Wednesday, August 12, 2009

the final furlong

Just having had a cursory re-read of my last blog entry it has surprised me that a whole month has passed since the two chicas left and I´ve been travelling solo. Surprised because I haven´t really been alone at all in that past month. Whilst everyone reassured me that I would meet people on the road to travel with, I was still worried about being by myself in South America, particularly in Colombia, because of its bad reputation. Paradoxically I´ve felt more safe in Colombia than any of the other countries in the north of the continent. Colombian people are some of the most friendly, open and warm hearted I´ve met. And the majority of people who are travelling in this part of the world are doing it alone which makes it easier to hook up with people and travel together.

My time in Ecuador was short. I was eager to get to Colombia because of the good reports I´d received about the country and also to maximise my time at the beach. The highlight was definitely a one day trek I did in Quilotoa ... a huge volcanic crater with a beautiful turquoise lake in the middle. The trek led past the crater and down an amazingly steep canyon with several precarious river crossings en route, severly testing my bridge paranoia. I keep on testing myself in these vertigo inducing situations, hoping that it will cure me of my fear of heights, but every time is just as hard as the last. In Quito, Ecuadors capital, I climbed to the top of a Basilica... on the outside with the wind whipping around me, and still I´m afraid to cross a pedestrian overpass 10 foot off the ground. Go figure.

In Quito I bumped into a Scottish guy who I´ve now met in four separate countries on the trip. It´s great just randomly meeting people like that, and it´s rarely the people you expect. We checked out two sites dedicated to the equator; the official, rip off one which is about 100ms off and the real deal confirmed by GPS where they do all manner of experiments to prove you´re actually in "Mitad del Mundo" like balancing an egg on the head of a nail and such nonsense.

After all that excitement I headed to Colombia with an English chick who was staying in the same hostel and we travelled together for about a week, stopping off in Cali and Bogota. I have to say much of my time during this period was taken up with my obsession with the Twilight series of books (Annmarie can take the credit) and I´m still carting around two ridiculously large hardback books in my rucksack because I´m too attached to them to leave them behind in a hostel.

Crossing over the border from Ecuador there was a noticeable difference between the two countries. Colombia is definitely alot wealthier with a much bigger African influence also. The cars are newer, the buildings slicker and thankfully, the buses better. Bogota, which I was expecting to be an unsafe dirty capital is actually an awesome town with a really well preserved old town called La Candalaria complete with random bronze statues of men hanging out of buildings. They are obsessed with an artist called Fernando Botero here. He´s a painter and sculptor specialising in really fat people, the majority of whom have squints.. you´ll recognise the stuff from prints in your favourite retro coffee shop They LOVE him here and the guy is super prolific, if a tad repetitive.

After Bogota I headed to Medellin and though intending to stay there for just a few nights I ended up hanging around for six days to check out the local Fiesta de Flores. Yes, a flower festival. Now I didn´t think that a flower festival was going to be a hot event, but then I underestimated the enthusiasm of the Colombian nation for flowers. They got right into it, I mean people came from all round to take pictures of hanging baskets. It was a tad bemusing, but then again any excuse for a party. In fairness the main parade did involve little old men carrying huge, 10 stone, intricate flower arrangements on their backs for miles through the city which you do have to applaud. And also we have a festival devoted to salmon in Mayo so who am I to judge?

At the moment I´m in Cartagena on the northern coast. Have finally reached the beach - yay! I was irrationally excited about dipping my toes into the Caribbean for the first time yesterday. It´s hot here though. Seriously hot. I didn´t realise a person could sweat this much whilst not moving a muscle. Apparently Santa Marta where I´m headed next is even hotter. The joys. The final adventure is going to be one of the things I´ve been looking forward to since planning the trip back last Christmas - a six day hike to Ciudad Perdida, a lost ancient city in the middle of the Colombian jungle. What I´m not looking forward to is the ravaging by mosquitos which is an inevitable accompaniment to the hike. And they love my pasty Irish skin. Shudder.

So, only two weeks left and back to Ireland. See ye at home. Mines a Smithwicks.


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