A Weekend in Bogotá

Bogotá, like every other cirty in Colombia has street numbers instead of street names. A system that is not always working too well for us and the taxi drivers, so when going from the airport to our hostel we gave my cell phone to the taxi driver to help him find the way with my GPS app. When we got there he hurried us out and left, and just a few seconds afterwards we realized that the taxi driver had stolen my phone!

We went straight to the airport and ended up spending the whole Friday there, looking at the taxi companys security tape and trying to get in touch with the driver through radio. Magically enough, after several hours of waiting we saw the taxi drive by and ran into the street to stop him. The driver was quick to give back the phone and excuse himself, and afterwards I got a lesson from the taxi company about the papaya rule (see this post for explanation), stating that it was my own fault that the phone got stolen and that in the future I should take more care of my stuff.

So we got a few extra taxi rides to the airport, and even though it was quite time consuming we enjoyed the ride to the airport watching all the grafitti along the roads. We enjoyed the art enough to sign up for a free graffiti tour the next day, where we were walking through streets of Bogotá listening to an insider talk about how the graffiti was made, who had made the different art pieces and why it was made. The two hour tour was like walking through a live art gallery. We paid the guide 10US tips, just to make the tour keep going for others, and promised that we would reccomend it to other travellers going to Bogotá.

After the tour we went straight to the tram going up to Monserrate, in order to get a good view of the city. It was not before we came out of the tunnel at the top that we realized how big the city really was, stretching as far as the eye could see. We took the cable car on the way down, bringing us almost to our hostel Colonial La Quinta in the Candelaria area: the historic bohemian neighbourhood, filled with young people drinking in the streets already at noon, while watching the stand up comedians, live bands and djs performing for free. If you are looking for a place to go out, get your creativity pulsing or just experiencing a lively city, then Bogotá is the place to go.

When Traveling in South America: Don’t Give Papaya!

After having my cellphone stolen by a taxi driver in Bogotá (see post) I was given a lesson about an expression used in Colombia that explains how many locals percieves steeling or as they see it, letting others steel your stuff. The expression they use about such situations is “a papaya dada, papaya partida” which more or less can be translated to “what has been given, can be taken”. In other words you should not give papaya to anyone (not let anyone be able to take your stuff) and if you see papaya you can take it! (because it was their own fault!)Papaya is on of the most common fruits in Colombia, and the fruit is just a metaphor for basically anything or everything that can be stolen or misused. The papaya rule does not only apply to stealing, but also to saying something stupid that people will misuse for the rest of your life, walking around in miniskirt giving papaya to all the boys looking at your legs, or simply leaving your valuables unnatended. If they say you are give papaya, it means that you are not acting very smart.

If you see papaya you can take it, means that if others let down their guard, for example by saying something stupid then you have to make fun of them according to the papaya rule. Back home we would say that the friends who laugh at each other are not very good friends, but here that is not true. Here they would still be their best friend, because it is not you who should be blamed when they say something stupid that they should not have said.

The expression is not meant to scare you, but merely to think smart and take care of your belongings and what you say and do! After having actually given papaya in Colombia I will remember this rule in order not to have my thing stolen the next few months while travelling through the rest of South America.

Taganga: Quite Nice for a Place Known for Being a “Backpacker Ghetto”

Taganga is a place with a bad reputation for drugs, prostitutes and frequent muggings. For us it was only the gateway to get from Tayrona over to Santa Marta, the city we would fly from a few days after. Since we had already been to Santa Marta we decided to give it a chance and spent our last days here in this small fishing village on Colombia’s Carribbean coast.

The place was small, with only one ATM and just a tiny beach that did not exactly look like a tropical paradise beach, but the promenade behind it had some good juice bars, plus the view of the hills on both sides were quite nice to look at when eating breakfast by the beach. Except for being the base for day tours to Minca in Sierra Nevada and multiday tours to the Lost City and some of the cheapest diving I have ever come across (200-300US to get a PADI Open Water License) the city had not much to offer.

We strolled the few streets a couple of times in search for some good local food, but ended up eating at our hostel (Casa de Felipe) instead which actually had some of the best tasting food we have had on this trip so far! The hostel restaurant was run by a French chef, Dominique, where people from all over the town came to enjoy his reasonable and excellent steaks. Our favorite was the Filet de Mignon with redwine sauce that cost 23 000 pesos/12US, but the cheaper Lomo Arbol beef dish with mushroom and blue cheese sauce cost 14 000/7$ and was still some really good meat. If you ever go to Taganga, and even though you might not get a room at Casa de Felipe, eating at Dominiques Restaurant should be the number one thing you should do while being there.

Living la Vida en El Cabo in Tyrona National Park

El Cabo San Juan has definately become one of my top ten favorite places in the world, and it is totally without having any kind of “wow” factor. There are not much to see, not much to do, but that is also what makes it so great. The places with the nicest beaches, best night life and most day activities can easily become tiring, and for most tourists El Cabo will probably be too simple. There is also a two hour, semi tough walk through the jungle that might help keep the families and other demanding tourists away.

El Cabo has got everything we needed, but not a single thing more. Simple things like not having to choose what to do (since there was not much to do) or which restaurant (because there was only one) was great in between travels where we have to do a thousand decisions every day. The place is a bit similar to Bottle Beach in Thailand, where there is just some bungalows, one kiosk, one restaurant and one beach. Tyrona is a little bigger, but still even more simple with just hammocks and bungalows. Hammocks being really cold at night, and the tents being really warm. Temperature wise we were most comfortable in the nights sleeping in a tent, but we must say that waking up in a hammock at sunrise with a view over the beach and the ocean was a great feeling that should not be missed. Most people there were pretty hippie-ish as well and some chose to spend the mornings meditating at the beach and others went skinny dipping in the neighbour nudist beach.

One highlight of our stay in Tyrona was a trek to Pueblito, a small village on the top of one of the mountains where you can find archeological remains of a lost city from around 500B.C. It was a really sweaty hike, where we just found the trail by ourselves, starting from the beach in El Cabo San Juan. It was not Pueblito itself that was the best part, but the four hour trek round trip where we had to jump up some big boulders, crouch through some rocks forming tunnels and navigate through the jungle that we liked the most.

During our last dinner we noticed that people started standing up and pointing towards the place where our tent was standing and as we looked towards it we saw that the forest was on fire! It had started with people burning garbage, which quickly had turned into a proper forest fire right behind our tents! We were quick to leave our meal and run to get our things packed, but soon afterwards we were told by the two policemen at the camp that everything was under control and that we should get back to restaurant. Luckily it was, and we watched the fire die out completely in the distance before we went to bed.

The next morning we took the easy way out of the national park and joined one of the speed boats heading for Taganga. An hour after we arrived completely soaked from having bucketloads of water thrown at us by enormous waves. When returning to the mainland we noticed that we had received texts from people back home who were worried that we were in the ongoing tsunami on the west coast of Colombia, but even though the waves had scared us to death and it was april fools day, we decided not to make a joke out of it and instead to just be happy to be at safe and dry shore.

All you need to know before going to Tayrona National Park

Tyrona has been one of the nicest places I have visited in my life. Although being totally fine for the five days spent here, there are a couple of things I wish I would have known before going in to make the stay even better. To start with, there were some false rhumors that I heard from other travelers before getting there, that I wish I did not listen to:– Bring as much food and water as you can, because it is really expensive inside the national park: it is probably about 30% more expensive inside, a cheap price to pay for them to bring everything in compared to renting a horse to carry loads of food and water like we did.
It is not possible to use credit cards in the park, so bring loads of cash! There are no ATMs and the accomodation and park entrance has to be paid in cash, but the restaurant will take cards on every order over 20 000 pesos.
– Bring lots of repellant, cause there are many mosquitos in the park: we did not use repellant and did not see a single mosquito the time we were there
– At the entrance they will look through your luggage to take away all plastic bags, knives and alcohol which is not allowed into the park: we entered together with many others arriving at the same time, and no one had their luggage looked through. A swiss army knife would have been priceless to bring with, as people pick coconuts and spend hours slamming them at rocks to open them without success.
You need a passport to enter was also not true. We could have just locked our passports in our Santa Marta Hostel together with the other things we left there, because a copy of the passport would have been enough.

There are also two ways to enter the park from Santa Marta that can be good to be aware of, and I would reccomend doing them both.

The main entrance of the park is located at the opposite side of the park than Santa Marta. The long way around with bus took us almost an hour and cost 6000 pesos to the park entrance. There we paid the 7500 it cost to enter if you are a student, or 37500 if you are a non student. Once paid and on the other side of the entrance, small shuttlebuses will wait until full before taking you further into the park for 2000 pesos. When you get there you can either walk the two hour stretch, or get horses for 32 000 pesos each to carry you or your luggage. We found a nice guy who let his horse take Elise and all our water, while me the guide were running beside the horse the whole way through the jungle.

tayrona

Even though it was a great walk through the jungle, we decided to do the simpler way on the way back, which was to take a speedboat leaving from El Cabo beach to Taganga, where we could take a bus the last bit to Santa Marta for 1800pesos. If you reserve the boat in advance it will cost you 45 000pp and you will be guaranteed a seat, but if you are flexible on departure days you can also wait until half an hour before the boat leaves and pay 30 000 pesos for the boatride, and for us it worked out well to wait until last minute since we were travelling on a weekday. The boatride was by far the quickest, taking only 45 minutes, but it also got us soaked with bucket loads of water when riding full speed through the rough waves.

Although we brough way too much food and water compared to what was worth bringing in with the prices inside, we also took with us some lighter things that I would really reccomend bringing in:
– Bags of instant soup, as there was free water inside. Noodles would also have been smart.
– Powdered ice tea that we could mix with the cold water instead of buying expensive soda inside the park
– Crisp bread and bisquits to eat when we missed the breakfast serving time. The meals are also only served three times a day, and in between you can only buy drinks and some bread that a guy at the beach sells.

El Cabo is the camp where most people choose to stay, because there it is the only place with a beach you can swim in, there are three ways to sleep: In hammocks up in the huts which have the best view (25 000pp), but gets really cold in the night or at the hammocks down by the toilets and restaurants (20 000pp) laying side by side under a roof keeping it a bit warmer. It is also possible to sleep in a tent (25 000pp) which can get really warm, but is what we thought was the best option. There are also two double rooms on top of the huts costing 150 000 each: the suites of El Cabo.

During the opening hours of the restaurant (7.30-10.30, 12.-30-16.00 and 18.30-20.30) you can also use one of the four chargers in the restaurant for your electronics, and store them safely away into the locker rooms that are open from 7.00 to 9.30. El Cabo has got all you need to live a simple life, where you can relax totally free from internet, crime and stress in the outside world.

tayrona2 tayrona3

Santa Marta and El Rodadero Have Many Colombian Tourists!

El Rodadero is a harbour city located just an hour away from Santa Marta, known for it’s beaches. Since we were based in Santa Marta for four nights, which was not the most interesting place to stay, we decided to do a day trip to El Rodadero to see how the beaches there were like.

We took a bus from 11-11: the streets and avenues here just have numbers, so this was the place where street 11 and avenue 11 crossed, shortened eleven eleven / once con once. The bus rides here do not cost much, and it is interesting to sit by the window and have all the street vendors coming up to your window or even on to the bus every five minutes to sell you snacks and small bags of water, and with the heat here we buy one to drink and wash our faces with almost every time we get the oportunity to do so. For some reason it seems as the locals are not sweating half as much and we hardly see them drinking at all.

Once arriving at the beach we saw the place filled with locals families, vendors selling all kinds of stuff and people offering sevices like massage, photo taking, pedal boat rental etc to the point that it was quite exhausting. Exactly like I imagine Benidorm or other spanish beach cities to be like. It might have been us being there on a weekend, when the people rush from the nearby cities to enjoy a beach weekend, but even on the day tours that we have done so far it has been only Colombian and other Latin Americans who have been doing the trips and no Western Tourists. Considering the fact that it was absolutely no tourism here less than ten years ago, it might also be that these places not yet have picked up for western tourists yet. Anyway, the beach was very overcrowded with noisy Colombians, and we hope that our next nights in Tayrona and Taganga can be a bit more quiet and idyllic than El Rodadero.