¡Hasta luego! Colombia.. Santa Marta to Cali

The Dreamer Hostel turned out to be quite a party hostel, with daily games for travellers to play and get drunk. This resulted in me playing Beer Pong for the first time, killer pool and card games in order to just drink more. It was just like being at University again. Also it was a great way of meeting my fellow travellers. All of them shocked when they found out my age.. “I thought you would have been late twenties max” they say lol.

Sitting at the bar, drinking a Club Colombia and chatting to Scott the Canadian that had a story for everything. I clock the bar girls stop mid pour and stare over my shoulder, I slowly turn to see what has caught their attention. Four guys arrive, the front two ripped and in good shape, and all in their twenties.

James was the blond with perfectly styled hair, who looked like he had just walked off the set of ‘Made in Chelsea’. It’s turns out he went to Harrow School, need i say more .. The other Ed, had the most incredible blue eyes that dazzled you against his dark hair and tan.

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It turns out they are from the UK, best of mates that have just graduated and are travelling for a year. They join in on the drinking games with everyone else and once enough is consumes and the bar closes, we all head to a salsa club La Puetra in Santa Marta.

Boys being boys, they lark about and poor old Max, one of the four ends up with a sprained finger from trying to punch Ed. I sense this will be the sort of antics that will carry on through their year of travels. If they make it that far alive… Hilarious to watch.

So Hostel life has treated me pretty well so far, but I soon realise that it is a hot bed for germs and god knows what else. All across Santa Marta there is a break out of pink eye, and several in my hostel have it. Apparently it had originated from the ‘Lost City’ four day trek, and from a couple of Gringos. Some travellers coming North from Medellin report of it having made it the 835 km South.

Luckily I have avoided it – maybe it’s because I never use the gross hand towels. Why would anyone!!!

One of the good things about being gay in Colombia, is there is little chance of meeting a hooker in a bar. For the straights its just damned hard to avoid it. Prostitution in Colombia is legal and they are everywhere.

Dancing on the rooftop at La Brisa Loca – the best venue I have been to in Colombia. An attractive woman comes up to me and starts to dance, we speak some Spanish. I find out she is from Medellín and then she grabs my crotch and says “You like Sex”…

I say “No Gracias¨and move away.

Now I warn a couple of my new found friends to be careful of the the ladies, that some are ‘ladies of the night’. The majority heed my advice and some do not.. #dontkissahooker.

Thankfully we all successfully make it back to the hostel together.

What I love about this travelling alone, is you can do what you want when you want, you have the freedom to choose and just go with the flow. I did exactly this and changed my plans and headed to Minca and stayed at Casas Viejas for two nights.

Minca lies 650m high in the Sierra Nevada and is a new find on the traveller route for Colombia, so still pretty unspoilt and only 15km from Santa Marta.

Casas Viejas is thirty minutes further up the mountain and only accessible by motorbike. I hop on the back with both my travel backpacks and make the steep climb sometimes off road. Ouch my thighs..

I hop off the bike at my destination. The beautiful Casas Viejas is in the middle of a finca – coffee farm. The view from the main dinning area is the best I have seen yet. Looking out across the jungle to the cloud covered mountains ahead with just the birds playing their tunes. Absolute paradise.

  

 

The mornings are even more spectacular and on a clear day you can see Santa Marta on the horizon. At night your can walk higher up the finca to ‘Sunset point’ with a beer and watch the sky turn red and see the twinkling lights of Santa Marta in the distance. The food is pretty good here too, all cooked by volunteers. It’s perfect for hiking, bird watching over 300 species and seeing a lot of bugs, spiders and butterflies.

 

 

The Coffee tour at La Victoria, was well worth the 20,000cop £5. This Coffee farm like so many others is completely self sustainable thanks to the nearby waterfall powering everything. The water powers a single generator that powers the farm, the local brewery , the surrounding houses and the hostel.

A 24 pipe system across 150 hectares delivers the freshly picked Coffee beans to the little processing plant, and then goes through several processes of washing to make a bean ready to sell. Who knew most coffee is sold and shipped to its destination as a white bean, and is then roasted in the final destination.

  

 

Nothing is wasted, the good coffee beans are sold to international buyers, the less quality coffee is sold locally and the skin layers that are removed from the coffee bean are all used to make fertiliser for the new plants. Too think that this area was a no go zone for travellers just over two years ago due to the fighting that has plagued Colombia for so much of its past.

Due to my two amazingly chilled nights in the mountains I only have one night in Cartagena. Which to be honest I was fine with, from what I had heard from other travellers and from what I could see when I arrived.

After the six hour bus journey, I took the 30 minute taxi to El Viarejo in the old town, and just saw a dirty, uninspiring tourist trap, full off ugly hotels. The old town was mildly better with some colourful colonial buildings, but little else. The stifling heat and humidity makes it hard to want to do much.

Due to Avianca changing my flight to a 10am from a 7pm I didn’t have time to see much more of the city. Cali was my next destination and where my Colombian journey will come to an end.

Cali is home to Salsa, so I was so excited to be experiencing the city and meeting up with my travel chum Laura. Taking the one hour flight, was far better than the 20 hour bus. I arrived at El Viarejo in the district of San Antonio. I took a taxi from the airport which took 30 minutes and was 45,000cop £11.

El Viarejo have a few hostels in Colombia and out of the two I stayed in, this was the better of the two. The staff were much friendlier and the layout much nicer than the long corridor of Cartagena. The pool was perfect for cooling down, and the free nightly Salsa lessons were a great addition. The only down side was the bar closed 22:30, but this just forced you to head out to the many Salsa clubs, like Tin Tin Deo a must on a Thursday Evening.

The area of San Antonio was really pretty, with a great selection of restaurants and cafes. Corrine a particular favourite for freshly baked bagels and coffee for breakfast, Cafe Mocando for some delicious ice cream feasts, La 4ta Pared Cafe for a cheap evening meal.

 

 

Like many Colombian cities, there are the usual museums and church’s to see. Cali had lots of street art and murals painted on the side buildings that gave it a more youthful influence. Also there was a great indoor market ‘Plaza de Mercado Alameda’, worth a visit to try out the many varieties of fresh fruit and many street sellers selling ceviche.

  

 

The time has come to make my final bus journey 12 hours South to Ipiales, the closest town to make the final journey across the border to Ecuador. We were advised to book through transipiales, as they were the best operator on this route.

So glad we did, the bus was a double decker, we had seats at the front of the top deck, and the seats were super comfy and was my cheapest long distance bus journey at 45,000cop £11.

We arrived at Ipiales at 9am and were shocked by the sudden drop in temperature, from the warm sun of Cali, here I had to search for my warm coat for the first time. Ten minutes from Ipiales is the ‘Santuario De Las Lajas’, a beautiful basilica church that looks like Rivendell from lord of the rings is worth visiting.

 

 

One thing you notice this far South is how close you are to the border of Ecuador, as the local people change. They have become shorter, rounder and more brightly dressed. Can I say that!!! Oh well I have…

  

 

Colombia you have been more than I could have imagined, and I am sad to be leaving. I look forward to my many more future visits to your fabulous country and I hope my experience will encourage more to visit.

 

San Gil to the Caribbean Coast

San Gil was a perfect fours days of relaxation, adventure sports and nature. There is something to do for everyone here, no matter what your fitness level or lack of enthusiasm for extreme sports. There were less expats than anywhere I have been so far, which makes for a nice change so I can practice my Spanish.

Forty five minutes away on the bus is the most beautiful little village called Barichara – taken from the Indian word barichala meaning “a good place to rest”. The whitewashed walls and clay tiled single story houses, and stone slabs roads make it idyllic. It is by far the most beautiful little village I have visited and it appears to have escaped the negative impact of tourism that you can find in so many similar places.

Feeling energetic from our morning run, Laura and I decide to take a two hour hike (5km) to a tiny Hamlet called Guane. The hike had spectacular views of the valley and surrounding mountains and was relatively easy.

The road reminded me of Dorothy’s yellow brick road initially, but as we ventured further into the wilderness, it became more isolated and arid from the scorching sun beating down. I had visions of Jesus walking to Nazareth – don’t ask me why….

Arriving into Guane some chickens run past us into the whitewashed house, and we follow the stone road that leads us to the main village square, which was so perfectly unspoilt and Colombian. Some old guys sitting playing games, and local women sweeping outside their beautiful white homes.

We stumble across a fantastic little boutique hotel Casa Misia Custodia , that would be perfect for a quiet getaway or to book with friends for a special occasion. A central courtyard, has about 10 beautifully designed rooms along 2 sides, and a swimming pool and restaurant along another. 155,000cop £39 per night for a double room when booking two nights.

Arriving back into San Gil, it is time to say say good bye to laura for now. I leave her watching the Colombian game against Paraguay, and agreed to meet her in Cali in a few weeks, before heading south.

The Bus journey to Santa Marta is my longest so far at 12hours, but still much cheaper than flying at 60,000cop £15. A quick tip is get the hostel to book your bus, I saved 30,000cop £7.70 compared to the online price. I am so glad it was through the night, as the bus would overtake every lorry on a blind corner as we descend the mountain, and this was a super windy road.

I arrive at the Dreamers Hostel in Santa Marta along with the other gringos off the bus. Oh and Gringo just means foreigner, nothing bad like it’s made out to be on T.V. Apparently it originates from locals saying “green eyes go”, so I was told by a Colombian.

I check in and see a poster for a trip to the closest beach in Tayrona Park “Playa Bahia Concha”. I put my name down and take the last spot. My name is called by someone I would say could be the hottest Colombian I have met so far.

I squeeze into his 4*4 and meet 6 guys from Belgium on their holidays. We drive through a rough part of town to get to this dirt track and drive for 30 minutes through the jungle.

We arrive and so too have quite a few buses of locals and gringos. We reach the beach and I’m confronted with a row of gazebo style shelters with chairs and lots of locals. Not quite the picturesque national park I was expecting.

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Thankfully Orlando – the driver takes us to the other end of the beach where it is empty and exactly what I had imagined. After four hours of sunbathing, swimming in the clear very warm sea, playing ball with the Belgium boys, and eating an expensive lunch the rain comes and it is time to leave. Most things in the park are overpriced, so take provisions with you if you’re on a budget.

As we walk back, I use it as an excuse to practice my Spanish with Orlando and much to my surprise he compliments me on my accent and how easily he understands me. Obviously I’m super chuffed.

It’s my First night in a 6 person dorm, I have a top bunk, it has a fan and a/c and a cute guy from oz. I’ll be fine I’m sure. Well that changed when I decided to get an early night to prepare for my day of hiking, and I find a guy and girl in the bunk below me.

Obviously I didn’t tolerate the bunk moving for too long and popped my head over and made it clear it wasn’t going to continue. Thankfully they listened and I went to sleep.

The hostel is super lively with lots of young Traveller’s in groups, and no surprise there are tons of Dutch. Colombia must be the top holiday destination for the Dutch, as they are everywhere and always really friendly.

Tayrona Park is Colombias most popular national park. A jungle that hugs the coast line between Santa Marta and Palomeno, and has some incredible beaches. The entry is 48,000cop £12, there are a few hiking options you can take to get to the beaches. I opted for the 2 hour hike along the coast, not the 4 hour up and over the mountain to get to Cabo San Juan the main stop for visitors.

You have the option to stay the night in the park in tents or in a hammock right next to the beach. I decided to stay in Hotel Chayrama just outside the park and enjoy a private room to myself. Chayrama was perfect, really relaxed and Danny who checks you in and then is your waiter for the evening, also takes you on local tours for free.

I would definitely recommend staying over at least 1 night and spend 2 days exploring the area. Outside the park their are some great waterfalls like Cascades de Valencia where you can swim and escape the 90% humidity that drips continually down you neck.