Colombia – May 2015

May 12 – June 9, Walked over the boarder from Ecuador to Colombia.

$1 CAD = $2000 COP.

When crossing the Frontera Ecuador/Colombian border it was a little chaotic.  Crossing into Colombia is free for everyone except Canadians.  Each Canadian must pay $160,000 COP (in cash) and have go through a “special” Canadian lineup.  We were told by other travelers that you can exchange money right at the border before crossing.  We tried the bank there but they said no.  We then spoke to a police officer who called over a guy in a trench coat with a fanny pack (bum bag for some of you) to exchange our money.  We both thought this seemed quite weird but we had no other choice.  I’m sure we got a little scammed but at least we had the $320,000 COP we needed to get into Colombia.  We are the only two Canadians in the “special” lineup, which they shut down the other busy lineup for.  We paid our money, got our passports stamped and away we crossed on foot.  We jumped into a taxi to Ipiales for $10,000 COP.  Took the bus to Pasto on a windy road for a few hours with pristine views.  Checked into Hotel San Sebastian for $60,000 COP and headed to the streets. We walked a few blocks of what seemed like motor bike repair shops in every store, eventually found a place to get some food and tried our luck with the ATM.  Shannon’s card had no luck so the next leg of the trip would be out of Tyson’s account.  Shannon decides no more buses as flights are not that expensive and our time is worth more than extra long bus rides through the twisty roads of the north.  We found a rather inexpensive flight from Popayan in two days, but now we just had to find our way there. We booked tickets on line but got an email saying we were obligated to call in to confirm the booking; but there was apparently nothing booked.  The following morning we stumbled town to the Avianca Airline company office and managed to confirm our booking this way instead.  We proceeded the next leg of the journey by bus for around $50,000 COP and made it to Papayan.  I am pretty sure that the driver was in the rally circuit in a past life as things seemed out of control crazy as  you had to hold on tight through the mountain side roads while sweating through your clothes due to the heat and mugginess as we lost altitude.

Shannon and I decided that because water was $3000 COP, fairly expensive, that this must have ment that the tap water was safe to drink, sure hope it was!  We were staying in a very fancy looking white wash hotel near the town square that was full of shops, banks, restaurants and we spent the rest of the day walking around. The ATM still didn’t like Shannon’s card, I think they were in cahoots against me.  The next morning we tried to tour the San Francisco Church where hidden mummies were exposed during an earthquake, but the guide was no where to be found so we couldn’t get in.  Later we headed to the airport and got through the not so secure security and off north to Santa Marta for some sun and sand.  An angry taxi driver took us to our reservations at El Hostel de Jackie but due to the late check in, they gave away our room so we ended up in a room with bunk beds and no bathroom.  Shannon had booked this place and we were expecting a queen bed, private bathroom and planning to stay for a few nights for my birthday.  Annoyed about the mess up after just one night we took a taxi from Santa Marta to Taganga for $10,000 COP.  Tyson’s actual birthday was this day.  We dropped our bags off at Hostel Nirvana, then walked the streets and beach.  Very small, friendly town, no real paved roads and a huge truck had to come by daily to fill water tanks for bathing, etc.  Must buy drinking water here and you could get 5.5 L for $22,000 COP.  We were now relaxing the Caribbean ocean and hanging out on the beach.  Shannon was now signed up for the PADI Open Water Dive course through Oceana Scuba, $650,000 COP.  While sitting in the sand relaxing we met some random guy who invited us to the ex-governor’s house that someone completely redid and turned into a hostel.  For $15,000 COP  we each enjoyed dinner, drinks and an open house party.  Over the next 4 days Shannon did her dive course and I joined along for fun dives with a few others.  We were on the same boat so we got to spend the days together.  Great diving, lots of colorful coral, sting rays, and eels.  Shannon, along with her  strange cravings of Coca-Cola in foreign countries had now added salchipapas to the list.  Basically French fries, hot dogs, mayonnaise and ketchup topped with shredded lettuce; something we would never eat back home but in Colombia they make it taste so good. 

After scuba diving was complete we were off to La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) on a 4-day trek for $1,400,000 COP.  This was very pricy but claiming to be the next Machu Picchu so we couldn’t miss it.  Headed to the office in Santa Marta to pick up a few others (Jasmine, David, and Karen), and drove a couple hours to a big house for lunch of chicken with many people.  Met with the Non-English guide then headed out on the hike.  It was super hot and sweaty then turned into pouring rain.  This occurred every day of our hike; what to expect in the jungle I guess.  We went up and down and up and down through the hills that were super muddy and everyone was slipping and falling.  Got to the first camp, 7 km hike in, still pouring rain.  Changed our clothes, had a nice dinner and then crawled into our open air bunks with mosquito nets.  Odd seeing how the locals were all huddled together watching TV way out in this remote area, while we were trying to get away from it all.  Early wake up on day two and on the trail by 6:30 am, super hot and sweaty already.  Stopped for lunch and had a swim in the river then off to the next camp; 15 km this day.  This was where we met “Max” the black dog who stayed with us for the next two days, like an escort.  Day three was the Lost City.  We started off with a short hike over the river then started up the 1200 stone steps to gain about 200 meters in elevation.  Zillions of mosquitos and Shannon forgot the bug spray so no one could stand still.  We reached the Lost City and to our surprise there was Military all over it with guns standing guard.  There had been reports of grave robbers in the past as the original residents were buried with gold in their graves.  We spent about an hour or two up there admiring the stone work and level housing platforms.  All the original houses had been destroyed over the years but your imagination could sure run wild in this place.  You could just sit in one spot and imagine what it would have been like when this place was bustling.  We headed back to camp, grabbed our stuff and hiked all the way to the first camp.  As always, a refreshing and rewarding swim in the local watering hole with some cliff jumping as well.  One of the local little girls admired Shannon’s sarong a bit more than she should have and it ended up being returned the following day in the next locals village.  We also had the privilege of listening to a local man speak of Tayrona culture with the assistance of a translator.  Such a great experience and I am so pleased to take it in before the mass of tourism floods the area.

Back to civilization now and Hostel Nirvana, where we found out they double booked our room, again!. This time it worked in our favour dramatically as they put us off site in a brand new little studio apartment and it even had a TV!  We were only going to stay for one night but decided to relax for a few more because of the accommodations.  Our days were spent in the ocean as we decided to go for a few more scuba dives.  We saw fire worms, eels, a hidden octopus, and even an tick embedded in my arm. 

Apparently going to Palomino was a must do so off we went.  Santa Marta to Palomino $8000 COP bus ride east.  Lunch with a street vendor then motorbike ride 500 meters to beach.  Super expensive to stay here and we weren’t understanding why this place was so popular.  We end up finding accommodation back up the road from the beach for $60,000 COP.  We headed down to the beach to relax and the waves were too huge and the current too strong so swimming was not happening.

With much hesitation we decided we would check out Tayrona National Park.  It was $39,500 COP each to enter and you could stay as long as you wanted.  This was truly the gem of Colombia, great choice, a must go experience.  Blue waters, palm trees, and large boulders.  We hiked into Arrecifes village, checked our bags into the lockers and reserved our place to stay.  Two of the twenty hammocks in a mosquito netted wooden frame were $12,000 COP per person per night.  They had showers, a great little restaurant and a group of hissing ducks that guarded the bathrooms.  If you have ever slept in a hammock for a full night you will know that not much sleep was had.  Two nights of that made for us being very tired and sore.  Our days were spent hiking to various beaches like Cabo San Juan.  This was a really busy beach that boat tours would bring day trips to, but still an amazing couple of days in the sun.  Our final morning exit hike out was delayed due to a bird that stood on Shannon’s backpack and refused to get off, then decided to leave here a little present at the last minute, ha ha.  

We hopped off in Santa Marta at a big mall, tried every ATM to be seen but there was no way to get money from Shannon’s card.  We couldn’t find a flight so we ended up taking a night bus the 15 hours all the way to Medellin for $90,000 COP each.  I strongly believe this was the coldest bus ride ever.  Some 15-year-old boy offered Shannon his jacket as the a/c was on full blast, pretty sure you could see your breath.  After a million stops and military check points and no sleep we finally made it to Medellin by 8:30 am (17 hours later).  Somehow we staggered to the Metro, $2000 COP each, changed lines, and walked 3 blocks to the Palm Tree Hostel for $70,000 COP.  We were too early to check in so they held our bags for us, let us shower and advised us on a place to grab breakfast; this place was a life saver.  We really liked this city, 3 million people, 1400 meters above sea level, known for its eternal spring conditions and great cheap Metro system.  We set out for the day to Parque Arvi.  We took the Metro then changed to the gondola for an extra $4500 COP each and arrived at the top of the mountain to this glorious park.  Once there we jumped on a bus up to the center and paid $15,000 COP each entry fee and all the entertainment yours to explore.  They had a giant two person swing, a huge volcano you could climb up and slide down (which Shannon got rug burn on, ha ha) and a ropes and zipline course.  Shannon was wearing flip flops so was unable to do the course, silly Shannon.  By the afternoon a storm rolled in and the gondola got shut down so everyone rushed to the bus line up.  It was mayhem to say the least.  It was also the end of the day and the push to get back to our hostel before dark was becoming an issue.  We semi skipped the line and squeezed onto a bus, and I mean squeezed.  I was sitting on the motor and eventually was helping the driver collect the bus fair and Shannon was sandwiched between two men and had balloons jammed in her face with a kid puking right beside here and it was hot and sweaty and pouring rain.  We arrived downtown and one of the locals told us to grab the first cab we saw as it was not safe for us to be out after dark.  We tried waving down a few cabs and none would stop.  Eventually one did and took us to our hostel which was only about 5 blocks away, in daylight we would have just walked. 

The following morning we caught the bus to Pereira, $33,000 COP each, 5-hour ride, then a mini-bus to a small mountain town called Santuario.  Rose, our friend from back home, set us up with Ben, her father who lives there.  He took us in for a few nights.  We visited, walked the town, and relaxed.  The following day we bused back to Pereira and Ben picked us up at the station and took us to his other place.  We settled in and Ben dropped us off downtown to go walking around and shopping.  He gave us his phone number to call to be picked up but we didn’t want to bother him and took a cab back.  When we get back to the house after night fall he was worried sick, nearly in a panic and thought something bad had happened to us.

We eventually bussed to Salento where we enjoyed a few nights.  We checked into Tralala Hostel with a private room and shared bathroom and kitchen for $50,000 COP.  Shannon felt like she was in heaven.  Feather bed and duvet, the comfiest bed we have had so far.  There we meet Sonja from Switzerland and Beni from New Zealand.  We all headed off to dinner and planned the Valley of the Wax Palm hike for the following day.  We jumped onto the bumper of an old Willy’s Jeep and headed out for the day.  We hiked through the hill side over creeks and rivers until we came across a hummingbird sanctuary which was $5000 COP each including a cup of hot chocolate and some cheese as well.  The following day we walked to Don Elias Organic Coffee Farm, $6000 COP each for the tour of the plantation, drying, and roasting area, not to mention a free taste test.

Adventure time; a day trip on horses to a lovely waterfall.  We asked for very relaxed, experienced horses for this trip so the guy threw us on Cigara and Hanna the horses and we are off.  Nicely strolling down the paved road out of the city when we reach a very narrow steep downhill trail.  Both horses were very familiar with this route so they decided to have some fun, us not so much.  They bolted down the trail and once out in the open took off with us on their backs at their mercy.  Eventually we gained some control and were back to a nice slow pace, meandering through meadows, crossing streams and even an old railway tunnel to reach the waterfall.  Then backtracked the way we came up the steep trail we went.  Shannon’s horse really didn’t want to go up it so just froze right in the middle.  Another group was coming down and Shannon’s horse refused to move.  The guide ended up having to get off his horse and guide Hanna so the other group could pass. 

We traveled a couple hours from Salento to Armenia on the bus and got in a taxi.  We gave him a piece of paper with the address of the hostel we wanted to go to but he said no.  He said “no bad, bad, bad”.  Instead he just drove us away and took us to Confortel Hotel and even brought our bags in and spoke to the front desk.  It was a good choice.   Headed out to walk around and do a bit of shopping.  The following day we were up early and at Nascar speeds we were at the airport for our flight to Bogota.  We got on the plane and taxied down the runway when the plane suddenly stopped.  We waited around and watched as it looked like they were jumping the plane to get it going again.  Arrived in Bogota and had only a few hours to wait around before our connecting flight back to Quito, Ecuador.  A free shuttle took us to the Quito Airport Suites which was really close to the airport (the Quito airport is quite a distance out of town).  We met a nice couple (Ron and Maegan) and the following day headed out for the final day of our 6 week holiday with them to Mitad del Mundo (the Equator).

Overall we had an amazing time full of trilling adrenaline adventures, tranquil beach settings, cultural jungle hikes and enjoyed amazing people, both tourists and local.  Glad we came?  Absolutely.  Would we do it all over again?  Indeed!

Watch more videos from Restless Crusade here!

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