A Travellerspoint blog

Island love

San Andres y Providencia

sunny 30 °C

I was so lucky to be able to spend two amazing nights with the families of Didier and Cindy in Santa Marta. It was so nice to be with them, it almost felt like I was with Didier and Cindy, something so comforting when so far away from home. I got to meet Didier's son Samuel who was so much fun to play with, I chased him around and wound him up in the way that I always do with kids I really like. I was very happy I could understand him and he could understand me too, I often find it very hard to speak with children in Spanish!
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On one of the days, I went to the beach in Taganga with Cindy and Didi's parents. It was not the best beach day, but because the weather is always so totally hot, it really didn't matter at all about the clouds! If anything, they seemed to make it all look even prettier, somehow more magical. Not so much in the photos, but in real life it was spectacular. I could just imagine the days of the pirates, steering their ships through the mist as they fought the Spanish for the stolen Colombian gold!20140727_095417.jpg20140727_095034.jpg90_20140727_091410.jpg20140727_091417.jpg20140727_093754.jpg
We had to hike from Taganga around to the more secluded beach, where we spent the rest of the day. We had the most amazing lunch, fresh fish straight from the sea. One of my favourite things about the coast of Colombia is when you organise your lunch on the beach. The vendors come up to you with a tray full of freshly caught fish and ask you which one you want - the hard part is choosing!
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After a wonderful day with them, teaching Cindy's father how to say "what's up bro", "Kia ora", and "all good", I boarded the 16 hour night bus to Medellin... I was not too impressed with the idea of this bus, infact I was dreading it. But I took 2 sleeping pills/ travel sickness pills and I slept in a coma for 14 hours - fantastic!
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I got to Medellin, dropped my bag off at my hostel and then headed straight to the airport carrying not much more than 2 bikinis, a towel, tanning oil, and a couple of party dresses. I was so excited to get to San Andrés, a Colombian island that is located close to Nicaragua, right in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. San Andrés is famous for what is known as 'the sea of 7 colours' and I couldn't wait to see if it was able to live up to it's name!

I arrived quite late to the island (Airline Viva Colombia again did what it does best... get people to their destination in their own time, with their own strange rules, inadequate organisation, and just outright WRONG advice and directions!) so I wasn't able to get out and explore as I had hoped. I instead checked into the hostel (El viajero, nice enough) where I met a couple of girls who had been on the island for a while. They told me I had to do the day exploring to the Acuario and Johnny Cay islands. I booked in with the hostel to do this the very next day. Every person I met who knew I was going to San Andres, and everyone I met once I was there, told me that I had to go to Providencia, that it was very expensive to get there but just a waste of being in the region to not go.
Anyway, the next day I woke up really early and headed down to the wharf. As I got near, a group of boys were being really funny and trying to get my attention by sweeping the path of leaves in front of me and pretending I was a princess. I was laughing, talking and joking with them, when I managed to get the attention of a guy on the other side of the road. He called out, asking what I was looking for and it turned out I was right in front of it! He told me not to use my ticket, to sell it back to the hotel, and that he would take me out to the island on his boat for free! I was a little skeptical, but when he showed me the huge line of tourists queing to use their tickets that we could bypass, I was sold! Also, I could physically SEE the island we were heading to and there were a lot of other boats in the water so I knew I could get help if I did need it. As we headed out in his boat, I got my first glimpse of the most beautiful water, the prettiest blue, the sea of 7 billion colours, not just seven.
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We arrived at a little island next to the Acuario, I can't remember it's name right now. There weren't many people there yet (all still back int he queue, suckers!) so we got to explore. DSC04472.jpgDSC04477.jpgDSC04478.jpg
Because there were no people, the iguanas were out enjoying the sunshine! They are just so freaky and so cool all at once, like dinosaurs! DSC04485.jpgDSC04486.jpg90_DSC04484.jpg We managed to count 8 at one point. I didn't realise that they actually live in the tops of the trees, I had always been searching for them in the scrub, when they actually live in nests way up high!
The little island and the acuario are very close to each other, basically the same place. The acuario is a sandspit surrounded by natural rock pools, reefs, and coves filled with fish. The sandspit has kiosks that sell food, alcohol, snorkelling gear and sun chairs. Where as the island is a bit bigger, but you can walk around the whole thing in about 10 minutes. It is possible to walk between the two but you would be up to your chest, so impossible when carrying towels and phones etc.20140731_104332.jpg
Unfortunately, the guy started to become a little weird and I just no longer felt comfortable with him. I asked him to take me to the Acuario and pretended I had a friend there waiting for me to arrive. Thankfully he complied, even though he tried to follow me. I managed to ditch him (enough) and that was when I met Brando...

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You know sometimes, you see a guy, they see you, you look away, then you can't help but look again, you see that he is still looking. You look down, look back up to catch his waiting eye, and he winks... and it's the cutest god dam wink you ever saw in your whole entire life? Well, that's exactly what happened. We hadn't even spoken a word, yet I knew he had a beautiful energy to him, and that I would be safe with him. He worked at the Acuario, and was currently helping a friend with a giant sting ray, so I headed for a different spot. It wasn't long before the boy with the cutest wink in the world found me, and asked me if I would like to go snorkelling with him. What's a girl to say? Free boat ride, now free snorkelling? I felt a bit mean, this was supposed to be island hopping not man hopping!

However, I knew with Brando it was different to the first guy. The first was an elder man, not attractive AT ALL, and I had thought was just being kind. With Brando, I knew he was asking me because he wanted to get to know me...and I wanted to get to know him too. So.... I accepted the snorkel and mask (again, without the giant queue or the fee) and we headed out into the incredibly warm, crystal clear water hand in hand.
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Brando showed me these amazing sea creatures, they are similar to kina from New Zealand. They are all spiky, but when you hold them on your hand, under the water, they suction onto you with this weird sticky glue stuff they produce to suction on. Once you have them on your hand, you can bring them out of the water and hold them up in the air!
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After helping me get rid of the creepy guy, we left the acuario and headed back to the main island to go to the beach. We went to a lovely beach and swam for hours, played a bit of football (well he did, me not so much), tanned (I did, he not so much), and just had an awesome day looking out towards Johnny Cay island.
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When Brando went to football training, I went back to my hostel. We met later that night to go dancing, and we ended up at a really cool beachside rasta bar in San Luis, a far less touristy side of San Andrés.
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We spent the next few days out on his boat, going between the different islands. We went snorkelling again and this time I was not so scared, because I had learned how well he knew the sea. Before we went out to the area with no people, I found the courage to hold the stingray! I was sooooooo scared, I can't even explain! I just kept thinking of Steve Irwin! Plus, the texture of it is disgusting, and it tried to climb out of the water to be on top of me, and when it lifted it's body I saw it's freaky little face underneath - YIK!
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Brando lead the way to a place with no people, where we could see 'tiburones.' For some reason, I thought that meant tiger fish - so I imagined little nemos or something. Imagine my surprise when I realised it meant a shark the size of my torso!
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Brando kept touching this one, telling me that it didn't want anything to do with us because there are so many fish that we are just not tasty enough. But I wasn't brave enough to touch it, I was still recovering from the sting ray! I don't know what it is, I know that these things are in the sea...but in New Zealand, we can't actually see them, so it is almost like they aren't there. However, when the sea is clearer than bath water and you can see every single grain of sand, every single scale of every single fish, it suddenly makes things very very real.
Brando showed me how to break open the 'kina' and feed them to the fish. I loved doing this and then having all of the fish eat out of our hands.
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There were fish of every single neon colour - purple, blue, orange, green, yellow, turquoise! I suddenly realised these were all the fish I had seen in New Zealand in fancy heated water aquariums in certain restaurants or reception areas - I was in their homeland!
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For the next few days we swam, we snorkelled, we island hopped, and we just had a generally great time. I met his sister Elide 90_DSC04546.jpg and his gorgeous 4 year old (but super tiny) neice Danalyse, who (other than my Grace) is the happiest child I have ever known - she would literally throw herself into the ocean despite her tiny size, give me the best cuddles, laugh every single minute, sing along with movies, and just be a beautiful little princess. Somehow, I could understand her Spanish really well and she could understand me. She was introducing me to all of her little friends saying 'this is Aunty Katy" ... How can you tell a 4 year old otherwise? 20140804_214704.jpg90_20140804_214811.jpg
As much as I was loving my time with Brando in San Andres, with the worlds best water, where every colour signifies the depth and the growth below, often forming very distinct lines in places,
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I still really wanted to go to Providencia. Soooooo, we decided to go together. We had to wake up at 5am to make it onto the catamaran for the 3.5 hour trip to Providencia. I had been warned by other travellers that the sea was rough, that people were vomitting etc. I had only thought "chickens". But when the lady at the dock gave everyone on board a travel sickness pill and we were strapped into our seats, I started to get worried. And sure enough, the following three hours (in a drugged haze from whatever it was I had swallowed) were among the worst 3 hours of my entire life. The catamaran was fighting against open water, to get us to Providencia which lies just 50km north of San Andres. At one point, I remember I couldn't even handle Brando holding my hand. I was wrapped up in a sweater because of the freezing air con, face screwed up, arms wrapped around myself, and literally thinking death by jumping overboard would be nicer than continuing. I can't even explain, how high we bounced over the waves, often gaining air. Because the waves have their own rhythm, there was nothing you could do to prepare yourself for the next one, except try to let the little white pill float you into unconsciousness. Many people vomited, I had not eaten so I did not, but I was very very close. I will never take that trip again, in my entire life. It was so awful that I still can't look back and laugh about it, I just look back and want to throw up.

However, it was all worth it when we got to the beautiful paradise of Providencia. With just 5000 inhabitants and very very VERY strict immigration and tourism laws, the island has managed to keep it's unspoilt beauty. It almost stands still in time, a true Caribbean island. We had very little money between us, so the sickness continued from the catamaran onto the land when we were told the prices of the cheapest hostels. However, the universe played its amazing part once again and we met a wonderful guy Clinton on the side of the street.
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He took us to meet his friend Roland, the owner of the coolest bar/ restaurant on the island.
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Roland is one of those people who can see your soul when he looks at you, and you can see his. He knew we needed his help, and I knew I could help him in some way, I just didn't know what yet. He gave us not only a room, but our very own cottage in the hills above the beach and restaurant! Ok ok, cottage maybe not quite - cute little beach shack maybe a better word? Whatever the word, English or Spanish, it instantly felt like home. DSC04610.jpg
By night we partied, we drank rum, we shared 'cigars' with the rastas (sorry, but it has to be done in the Caribbean), we danced by the fire, and made friends for life with the locals. Brando speaks only Spanish, but most of the locals in Providencia speak English and Creole. I am not sure if they are one and the same, but they sound like Pirates to my ears. They all thought I was hilarious, because I couldn't understand them and kept calling them all pirates - yet I was the one swigging the rum straight from the bottle! Despite a few conversations in English (where I persevered because I wanted to listen to the accents, it was mostly easier to just speak Spanish with most people even though they spoke English as a native language - because of the accents and the Creole, I just couldn't understand them!
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I was fascinated by the freaky, giant crabs that would come and hang out near the fire, some Brando had to save from becoming roasted crab! They were easily the size of a small cat, some as big as Bob!
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Having Brando there with me was amazing, because he is a local (as people from San Andres and Providencia identify with each other) he shared a lot of contacts and friends, so it was like being accepted into another family. We were able to use Roland's place as if it was our own and I will be forever grateful to him. He doesn't advertise for people to stay, you need to be invited in order to be able to do so, and from what I heard this is a very rare thing.
By day we swam, we explored, we tanned, we ran around like idiots, we ate fish fresh from the sea, and drank water from buckets that has fallen from the sky - the most delicious water I have ever drank. 90_9E093D332219AC68179FDB2F33C62E1E.jpgDSC04611.jpgDSC04614.jpgDSC04618.jpgDSC04710.jpgDSC04711.jpg
On one of the days, Roland took us out to see the horse races on the beach. But before we got to the beach, we drove around on the back of his truck drinking cuba libres and visiting all of the horses in their homes before the race. I gave each a kiss for goodluck!
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Being out and about with Roland in Providencia, was like being out and about with a celebrity in Hollywood. Everyone loves him as the guy who hosts the best parties on the island, respects his work as he helps out a LOT of people - lends his boat so people can make money from the fish the catch (in return for just one fish), lends his motorbikes/ truck/ horses so people can do work, he hires locals for the kitchen and bar. A very very good man with an amazing heart and soul.
We finally made it down to a neighbouring beach together, watched the race (Serena won, Muñeca did not), and then Brando and I wandered around for the rest of the afternoon while Roland went to help out with the horses. DSC04707.jpgDSC04709.jpgDSC04706.jpg270_DSC04713.jpgDSC04705.jpg20140729_144815.jpg20140729_144821.jpg270_20140729_152708.jpg
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The rest of our time in Providencia was more of the same... finding giant conch shells in the sea, resting in hammocks, swinging from coconut trees, drinking fresh coconut water straight from freshly chopped coconuts ... paradise 90_9EA8E4842219AC6817D0AF6B3B3A67FF.jpg90_DSC04679.jpg90_DSC04682.jpg90_DSC04726.jpg90_DSC04728.jpg
I spoke with Roland at length about the need for a kiosk of hammocks on Providencia. Not many, just 6 hammocks so not to ruin the vibe of his place, but 6 hammocks that are always available for travelers like me. Travelers with little money, but a love of life and adventure. People who aren't worried about the bugs or the dirt, who don't need a bed or air conditioning. People who just need somewhere safe to sleep and store belongings, and a place full of good energy and wicked vibes. I explained to Roland about the kiosks I had been staying in previously in my trip, and how we could find travelers willing to come and do free building work in exchange for food and a bed. He explained how he couldn't organise this, that he was still building his own dream down on the beach and had been doing so for the past 25 years. But that perhaps I needed to see that this was why I had come to Providencia, that this was MY project, and that I needed to help him to make it happen. And I feel as if I do, he helped me and now I want to help him. Not because he needs it, but because I want to. And I also want to be able to help future travellers like me, so they can afford to stay in paradise too.
Knowing that I would return to Providencia to work, without having the safety of Brando, was made a lot easier knowing I had my very own body guard - a GIANT ridgeback named Boxer who looked out for me like crazy. He slept outside our hut, he followed me around, and would always walk just 5 steps ahead, checking around and back at me to make sure I was safe. He gave the best cuddles, would play with me gently enough that he never hurt me, and was just my soul brother. I was not surprised when Roland told me that him and Boxer were so also, and that he had raised Boxer since a tiny puppy on a philosophy of love and respect.20140803_160027.jpg20140803_160047.jpg20140803_160049.jpg
I made other friends at Rolands, not so sure if they thought of me as one though... two tiny little chicks that Brando caught so I could give them a cuddle! DSC04738.jpgDSC04739.jpg
I saw a tee shirt on the island. The tag says 'hecho en Colombia' which means made in Colombia. It has the New Zealand flag and a ladies leg standing on the ground. I have always been one for signs, and as my amazing Cindy told me - this seems to be one that signals perhaps my destiny lies here in Colombia. At least for now, it is only one leg on the ground after all.
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With a head half filled with rasta plaits 90_20140804_104012.jpg , a mind full of ideas and promises to help create something new in the hills of Rolands bar, the handshake promise from my good friend Clinton for motorbike lessons and a bike to borrow for my stay when I go back, a beautiful dog waiting to hike the mountains with me, a camera full of pictures full of paradise, and a heart full of love for a local boy, sadly the time to leave approached. As easily as I could have stayed forever, I have an amazing family to see in the United States next week. Thankfully, the return trip home on the Catamaran was smooth like promised it always is - it's just going there, everyone needs to sacrifice something to get to paradise I suppose!
Brando understood, somehow, that what we had would not last forever. That if we tried to make it so, we would end up crushed and broken. Not only are we from different worlds, we have different dreams and motivations. And those who know me well, know that the one thing I respect and love more than anything else in a man is dreams and motivations. I do hope we can always be friends, that I can see him when I go back to San Andrés before I take the plane to Providencia (never again the catamaran, I swear it!), and that his heart is not too shattered right now.
Until next time paradise, hopefully it won't be too long until I am back in the sea of 7 colours x
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Posted by chasingsummer 19:12 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

On top of the world

Minca, Sierra Nevada, La Guajira, and a few flamingos too

sunny 35 °C

Phew, I have to write this because if not, I will never catch up. Every single day has just been one adventure after the next. From beautiful location to beautiful location, I seem to just wander in a daze, completely lost in the moment and just wanting to absorb every single second.

I arrived in Minca to work in the restaurant for 3 weeks. The town itself is TINY and set in the mountains about 15km above the city of Santa Marta. The town has lots of waterfalls, rivers, secret spots, coffee farms, and a few tourists that wander through to explore and enjoy it all. My restaurant ‘lazy cat’ or ‘gato perezoso’ was known as the place for tourists and locals alike, as there was a mix of Spanish and English speaking staff, as well as being famous for cooking the best food in town! I was so excited after my first day, when I had spent 80% of the day as a waitress speaking only Spanish! I had made absolutely NO mistakes, kept up with everything, and even made myself a tip! At the end of the week, when the tips were added up, I had actually made 30,000 pesos which is about $20 NZD and a fair amount of money here!
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During the week, I would begin work at 3pm. This meant I had most of the day to explore as the sun changes around 3pm and gets ready to set at 6. Every day meant a new adventure (two meant a vomiting virus that affected the entire town) and every day meant new people, and making friends with the people of Minca. It was really great, being one of the only tourists who spoke (reasonable) Spanish because I made a name for myself in the town very quickly as the happy Kiwi girl who was friendly with anyone. I think they really enjoyed being able to talk to and joke with a foreigner, I get the impression that opportunity didn’t present itself very often in Minca! I ended up watching a local football game one evening, it was very intense! The ref even had yellow and red cards! It blew bubble soccer matches completely out of the water! This was a very good place for me to be... not only did I spent hours watching games and laughing and talking with locals in Spanish, one team wore teeshirts and the other didn't so they could identify each other. I got to watch sweaty, tanned, sexy, delicious men run around and play soccer without teeshirts on!!
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I spent one lovely day at this river filled pool, high in the mountains. It was so lovely to just jump in and then tan dry in the sunshine.
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One of the days I went to a place called “las piedras’ which means ‘the rocks’ in English. It was a really cool place where two rivers met and created water tunnels and a massive waterhole with high rocks to walk through and jump off into the cool water.
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When I was tanning here, I met a group of young local boys. Two who worked as tourist guides in Minca. They were showing me how to jump and do different types of bombs, one could even dive off like a champ! They were really impressed that I would jump straight off, apparently most girls here don’t do these things – especially without being scared! They were horrified that I hadn’t been to Pozo Azul yet, which has an even better place for jumping. So they told me we were going to hike there right away. The hike was very long, and very hot. We bought cubes of ice (long thin plastic bags of frozen water) and they were luke warm water within 15 minutes. We must have hiked for over an hour, but when we got there it was totally worth it!
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The boys knew of other secret spots, from growing up in Minca and now being tourist guides. So they took me to a couple of other spots further up the river. I had such a magical day with them and I felt as if I had met the first people like my Kiwi friends, since leaving New Zealand. They were so funny, friendly, adventurous, and super patient with my Spanish. I did give them a few laughs though when I messed up a couple of words REALLY badly… I said “are you going to Julian’s” but apparently what I said was “are you going to anal sex” … Oh Spanish, how you can be so cruel to me sometimes!
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Unfortunately things weren’t quite so perfect in paradise. Some of the other volunteers from other restaurants and hostels in Minca were having a tough time in their placements. One day we all went down to Santa Marta to have a break from the town. It was a bit of a crazy day, lots of emotions, but nice to be together and really nice to have no language barrier.
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I decided that one week was enough in Minca and I wasn’t going to stay for the full 3 weeks. I began to feel unsafe, and this meant I needed to follow my heart and leave. I was very sad to leave, but thankfully the owner of the restaurant was super kind and understanding which meant that I was able to leave with my head held high. From Minca, I headed further into the mountains to a place called Casa Elemento. I honestly believe this place is about as close to heaven as I have ever been.
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I feel that my whole entire life, all of my travelling days, I have been looking for what I found here. Every single person who made it up, became a friend, because all that arrived were true travellers. They were people who were there for the experience, in South America because their hearts had called them there. The staff are amazing, the view spectacular, and they cook the best vegetarian food I have ever eaten. Heaven.
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I stayed for 5 nights and loved every single minute. I worked on the giant hammock, I went for hikes to find fresh avocados – and eat them straight off the floor of the jungle, I ate bananas fresh from the bunch hanging on a tree, I tried cacao fruit, I saw a coffee farm and drank freshly roasted coffee. I hiked to secret waterfalls with my mountain man (named Jesus!), and slept on the giant hammock with friends, under a sky full of shooting stars.
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The saddest part of Casa Elemento was leaving, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Thankfully the giant thunderstorm that had hit 2 days prior (resulting in us all needing to wear our shoes due to the lightning hitting the house in the past, and coming about 5 meters away during my stay) had destroyed the power supply. So on the day I left, the pool was being drained and there was no ice for the rum. It certainly made it easier to depart!
I left for the coast with my friend Jaime, a lovely girl from Canada who shared my passion for flamingos. We headed to a place called Rancho Relaxo, a sister hostel of Casa Elemento. We slept at the mirador, a 20 minute hike up to a gorgeous spot that overlooked the Caribbean sea. Sleeping in a hammock with a nice sea breeze is definitely now one of my favourite things!
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Rancho Relaxo was pretty cool, it had painted goats that cuddled up like lap dogs!
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We spent 2 nights there, and left for La Guajira to see the flamingos. We got on a bus, and then another, then a moto (motorbike taxi), to finally be thrown off in the middle of the desert! Poor Jaime, as she struggled with Spanish, I think she was quite shocked and only half believing me when I said we were finally nearly there.
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The moto men took us down a dusty path, to where we saw native people - Wayuu tribe wearing their traditional white robes - and then arrived at the flamingo lagoon.
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Sadly, the coast of Colombia is currently in drought status. Water is very low in supply, and this had affected the flamingos. Where there are usually 5 – 7 million in August, there were just 30 flamingos! But they were 30 more wild, Caribbean flamingos than I have ever seen, and I was the happiest girl on the planet as we were pushed around in a boat (the man was literally walking pushing the boat because the water was so low).
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The following day, Jaime and I headed to a beach called Playa Los Angeles. It was a lovely beach, but the water was a bit too rough and I could see the rip so I didn’t get in past my knees. The colours of the water and the sky, the most beautiful contrasts of blue and aqua and green, are just amazing. My camera does not do it justice. I think I need a new camera, one that captures the world the way my eyes and mind do.
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Last night I arrived back into Santa Marta. I am staying with Cindy and Didi’s family here for a couple of days before I head to the Caribbean island of San Andres. This island is Colombian territory, but it is closer to Nicaragua. I believe it is a paradise for swimming, tanning, snorkelling, diving (but I can’t due to asthma), rum, and adventures. Also shopping as they don’t pay tax – how convenient! I am going to the beach this afternoon and tomorrow with Didi’s brothers Jamir and Ariel. I need to keep working on my tan, I am still too brown. I need to be black.

x

Posted by chasingsummer 08:59 Archived in Colombia Tagged waterfalls beach caribbean hot flamingos minca santa_marta giant_hammock Comments (0)

Bogotá to Parque Tayrona

Just get me to the Caribbean!

sunny 37 °C

My last night in Bogotá was also Paddy’s last night. His friends were all either sick or were in the midst of exams so they weren’t up for a crazy night out. So I went to Paddy’s house to finish off a bottle of red, and then we went to a club called Baum, just the two of us.
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The club was really cool, it had two main areas. One was inside, and the other outside underneath a massive oak tree covered in fairy lights. There was a dj in each area, playing some pretty trippy music. We danced ALL night, met some pretty cool new people, and just partied until the lights came on at 5.30am. We said our farewells outside the bar and made our way home.
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At 8.30am I had to get up to go to the airport, I was so tired and still tipsy from the previous night. Ari and Angie drove me to the airport early, as it was the day of the game and we weren’t sure about traffic or delays. Unfortunately, my plane was delayed 8 hours! And because I was there early, that meant I had to wait for 10 hours in the world’s most boring airport! So was the rest of my flight, who at one point were all crowded around the check in desk, screaming abuse at the airline! It was so intense, I actually left because I was scared of what might happen. The police were called in, and I never saw how it turned out because I knew that there was nothing a tantrum can do to fix a flight delay.
I was so tired that I actually curled up on a cold concrete floor and slept like a homeless person, I didn’t even care! I watched the Colombia – Brasil game at the airport, crowded in front of tiny tv’s with hundreds of other people. When Colombia lost, everyone shed a tear – even myself I don’t think I have ever backed a team to the same extent as I have Colombia in this FIFA world cup. Football here is more than just a game, it gives people hope. Every child on every street corner is kicking a ball, all of the cafes and bars are alive with the talk of football and the games, speaking of the chance that the world cup is giving for Colombians to be known internationally in a positive light, rather than being famous for the cartels and drugs that haunt their past. When James Rodriguez cried at the referee’s final whistle, so did 47 million Colombians – and 1 very tired and hung over kiwi girl too.
When it was finally time to board my flight, I followed the signs to the gate where I sat and waited…and sat and waited…and sat and waited… I kept checking the board to make sure I was at the right gate, everything said that I was. But the sign at the actual gate said Cartagena, and I was headed to Santa Marta. I figured that the plane was just delayed further so waited a little longer, always keeping an eye on the board which hadn’t changed – and then suddenly it did, and the board said departed! I was so upset, I didn’t know what to do. I tried to talk to the people at the gate, but they told me to go to the back of the massive line for Cartagena. So I walked all the way back to security, by which point I was quite tearful. I told them what had happened, and they said I must go and speak with the airline as the plane had definitely departed. I began to bawl my eyes out, like a baby. Not only was I super hung over and exhausted, I had waited 11 hours in the airport, Colombia had lost the game, and I had now missed my flight! I found the Viva Colombia check in counter (easily, as by this point I had seen everything in the airport 20,000 times!) and I approached a friendly looking man in my only mood other than extreme happiness; life-is-over-and-I-can’t-see-anything-positive-I-think-I-will-go-to-bed-and-never-get-up-tears-and-snot-everywhere mode. The poor man, I feel quite sorry for him now as he had to listen to me blubbering in broken Spanish, exactly what had happened. He just looked at me, smiled and said “calm down girl, I will look after you.” He told me that he was very sorry, that the airline would put me up in a hotel, I would get free taxi’s, free dinner and breakfast, free washing of my one and only outfit (as my bag had gone to Santa Marta without me) and that I would be put onto the next available flight the following day.
The hotel was really lovely, super clean and with the most amazing shower I have ever had in my life. I actually curled up on the floor in a ball underneath this 5 different head shower, and just washed away the worst day ever!
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I finally arrived in Santa Marta, 30 hours after I had first tried to check in for my flight. I was also given 2 free tickets to use on any national Viva Colombia flight. I am not sure when I am going to use them, I have until February. I may go to San Andres because the tickets there can be quite expensive. I’m not sure exactly what I will do, but I am very grateful to Viva Colombia and my friend at the airline certainly did look after me! Everyone I have met can’t believe it, apparently Viva Colombia is the cheapest, most unreliable, unfriendly airline around and the way they looked after me is just unheard of – a little Katy luck perhaps?

As soon as I got off the plane in Santa Marta, I felt the heat. 33 degrees and I loved every single one of those degrees! As 33 – 35 is my favourite temperature, I felt like I was in paradise. I stayed with some friends I met at a hostel, a little way out of town. It wasn’t amazing but we decided that we would go to Parque Tayrona the following day. We went down to Exito to buy the food and water we needed for the hike into the park. On our way there, we passed a group of men who were trying to guess our nationalities because of our accents as we were speaking English. They thought Beth was from the UK (she is actually Canadian) and that I was American. Imagine their surprise when I turned to them and said in Spanish “actually boys, you are all wrong. I am from New Zealand, Jon is from England, and Beth is from Canada.” They leaped up, hugged me and hi fived me on my Spanish and were just laughing at each other for getting busted talking about us. On the way back from Exito, they invited us to sit and have drink with them. It felt really rude to say no, so we said we would stay for a beer. A bottle of whiskey, a bottle of rum, and 40 beers later we staggered back to where we were staying quite drunk!
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The next day, we went to Parque Tayrona. We caught the bus to the entrance, and then the minivan to the start of the walking track. I decided to take a horse through the jungle because I was carrying 6 litres of water and quite a lot of food. I’m not sure if the horse was better or worse, it was a very bumpy ride and I still had to wear my bag anyway! And on the way, I saw this MASSIVE lizard/ iguana/ not exactly sure/ thing come crawling out of the jungle. It was massive, and super creepy!
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Finally I was there, at the Caribbean sea. I was the happiest girl on the planet when we found a lovely beach to have a well-deserved swim at, by this point the weather was around 40 degrees!
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We then went to our accommodation, which was very basic. I chose a tent the first night, but switched to a hammock because it was just too hot to sleep in the tent! The heat does not stop, even at night. It is always, always hot. The light cardigan I had brought along, never once was taken from my bag!
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I met a jungle boy named Jorge who worked and lived within the park. He took a liking to me, and we spent the following days walking to amazing beaches that were secret from the tourists. At one point, we had to swim around these massive boulders to get to a secret beach! It was pretty crazy, and I felt very lucky to have made friends with the right person. I didn't take my camera with me because I knew we had to swim from beach to beach, so I missed out on taking pics of a million pretty places. I guess if you want to see them, you will just have to go to Parque Tayrona and meet your own jungle boy!
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Most days I say a million thanks to Cindy, my amazing Spanish teacher in New Zealand, because without her I would never be able to speak Spanish like I do, and I would not have had even one quarter of the opportunities and adventures I have had so far. I can't imagine travelling here without speaking Spanish, all of the travelers who I have met who can't speak Spanish are finding things very hard, and are constantly being overcharged. Also, thanks to my Cindy I could understand that this sign next to this beautiful waterhole where I was about to swim said to not do so, as it was full of crocodiles!
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Tayrona was amazing, I ended up sleeping on the beach one night and on a massive boulder under the stars another night. Never needing even a sheet to keep warm as it was just forever hot. What had started as a 2 night journey to the beach became a 5 night stay, because it was just too hard to leave! One of my favourite things to do was to watch the ants. I know how pathetic that sounds, but it was fascinating! They would march in these massive 2 lane highways, one going each way. The ants on the left (nature drives on the correct side of the road, just like us Kiwi’s) would be carrying massive leaves, maybe 4 – 5 times larger than their bodies. The ants going the other way were heading back to collect leaves. These trails would go very far, more than 20 – 30 meters. For a tiny ant, that must be a huge task! I never saw a single ant complain, or try to cheat, or try to trick the other ants. I just wanted to tell them that they are so close to the beach, they just had to go a little further and they could tan and swim and enjoy the day! But no, their duty to their queen was just too strong, and they continued to march along in their two lane ant highways.
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After nearly a week of tanning, swimming, snorkelling, exploring, and reading, it was time to head back to the real world. I wanted to have some time to myself before heading to Minca, a small town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains about 15km away from Santa Marta. I was due to start work at a restaurant there the following day, so wanted to be clean, prepared, and ready. I loved Parque Tayrona and I will definitely return there one day soon!
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Posted by chasingsummer 15:14 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

12 things I have learned about Colombia

all seasons in one day 23 °C

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1. Here in Colombia, football gives people hope, and it brings people together in such an amazing way. I have never seen anything like it before.

2. No one understands the word vegetarian. There is no food for vegetarians, in 98% of the restaurants, delis, bakerys, bars, and cafes I have been to. I get fed meat by accident on a daily basis. I have even been told by a lady that she is vegetarian too, due to arthritis, while she sipped on pea and hambone soup.

3. You must carry tissues everywhere you go in case you need the bathroom. Most places don't have toilet paper... or a toilet seat!

4. The people here are just so incredibly kind and considerate. I have never felt uncomfortable or scared, and people go out of their way to talk to me and be my friend. They really want me to make sure I don't believe the many terrible stereotypes the world has about Colombia. Of course, I never did - that's why I am here!

5. Some things are dangerous - like getting into a taxi on the side of the street at night. But the people here have developed amazing phone applications that do all the work so you can get safely home.

6. Men really know how to treat women like ladies. I have been guided through the street, had umbrellas held over my head for me, been given seats on public transport, been paid for constantly, and had food/ cocktails ordered for me. Its amazing. Sorry to say, but New Zealand men officially suck.

7. So far, i have found that things aren't served ice cold here - like freshly squeezed, delicious juice is served at a luke warm temperature. Same with drinks from large fridges are often barely cold. I have even seen people refuse ice cold drinks in preferance of room temperature ones. I prefer drinks to be ice cold, so I have learned to remember to ask for ice.

8. There are different accents to the different parts of Colombia, and everyone thinks theirs is the best! I have learned to nod and smile, because to me everyone sounds pretty much the same. So far, my Spanish is at a level where I can only differentiate home countries - not cities or regions of each!

9. Sadly, the roads are in a really bad condition due to political corruption. And the drivers - well, lets just say using an indicator may help! There are often no seatbelts in the backseats of cars/ taxis/ vans, which all sums up for a terrifyingly, yet often hilarious, experience. I have learned to carry mareol (travel sickness pills) with me everywhere I go!

10. There are many tourists who come here and don't speak any Spanish. I have only met 5 local people who speak English so far, yet many tourists who speak NO Spanish. I have learned to be prepared to play translator at any moment, especially in tourist areas. This can be awkward, especially if one is angry at the other. If you are going to travel to a Spanish speaking country, it's kinda seen as rude not to speak at least the basics.

11. I had no idea how diverse Colombia is. There are so many different parts - deserts, beaches, mountains, villages, cities, rivers, lakes, canyons, snow, surf - you name it, it's here!

12. Aguardiente is the most delicious drink ever. However, I have learned to increase my daily water intake, as the locals told me to, to prevent the worst guayabo (Colombian word for hangover) ever!

Posted by chasingsummer 16:46 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

Crazy Colombia!

so many adventures in so many places

sunny 30 °C

I don’t really know where to even start the adventures of the last 10 days, things have been so busy and so crazy. I have been out of Bogotá and seen many different towns, landscapes, waterfalls, deserts, valleys, mountains, and rivers! It has been just magical. I know I need to write today, because if I let too much time go by, I will forget everything and the pictures I have will just become a blur.

After the Salt Cathedral, my friend Jaime and I met in the centre of the city to go to visit the Museo de oro (Museum of gold). The amount of gold is absolutely astounding, and the designs from the ancient native tribes of Colombia are fantastic. DSC04343.jpgDSC04342.jpg90_DSC04341.jpg90_DSC04338.jpg
The way they were able to manipulate the gold, to create their pieces of art, and to portray their significant images were incredible. This one was my favourite, and it turns out that it is a very important and well known image throughout Colombia!DSC04339.jpg
After the Museo de oro, we went for a walk around the Presidential house and (as my luck in life with always finding army boys goes) we stumbled across a group of Army boys doing a parade!
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I then managed to pluck up the courage to ask these 2 guards for a photo, who could see I was scared because of their massive guns. I could see the smirks on their faces as they gave each other commands and then started doing all their gun tricks with me standing in the middle. It was so funny, but kinda terrifying too! They were so much more relaxed than the guards in London, and they told me to have a good day. It’s weird though, even after so many years of travelling, years in the States with family, and a lot of time spent on farms, I can just never get used to seeing guns!
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We found these amazing llamas, and I went absolutely nuts. The man who owned the llama wanted me to climb on and have a ride, but I felt like I may break the poor animal. I just gave it lots of cuddles and kisses instead, stroking the soft fur. I think the llama was grateful he didn’t have to take me for a ride, he certainly wasn’t very big! DSC04353.jpg90_DSC04351.jpgDSC04347.jpg90_DSC04346.jpg
We then went for a walk through the Candelaria which is a beautiful part of the inner city, with colonial style buildings and lots of pretty street art.DSC04364.jpg90_DSC04361.jpg90_DSC04360.jpg
We went to watch the Mexico game in a bar, where I tried chicha. This is an indigenous drink available in many different forms, but the type I had was made from corn. It wasn’t the most amazing tasting drink of my life, but it was pretty good and I had no trouble finishing it off – despite its intense potency! 20140617_140055.jpg Luckily we found Arepas Rellenas to take the edge off, these are delicious Arepas (no explanation other than amazing) filled with whatever you choose - so I got mushrooms, cheese, and tomatoes much to the mans confusion, he kept thinking he heard my order wrong as he couldn't understand why I didn't want any meat!! 90_20140617_161842.jpg
On the Thursday, I went to Parque 93 with Ari and her friends to watch the Colombia vs. Ivory Coast football game. I can’t even explain the craziness of Colombians when it comes to football. Parque 93 is a big park in Bogota that puts up a giant screen for the games. It is basically the main “go to” point for party people at game time – and omg, was it what! We were there really early so that we could have an area to sit down. But it was still really squashed. And after each goal, everyone would go absolutely mad, throwing foam and flour, jumping up and down. We were near the outside of the seated area, and at one point the crowds standing around us were pushing in so hard that people were falling all over us. It was quite scary, but I will really hand it to the people here, they could see us girls getting trampled and at goal time and close to the end, there was always people helping us get to our feet, and at one point when the crowd was really pushing in, I had one stranger standing behind me kinda holding/ bracing my head as if he was my helmet, so that I wouldn’t get crushed! I don’t think I have ever known such consideration in any of my travels through any other country.20140619_092759.jpg90_20140619_104853.jpg
After the game, the streets were ACTUALLY crazy! Trumpets blowing, flour and foam was all over us, and just everyone dancing, jumping, screaming, laughing, even crying, in celebration. It was as if Colombia had won the entire world cup! Of course, I was having the time of my life with my Colombia tee shirt, trumpet, and people to laugh and dance and jump with! I couldn’t take many pictures because it is very dangerous to have your cell phone out on the street here, but these are what I did manage to take and it shows a little bit of the craziness. Just imagine it all around you, and as far as you can possibly see!IMG-20140619-WA0002.jpg20140619_104921.jpg
On Friday night, I had my date with a guy I met from Medellin. We had met earlier in the week at a Spanish/ English language exchange and decided to meet for a drink on the Friday. We met at the same bar we first met at, and then made our way around Calle 85 – kinda the main drinking street in Bogota. We made the plan to go around all the bars trying different cocktails… Mojitos de lulo, pisco sours, margaritas, tequila sunrises lead us dancing salsa and bachaata for the rest of the night in a club. We also ended up drinking what is called a giraffe, a 3 litre tall vessel of beer! Things got way too out of control when he introduced me to aquardiente – a very famous drink in Colombia that literally translates as fire water. I can’t really explain what it tastes like but I will try. It is similar to those old fashioned blackballs and black zambuca, but it is completely clear. So far, I have only drunk it straight as shots, but it is so delicious and addictive – and very very strong!
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I came home late afternoon Saturday, looking and feeling like an absolute mess. I slept until Sunday morning, when Ari, Papa and Mama Kat, and I went on a big drive out of the city to see some beautiful places. We went to some really lovely little towns and my favourite was Raquira which is a town known for its handmade crafts. The buildings were all multi coloured, and all the shops sold beautiful items. We weren’t there for very long which was a shame as I would have loved to spend a week exploring it properly – next time! 20140622_114327.jpg90_20140622_113632.jpg90_20140622_113619.jpg
We then went to Villa de Leyva which is a very old town, I think nearly 600 years old. It was all white with cobbled streets. We went to see the main part of the town, and then to a fossil museum. It turns out that quite a huge part of Colombia never used to exist, and that what is now a desert was once part of the ocean! This explained the salt mines and salt cathedral, and the beautiful fossils in the museum that were all dug up from underneath Villa de Leyva, including cool dinosaur bones! The landscape here was very dry and dusty, completely different to the luscious green that is found in most other parts of Colombia that I have seen so far. 20140622_154840.jpg20140622_142115.jpg20140622_151449.jpg90_20140622_152500.jpg
We saw many amazing things on our drive including the point in Boyaca where Colombia achieved it’s independency from Spain, this is a very significant place for people here so I was happy I got to see it! 11176_med_..oyac__Tunja.jpg

On the following Tuesday, I met with Kat’s cousin Marce and we took a flota (the name for those giant busses that aren’t quite busses, usually schools and old people homes have them) for 2.5 hours to get to her parent’s house in the country. The farm itself is a blackberry farm, and of course the blackberries are super delicious! I got to try some new fruit that I hadn’t ever seen in my life, it tastes like a tomato but of course the most amazing thing is that it comes inside a little flower. I immediately thought of Grace who loves tomatoes, flowers, and anything that comes inside a little package! 90_20140624_191329.jpg
We stayed at the farm for two nights before heading to San Gil on a 4 hour flota ride… 20140629_173144.jpg20140629_172635.jpg20140629_172624.jpg90_20140629_172606.jpg
The great thing about San Gil is – IT IS WARM! And, it is also the adventure capital of Colombia due to its vast number of caves, waterfalls, river rapids, cliffs for abseiling down, mountains for paragliding off etc. I was very tempted to go caving through a massive series of tunnels and caves that resulted in a 6 metre jump into water at the end, all in the pitch black… But I was told that the smells and dampness in there was very strong, and I didn’t want to find out half way inside that it was a dangerous place for an asthmatic… See, I am making wise choices!
We did however find a massive 8 meter waterfall to jump off which made for a great afternoon. A group of Colombian tourists came up after their abseiling and were most impressed to see a crazy kiwi girl laughing and jumping off easily wearing only a bikini, while they were jumping off in their life jackets, wetsuits, aqua shoes, and screaming for their lives! 90_20140628_121013.jpg20140628_115238.jpg90_20140628_115214.jpg20140628_105602.jpg
The way we got to the waterfalls and back was on the back of moto-taxis, which was crazy because I was wearing a summer dress and had a bag full of fruit between my legs! Oh dear!
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Marce and I went to a beautiful place called Parque Nacional de Chicamocha. It was stunning. Beautiful mountains and very deep canyons with rivers right at the bottom. The view was 360 degrees, and went for as far as the eye could see. I was in complete awe, I couldn’t stop looking at everything. I feel my pictures just do not do it any justice whatsoever!
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Right at the top, was a giant culumpio (swing) that goes out over the canyon. Naturally, I basically ran up the hill to get there, super excited for that amazing feeling of I NEARLY DIED BUT I DIDN’T! The swing was super scary, super fun, and with a spectacular view. I love how things like this in Colombia are so cheap. What would be a ridiculously priced activity in New Zealand cost just $8 here, so it was something I didn’t even have to hesitate about doing!20140627_130425.jpg90_20140627_130343.jpg
We watched the game in San Gil, and then partied all night afterwards – drinking of course, Aguardiente! Because the town is the adventure capital of Colombia, I managed to stumble across 3 other Kiwis and about 4 Australians, all who said that the only place on their travels they have found other Kiwis and Ozzies has been in San Gil! Trust the Kiwis to follow the smell of adventure! Just because we were in a smaller town, it made no difference to the scale of celbrations after the game! Absolutely NUTS!180_20140628_172828.jpg20140628_171225.jpg20140628_170825.jpg90_20140628_174419.jpg20140628_170623.jpg
Marce and I also went to a small town nearby to San Gil. This town is yet another gorgeous place, on the edge of a hill looking out towards a beautiful mountain range. The town itself is called Barichara and full of lovely little shops, cafes, and restaurants. I bought a few arts and crafts here, and we had a lovely lunch. I can really see myself living in a town like this one day. It reminds me a lot of Vejer, where I lived in Spain. In Colombia it is very easy to work out which town/ area is a Spanish colonial town, especially after being in Spain last year.cathedral.jpgbarichara_572610.jpgbarichara_hill.jpg1246570767..a_santander.jpg
Marce and I caught 2 flotas all the way back to Bogota, stopping off at the farm to collect the rest of our belongings and saying our farewells on the way. I was determined to get back to Bogota because I had a very important date – Paddy was finally back in town from his trip to the Amazon! Paddy and I had met in Spain last year and instantly became like brothers. We nearly died together in our adventures to Morocco, tore Spain apart with our craziness and identical sense of humour, and just had an instant love for each other that made seeing him a huge appeal about my coming to Bogota where he has been studying here for the past 6 months. I turned up at his house where he ran outside and picked me up, twirling me around and jumping up and down with me, before I had even had a chance to pay the laughing taxi driver – who had of course had the very lucky and grand experience of hyperactive Katy in broken Spanish mode. We went out and partied all night before sleeping all day and going to get amazing vegetarian pizzas for lunch – that actually tasted like pizza not an overload of cheese! It is very hard to find vegetarian food here, and I am craving real vegetables so when the waiter brought me my food I was so excited!
Maybe this picture can show how excited I was to see my boy!
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I have now spent the last 24 hours recovering from too much aguardiente, a terrible stomach reaction to eating chicken (never again), and just all round different food and things here. But I have about 5 hours to improve before I meet Paddy for Gringo Tuesday for yet another night of Kate and Paddy craziness – bring it on! We both leave Bogota on the 4th – he is going back to Switzerland, and I to Santa Marta which is the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Bring on aqua coloured sea, white sand, perfect tanning weather, and fresh lobster from the sea!

Posted by chasingsummer 13:21 Archived in Colombia Tagged mountains deserts bogota fossils san_gil los_partidos Comments (0)

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