Sunday, 17 July 2016

Caribbean Coast

Before and after the trip to the Ciudad Perdida we spent quite a while on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia and it was a really great time. First we went to Palomino, because everybody told me it is just sooo beautiful there with endless beaches and the perfect place to relax.

We really did enjoy it and the beach seemed to go on forever - it was just one street in Palomino connecting the main street with the beach, therefore 5 minutes each direction from that street there was just nothing. People told me that at some point you can just camp anywhere because nobody cares and very little people will go that far.

The only downside was that there were some hostels and nothing more, you had to walk back to the main street 20 minutes to get to the next store, and you couldn't swim in the sea for the strong currents which was really a pity. Once I even fell and got my leg bloody because of the sand. But for just relaxing it was great, sitting on the beach, listening to the waves and maybe reading a book.

After the Ciudad Perdida, we went to Taganga because a girl we met told us we will like it there. Taganga was really different from Palomino, it was a bight with a small city built around the beach, everyday some street musicians played in the evening, it had a promenade to walk down and buy stuff and lots of restaurants. Also, it was really close to the Parque Tayrona which we really wanted to visit. On this picture you can see Coxi, my travel companion, who decided to start a new life in Taganga.

Tayrona is a national park and one of the Jewels of Colombia. The beaches are perfect - just as you would imagine them on the caribbean coast anywhere. The water is turquise and you can only reach the beaches by walking an hour, which makes them mostly untouched and keeps the crowds away. You can stay there and camp but we only took one day there because after the Ciudad Perdida we didn't want to go into the wilderness again so soon.

Our last stop on the coast was Cartagena, the city with the most beautiful historic center I have seen here, that seemed to be more European, maybe spanish or portoguese, than South American. Almost every house had a different colour and all the balconies made it look so beautiful, just next to the sea. Also it was once a castle, therefore there was a fortress next to it protecting the inner city. They say the fortress was never taken from enemies.

Then we had to travel onward to the pacific coast, which was quite a pity because there was still so much to see in the Caribbean where we couldn't make it. Irina already plans to come back someday and visit all the other places, and I would like to go to Panama or Nicaragua or something, to see some more aspects of the Caribbean. No wonder everybody speaks of it, it is just so great!

Friday, 15 July 2016

Ciudad Perdida

When Irina arrived we planned our trip together. I made some suggestions on what would be nice to see and what we could do and she decided. So, somehow, when we got to speak to some people that all told us how great the trip to the Ciudad Perdida was, she decided she wanted to do that as well.

The Ciudad Perdida, which means "Lost City", was an ancient city of the indigenous Taironas and it's located far into the mountains, 23 km from the next village that can be reached by car and even farther from the main road. Therefore, to get there, we had to walk. In total, it was a hike of four days - that's how we ended up on a four day hike through the jungle in the caribbean heat.

It was exhausting. Really, really exhausting. I read in my travel guide that people not used to hiking can do it - which is true, but they would probably really suffer. Mostly because of the heat. We didn't really walk far, it was about 23 km in one direction and the same way back, and we started at 100m and reached the Ciudad Perdida at 1200m, so it wasn't even that high up for a 4 day hike, but unfortunately we didn't just go straight up.

It was more like 500m up, 200m down, another 500m up and down again, then up again, then partly down again and in the end up a stairway with more than 1000 steps to the lost city. And by steps I mean wet narrow stones that can't really be compared to real steps, just as the way was sometimes really slippery and steep so it really took some time to walk it all.

We started at noon, walking 4 hours, the second day 3 1/2 in the morning and 3 1/2 h in the afternoon, the third day we went up to the Ciudad Perdida and discovered it and spent in total about 4h there, in the afternoon we went back about 3 hours, and on the last day we walked about 7h straight back to the starting point.

We were lucky with the weather because while most of the way trees held back the sun, on the first and the last day we had to walk directly in the sun. On the first day, it started raining as soon as we started, which was refreshing until the whole way down turned into a huge mudslide. I was sooo happy for my walking stick to support me there, because else I have no idea how I would have gotten down the mountain again. And on the last day it was cloudy and only got sunny when we almost reached the starting point again.

Unfortunately, the rain also meant that all our clothes were wet and while we were able to hang them out in the night, they felt even wetter in the morning, therefore we weren't quite successful. Also, we had to cross a river 4 times (and by crossing I mean getting out of your shoes and walking straight through the water) so there was no way to wear dry socks, they just got wet again anyway.

Also, at each camp we stopped (for eating or sleeping) there was a "natural pool" that was actually just a part of the river accessible so you can go in - with still quite strong current and really freezing water, just how you imagine mountain rivers. But it was really hot outside, so we still went in which meant for me to just walk on in my wet bikini (my shirt would have gotten wet afterwards anyway from sweating).

After some time Irina realized that she will never ever complain again about anything because after some time everything just has this ugly smell and is probably muddy and maybe you can't even lock the toilets. And somebody in the camp is probably snoring. But if you are exhausted enough it probably doesn't matter.

I can say that I really didn't sleep well, because we had to get up at 5:30 which quite stressed me and while I was exhausted, I was not tired in the evening and so when I finally fell asleep in the night I woke up many times. I even had this one night after but then I could finally sleep.

Another thing I discovered was that I really need lots of time to wake up in the morning. Like when we started walking, I felt exhausted just after 10 minutes, and we didn't even start walking up yet. The only thing that helped me was Cola, which I found quite annoying because I really didn't want to buy Cola from some indigenous people in the middle of the jungle (yes, they do sell it everywhere).

It was quite funny that many times I thought "i don't want go up anymore" or "I really want to take a break" but never "I can't go up" or "I have to take a break". It was like everything just depends on the right motivation. Sometimes I just needed some distraction and I was fit again. And I never ever thought that at some point I would run up a mountain. But it was on the way back and it was just like "the faster I am up there, the faster I can relax in the camp".

The hike was organized in groups, there are six tour operators and our operator had 7 people, all from Europe. To tell the truth, we were quite a good group, while the guys always ran ahead, we were not that far behind and in the evenings we played card games until the insects that were attracted by the light got too freaky or the beer was gone.

Our guide told us a lot about the indigenous people living there. They have a quite different culture, like the shaman picks who you are to marry, he decides which way your life will go when you are older and people bury their dead under their houses. Also, somehow they managed to loose their city. I have no idea how they did that, probably because they don't have script.

We were told that grave robbers found the city and almost destroyed it when getting all the gold out. When it was restored, there were sometimes tourists visiting it, until in about the year 2000 some people got kidnapped by the guerilla. Then suddenly it got popular and the government had to get rid of the paramilitares and the guerilla in the area, and make the villagers stop planting Coca, which they did by getting them regular incomes by tourism. Therefore now it is safe.

It was really a marvellous experience and I am totally glad we did it, but I do have this theory that it even gets so great because it's really difficult to get there. And because it really isn't that touristic. I really hope they keep it that way, just reachable by hiking, because it really gives the trip this special flair of having seen the hidden jewel of Colombia.

Sunday, 3 July 2016


After Villa de Leyva, we spent a day as well in Barichara, a city often used for spanish movies or telenovelas and exactly as you would imagine any southamerican town! With those beautiful white houses with red roofs and cobblestones on the road, decorated with colourful flowers, you could only enjoy every single street to walk on.

Situated in the mountains next to a canyon of some river, we also had a really beautiful view over the area. From here we had the opportunity to do some short two-hour-hike to the next village on a path that was said to have been already used by the indigenous Guane people, but the trail was restored with stones that sometimes even contain fossils. You might remember, we are still in the same area than the last post where fossils can be found.

But we didn't just see dead animals, we could also watch lots of living animals as well. Like huge birds that we think to be eagles and lots of butterflies. But when just looking down one viewpoint we suddenly also discovered other animals we didn't know. If anybody knows what animal that is, please tell me. We are still guessing but we aren't even sure whether it's a pig, a guinea pig or just a huge rat.

From here, we took the nightbus to Santa Marta at the caribbean coast, so the next time I will be writing, it will be about the Caribbean! Since Irina got kind of sick, we are mostly relaxing and absorbing all the heat to gather all our energy for doing a multi-day hike into the rainforest. It's a little strange to be not just dependend on your own health but we are still doing well and I am already looking forward to write about our hike we can hopefully do soon!

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Villa de Leyva

It has been already five days ago that Irina joined me for backpacking through Colombia. First we had a day in Bogota, where I have already been. But to tell the truth, Bogota is not so special. The best things to see are the museum of gold and the graffitis but else you are better off in smaller towns of Colombia. That's why we headed to Villa de Leyva next.

Villa de Leyva is exactly as someone would imagine a colonial town. All buildings were white, the doors and windows colourful and the town itself quite small, you could walk from one end to the other in half an hour. Especially popular is the huge main plaza in the middle of town, I don't exactly know why but they had a nice restaurant with great spanish live music.

What we didn't know when we came here was that very long time ago this part of Colombia used to be a part of the sea, which was the reason why nowadays lots of fossils can be found around the town and there are lots of archeological and paleonthological museums as well that show ancient fossils and informations about the topic. The most popular was definitely the sceleton of some kind of sea saurier that was just sooo huge!

It belonged to some kind of nightmare-penguin, telling from the looks they reconstructed. But then, there is no way to tell it was really black and white, so maybe it was more like a nightmare-crocodile. Nevertheless I wouldn't want to meet it in the ocean. But just the thought that they found sea fossils in the mountains on 2000m is quite stunning. And the surrounding nature was really beautiful as well.