Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Colombia February - March 2019

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I would like to thank the following people that helped make this trip possible.

Julia with Neptuno Colombia
Chloe with DeUna Colombia Tours 
Francisco - Even though he now lives in Finland, his passion for Colombia and his advice on where to go and what to see was invaluable.

Of course all our hosts, guides and drivers. They all made us feel so welcome.

All Pictures from the Colombia Trip are at the bottom of this post!

In 2018 I visited Ecuador, Galapagos, Norway, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia. This added seven countries/territories to my countries/territories list bringing the total to 61. My first trip for 2019 is to Colombia, I will be spending four and a half weeks exploring Colombia.

Why Colombia? We have not been to Colombia, and Margarite has been studying Spanish. We heard in Colombia they speak clean Spanish (not sure what that means), I have been told this makes it a good place to test Margarite’s Spanish skills. Those are the reasons.

A quick outline of our trip:
1) A few days in Bogota.
2) Four days living in the Amazon Jungle along the Colombia / Venezuela Border.
3) Then we head south to the Tatacoa Desert.
4) Then we continue south to San Agustin.
5) After San Austin we make a U-turn and head north making several stops before we arrive in Medellin.
6) From Medellin, we fly to Cartagena.
7) Then on to Barranquilla. In Barranquilla, we will be celebrating at the second Carnival in the world.
8) Then off to Santa Marta and a four-day trek to the lost city.
9) Before flying home we will be resting and relaxing in the beautiful Caribbean town of Santa Marta.

We will be doing some adventure touring, which will include hiking, mountain biking, and white-water rafting. As well, we will be touring several cities and visiting museums.

Along the way, a few mystery guests will be joining us, so stay tuned.

We have been asked if it is safe to travel in Colombia. The answer is “YES!”, as long as you are smart and use common sense. I guess we will see how smart we are. The following is a section of an email I got from the U.S. State Department today.

Location: Colombia-Venezuela border region. Event: Given the developing situation in Venezuela, criminal or terrorist elements may seek to exploit uncertainty and increased media attention on the Colombia-Venezuela border. U.S. Embassy personnel must request permission for travel outside of Bogotá and the corridor between Cartagena and Santa Marta and may be required to use armored vehicles. U.S. citizens should remain vigilant and expect increased police presence in the border region.

Actions to Take: Do not travel to Venezuela. - Do not travel to the Colombian departments of Arauca or Norte de Santander outside of Cucuta, and exercise increased caution in Cucuta. - Reconsider travel to the departments of Cesar, Vichada, and Guainia. - Be aware of your surroundings. - Keep a low profile.

I am all about keeping a low profile, this should add some excitement to the trip.

Day 1 - Bogota

Our flights were non-eventful, which is always a plus. Clearing customs and immigrations was a breeze. We arranged for our driver Jhonny to meet us directly outside arrivals. Jhonny was there bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Joining me on this segment of the trip is Matalin, Mollie, and Phil. Of course, Margarite will be joining me for the entire adventure.

Getting to our house in Bogota was a bit of a challenge. Jhonny is a rather conservative driver, always staying a few MPH below the posted speed limit. From the airport to the house was 35 minutes. I should say from the airport to within a stone's throw of the house was 35 minutes. It was a case of “you cannot get here from there.” Between the one way winding roads and dead ends, it was near to impossible to find the house, but we eventually made it.

We settled in and then went for dinner. What a great find, just a few minutes from our house. Santa Fe Restaurante, true Colombian cuisine, Everything was perfect for our first evening in Bogotá. The weather was warmer than expected 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Julia a dear friend, met us for dinner. She gave us a lot of insight into Colombia and things to see and do. It is no wonder that Santa Fe Restaurante is rated one of the best restaurants in Bogota, serving traditional Colombian food and drinks.

Day 2 - Bogota

We had two tours set up, the first was a city tour called Free Walking Tour Bogota we covered Colombia in general and Bogota in detail. Bogota is a magnificent, very clean and safe city. The biggest risk is stepping into a random hole in the sidewalks. The mix of new and old was great to see. Hearing about the history was educational. One of the highlights of the tour was the art museum and seeing the collection from Fernando Botero.

We learned a lot about the political changes in Colombia from the Spanish concurring the area to present times. Our guide covered the time during the drug cartels and rebels up to present times with the recent peace treaty between one of the rebel groups and the current government.

Our second tour started at 2:00 PM, FREE Bogotá Graffiti Tour. We walked for close to three hours and spotted hundreds of murals. Our guide explained the history and meaning of many of the murals, from simple graffiti tags to complex murals. Much of the art was a way for the artist to make statements, sometimes political, environmental, social, etc...

After the tours, we walked the city before stopping at La Taperia for dinner. The food and service were both great. They served the food tapas style so you could get a nice variety of dishes.

Day 3 - Bogota

Our first stop was the Paloquemao Market, this is a large semi-outdoor market in Bogotá. The main focus is fruits and vegetables, but we found you could get anything you wanted.

The fun part was getting there. What should have been a 25-minute bus ride or 45-minute walk turned into a two-hour bus ride on multiple buses. People were helpful maybe even too helpful. Not knowing where we wanted to go, one couple unintentionally took us on a wild goose chase. The positive, we got to see a lot of the city that we might not have gotten to see otherwise. And since we had all day there was no negative.

From the market, we squeezed the 5 of us into one tiny cab and went to the north of Bogotá to visit a friend of a friend Eva Maria.

Eva Maria gave us a tour of the part of the city she lives in. A bit more upscale than where we are staying. We had a fantastic lunch at a local eatery. The food in Colombia has been over the top, great.

After walking the city some more we all piled into Eva Maria’s car now 7 of us, yes, Eva Maria has a driver. We headed even further north outside of Bogota to the town of Chia and Andres Carne Restaurante.

Francisco, thank you for the recommendation. This place is much more than a restaurant it is an experience, more like a carnival with salsa dancing and great food.

Day 4 - Bogota

This morning we were picked up by Fabio (our driver) and drove about an hour East of Bogota over the mountains to the high eastern plains. After a beautiful one hour drive, we arrived at the trailhead for La Chorrera Water Falls.

La Chorrera Waterfalls is the highest waterfall in all or Colombia. The hike, round trip was ten kilometers, which was not the hard part. The hard part was all the ups and downs, plus we were at 8,000 feet in elevation.

The hike was beautiful the sky was clear and the landscape was lush mountains. Being the dry season the falls were not as spectacular as they could have been, still worth the time and effort it took to get there.

Here is a short video of the hike.

Our dinner was the first “just ok” meal.

Day 5 - Monserrate

Since we did not get enough hiking in yesterday, a few of us decided to climb to the top of Monserrate. This is only a two-kilometer climb, mostly steps, and you gain about 2,000 feet in elevation. Normally at the top, you have the option to walk back down, take the funicular, or take a cable car. Being a Tuesday the funicular was closed for cleaning, and the cable car was closed until July for maintenance. For these reasons another option was given, this option was to ride a mountain bike back down the steps into Bogota. Margarite opted for the mountain bike.

Watch the video. She is crazy.

While we did the climb, the others went emerald and art shopping.

We all met up later for a cooking class where we experienced a Colombian traditional meal. We met our teacher /chef along with her sister at their home. We learned not just about Colombian dishes. We also learned about the great selection of tropical and exotic fruits as well as local desserts that only Colombians know how to make. For our main course, we made empanadas, potato, fish and a mixture of potato and fish. What a wonderful experience. Plus we got to eat what we cooked.

Day 6 - Cathedral of Salt

Fabio picked us up for our drive north to the Cathedral of Salt - A Cathedral carved out of salt, located a mile below the earth's surface. - The story of the Cathedral of Salt of Zipaquira is certainly one of persistence. The original cathedral was carved out of an active salt mine beginning in 1950. Inaugurated in 1954, the cathedral lasted for 36 years before authorities, worried about its structural soundness, shut it down. This, however, did not deter the town of Zipaquira (known as Zipa) In 1991, a year after shuttering the old cathedral, work began on a new salt church some 200 feet below the old one.

The Cathedral of Salt is a work of wonder. The pictures do not even come close to showing the in-normality of the structure and size of the mines.

After The Cathedral of Salt, we walked around the main square and toured the Cathedral on the square.

While we were walking the town, the local evildoers broke into Fabio's car. They took Margarite’s backpack or should I say Shawn’s backpack. Luckily, nothing was taken that could not be replaced.

Tomorrow we will head into the Amazon Jungle on the border of Colombia and Venezuela. Margarite is excited to fly in a piper cub, whatever that is.

This four-day excursion to the jungle has been described by the locals as Exotic, Rustic, and Crazy.

Four days in the Colombia/Venezuela Amazon Jungle

Day 7 - Amazon Jungle

The only way to get to Iniride is flying into their small airport or by boat. Iniride is the gateway to the area of the Amazon Jungle we will be spending the next four days. We flew in on a Boeing DC-3, we were just glad it was not a 737-Max 8. The flight was loud but uneventful. The flight from Bogota to Iniride was two hours.

There are two stories behind the DC-3. The first is that it was confiscated from Pablo Escobar by the government. The second is the CIA left it behind back when they were trying to keep communism from reaching South America. Not sure if either of these two stories is true, but the plane and flight were really cool.

Chloe the person that helped me plan this part of the trip decided to join us. Once we arrived we took a Tuc-Tuc to a local restaurant to have some lunch. Here we are, in the middle of nowhere and the food is just as tasty and delicious as the food (Chicken, Rice, and Plantains) in Bogota.

After lunch, we took the Tuc-Tuc to the harbor to board a very rustic speedboat, more like a large rowboat with an overpowered outboard engine. We took an extremely loud but beautiful two-hour ride to a small indigenous community called El Remanso. The entire population of El Remanso is 250 people.

Our guide and boat captain for the next three days will be Oliver.

We arrived at 5:30 PM and were introduced to the family that would be hosting us for the night. It had been a long day, both Margarite and I were ready to hit the sack. We quickly found out that was not in the cards. We were asked if we would like to go on a two-hour hike to hear the jungle sounds and if we were lucky to see the animals, birds, reptiles, and bugs, that make those sounds. How could we say no?

The reason we are visiting El Remanso is to experience the unique rock formation just across the river from the village. There are three heights to this formation, The local names for each of the hills or heights are Mavicure, Pajarito, and Mono. Our evening hike which quickly turned into a night hike took us to the back of the rock formation. We climbed about halfway up before our guide felt it was getting too dangerous to continue. He did let us know we would reach the top of Mavicure the next day, no wimping out.

Our two-hour hike turned out to be three hours, it was very enjoyable and none of us were complaining. The moon was about half full and the sky was clear and full of stars. We had headlamps, but the moon and stars provided enough light to that the headlamps were not needed. Our bodies even created shadows as we hiked back to the village. Besides a few frogs, we did not see any living creatures, but we certainly heard the sounds they created.

Once we returned to the village we were not only tired but very hungry. Dinner did not disappoint. Fresh fish caught in the Inirida River along with rice and fried potatoes.

Though we were in the middle of nowhere, no plumbing, and no electricity, except when the very loud generator was running. The accommodations were nice, clean, with comfortable beds. We all slept like babies.

Day 8 - Amazon Jungle

This morning after a fantastic breakfast of eggs sandwiched between two corn pancakes served along with potato and pasta soup, we headed out on to the Inirida River.

Our short boat trip took us to the base of Mavicure. We started off the hike with a steep climb up the rock face, which appeared to be volcanic rock. We would later learn these formations were actually created by erosion. Our goal for the day is to reach the peak or Mavicure 500 meters above the river.

The hike/climb is beautiful winding through the jungle and sometimes straight up the rock face using ladders made from the local tree branches.

It took an hour we reached the peak, much quicker than our guide expected. The climb at some parts was rather difficult but well worth it. The views of the surrounding landscape were breathtaking.

Video of the hike / climb

After returning to El Remanso for another fantastic meal we had to say our goodbyes to our new family.

The boat ride up river to our next destination would be an hour. Before heading up the river we decided to go down the river a few hundred meters to swim with the pink porpoises. These unique mammals are related to the porpoises you would find in the ocean but look more prehistoric.

After the swim and the hour boat ride we reached the community of Ceiba. This is where we will be spending the night. The name Ceiba comes from a local tree. Before dinner, we took a dugout canoe to see the pink porpoises as well as a beautiful sunset.

Ceiba is the village Oliver is from and we are staying with Oliver's family. In fact, the dugout canoe ride was hosted by Oliver's father-in-law and Oliver's daughter.

Dinner was fresh fish with rice and beans. Dessert was sweet plantains. I do not think I will be losing any weight on this trip.

Day 9 - Amazon Jungle

I slept like a baby, though instead of a bed I slept in a hammock. This morning we got a tour and education on this community's venture into honey making. The community has built and cultivated over 75 beehives with a goal of having over 150 hives. They have eight different varieties of bees. While this project may sound simple they are not ordering queen bees off the internet as you might in a developed area. The must find an active hive in the wild that has an extra queen. They capture the queen and put it into one of their home built hives and leave it next two the natural hive. Over time the worker bees will colonize the new hive where the queen was placed. Once this happens the beekeeper will move the new hive to a location of their choice.

One benefit of this project is the increase in the bee population in the community. As a result, the community has seen an increase in lemons and other fruit production, because of the increased pollination of the flowers. They will have their first honey harvest in April. We wish them luck.

After lunch, we said goodbye to our second new family and departed Ceiba continuing down the river for an hour and 15 minutes before we arrived at Inirida the small town we originally flew into.

We took a short break while we resupplied and picked up two passengers, Fernando, and his wife. They are both biologists helping the indigenous people protect the environment as well as create sustainable economies.

As we departed Inirida Fernando explained there is a huge trust issue with the indigenous people. In the past, the indigenous people had been exploited by both the rubber and petroleum industries. For this reason, they do not trust any promises that are being made.

A short distance down river from the town of Inirida, the Inirida River joins the Rio Guaviare, this is the end of the Inirida River, we now continue on the Rio Guaviare.

A few kilometers later the Rio Guaviare converges with two other rivers, the Rio Atabapo, and the Rio Orinoco. All three rivers become the Rio Orinoco. As we head north or down the river we straddled the border of Colombia and Venezuela.

We arrived at our final and last destination of our Jungle excursion, an hour and 20 minutes after we left the town of Inirida. Our new home for the night was slightly less rustic than our last two nights. Fernando and his wife are in the process of building an ecotourism resort. It is called Moru. Their goal is to increase tourism in the area with no negative effect on the environment and a positive effect on the indigenous people.

On our arrival, we were served a beautiful lunch. Clearly, the folks in the Amazon Jungle know feeding me makes me happy. After lunch, we went for a walk in the jungle where we climbed the trees to where platforms were mounted. The goal was to see the jungle looking down rather than looking up. It is hard to describe the experience so here is a short video that will help.

It was dark when we finished our afternoon tree climb. Once back at the lodge we had dinner. After dinner a shower, yes our first shower in three days.

Day 10 - Amazon Jungle

This morning after breakfast we went for a hike to the natural lagoon, an hour walk from the lodge. Walking through the Amazon Jungle never gets old. All the sounds and sights each unique in its own way.

It was now time to say goodbye to our third new family. We boarded our boat for Inirida, to catch a flight to Bogota. Before reaching Inirida we made a stop at a small village just north of Inirida that has many petrographs painted on the rocks. These petrographs tell the history of the indigenous people.

Once back at Inirida we said goodbye to Oliver, got a bite to eat and took a Tuc-Tuc to the airport.

Big thanks to Francisco for suggesting we visit this part of Colombia and to Chloe for making it come together and joining us on the adventure.

As I mentioned before we left for this Jungle tour, we were told this adventure would be exotic, rustic, and crazy. Two out of three is not bad. There was nothing crazy about it.

The South of Colombia

Day 11 - Tatacoa Desert

After spending the night in Bogota, we caught an early-morning flight to Neiva, an hour south of Bogota by plane.

We were greeted by our guide Milton and driver Wilson. They will be with us for the next five days.

The reason we flew to Neiva, it is the closest airport to the Tatacoa Desert which is an hour north of Neiva. The Tatacoa Desert is not actually a desert, technically an arid forest.

We arrived in Villavieja a small village on the edge of the Tatacoa Desert. It was noon and as hot as could be. We got a quick bite to eat. Milton suggested we hold off on a hike through the desert until later in the afternoon when the sun will not be as hot. We decided to take a walk down to the Magdalena River instead and see if we could hire a boat to take us bird watching. This plan worked perfectly. Not only did we see plenty of birds we also saw lots of iguanas.

Once it cooled down we headed out to the desert. It was a cross between Utah's Bryce Canyon and Zion Canyon. After spending some time exploring the desert it was time to star gaze.

Being in a remote location with very little light pollution this is a great place to do star gazing. There is one exception when there is a full moon.

Day 12 - San Agustin

This morning we headed for the village of San Agustin, located 227 km south of Neiva. We will be spending two nights at the Hotel Monasterio San Agustin, which was once a working monastery, there is still a full chapel off the lobby.

Once we arrived in San Agustin, we went white-water rafting on the Magdalena River. This was Milton’s first-time rafting. Not a big deal except Milton can’t swim.

Rafting video

Day 13 - San Agustin

Since being in San Agustin, the four amigos (Wilson, the driver, Milton, the guide, Margarite, and Dug), have covered a lot of ground. We spent several hours at the archeological site, the largest complex of pre-Columbian megalithic funerary monuments and statues. The stones were similar to the stones we saw when we visited Easter Island a few years back.

After the park, we stopped for lunch where I got to audition for head chef and failed miserably.

In the afternoon, we took a hike to the Magdalena Gorge. This is the narrowest part of the Magdalena River. This is the same River we rafted on the day before. It is an important river that flows south to north almost the entire length of Colombia.

Day 14 - San Agustin and Popayan

After a good nights sleep, we got an early start on a mountain bike ride to view the valley and waterfalls created by the Magdalena River. At the end of the ride, we rode through town, stopping at the local market where Milton had us taste some very interesting fruits. Here is a short video of the mountain bike ride. Remember we are at over 9,000 feet so this easy ride was not so easy.

After the bike ride, we departed San Agustin for our 130 or so kilometer drive North to Popayan our next stop on our tour of Colombia. Though the drive was only 130 kilometers, it took well over four hours, due to the nature of the dirt and gravel roads.

We arrived in Popayan late in the day, took a tour of the town center which in the past had been the capital of Colombia. It is very colonial, with all the buildings painted white. If you are geographically challenged stay away, it is easy to get lost.

Day 15 - Popayan

Today we spent the day at National Natural Park Puracé, which has been awarded as the Andean natural reserve area. This park is just 48 kilometers from the Popayan. Our first stop was to view the giant Colombian Condor. After watching the condor we drove to the hot sulfur springs. This mountainous park is made up of a lot of volcanoes. Thus the hot sulfur springs. We enjoyed our time hiking in the park on the way out we stopped to enjoy one of the many waterfalls. One interesting fact, 70% of Colombia’s water flows from this area.

On our return to Popayan, we had to say good-bye to Wilson and Milton as we will be getting a new driver and new guide tomorrow. We hope our new driver, and guide will be as good as Wilson and Milton.

Before heading back to the hotel we walk the center of Popayán for a bit.

Day 16 - Cloud Forest of Colombia

We left Popayán at 9:00 am, heading north towards our final destination outside the city of Pereira. After an hour we made a short stop in the village of Silvia. Silvia Is inhabited mostly by indigenous people. We stopped at the main square for a quick walk around. It is best to visit Silvia on a Tuesday as that is the big market day, today is Saturday. We stopped to chat with an indigenous lady and her granddaughter. They wore the traditional clothing of the indigenous people. The clothes were similar to what the indigenous people of Peru wear. Of course, there was also a church on the main square.

We understood today’s drive would be five to six hours. Our understanding was not correct the drive was closer to eight hours. The highlight was passing the colorful public buses and getting big waves from the passengers hanging on for dear life at over 100 kilometers per hour.

We arrived at our accommodations for the next three nights at 5:30 PM. The hotel, Hotel Boutique Sazagua, is just perfect. After a great dinner, we hit the hay.

Day 17 - Cloud Forest of Colombia

Today our guide Geraldin and driver Julio picked us up at 8:00 am. We drove for an hour to the Cocora Valley. We did a 14-kilometer hike in the Acaime Nature Reserve. The hike was beautiful at the altitude of 7,500 feet to 9,000 feet, which is known as the cloud forest. The name cloud forest is because the jungle at this altitude is usually engulfed in the clouds. We hiked most of the way paralleling a beautiful rocky stream crossing it many times across rather unstable footbridges. There were lots of flowers, birds and crazy plant life. We finished the hike in a field of wax palms. Wax palms are the tallest palms in the world and native to Colombia, some nearly 180 feet tall and over 200 years old.

This video will give you an idea of what the hike was all about.

After the hike and lunch, we stopped in the village of Salento. Salento is a bit touristy, but this stop was the best stop since we arrived in Colombia! Why? Because we found a great ice cream shop!

Day 18 - Coffee Plantation and Bbotanical Garden

This morning we are zip lining over a coffee plantation in the highest and longest canopy in the country. We will reach heights of over 60 meters and speeds up to 80 km/h. There were actually seven zip lines totaling more than two kilometers in length.

What a view. I hope you enjoy the short video.

After the zip line, we stopped in another village called Filandia, similar style to Salento with many local craft shops. Again, I was surprised by an ice cream shop, yes, two days in a row. Colombia is redeeming itself.

In the afternoon, we visited the Jardin Botanico Del Quindio, a beautiful botanical garden, bird sanctuary, and butterfly park.

Day 19 - Medellin-The Murder Capital of the World

Today Julio will be driving us further north to Medellin. We are told it will be a five-hour drive.

Our five-hour drive from Pereira to Medellin was closer to eight hours. Julio our driver did a great job, but he could not beat the elements. Once we hit the mountains the fog set in, I should say the clouds. Visibility was just a few meters. Julio had to keep his speed under ten kilometers per hour. This lasted for what seemed like hours. With just 30-40 kilometers to go, traffic on this winding, very steep uphill and downhill, one lane in each direction road, came to a complete halt. We sat, and we sat, and we sat, after about 45 minutes, we started to move. Up two kilometers, an 18 wheeler had reduced a brick home to ruble. The truck either lost its brakes, or the driver fell asleep, rather than take the curve he plowed right into the house. We have no idea how he did not go over the cliff. Sorry, no pictures, after sitting for 45 minutes Margarite vetoed my request to pull over so I could take a picture of the mangled truck, and the pile of bricks, that just an hour before was a house.

It has been a long day, so no nightlife for us.

Day 20 - Medellin-The Murder Capital of the World

We have a new guide and driver today, Pablo and Alexander. We will be touring Medellin. Medellin has a population of over five million people and sits in a deep valley. Medellin known as the murder capital of the world and the center of the coke (the kind you snort not drink) trade in the 1980s and 1990s, is now a safe, progressive city.

We started our tour by heading up into the local mountains on the eastern side of the city via car. Our first stop, Santa Elena, which is home to a great variety of traditional flower farmers. Technically, Santa Elena is part of Medellin. You would never think of it as being part of the city. We stopped at the Londono family flower farm. This farm has been operating for over 200 years, six generations. Jose the son-in-law gave us a tour of the farm and demonstration of the traditional way the flowers are carried to market. Each August over 600 farms enters a flower competition in Medellin. The Londono family have won several times.

After the farm, we visited a local park not far from Santa Elena. Medellin’s hillsides are connected to the valley of the city with a fairly extensive cable car (gondola) system. By car, it took us around 45 minutes to get to Santa Elena, via cable car, we were back in the valley in less than 30 minutes.

Not only is there the cable car system to get up into the hillsides, but there is also a metro rail line that runs north, south through the valley. Being a valley Medellin has a problem with the pollution getting trapped. The city is hoping by expanding the public transit options as well as adding bike lanes, they will reduce the automobile traffic which is the largest contributor to pollution.

Once back in the city center, we visited the Instituto de Cultura y Patrimonio de Antioquia. This is a museum, but we spent more time admiring the building’s architecture than the contents of the museum.

Outside the museum is the largest exhibitions of Fernando Botero’s sculptures. You may remember we saw some of his art in Bogota. He likes to do paintings and sculptures of fat people.

Of course, being a city and luck being with me, I found a few ice cream places.

Yes, Colombia is a 90% Catholic country, so we needed to visit a few churches.

There are two hills (mountains) within the valley of Medellin, both are public parks. We ventured to the top of the hill that is in the southern part of the city. The picture from this park gives you a good idea of the pollution I was speaking about. This is not haze or fog in the picture.

To give you an idea of how safe and metropolitan Medellin is, we went out for dinner, within two to four blocks from our hotel. There were many restaurants, bars, dance clubs, and boutiques. Think of South Beach, Florida’s Lincoln Road, but on steroids.

Day 21 - Guatapé

Today we still have Pablo as our guide but Marlin is our driver. Yes, Pablo Escobar and Marlin Brando, the dynamic duo. Today we head east of Medellin. Our first stop is the reproduction of the town of El Peñol. In the 1970s a dam was built, which flooded the town of El Peñol. Before flooding the town much of the town was rebuilt on a hilltop allowing people to see what the town was like.

We took a boat ride onto the lake that was created by the dam. One relic from the flooding was the church of El Peñol. After the flooding, the local folks built a cross on top of where the church had stood. We also got to see the bombed out remains of Pablo Escobar’s mansion and pool house.

After the boat trip we headed over and climbed Peñol Rock, at 200 meters high, there are over 700 steps to reach the top. From the top, you could truly see the size and beauty of the lake that was created by the dam.

We had lunch and walked around Guatapé before heading back to Medellin. Guatapé Is well known for the bright colors of its buildings. Most of the buildings have very colorful border walls made of wood. These border walls come up from the ground just a few feet. They are designed to protect the building’s soft structures from the elements.

Of course, we had to visit the church. The priest was not in and someone wanted to confess their sins. I volunteered to fill in for the priest, a few Hell Mary’s and all was good.

What a great day.

Day 22 - Cartagena / Havana, Cuba / New Orleans

Today we arrived in Cartagena. The flight from Medellin to Cartagena was uneventful, which is the best way for a flight to be.

The highlight was running into our good friend Jack at Medellin airport. Apparently, our Colombia trip updates got Jack excited to visit Colombia.

Spontaneously, Jack bought a plane ticket to Bogota with a return ticket from Cartagena. Jack has been in Colombia for eight days and has visited Bogota and Medellin. Jack is more of a city slicker than we are. He has seen more of the cultural side of Colombia, while we have seen more of the countryside.

We arrived in Cartagena, mid-afternoon. Margarite and I had nothing pre-arranged for this part of the trip. Jack, graciously agreed to let us tag along on his plans for Cartagena.

We are staying at Hotel Quadrifolio while Jack is just a few blocks away at the Bourbon Street Hostel.

After checking into our accommodations, we walked the main center of the walled section of Cartagena. I titled this section "Cartagena / Havana, Cuba / New Orleans". Why? Very quickly you draw the comparison to these three places. Except for Creole instead of Spanish in New Orleans, someone could be placed in any of these three places and not know which of the three they were in.

Day 23 - Cartagena

Today Jack has arranged two different tours. The first, a free walking tour, we got a good understanding of Cartagena and its history. In the original area of Cartagena, there are three sections, Central, San Diego, and Getsemaní.

Historically the wealthy lived in the central area, the poor and slaves lived in the Getsemaní section, and the common folks lived in San Diego. Now they are all becoming tourist areas. The first to attract tourists was the central area. Today there is a lot of renovations and rebuilding going on in the Getsemaní section, the newer clubs, and restaurants are locating in Getsemani as it is the up and coming place.

The population of Cartagena and the surrounding area is one million seven hundred thousand. When Spain controlled this area, it was where all the gold was stored before it was shipped back to Europe. England tried to capture Cartagena in the 1700s, though the Spanish were outnumbered they kept control and the English retreated.

The locals say this was the battle that determined Spanish would be the language of South America rather than English.

The temperature and humidity were both high, after the tour and lunch, we took a siesta before our afternoon tour.

Meeting at 4:00 pm we started off on our second tour of the day called “Garcia Marquez Food Tour.” Garcia Marquez, one of Jack’s favorite authors, lived in Cartagena for a good bit of his life. A lot of his writings have to do with Cartagena and food. This tour taught us about Garcia Marquez and some of the traditional foods of Cartagena. Many of the foods we learned about were either mentioned in Garcia Marquez stories or foods he enjoyed personally. Having very little culture myself this tour was a nice change of pace.

I asked Jack to add a paragraph or two on why he chose to stay at a youth hostel. Here is his description of his experience after dropping us off at our hotel and returning to his hostel.

“When my dearest friends Dug and Margarite return to luxuriates in one of Cartagena's most elegant hotels after a tiring but satisfying day of walking old city Cartagena and taking a Gabriel Garcia inspired Food Tour, I return to my assigned bunk among fourteen others in one of three dorms at the Bourbon Street Hostel Boutique. They'll probably soothe aching muscles in one of their hotel's two beautiful pools while I could share the hostel's five by the eight-foot pool with a rubber ducky. They enjoy serenity; I'll cope with the blare of hip hop from the hostel's two bars. They are enjoying the privacy of a spatial room, I'll be sharing space with 42 young backpackers. So why would a retired university professor who could afford more than a $20 a night dormitory room chose to stay at a hostel? The reasons and satisfaction are multiple: curiosity, adventure, a desire to return to one's youth, to remain young by being among vital youthful people, and practicality- why pay more when all one needs is a place to sleep at night? “

Day 24 - Cartagena

Today Margarite and I decided to relax. We have been on the road 25 days moving and moving we earned a day with little structure. We wondered the city enjoying lunch at one of the many squares.

At 5:25 pm we went to the beach to watch the sunset and continue our low-key day. If you venture just south of the historic area of Cartagena you might think you had walked to Miami Beach.

We met Jack, at 6:30 pm before heading over to Restaurant Interno for dinner. Our good friends Ann and Anke recommended this restaurant. This restaurant is attached to a women’s prison and is run by the inmates. The idea is to help the women integrate back into society once they are released from prison. This link will take you to an article about the restaurant.

The food and service were great. The menu was priced fixed at $90,000 pesos, $30.00 USD a bit expensive for Cartagena standards. For the $90,000 pesos, you get a fresh fruit drink, appetizer, main course, and dessert, as for a bonus you get a charitable deduction receipt since the restaurant is a non-profit.

On our walk home, we stopped at a rooftop bar for a drink and to people watch. The highlight was the hostess assuming Jack and Margarite were husband and wife, and I was the friend.

After three nights in Cartagena, I would say one maybe two at the most would have been enough. Cartagena is too touristy for our taste.

Day 25 - Carnaval de Barranquilla

Today we are off to Carnaval de Barranquilla. Carnaval de Barranquilla (Carnival of Barranquilla) is the second largest carnival in the world, surpassed only by Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Our driver, William, and guide Carlos picked the three of us up at 9:00 am for the two-hour drive to Barranquilla. We arrived just past 11:00 am. We had VIP tickets to today’s parade. The paraded is scheduled to run from 2:00 pm until 6:00 pm. Carlos arranged for us to hang out and enjoy lunch at a waterside restaurant and cafe. As we ate we watched the iguanas and birds hang out at the water's edge.

Our seats for the parade were truly VIP, just inches from the parade, we watched dancers and floats pass us by for over four hours. Each group of participants working hard to outperform each other. What a great time and experience.

Please watch this short video. It might help you appreciate what we watched and experienced.

Make sure you watch it to the end. I promise you will be laughing out loud.

Once the parade ended it was time to say our good-byes. Carlos took Jack back to Cartagena where he will enjoy a few more days before heading home.

William took Margarite and me to Santa Marta, a two-hour drive from Barranquilla. We will have one day to relax before heading into the jungle for a four-day hike to find the lost city of Colombia.

Day 27 - Ciudad Perdida - The Lost City

Ciudad Perdida Trek is a four-day, three-night trek through the La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range (Santa Marta Snow-Capped Mountain Range). The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the highest coastal mountain range in the world. It rises up to 5,775 meters at Bolívar peak and is only 50 kilometers, as the crow flies, away from the sea.

The reserve we hiked, covers 383.000 hectares, where one can find a humid jungle of slopes and foothills, tropical rain forest and rainy tundra as well as peaks that are covered by snow all year round. In addition to its immense wealth in bio-diversity, in flora and animal life, this reserve is also the home of diverse indigenous groups such as the Arhuacos and the Koguis. It also represents one of the most outstanding and impressive archaeological sites of the continent: The Lost City or “Ciudad Perdida” is situated at an altitude of between 900 and 1300 meters above sea-level in the middle of the jungle.

The Lost City or “Ciudad Perdida” is what we will be striving to find on this trek. If we find it, will they change the name to the found city?

The Tayrona Indians, who flourished between the 13th and 14th century, probably constructed this archaeological wonder. The Lost City, with its terraced complexes, bridges, paths, and aqueducts, is extraordinary, as is the track that will lead us there, taking us through diverse and spectacular landscapes and climatic zones. At least, that is what we have been told.

As I mentioned this part of the trip was Margarite’s idea with the suggestion coming from Francisco. Those that know Margarite, know she is not the camping type or one that would be eating frank and beans made over an open campfire.

To my surprise, this trek/camping trip was not exactly what I thought it would be.

Margarite knew, to do this hike you are required to hire a guide. Typically the group size range from seven to thirty people for each guide. This was not going to work for Margarite. She hikes similar to how she runs, fast. Being in a group won’t work as the other hikers will not be able to keep up. To solve this issue Margarite hired a private guide who will be guiding the two of us. His name is Miguel, he has been guiding the lost city trek for six years now.

Next, food, pork, and beans, no way, Margarite hired a chef to join us. His name is Carlos. Carlos grew up in these mountains and knows them like the back of his hand.

The first day we hiked from the trailhead to Adán, only seven kilometers in distance but several hundred meters of elevation change. The scenery, beautiful green mountainsides. We learned that in the 1970s and 1980s, 80% of the marijuana consumed in the United States came from these mountains.

In the late 1980s, the United States and Colombia government with the help of Monsanto sprayed much of the mountainside with chemicals to kill the plants.

This was the end of the marijuana business for these peasant people. They tried farming, but none of the crops would grow because of the chemicals. Then the peasants realized the coca plant would grow in the land that was poisoned with the chemicals. The peasants started cultivating coca and producing cocaine. For centuries, the indigenous people of this area have grown coca and chewed on the leaves for a stimulant. In fact, even today the indigenous people still grow coca but only for personal consumption.

The government did not like this new enterprise and sent the army to remove all the coca plants. At the same time, the government helped the indigenous people start tourism companies to visit the lost city.

As we approached our first camp, we saw this idea in action. The camp was more like a bunkhouse, with full bathrooms and showers. Each bed had mosquito netting to protect you from the bugs. There was a common kitchen for the chefs to use and even a general store that sold drinks and other items the hikers might need.

This was luxury, as far as camping goes. Margarite also arranged for us to have clean sheets each night. As we arrived, Carlos made our beds up with beautiful Egyptian cotton sheets.

After a nice dinner, sleep came very easy.

Day 28 - Ciudad Perdida - The Lost City

Roll call was at 5:00 am for a 5:50 am departure. There were 80 people staying at the camp, we were the first to depart. Departing on our own time frame was one of the benefits of having a private guide. The hike started with a climb that lasted well over an hour and then a descent that was just as long. I am not sure, which is harder going up or down.

It was 8:00 am, and we already reached the camp we are supposed to have lunch at. Being early Miguel took us to visit a beautiful waterfall.

After the hike to the waterfall, a local indigenous man gave us some history of his people and their customs.

Carlos made us a nice lunch (or late breakfast), and before we set off hiking again. The trail followed the river upstream crossing it several times. One of those times I slipped and fell in the river, besides a bruised hip and ego, no real damage. Watch the video to see the replay of my fall (at two minutes and 35 seconds). Rarely was the trail flat, you were either going up a steep hill or down one. At 2:00 pm we reached our camp for our second night. Carlos made our beds. Being the first ones to camp we got to pick the best arrangements. After a great meal prepared by Carlos, sleep came easy.

Day 29 - Ciudad Perdida - The Lost City

Today we will reach the Lost City. Most of the groups will be leaving after 6:00 am to visit the city which is one kilometer away. Miguel arranged for us to leave at 5:45 am. We woke to a fog which made this short trek to the Lost City that much more eerie. We hiked along the river before crossing it. Once on the other side, we climbed 1,200 steps to arrive at the Lost City. Besides a few soldiers, we were the only ones there.

It was far better and larger than expected. Miguel gave us a history of the city, how it had been abandoned long ago and then found in 1972 by some local treasure looters. The looters took much of the gold before telling the government about their find. Archeologists have restored much of the city. Each September the city is closed except for the indigenous people who have traditional celebrations during that time.

After a few hours touring the city, we started our trek back. Tonight we will sleep in the camp we had lunch at the day before. Today was the longest hiking day covering about 12 kilometers and many hundreds of meters of elevation change.

Day 30 - Ciudad Perdida - The Lost City

This morning we head back to Santa Marta, but first, we must hike, eight kilometers up and down and down and up and then finally down. We reached the pickup area at 10:30 am and were back in town by noon.

We think we wore Carlos and Miguel out. As soon as we got in the car, they were fast asleep. They did mention we finished each day several hours ahead of the plan. We enjoyed getting to the camps early. We got first dibs on the best bunks as well as quiet time to relax.

Someone asked me to describe this hike just using a few words. Here is the answer I gave, “Brutal, Fascinating, Beautiful.” If you are in Colombia, this is a must do adventure.

Watch the video, especially to see my fall.

We will be staying at the Hotel Boutique Placita Vieja in Santa Marta for the next few days before heading home. Yes, it has been a month in Colombia, I had to get my hair cut.

That is it from Colombia.



All the Pictures from Colombia. Scroll through you will be happy that you did!

Upcoming trips:

This summer we will be traveling to Namibia, Rwanda, and Qatar this trip will be just under a month.

This fall, we are 50% committed to doing the Caravan Trail. What is the Caravan Trail you might ask? It is a drive from the United States border with Mexico to Costa Rica. That is if we can get through the border wall. We will visit Mexico, Guatemala, Belize (maybe), El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, before reaching Costa Rica. There is a chance we will continue to Panama. This trip will be 60-90 days long. Why 50% committed? I am 100% committed to the trip, and Margarite is 0% committed. That makes 50%. We will make the final decision when we return from Africa mid-summer.