Saturday, March 31, 2007

Heaven Is Hell

Jamie, I know you are going to get cross with me but please write as I am getting a bit concerned having not heard from you for several days.
Worried of Steyning

I told her I was going to the beach, but I guess maybe I didn't explain that you have to get on the bus for an hour and then walk for three hours to get there so it's not really worth it for just an afternoon. In fact I stayed there two nights rather than the one I had been planning, and no, I didn't find a satellite. Or a dish.

So I am sorry if I haven't been replying to your emails (hello Johanna, Jordi, Martin, Rob, etc), but after the six days in the jungle I had about an hour on the internet and then I went to the beach.

IMG_1038Paradyllic may not be a word, but if it was I think it would sum up Tayrona National Park perfectly. I'm not sure what else I can say about it, the jungle reaches the sand, coconut trees abound, the coast is the Caribbean so the sea is warm and blue and swarming with pretty little fishes, I went snorkeling properly for the first time in my life. And because it's so difficult to get to it isn't even that touristy.

Having said how difficult it is to be down here, and even more so in the park, I managed to find a way, I read the last quarter or so of Catch-22. An amazing book. Read it!

IngredientsEntering the park was an interesting experience. I was with a friend who will remain anonymous (for reasons which will become clear). Beforehand we went to buy some supplies, including a bottle of rum and some Pepsi. Unknown to us alcohol is not allowed into the park, despite the fact that you can buy it once you're there. So we didn't go to any lengths to hide our bottle of rum, and I think that's what might have made up the policeman's mind to search us, after standing by for a few minutes while we waited for a non-existent bus. Walking into his office it slowly dawned on me what was going on, and I wondered, slightly panicked, if said friend had his weed and cocaine on him. The policeman began by asking us if we had any cannabis, my friend rather longwindedly explained that he'd given up smoking 2 months ago. The policeman chose my friend's bag first, it occurred to me afterwards that I should have put my bag forward first, but my mind is not so quick in these situations. I was standing, watching, my arms crossed, interested to see what would appear from the bag. My friend strolled nonchalantly around the office, occasionally peering out, probably watching for some interesting species of bird (he's a birdwatcher, and that's why he's remaining anonymous). Eventually a bag of weed appeared from the bag, followed shortly by a pipe and some cocaine. This is where I began to relax, it wasn't a game of chance any more, Schrödinger's cat was dead. The policeman asked if there was any more, my friend replied in the negative. The policeman went on to find another bag of weed. No, it wasn't planted. Then the policeman turned to my bag. He wasn't interested in my Valium, but did have a quick sniff of my powdered milk, I didn't make any jokes about being English. What happened next is a bit of a mystery, along with the policeman there was a park ranger in attendance, who for some reason seemed to wield more power than the policeman, and they both started to ask us if we still wanted to enter the park. I thought that I must be misunderstanding the simple sentence, then pictured the police waiting for us as we exited the park. But no, they confiscated the stuff (insisting that we come back for the rum, despite my protestations that they keep it), made my friend sign a statement, the point of which seems to be that he won't do the same The Final Productthing again, and we were free to go, they didn't even want a bribe. Another funny thing, throughout our ordeal the policeman was sweating, more and more, towards the end it was dripping off his face, as if it were he that had just been found with several illicit substances in Colombia.

btw, I found out how you distinguish between a policeman and an army man, quite simple and obvious really, policemen wear plain green uniforms while army men wear camouflage.

The last thing that my friend said to me as I left the park was some advice on getting the bus from Santa Marta to Cartagena: "If someone comes out to meet you and tells you that the bus is leaving now, don't take it, it will do the four hour journey in six and won't be direct. Get a bus from a reputable firm such as Expresso Brazilia." Now, I heard what he said. I listened. I understood. But the guy swore it would only be four hours, and that it was direct. We reached the half way point in two hours, and I was thinking, phew, this will be ok. How wrong I was. After another few minutes the bus stopped and the conductor got out to have a fist fight with a man with some large boxes. I guess he just didn't like the size of them. The police came and decided that the size wasn't so bad. We continued. We stopped. The conductor explained that the bus couldn't continue for another hour, but there was one across the street that we wouldn't have to pay for that was leaving immediately. We crossed the street. We didn't have to pay. It left immediately. Turned a couple of corners and stopped. For an hour. Several Expresso Brazilia buses passed is. We got going. This bus did 0-60 in... no it didn't even do 60 kph. We got stopped by the police. Twice. Several more Expresso Brazilia buses passed us. Total travel time: about six hours.

Roof TopI do like travelling alone, but occasionally I do wish for some female company, of the more-than-just-friends variety. Cartagena is a beautiful beautiful city. One of the most romantic cities I think I have visited. I ate dinner the first night I was there in this beautiful square, surrounded by colonial buildings, the Caribbean night air so warm, alone, but not unhappy :)

Another point of view of our trip to Villa De Leyva, including some pictures of me! is here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Lost City 1 - Machu Picchu 0

That Lost City Not In FullIf I had to chose between Machu Picchu and Ciudad Perdida I would chose Ciudad Perdida. Machu Picchu is like an outdoor museum, with a fine green carpet. And there's no mystery to it, you can go up the first hill and see it all, and it's so perfect! Like a model. Just like the photos. Just like all the photos! And by 11:00 there's so many people there, the world and his dog, his middle aged fat American neighbour and all 60 of his French school children are there. Ciudad Perdida on the other hand is mysterious, you can never see it all, and you can never work out how big it is. And there's no one else there, just you and the 10 or so guys you've just spend three days getting there with. Not that the three days getting there were well spent, the six days of short walks could have been reduced easily to 5 days trekking, or even four days without a stay at the city. Which is another thing, you get to sleep there, which doesn't sound like much, but it really added to the whole trip.

A friend of mine in Valparaiso declared that he was depressed one day, and continued "what kind of fucking bastard gets depressed while he's spending a few months on the coast of Chile?" I felt a bit down after getting back today, I had that feeling like when you get back from holiday and think, oh, so this is real life. I know that's ridiculous, but anyway, after having a shower and stepping out the door into the warmth and sun to go to our local drug dealer/brothel for a milk shake (this guy does everything!:) I realised how difficult it is to stay down for even a minute here.

I had a couple of enquiries about subscribing to this blog (no really). You have to use a 3rd party rss to email service. I chose one arbitrarily and have added a link to the left.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

It Ain't Half Hot Mum

ColombianI am on the Caribbean coast. It's hot. I am going to the jungle for 6 days to trek to The Lost City. Yes, very Indiana Jones. So far every time I have said I will be away I have managed to find a computer somewhere. So knowing my luck I will bump into a villager with a satellite or something :) Chau for now.

Of course a satellite would be of no use, I meant a dish.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


I think this is going to take a bit of explaining, but let me first say that I have nothing against hippy Porteños per se, there's just so damn many of them.

Every year, around January time, the time of the summer holidays in Argentina, an exodus occurs. From Buenos Aires hordes of hippy Porteños stream from their homelands further north, for... actually I don't know what for, but that's what they do. It's probably a spiritual thing, man. Of course the further north you come, away from their natural habitat, the thinner their numbers become. At Humauaca, one of the northern most towns in Argentina, you could have given a blind man a bullet and he could not have failed to kill at least three, and maim several others. Heading up through Bolivia there were still a disappointing amount, the streets of Copacabana were lined with them and their hand made wares and Dan was attacked mercilessly by one in a bar in Cochabamba, and was forced to part with a far wad of his money for two worthless (and very badly colour coordinated) bracelets after some merciless flirting. By the time I met Dan again in Ecuador we thought we had lost them, but in an Italian restaurant in Cuenca a three piece turned up, in suspiciously short trousers, our Porteño radars started pinging, and sure enough, they were from Beunos Aires.

Porteños can be spotted easily enough by their Inca/Israeli/Porteño trousers (notice I use the American "pants" in the video) which are baggy, striped and always too short, at least one in a group will always have a guitar, usually in an Inca case, if it's out of the case it is usually playing Redemption Song, a couple in the group will usually be juggling, badly and most of the group will have at least one dread lock, often with some sort of thread and bead attachment.

Anyway, the point is that I tracked down some of these hippy Porteños as shockingly far north as Colombia, see my videos, Porteño Hunter, Part I and Part II. Their call is very quiet, perhaps to avoid attracting predators, so you'll have to turn your sound right up.

I spoke too soon about the insurance, they are saying that I am under insured. The truth is that their suppliers are ripping them off, and I have not hesitated in telling them so. You could actually buy all the equipment for £200 less than I insured it for, money that would be the insurance company's saving.

I am off today to the holiday home of some Colombians that I met in Valparaiso so again, don't worry if I'm late in responding to emails, I haven't been captured by guerrillas. Maybe.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Regrets, I Have A Few

Someone asked me if I have any regrets yesterday, just as I was having a look at Dan's photos of Haucachina, which I skipped to fly straight from Cusco to Lima. There's that, staying in Santa Cruz for all of a week and not getting my camera out fast enough yesterday when a man on a horse and cart past me. In the cart was an exercise bike. Aaaaagh!

You know you're on a good bus when both of the reading lights work, the trouble is, when the air conditioning works on buses in South America they tend to set it to -10° and so I woke up at 2:30am hungry for warmth. I went to the toilet, the back of the bus (near the engine) was lovely and warm but I decided I could not spend the rest of the journey in the loo. I discovered that I could sleep if I put my blanket (why oh why do they put the air conditioning on so low and give you a blanket?) over my face and head. I guess it's all the fault of my short hair. The other problem with my journey last night was that we arrived on time. At 5am. I took another taxi around various hostels and hotels until I eventually decided to walk. Bogota can't be that dangerous, I didn't get mugged or even threatened.

Bogota seems to be a really nice place, it reminds me of some of the good bits of London, but maybe that's just the weather, yep, it's grey, cool and wet.

So the first thing I did, once I'd slept for a total of about 12 hours (what is wrong with me?), was to visit the local travel agent to find out about flights. My initial plan was to see if I could get a cheap ticket to take me from Bogota to Mexico to Cuba to Guatemala to Brazil. Ok, Brazil's a big place, I'm talking Sao Paulo or Rio de Genaro. So first off, a one way to Mexico from Bogota is $600, but a return is $700. Ok, whatever. To fly between Cuba and Guatemala I have to go via Panama for some reason. I realise that I haven't really got time to "do" Cuba anyway, so we leave that out. To fly between Guatemala and Brazil I have to fly via Miami (WTF?!) I then ask about international flights from Cartagena, which is on the north coast of Colombia, which would not only be more convenient to me as it would mean I could just go one way through Colombia, but is also closer to Mexico. There aren't any international flights from Cartagena, but it turns out it is the cheapest option. And here is that cheapest option: Cartagena to Bogota to Mexico City, my first destination, then a month later Mexico City to Santiago (Chile!) to Sao Paulo, my second destination. Now I'm sure there's some logic to this somewhere along the line, but I certainly can't see it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

James Cunt

Tinker TailorBeing ill really sucks when you're travelling alone (or "independently" as some prefer). You have to go out and get things yourself, like dinner. But at least I am reminded of how lucky I've been to stay so healthy. Fried BananaI find it weird too how you don't like to eat when you're ill, I always feel so much better once I have, why, when your body surely needs it most, would your brain tell you to reject nutrition? (btw, I think it was the meal between the two pictured that got me.)

So anyway, I eat, feel a bit better, come to this internet cafe, and then hear "You're beautiful..." and throw up! Thanks, NAAAAWT!

(No, I didn't really... omg, they've just put on the Celine Deon one that goes to that film where Leonardo DiCaprio dies, thank fuck!)

(OMG it's the panpipes version, with added sea effects.)

(OK, we now have a live Sting cover band, in Spanish.)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Welcome To Colombia

GeorgeLots of people complain about bus journeys in Bolivia and Peru, but I haven't had any to complain about yet (excluding my camera loss). That all changed with my first Colombian bus journey yesterday, I won't bore you with the details, no, I will, it was a lot longer than stated, my first seat had zero leg room, my second tilted forward so that I slipped off if I went to sleep and actually seem to have bruised my bum from friction burns or something, I didn't have enough money to pay for it so the driver was supposed to stop, but forgot, despite my reminder (ok, I was partly hoping he'd forget totally), then I Don't Blame Himthe cash machine at the bus station was out of order so I had to give him my MP3 player as a deposit, and have to go back now to reclaim it and pay what I owe. So we arrived past midnight and there were no places at the cheap hostels, or the expensive ones, so I eventually stayed in a hotel and the taxi driver charged me for all the mucking about.

The Church On The BridgeIt had all started so well too, I managed to pay a visit to this church built on a bridge against a rock face where somebody had seen the virgin years before so that the same rock face is now the alter of the church.

Snickers BananaThe further north I have come the more friendly people have become, Colombia being the friendliest yet, in fact a but too friendly, I was a bit worried I might get molested on the bus last night. And I ended up sharing my banana sized and shaped snickers type goo with half the people on the bus, I couldn't have finished it on my own.

I think I said before that the border crossings are getting a little ridiculous, the Ecuador-Colombia crossing was stranger than ever, the buses drop you off and pick you up in no man's land, so you have to walk back into the country you've come from to get your passport stamped and then into the country you're going to to get your passport stamped again and then walk back into no man's land to get on another bus in to you destination country. It would be so easy to miss it all just by accident. Most boarder crossings are the dodgiest places known to mankind, not this one, it was actually quite pleasant, I stopped for a lunch of a sausage that was warmed rather than cooked and some potatoes which were the highlight of the meal.

And another thing, in most countries so far it's been worryingly difficult to tell the difference between the police and the army. Here I don't know the difference between the police, the army and the militia, men in uniform all look the same to me ;) I was going to say how nice it is to be back in a hot country, it feels like I am on holiday again, but there's just been some bloody loud thunder out there atm, hope it's not shells. I was going to walk to the bus station too.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


The Intrepid WalkersIt only occurred to me as I was plotting Otavalo on my map and noticed that I had gone from negative to positive latitude that I have crossed the equator.

I've been posting some presents and stuff home recently, the post around South America is good, but it's bloody expensive, usually more than the presents themselves, today I spent $40 on postage!

In other news I got this from my insurance company: "I am pleased to confirm that your claim has been accepted." Well fuck me! So for all your camera insurance needs I recommend Photoguard.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tolerant Britain

I just picked up a copy of The Lonely Planet for Western Europe, here are some choice quotes on Britain (mainly from the Dangers and Annoyances section):
  • Britain is remarkably safe considering its size and the disparities in wealth.
  • Avoid large groups of young lads after the pubs shut down (11 pm), as violence is worryingly commonplace in town centres across Britain.
  • Drugs of every description are widely available...
  • Britain is not without racial problems... but in general tolerance prevails.
  • Shopping is the most popular recreational activity in the country.
  • On Brighton: "Fat Boy Slim hails from these mean streets..."
  • In Manchester apparently "Paradise Factory is a cutting edge club..." Right.
I wondered if Switzerland would have a Dangers and Annoyances section. It does, apparently "some people may find congregations of drug addicts in cities unsettling."


Take The Red PillHere, as in the US, they don't ask about the toilet, they ask about the bathroom, so I always think of "baño" as "toilet", and so in turn I incorrectly translated "baños" to "toilets", but of course Baños is called Baños because of all the thermal baths in and around the area.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Charmed Life

I was going to write about how lucky I'd been today, but it was just with bus and train times, which is even more tedious than usual, so just take it as read. Oh and I didn't get decapitated either, I had a bit of a close shave though (haha).

The first bus conductor I had this morning (I've spent 8 hours on three buses today) was a little crazy, really. After talking to him a bit about being able to get off in Sibambe where the train ends up (I couldn't) I asked him about how long it would take. He held up two fingers, "12?" I said, he held up four fingers "4 hours?" I said, he held up one finder, "1pm?" I said, he finally replied, "No, 11." We got to Alausi, through which the train passes, at 11:30.

The View From The RoofSo I managed to get the train, it was a little bit of a let down, I think I've been spoiled for sheer hills, valleys and clouds recently and there were no derailments or decapitations :( I found out why no one had heard of Sibambe, where I originally tried to get the bus to, it consists of the shell of an old station and the shell of an old church. Saw asparagus in the wild, it was 3-4m, really. Though I think it's a slightly different variety to the one in Mum's garden as at the bottom of these there were cactus looking leaves.

I am not used to small countries, I am now in Baños, a placed called "Toilets", over half way across the country in about three days. Interestingly you can see smoke from the volcano on google maps.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Funny Money

Ecuador uses the American dollar as its official currency. I have never been so confused by coins. Mostly the bigger they are the more they are worth. (The 50 cent coins are huge.) Except for the $1 coin. That's smaller. And the 5 cent coin is bigger than the 10 cent coin. And mostly they say what they are worth on them in big numerals. Except for the ones that don't. Some of the coins, including the tiny 10 cent coin, have the value printed on them in impossible to read words. Also some of the coins have "Banco Central Del Ecuador" written on them. Is Ecuador producing dollars? I can't imagine the US government allowing them to, is the US producing dollars for Ecuador? Trusty wikipedia doesn't have the answer so I can't tell you, This is all I could find: "Though Ecuador continues to mint its own coins, they are denominated in fractions of a dollar up to 50 cents."

Hopefully going on a train ride tomorrow through fantastic scenery, apparently you can ride on top (check the date :)

I think I did leave some things in Cusco in my rush to leave. My "North Face" (non) rain proof jacket, and I seem to be down a couple of pairs of pants and a T-shirt too. Oh well, I have too many clothes with me anyway.