banks ATM only allow a maximum withdrawal, and it varies between banks. This one didn't give any indication that it was not giving us the full 700,000.

I showered (it's so humid you sweat like crazy) then hung around the hostel for a bit. Around 2, we headed out in search of food. I turned down the idea of the fried chicken place again, and suggested pizza. Off we went in search of a pizza place. It seems that most shops and restaurants here don't open until mid afternoon, so they'd never that much going on in the morning.

We found a pizza place and each has a carne pizza (all meat), which was quite delicious.

We wondered around some more, had some ice cream, took out more money, then back to the hostel. We're both close to having the money we need for the boat trip. We'll need to make one more stop tomorrow at a bank machine, then we should be good. We did find a bank that does not charge any fees, which is awesome. Citibank, on the other hand, charged us over $5 US!

We lounged around for a couple of hours.

Around 8 on the evening, we went for another walk to experience the nightlife of Cartagena. We stopped at a plaza where a group of musicians and dancers were performing some Caribbean music and dance.
They came around with a hat looking for tips afterwards, I was glad to give them a bit, as it was awesome.
As we were leaving the square, we ran into Ashley, an American girl we had met at breakfast. She's in year two of traveling, and traveling alone, so we invited her to join us on our meanderings.

We headed back to the waterfront with the ships so I could take some pictures (I didn't have my good camera last night). The were a couple of weddings in a couple of the churches that we ran into. We stopped at an outdoor restaurant and had (expensive) mojitos. The same dance troupe we saw earlier made their way here and performed again.

Then we headed to a restaurant called Creped and Waffles, as Ashley hadn't eaten anything yet. I guess it's a chain, and they hire only woman who are heads of their households (i.e. mostly single mothers) and give them a good paying job and it's quite a success story.

It was getting late after that, so we headed back to the hostel, I think around 10:30 or 11:00pm.

The hostel was busy with partying backpackers and the bar was going. Our room was close to the bar, so it was noisy, but didn't bother me to much and feel asleep.

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.