Friday, October 31, 2014

Mamoni River Rafting

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

Traveling Solo

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 ( 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

Panama Old City

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

Panama City Sightseeing

I got up a bit late this morning, after 8. We went to get breakfast (free breakfast here), but there was next to nothing to choose from. All the bread was gone, they had cereal and warm boxed milk that was just sitting in the cupboard. Pretty pa pathetic. We decided we'd just get breakfast somewhere on our way to the sightseeing bus.

We also needed to book the room for another night, but trying to find anyone that works here is a challenge. Anybody who works here just looks like another backpacker and the hostel doesn't really have a front desk, so you have no idea who to talk to.

After sitting around waiting for dad for 10 minutes, I saw a guy walking from a private area by the side of the hostel way to the back, behind the little guest house at the back of the property. He was carrying a tire tube. He looked like a backpacker, but he was going to areas where guests wouldn't normally go, so I walked over to him and asked him if he worked here. He said he did, in some strange accent. He didn't speak much English to me, but he seemed to understand everything I said to him. I told him we'd like to pay for another night, and he said OK. He then disappeared into the back with his tire tube for 5 minutes and I didn't quite know what to do. Then he finally came back out (tire tube still in hand), checked the paper notebook at the desk (no computerized booking system here!) and said something I didn't understand. But I got the impression that the room we had was booked for tonight. He then walked off to another similar room and asked them something, then came back and took me to another small 4 bed dorm room, and said we could stay there, giving me the impression that we would be the only two in that room.

We got the key, moved our bags and then walked to the mall where the bus starts and bought a day pass. Fortunately the bus was there when we arrived so didn't have to wait. We hopped on. Our plan was to get off at the canal stop, then the old city stop.

We arrived at the canal and got off, bought our ticket for the canal museum and viewing area. The museum discussing the history was quite interesting and well done. The viewing platform at the top provided great views of the canal and the ships moving through it (very slowly moving through it).

We spent about an hour there, then back down to the bus stop, perfect timing, the bus just arrived, so we got on.

The bus went to a few other places, including a high end marina on an island connected to the mainland via a causeway.

Finally we arrived at the old city. We got off, it was about 1, and I was hungry. The first thing we saw was a small brewery that brewed their own beer. We went in for lunch and a half litre of good, draught beer. I had an awesome sausage on a bun.

We discussed moving hostels, as both of us are not really happy with the place we're in. We had originally planned to do a walking tour of the old city, but the we decided to look for the Magnolia Inn, a place very highly recommended on TripAdvisor.

We found it down a very quiet street and booked it for the rest of it nights here in Panama. It's more expensive, $88/night, but it's a super nice place, in a restored colonial building.

We went back to the bus stop and waited for the bus to take us back to the mall where it started. We had planned on taking the other bus that does a different tour of the city, which the ticket is good for, so we waited for the bus, about 30 minutes and got on, only to find out that they just finished the last tour of the day for that bus. It was about 4pm now.

Back to the hostel.

We hung around the hostel for a while, then around 6:30 went to a place called Wing Zone, for chicken wings. Dad had chicken fingers, I had wings, which were quite delicious.

We went back to the hostel, I grabbed my good camera and headed back down to the waterfront to see more of it and take pictures with my good camera. And I saw something I fully didn't expect to see in Panama. One area along the waterfront has a lot of stray cats living along the waterfront wall. A head popped up behind the wall, and I saw it and thought to myself, "That didn't look like a cat. It looked like a...naw, it couldn't have been." It popped it's head up again. Sure enough, a racoon! There's a racoon living right along all of the stray cats along the waterfront.

The waterfront is really nice, extends a long way, and is sooo busy with locals jogging, working out; there were some basketball courts along there as well, busy with people playing basketball or volleyball or soccer in them.

I headed back to the hostel around 9:30, then read and to bed a bit later.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sailing to Panama - Day 5 - Panama City

The captain told us yesterday that a fast boat would be here around 7:30am to take us to the 4x4, which will then take us to Panama City.

We all had breakfast and waited for the boat to arrive. It came shortly before 8:00am. We packed all of our stuff into the boat and then had about a 45 minute boat ride to the coast, up a river delta to a spot where a bunch of 4x4 trucks were waiting. This is the main entry/exit point for people going to/from the San Blas Islands, so there were lots of backpackers all over the place, coming and going.

The trip to Panama City cost us about $50US, that included the fast boat and the 4x4 truck.
It was about a 2 hour truck ride to Panama City. Coming into Panama City we crossed a huge tidal flat, similar to what I've seen in Nova Scotia in the past. Panama City is a very modern city, lots and lots of very tall skyscrapers dot the skyline.

I had reserved a twin room at Hostel Siriri, a large home which was formerly the embassy of Thailand here in Panama City. When we arrived, they didn't have any rooms with two beds, so dad and I get to sleep in a double bed again. Fun times.

The hostel is located walking distance to downtown and all kinds of modern amenities you'd find in any western city.

After getting settled, checking our emails and such, we headed to Hard Rock Cafe, which is near the hostel. We walked there, and it was a Hard Rock Hotel, not the restaurant (and, oddly enough, they didn't have a Hard Rock Cafe in the hotel, it´s located in another part of the city). Instead, we chose a small pub in a modern, massive mall, called Red Lion for a beer and burgers. The prices were quite reasonable, $12US for the burgers (which were very good), $3.75 for the beers.

After that, we walked through the mall and decided to get a piece of cake from a cafe in the mall. The lady working at the cafe was awesome, I would say 'Uno' and point to the carrot cake, and she would tell me the name of it in Spanish, then I'd point to the chocolate cake and she would tell me that name in Spanish as well.

Dad got all in a snit on the way to the restaurant because he was convinced that he lost his camera, because it was not where he always put it (in his pocket). In the end, he decided he remembered putting it somewhere else, which changed his mood to positive again.

We came back to the hostel and did journal stuff. We're both really tired, but it was way to early to go to bed. About 8 we went for a walk down to the waterfront, which is just a short 15 minute walk from the hostel. They have a long promenade all along the waterfront, and it was super busy with joggers and cyclists. I said to dad, apart from him, I was probably the least in-shape person on the walk way. Haha. Anyway, Panama City is very modern and you can see they have money here.

We headed back, stopped at a McDonalds on the way back so dad could get a McFlurry fix. Then back to the hostel around 10ish and to bed.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sailing to Panama - Day 4

Up about 7:30, had breakfast.

We started sailing (with engines) around 9, I think. We sailed to the immigration office, on a small, sandy island and anchored offshore, went for a swim and had lunch.

After lunch we went to immigration island and our captain went in with our passports and our fake flight itineraries showing we are all flying out in October 28. Apparently, the Panamanian rules state if you arrive via boat, you need to show a flight ticket leaving within 72 hours or you have to pay a $100 fee.

Best immigration point ever! While our captain was in doing immigration, we played beach volleyball on the beach for an hour. It took a long time for it to be completed, and we were expecting to have to go into the office ourselves so the immigration person could compare passports photos to the actual person.

At long last, our captain came out of immigration and told everybody to get into the boat, it's all done.

We got back to the boat and headed back to some islands we sailed past on the way there. Some of these islands are nothing more than a spit of sand with a handful on palm trees on them.

It was later in the day, about 5. A few of them swam to the island where there were a handful of locals, a small hut and a few backpackers staying in tents. This island was small about 75% sand and 25% grass and about a dozen palm trees.

Supper was awesome, two types of amazing chorizo and potatoes and salad. The meals have been very awesome, even if it consisted of food types that I'm not that fond of. They were of all high quality, though.

After supper, a drinking game started up, the one where you make different rules depending on what card you pull. For example, if you pull a 2 you might have to take a drink, maybe a 8 means you have do something stupid.

One of the rules was A and B, the person who drew that card gets his or her eyes covered, the next person chooses who is A and B (without saying names), then the person who's eyes are covered has to say what A and B have to do.

Stef drew that card, she got her eyes covered, the next person picked her and another guy as A and B. Stef then made the rule that A had to run around the boat naked while B took pictures. She was all excited for her awesome rule until she found out she was A and she would have to be the one to run around naked. She did do it, and a German guy was the lucky guy that got to try and take some pictures as she ran around the boat as fast as she could. It was pretty hilarious.

I went to bed late, but before everyone else (except dad), I went to bed probably 1:00am.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sailing to Panama - Day 3

Dad got up in the morning, then I got up to go pee, and dad told me to check out the island, there's still people on it. Haha, sure enough, a bunch of them took the dingy back to the boat during the night and left a group of 5 guys on the island, stranded. LOL.

We went back to bed after doing our morning business. When I got up again, as breakfast was being prepared, the 5 guys were on the boat, they ended up swimming back to the boat. I guess the first group left the island around 2am, and told the other guys they'd be back to get them and they never went back, so they were relegated to sleeping on the island. They said it was OK, but it got cold about 4am, they had to keep lighting the fire to stay warm.

Breakfast was bacon and eggs. The bacon was delicious, I just wish I didn't have to share with everybody.

About 8:30 we took off.

We sailed for a few hours to another lovely spot. Hot and sunny again.

We snorkeled again, very nice hard coral and fish here, and I saw a huge reef shark, probably 7-8 feet, which was pretty awesome.

Lunch was delicious, beef tacos and burritos.

The afternoon was spent reading, swimming, napping or playing games (chess or card games).

The captain purchased $100 worth of lobster from local fisherman. The locals on the island we're next to will cook it all up for us and we'll eat on the island.

The coast guard keeps showing up to this little island as well, our captain says they are going there to get beer.

After it got dark, we all hopped into dingy and went ashore and had a lobster feast. It was OK, but lobster certainly isn't my favorite.

After the lobsterfest, we headed back to the boat. Most of the backpackers went to bed early, hungover from last night.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sailing to Panama - Day 2

Up around 7. I slept very well, dad didn't but that's probably because he literally slept all day yesterday.

When we got up, we were along the Panamanian coast, the first land we've seen in a while.

Dad got up, but he's still not that great.

We caught two mackerel, a king mackerel and a Spanish mackerel, on fishing line dragged behind the boat.

We sailed until mid morning, then anchored between two islands. Were staying here until tomorrow, so we all got the snorkeling gear and snorkeled to one of the uninhabited islands.

Dad did the snorkeling as well, but said afterwards it probably didn't do him any good.

Locals of the Kuna people come in their small dugouts and sell you stuff, from fresh lobster and crab, to beer, coke and rum. Our captain bought a very large crab and a very large lobster, presumably to cook tonight.

After lunch not to much happened. People snorkeled or took the dingy to the other island we are near (this island has a family living on it, in a little hut). Dad slept again.

Later in the afternoon dad came up and said he's finally feeling human again. He looks much better too. He hadn't been eating much either, but he started snacking this afternoon. Good to have him back again.

People played chess and cribbage into the afternoon, others went to the other island, generally just lounging.

Supper was a bit later tonight, around 8, it was lobster and crab, mine and dad's favorite! After supper everyone on the boat went to the further island to have a bonfire, except myself and dad (and the captain and first mate). Ten years ago I would have done it, but I'll let all the kiddies have that fun now. :-)

I went to bed sometime after 11 I think.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sailing to Panama - Day 1

Up early to go pee, no one else was up yet, so went back to bed. The room has good airflow, but it's really stuffy and warm. I slept OK.

After going pee, I ended up falling sleep again and woke about after 8:30 sometime. Everybody else was up and eating breakfast, including dad.

Dad's not looking that hot. Yesterday he was complaining about fat ankles, you can hardly see them, as his ankles are all swollen. He didn't give any indication that they were bothering him, though.

This morning he said he didn't sleep very good and when he woke up, all his joints were really painful. Ankles, knees, fingers, etc. He was having troubles keeping his eyes open at breakfast, so he went back to bed.

Breakfast consisted of cereal, bread, fruit, oatmeal and coffee/tea. You eated whatever you wanted.

There was not that much to do. People read or laid in the sun or kept out of the sun or listened to music. As the sun got higher and hotter, pretty much everyone came into the shady area of the boat and a card game of President started.

Dad slept and slept all morning.

The boat has a cat named Luna. She's very friendly and is great at lounging in the hot shade.

Lunch consisted of pasta salad, it was quite delicious. Dad woke up and I brought some down to him. He said the joint pain was subsiding, but he was still looking not great. He went back to sleep afterwards.

A bit after lunch, the captain stopped the boat and we all went for a swim in the deep, blue water. The water was so clear, you could look down and see your feet as clear as anything.

We didn't see a single other boat or any land the whole day.

We saw a dolphin, it's fin breaking the water periodically.

Dad got up again for supper, which was various sandwiches that you made yourself. He went back to bed again after that.

I stayed up for a while, watching the phosphorescence, stars and the lightning in the distance, but was dead tired from the previous night, so went to need fairly early.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Leaving Cartagena

Up early, as usual.

This hostel has a long open area with all the rooms on either side of it. At night, backpackers are all in the common area, making lots of noise, and all the noise comes right into the rooms. It didn't bother me or dad, though. We just slept through it.

We had breakfast, then walked over to the Blue Sailing office to give them our passports. Back to the hostel, repacked all our bags, keeping only stuff required on the boat in our small packs, as our large backpacks will be stored in the boat and not easily accessible.

We checked out, stored our stuff on the storage area at the hostel then walked over to the historic section to do some final shopping.

I felt I needed a cap on the boat to keep the sun off my head, but didn't want to buy one in the touristy area. On the way back, we walked through the locals shopping area. I stopped in a store with ball caps, asked "Cuánto cuesta?", and she told me " Cinco mil.". At first, I was thinking that's 50,000 pesos, to much (about $25), then as I was leaving, realized that that's 5,000 pesos. That's $2.50. Heck ya! I bought one.

Back to the hostel, then for cheap lunch, a "tipico comida", a typical Colombian lunch, consisting on soup, a choice of meat, salad, rice, fried plantain and a juice for 7,000 pesos, $3.50.

It was super hot the last few days, blue skies, sun beating down. At 2:00pm today, it was 32 degrees, but felt like 42 with humidity.

We hung around the hostel in the afternoon.

Around 6:30 a bunch of us from the hostel went for Indian food for supper.

We headed to the marina at 7:45, via taxi, dropped our stuff off and walked to the supermarket close to the marina for refreshments for the boat trip. I bought 12 beer, dad bought some Smirnoff Ice. Some of the other backpackers bought cases upon cases of beer. It was kind of funny.

Once everything was packed away, we had our last safety meeting, then we were on our way, probably around 10:30pm.

Cartagena looks nice from the water, lots and lots of towers all along the waterfront. It was a beautiful night, hardly any clouds and we could see the stars come out more and more as we got farther from the lights of Cartagena.

Dad and I have a private cabin with a very large double bed. There are 13 backpackers altogether and two crew members, the captain and his girlfriend.

He tried to put the sails up once we hit open water, but there was not much wind, so it was engine power the whole time.

Dad went to bed first, I think I went to bed maybe 12:30am.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Getting Ready for our Sailing Trip

Up early. It's hard to sleep in.

We packed our stuff up to prepare to move to the Mamallena Hostel, where we booked our boat from. They are they main booking place for boat trips to Panama, so figured it was easier to be there and there would be lots of other travelers there.

Said goodbye to Ashley, she is heading to a winery near Bogota to volunteer for a month.

We headed to the other hostel around 11:00 and got checked in. We talked to the hostel about getting an itinerary showing we'll be leaving Panama within 72 hours, she suggested we edit our travel documents and they can print them off for us.

Editing text in PDFs is a lot more complicated than it should be. The very latest Microsoft Office and the very latest Adobe Acrobat can do it, but dad only had older versionsof these pieces of software. I tried Google Apps and some free online services and those were all fails as well. I finally downloaded the latest LibreOffice onto dad's laptop and it worked wondrously for editing PDFs, keeping fonts and formatting. We literally spent over 3 hours trying to figure this one out. The internet isn't super speedy here, and downloading LibreOffice took about 4 hours on top of that.

I sent them to the front desk for printing, but never received them.

We headed across the street to a Mexican restaurant for lunch in the mid afternoon.

At 6 we went to the meeting place to meet the boat captain. The restaurant was closed, so we all went to the square a couple of blocks away.

The captain is young and very tiny frame, not quite what I expected. He's Columbian.

We found out that we leave in the evening, not the morning, so we have another day in Cartagena.
After our meeting, dad and I went to a small restaurant for supper. I then headed over to the old city walled area, and happen to come across a swing band performing on the streets. They were awesome, I bought a CD from them.

Back to the hostel and read and to bed.

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 ( 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.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Cuidad Perdida Trek - Day 1

We woke up around 7 and got prepared for our trek. Packed everything we'll need for the 5 days in our small packs, with the plan to leave our big packs at the hostel. Yesterday dad struggled and fidgeted trying to figure out what to bring.

We went down to pay for the room and find that the pickup got changed from 8:15 to 9:30 instead, so we have an extra hour to get ready and have breakfast. So went upstairs and got breakfast and paid for the room then waited for our pickup, which ended up being over 30 minutes late to.

Finally got picked up and walked to the tour company office and paid. There's also an Israeli couple on our trek.

It was about a 3 hour drive to the start of the trek, part of the drive on a small, very bumpy dirt road. Our guide is a local guide from one of the local tribes in the mountains. They are of very short stature. They struggle to reach 5 feet in height. They are almost like mini humans, very dark skin and black hair. The men wear their hair very long, down their back.

Our guides name is Santiago.

We had lunch before starting the hike.

We started the hike in nice weather and it was easy going at first. We came to a pool where we could jump in off a big rock, it was a lot of fun. Crossing one of the rivers dad slipped and soaked one of his feet and shoe.

After about an hour, the hike started to go up. Steep, steep switchbacks. It just kept going and going. The Israeli couple and Ryan and myself were fine, but dad had a hard time with it. He was like a tortoise, slow and steady, but he had to take quite a few breaks. Either Ryan or myself would hang back with him, and often our guide would stay back as well. He didn't really cause the group to get to the destination late or anything, but he's a trooper and I knew he could do it. Ryan has never seen dad like this before, so was kind of concerned for dad, but I hiked volcanoes with dad last year, so knew what to expect.

About half way up it started to rain and all our clothes got soaked.

We made it to the sleep point around 4 I guess. We got into dry clothes and got some juice (tasted like Tang) and then Ryan set out to try and figure out the difference between the 4 day and the 5 day trek. We are on the 5 day, the Israeli couple are on the four day trek. The guide nor the family running the sleep barn speak English and no one in our group speaks Spanish, so it was pretty funny. Ryan thought he got it all figured out with the guide, then wrote it down on a piece of paper, drawing a map, and then called our guide over to confirm. Once again it got all screwed. Then the owner of the sleeping facility came over and the Israeli couple got involved. Ends up that Michal did take Spanish in school for a bit so can do a decent job at translating. Between everyone, we found out the difference between the 4 and 5 day trek. We decided to not do the 5 day trek, but do the 4 day trek instead. The difference is it takes a longer time to hike back down.

We had a wonderful meal of potatoes, rice, chicken and salad made by the family where we're staying.

It gets dark by about 6:30, and there wasn't much to do. And we're going to have a wake-up call at 5am. We stayed up until about 8 them went to bed.

Thursday, October 09, 2014


We woke up around 7:30, had breakfast and then decided to walk around the city for the morning. Ryan and I decided we'd try to see if we could go diving in the afternoon.

We first booked the Lost City (Cuidad Perdida) trek for tomorrow.

We walked to the beach and down the waterfront. Not very busy in the morning at all, hardly any shops open, not to many people around. Some Colombian tourists saw Ryan and wanted to get their picture taken with him. On the walk back, the dive shop was open, so we stopped and arranged to do a dive at 2:00 this afternoon.

We then walked more downtown along the main business street, tons and tons of people, all the little shops bustling, tons and tons of vendors on the streets selling stuff. Awesome! We stopped at a supermarket and bought some plastic bags for the trek.

We went for an average lunch at a small place down by the waterfront, then back to the room.

Ryan and I headed to the dive shop for our 2:00 dive time, got all fitted out with dive gear and then hopped in the little boat for the trip to the rocky point by the edge of the bay.

We started with a wreck, them swam around and saw a fair bit of coral and quite a few fish. The lionfish is an invasive fish here, so the government encourages divers to kill them. Our guide brought a speargun for that purpose. He managed to kill about 4 or 5 of them, including a huge one.

Ryan had trouble equalizing and with his buoancy, so he was constantly going up and down.

We finished the dive and when we came to the surface, Ryan has blood all over his face. He had burst a blood vessel in his nose because of the equalizing problem and it also have him a massive headache.

Back to the dive shop, we cleaned up all the gear, paid our bill and then headed back to the room to have a shower to get all the salt off. We picked up dad and went back to the dive shop to get our pictures, then headed to a restaurant recommended by our guide (Andreas), called Welcome.

Talk about a dive of a restaurant. Run down. The tablecloths were filthy. Lots of flies. But Charlie was hilarious in his broken English. So much fun. I asked if I could get something not on the menu and he took a deep breath and groaned and finally said "Why not!!" The food was absolutely amazing at this place and just goes to show that some of the best food can come from some of the most unassuming restaurants. Both Ryan and dad raved about their food as well.

Back to the room around 8:00 and then just hung out then to bed.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Paragliding in Medellin!

I slept amazing last night. We woke up and packed most of our stuff, then went to reception to check on the paragliding. It's a go. The taxi will pick us up at 10:00 to take us.

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

Around Medellin

Up around 7:30. We asked the hostel staff about where to get breakfast, and they pointed us to where the malls are on a map, a short distance away. Ryan took control and took us in the complete opposite direction. I took over and got us to the proper spot. Very exclusive area near us, very nice, trendy, large malls and shops, outdoor cafes and such. Unfortunately there was not much open for breakfast, so after a long walk, breakfast was McDonalds.

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

Mount Monserrate and off to Medellin

Up early, about 7:30 and had breakfast at the hostel at 8:00. Yesterday we decided to do Mount Monserrate and the Gold Museum (Museo del Oro) in the morning, then take a bus to Medellin. We walked to the base of Monseratte and got our tickets for the ride up, via a funicular (cable pulled train car type of deal). The views were pretty great, but amazingly spectacular. At the top of the mountain, theres a restaurant and a church.

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

Biking Tour of Bogota

We got up about 8:00, slept amazing!!

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.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

On our way to Columbia

I met Ryan at his house about 2am. Ryan and Olga didn't understand why I was there so early, but you're supposed to arrive at the support airport 3 hours early.
We took a Car2Go to the airport and there was hardly anybody there. Another older couple came over and said he even called the airline and they told him 3 hours. Nothing was open except the self check-in terminals. I swiped my passport and it told me it needed more information, so provided the flight number and it said it couldn't find my reservation. Holy crap. I tried again, this time giving it my destination city, same result. I'm shitting bricks. It printed off a slip and told me to see an agent (which were not open yet). I sat down dejected. Ryan suggested I try another terminal, so did. This time I provided my confirmation code. Thank the gods, it found my reservation and I got my boarding pass printed.
When Ryan went through the process, the system automatically provided him an upgraded great seat near the front of the plane. He thought he was going to have to pay extra for this seat, so he overrode the default and selected a different seat at the back of the plane. His bad when I finally got through, it auto selected the same seat he was originally given, and I accepted it, no extra charge, and got extra leg room out of the deal. Ryan ended up during beside a 600 pound woman who's fat was overflowing into his seat.
We had a long superior stopover (6+ hours) in Dallas. We arrived in Bogota about 11pm, breezed through immigration and dad was waiting for us at the luggage pickup area. Ryan wasn't really surprised, as apparently Chloe let the cat out of the bag about dad meeting us down here. (Olga, don't get mad at Chloe!)
We got a taxi to the hostel (Casa Platypus), a nice hostel, if fairly expensive. Remember me trying to pay the taxi driver 200,000 pesos on a taxi charge of 18,200. The taxi driver was honest and gave me back 150,000, but kept the large to of over 30,000 pesos.
We had a beer at the hostel in our room and then to bed around 1:00am.

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