Saturday, November 01, 2014
Friday, October 31, 2014
Up at 6, went upstairs to the kitchen and made myself some breakfast, then headed to the front door to wait for my pickup. They came around 7 and I hopped into the back of the truck.
I was the first one they picked up, they have to pick up four more, so off we went to another part of town. They were waiting in front of a supermarket, they hopped into the truck as well. They were all from Canada as well. Two guys, two girls, they were all traveling together, 3 nurses and a doctor. We have 3 guides, one of them speaks English.
We left town for the 1.5-2 hour drive to the put in point on the river. Part of the drive was on a very bumpy dirt track. After arriving, we got all the equipment out of the truck and got our safety gear on, life vest and helmet. We also got some safety instructions and instructions on the rafting language, the commands they use. We have two small rafts and an inflatable kayak.
The river consists of three sections. The first section is smaller rapids and falls, which will take maybe 2 hours. The second section is the awesome one. Consisting of class III-IV rapids and some big falls. There will also be some rapids we cannot do, where we'll have to get out and portage the boats over them. The last section is a relatively flat part to the takeout point. We'll have lunch along the river, before the second section starts.
I opted to go for the kayak to start out with, which was quite a bit of fun. The rapids were pretty good, but I did tip over my kayak during one longer, pretty crazy section, with lots of rocks and fast flowing rapids. I hit a rock sideways and lost my balance and before I knew it, I was out. I followed the safety instructions as best I could, lay on your back, point your feet downriver, hold them up so you can use them to push yourself off of any rocks and hold on to the straps of your life vest. I was trying to hold my feet up, but they kept hitting rocks, causing them to go under the water temporarily before you could get them back up. I floated down the rapids, the kayak paddle in hand, my shins constantly hitting rocks. When I finally arrived at the bottom of the rapids, one of the bigger rafts was there to grab a hold of me and get the kayak as it floated down behind me. My shins took the brunt of it, but only one very small cut.
I decided after that to switch to the bigger raft. Haha.
The first section was a lot of fun, and we pulled to the side of the river for lunch, lots and lots of sandwiches, fruit, cookies, etc. There was also a big rock here we could jump off of.
After eating, Edgar, our main guide explained the next section and some of the stuff we'll be seeing, including dropoffs, a small canyon and lots of big water.
Well, it was pretty adrenaline inducing! In my raft, I had one of the Canadian guys, who was pretty top heavy, muscles. We were both sitting in the front of the raft, the guide at the back. The Canadian guy was pretty wobbly, he'd bounce all over the boat, and he head butted me on more than one occasion. Good thing we had helmets.
One of the first big ones was a huge drop of probably 8 feet, the water funneling through two big rocks. We went through this thing, at the bottom, the front of the raft went under the water and both me and the other guy were in the water. I tried to surface, and when I did, I was underneath the boat, I couldn't get to the surface. Just for a fraction of a second, I wanted to freak out, but then kept my cool, told myself I still had air in my lungs, I can hold it a bit longer, just stay calm. Stay calm I did, and managed to get out from under the raft and popped my head out of the water. The raft was within reach of me, so I grabbed the rope and felt that one of my Crocs was no longer on my foot. I threw my paddle into the raft (I never let go of it for some reason), then I looked around for my Croc and saw it swirling in an eddy at the waterfall, so swam over (with rope in hand, pulling the raft with me) and grabbed my Croc and tossed it into the raft. I let the guide take the raft away from the waterfall to more placid waters, then he hauled me back into the raft. That was a rush! I've been rafting numerous times, but have never been thrown from the raft before.
The next section was not raftable, we had to come ashore and portage the boats. I can see why we didn't do it, insane!
Before we got back into our raft, we asked the guide about moving big nurse dude to the middle of the boat. The reason we went over the first time was the front of the boat was to heavy, we figured. We did this, and it worked much better after that. We didn't have anymore spills from our boat after that.
The other raft had the other guy and the two girls. One of the girls had never rafted before, and after portaging one of the falls, she looked ahead at what was coming up and refused to get back into the raft right there. So the other guy and girl ran those rapids, while scaredycat girl walked to the next flat section, where she got back into the boat.
Another of the rapids was another huge drop. You have to come at the drop at just the right angle (i.e. straight!), then when the guide yells "DOWN", you need to fall into the bottom of the boat, as there's a tight wall you really don't want any part of your body to be smashing into. That one was a blast as well.
The girls in the other raft went for swims numerous times during the second section. I don't think the girl who had ever rafted before was to thrilled.
Anyway, the last section was relatively boring compared to the other two sections. We got to the takeout point and loaded all the gear up and headed back to town. Got back to my hostel about 3:45.
I had reserved two tickets to a show at a theater for dad and myself for tomorrow evening, but with dad not here anymore, I had a free ticket. I left a note on the poster in the hostel indicating I had a free ticket and to email me if anyone is interested.
I relaxed for a while, then went out for supper and walked around to see if anything was happening for Halloween. It was still early, so went back to the hostel for a while. Around 9 I headed back out and walked around to see what I could see. There were some people dressed up out partying. I stopped at a small bar that had a band inside playing rock music and had a couple of beers and sat outside and watched the people coming and going and the costumes going around.
Headed back around 11 and to bed.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Dad and I were up about 4am, as dad has to get to the airport for his 8am flight.
I saw him off, then went back to bed and slept until after 8 sometime.
I still had only $8 in my pocket. I had planned on living off of dad for a bit before getting more money, but he's gone now. So, first priority this morning was to get money. The map the hostel dude gave me showed two ATMs, so I walked to one of them and it failed with my card as well. They all keep telling me that the service is not activated for my card when I try to withdrawal and to contact my bank.
So, I started walking to the other end of the old city. As I got closer, the buildings turned from lovely restored colonial to run down, dilapidated, local shops, and homeless people and cripples living on the streets and normal citizens going about their daily lives. Shops selling everything locals need. A police officer stopped me and asked if I spoke Spanish, I said no, English. He switched to English and asked me where I was from and what I was looking for. I told him Canada and I was looking for a bank machine. He told me that this area is not a tourist area, the people here are different and to be careful. I had my camera with me, he told me to keep a hand on my camera as I walked through the area, then let me on my way. I thanked him and continued on.
I felt relatively safe. This time of day, it was full of local (poorer) Panamanian residents walking about, going to work, shopping, etc. There were department stores, meat sellers, clothes stores, an appliance store, convenience stores all over the place. It's definitely not a place I'd go in the evening, though.
I ran into Conrad, the tour/beggar guy from yesterday and he asked me what I was doing in these parts. I told him I was just looking, and he said to just be careful with my camera. I should be fine, but keep it in front of me just in case. I thanked him and continued walking, then I heard him yelling at me. He came trotting over and asked if I had any change for a coffee. I told him I didn't have any change and he left me alone.
After a couple of blocks, I found another bank machine and it failed with my bank card as well. I brought my MasterCard this time, and tried it and successfully withdrew $200 on it. Weird that my bank card will not work.
I walked back to the tourist area and went back to Super Gourmet for breakfast and had bacon and eggs. It wasn't as awesome as I was expecting.
There are a group of people in the central square that look like they're protesting something. They are occupying part of the square and they have red and black flags and big signs. Today after breakfast, they had a bullhorn and there was lots of commotion in the square, loud talk and chanting and they were burning something. Just the type of situation the travel books and governments advise travelers to steer clear of. So I went in to take more pictures.
I believe it's a rally in support on indigenous land rights. The sign I took a picture of translates to "lands belong to the people".
I walked to the ocean front outer edge of the old city where they had a promenade along the sea wall with all kinds of sellers selling local handicrafts and such. Panama Hats ( http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panama_hat) are a huge thing here, although, despite the name, they are an Ecuadorian hat. Along the promenade a graduating class were there getting they group pictures taken as well.
Also in this area is the cultural center, hotels, restaurants, cafes, etc.
There are small parks and squares all over the old city and they are all Wi-Fi enabled. Cool.
I walked back to the hostel and relaxed. Met a guy from Vancouver Island who got dengue fever in Nicaragua. He was also telling me about the North Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, much better than the West Coast Trail, and not nearly as busy.
I was quite tired because of the lack of sleep from last night, so laid down for a bit in my room. I then asked the hotel guy for the nearest supermarket, as I need to buy some breakfast stuff for tomorrow morning. The white water rafting company is picking me up at 7, so I need to eat some breakfast before that. He directed me to a large department store a number of blocks away. About this time there was a huge clap of thunder and the heavens opened up. I waited out most of the rain before walking to the supermarket. As I was walking, I came across a supermarket he didn't mention, so ducked in there and got myself some milk, cereal, bread and margarine. That should do for tomorrow morning.
Back to the hostel to drop off my groceries, then laid down a bit more.
A bit later in the afternoon, I walked around some more shops, browsing the goods for sale. I walked into this one artesenal market and the ladies working all the little shops swarmed me, all of them trying to get me into their shop. If I walk in to browse, they start offering me everything under the sun to purchase, things I have no interest in. I just wanted to get out, I hate that. Let me look in peace, if I want something, I'll ask. Needless to say, I won't be going back there.
I decided to head to La Rana Dorada, the brewery, for a pint of there quite delicious blanche beer. I sat outside under the huge umbrellas with my beer, and it started pouring again. I guess I'll have to stay here for another beer until the rain stops.
After it subsided, I headed back to the hostel and relaxed some more before going out to supper.
Found a place with a bunch of outdoor tables and it was very busy, so sat myself down and had a super delicious chicken carbonara.
I headed back to the hostel and chatted with Tracy for a bit, read and then to need around 10:00.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Dad had the air conditioning on all night last night, full blast. I was so cold. Didn't sleep all that well because of it. I even got up and raised the temperature. But it had no effect.
We tried to have breakfast, but it was a bit of a disaster. The kitchen was so small and there's 12+ people all trying to get stuff, they only have a few coffee mugs, one toaster, not enough food for everyone. Disaster. I did manage to get some unbuttered toast and a banana and cereal with room temperature milk.
Around 10am, we checked out and got a taxi to Magnolia Inn, in the old city. It's a very pleasant hostel and hotel and super nice. All the rest of the San Blas boat backpackers were staying here. We ran into 3 of them when we got here, they were all just checking out, moving on to other destinations.
Our room wasn't ready yet, so the hotel guy (a foreigner) gave us a map of the old city and pointed out the best breakfast place around, so we headed there and had a yogurt and granola parfait. The restaurant is also owned by foreigners, and they have a western menu. Tomorrow is bacon and eggs, methinks!
While we were having breakfast, a local tour guide, Conrad, started chatting us up. He says he's 78 years old and was obviously trolling trying to get a paid tour out of us. I simply got his phone number, then we left, and he followed us, once we got outside, he started asking if we had any change to spare. He was a beggar. It was very weird.
We went back to the hostel and the guy that was vacating the room we were supposed to get still hasn't moved his stuff, so the owner put us in a different room.
We used the internet and dad had a nap, then we started walking around to see the sights. I booked dad and I to go to the theater on Saturday night for a play called "The Woman in Black". The hostel owner said he saw it just last weekend and it was amazing. It's the only theater group in Panama that does English plays.
I also booked a white water rafting trip for myself on Friday, class III and IV rapids! Should be awesome! Dad is not going, I think dad has reached his limits on this trip.
The old city is very nice. I think I like it better that Cartagena. It's quite a bit smaller, and they are doing a lot of restoration work. It's not nearly as busy either, with either locals or tourists. Any tourists you see are backpackers, and there's no hawkers trying to sell you stuff. Very pleasant. Lots of classy little cafes, restaurants, bars and hostels and hotels, and lots of old, dilapidated building to, that are being worked on restoring.
We had a light lunch at the same restaurant we had breakfast. Dad had tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich and I had a clubhouse.
After lunch, I tried a couple of bank machines, but both failed on my card. I have about $8 left in my pocket!
Back to the hostel and relaxed.
Me and dad went for supper to an Italian place, then back to the hostel.
Without going into to many personal details, today we got an important email about a family issue back in Canada and he felt he needed to get back home ASAP. He tried to find some contact info on the Delta website (he booked through Delta) so he could change his flight, but was getting nowhere. He decided he was just going to go to the airport first thing in the morning and try to get on the Delta airlines flight. I found the local Delta airlines phone number for Panama City and convinced dad to talk to the staff at the hostel to use their phone for the call.
Long story short, they were able to get dad on the flights he needs tomorrow, so he leaves at 8am tomorrow morning. It did cost him over $600 to change his flight, though!
We didn't get to bed until after midnight.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Monday, October 27, 2014
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Friday, October 24, 2014
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Monday, October 20, 2014
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Friday, October 17, 2014
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Monday, October 13, 2014
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Saturday, October 11, 2014
Friday, October 10, 2014
Thursday, October 09, 2014
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
We walked around the neighbourhood and found a small place for breakfast, then back to the hostel and decided to book a flight to Santa Marta instead of a bus, as a bus would be a night bus and be around 15 hours.
At 10:00, the taxi picked us up and it was about a 40 minute ride up the hills to the paragliding place. Talk about steep roads. A road inn New Zealad claims to have the steepest road in the world, but some of the roads in Medellin would give the New Zealand road a run for its money on that title.
We paid 80,000 pesos each and then had to make a hike up the hill to the takeoff point. There was a younger guy there training. He introduced himself to us and spoke good english. We met our pilots and got the suit on, and I was the first to go. It was awesome, flying over the hills and valleys near Medellin. I had done this before in Nepal, so I knew what to expect, but this was Ryan's and my dads first time. Once I landed, I was able to record Ryan and dad coming in and landing as well. The landing location was a field in the suburbs and there were a whole bunch of kids around watching us come in, some of them even helped us land and pack everything up.
Dad loved it, he had a permagrin on his face. This was the one thing he wanted to do most in Columbia, so it's great that eveything fell into place.
The taxi driver was late getting to the landing spot, so we had to wait for a while for him to come.
The taxi driver took us back to the hostel, then we grabbed our stuff and he took us to the airport. The flight from Medellin to Bogota was ridiculously short. They didn't even get a chance to finish off the drink service, so Ryan was left complaining about lack of coffee again.
We had about 3 hours in Bogota airport and the only food option was Dunkins Donuts or a block of cheese. I chose Dunkins Donuts. They also kept changing gates and info, and making the announcements in Spanish. We had no clue was was going on! We just followed everybody else.
The flight was late and we arrived in Santa Marta sometime after 11:00pm. We got a taxi to the hostel, he was driving like a crazy man. We got the hostel and found out that I screwed up on the reservation and only made it for one person and they didn't have room for the three of us.
We went to a hostel next door and got a private room for the three of us and got settled. We then headed to the main waterfront road where apparently there was a restaurant still open. Sure enough there was, so dad and Ryan had some food, then back to the hostel and to bed near 1:00am.
Tuesday, October 07, 2014
We headed back to the hostel and talked to the girl working the desk (who speaks broke English) about paragliding. We think we got a story that we might be able to go paragliding tomorrow depending on the weather. We went back to the room and Ryan decided on a plan for today, namely Parque Explora, a science centre and aquarium near the university.
We headed to the metro system, which seems super awesome in the Medellin, and headed to the Universidad station. Really nice area here, little cafes and such, so we had a bite to eat and then went into the Parque Explora and spent a couple of hours there. Nothing super awesome, but it was fun. We heard from a worker about the botanical gardens across the street, which is free, so we headed there for a while. We then headed back to the main restaurat/party/bar area called Poblado, along Calle 10 around Parque Lleras and had supper and some beers. Let me tell you, this is a very nice area, so many shops, tons of great (read expensive) restaurants and bars, very nice.. I wasn't surprised by it, but Ryan remarked that something like this this was totally unexpected from him to find in Columbia.
After some beers, we got a taxi back to the hostel and if the weather is good tomorrow morning, we'll go paragliding.
Monday, October 06, 2014
The cable car doesn't start operating until noon, so we took the funicular back down and headed off to the Museo del Oro. On the way there dad managed to get a SIM card for his phone/wifi hotspot, so he's internet enabled now. We got to the museum only to find out that it's closed on Mondays. Oh well!
I must say, Bogota is not quite what I expected. It's the third largest city in the western hemisphere (according to what Ryan read on the internets) which surprised me. It's doesn't have the feeling of a typical capital city, though, there are really no touts and hawkers about trying to forever sell you stuff, which is nice.
We stopped at a market and I bought a wineskin to use a water bottle and Ryan bought some things for his kids.
We went to a restaurant and had a Columbain traditional dish of yesterdays leftovers, although this guy claimed they didn't reheat the leftovers from yesterday, instead they reheated the food they made earlier in the morning.
We headed back to the hostel and got a taxi to the bus terminal and got our tickets to Medellin, about 60,000 pesos each. We had about an hour wait for the bus. It was a super nice bus, it even had wi-fi and charging stations on the bus! The bus left at 2:45.
We stopped for supper around 8:00ish. Remember Ryan getting scared by a big beetle in the sink in the washrooms at the restaurant.
The drive was pretty spectacular, especially heading into Medellin. It's more tropical (being lower elevation), and it was storming really hard, so there was all kinds of massive waterfalls along the side of the highway. I was really disappointed that it was late at night and I couldn't see much, as it looked like it would have been pretty spectacular.
We got the hostel about 1:00am. I went to bed first, I had just a sheet on my bed, which was fine, it was quite warm. Ryan was next to climb into bed and he didn't even have a sheet. He had to use his sleeping bag. Dad was last (as he had to fix his spreadsheets), and he had only a comforter, not a sheet. Haha.
Sunday, October 05, 2014
We had breakfast at the hostel. It was ok, not great, but it is included in the price of the room.
We started walking arounnd, dad is looking for a Claro place so he can get a SIM card for his phone/hotspot. No luck, and mostly everything is closed, as it's Sunday.
We decided to do a Bogota bike tour, so headed to where the office is, and timed it perfect. They were just getting ready to start the tour, so we joined them. A big group, probably 20-25 people.
We got a lot of history about Bogota and saw lots of different places, including park,s the bullfighting arena, the red light district, fruit markets, the central cemetery and learned about Columbia's national sport, tejo.
On Sunday's, the city closes down many of the downtown roads to vehicles and makes them bike and pedestrian friendly, which was perfect for our bike tour.
Near the start, a mass crowd was walking down the street, chanting and holding up banners. It was a huge protest against bull-fighting (and animal cruelty in general), people dressed in animal costumes, and one woman was even almost completely naked. She had only panties on. Weird. I'd put it at 5,000-10,000 people. After watching for a bit, we bypassed it and continued on the tour.
It's always interesting to hear about the history of the city on tours like this, including the very violent 1980's ad 90's, the sordid history with rebels and assassinations.
We learned about the wild, feral hippopotamus population thriving in Columbia. I guess the drug lord, Pablo Escobar, in the 80's had wild hippo's brought over from Africa. During his downfall, they escaped and took up residence in a river and now they have the second highest hippo population in the world. They don't know what to do about them, the animal rights groups get upset when they hear about killing them, but they are not native and are destroying everything.
We stopped at a bar where they did Columbia's national sport, tejo, which involves throwing heavy iron balls into a clay pit with explosive packets buried. You get points to making one of these gunpowder packets goes off. It was pretty fun!
The bicycle tour lasted over 4 hours, and we got back to the hostel around 3:00, stopping for a piece of pizza on the way.
We used the internet and lounged for a bit and argued about where to go for supper. We then headed to the trendy university area, around plazeto del Chorro de Quevedo for supper at a restaurant called Rosalita's.
It was an absolutely beautiful day, sunnny and hot. We all got sunburns.