Alive and still on the road
02.12.2015 - 27.12.2015
Since the start of the adventure
Hours on bus 129.5 hours
Hours on plane 30.5 hours
Hours in train no change
Phils injury count: Jelly fish sting on arm while fly boarding. Drew substantial amount of blood from thumb from handling a chewing gum packet.
Things we have learnt
We're getting a bit sick of bus journeys now.
A Colombian bus can tilt a lot more than what seems/feels safe
The"departure time" of a flight shown on official departure boards in the airport do not correlate to the actual departure time of said flight.
One does not expect to find a scorpion in a 2nd floor apartment in the hills, but it happens in Colombia.
Having a VSD somewhat complicates diving
A hot Christmas is very very odd (Phil's very upset he missed out on stuffing this year)
To get to Colombia we took a bus (yes, another bus) to Tulcan (northern border of Ecuador), a taxi to the actual border, walked across the border and then a taxi to our hotel. It was all rather uneventful and went surprising smoothly and efficiently. We stayed in Ipiales for 1 day mainly to break up the bus journeys but also to see El Santuario de las Lajas ( a church spanning a gorge see photo), Again it's one of those sites that's photos cannot capture (but we took photos anyway) and it was worth a visit but moving onto Popayan the next day.
After a very very windy and bumpy bus ride to popayan ( it appears we have to drive round every single mountain in Colombia to get anywhere! ). There was a puppy that was smuggled onto the bus which kept us entertained for the 9 hour journey. At one point the owners put a nappy on it!). We checked into a rather fancy hotel (well in our current standards!) where they had double sinks! We stayed here for a couple of nights to rest our back sides and recover from bus sickness (We've both developed bus induced anticipatory). There were a lot of churches which we took a look at from the outside while wandering around the city. We stumbled into a local vegetarian restaurant where we had no idea what was on the menu ( as there was no menu) and couldn't understand what the lady was saying apart from "soup" and "juice". After a few minutes of unfruitful discussion between us we appeared to mutually agree that she should just pick for us. For 80p each we had glass of fresh blackberry juice, veggie soup, plate of multiple Veggy goodness ( macaroni cheese, Quorn like substance, falafel, rice and curried cauliflower) and banana cake. Best bargain yet! Best of all, there were no adverse gastrointestinal side effects the next day which was just as well as we had another long bus journey the next day.
After another bus ride we arrived at this little town surrounded by mountains with beautiful landscapes and coffee plantations everywhere. We woke up bright and early to visit the parque arqueologico. Here there were religious monuments and tombs made by "mysterious" people a very very long time ago and very little is known about them. We were amazed at the detail, symmetry and designs of these monuments (see photo). San Augustin has many other arqueological sites and we ventured to 3 more sites by car (could have done it on horses but Debbie is allergic to them and to avoid a swollen face and wheezy breathing we opted to take a car instead, which may have been more harmful to our health than the horse...). After 3 days we were all arquelogical-ed out and so we woke up at 3.30 am to catch our next bus to Colombia's capital city.
We arrived after 10 hours on a bus (with a toilet! What a treat!). The city is massive and we stayed within the touristy parts as we were told there's nothing to see or do elsewhere. The city was covered with graffiti, some very good and others less so. They even had a 4 hour graffiti tour! We went to museo de Oro ( museum housing A LOT of gold ) and were gobsmacked at how intricate and detailed the handicraft was considering it was made pre Colombian times. We even found a piece that looked like Rudolf the red nose reindeer! (See photo). We thought we had had enough of museums and art galleries but the Botera museum was a highlight or us (Famous for his oversized paintings and sculptures).
We heard about muggings on/ on the way to Monserrate mountain- people are advised not to walk up the steps as this is where the crimes take place. Instead we were told to take the cable car or train up. Seeing that the train was not working, we queued for the cable car which brought us up steeply to 3152m. We got a lovely view of the city which looked a lot bigger than we expected (see photo).
We were so so excited that our next journey involves a flight rather than a bus! Comfy seats, air conditioned, toilets and even a complementary drink! We were so excited. Of course, things didn't really go to plan. As soon as we passed security, we could see there was a 4 hour delay to our flight. But that's OK! Our time travelling has taught us that things can always be worse and so a 4 hour wait in a nice airport which had a bar wasn't too bad at all! 3 beers and a ginger ale later we proceeded to our gate and saw that no one was there. We then got told by the staff that the gate had closed as we were suppose to be at the gate 45 minutes before departure (we were there with 40 minutes to go! Besides it was a domestic flight!) another Spanish man was clearly upset and was told the same thing, though he said he arrived 50 minutes before and was still turned away. It turns out that the flight had left about an hour ago but no one had changed the flight time on the screens. We were told it was not the airlines responsibility to make sure the times on the boards are correct. So in disbelief (Debbie close to tears) we did as we were told, went back to the check in desk to collect our bags that has been chucked off the plane before they took off. To no surprise we were not the only ones that didn't get on the flight on time, seeing it took off AN HOUR earlier than it should have without telling anyone. There were probably about 20 of us, mostly Colombians. The Colombians were raging! We've never seen so many angry Colombians. So we left it to them to kick up a fuss while Phil took our passports and boarding passes to try and find our bags and Debbie stayed in the queue to oversee the impending riot. After about 45 minutes of loud shouting and table slamming the airline offered to squeeze us on the next flight that was due to take off in 40 minutes. Great! I thought, only that the lady couldn't get us on the list as Phil had all our documents and Debbie had no idea where he was and didnt want to go looking in case he came back. Other travellers that went to find their bags offered to look for Phil and let him know we needed the boarding passes ASAP! So after showing everyone a photo of Phil they went on a man hunt. 15 minutes later, nothing. So Debbie had no choice but to go look for him herself! Luckily Phil was located with success and so she returned to the desk with 15 minutes to go. On return she was bombarded with several travellers saying " are you phils wife? Phil says he's downstairs if you need him". Turns out we were both sending messengers both ways and now the entire group knows our names, knows we married and has photos of us on their phones! It's a great bonding exercise! Next complication was that Phil returned with only his bag and that wasn't because he was a selfish selfish man. Turns out they 'forgot' to take Debbie's bag off the plane and that the bag is now in Bogota. So far in our journey the airline forgot to take off on time initially and we had a 4 hour delay,it then forgot to take off on time again and left an hour early, forgot to tell people it intended to leave early and now it's forgotten to take Debbie's bag off the plane. Brilliant. Of course, they couldn't really squeeze all 20 of us on the next flight (probably forgot they didn't have that many free seats...) instead we waited a few more hours (drinking Aguascalientes out of plastic shot glasses while sitting on the floor in the middle of check in as sign of protest. Colombians are so much fun!) and the 20 of us eventually got on a flight (with a different airline) to our destination. We were so hopeful that we would find Debbie's bag once we got there as the airline staff said it would be there waiting when we arrived (yeah right). On arrival, no bag and it was now 11 pm and so we got told to return the next day and try our luck again. So all in all probably still better than a 24 hour bus journey, but it could have gone smoother! But then again, it could have been worse.....maybe? The redeeming factor was that when we did return the next day we did find Debbie's bag (after waiting an hour ). Nevertheless we got it back (delivered to us via a wheelchair?!) so we were happy!
After our flight/lost bag ordeal, we arrived at Cartagena, a little cobblestoned city with tiny alleyways shaded by flowers growing out of balconies. It was so so hot! Direct sunlight (no clouds to shade) and 34 degree heat proved a little to much for us Mancunians. We tactically dashed out for an early-ish breakfast before the heat of the day took hold and left sight seeing to late afternoons. Our hostel was a few steps from a lovely plaza (plaza Trinidad) which came to life in the evenings. We sampled the street food here and enjoyed a few drinks and admiring the Christmas lights and local people going about their normal business.
We ventured to the fortress (Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas) constructed by the Spanish which took 150 years ( I reckon they spent too much time siesta-ing and too little time building!). It gave us a lovely view of the city. Phil enjoyed the canons. We were pleased to be moving to the coast after a few days, where it will hopefully be a little cooler!
We arrived at this little fishing village to embark on our PADI open water course. Complicating factor being Debbie suddenly "remembered" 2 days before the course that having a congenital heart disease may have implications on diving. After a evening of googling, things were still a little unclear. Luckily she had expert advise at hand via whatsapp and the cardiology folks unanimously decided it wasn't safe to proceed until more funny tests were done back at home. Doh!! So much for having a medical degree herself. So Phil soldiered on and went on his own. To everyone's surprise he returned everyday without any injuries! Phil spotted some lovely corals, massive eels and fish! At the end of the 3 day course Phil successfully obtained his open water PADI.
After Phil's diving course we took a short taxi ride to our fancy apartment in Santa Marta. We figured we'll splash out since it's Christmas! It had it's private pool, jacuzzi, sauna (not sure why you need that in this 32 degree heat..get a free sauna whenever you step out of the air con flat...) and gym! It was to Debbie's delight that it was only a few minutes walk from shopping complex with a well stocked super market (think it's Colombia's equivalent to MnS). We had hoped we could make a half decent Christmas Dinner (may also correlate to how involved Phil gets). We spent a week here to accumulate some Christmas spirit by making currywurst, mulled wine, live UK TV and playing Christmas albums. We are proud to say that we did manage a decent Christmas dinner!
December has gone very quickly for us. We're now saying bye to Colombia and moving onto Bolivia. Hope everyone had a great Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!