Tag Archives: Taganga

Encantada

Something is happening. It started last summer when I fell in love with my life and since then the shine has only gotten brighter. I feel like I am walking through life carrying my heart out in front of me for everyone to see. It’s intense and it’s also one of the most incredible spaces I have ever been in. I feel like I fall in love a million times per day. A song plays in the bus and my heart overflows. I discover a beautiful new cafe and my heart overflows. And most of all, I meet new people and my heart overflows. Like when I returned from the amazing 24 hours of bonding in San Cipriano, I am back from another trip and completely encantada with my travel buddy (and friend from San Francisco) Sarah AND with our new friends we met along the way.

Visiting the Cartagena market

Visiting the Cartagena market

Sarah and I started in Cartagena, that same colonial Caribbean city where Cameron and I ended our year of travels 3 years ago. My sister Sophie who has spent the last year teaching English on the rural island of Baru just off the coast, met us and we spent our days wandering the colonial streets, drinking wine on the city wall that overlooks the ocean, and enjoying Costeña food and mojitos. Sarah and I had never done more than a weekend away together but she is so laid back and easy going that we immediately fell into a perfect rhythm.

The old city wall around Cartagena

The old city wall around Cartagena

Lunch at La Mulata

Lunch at La Mulata

After Cartagena Sophie led us by bus, ferry, and motorcycle to her home on Baru where we toured her very tiny dusty town of Santa Ana and then headed to Playa Blanca for beach massages, sunshine, and a night in an adorable and extremely rustic sand-floored beach cabaña. Playa Blanca is packed full of tourists from Cartagena during the day, but at night and early in the morning we found ourselves on a deserted turquoise beach. Lovely.

Sophie on our way to her house on Baru

Sophie on our way to her house on Baru

Touring Sophie's school

Touring Sophie’s school

Playa Blanca!

Playa Blanca!

People watching with my lovely sister.

People watching with my lovely sister.

But it was the trip up the coast to Taganga and into Tayrona National Park when the adventures really began. There was the bus incident when a simple 20 minute bus ride turned into 3 bus transfers and an hour of Caribbean sweat (met with good humor and topped off with a passionfruit cocktail in the swimming pool that made everything better). There was the iguana incident while we waited to board our boat to Tayrona, when a giant iguana lept out of a tree nearly falling on someone’s head, raced around the street causing total chaos and then ran into the ocean and disappeared. 30 minutes later as our boat speeds through the ocean waves on the way to the park, said iguana appeared on the outboard motor. We had to pull into shore and toss him toward the rocks. =) Hopefully he is having a less adventurous life now. There was the monkey incident when Sarah and I hiked through the jungle to visit the ruins of an indigenous village. We were so excited to run into a group of monkeys playing in the treetops. Until one got a little too interested in us and headed straight down the tree to get a better look. We very quickly decided it was time to move on. =)

Tayrona from the upper hammocks

Tayrona from the upper hammocks

Tayrona

Tayrona

And then there was the Tropical Storm Incident. We first met Jose and Jose from Valencia, Spain, in Taganga before we left for the park. But we had no idea how integral to our trip they would become. Parque Tayrona is one of my favorite spots in Latin America. It’s wild. Giant boulders, palm trees, and sandy beaches backed by thick jungle and blue mountains. The ocean is fierce but there a few protected bays for swimming. The most popular spot is Cabo San Juan del Guía where you can rent a tent or sleep in a hammock. There are two sets of hammocks- the lower ones set back from the beach, packed tightly under a thatched roof reinforced with black plastic where you sleep to the sound of the generator and the smell the horses. The upper hammocks are fewer and harder to get but are high above the ocean, where you listen to the waves and smell the salty air. Sleeping in the upper hammocks is one of my favorite memories of my last trip in South America, so Sarah and I were determined to get up early and reserve them for our second night in Tayrona. Our new friends, the Joses, decided to stay in the lower hammocks and we teased them for it, bragging about what a lovely night we were going to have from our ocean front viewpoint. The only downside of the upper hammocks is that the ocean breeze is a bit chilly at night. Luckily I knew this from past experience and Sarah and I had packed very carefully including long sleeves, hats, socks…we had planned extensively to make sure we would have dry warm clothes for a comfortable night.

The upper hammocks (photo taken from the restaurant)

The upper hammocks (photo taken from the restaurant)

That night, we were sitting in the restaurant for dinner when the storm started. The restaurant is a large open air “room” covered by a thatched roof, filled with plastic tables and chairs, and the only place to be under cover besides in our hammock. It’s also the only place with light at night so most people sit there to play cards etc. The rain started hard- true tropical storm style. We were sitting the middle of the cover but it soon became obvious that that wasn’t enough to keep us dry. I was still in my beach clothes. A sleeveless cotton minidress, no shoes. And starting to shiver. My backpack and all my clothes was all the way across the beach and up the hill in my hammock. And as the downpour and gusts of wind continued for the next hour it became apparent that all my careful planning was probably soaking wet along with my hammock. The boys gathered up the few articles of clothing and damp towels they had and we all circled up to try to stay warm. Amazingly, while other tables of stranded travelers sulked and argued, we spent hours laughing at the absurd hilarity of the situation. Even though Sarah and I had absolutely no idea how exactly we were going to get through the night, for the time being it felt like enough to be in good company and we managed to maugh our way through hours of rain. Around 10 pm the rain slowed enough that I decided to borrow a broken umbrella and make a beach-run for it to see if I could salvage anything from the backpacks. The beach was dark and deserted and I hurried down the narrow strip of sand between the two bays that leads to the steep rocky trail up to the hammocks. It was dark and raining and all I could see was the circle of light right in front of me so when I suddenly reached the end of the sand I was disoriented. Where was the trail? and the hammocks? About 50 feet in front of me I could see the cliff where we were supposed to sleep. Except that the peninsula had turned into an island and between me and the island was a lot of dark rushing water. We were definitely NOT sleeping in our hammocks tonight. And it was probably better because anyone who had been in the hammocks when the storm started was now stuck out there. I hurried back to the restaurant and wrapped myself up in Jose’s towel. All the staff members had gone home after dinner leaving a dining room full of stranded and desperate travelers. All around us people we sleeping with their heads on the plastic tables or trying to curl up on flimsy beach chairs.

Surviving the storm in borrowed clothes

Surviving the storm in borrowed clothes

Around midnight when we couldn’t manage to stay awake any longer, the boys cemented the friendship and put us in their debt by giving us one of their hammocks. Muddy feet, wet minidress, and all, Sarah and I cuddled up in the single person hammock. Next door two 32 year old men did the same and we all made it through the night, exhausted and sleep deprived but still smiling. The next morning, emerging from our hammocks felt like we were survivors of a natural disaster. The grass was scattered with debris, clothes, overturned tents. There was no electricity and no running water. Nearby someone was bailing buckets of rainwater from inside a tent. All around people were ringing out everything they owned. We wandered to the beach and found that the island was still an island, but in the daylight the water was crossable so I waded over and gathered up a backpack full of wet clothes. We decided to hike out of the park early in case it started raining again. 5 hours and a bus ride later we arrived in Cartagena, wet and exhausted but still laughing about the adventure and so grateful we had met the Joses.

Hiking through the jungle to visit El Pueblito, ruins of an indigenous village

Hiking through the jungle to visit El Pueblito, ruins of an indigenous village

Sarah flew home the next morning and I headed to Bogota to spend the rest of the weekend with the boys. Maybe that is what happens when you survive a storm together, but we were totally bonded and the three of us stuck together like glue for the next 3 days. We took long bus rides, we visited the absolutely lovely mountain town of Villa de Leyva where we watched fireworks and drank wine, and we partied with the entire Spanish ex-pat community of Bogota (Fancy cheese, Spanish tortilla, Sangría, and lots of lessons in how to speak “real” Spanish and where I need to visit in Spain). I came home with the same floating on air feeling I had after my weekend in San Cipriano. Just feeling completely blessed to have so many amazing people in my life.

Photobooth at the Spanish Party in Bogota.

Photobooth at the Spanish Party in Bogota.

Drinking wine in La Guaca, an old colonial home turned into the most adorable and romantic restaurant in Villa de Leyva. (With our new Colombian friend, also names Jose. And no, I am not making this up.)

Drinking wine in La Guaca, an old colonial home turned into the most adorable and romantic restaurant in Villa de Leyva. (With our new Colombian friend, also named Jose. And no, I am not making this up.)

And for the weekly single paragraph update on my actual research…I finally have a green light! I presented my project to a panel of Public Health staff members and they gave me my third and final letter of approval. I am now the proud owner of three whole ethics committee approval letters (UCSF, Universidad de Valle, and now the Cali public health administration). The one catch is that I can’t start until January. Colombia takes Christmas very seriously and the entire month of December is reserved for holiday happenings. So my job is to officially enjoy life until January when I can actually start working. =) Luckily I have had plenty of practice and am getting pretty good at that job…

DSC01887

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Fulbright, Uncategorized

Negative Ions and A Gringo Opens a Coconut.

Iguazu falls made my hair stand on end. Literally. Something to do with the negative ions generated…I don’t really understand it and a quick google search doesn’t leave me any more informed, but something about the power of those falls left me giggling like I was drunk and with my hair standing straight up in the air.

Brazil

We spent a full day exploring the Argentina side of the falls for up close views. They used to do row boat tours that took to near the edge…yes, on the TOP side. Your life was literally in the hands of one (hopefully) super buff rower. But too many boats full of tourists went over the edge (not a fall you can survive) so they shut that operation down.

Argentina

Now they do motor boat tours at the bottom of the falls. About a month ago, on the day our friend Suz was there, a boat got too close and someone died, but it’s generally considered safe. We decided what-the-heck and payed for the 10 minute adventure of zipping into the immense spray. It was worth every penny. People stared when I climbed aboard in my bikini, but when we debarked, wringing out our hair, they were all wishing they had shed their modesty and followed suit (no pun intended). It was a rollercoaster-like adrenaline rush to drive into that spray- It’s beyond amazing how much power water can hold.

Brazilian Reales, my proof that we were in Brazil

The next day we decided to head for Brazil’s half of the falls. As US Citizens we can’t legally enter Brazil without a visa, but word on the street is that officals will look the other way if you just want to visit Iguazu for the day. Those of you who know Cameron and myself well know that we both have “Oldest Child Syndrome” in which we have an irrational fear of getting our hands slapped by authority figures. I thought I was bad…until I met Cameron. Just crossing the Canadian border gets his palms sweating for some reason (I’ll never forget the time a few years ago when we were crossing back into Washington from B.C. The border guard asked him what our relationship was and all he could manage was to stutter “Uh…um….uh…” until I came to the rescue and clarified for all involved that I was The Girlfriend, thank-you-very-much.) So I took on the role of reasurring Cam that our “illegal” border crossing into Brazil would be no big deal, even though I wasn’t so sure what exactly we were getting ourselves into. Sure enough, true to rumor, we rode a local bus right across without even stopping at Brazil’s immigration office for permission. No one batted an eye, but we sure felt like rebels all day long! Funny how easy it is to get our goody-two-shoes adrenaline going! 😉

Getting to Iguazu involved us taking a 20 hour bus all the way from Buenos Aires and back in just a few days. We spent more money than I care to think about on both the bus and the entrance to the Falls. But it really was an awe inspiring place. The sheer amount of

Three Wonders of the World. Iguazu Falls, Rainbows, The Beard.

water and energy created by those Falls is mind boggling. I loved the feeling of the wind the falls generate and the fine spray that manages to soak you in a couple minutes time, the rainbows that live eternally in the midst of that spray and the birds that swoop in and out, nesting in the cliff behind the falls. No doubt to me that it was worth the 40 hours of travel and entrance fees.

Iguazu was our last hoorah in Argentina. Argentina was lovely and luxurious, but it was so huge and had so much to see that we spent too much time and money, and were both eager to get out. Arriving back in Colombia felt like

Rainy day in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota

coming home; the noise of the streets, vendors hawking goods and ringing bells at 6:00 in the morning, dinner of mystery meat on a stick and grilled arepas(corn flour pancakes filled with cheese, egg etc.) on the street corner, huge colorful markets where you can buy anything your heart desires…all the parts of Latin America that have captured our hearts and that most of Argentina in it’s civility and class doesn’t have. We both walked around Bogota with goofy grins on our faces, exploring that wonderful city. We made fun of (between ourselves) the dozens of pimply faced 16 year old “Policia” guarding every street corner and doing absolutely nothing. (Cam heard somewhere that up to 25% of the Columbian workforce is in law enforcement. Every corner has groups of them standing around doing nothing).

Fruits of Colombia. Feijoa on top (tastes like strawberry!) and Pitaya on bottom. Both delicious.

We gorged of piping hot arepas fresh off the grill and tropical fruits we’ve never seen before. We ohhed and awed for hours at the Botero museum (I’m in love with Botero’s work which is easily recognizable by it…roundness) and got a tour of the very strange Police museum where we got to see the blood stained roof tile where Pablo Escobar’s head fell when we was killed. And of course, every night, we went to the corner bar and shared a hallowed out

Old records for sale on the streets of Bogota

coconut shell with two straws brimming with a fresh batch of chicha(fermented corn beer that supposedly involves the maker’s saliva at some point in the process but tastes like a good apple cider in the end). Bogota is one of my favorite capital cities.

But alas, we were being beckoned by the Carribean. As much as I adore Bogota, I adore the beach more. So off we went to Santa Marta, Colombia to while away the hours of our last few weeks in South America. We decided to fly- partly because we are feeling the time pressure of only having a few weeks left. But also partly because we have made it through nearly a year  without a single mugging or robbery, on foot or during travel, (know on wood!) and we’re both feeling a bit superstitious about these last few weeks. Most routes throughout Colombia are safe by bus, but I think we’re both feeling like our number must be coming up soon and would rather not push our luck.

View from our hammocks in Tayrona Park

Tayrona National Park, with it’s coastal jungle and white sand beaches is not a secret by any means. But it’s still hard enough to get to that it’s not quite overrun yet. From the Park entrance you can hike 2 hours through the jungle and beach to reach Cabo San Juan del Guia beach. We cheated on the way in and paid for a motor boat because we were carrying in 4 days worth of food and water. The Park is full of deserted white sand beaches and tropical jungle, but much of it is still hard to access. The park rents our fancy cabins near the entrance, but beyond that there are only a handful of camping/hammock rental sites. Believe it or not, neither of us had ever slept in a hammock, so we decided to give it a go. We paid a few dollars extra for the hammocks over the sea, as opposed to the ones about 100 feet inland. Connected to the mainland by only a thin strip of sand, our hammocks were in an open air palapa surrounded on all sides by crashing waves. During the day we stretched out on the sand to read, swam in the crystal clear water, learned how to crack open the coconuts that fell around us (after the local guy stood by and amusedly watched an embarrassed Cameron bang the coconut on a slab of cement for a good 5 minutes, he decided to give us a lesson). By night, the ocean wind rocked us in our hammocks (When my one long sleeve shirt wasn’t enough- everything is perpetually damp that close to the ocean- I resorted to wrapping myself up in my yoga mat. Once again, yoga was my saving grace). Every night brought a lightening storm. From our hammocks we could head the ocean waves constantly, but all we could see was the sky, lit up by a strobe flashing of lightening. The first night there was no thunder, but the second night the storm was over us. The rain blew in and the thunder shook our palapa. We rocked away in our hammocks, surrounded by a stormy ocean, and even while I

Our beach in Tayrona

was feeling a bit nervous about the thunder, I knew that it was a beautiful experience. But no matter how stormy or windy the night, morning always greeted us with sunshine and calm waters. So it was that we spent 4 days snacking on cans of tuna fish and a jar of peanut butter and learning how to sleep in a hammock. I loved it and slept like a baby. Cameron wasn’t such a fan.

Cast Away. You can see our palapa in the background.

The last week has been pretty much the same. Fresh fruit smoothies on the corner every morning, an avocado a day for lunch, lots of beaches and sunscreen…it’s been lovely and perfectly uneventful. On June 10th or friend from home, Amanda, is coming for a visit, but until then our plan consists of more fruit and more beaches. Tomorrow we head west to a less touristy beach called Tolu that we know very little about. But in all honesty, as long as we have a patch of sand and some water to dip in, we’re pretty dang happy.

Taganga, fishing village and tourist hang out

Hope the sunshine at hope is lifting everyone’s spirits! Sending lots of love from our Colombian paradise…

Besos!

Leave a comment

Filed under 2) Colombia, 6) Argentina, Uncategorized