Ciudad Perdida Hike: Day 2

November 10, 2013

Having not ever spent an entire night sleeping in a hammock, I didn’t get the best sleep. 5am came too early, however Manuel had delicious cups of coffee waiting for us. I couldn’t think of a better way to wake up.

Chandler and I were ready to go shortly after eating breakfast, so we headed off early with Basillo, a young boy in charge of the pack horse.

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Our young guide, Basillo

He basically ignored us until we encountered a red and black snake on the side of the trail. Basillo pointed it out, let us take a photo and then promptly whacked it with a stick until it was dead. Basillo didn’t speak any English but conveyed that the snake was poisonous and could bite us or the horse.

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Red and black snake

Once he realized that we were interested in everything around us and in him, he got much friendlier. Suddenly, he was making sure I knew where to walk so I wouldn’t slip or pointing out plants and naming them. We were impressed by the little guy. Not only was he hiking faster than us but he knew almost every plant and bird around.

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Tripping or dancing?

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Cocoa pods

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Basillo and a macaw

The hiking was pretty easy going for the first few hours, it might have been because we were going downhill. We started up a decent hill, which was bad until it just kept going. It was so humid and hot that I started sweating as soon my shirt was soaking again. Things don’t dry out too well in the jungle. I didn’t fall too far behind, but another group caught up with me, then sort of enveloped us while we all took a break.

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Up the hill we go

The other group had around 30 people in it, and was kind of annoying. They were mostly American and European kids in their early 20’s yelling up and down the trail. Some of them had portable speakers playing pop music. We had been enjoying the relative quiet and interesting quiet conversation when we stoped to rest, so we were anxious to put some distance between us and the mob. Luckily, we stopped at Manuel’s home while everyone else continued on to another camp up the trail.

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Big frog

We were introduced to Manuel’s family and had a huge dinner. We spent the night getting to know our hiking mates better. Stephen was a semi-retired computer programmer from California in his 70s and had some crazy stories about his world travels in the late 1960’s. Atli and ‘Ashrum patiently answered all of our questions about everything concerning Iceland. Basillo danced around us trying to get our attention with tickling and showing us some huge frogs.

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Ciudad Perdida Hike: Day 1

November 9, 2013

Our taxi arrived at 7am and we had to scramble to get out the door, because they were early. The taxi took us to a supermarket, where we waited around for about 45 minutes for the driver or something. They loaded about 50 pineapples into our car. And we waited. We were driven to Taganga to pick up another hiker and to pay for the excursion. We then turned back around and drove back to Santa Marta. At this point Chandler and I were a little frustrated with the situated as it was 11am, we were back where we started, and we still had to pick up two other people.

After another hour of messing around, we had everyone in the car and were on our way to the trailhead. Things progressed smoothly once we were out of the car. We were given cold sandwiches while our guide packed up the horse and were soon on the trail to Ciudad Perdida, the once lost city.

We were going to be spending the next 5 days with three other hikers, Stephen from San Francisco and Atli and ‘Ashrum from Iceland. Our guides were Manuel and Basillo, local Wiwa indians. We made a good choice by going with the indigenous guide company because we had a wonderful group.

Our hike began by crossing a few shallow streams and then up a hill. At this point, the skies opened up, garbage bags were produced to keep our packs dry, and we were soaked within seconds.

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The hike begins

The hill got steeper and steeper with water coursing down at our feet. I felt like we were hiking up a stream. I had no idea what the surrounding scenery looked like because I had to keep my head down to watch my footing the entire time. The day’s hike was only 2 hours, so we weren’t in the rain for too long. At the top of the hill was a house with an open kitchen and a large covered area filled with hammocks. The rain let up long enough for us to get a look at the view of the mountains and jungle.

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View from the top

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Our sleeping quarters

We were given a hearty dinner loaded with rice and beans, with a delicious glass of fresh juice, before being encouraged to go to bed early, as we would be waking up at 5am! The rain comes pretty regularly each day during the rainy season, so as long as we were off the trail by 3pm or so, we’d stay dry.

Goodbye Kalyn

November 6 – 8, 2013

Kalyn had a flight back to Medellin on the 7th, so we headed back to the Drop Bear in Santa Marta on the 6th. We spent the day playing ping pong, reading in hammocks and then we went out for dinner. On the day of her flight, Kalyn and I went out for mani/pedis before sending her off.

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Pink flower

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Me and Kalyn

It was so nice to have Kalyn travel with us in Colombia. I wish she could have stayed longer, but some time is better than no time.

After Kalyn took off for the airport, Chandler and I made arrangements to do a 5 day hike in the jungle to the Lost City. However, that night Chandler got sick and the next morning, I got sick. I sent Kalyn an email and found out that she was also sick. Food poisoning strikes again. Luckily, we were able to reschedule our hike for the next day.

Tubing

November 3 – 5, 2013

After a few days in Cartagena, we were ready to move onto to Santa Marta for a day before heading onto Palomino and the beach. The bus ride to Santa Marta was about 4 hours and we were entertained with a Hallmark movie. The movie was very cheesy, but it helped pass the time.

When we arrived in Santa Marta, we headed to a hostel someone recommended. We should have known something was wrong the moment we walked in. Our bunks were fine, but there were dirty dishes on several tables in the restaurant and the bartender told us the cook was being lazy and the kitchen was closed. Apparently, the dishwasher was busy too. We asked for directions to a restaurant but he told everywhere was closed because it was Sunday. So, we went to the market to pick up groceries and ended up passing three or four open restaurants on our walk back to the hostel. The final straw came when Kalyn and I tried to put the groceries in the fridge and about 20 bugs came crawling out and all over everything, including uncovered pieces of rotting meat. It was disgusting and time for us to leave.

We packed up our stuff and asked a cabbie to take us to the nicest hostel in town, The Drop Bear Hostel. It was clean and the staff were friendly and helpful. Plus, there were puppies!

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Puppies!!

The next day we headed for the small beach town of Palomino. We had only a few days left with Kalyn and we wanted them to be relaxing. The beach was just the thing. After a day of laying around, it was time for an activity. Our hostel offered inner tubes for a lazy day on a nearby river.

The excitement began with a ride on the back of a motorbike while gripping the inner tube and trying not to fall off the bike. Chandler’s driver went off the road and they almost rolled down an embankment, but Chan jumped off the back in time for the driver to regain control. We then carried our tubes for about 20 minutes up a big hill. We were covered in sweat and ready for the cool water when we reached the river.

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Heading up the hill

When we started out, the three of us tried to stay together by holding hands or feet or whatever was available to grab onto. This lasted for a few minutes until our tubes headed through the trees on the bank of the river and Chandler detached himself.

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On the river

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A brush with the brush

The remainder of our float was relaxing, Kalyn and I stuck together but Chandler never caught back up.

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Tubing in the jungle

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Chandler selfie

The river ended in the ocean, so it was a little scary trying to land on the beach. I was sure I was going to get sucked out to sea, but managed to successfully bring myself and my inner tube onto land.

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The ocean

We had a short walk up the beach to our hostel before hiding ourselves from the sun for the rest of the day. Despite applying sunscreen, Kalyn and I got quite burned while Chandler got lucky. It might have helped that Chandler had shorts and a t-shirt to protect him.

Mud volcano

November 2, 2013

El Totumo is an interesting geological feature outside Cartagena. It is a large dirt cone with a pool of mud in its crater. It’s not just to look at though, you can climb down in and float around. It was obvious that we would be visiting it.

While waiting for our transportation, we visited the gold museum of Cartagena. It was much smaller than the version we saw in Bogotá, but still interesting.

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Gold jewelry

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Burial urns

After lunch, we loaded onto a bus and headed to the volcano. We were given a little talk about what to expect and the supposed health benefits of sitting in the mud.

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El Totumo

The experience began by climbing a rickety set of stairs up to the top of the volcano, which looked like a giant termite hill. We passed our camera off to the photographer and then descended a very slippery and muddy ladder into the mud pit. A local man helped each person into the mud because there was no bottom. We were just floating in the mud and it was a little tricky getting used to the feeling. He would lay you back and cover your body in mud. Once covered, he would propel you with a little shove to another man who then gave you a massage. And by massage, I mean rub your legs, arms and back with a bit of pressure. Not bad for 3000 pesos or $1.50.

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Laying in the mud

Once the massage was over, the man would help you sit up in the mud and move you over to your friends. It this point, Chandler, Kalyn and I sat or tried to stand in the mud. It was difficult to maintain our balance, and people kept tipping over and ending up floating horizontally. It was a very strange sensation to be floating in mud. The mud itself was slightly warm and not disgusting with hair or debris, but it supposedly had no bottom, or not one we could feel. As hard as you tried to shoot yourself to the bottom, the mud would never let you sink too far.

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Muddy group

After about 15 minutes, it was time to get out. Somehow, we sort of swam our way to the ladder, where one of the local men helped squeegee most of the mud off our bodies. Climbing the ladder was a bit scary and took concentration not to slip. Once out of the mud pit, we were herded to the lake for a bath.

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A nice look for Kalyn

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Recognize Chandler?

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Maybe time for a bath

At the lake, there were a number of local ladies ready to help. They would grab your hand, sit you down and pour bucket after bucket of water over your head. They put their fingers in your ears and everyone’s swimsuit was removed so it could be pounded against rocks to be cleaned. I felt like a toddler getting a very rough bath. Once swimsuits were back on and the ladies deemed you clean, it was back to the bus. We were given a snack and headed back to town.

While we had known there might be inappropriate touching from the masseuses, we didn’t find that to be the case. The ladies were aggressive, but never crossed any boundaries. The experience was a little crazy, but we all had a great time and would definitely recommend the mud volcano.

The fortress

November 1, 2013

Cartegena was an important gold trading center in the region and was frequently sacked and held for ransom. The Spanish invested an incredible amount of money to fortify the city, and when they actually manned the fortifications, it worked.

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The fortress

In 1741, British and American colonial forces assaulted on the city during the War of Jenkin’s Ear. The attackers, led by Admiral Vernon, outnumbered the defenders nearly 9 to 1 but were forced to lay siege to the city due to the fortifications. The British were ultimately undone by a serious outbreak of Yellow Fever which killed more men than those who fell in battle. As an aside, Lawrence Washington, George’s older half brother led a failed charge of Colonial troops during the operation. He survived though, and named his estate in honor of his commander, Admiral Vernon.

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Original fort

While the whole old city is walled and remnants of old forts litter the hills around the city, the most imposing defensive feature is Castillo San Filipe de Barajas. The massive stone fort occupies a hill which overlooks the old city. The original ground was high enough to be considered a threat to the city, allowing potential enemies to bombard the city from above. Original plans to tear the hill down with forced labor were abandoned as too expensive and time consuming, so instead the knoll was fortified with stone in 1536. The original structure grew through a series renovations until it reached its current, massive, sprawling state in the late 1700’s.

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Parade ground

The fort is considered a war engineering masterpiece, which was nearly impossible to seize. Batteries of cannon and defensive positions not only pointed at the ground approaching the fort, but also provided excellent firing angles directly at the lower batteries. If an enemy did capture the lowest parts of the fort, they would be sitting ducks for the cannon and soldiers higher up.

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Cannon

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Down the barrel

The fort included a large cistern so defenders could sit and wait a while while an enemy laid siege. This was a very important part of the design- the longer the enemy was forced to sit and maintain the siege in the swamps around the fort, the more likely an outbreak of some tropical disease would wipe them out.

A massive network of tunnels riddled the original hill under the fort, providing underground access to various positions. In the unlikely event that the fort was captured, small rooms filled with barrels of gunpowder could be detonated, blowing the fort to bits.

I wandered around doing a self guided audio tour which provided hours of detailed information, while Kalyn and Jenny did their own self-guided tour.

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Colombian flag

When I caught up with Jenny and Kalyn, we headed down to the tunnels. At first, we just traveled in a circle in a narrow and short tunnel before we arrived back at the entrance. Still curious, we turned back around to explore one of the passages that shot off the main tunnel. This tunnel lead us down, down, down. Jenny eventually got very claustrophobic and had to turn around, Kalyn and I joined her in returning to the surface. We later learned that the tunnel led down to an area that once was dry, but has subsided and filled with water that gets higher or lower depending on the tide and is pitch black.

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The tunnel

The rest of the day was for walking around the town and relaxing.

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Street art

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Kalyn and a new friend

Onto Cartagena

October 31, 2013

For Halloween, Kalyn, Chandler and I caught a flight to the coastal city of Cartagena instead of taking the equally priced 12 hour bus ride. Our flight was short and we were checked into our hostel and exploring by 2pm.

Cartagena feels like two different cities, everything in the old, walled city and everything else outside. We walked along the wall and had views of the ocean and huge modern buildings. Inside the walls, the buildings had a colonial Spanish style. It was quite a contrast.

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Cartagena

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Wall of the old city

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Domed top

The walled portion of the city was full of artists and tourist traps. It was a little too late in the day for a full tour of a museum, but we took a quick peek at the Colombian Naval Museum. Everything was in Spanish and since Chan and I can’t read a word of Spanish, we just wandered around and looked at the displays. There were lots of scale models of all the Spanish forts built on the coast to protect the city from frequent invasions from pirates.

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Naval museum display

Since it was Halloween, we ended the night at a bar across the street from our hostel where Kalyn and I enjoyed a drink while Chandler had a Colombian cigar.