Cruising with Soggy Paws
Soggy Paws is a 44' CSY Sailboat. In 2007, we set sail on a 10 year around the world cruise.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
2008 Presentations
Sherry did a half hour presentation on the San Blas at the East Coast Sailing Association and Melbourne Yacht Club monthly meetings.

Dave did an extensive presentation on Cruising the Western Caribbean at the Seven Seas Cruising Association 2008 Gam.

Both presentations (and some useful cruising links) can now be found on our SSCA 2008 page.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008
Lots and Lots of Pics Posted

OK, all you armchair travelers, I have spent most of the last 3 days uploading all our photos from January to now to our Picasa photo album, including all of the San Blas. We have taken at least a few photos in every place we stopped.

Enjoy! Our Photo Album

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Monday, July 28, 2008
Back from Ciudad Perdida
We are back from our 6 day hike to Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) in Colombia.

Tired, footsore, and bug-bitten, but happy to have gone.

Ciudad Perdida Pictures


Thursday, July 24, 2008
Ciudad Perdid, Hiking Up

The trip up started with a 2 hr jeep ride... first on road and then on a really bad dirt road. We got stuck once when we had to pull off to let a truck pass. Fortunately it wasn't raining (yet).

The above map shows the trip. Hiking up took 3 days, where we hiked 4-6 hours a day.

The first day, we didn't get started hiking until about 2pm, so we ended up hiking the last bit in the rain and rapidly fading light. (Slipping and sliding in the mud).

We each carried our own personal packs. Ours we packed as light as possible... 1 set of clothes (shorts/T's) we wore every day while hiking. Then we'd shower and change into our one 'clean' set of clothes. The only thing we had new for every day was clean socks. Between the mud on the first day and the stream crossings on the rest of the days, we needed a change of socks every day. There were plenty of opportunities to wash stuff at the end of the day, but nothing ever quite got dry. So we'd put on damp (but clean) clothes in the morning. They'd just about get dry before we sweated them all up again.

I have to confess that I never had to carry a pack. Jose, our guide, took one look at me (aging, overweight, knee braces) and insisted on carrying my pack. I was delighted, actually, and Jose got a BIG tip as a result.

We ended up with 9 'touristas' in our group. Dave and I were the oldest by far. The rest were mostly youngsters, college age to mid-twenties. We did see some younger kids in another group, but no one older than us.

At night we slept in hammocks with blankets and mosquito netting. This was the first time most of us actually ever SLEPT in a hammock. It took a little getting used to (especially because I'm normally a stomach-sleeper).

Days 2 and 3 we got an early start and were in camp by about 2pm, before the rains started. We took several rest stops each day, and our guides always had a snack for us (pineapple, mangos, etc). We stopped a couple of times at indigenous villages.

There are NO facilities on the trail, except the camps that the tour companies have set up. They had to pack everything but water in... by mule the first two days, and then using indigenous 'porters' for the last day (mules can't make it).

However, the camps were quite decent. In each place they had rigged 'running water' by piping it in from the stream we were camped next to. They had concrete or packed dirt floors, some benches and tables, and an open-air hearth to cook on.

Our guides did all the cooking on the wood-fired campfires. Except for 2 lunches of baloney sandwiches, we had 3 hots a day. Some of our group, though, passed on the 'tuna taco arepas' (fried) for breakfast. But Dave and I ate our fill when it was put in front of us.

We took 2 water bottles with us, and used our water treatment tables to treat stream water before we set out each day. Several of our group were battling stomach issues on the trip, but we'd been 'in country' long enough to be long over those issues. Though we do take some precautions, we can pretty much eat anything these days without worrying about the 'Montezuma's Revenge'.

The last day, we crossed the same river 8 times, fording in water as high as our waist. And then we scrambled up 1,300 steps to get to the site.

When we arrived, the first thing that we saw were Colombian soldiers. There is a permanent encampment of soldiers at the site. There are also guards checking permits, people, and luggage on the road. So we felt pretty safe. There hasn't been an incident with tourists in this area since they stopped the fighting in 2003.

And the government is making a huge effort to control the drug trade. Though we did see a few coca plants on our trip... those in the indigenous villages, where they are part of their culture... we didn't see any fields. And in fact, we saw coffee plants being cultivated, as a result of goverment incentives to change out coca for coffee and other legal cash crops.

Jose Showing Us Baby Coffee Plants

Once we got up to Ciudad Perdida, we had a day and a half to explore the site and rest, before we had to make our way back down. (next post)


Monday, July 21, 2008
Santa Marta, Colombia
We arrived in Santa Marta today via Baranquilla, where we stopped to pick up Dave's new passport. We used the MarSol Shuttle again for both legs of the trip.

When we got to Santa Marta, we called Turcol, and they came and picked us up from where the shuttle dropped us off (a few blocks away, it turned out). In no time, we had finished the paperwork and had checked in to the hotel next door.

As part of Turcol's 'special price' we received a free night's hotel room at Hotel Sol. Dave said he saw the Turcol lady slip them 40,000 pesos for our room. The location is great... right on the ocean. But the entire establishment is quite run down. Dave declared it "entirely adequate". No hot water in the shower, but no A/C either, so we never missed the hot water.

Santa Marta Skyline

We spent the afternoon wandering the streets of Santa Marta looking for a few things. We found the local market street and Dave bought a new small backpack. We also found the Exito... a Target-like place. We bought a few snacks for the trip.

The Festive Waterfront

After watching a nice sunset on the water, we ate dinner nearby at an almost-fast-food place that had A/C, and then repacked our backpacks (for the 3rd time).

More Pictures


Sunday, July 20, 2008
Colombian Independence Day / Peace Marches

It was really neat to see the 'hearts and minds' campaign at work in Colombia.

The government and the establishment really promoted the idea of a national (and international) demonstration for peace in Colombia.

There were large peace marches in every major city in Colombia, and many places around the world.

On local TV here, the marches were really played up. The message that is being sent is that 'everyone' wants the FARC to quit being bad guys and go home.

There's a lot of PR in this, but our experience in Colombia, talking with the regular people, is that they pretty much all feel that way.

We talked to one guy down in San Agustin that said "If anyone sees any rebels around, they use their cell phone and call the security forces. They are there in 15 minutes, and take them out." EVERYONE these days in Colombia has a cell phone. It would be a powerful weapon for the government if they can get the people to turn against the FARC rebels. Which it seems has happened.

We have also seen signs put up by the government "You have a right to peace."

Everyone is just damned tired of unrest and uncertainty. This country is really set to bloom, if they can just put 'the rebels' behind them.


Cuidad Perdida Trip
Well, we have officially booked ourselves on the Lost City trip. Tomorrow we catch a shuttle van from Cartagena to Santa Marta, where the trip starts. On the way, we'll stop in Barranquilla and pick up Dave's passport from the US Consular Services Office.

We overnight in Santa Marta, and then on Tuesday morning, we set out in a jeep to the base of the mountain.

Here's the rough itinerary for the next 6 days:

Day 1: Drive to end of road. Hike uphill 4 hours. Camp at a ranch and sleep in hammocks.

Day 2: Hike 4-5 hours, with a stop at an indigenous village and see coca processing demonstration. Camp at a makeshift camp and sleep in hammocks.

Day 3: Hike a little, cross a river 8 times, walk up a huge number of steep stairs to get to plateau where the ruins are. Camp in wooden building left by archaeologists and sleep in hammocks.

Day 4: Enjoy a guided tour (in Spanish) of the ruins

Day 5: Hike back down 2-days worth to first night's camp

Day 6: Hike the rest of the way down and take jeep back to civilization, beds, and hot showers.

Day 7: (Monday, July 28) Take the shuttle van back to the boat

We are getting a 'rainy season special' from Turcol, the tour company that arranges everything. With this special deal, the trip costs 430,000 pesos ($250) each, and we get one free night's hotel stay in Santa Marta. The trip cost includes everything (jeep transportation, food, lodging, guides, porters/burros (for the food)). We have to carry our own backpacks with our own clothes and bedding.

It will start out hot in Santa Marta (about sea level) and end up at about 4,000 feet, where it will get quite cool at night.

More Info:
One Hiker's Account of the Trip
Lost City Info from
Turcol's Page about the Trip


Thursday, July 17, 2008
Back on the Boat... for now
We made it back to Cartagena without further incident.

We are enjoying the warm weather... wearing shorts, T-shirts, and sandals for the first time in 2 weeks. And, of course, we are really glad to be home and sleeping in our own bed again.

But, we have one more trip to do before we leave Colombia... Ciudad Perdida (a 6 day hike up a mountain). More to follow.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Unplanned Overnight in Bogota
We were supposed to fly back to Cartagena today. We had debated whether to take a 5hr bus to Medellin and fly from there, or fly out of Manizales. We finally opted for the flight from Manizales, it was more expensive but just so much easier. (We paid $220 each one way on Avianca, flying via Bogota).

So we had an easy morning this morning, breakfast and internet before we left. However, once we got to the Manizales airport, we discovered that the airport was closed due to 'bad weather'. The approach end of the runway was fogged in.

The long and short of it is that we did eventually get to Bogota, but all the afternoon flights from Bogota to Cartagena were booked solid. So we had to stay overnight (at our own expense) in Bogota. We have seats on a noon flight out of Bogota.

We are again staying at the Platypus Plus, but the price has gone up since we were here 2 weeks ago... from 45,000 pesos to 75,000 pesos. We negotiated it down to 65,000 (about $37). But the room is the nicest we've stayed in since we left Cartagena, so I don't mind too much.

The place seems pretty full, even at these prices. There seems to be an intermediate class of travelers developing... that demand more than the $7/night backpacker place usually offers, but who don't want to pay 'gringo' prices for the big hotels.


Parque Nacional de Los Nevados (Manizales)

On the advice of Shai, an Israeli friend we hiked with in Salento, we booked an all day tour via Beatrice at Mountain House, to Parque Nacional de Los Nevados. It was expensive... 95,000 pesos (about $55) each. But Shai had raved about the trip and said we MUST do it.

We weren't quite sure exactly what the trip was about... except a spectacular national park, a mountain, and some hot springs. We also knew that it was an all day trip and the price included breakfast, lunch and all entrance fees. (We did get a detailed explanation, in Spanish, from Beatrice, but we didn't follow the whole explanation).

What we didn't know was that this mountain was REALLY high, that we would hike up above the snow line, above 15,000 feet, and that it would be snowing!

We only wore our lightweight multipurpose (zip off at the knee) hiking pants. But did wear our fleece jackets and took rain jackets as well. My jogging shoes were still wet from the hike in Salento, but I took them along with an extra pair of socks, just in case. Otherwise I was wearing my hiking sandals with socks because of the cold. Dave had on 5 layers by the time we were in the snow.

It took us 2 hours in the bus to get from Manizales to the park, with a short stop for breakfast. Our guide, Milton Caesar, also made us buy a bottle of water and some fruit to help with the altitude. Inside the park, the road deteriorated rapidly as we wound our way higher and higher, passing a number of mud slides beside the road. And Milton told us about a big mud slide that happened yesterday and knocked a bus and big truck over a ravine and killed some people. The newspaper said that the main road from Manizales to Bogota will be closed for awhile until they move 40,000 cubic meters of mud off the road.

Mudslides on the Road
Mule Road Repair

Finally the scenery changed from the amazing green hillsides we were used to, to the more rugged terrain of the higher altitudes. We still kept climbing. At the end, it looked like a moonscape... just rocks and snow with no trees or anything. We stopped a couple of times. At one place, called Laguna Negro, we bought 'coca tea' (to help with altitude sickness). It got colder and colder as we went up. We started out pretty cold, so by the time we stopped near Laguna Negro (Black Lagoon), I bought a wool hat to keep my ears warm. Dave laughed at me, but I was SO glad I had it when we were up on the mountain.

Sherry Sipping Coca Tea

After some time the road ended and we continued up and up on a pot holed gravel track. Our progress was slowed to about 5mph as we bumped along. We finally got to the Refugio at the top of the road, just 300 meters from the top of the highest mountain in the park. It was at about 4,900 meters (16,000 feet), and it was snowing, windy and very cold.

Our Bus

Our guide told us that we couldn't hike all the way to the glacier or mountain top today because of the weather. But we could hike up to the 5,000 meter mark. We didn't feel much 'altitude sickness' until we started climbing up. Then I felt a headache, dizziness, and shortness of breath. We'd walk about 10 steps and then stop and rest. I couldn't catch my breath, and my heart was pounding. It was agonizing, but at least for once I wasn't worrying about my knees.

The original goal was to hike to the flag (about 4,950 meters). But then the guide told us we 'had' to go on up to the 5,000 meter mark. At that point I had had enough, and decided to stay there. But Dave went on with most of the rest of the group. However, after a few minutes of rest, I kept going up as well. Finally I made it to just 5,003 meters. Dave made it a little higher, to 5024 meters, before the guide made everyone turn back because of the time. We verified the height with my portable GPS, of course (5,000 meters = 16,404 feet).

Back on the bus, everyone was totally wiped out, even the guide.

Then we bumped and wound our way back down the bad road to the hot springs (and lunch). At that point, I was so woozy that I was just hoping that it was getting so late that we'd skip the hot springs and go on down. I was still dizzy and exhausted from the hike, and the bouncing bus was making me a little nauseous (me, with the cast iron stomach).

But we finally made it to the hot springs. After a good hot lunch, and a soak in the hot springs, I was finally warmed up and felt much better. But even a few hours later, I was still feeling the effects--it felt like I'd been up partying all night.

The trip back down the mountain to Manizales was spectacular! We were well above the cloud line and had to descend almost 10,000 feet. As the sun was setting we could see the cloud tops and green sunlit fields and forests far below. Since the van was moving at such a rapid pace and the windshield was still wet from the snow, it was hard to get a good photo that would show what we were seeing. The sheer drops and scenery reminded us of pictures we have seen of trekking in the Himalayas.

Early on Milton had told us that the road in the park was the 5th highest in the world behind three in the Himalayas and one in the Cordillera Blanca in northern Peru. What a trip and what a place! We finally got back to our hostel in Manizales at about 6 PM, just in time for dinner and a good sleep.

Even though it was a tough hike, we were really glad we went. We highly recommend this trip to others.

More pictures of the Los Nevados hike


Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Moving on to Manizales
We left Salento with mixed feelings... regret because we never made it to the coffee plantation tour. We heard the small coffee farmer that does the local tour looks just like Juan Valdez and does a good tour.

But it rained the afternoon we were going to go, and we just decided we didn't feel like slogging thru the muddy roads (with our last remaining pair of clean shoes and socks) to get there.

But we were ready to move on... the kind of grungy surroundings at Plantation House were getting to us.

So we took a two-hop bus trip from Salento to Pereira and from there into Manizales. We got a $3 taxi from the bus station. Everything went perfectly and we were at the Mountain House by 11:30am.

After a look at our room (nice), we got a very nice local briefing by Beatrice, the manager. We also booked ourselves on an all day tour to a mountain for the next day, as recommended by our friend, Shai. We made note of this interesting sign on the 'smoking porch'. I guess people are obeying the rules, we never smelled anything funny while we were there.

We then set off on foot to see what we could of Manizales in an afternoon. We walked up to the Cable Mall (just a few blocks away) and did a little sightseeing in a 3 story mall. We had lunch in the food court (a Colombian 'Ejecutivo Lunch Special', though, not McDonalds).

Then we caught a local bus headed for 'Chipre'. Chipre is an area in Manizales that runs along a ridge with a great view over one of the valleys. There are two parks and some more beautiful scenery.

View from Chipre

One of the parks has a really interesting sculpture that is a tribute to the founders of the city. Unfortunately, the writeup about the scene is all in Spanish and we didn't take the time to translate it. But it looks like an interesting story.

Monument to Early Settlers

Then we walked down into the center of Manizales, to look at the 'historical center'. We found a church that the locals claim to be the 3rd highest in the world.

We went into another church that had all the big arches and the altar made completely of cedar (no stone).

We just enjoyed strolling the streets. Manizales has 10 colleges and a total college student population of about 50,000, so it's a pretty lively town.

When we got tired, we hopped another bus heading back to 'Cable'. As everywhere in Colombia, the buses are plentiful and cost only about 75 cents to ride.

More Manizales City Pictures


Sunday, July 13, 2008
Hiking in Cocora Valley
The scenery even at the hotel is breathtaking. But we had heard so much about hiking in Valle de Cocora that we decided to go hiking in the valley yesterday. We had lots of adventures.

Our first adventure was the ride from town to the valley. We picked up a collectivo jeep in the Salento town square at 9am for the hour long ride to the Valle de Cocora. When they hustled us to the jeep, Dave thought it was too crowded (there were only 5 people in it then). By the time we arrived at our destination, there were 18 people in and on that Jeep!

The women and children went inside... 3 in the front seat (plus driver) and we had 6 adults and 3 children in the back. Dave and the other guy with us rode by standing on a 10" wide platform bolted across the back of the jeep, and hanging onto the top. They ended up with 5 guys hanging on the back. The last guy to get picked up rode sitting on the metal rack on top of the jeep. The 50 minute ride only cost us $1.50, and the driver went pretty slow, so as not to lose any passengers. Sorry we were too busy hanging on to get pictures!

Horses for Rent at the Trailhead

We ended up hiking 15 km through the mountains and forests without a map of any kind. The owner of the Plantation House said we could get a map in town. In town they said we could get a map up in the 'park'. Up in the park they said they didn't have any maps, but we could hire a guide. We decided to wing it on our own.

If we'd have known we couldn't get a printed map, we would have asked someone at the hostal to sketch a trail chart for us by hand. Fortunately the main crossroads have signposts. And we did find a few people to ask (in Spanish) along the way, to confirm we were on the right trail.

Anyway, we asked the guy from the jeep where to start, he pointed to the path with the blue metal gate, leading off the road.

We Set Out With No Map

Tim from Plantation House had encouraged us to rent 'Wellies' (boots) from him for hiking, for about $3 a day, because the trails and roads can get pretty muddy. We had weighed the pros and cons and decided to go with our own shoes. My jogging shoes have nice support, and are very light, and by now they are pretty much trashed as jogging shoes. So I wasn't too worried about getting them muddy, and I didn't want to hike in uncomfortable rubber boots. Dave brought some rugged 'water shoes' that he likes to hike in. For the first half mile we thought it wasn't too bad, and congratulated ourselves on the good decision. After that, the trail got muddier and muddier.

On the way up to our first stop, the trail runs along the Quindio River (strong stream at this point). We ended up crossing this river 6 times on rickety foot bridges. In one short stretch, the trail had fallen into the river, and we had to hike up into the woods for a few hundred yards. Getting back down to the trail, Dave slipped and got all muddy (sorry no picture).

Our First Bridge

A Better Bridge

After hiking for 2 hours, mostly uphill, and on some very muddy trails, we finally reached Acaime. We had seen some 2'x1' hand-lettered signs advertising hot drinks and a place to spend the night at Acaime. It turned out to be a very nice little place run by a nice old couple. They have hummingbird feeders out, and just sitting there having a cup of coffee, we saw about 4 different varieties... from black and white ones to an iridescent green one with a long tail. That was WAY cool.

Sherry and Shai at Another Signpost

An Iridescent Green Hummingbird
Our Hosts

It is possible to stay the night at this small place, for 10,000 pesos. The rooms looked clean and comfortable. There are some other hikes from this location, one to a mirador (scenic overlook) about a half hour away.

In the 2 minute description of the hike given to us by Tim of Plantation House the afternoon before, he had mentioned 2 places to go, Acaime and Montana. In our marginal Spanish, we queried the man at the Acaime house where the other place was. It turned out to be Finca del Montana (Ranch of the Mountain). At that point, we had two options, we could retrace our steps, or try to find Finca del Montana, and go down a different way (which turned out to be a dirt road rather than a hiking trail). The guy told us it was only marginally longer to go back via Montana. So we decided to go for it.

We retraced our steps about 45 minutes, crossing back over one of the 6 bridges, to the crossroads (where I'd previously seen the sign for Finca del Montana), and headed up the trail in that direction. After an hour of hard slogging on muddy trails, we finally made it up to Finca del Montana. In spite of the fact that the mud sucked my shoe off my foot and I ended up with totally muddy and wet feet, and the last quarter mile was nearly straight uphill, it was totally worth it. The view from that spot was fantastic. We were now up nearly 10,000 feet, and could see the whole valley (and the mountain) before us. The clouds drifted in and out around us and below us, making for some really exotic pictures.

Above the Clouds at Finca La Montana

Dave asked them if they rented rooms up there. They do, for 16,000 pesos per night. The manager's name is Luis Alberto and you can call ahead for reservations at 746-0665 (or -0641, -0645). You can actually take a jeep all the way up there, if you want to. Or horses.

They asked us to sign their book. This is fairly common in the parks... the government likes to track where their tourism is coming from. I glanced at the other signatures on the page. Mostly Colombian. There were no other Americans. Shai, the guy hiking with us, was from Israel, and he said he saw no other Israeli's there either.

Headed Back Down

Luis at the finca told us it was about a 45 minute hike down from there. "Oh good, we can make the 4 o'clock jeep". Well, 4 o'clock came and went and there was no sign of the the little cluster of buildings where the jeeps were. Since we were now hiking on a road, we had hoped to maybe hitch a ride down with someone, but we never saw another soul all the way down. Lots of cows, lots of wax palms, and incredible views, but no people. We stopped a couple of times to rest and enjoy the view, and finally made it down to the jeep area just before 5:00.

The Famous Wax Palms of Cocora Valley
Glad to be Back!

There we met a couple of Germans that had passed us on horses quite awhile back. They were also waiting for a jeep. They told us their 2 hour horse trip (to Finca de la Montana) cost 45,000 pesos each. That included a guide to show you the trail and hustle the horses along.

The 5:00 jeep filled up with locals rather quickly, and our only option would have been riding outside. None of us really wanted to hang outside for the 45 minute trip back, after 7 hours of hiking. So we ended up hiring our own jeep... 24,000 pesos and we had the whole jeep to ourselves. Split 5 ways, it only cost us a dollar more apiece.

When we got to the square in Salento, it looked like they were preparing for a fiesta. The square was lined with food stalls and people were everywhere. We weren't sure whether this was regular weekend tourist traffic, or whether there was something special going on. Even though we were wet and muddy from hiking, we were starving (no lunch on the trail), so we decided to sit right there and eat. We had a delicious 'trout in garlic sauce' for about $6 apiece.

More Pictures of Salento and the Cocora Valley


Saturday, July 12, 2008
Bus trip Popayan to Salento
After another 6 hour bus trip, we arrived in Salento about 3pm yesterday.

We took a bus from Popayan to Armenia, and then grabbed a local bus from Armenia to Salento. We were supposed to get the 'direct' bus from Popayan, that leaves at 8am and bypasses Cali. But we got to the bus station a little too early, and found ourselves hustled onto the ready-to-go 7:30 bus, which did pass through Cali. So the trip took a little longer. But it was on mostly good roads, and we weren't in a hurry.

The Bus Station in Cali

A Horse Cart in Traffic

The Remains of the National Rail System

We are staying at the Plantation House, another backpacker place. This one is in a beautiful location, and our window overlooks the valley below. It is a typical backpacker place with a bunkhouse, a few single rooms, and a couple of doubles. The people staying here are from all over the world, budget travelers like us. The owner is nice and friendly. It is a little out of town, so no traffic noise or loud music from town. But it seems a little run down and not real clean, compared to the other places we've been staying. If we came back to Salento, we'd look for another place in the same price range. We have seen a few small hotels here, though Googling 'hostal Salento' doesn't bring up anything but references to this place.

The Plantation House

The Courtyard

The Plantation House View

We had some time in the afternoon to walk around the small town of Salento. It is obvious that it is a tourist town... a whole street full of souvenier shops. The area is famous for its trout, and we saw lots of restaurants advertising trout for dinner, cooked about 20 different ways.

More Pictures


Thursday, July 10, 2008
Travel from San Augustin to Popayan
Sherry Waiting At The Crossroads

We spent most of yesterday traveling from San Augustin to Popayan.

Where the attraction at San Augustin is ancient civilization relics, the attraction in Popayan is Spanish Colonial.

The 'crow flies' distance from San Augustin to Popayan is only 45 miles, according to our GPS. The road mileage according to the road signs we saw, is 77 miles, because of the winding roads. However, due to the mountainous terrain and really bad roads, the trip usually takes from 5-7 hours.

We took a taxi from El Maco to the crossroads, and from there caught a nice bus headed for Popayan and Cali. The road was TERRIBLE. Unpaved, and very pot-holed. A few times we bounced hard enough that Dave was worried about hitting his head on the ceiling. But the scenery was fantastic. Dave took some pics through the window of the bus, but we're not sure if they've turned out or not.

One of Dave's Pics Thru The Window

Our Bus To Popayan

Fortunately, the bus we caught was in good shape, with good shocks and soft seats. So it wasn't too bad. And our driver thought he was Mario Andretti, so we made the trip in 4 hrs and 45 minutes!! (This is not a good thing, on rough winding mountain roads!). But we lived.

The Kitchen At Our Lunch Stop

We are staying at the Hostel Trail hostal in Popayan. It is a fairly new and very nice hostal, and run by a very nice couple. Prices are good, they have hot water showers (the instant kind), good beds, and good internet. It's only a few blocks from the old center of town. The only downside is the rather noisy street outside.

Sherry Backpacking from Bus Stations

The Clock Tower Off The Square

Popayan Street at Dusk

One of the Old Churches At Night

We've decided to stay here in Popayan another night, and skip Cali. Our next stop (tomorrow night) will be the small town of Salento, in the 'coffee district'. We'll stay there a few nights, and then do one night in Medellin before we head back to Cartagena.

More Pictures


Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Whitewater Rafting & The Archeological Park

Yesterday we had a blast whitewater rafting. There was no real cultural value in this, but it sure was fun.

They claimed it was class 2-3 rapids, but it seemed a LOT more challenging than the Class 2-3 trip we went on recently in North Carolina.

They decked us out in wetsuits, spray jackets, helmets, and life jackets. It was just 4 of us on the trip, and a guide. The cost was 40,000 pesos per person (about $25). Magdalena Rafting

Dave Helps with the Raft

Later in the day, we set out on a walking tour of the last major artifact site here... the Parque Archaeologico San Agustin. This is the most 'maintained' grouping of artifacts... there is actually a museum, cement walkways, etc. But again, not much signage. This time we hired an English speaking guide, named 'Jerry Lewis'. (I doubt that's his real name, but it makes it memorable).

This guy was a hoot. He spoke very good English and seemed very knowledgable. He says he can guide in 5 languages. But when we asked him where he learned all his stuff, he said 'on the streets'. The only problem was that he is convinced that there are signs of Egyptian and African presence here in San Agustin. So some of his 'facts' about the site and the monuments are pretty fantastical. But it was a nice walk and an amazing amount of sculpture and burial sites. Wish we knew more about the people that made it.

Our Guide, Jerry Lewis

Looking at Carvings in the Rocks at a Waterfall

Today we move to Popayan by bus over a very rough road. The trip is only 100 miles, but it takes 5-6 hours.

More Pics of San Agustin


Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Horseback Riding in San Augustin
Yesterday we did a half day horseback ride around some smaller sites.

We saw some more old rocks and some more beautiful scenery, including a couple of waterfalls. And had a great time.

More Pics of San Agustin


Monday, July 07, 2008
Old Rocks and Waterfalls in San Augustin
For those of you geographically challenged, here's where we are:

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Sherry in front of Jose's 1978 Daihatsu

We did a 'jeep tour' of some of the 'antiquities' sites in this part of Colombia yesterday. The sites are in high places, using winding unpaved roads, so a 4WD jeep is the only way to go. We teamed up with a couple of young Canadians and hired Jose, a guide with a jeep.

The San Augustin (spelled locally as San Agustin) area was originally a Spanish settled area, in about the mid-1700's. So the town has a nice Spanish-style square with a big church. But the area was inhabited by indigenous peoples since about 3,500 BC.

In the early 1900's, some of the ancient burial sites left behind by these people were discovered, and more in the 1950's. The sites that were discovered early on were repeatedly looted and destroyed. Whatever artifacts and archeological information the tombs contained, was lost.

Fortunately, in some of the areas, not all the structures there were discovered by looters. A few were discovered and opened up by experienced archaeologists interested in studying and preserving the culture. Also, some of the antiquities that were looted have been returned to Colombia.

A Statue Guarding a Tomb

In 1995, the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Colombian government has now made all the sites into parks, and have 24 hour security guards to protect the locations. The valuable items, like the gold ornaments left in the tombs, have been moved to the Museo de Oro and the National Museum, for conservation and protection.

What is left here are numerous large and small sites with stone carvings and elaborate stone grave structures. We went to two of the 3 major sites yesterday: Alto de los Ídolos and Alto de las Piedras (High Place of the Idols, and High Place of the Rocks).

There is still a lot unknown about the people inhabiting the area--there is not much written down. But to a layman's eyes, the carvings are similar to other such sites in Latin America. What's a little different are the elaborate tomb arrangements, with one or more carved figures guarding tombs lined with large slab rocks.

A Typical Tomb

Our Guide, Jose

We also stopped at a few waterfalls and 'miradors' (scenic overlooks) overlooking the Rio Magdalena. It is just gorgeous.

Motino Waterfall

The Bordones Waterfall Overlook

One place we stopped was Estrecho del Magdalena, a place where the river gets very very narrow and deep, and the rapids are lethal. Jose said that frequently, tourists say "I am experienced at swimming in rapids" and jump in for a swim. We didn't ask him if anyone had ever survived, but he told us that 43 people had died trying to swim in that stretch in the last 5 years.

Needless to say, we didn't go swimming. (Actually, it is so cool here, there is no way you'd get me in that water anyway!)

More Pics of San Agustin


Sunday, July 06, 2008
All Day Trip to San Augustin
Sherry at the Bus Station

Our day started yesterday with a 6am wakeup call. (For anyone who knows Dave well, you KNOW that's a sacrifice). I couldn't talk Dave into taking the early bus, for which we'd have had to get up at 5am and *shudder* maybe have to skip a hot breakfast.

We had a running debate all day about whether it would be better to take the 7am bus or the 8:30 bus. We knew it was an "all day" trip. Anyway, Dave won out with his 'more civilized' time, and I held my 'I told you so' in reserve. I was just worried that (a) if anything went wrong, we had no other options til the next day and (b) we'd get in after dark.

But, in the end, everything went exactly as planned. The bus trip did take a little more time than we expected. We didn't arrive in San Augustin until 8pm (that's after dark around here). It was *supposed* to be an 'express' bus, stopping only once. But whenever there was an empty seat and there was someone on the street heading our way, we stopped and picked them up. It is common for the bus drivers to make a little extra pocket cash this way.

Nice Bus!

I punched up the trip on my GPS and it was only about 240 miles 'as the crow flies'. But it took us an hour just to get out of Bogota (and thank God it was a Saturday or the traffic would have been murder). And then our crow had to fly drunkenly down one mountain chain and back up another mountain chain, and drive straight thru the center of every small town on the way. We didn't stop for lunch, but they did let vendors on briefly at various stops to sell snacks and sodas. Fortunately we had thought ahead and had brought our own bananas, crackers, and drinks.

A Horse Wagon in Traffic

Can you believe my 7 year old eTrex GPS has many of the cities in Colombia pre-loaded? San Augustin isn't in it, but Pitalito, the last major city only about 10 miles away, is.

The bus was a 'Marco Polo' brand luxury bus with lots of legroom (more than any public transportation I've ever been on), working video system, and working his and hers bathrooms. We took the 8:30am Cootranshuila bus, as Rene from El Maco had warned us that the Taxi Verde shuttle buses were very cramped.

The scenery on the trip was really fantastic. We spent most of the time in a valley between two mountain ranges. It is mostly farming and cattle country. Unfortunately, some of the best scenery was toward dusk (and after dark), when we were winding around (going up again) overlooking the Magdalena River.

We crossed the Rio Magdalena about 6 times

Dave got some great shots out the window

The Luxury Bus only goes as far as Pitalito. We finally got THERE about 7pm. Then we had to find the 'collectivo' bus to San Augustin. We laughed when they pointed us to what was basically a large 4 passenger jeep/pickup truck. The back had a cover on it and benches inside. We crammed the driver and 5 pax up front, and threw the luggage and another 3 passengers in the back. By this time, all we wanted to do was get to our destination.

Our "All Terrain" Bus

After a 45 minute ride on rough roads and winding mountain trails (made even scarier by the darkness, on a road with no streetlights, reflectors, painted lines, or side rails), we arrived in the town of San Augustin. When we arrived at the normal drop-off point, we asked the driver if he would take us all the way to the hotel... another 1.5 km out of town. This turned out to be a good decision!

Walking that far with heavy backpacks on a flat road in the daylight would have been a pain, but it was dark dark, and up hill, and for the last 1/4 mile, muddy. But in just a couple of minutes we were there.

Dave had called ahead on the cell phone to tell them we'd be coming in late and hungry, and could they still serve us dinner that late. Rene, the proprieter of El Maco, was very accommodating. He met us at the door, showed us to our Chalet, got our dinner on order, processed us in paperwork-wise, and handed us off to the group of travelers hanging out. The bar works on an honor system (grab a beer from the fridge and mark it on your sheet).

The group that was hanging out last night consisted of 3 Irish girls headed tomorrow across the border for Ecuador, 1 Irish guy headed for Cali, a couple from Oregon, hanging out in South American for a year, and the young couple from Canada we'd met at the Platypus a couple of days ago. All of them looked to be in their 20's. I can't imagine what they think of us 'old folks'. But we dust off our 'we're sailing around the world story' and they're pretty impressed. It's also good to know, when you're that young, that life doesn't stop at 30.

Anyway, we're here, without incident. We are doing a 'jeep tour' of the archeological sites today, and have plans for a half-day horseback ride and a whitewater rafting trip in the next couple of days.


Friday, July 04, 2008
Headed for San Augustin Tomorrow
I've skipped at least one post (the one that fills in the other adventures we have had in Bogota). Today we took the TransMellenio to the north and out to the Catedral de Sal in Zipaquira. It was a fine adventure. But I only have a few minutes and wanted to post a short note with our plans (in case we are abducted by FARC guerillas, jeje (that's Spanish for ha ha)).

We are taking the 8:30 am Cootranshuila bus to Pitalito, and then a collectivo into San Augustin. We will be staying at El Maco ( I think we plan to stay 4 nights. They do have cell phone coverage out there and internet at the hotel. I will try to confirm safe arrival tomorrow night, but don't freak out if it doesn't happen. We'll be arriving late, very tired, and it may take us a day to get oriented and get on the internet.

We have studied the maps with respect to where the 'rescue' took place, and where they show the 'guerilla activity' on the maps. We have also Googled and read many recent online accounts from other travelers traveling the same way. Though our US Embassy forbids their employees from traveling by bus to these locations (and does not recommend Americans go there at all), we feel it is an acceptable risk. The word from other travelers is that nothing serious in this area has occurred for over 5 years.
We'll let you know how it turns out :)


Wednesday, July 02, 2008
In Bogata Safely
After an uneventful flight, we landed in Bogota and made our way to the hotel without any problems. The only excitement was seeing presidential candidate John McCain's plane sitting on the tarmac at the Cartagena airport.

What we've seen so far... it is a BEAUTIFUL city. Very cool. We left Cartagena sweltering and here we're wearing long pants, real shoes with socks, and fleeces.

We are staying in the Hotel Platypus, a backpacker place recommended by Lonely Planet and many others. But they have just opened a new building with more rooms, and we got a brand new room with private bath and hot water, and I think it's only costing us $25 a night.

When we checked in, we saw a sign for a free tour, in English, of the major tourist attractions with the 'tourist police'. So we hustled off to lunch and were able to join the tour in the Plaza Bolivar. I have to say that my Spanish is almost better than his English, but it was enjoyable. It was comical for awhile... we had 4 men in army uniforms escorting only 3 tourists up the street.

We got walkthru tours of the famous Museum of Money, the Gold Museum, and the Botero Museum. And a little info on the old buildings on the Plaza Bolivar. It was definitely the 'nickel tour', but it got us oriented. We doubled back to see the Gold Museum a little more thoroughly. The full museum is down for renovation now, so we got 'just enough'.

Tomorrow we go up to the Monserrat... a convent (I think) on the mountain top. You ride up via cable cars.

Our building is so new that they were stringing the wifi cable tonight. Hopefully we'll have 'in-room' wifi by tomorrow. Will try to post a few pics then.

The Platypus is in a great location... 3-4 blocks from all the downtown museums, and steps from a busy city center and a metro station.

The big news in Colombia is that the military have liberated 15 hostages from the guerillas that have been captives for about 5 years. We've seen a few interviews on the TV in Spanish and don't comprehend all of exactly how it went down. But it is a VERY big deal here. One more step on the road to normalcy, everyone hopes.

More pics of our Bogota adventures


Sunday, June 29, 2008
Tickets Booked for Bogota
Well, we've booked one-way tickets to fly on Wednesday from Cartagena to Bogota, on Avianca.

Though for price and scenery reasons, we'd rather take a bus, the bus from Cartagena to Bogota takes roughly 20 hours!!

We checked several airlines and Avianca turned out to have the best price on the days we were trying to go. The final price was COP 486,000 for the two of us... about $142 USD each (one way!!)

We don't have a real firm plan yet, but we think we'll stay a few days in Bogotoa, and then take the bus down to a very small place out in the country called San Augustin. San Augustin has some ruins that Dave wants to see. From there we'll probably bus back to a town called Popayan, and fly back to Cartagena from there.

Our Colombia Geography Lesson

Colombia is considerably bigger than Guatemala was, and the bus rides between the big cities are very long. Even the bus from Bogota to Cali is 12 hours.

We noticed that the U.S. Embassy is having a 'flag raising' ceremony at 7:30am on July 4th. We will be in Bogota then and can attend if we want. It might be fun just to meet the Americans who call Colombia home. (But Dave's initial reaction was "7:30am!!!!")


Saturday, June 28, 2008
Day Trip to Barranquilla & Passport Renewal
Barranquilla is a big city up the coast from Cartagena.

When Dave inquired about getting his passport renewed while in Colombia, the U.S. Embassy said that it can be done from Bogota, where the Embassy is (a very long way away), or via the Consular Services office in Barranquilla. Since Barranquilla is only a 2 hour drive up the coast, we decided it would make a nice day trip, to go and drop his paperwork off.

To get to Barranquilla (without your own car) there are 2 options... there is an express bus that goes that way, and there are 'shuttle vans'. The problem with the bus is that the Cartagena bus terminal is far outside the city. So you have to take a taxi there, then take the bus, then a taxi in from the Barranquilla bus station. It ends up costing more money and taking more time.

So we chose the MarSol shuttle bus, which picked us up at the door of Club Nautico and dropped us off not too far from our destination. It is 19,000 pesos per person one way (about $11 USD). MarSol Cartagena: 656-0302 MarSol Barranquilla: 369-0999

The road part of the trip was pretty uneventful. The road between Cartagena and Barranquilla is a nice 4 lane highway, with few cars on the road. We went through one toll booth and at least one very serious-looking police checkpoint (we didn't have to stop). The road runs along the coast, so you can get glimpses of the ocean. For the most part, the land is farm or ranch land, punctuated with a few very upscale housing developments. If you didn't know better, you could be in South Florida (about 30 years ago, before it go so built up).

Though we thought the shuttle bus was supposed to be 'door to door' service, they let us off on a main drag in Barranquilla, and most of the passengers continued on to Santa Marta. We had a vague idea of where we were and where the Consular Services office was (the streets are conveniently numbered). But it was a hot day, and we had to get all our paperwork done by 11:30 when the office closes, so we took a taxi for 5,000 pesos ($3) to the office.

The office was in big building called something like Centro Commercial Americano. In the lobby, you had to give up your ID to receive an electronic pass key that lets you in and out of a turnstile at the base of the elevators. There is a guard who is supposed to be watching the turnstile to make sure that there is no funny business with the pass cards. I guess they would not give a passcard to anyone who looked like a 'bandito', but there was so much coming and going at the lobby desk that it can't be a real security measure. At least using this system they can theoretically tell if anyone is left in the building when they go to lock up at night.

The consular office is on the 5th floor, and in their lobby is a nice and polite Colombian policeman, just hanging out.

When we entered, a lady behind the partition said in heavily accented English, somewhat rudely, "Sit down." So we did.

But we had not gotten Dave's passport photo done yet... Dave had been warned by another cruiser not to do it before we got there. So he went up to the little window and tried to ask about the passport photo. It was already 10:30 and we were worried about getting the whole thing done by 11:30 when the office closed for the day. He was told, rudely again, "I am busy with the other guy, sit down."

So we asked the policeman where the photo place was. He didn't really know, but after a discussion in Spanish with him and another guy waiting, we knew of a photo place very near by. Assuming that the closest photo place to the Consular Services office would know of the correct requirements... we walked off in search of photos. Well, that place was closed.

We then grabbed a taxi for a 4-5 block ride to another photo place (Photo Japon, a chain in Colombia). We asked for US Passport photos, they said OK, and after about 10 minutes, we had 6 copies of Dave's smiling face in our hands.

We walked back to the Consular Services office and the lady said "Why didn't you wait for me, those photos are no good!" I am still not clear why. They looked like perfectly good passport photos, within all the proper size limits, etc. But she wouldn't accept them.

NOW she hands us the list of 'approved' photo shops and gives us detailed directions how to get there. (Sorry, we lost this paper, but be sure to call the Consular Services office to find out, before you have pictures made. There is one in Cartagena, one in Barranquilla, and one in Santa Marta).

It is 11:15 now, and Dave hasn't even started filling out the paperwork. But she said she'd wait for us. She told us that we didn't need to wait for the photos to get printed, but come right back with the receipt, and she would pick the photos up from the photo place later.

We paid the normal passport fee of $75 in cash (they will accept either USD or Pesos), and gave her a phone number and an email address. She said it would take 3-4 weeks and she'd let us know when it was back. She did NOT take Dave's current passport, but said he must bring it back with him when he comes back to pick up the new one.

By 11:45 we were finished, and were heading for lunch. Dave got a recommendation from a previous taxi driver to 'Casa del Marisco' (also known as Asados Tony), on the corner of Calle 72 and Carrera 61B. So we went there (another $3 taxi ride). There are 2 big shopping centers within a few blocks of the office, which probably would have been a better choice. We had a good (but not exceptional) 'Almuerzo Ejecutivo' (executive lunch) at Casa del Marisco... large soup, rice, meat, very small salad for 6,000 pesos ($4). This seems to be a standard weekday lunch offering in many Colombian restaurants, and is considerably cheaper (and probably faster) than anything that was on the menu they gave us. So ask for it if you go into a restaurant.

While at lunch, we called the Baranqilla number for the MarSol van, and they said they'd be there to pick us up in about 20 minutes. It turns out that they sent a small taxi to get us (and 2 other passengers on the way) rather than navigating the big van thru the busy city streets.

Again they didn't take us to our door, but dropped us off downtown near 'The Clock', about a 10 minute walk from Club Nautico.

We met 3 other American cruisers on the van... they were headed for Santa Marta for 2 nights, just to explore. One of the 3 was originally from Colombia. So she ccould speak the language fluently and knew her way around pretty well.

Dave, in his usual fashion, pumped her for travel advice, which we are now using to plan our trip inland towards Bogata and Medellin. They must have found some interesting stuff in Santa Marta, because we haven't seen them around the marina yet (it's been 4 nights now). We may check out Santa Marta when we go back to pick up Dave's passport.

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