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Archive for the ‘Colombia’ Category

After a couple of days in Medellin, we were ready for a change of pace, so we took a recommendation from our hostel owner´s wife and booked a room in a hostel in the lake town of Guatapè.  Guatapè is a smaller Colombian town situated on an artificial lake about 2 hours from Medellin by bus.  The lake was created to generate hydroelectric power for Medellin and the surrounding towns.

Paint explosion

Fortunately, we avoided the weekend when the town supposedly transforms  into a crowded party of paisas, as people from Medellin are known.  We´re usually down to party, but we´ve found that South Americans start the party around midnight or 1am and don´t crash until dawn.  Now, I know I´m getting older but I´m not sure I ever stayed up to watch the sunrise (or at least I have little recollection of such things).

On each house there were painted reliefs of different Latin American scenes. This is the pool hall, notice the passed out bolo in the corner.

Our hostel was owned by a friendly gringo named Greg from California and his sweet puppy Sophia.  The digs were good and the other people staying there were entertaining as well: an Irish girl (completely Irish, but oddly enough, born in Atlantic City), a couple of hilarious Brits, and a smattering of other Europeans.

Weird turret from a US warship that was transported high into the mountains for re-assembly on the lake. Obviously, this scheme fell though, and now there are random ship parts lying around near our hostel.

Kristi and I spent the first afternoon touring the town which was ridiculously cute.  Cute isn´t a manly way of describing things, but take a look at the pictures and help me find a manly word to describe it.

Motochiva

Church on the main town square

These reliefs were on almost every house depicting everything from airplanes to frying tajadas to coffee harvesting

On day two we set off to climb la Piedra del Peñol, the 200m tall granite monolith situated about a 3 mile walk from town.  After an exhausting walk to the rock, you have to climb 1,203,234 stairs to the top.  It seems like a lot, but the view from the top was jaw-dropping.  And then we walked back, ugh.

Along the trail to la Piedra del Peñol

Halfway there!

Now we just gotta climb a few stairs

The view vale la pena

On our last full day we rented Greg´s kayak and cruised around the lake, ducking in and out of little coves finding nothing but the sound of wind in the trees and bird´s songs.  It was a pleasant way to overcome the aftermath of the previous night spent with our cousins from across the Atlantic playing cards and discussing the difference between the US and the UK (sherbet in the UK is like Fun Dip… wtf?).

Yaking... kayaking

This was our last stop in Colombia.  The new tourist slogan is true, “The only risk is not wanting to leave”.  Off to Ecuador!

Sunset from the balcony at our hostel

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The last post focused on Medellin´s public art and how the city is rising above the drug cartel history that it is known for.  Beyond public art, Medellin boasts many other great amenities such as an above ground metro system and cable system that makes almost the entire city accessible to its citizens and visitors.  Kristi and I loved how easy it was to visit whichever corner of Medellin that we wanted.

The metro

View of Medellin from the metrocable (basically a gondola)

The metrocable also provides access to a forest park that overlooks the city, but on the day we went it was closed.  Not an unusual occurence for us in our travels about Latin America.  No big deal, we just turned around and jumped off the train at the city´s botanical gardin.

The orchid area

Purty

The garden was free and open to the public.  Due to its location near one of the major universities many college student take advantage and relax here between classes.  The garden has areas devoted to orchids, desert plants, tropical forests, and a butterfly house.

Cactus flower

More orchids

Flutterby

another

Spotted this guy in the tropical forest section. Guess he got loose!

There was also a nice little pond home to turtles and a group of very large and lazy lizards.

Showing off

Boat lizard

Medellin was a great stop on our South American tour.  We were only there for three days but it was enough time to appreciate much of what the city has to offer.  Next stop, Guatapé, located on an artificial lake a couple hours outside of Medellin.  Blog to come soon!

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Medellin is most famous for its bloody cocaine cartel history and its patròn Pablo Escobar.  In recent years, the government and citizens of Medellin have made huge strides to progress beyond this image and from my point of view they have succeeded.

"Escopetarra" symbolizes the movement from violence to art in the form of music which is currently thriving in Medellin

Weird modern park

Kristi and I have spent the last couple of days meandering around this modern city enjoying vast and numerous amenities such as historic and modern parks and plazas, art and history museums, innovative public transportation, and the topic of this blog: public art.

Palacio de Cultura with the Plaza de Botero in the foreground featuring around 20 Botero sculptures

The new patròn of Medellin is not the head of any cartel but one of the most distinguished artists of the late 20th century, Fernando Botero.  Botero is famous for his paintings and sculptures of “chubby” people and objects.

Chubby horse

Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI (and Kristi)

Medellin is home to an enormous collection of his pieces, the majority of them donated by Botero himself during the city´s recovery from the fall of the Medellin cartel and the death of Escobar.

The Death of Pablo Escobar

Even his still lifes are a little chunky

Works by Botero and murals by the equally notable Pedro Nel Gòmez can be found throughout Medellin along with works by numerous other Colombian artists.

Mural of Medellin from years past. This mural appears adjacent to the buildings it depicts. (don´t think this was a Gòmez but was still cool)

"Pedro" (Botero`s son)

Medellin is truly modern and a wonderful city to explore by metro and on foot taking in the views of the surrounding mountains and enjoying typical local foods at inexpensive but delicious comedores and food stands.  The paisas, as the locals are called, were welcoming and warm.  Medellin gets a definite recommendation for travelers visiting or passing through Colombia.

Perro

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Cartagena Sunset

On our last night in the city of Cartagena we took in the sunset from atop the old city walls…

Headed to the wall

Made it just in time

Looking back the the old city at sunset

Beautiful lady, beautiful sunset

One of the old churches at night

A beautiful evening to end our time in Cartagena.  Off to Medellin!

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We got ´taken for a ride´ as they say.  It was bound to happen eventually but it still sucks when you fall for a total tourist trap.  Our guide-book (Lonely Planet´s South America on a Shoestring) mentioned Islas del Rosario and Playa Blanca as the most beautiful beach in Cartagena.  After trying our hand at the mainland beaches and getting bombarded by vendors and listening to the sound of traffic we decided maybe we should go to the Islas.  As further encouragement, several traveler friends that we met in Cartagena highly recommended Playa Blanca.  Considering that the rest of our trip will be inland and mountainous we decided to go for it and soak up the last few bits of the Caribbean.

Our boat, El Mejor (´The Best´). I respectfully disagree.

Things got off to a rough start when we got to the boat at the recommended time only to find out that the departure was not for another hour and fifteen minutes!  We waited patiently as people poured onto the boat, most of them with very small children or very elderly parents in tow.  Being that it was a weekday we kind of thought the tour might be less crowded but it seemed to be completely full.  True to Latin American fashion there was blaring music (not just loud but deafening) and a man in a Captain´s hat screaming into a microphone and encouraging us to dance, have fun, and buy beers at the bar.  It was 9am.

The trip out of the bay was rather nice and we got to see some great views of Cartagena and several forts.  Then we hit open ocean (at a snail´s pace) and it was hurry up and wait to see some islands.  The first stop on the tour was an aquarium which you had to pay for separately.  When we asked the original tout what we would do if we didn´t want to enter the aquarium he assured us that we´d just hang out on the beach for an hour, no problem.  He also told us it was an hour and 45 minute boat ride.  You can tell by the title of this post that he lied about a lot of things.

Two and a half hours later we pulled up to the island with the aquarium.  The water was crystal clear and gorgeous and the whole place had a very island feel to it.  Then we saw the beach where we were to hang out.  It was approximately six square feet and several other boats had already dumped off hoards of people.  Even still, we were happy to get off the boat and enjoy some sun and sand.  The entire stop at this island was a waste of time as only about 5 people on our boat actually went to the aquarium but there is obviously a deal between the boats and the aquarium owners to bring people out there.

Selling conch on the aquarium island

After another hour on the boat we finally made it to Playa Blanca.  The tour includes a typical lunch of fish, coconut rice, fried plantains, salad, and lemonade.  The meal was very nice and probably the highlight of the trip.  We were ´treated´to a completely unsolicited display by a Spanish couple traveling South America and financing their trip by performing ´tricks´and then asking for money.   Their tricks including swinging flags and twirling a ball on one finger.  Needless to say they didn´t get much applause (even though they kept demanding it) and I´m guessing they didn´t get much money either.  After a disappointing fundraiser they chastised the crowd for not supporting the arts and sulked off.  Considering we are on a budget and trying to finance our own trip I was a bit annoyed to be asked to help finance another´s as well.  (Just so you don´t think we´re too grouchy, later on we were approached by a Spanish girl selling bracelets and necklaces to fund her travels.  David has been looking for a necklace and liked one of hers so we bought it.)

Row, row, row your boat

After lunch we set off to find a spot on the beach but once again we could tell we had been tricked.  I asked the tout if we would have to rent chairs there or if the beach was open and he assured me you can sit wherever you like.  He forgot to mention that you´d have to pay $5 for a chair in the shade.  We walked all the way to where the chairs end (and the trash begins) and found a nice enough spot to sit.  We splashed around and got some sun and after about a half hour we heard our boat´s horn.  Surely it was not time to board again!  But indeed it was.  At this point we had been so disappointed in the tour that it seemed par for the course so we packed it up and headed to the boat.

Beach bum

The icing on the cake was the ride home during which we were verbally abused by an old Colombian woman who tried to evoke ´same seats.´ Which was rather convenient for her since she wanted the best seat on the boat (which I rushed to get after we spent the whole morning ride standing).  She started by yelling at us, then progressed to anyone that would listen, and continued to bring it up throughout the entire ride.  At one point she called her son to tell him about it.  Eventually the staff reminded her that there were no reserved seats but that only added fuel to the fire.  It was a rather fitting end to a disappointing day.

Returning to Cartagena at sunset

Many of the people who enjoy Playa Blanca camp the night there and therefore have more time to enjoy the beach.  So for that person the trip might be worth it but for us it amounted to over 5 hours on a boat and about an hour and a half of beach time.  The water was beautiful and the sand was soft and white and lovely but there were also about a million vendors approaching constantly and the issue with renting chairs.  We were disappointed but not too upset, live and learn, right?

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Just a few more photos we got on our last morning in Taganga.  What a place…

Tiny Taganga

Sweet old Nissan

Cactus Boat!

Playground on the beach

I would definitely recommend this place to any traveler in Colombia!

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We´ve been enjoying the sun and sand here in Taganga, Colombia for the past few days.  Taganga is a small fishing town that has become a tourist spot for scuba diving and straight chillin´.

Taganga

The town has a nice boardwalk area on the beach but the rest is pure pueblo – bumpy dirt roads, block houses with metal roofs, roosters, and the like.  Needless to say, we feel a bit more at home here than among the sky scrapers of Cartagena.

Apart from some time on the Caribbean, our main reason for coming here was to complete a PADI open water diving course.  I was hesitant from the beginning about diving but decided to give it a shot.  Our first day of confined dives it was just David and I and our instructor, Chopper.  The first order of business was to kick us out of the boat and have us swim 200m to the shore!  I´m not the world´s greatest swimmer but luckily the test had nothing to do with technique.  After that we got suited up in our wetsuits and equipment and it was time for the confined dive exercises.  Several of our friends have been open water certified so based on their experiences I thought we would be completing this part of the course in a swimming pool.  I certainly didn´t expect to be in a rocky cove with currents and low visibility!  It was not looking so good for me at this point.

The first task we were to complete was sitting on the ocean floor and removing then replacing our regulator (the mouthpiece that delivers the oxygen).  My mind took over and all I could think was, why on earth would I go 15 feet underwater and take out my oxygen source?!  Chop wasn´t quite sure what to do with me so I convinced him to let me do some practice rounds on the surface.  I felt better after a little practice so it was time to head back down and do the exercises.  “Losing” and replacing the regulator several times was much easier than I had thought but then it was time to flood our masks then clear the water, three times!  Little bit of water – no problem, half full of water – still hanging in there.  Then I had to take my mask all the way off, leave it off for one full minute, put it back on, and clear out all the water.  After vigorously shaking my head no and doing all the hand signals for “there´s a problem!” and “go up now!” Chop played the tough love approach and just went ahead and took my mask off for me. Ultimately, I did successfully complete the exercise but that proved to be the end of my short-lived diving career.

Here´s the proof I went diving

I´d like to think that had we been in an actual pool with concrete walls and clear water then I wouldn´t have been so hesitant to complete the exercises.  I also would have benefitted from more time practicing with the equipment before immediately jumping in to the skills.  But these 4 day courses are meant to get you in and out quickly which probably isn´t the best setting for a hesitant diver.  (As I type there are divers in our hotel pool completing the confined water skills tests…not fair!!)

Anyway, I did get to do two fun dives with Chop and we saw lots of cool wildlife.  The visibility wasn´t that great (8m so they said) but we saw huge lobsters, fish I don´t know the names of, and a sand dollar the size of a hub cap.  It was very cool and I´m glad I finished the first day out but in terms of enjoyability I had more fun snorkeling in Utila!

David was a natural and completed all the exercises with no problems.  He finished out the full course and even scored 100% on his written test which earned him a free t-shirt from the dive shop!  While he was out diving I read books by the pool, not too shabby!

Can you name this fish?

What about this one?

Squid?

Clown fish? (The one up front, the clown in back is David)

While on dry land we´ve also been enjoying the beautiful sunsets over Taganga Bay, best enjoyed with an ice-cold Aguila – “The Taste of Colombia.”

Ahhhh

Que bonito

View of the lighthouse from our hotel

As they say in Colombia, ciao!

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