Hola Amigos. Hope you all had a great christmas and gearing up for the New Year. Its been a long time since the last update - mainly due to laziness (which has overtaken the initial enthusiasm to write the blog) but also because we have been chilling out on the Caribbean coast.
After the last blog entry we headed up to Taganga (which was to become our base for the Colombian coast) where we would be going for a 6 day hike to discover the Lost City of the Tyronnas - or as they call it now, Ciudad Perdida. Taganga is a nice little sleepy fishing village close to the famous Tyronna National Park. We got there on Saturday lunchtime and spent the day sorting out our trip to Ciudad Perdida. We also bumped into a Dutch couple we met in Cali and had a few drinks with them in the evening. Sunday was spent chilling out, and listening to stories of people who had come back from the hike - and boy were they horror stories. All of them had been bitten by mosquitoes and sand flies - infact you were considered lucky if you came away with less than 50 bites.
Our trip started early on Monday - we were picked up by a mini van and driven 1 hour away from Taganga into Tyronna National Park. It would be a 6 day hike with 3 days spent getting to the lost city, and 3 days spent getting back, retracing our steps. There were 11 of us in the group - 2 Aussies, 4 Germans, 1 English, 1 Dutch, 1 Basque (he refused to be called Spanish) and us. From where the mini van dropped us, we were taken by motorbikes to our start point. We started the hike after lunch with the midday sun on our backs. The first day was a 5 hour hike with the first 3 hours uphill and then the remaining 2 hours downhill. It was a pretty ok day of hiking - but the heat and humidity made the hike difficult. There was also the issue that we would be walking with wet muddy shoes throughout the 6 day trek, as within the first hour we had to cross ankle deep or knee deep streams - we would be getting waist high river crossings on day 3 & 4. And walking through alot of mud due to the rains. We spent the first night at someone's house (they set up hammocks for us with mosquito nets) The food they gave us for dinner was good, but this was very different from the 'super organised' Inca Trail - in a way much more spontaneous and adventurous. The highlight of the first day came after about 3 hours walking where we came to a river and we all had a dip and ate some fresh fruits - much needed after walking in the heat.
The 2nd day was slightly easier as we started off early to avoid the mid day heat. Here the terrain was much rougher, with no obvious trek for alot of the way, and having to scramble over rocks etc... We got to our camp after a 4 hour walk and went off to cool off in a nearby river.
Day 3 was the best day of the hike - there wasn't much of a trail, and we had to follow the river to the foot of the steps which lead up to Ciudad Perdida. This meant crossing the river about 8 times and walking along sometimes dangerous precipice where one slip and you are a goner. We hiked for about 4 hours before we got to the steps which lead up to Ciudad Perdida. There are about 1200 steep and extremely small steps to climb up (The Tyronnas were very small people, thus the small steps). We finally managed to get to the top after a tough half an hour climb - we also met the military who are guarding the area on the way. In 2003, 9 tourists were kidnapped by guerillas at this same site - infact from the same hut that we would be sleeping in that night. The guide omitted to mention the latter information until the next morning....However, the guerillas have been driven up in the hills, and security is much better with no incidents since the kidnappings (and the tourists were returned unharmed after about 3 weeks.) However, as normal the British FO still has an alert for unnecessary travel which would have meant that our insurance was invalid... The city as first sight looked magical - it does not have the aura of Machu Pichu, but only 10% of the city has been excavated, and as the only way to get there is either by hiking or splashing out a load of money and coming in a helicopter, there were only 2 other people there and it felt great.
We explored the magical city on Day 4 and started to make our way back the same way we came up. By Day 6, we were exhausted with 6 days of trekking in wet shoes and covered in millions of mossie and sand fly bites.
We got back to Taganga in the evening (Saturday), had dinner and headed out to Santa Marta, a nearby town for a few drinks in a club with our group and also to celebrate Aarti's birthday the next day and the Dutch girl's which was on Friday. However, we didn't last long and were home by 1.30 which is extremely early by Colombian standards.
Sunday was Aarti's birthday and a rest day recovering from the hike. We went to a nearby resort for dinner based on someone's recommendation which was not as good as we had hoped.
On Monday, we made our way to Cartagena (the jewel on the Colombian coast) Cartagena is a lovely city, with a great old town. We met up with the Dutch couple again and also with the Aussies and Dutch girl from our hike. Tuesday was spent exploring the old town, which has been blocked off with an inner and outer wall.
We decided to head for Playa Blanca on Wednesday. Playa Blanca is an island 40 min away from Cartagena by speedboat. Its very quiet with very few people choosing to stay there - most go there on a day trip as part of an island hopping tour, which means they are only on the island for a couple of hours in the afternoons at the most. Why more people dont decide to stay there is a complete mystery to us. It has white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, calm sea, nice warm waters, hardly anyone about, you stay on the beach and plenty of decent seafood. And its cheap too. Just about the perfect place to chill out for a few days. We spent 4 days there and stayed at a lovely couple's place - the first 2 nights on a hammock and the 3rd night in a cabanna. They also have a few people selling wares and foods in the day, and we got into a routine with having fruits for breakfast provided by a fruit lady, shrimps for me at lunch, some local sweets in the afternoon and dinner provided by our hosts. Even Aarti was quite pleased with the food as she got lentils and rice cooked similarly to how we make it at home. I made do with fish and lobsters.... delicious!!
We got back to Cartagena and after spending a night there headed back to Taganga where we decided to go to the more famous beach at Tyronna national park. Everyone had talked it up (they probably had not visited Playa Blanca) and we couldn't give it a miss. Never have I worked so hard to get to a beach - it was a 2 hour ride in a bus from Santa Marta, and then a 2 hour hike to the beach - not extremely streneous but nevertheless energy sapping. After all that effort, I was expecting to find something similar to a perfect beach. What we got was cold and pretty rough waters, crappy beach, only one place to stay with hammocks touching one another. and hardly any privacy. Needless to say. we were out the next day. Got back to Taganga - again, and then made our way down to Bucarramanga. We went to a small town called San Gill which is the adventure capital of Colombia with all kinds of adventure activities like white water rafting, para gliding etc... I took advantage of that and went white water rafting the next morning - it was pretty good but I did it at an easy level with the rapids at grade 2+. Would definitely like to try out stronger rapids next time round.
We headed to Cucuta which is on the Colombian-Venezuelan border where we spent a day before making our way to Caracas. After we left Ecuador we had just over 5 weeks to see Colombia and Venezuela, but the more time we spent in Colombia the less time we had in Venezuela until we decided to just go straight to Caracas to catch our flight to Trinidad. Travelling in Venezuela is abit of a problem as their black market for dollars is twice the official rate (curtesy of Chavez) - thus the need to carry dollars with you into Venezuela.
The 2 days we spent in Caracas were ok. Caracas is a massive city with 24 hr traffic jams - no doubt helped by the cheap fuel. We did some shopping for our stay in Guyana where we would be going to a formal New Year's Eve party (or Old years night as they call it there) and that was about it really.
The flight to Trinidad was eventful as when we got to the airport we realised that there was some problem with the airlines. Passengers due to fly to Miami the previous night had not flown due to airline issues. After a couple of hours we found out that they were in financial trouble and did not have any fuel, as they had not paid the fuel company - quite ironic to be out of fuel in oil country. Anyways, after a 6 hour delay, they put us onto a plane from another airlines and we reached Trinidad safely. The reason for going to Trinidad was that you can only get to Guyana through Trinidad. It was a pleasant 3 days we spent in Trinidad, with us finally getting some indian food with roti and curries.
And so, on the 23rd we flew out from Trinidad to get to Georgetown, Guyana. This is the only place in my trip that I have visited, but it will be Aarti's first time. We are going to be spending time with my college friend, Aruna and her family for christmas. But that will be updated later.