An adventurous trip to South America
The first three weeks of October I spent my annual vacation in Colombia. Quite contrary to the trip to Prague, this one was more filled with actual travel, hiking and less food-related shenanigans. My friend Jan and myself caught a plane from Amsterdam to Bogota to start what turns out to be quite an adventure.
It was nice to get my head away from food for a while. Thought we had some tasty bites along the way, the food in Colombia was mostly humble and/or deep-fried.
With most food having a golden fried color I didn’t really felt the urge to take a lot of photos. The colorful ceviches were an exception. And while grilled guinea pigs are a staple food in Colombia we weren’t fortunate enough to actually encounter them…
So what did I do three weeks in Colombia?
Bogota – A grimy capital
To be honest, Bogota wasn’t my favorite city to be around. It was also the place I felt most unsafe in Colombia. 1 hour after arriving in the country we dropped our backpacks at the hostel and went for some food. We ended in a crowded pizza place where I felt a hand on my bum looking for my wallet. Yeah, welcome to Colombia…
The next day we took the free graffiti tour. I love graffiti and we saw a lot of cool stuff. The guide was from the city and told us a lot about the local artists as well as the public and political issues in the city. I really enjoyed the tour and recommend you take it if you have the chance.
Afterwards we took the tram up to Monseratte – a lookout area on top of mountain. At 3150 meters above sea level we ran out air so ridiculously quick that we had to stop several times just to catch our breath. We had some sugary coca tea up there which helped a bit in dealing with the altitude. The view was great as you can see the whole city – which is enormous!
Santa Marta – off to the Caribbean coast
We took a flight to the north coast to Santa Marta. Originally we wanted to do the Ciudad Perdida lost city hike but hurricane Mathew messed up the trail and we had to make other plans…
Tayrona national park – Feels like 3 countries in 3 hours
The national park is quite close to Santa Marta so we decided to spend the night sleeping there in a hammock. The hike into the park was really cool. The park has small little micro climate zones and it feels like you are visiting several countries at once. Deep green jungle with monkeys, 20 minutes walking, white Caribbean beach, 20 minutes walking, deep dark swamp land! I was pretty amazed how diverse the place was. We slept in a hammock without a mosquito net waiting to be devoured by critters…
On the way out of the park we went for some Ceviche on the beach. Probably one of the best I ever had, but maybe I was just exhausted and hungry 😀
Palomino – floating through Jurassic Park
After the park we went to Palomino, a small fishing village. There is nothing much to do except to go tubing. 20 mins on the back of a motorbike, holding the tube on one shoulder, clinging on for dear life with the other hand. Afterwards another 20min hike in flip-flops through the jungle and then it’s off to 2 hours just floating on the very calm river.
Oh yeah, no one warned us that there are crocodiles in the river. We encountered a friendly one by accident…
What better way to end the day than with a “Coco loco”. A coconut filled with rum!
Cartagena – a castle to remember
We took the night bus to Cartagena and stayed in a really cool and friendly little hostel. The owner of the place called us an Uber to get to El Pope – a mountain with a little chapel on top. Another place from where you can see the whole enormous city. Getting closer to the place we drove through a really poor neighborhood. The driver locked the doors – always a good sign… He told us that we should definitely get back out of the area before dawn. Once we got up the hill we realized we’d never walk down in time before dark. No problem, the driver offered to simply wait for 45 minutes so we could take a look around before driving back. Such friendly people!
We went to a fort called San Felipe which had a lot of small little tunnels and cellars. One sign read: no children under 5 years, no groups bigger than 30 people. We soon realized why… Steep ways down with only centimeters around you on all sides, almost no light, and just down down down. A woman came panicky running up towards us with her only words ‘salida salida!'(that’s Spanish for exit 😉 ). We walked further down and suddenly shared her claustrophobic feeling, the air got thinner and it felt like you are simply lost somewhere below the earth… We made our way back up again. Unharmed but an experience richer.
In Cartagena we also went to a small litte sombrero that’s renowned for their ceviche. It’s called Osteria del Mar Rojo and won several prices. Big big portion for quite a small price! Took a while before we got our food but it was definitely worth it!
Isla Grande – a Caribbean paradise
From Cartagena we took a speed boat to Isla Grande. A small little tropical paradise! We stayed in an eco-hotel which meant flushing the toilet with a bucket of water and showering is done by scooping some water over your head with an empty coconut shell. Weird what we Westerners are willing to pay money for haha. But it was real fun and we met some cool people there.
The Island is perfect for snorkeling and a lot of fishermen catching their food right in front of you. We were lucky enough to find a fisherman who had caught too many langoustines and was willing to sell them to us. He told us he’d prepare them and that we should just show up at the beach again in 2 hours. He cooked and grilled the langoustines with butter and garlic, his women made some plantain fritters as side. Squirt some lime juice over it. Boom! Sooo good!
Ciudad Perdida – the lost city hike
Finally, we got a mail from the lost city hike tour organizer that the trail was open again. Immediately we made our way back to Santa Marta and started the tour. Everyone tells you it’s hard, but it’s HARD. You hike for 4-6 days straight, doing 44 kilometers in total up and down the mountains. As we were already almost at the end of our vacation we choose for 4 days. In practice that means wet cloth for 4 days, wet feet for 4 days, getting devoured by mosquitoes for 4 days. On day 3 we reached the lost city. My legs and especially knees were already killing me, as I‘ve hiked that far without break in my life.
After arriving in the lost city I fell down the stairs twice, twisted my leg and could hardly walk any more. Fun stuff if you are stuck 20 kilometers deep into the ‘green hell’ – as the Spanish conquistadors called the jungle. I fought my way back to the basecamp for the night, but on the 4th day there was no other way than to take an Uber in order to get back to civilization. In this case the ‘Uber’ was a horse that carried me for 7 hours across the steep mountains, rivers and plains that I was once able to walk on myself.
Medellin – trailing in the footsteps of Pablo Escobar
When we were flying from Bogota to Santa Marta, we met an awesome young doctor called Camilo who lived in Medellin. So when we went to the city ourselves he was happy to show us around. This was really cool as he brought us to an awesome typical Colombian restaurant, showed us the cable cars that span the whole city and especially the ‘comunas’. That’s the name the Colombia people use to describe their poor neighborhoods that are somewhat comparable to the Brazilian favelas. Camilo was a great guide and showed us the real city of Medellin.
The next day we went for the pub crawl that centers mostly around the bars around the Happy Buddha hostel. It was good fun and left us with a serious hangover. On our last day in Medellin we went for the Pablo Escobar tour. Our tourguide looked like a proper mobster himself and didn’t lose a single good word about Pablo. Even if Narcos kind of makes you feel somehow sympathetic towards Pablo, in real life he was just really a giant blood thirsty narcissistic d*ck.
We took the night bus from Medellin back to Bogota and caught our plane back to Madrid from there back to Amsterdam. About 30 hours of travelling in total. A doner in Amsterdam and then straight to bed for some well deserved sleep!