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The End is Nigh...

Our adventures during our final few weeks: Ciudad Perdida Trek, Tayrona NP and the San Blas Islands...

The end is most definitely nigh...so I'm afraid to say, this one is a little long! If it helps, it's mostly pictures!! ?

Ok so you thought our hiking days were done and dusted? Please no more tales of aching legs and blisters I hear you cry! Well, sorry to disappoint folks but with only 2 weeks left in Colombia, and of our trip in total, we decided there was plenty of time to fit in one final one - more specifically a 4 day hike to the Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) in the Sierra Nevada mountains above the Caribbean coastal towns of Santa Marta and Taganga.

After a very bumpy ride in the back of a crammed jeep to our starting point for the trek, we met the group with whom we would share the next few days as well as our guides. The group seemed to be another good one, which was great. Our guide Luis, a stout little fellow with a rather sizeable pot belly who looked just like an overweight 'Super Mario' (giving us hope that if he can manage this trek, surely we'll be fine!) spoke no English whatsoever but seemed friendly.

After a lunch of stale rolls and processed cheese and ham (hmmmm, hopefully the food can only go up from here) we were off! The first days walk was understood to be a fairly short leisurely one (approx 4 hours walking time) so we weren't too worried...until about 5 minutes in when it hit us just how tough walking with backpacks in 35 degree heat and tremendous humidity is! Within a few minutes we were drenched in sweat (something that was to become a theme for the next 4 days) so it was a big relief when we hit our first 'swimming spot' - one of many natural pools/rivers found along the trek - and we gladly jumped straight in to the cool water.

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Happily refreshed we set off again, only to be quickly greeted by a long and arduous climb that seemed never ending (hang on, no-one mentioned this was coming today!), meaning that our clean and refreshed state was very short lived.

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Eventually we reached the settlement where we were to sleep for the first night, in a huge row of hammocks no less. Gladly this site also had a great swimming spot nearby (and this one came complete with a waterfall and necessitated a pretty high jump to reach the water, which was great fun) so we were able, once again, to sort of clean ourselves up and cool down. The hammocks were fairly comfortable here too, so we were sure we'd get a good nights rest here, well that was until Luis mentioned the snakes and scorpions that tend to come into the hut at night - yikes!

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Day 2 brought an early start ahead of a long, tough days walking (approx 8 hours, most of which was uphill) to get us to the campsite which is closest to the Ciudad.

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I don't think I have ever been so hot in my life during this day, however there were luckily a few more natural pools to splash about in along the way and the scenery was fantastic. We were now amongst the stunning tree covered mountains we had seen the day before and the path was a decidedly more rugged and jungley. Of course Shaun couldn't resist having a few Indiana Jones moments, swinging on vines and running across rickety rope bridges!

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We also started to meet people from the indigenous tribe (the Tayuna) dressed in traditional clothing, along the path, and passed several indigenous settlements and villages. It never ceases to amaze me how basic some of the conditions are that these people live in, yet it's a way of life that they choose to maintain and fight to keep alive.

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Our accommodation on this second night was, rather luxuriously, beds! Ok, so fairly damp and rather stinky mattresses placed in rows and built in bunk bed style in a wooden framed open fronted shell of a building with mosquito nets over the top, but beds nonetheless! The natural pool here was a 5 minute trek into the jungle and was truly a hidden gem if ever there was one.

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So hidden, so secret, so beautiful. Clear waters surrounded by lush green tropical forest, hanging vines ready for swinging on, which Shaun duly tried!

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Day 3 brought us to the highlight, indeed the purpose of the trek - after hiking for a further one hour into the jungle, we reached the base of the 1200 steps that would take us up to the Lost City. The Lost City was built in the seventh century by the Tayuna people and is a maze of over 200 terraces and structures, spanning 30 acres, and was once home to 2000 inhabitants. It was also a large trade centre and the Tayuna's prospered there for centuries until the Spanish invasion of Colombia. When the Spanish came to Colombia they brought with them European diseases, to which the indigenous people had no resistance or idea how to treat, resulting in the near extinction of the race. In fear of enslavement by the Spanish, the remaining Tayuna's abandoned the Lost City in around 1650 and, hidden so deep in the jungle it remained that way until it was discovered in 1976. Unfortunately many of the treasures that the Tayuna people left behind were looted but the city itself remains a very sacred place for the Tayuna people, who (along with machine gun armed paramilitary!) guard it preciously.

The steps were incredibly steep and it was certainly tough getting to the top of them, but we were rewarded once we arrived there with a view of the first set of terraces and the entrance to the city. We spent 2.5 hours exploring the city, which was fascinating (luckily a nice Argentinean in our group was able to translate Luis' tour into English for the majority of the group) and the views were incredible.

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Whilst the centre of the city itself may not be quite as spectacular as Machu Picchu, it is certainly still a very impressive site to behold and the lack of mainstream access to the site, and resulting lack of other tourists, made it feel more secret and special.

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This was definitely much more the Indiana Jones experience Shaun was after, although I'm not sure Indiana was caught doing a human pyramid at the temple of doom!

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Following our tour, we returned to camp for a quick lunch, before setting off to start retracing our steps back, happy in the knowledge that, having done so much uphill on the way to the city, the way back would contain a considerable amount of downhill. We spent a last night in hammocks at another local settlement site, where much to our delight, we were fed a great meal of pasta - woohoooo "not rice" we cried!

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On our fourth and final day, we completed the trek by around lunchtime, having set off at around 6am to miss the worst of the heat and having spotted some poisonous snakes, dodged some unruly cows and visited an indigenous cemetery along the way.

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The drive back to Santa Marta/Taganga was even more eventful than the way there, since, owing to lack of room in the jeep, we watched with horror as our guide Luis jumped on the top of the vehicle and clung on for dear life as the jeep bumped its way along the unpaved mountainous roads! Luckily he, and we, made it back in one piece and in time for us to enjoy a slap up meal of filet mignon at the hostel (as you do!) before crashing.

Following this we had decided that it was finally time for some proper R&R so we headed to Tayrona National Park, famed for its stunning Caribbean beaches (not to mention being on the front of the Colombian lonely planet!) for a couple of nights. Tayrona can be reached by a 40 minute bus ride and then a 2 hour hike from Taganga, or alternatively you can take a short 1 hour speed boat ride there. Having finally had enough of walking, and with our blisters still fresh from the Lost City, we opted for the speed boat option without a seconds thought. However, the downside of this option is the incredibly choppy waters and swells along the coast that the boat must navigate to reach the park. It certainly wasn't the most relaxing boat ride we've ever taken, to say the least, and we arrived pretty bumped and bruised. Nonetheless, it all became worth it as we pulled into the bay of Cabo San Juan and saw the pristine beaches and clear waters that awaited us.

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We quickly booked ourselves in to spend the night sleeping in hammocks in a hut that sits on the top of the rocks overlooking the sea - the prime spot. We had been warned it can get pretty windy and chilly up in the hut in the night, but we couldn't pass up the opportunity to sleep in such a perfect spot and see the sunrise over the bay, so we decided we would take our chances and it was definitely a good choice. After all it's not every day you get to sleep in such a setting for less than £10!

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Our couple of days at Tayrona were spent very lazily, soaking up the sun, enjoying the sea and drinking beers - just what the doctor ordered! I think the photos pretty much speak for themselves.

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After 2 nights, we took the very bumpy and incredibly wet boat ride back to the town as we needed to get ourselves back to Cartagena to board the last minute Caribbean sailing trip we had booked to finish our trip with a bang, which was departing from there the following evening....

Wanting to finish our travels with a spectacular grand finale, we had spontaneously decided to take a 5-night / 6 day sailing trip to Panama on a 9-berth 43ft yacht, the Perle de la Caribe, which sails via the idyllic San Blas Islands. We had looked at 3 boats in total, a catamaran (which would've instinctively been my first choice) which held 14 people at a push, however we were told (by the company selling the sailing trips!) "the 'El Capitan' is a pr*ck and crams the boat too full to make it an enjoyable experience". The other boat was a larger schooner type boat which slept 27, which was a straight out no from us. So we opted for El Capitan Fernando on the Perle de Caribe. And what a choice it was!!

We arrived at Club Nautico docks around 8pm where we met the rest of our fellow passengers and crew before setting sail at 9pm from Cartagena. I have to say, we lucked out massively on all fronts. Not only was the Perle de Caribe a great yacht, we also had a great crew and a good bunch of fellow sailors - we were all around the same age which meant any references to Natalie Imbruglia, Gameboys and any references to the 80's were immediately understood. Our crew were all Argentinian and were a great laugh, so easy going and easy to talk to. I don't think we could have picked a better crew.

Our journey started out with 3hrs sailing with the motor to get out of port, through the shipping channels and into the open sea. Given the time of year (it's windy season) Captain Fernando told us that some of the waves would be getting to 2-3 metres out at sea but fortunately we were going with the wind and not against it so it would be slightly smoother.

Now I'm not one for usually getting seasick but we were told to take tablets anyway as the first 2 nights and 2 days would be solid sailing on the open sea, no land in sight on the horizon and no stopping. Turned out this was great advice and was well heeded. Big swells and small boats don't do much for our stomachs. Neither of us were sick but when we went inside off of the deck, we felt so much more queasy. However, once we got into our double birth and were horizontal, we felt fine and quickly passed out, most likely from the drowsiness induced by the Dramamine. (This would also come in handy when we needed to sleep on our epic 36-hr journey home to the UK!) Doing the majority of the open ocean sailing at night was beneficial as it meant that we slept through most of it and would give us the maximum amount of time at the San Blas Islands.

After our first night, we woke up early to an amazingly deep blue ocean for as far as the eye could see in any direction - no land, no boats, nothing but the wind and the white sails. Sweeeeeeet!

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Breakfast today was freshly prepared fruit along with granola and milk and tea or coffee! Much of this day was spent sleeping as there was little to do apart from this. Reading was a little too much. Although we no longer felt seasick, the swells were still pretty big and as soon as you tried to concentrate on reading, the queasiness made a reappearance. I swear I didn't see some of our fellow sailors at all that day. It was nice to get a solid 13-14hrs straight sleep though, something we've not had at all this entire trip. Travelling is great fun but it is by no means relaxing...

During the second night, we saw one of the most magical sights of our trip. Whilst sailing in the pitch dark, the only light we had was the blazing stars above in the clear night sky (so bright that you could see the cloud of the Milky Way) and the bioluminescent phytoplankton being churned up in the wake of the boat. If you have seen the movie Life of Pi, you will know the scene I'm talking about. We spent about 3 hours genuinely deciding which was better, the skies above or the waters around us. We still don't know...

Awaking on our third day, we could feel no movement from the boat, just a slight sway from left to right...this only meant one thing, we had arrived! Leaping out of bed, banging my head on the ceiling of our berth, trying it again a little more cautiously, we got onto the deck and saw what I can only describe as perfection all around. Turquoise waters, pristine white sand beach with hanging palms only a 50m swim away and water so clear that you can see the bottom despite it being so deep that you cannot reach the bottom. Our quest to finish our trip on a massive high was fulfilled. We had absolutely nailed it!

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No time for breakfast today for me, I'm already in with my goggles and fins! The water was so warm, it was like jumping into a bath. El Capitan told us that just off of the starboard side of the boat was a small reef which everyone immediately scrambled to checked out. There was so much marine life down there - small fish, big fish, lobsters, eels, you name it it was there. One of our fellow passengers on the boat, Ben, had just finished his PhD in Australia in marine life so he was very handy to have with us pointing out all the different species. We called him Reef Man - seemed appropriate.

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The remainder of the day was spent relaxing in the waters and sunbathing on the boat or beach - this proved to be a tougher choice than you might think - boat or beach? boat or beach? So hard! For me, it was boat everytime. The gentle rocking of the boat always sent you to sleep.

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In the evening, by which time a few more yachts had arrived, everyone decided to head to the beach where a fire was started and time was spent sat around it, chatting, drinking (obviously rum, what else do sailors drink in the Caribbean?) and star-gazing. One of our group had brought his guitar so verses of Johnny Cash and Bob Marley came out too... Han and I immediately had a sense of being in the T4 show Shipwrecked, but with slightly less eccentric and stupid folk. The night inevitably ended when everyone had run out of booze.

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Our plan for the next day was to head to a shipwreck for more snorkelling but our morning was a much more sedate affair, many feeling the effects of last nights antics - no more so than our very own Captain Fernando. When he rose from his hammock which he had hung from the boom on deck, around lunchtime, his response to why we were no longer going to the wreck today was hilarious - with a cheeky smile and still looking half asleep, he said, "today we were going to go to the wreck pero (but in Spanish) it is now too late to go today pero what is done is done..." Nobody minded in the slightest because we were already in a beautiful spot. So after lunch, which consisted of freshly caught fish, salad etc we set off to the next island for more snorkelling and our next nights destination. This evening was a more sedate affair with more chat, music and cards. Booze? Obviously! More rum and more beer!

Our next few days really followed the above format, moving from island to Island taking in the beautiful waters, beaches and reefs. The food we ate was incredible. It was hard to imagine that all of it came from the tiny onboard kitchen. I have to say, Fernando and Boatsmen Luciano and Ariel (yes, as in the little mermaid!) were great chefs. We had ceviche one night, sashimi another from the fish we caught from the line on the back of the boat (tuna, snapper, sierra(?) and some other fish I've never heard of) and on our last night, our last supper, a humongous meze table with homemade humus, quacamole, sashimi, olives, carpaccio, garlic bread etc.

We did get to visit the shipwreck on our final day, which was great to see and swim around, looking through all the different rooms onboard and seeing what was inside.

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The highlights for us, as well as the pristine waters and stunning deserted island views, were that we got to see and swim amongst some big fish such as barracudas as well as what looked like small reef sharks, eagle rays (they look so cool!) and when on board, dolphins! What a way to end our incredible adventures.

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There is little more I can add to this, I think a series of pictures probably say much more than I could...

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On our last day, we said farewell to Captain Fernando, Luciano and Ariel and made our way by a much smaller speedboat to mainland Panama before a very hilly and speedy journey to Panama City (we both felt more sick after this journey than the 6 days on the boat) where we would spend the night before embarking on our 36-hr epic journey back to London via Florida(!?!), Colombia and Madrid. Fingers crossed it all goes smoothly.

Well, we hate to say it but that brings us to the end of our incredible adventures. We have had the most amazing few months, seen and done so much, met some amazing people and are devastated for it to be over, but all good things must come to an end I suppose... well unless this blog gets picked up by Lonely Planet, Rough Guides or Wanderlust and we snag our dream jobs as travel photographers and writers!

For now however, that's it from the Roundup. It's time for us to return to Blighty and plan our next adventures. We hope you have enjoyed this blog and we shall hopefully see many of you readers on the other side.

This is the Roundup signing off. Over and out.

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Posted by shaunandhan 14:07 Archived in Colombia Tagged me sunsets_and_sunrises beaches skylines people parties trees animals birds sky night boats snorkelling fish water sunset diving park beach trek city white island san sand sail national swimming tropical scuba dolphin yacht lost historic shark colombia cartagena ray turquoise blas rays lancha tayrona ciudad sunbathe teyuna perdida barracuda Comments (0)

Colombia: The Prohibition Era

Dry weekends but certainly not caffeine free...moving from the country's industrial heart to its silver lining.

sunny 32 °C

Our final country...or is it? Do we return home at the end? I can say with all certainty that our dream answer would be that we have many more countries still to go and that we are not returning home...yet. But sadly, it seems the end is nigh. We better make the most of what time we have left then shouldn't we?

Bienvenidos a Colombia! Home to coffee, cocaine(!), the largest exporter of emeralds and the Caribbean.

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With little over 3 weeks left and a lot of distance to cover in Colombia, we decided to make the most of our time and cut out the long bus journeys and fly from place to place. Internal flights in Colombia are pretty cheap so we made the most of them.

Having had enough of cities, on landing in Bogota, we immediately caught an internal flight to Manizales, a small city in the heart of Zona Cafetera or the 'Coffee Region' in Central Colombia. Our flight was only an hour but was in a small twin prop where you could feel every bump, every gust of wind, every single movement.

Manizales is described as having 'abrupt topography', built into the mountains with ridge lines and steep slopes. It is situated high in the hills of Colombia covered in lush green forest and coffee plants, as a result of the combination of hot sunny days and cooler, wetter afternoons and evenings. You can immediately see why Colombia is one of the biggest coffee growers and exporters in the world, with Manizales being the coffee capital.

We had booked a tour around Hacienda Venecia, a working coffee plantation and farm about 30 minutes outside of Manizales nestled in the bottom of the nearby valley. We also discovered that as well as being able to stay at the plantation house (which looked fantastic but out of our price range) they also had on site, a hostel which had all the same amenities and facilities as the house but slightly more basic accommodation. As such, for £20 a night, we got a private double room with ensuite bathroom, a swimming pool to use, more hammocks than you have time to sleep in and all the free coffee you can drink! And even better, hardly anyone was staying there so peace and quiet too (apart from the owners' pug which took an immediately liking to Han's socks and shoes and our Nikon DSLR)!

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On the morning of our arrival, our tour started with a brief history of where coffee originated and how it came to the Americas. We learnt all about the different types of coffee, as well as the different conditions required for growing them and the methods employed for farming, drying and roasting each.

Coffee can generally be split into 3 main bands - robusta coffee which accounts for the largest proportion of the worlds coffee (2% caffeine content); arabica coffee which accounts for the second largest proportion (1% caffeine content); and then speciality coffees such as Blue Mountain from Jamaica and the world's most expensive coffee Kopi Luwak from Indonesia, which involves an Asian Palm Civet eating the coffee fruits, digesting them and then pooing out the beans! Funny, what seems the easiest and cheapest method (less need for machinery etc), produces the most expensive coffee! Go figure... It also turns out London is the place where the price of robusta coffee is set. Who'd have thought!

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Colombia and Hacienda Venecia grow and produce only arabica coffee using the 'wash method' due to the high altitude and wetter conditions. The other method is called the 'dry method' used in areas of lower altitude and greater heat such as Brazil. If you are asking what is the difference between the two, all I'm going to say is book a trip to Colombia and stay at Hacienda Venecia...or google it. The former is much more fun though!

Colombia account for 7-10% of the coffee market and are the third biggest producer. Brazil is the biggest producer followed oddly by Vietnam, who account for 58% of the market combined. Coffee is also Colombia's third biggest export behind oil, minerals and precious stones, specifically emeralds.

When learning about the coffee making process, I was surprised to learn it is not that dissimilar to the wine-making process save for the roasting of course. As part of our 'classroom learning' we got to test out our noses once again trying to identify different 'notes' that might be present in coffee (just like in Mendoza). It turns out that my good nose for wine turns its hand at coffee too! I now have two possible career paths - a sommelier for a wine producer or alchemist for a major coffee producer. Both require a move abroad to somewhere sunny so it can't be that bad. (I recently saw that 'Winemaker' was on New Zealand's Required Skills List - still hope of owning that vineyard on Waiheke!)

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After learning all about the process, seeing some roasting and of course the mandatory tasting (wow!) we got a tour of the working farm buildings and the store rooms full of coffee sacks.

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Our second day at the Hacienda was spent lounging around the pool and walking around the plantation. Hacienda Venecia is large in size, covering 200,000 hectares of the valley floor and hillside. Although it is a working farm, they let guests wander the coffee fields to their hearts content. We decided to hike to the top of the plantation and see the view of the fields from the mountainside, which were outstanding. We also got to see many workers wandering the fields hand picking the fruits from the trees.

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Having had a short but amazing time here (anyone thinking of visiting Colombia, this place is a must), it was time to leave and catch our next flight to Cartagena on the northern coast - via Bogota - for more sun!

Our taxi to the airport was something straight out of the movie Romancing the Stone. Hopping in our SWB Land Rover Defender complete with soft top and snorkel, Han in the front and myself riding in the back with all our bags, our driver decided to take us on the back roads through the fields and tropical jungle. To say I got bumped around a bit was an understatement...but it was so much fun!!

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On our arrival at Manizales 'Airshed' (it's not so much an airport, just a single room with chairs and a little cafe), we discovered our flight was delayed by an hour due to poor weather. Ordinarily, this would not have bothered us but our perhaps somewhat over confidence in Colombia's airline efficiency meant that we had only left ourselves 1.5hrs between landing in Bogota (on time) and catching our connecting flight. So an hour delay was cutting it a little fine. Turns out, it was much worse as we only landed and arrive at the gate 10 minutes before our next flight was due to take off. Whilst we thought we could just about make it through security, the same could not be said for our luggage which was still on the plane and the airport staff had not even started unloading it off of our plane! With two minutes to spare, we made it to the gate. Only time would tell if our luggage also made it to the plane...

Fortunately, it is in exactly these scenarios that 'Spanish time' comes into its own...it turned out that our onward flight to Cartagena would also leave an hour late, giving our luggage time to join us on the plane, phew! Landing in Cartagena late at night, feeling tired, dirty and hangry (yes, that anger and frustration you feel about everything when you're hungry) the last thing we wanted was to find our luggage was stuck in transit somewhere. But appearing through the plastic gates of heaven, on luggage belt número 4, our faces lit up on seeing the safe arrival of our Golden Horde. Woohoo! Spanish time rules!!

Cartagena. The city of many names. The Jewel of the Nile, no sorry, Caribbean (since arriving in Cartagena, I have had a craving for watching 80's Michael Douglas movies - I'd just like to think Han and I are Jack T. Colton and Joan Wilder) or more popularly known as The Walled City.

Cartagena is a beautiful colonial city coupled with the laid-back Caribbean lifestyle. It is also another UNESCO World Heritage Site (it seems everywhere we go at the moment is a WHS).

Visiting a place famed for its historic 'Walled City', we did what anyone would do...stayed outside the city walls. As backpackers on a budget, staying 'inside' was simply not an option. As a fairly big tourist destination (sooooo many Americans) everything was tourist prices where you had to work hard to find somewhere cheaper to sleep and eat.

However, just outside the historic city is the area of Getsemani, a backpackers haven, as well as a haven for many other things too...but less said about those things. Our 'Casa' was just off a little side street, just 5 minutes' walk from the Clock Tower Gate. As soon as you opened the door from the street, it was like walking into a tiny riad, complete with a small but perfect swimming pool in the courtyard with the 'comes as standard' hammock next to it. Heaven!

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Arriving a little late on a Friday, we grabbed a bite to eat at a little restaurant called Cevecheria Wippy in the old town. Cartagena is a vibrant city with a great night life but knackered from all our travels during the day, we decided to call it a night and paint the town red tomorrow - it was the weekend after all.

The next day was spent wandering the historic city, doing some souvenir shopping (purchasing the absolute must - a hammock) as well as photographing some doors! As you do. I even found a peluqueria (barbers) and got a much needed haircut. When he pulled out the straight razor...gulp!

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We then spent some time chillaxing before going out for a few cheeky bevvies in town. Dolled up to the nines, we headed to a nearby lively looking salsa bar we had seen earlier for a couple of cocktails...only to be told they were not serving beers or cocktails. Upon asking in our now fluent Spanish (?!?) ("Tiene solo bebidas sin alcohol?"..."Si") it turned out they were not serving any booze. Thinking they were just being weird, we decided to head into town. We walked from one side of the old town all the way to the other passing numerous bars and restaurants and found it strange that we did not see one person with an alcoholic drink. I guess this is how alcoholics feel when they're trying to sober up - desperately searching for a drink where one is not in sight!?! Do they not drink in Colombia at weekends? Is there a local law against it? What the hell?!

We decided to continue our search for libations at a nice balcony bar overlooking a cute little square and when we asked for a beer, they duly said "yes, no problem". So what the hell was going on? Well, when our beer arrived, it looked like a slushie! Not the tastiest I have to admit so for the next round we opted for something a little more tasty looking, cocktails. It was then that one of the bar staff finally resolved the mystery...as it was the time of the Colombian elections, all over Colombia, the police were enforcing a 'dry weekend' from Sat morn to Monday afternoon! So nowhere was allowed to sell alcohol AT ALL! Not even to tourists! We couldn't believe it. Cartagena is such a lively place with what looked like a great nightlife - trust us to be there on the one weekend when there is no alcohol to be had. With baking hot sun in the day, where only an ice cold beer would quench that longing thirst and there was not a beer to be bought or bribed anywhere...I nearly cried.

But, the wonderful, amazing, best establishment in the world ever, that it was (name shall remain anonymous for fear of reprisals :-)) they agreed to ply us with booze, but any drink would have to be disguised as a soft drink. So rather cunningly, I duly ordered a cocktail usually served in a martini glass - a margarita (a-hmmmm, lemonade) knowing that to disguise it as a soft drink meant that it would have to be served in a bigger glass as a tall, long drink! Han had a strawberry dacquiri (erm, strawberry juice) and we now looked like everybody else.

The following day, after waking from our Sunday slumber, the morning was spent chilling around the pool. The afternoon brought a visit to the fort, which was pretty cool and very Pirates of the Caribbean. Built by the Spanish after they lost Cartagena to the British in 1586, who held the city for ransom (for only 107,000 Pesos or £30 - I could own a city!) and then again to the French before retaking it (the French got bored of the place and just left), the fort is built directly into the mound it is situated on, has extremely thick stone walls and a maze of tunnels beneath it which once led to different areas of the city. Whilst it seems their military weren't very competent, their builders clearly were as the fort and also the city has never been taken since it was built (it took around 208 years to complete the fortresses and walls). It became impenetrable despite the constant tide of pirates which tried and tried to sack the city which had grown quickly in size and wealth.

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Dinner and our evening entertainment in this time of prohibition was once again had at El Balcon (oops sorry, not so anonymous after all!). It seems lawyers stick together and are never too far apart, as not long after we arrived we met a lad from Linklaters who had just arrived in Cartagena and was also looking for a drink. We soon enlightened him about the prohibition times and how to ask for a drink 'wink, wink, nudge, nudge' style. After an evening of "do you know so-and-so?" and how much we didn't want to go back to work and where else we were going on our travels and where we wanted to still travel to, we headed back to our Casa. Not before being stopped by police who insisted on searching us both, rifling through our pockets and Hannah's bag looking for cocaine. Disappointed by their negative search, they were not happy to let us go before they had seen our passports (which we had left at the hostel). Foiled again by the production of copies however, they finally let us go on our way. It certainly reminded us that cocaine is still a massive problem in Colombia.

Our last full day in Cartagena was spent at Playa Blanca where we opted to stay for the night. Dubbed the best beach in the region, we decided to check it out. No accommodation booked, we were just hoping for a hammock!

Our journey involved travelling in an extremely cramped minivan. The kiwi owner bought it as a 12-seater but didn't realise it was for 12 small Japanese folk, not 12 of Europe's finest! Needless to say, it was a sweat box! After a brief respite at the river crossing where we got to stretch our legs for a whole 3 minutes, we were packed back in the minivan for a further 30 minutes before arriving at our destination. I have to say, it was well worth it! White sands, calm turquoise waters and little beach cabañas towards the quieter end. We couldn't have asked for more. We found 'The Wizard' - a recommendation of where to stay - which consisted of several small shelters raised on stilts and directly faced the ocean. Nothing but a roof, a mattress and a small piece of cloth to provide the smallest amount of privacy but also not to spoil the perfect view straight from your bed. Waking up to the sound of lapping waves and a completely empty beach was one of the best alarms I think I've ever had.

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Much of the day was spent catching some much needed rays and swimming in the clear waters. Lunch consisted of grabbing the local fisherman as he walked past selling freshly caught fish and lobster and buying a load of langoustines which he duly cooked in a tasty garlic and white wine butter served with a small salad and plantain chips and brought to our sun loungers! We didn't have to lift a finger.

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Unfortunately, as the phrase goes, all good things must come to an end. Deciding to deliberately miss the clown car back to Cartagena, we caught a lancha (speedboat) back to the city which was a hell of a lot more fun and faster.

Playa Blanca is a must for anyone visiting Cartagena but don't leave it too long as it might not be the same for much longer. Sadly we were told that the Government recently tried to take the land from the locals by blocking the waters with 12 large boats preventing locals from fishing and also bringing in bulldozers, just so that they could build an awful monstrosity of a hotel complex come village on the back of the beach, targeting the many American tourists, more specifically the middle-aged 'all-inclusive-ers'. Having taken the boat back to Cartagena, a little further along the coast is one of these massive town-like hotel complexes which really is an eye-sore on the pristine coastline. Having spoken to one of the staff members at The Wizard, we understand it would've happened had it not been for one of them obtaining a court order preventing the Government from seizing the land, destroying all of the locals' homes and businesses and their community, which has been there for many years. However, many think it is inevitable and only a matter of time before they return and try again. It seems a real shame that this could happen as it is perfect as it is. Relatively untouched save for the businesses on the beach. Let's pray this never happens...

Anyway, from one great place to another, our next stop brings us to The Lost City Trek (yup, more hiking) an Tayrona National Park 4 hours further east along the coast...

...over to you Han.

Posted by shaunandhan 09:36 Archived in Colombia Tagged beaches boats water sunset beach sand historic walls coffee colombia cartagena hacienda colourful turquoise lancha manizales playa_blanca venecia Comments (0)

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