Trip Start Feb 21, 2006
Trip End Sep 11, 2006

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Monday, July 17, 2006

Sorry for the lack of blog updates lately, we´ve been far to chilled out lying on beautiful Caribbean beaches to get around to doing anything much! Colombia has been fantastic - it wasn´t in our original plans but we had so many recommendations from other travellers that we decided to come here instead of Ecuador and we´re really glad we did. The country has a pretty bad reputation internationally but it is a beautiful place with amazingly friendly people and a great vibe. It doesn´t seem unsafe either, although there certainly are a ridiculous number of police/military along the roads, in the cities and at any other place that attracts tourists - that should make us feel safe I suppose, although personally seeing a bunch of 18 year olds casually waving around their enormous machine guns makes me feel a bit nervous! I think it´s largely to give the impression of security for the wealthy Colombian tourists that come to the coast - it´s really interesting how much more wealth there is on display here than anywhere else we´ve been; the drug trade has certainly made a lot of people very rich here! We have met quite a few young people who have studied in Europe and the States and so many people here speak incredible English - which is lucky really as the Colombians´ Spanish is almost incomprehensible to me.

We started in Bogota which is quite a nice city but was dead quiet as it was a long weekend and nothing was open. We then flew up to Cartagena and were immediately bowled over by the heat - coming from the high altitudes we were used to it was a real shock to be on the coast in temperatures well over 30 degrees with high humidity. Cartagena is a really lovely place, it´s right on the coast and has a stunning walled old town with gorgeous colonial buildings and elegant plazas full of tables of tourists eating and drinking. We met up with Ange and Silas (finally!) and had a great night out with with them before heading to a beach near Santa Marta for a festival - it actually turned out to be a bit disappointing but we had a great time hanging out in a fab apartment we found and getting our first bit of sun in a while.

Then it was time to really hit the beach so we headed to Tayrona National Park. We took a bus to the park entrance then had to walk 45 minutes in the incredible heat, but when we arrived we really felt like we had arrived in paradise. The park has a string of beautiful beaches scattered with enormous boulders and lined with coconut palms and tropical jungle. We slept in hammocks at a camp ground right on the beach (thankfully a lot more comfortable than I was expecting), woke up every morning for a swim then chilled out on the beach, interrupted only by the odd football game and trips to the restaurant to drink freshly squeezed tropical fruit juice. The boys were in their element off in the jungle "hunting" coconuts - after much experimentation they managed to learn how to open them so along with the mangos we collected from a nearby tree we had a constant supply of free tropical snacks.

After 5 nights we finally dragged ourselves away, headed back to Cartagena for a few big nights out over the weekend then went to paradise no.2 - Playa Blanca, which is on an island about an hour from the city. The beach was a stunning long stretch of white sand with crystal clear water and fantastic snorkelling, and although it got reasonably busy during the day with tour boats coming in from the city, in the mornings and the evenings there were only a handful of people there. The beach itself is quite undeveloped with no running water and our hostel had electricity for only 2 hours a night which added to the tranquilo atmosphere. We stayed at a great place and met some really cool people to hang out over many bottles of rum so had a wonderful, relaxing time.

We´re back in Cartagena now and heading back to Bogota tomorrow for our flight to New York! It´s going to be a bit of a culture shock after 5 months in South America, let alone a financial shock having to pay first world prices again, but we´re really excited and Dave is looking forward to celebrating his birthday in style!
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