Archive | April, 2012

Scuba diving? Yeah, sure, why not?

16 Apr

When we got back to Santa Marta I happened to be going to the same part of town as two of the Germans, Lorin and Janina. My plan was to just walk back to the center, check in to another hotel for a couple of days, and make it back to Bogota sometime before my flight back to Quito on Tuesday. But they had other plans, they were going to Taganga, which is only 20 minutes away but is full or gringo tourists and dive shops. I had been there, mainly to check out the beach, but wasn’t interested in being in such a touristy town. But they were going for the scuba diving and invited me to tag along, which is exactly what I did.

I ended up getting along with both of them really well, and I kind of replaced their third amigo that was in the van with us but was going off on his own adventure. Lorin and Janina were both college students from Berlin who were in Colombia for a few weeks as part of an end of the course excursion. Their travels with their fellow classmates reminded me a lot of my experience in Sevilla with my fellow Texas Tech classmates. They were done with that though and now travelling on their own. Neither one of them spoke much Spanish (their trip was more culturally and history based than linguistically) so I was happy to be their unofficial translator.

Janina was an experienced diver and really wanted to do some diving, so we spent our fist day looking for a dive shop. Turns out Lorin was not very interested in diving and after thinking about it for a while I decided it would be an amazing experience I could not turn down. It was only going to cost me $70 and seeing as I had no experience whatsoever I thought when would I have this opportunity again? I mean what other country besides Colombia lets you do things like that with no experience? So we got up early the next day, I watched a 45-minute instructional video, we geared up and hopped on a boat. All together there were six of us on the boat, two instructors, two beginners, and two advanced divers. The other beginner and I were dropped off at the ‘playa de ensenanza,’ or ‘learning beach’ with one of the instructors, Ruben. He went over the basics again, this time in Spanish (the video I watched was in English) and we got in the water. At first we just dipped our heads under water and got a feel for breathing under water. Now for somebody who has never tried it before, let me tell you that it is a very different sensation and takes some getting used to. The body is not used to it and at first it is very uncomfortable. We are not meant to breathe underwater! But I got the hang of it and eventually Ruben and I went about ten feet down and he did some tests with me. The first test was to remove the mouthpiece while continuously exhaling, then returning the mouthpiece and breathing in. After that we did the same thing, only this time I had to completely let go of the mouthpiece, then find the cord it was attached to, then returning it to my mouth. The third and final test was to purposely fill up my goggles with water, to practice removing it. This is done by looking up and applying pressure to the top part of the mask, then a strong exhale from the nose. The air pressure pushes the water out of the bottom of the mask.

After I successfully completed these three tasks Ruben and I swam around the bottom for about twenty minutes until we ran out of oxygen. The poor girl that went with us didn’t go with us because she just couldn’t get the hang of it. She was waiting for us with everyone else up at their cabin, where lunch was served. Lunch was bologna and cheese sandwiches and some Coca-Cola. The main thing I remember about it were all the flies, they were everywhere. But it was actually a really nice spot a few hundred steps up from the beach. We actually could have stayed there for the night, but we had a plane to catch the next day. Janina was waiting for us up there and excitedly told me all about her first dive.

After a relaxing lunch, we set out for our next dive. This Marco took the three of us that knew what we were doing (I sort of knew) down. I enjoyed that dive even more because there were four of us. We saw all sorts of fish, oceanic plants and corral reefs. The reefs are supposedly what make this part of Colombia special, because they are so close to land. That’s good for beginners like me because we don’t have to go very deep to see amazing things!

Overall I am really happy that I went diving. It’s great to look back and say that I’ve done it. But the truth is it was not easy. It was very different getting used to breathing underwater and trusting the equipment. It’s something that I’d like to do again, but I also don’t think I’m going to become a diving fanatic. People are just not meant to be underwater, but I guess were not meant to fly either and that doesn’t stop me from flying to all these amazing places!!

Off to la costa de Colombia

13 Apr

So on Thursday, March 8 Genny had a flight back to L.A. and I had a flight to Cartagena, Colombia. Cartagena is a glorious old city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. It is the fifth largest city in Colombia with just under 1 million people. It has a lot of history, both pre and post Spanish. Even though it’s on the coast, it’s not known for its beaches. The `centro historico´ is what makes Cartagena stand out. I stayed in a nice hostel called La Casona just outside of old town for two nights. It was different to explore a city all by myself. It was nice to go at my own pace, set my own hours and see exactly what I wanted to see. At the same time, I missed conversation and camaraderie. I found myself striking up conversations with random people in restaurants or really anywhere else I encountered friendly people. I had a great time there and just wish I could post my pictures! I´ll be home in 3 days and have the ability to upload and share them then.

After a few days in Cartagena, I took a 3-hour bus ride to the smaller Caribbean coast town of Santa Marta. Santa Marta had a different vibe than Cartagena. It is supposedly the oldest European settled city remaining city in South America and that’s what draws tourists to it. It was an important area to the natives as well, before the Spanish came and changed everything. It is just west of Tayrona National Park, which is an amazing place in its own right. Santa Marta does have better beaches than Cartagena, giving it more of a beach town feeling. I surprisingly didn´t get that in Cartagena where there was more of a big city feeling. So I spent some time walking around el centro de Santa Marta, more time sitting on the beach, then finished my day off with a good meal, a book, and an early night. Interesting enough my hostel happened to be in the part of the town that supported the world’s oldest profession. Needless to say it made my walk home interesting, but I just ignored everyone as I walked down the two-block strip to my hostel.

I went to a few different beaches while I was there, including the beach at Taganga. Taganga will come into play later on with an unexpected return, but for now I just hung out there by myself, soaking up some rays (don´t worry mom, I wore sunscreen :)). I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Santa Marta and would definitely recommend it to anybody travelling around Colombia.

My next stop was el pueblito de Minca. Minca’s a small mountain village in the jungle, about 45 minutes from Santa Marta. Part of what brought me to Minca was the well-placed flyers and advertisements they have in Santa Marta. They’re smart, they know the tourist path and advertise well. There’s also a nice write-up about it in my lonely planet book. I was drawn to the fact that it was a cooler mountain town with hiking and other outdoor activities to offer, it was a break from beaches and would remind me of my home in Yosemite a little.

Minca was an experience. I ended up staying at the Sans Suoci Hostel, which is a ‘finca’ or a small farm owned by a nice German fellow who’s been there for about 15 years. He was a cool guy to talk to, as were the other guests there. I was starting to realize that there were probably more German tourists there than any other group of people. The main guy I talked to and hung out with was a German guy whose name I can’t remember, but man was he an interesting character. He was basically a German bum. He told me about how he did not have a job because he didn’t agree with capitalism and didn’t want to work for the man, so he lived for free on a farm in Germany and was an expert dumpster diver. Where he got the money to travel around S. America I don’t know, but he was an interesting guy to hang out with for a few days.

I spent my days there just hiking around and getting to know the area. One of my favorite places that I found was called ‘el pozo azul.’ It was just a little swimming hole in a nice secluded spot under a waterfall. Great spot to do what I did a lot of down there, read and relax! I did also have a nice dinner at a Spanish tapas restaurant that just happened to be in the town. The town was tiny and there were literally three restaurants in the whole pueblo, and one of them was owned and run by a Spanish guy from Malaga. He was surprised as everyone else was that I could have a full-on conversation with him and loved hearing my stories about Malaga. That didn’t stop him from giving me the smallest portions of food ever though; I ended up eating twice that night.

After sleeping outside in a hammock for a few nights, I was ready to move on and go back to the beach. I would also highly recommend Minca on a Colombian tour, especially if you want to take a break from all the vendors and hippies in Taganga. The ride back to Santa Marta was definitely an interesting one. There aren’t really any buses that go to Minca because it’s such a small town and the road isn’t great or even very big in certain places. So there are Mototaxis as an option, or if you’re lucky enough to find someone driving down, they’ll usually take you for just a few thousand pesos (just a few $ ☺). Coincidentally, there were six of us that checked out of the hostel at the same time, so the owner suggested we all share a ride down the hill. We ended up sharing a van with about seven other locals, cramming ten of us in the back of the van with all of our bags on top. It was incredibly hot and stuffy in the van and somebody in there hadn’t showered in a while. We made it down the hill, but it was a looong ride.

¿Que tiene el resto de Colombia, fuera de Bogotà?

11 Apr

After the tournament I didn’t have much of a plan. I had a few ideas and my new friends were all about giving me ideas, but nothing concrete was established. I decided to leave the next few days up to Genny since she was leaving on Thursday. We pondered taking a trip out of Bogotá but decided to stay put until she leaves. It had been a crazy month and a half and since we only had 3 days before she left any kind of trip felt like it would be rushed. We were very comfortable at Los Andes Hostel and decided to just take it easy the next few days, explore Bogotá a little more, and then I would do something on my own after she left. So that’s exactly what we did, and it was great. We, well her more than me, got some shopping done, explored even more of the city (it´s a huge city with countless things to do, +7.5 million people and +8,600 ft. elevation), hung out with our new friends, and just plain relaxed. Isn´t that what vacation is all about anyway?

On Wednesday I was still trying to decide what I was going to do the rest of my 1.5 weeks in Colombia. There was no shortage of places to go, Medellín, Santander (self-proclaimed adventure capital of S. America), Cali, as well as an assortment of places on the coast. Mostly the northern Caribbean coast, but the Pacific coast was also an option. I just had to narrow it down as to where I wanted to be. I was mostly looking at buses and it was going to cost about $100,000 Colombian Pesos ($55 USD) and 18 hours to get to the coast and at least $50,000 COP to get anywhere else. So Genny suggested I look at flights. I found one for just a little more than a bus ticket ($160,000 COP or $80 USD) and thought why not, I’m going to the coast! I didn´t buy a return ticket, mainly because I didn´t know how I would get home. I knew one of two things would happen: I was either going to buy a return flight later on, or take a bus home stopping at various places on the way home so I´m not on the stupid thing for 18 hours straight. There was talk of another frisbee tournament in Medellín the weekend of March 16-18 which happened to be the weekend before I went back to Ecuador. It wasn’t a sure thing though, so I wanted to keep all of my options open. So on Thursday, March 8 Genny had a flight back to L.A., and I had a flight to Cartagena, Colombia.