After experiencing so many beautiful and colourful birds in Costa Rica, Mandrew got a bit obsessed with his feathered friends. Here's a collection of his favourite bird photos from our wanderings around the Americas. Enjoy!
To check out the album in Flickr, click here.
Before making our way back to Canada we had a couple days to soak in the sun and rich history of Cartagena, both of which are nearly impossible to hide from. Our days here were some of the hottest in our entire trip, with the sun constantly beating down on us as we explored the city. Shade is definitely a premium here, with locals and tourists alike hopping from one sheltered sanctuary to the next.
Like in many of the cities we've visited, we quickly grew tired of the pushy street vendors hocking their wares (especially wide-brimmed hats for hiding from the sun), but were pleasantly surprised to find a clean, colourful and overall attractive city. Although we stayed in a hostel in the touristy area around Calle Media Luna (half-moon street), we spent most of our time exploring inside the old city walls.
One of the first things that we noticed about Cartagena was its history: completely surrounded by walls, the old city's narrow streets and scattered plazas are packed with colonial buildings and statues. Most of the attractions are within these walls, though some incredible views can be found if you're willing to brave the direct sunlight (and the hat vendors) and walk around atop the cannon-lined walls.
Looking for a bit of a break from the intense heat of Santa Marta and the Caribbean coast, we decided to head up into the tiny town of Minca, nestled away in the Sierra Nevada mountains (which include the highest tropical mountain in the world). After forty five minutes up a bumpy dirt road we found ourselves standing in the tiny main square of a quiet, two-street town with a couple of small restaurants, a tiny market and an internet cafe - this is our kind of place!
Minca is an up-and-coming eco-tourist destination, a great place to relax in the cooler mountain air while taking a break from the hours of hiking accessible from town. A great place for bird-watching, taking a dip in the local swimming holes, touring the nearby coffee plantation, or just walking for hours on the tiny dirt road that leads further up into the mountains from Minca. Minca's also a possible starting point for treks to the Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida) - I wish we'd known this before spending time in nasty Santa Marta (though we wouldn't have saved Charles, the dumpster kitten if we hadn't gone there).
Well, after our amazing and educational 5-day trek to La Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City), we decided it was time to do some intense relaxing. We didn't know where we were going to go next, but a quick look at my notebook (where I keep all my notes about places to stay from other travelers we meet along the way) gave us some ideas.
A friend named Shawn who we met in Ecuador in January had recommended a hostel called Rancho Relaxo, located just outside Tayrona National Park, an area that sounded amazing. We couldn't remember why he recommended it, but I had drawn two big stars beside the note so it must have been something good.
After our time in San Gil we were ready to head north to the Caribbean and spend some time lounging on a beach, but not before earning it. We arrived in Santa Marta early in the morning and settled into a hostel near the main market area. At first glance the city was pretty terrible: smelled of urine and rotting garbage mixed with thick black car exhaust, noisy vehicles, sketchy people, etc. I had no interest in walking around so after inquiring into “La Ciudad Perdida” (the Lost City) five-day trek through the jungle, I decided to relax and read a book for the rest of the day.
Santa Marta & DumPster Kitty
Andrew went to the bank machine and for a little walk around our area. I had expected him to take longer but after 10 or 15 minutes he barged into the room panicking, with something tucked away in his shirt. At first I thought it was a mouse or a small rat, Andrew just mumbled that he had found it screaming on a sidewalk and could barely explain that no one seemed to care and someone made fun of him for picking it up! It was a TINY kitten. Couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 days old, with eyes still closed and one of them swollen to half the size of its head. Its hair was thick with dirt and smelled like human urine! Our hearts broke and we didn’t know what to do. Feeling like this kitten urgently needed some food, we left the hostel in search of a veterinarian. It took us far too long to find one but we eventually did after wandering through nasty smelly sweaty streets and market stands. We bought a container of kitten milk powder that you just add water to and a syringe we could use to try and feed him. We hurried back to the hostel and sterilized the syringe. Using a damp towel I cleaned the kitten as best I could while Andrew mixed some milk. It took some time to convince the kitten to eat from the syringe, but with patience we got the job done.
The bus to San Gil was pretty terrible; seats were uncomfortable and didn’t lean back very far, it was a bit too cold (air conditioning!!), the seat belts didn’t work and the road was insane. For eight hours, overnight. I looked out the window at one point a few hours in and found myself looking down a steep mountainside and endless switch back roads going down. We were just getting tossed around all night, but I did manage to get a little sleep somehow. We got into San Gill pretty early and found a place to stay at Hostel El Dorado after turning down the first two. Favio, the twenty-something owner, told us about what there is to do in the area (anything you can think of, pretty much) and got us settled in.
The second Colombia game (against the Ivory Coast) was on that day so we went out to a store down the street near the main square to buy some Colombia jerseys, and joined the hundred and something other people from the area to watch the game on the big screen in the main square. It was very fun, and loud!
After defeating Greece 3-0 and a closer win over the Ivory Coast at 2-1, Colombia gears up today to play Japan. In Colombia, “gearing up” means…
Loving Colombia so far! We arrived in Bogotá after a 16 hour journey, flying from Buenos Aires through Lima (and staying overnight in the airport). We landed fairly early in the day and were settled into Hostel Sue Candeleria in the La Candelaria district (the more touristy and unfortunately more sketchy area). It was federal election day and the day after Colombia's first World Cup win (and subsequent celebratory rioting) so Bogotá was a bit rowdy. We asked a couple of military guys at the airport if it was safe to hang out in Bogotá during the election and how things were going, and they just said “todo tranquilo, hay muchas policías en las calles, esta muy seguro” (everything is good, there are many police in the streets, it is very safe) – that sounded pretty good so we decided to go for a little walk around.
We intended to try and get to Plaza Bolívar (the main square) but never made it that far because the police had put up barricades, likely to stop people from gathering in crowds. We just wandered around La Museo de Oro (the Gold Museum) listening to the street music, watching the vendors selling all kinds of delicious fried or sugar-coated snacks and, of course, giving trying some of them a try. I had a version of the delicious Alfajor from Argentina (Argentina's version is a bazillion times better) – this one was just some plain crispy wafers with a bunch of dulce de leche (thick caramel sauce) in between, mmmmm. I had eaten most of it but had maybe three or four bites left when a happy looking (possibly homeless) guy asked me for some money. Instead, I gave him the rest and he happily thanked me and wandered away, dancing and singing. Things seemed OK in the streets; there were several police and military people just hanging around and patrolling everywhere, with their massive guns at their sides. While some people may find that comforting, I found it unnerving.
Our last stop in Argentina before heading to the highly anticipated Colombia was Buenos Aires. We grabbed a colectivo from San Marcos Sierra to Córdoba and then a night bus to Buenos Aires. The bus was amazing - everyone basically had their own lazyboy chair, they played movies (though we listened to our Mysterious Universe podcast and an audiobook), served food and had blankets and pillows. Not too bad. We arrived in Buenos Aires in the morning and settled into our new home at Che Argentina Hostel in the San Telmo district. The reception guy at the hostel was very friendly and told us about places we should check out while we’re there. He advised that most places nearby were safe enough to walk around during the day, but that we should be very careful if carrying anything at all, like a camera. We took the advice but didn’t have that feeling at all while we were out. We took tons of photos and talked to people in the streets as they walked by. The people in Argentina are very open and friendly. We never had a sketchy vibe at all, but only later did we find out that Buenos Aires actually has one of the worst reputations for muggings in South America. Makes sense when you think about the messed up economy, I suppose.
Our next stop was to a small alternative town called San Marcos Sierra, about an hour drive north of Capilla del Monte. It was recommended to us by some friends, Rafi and Flor, who we met in while volunteering in Jinotega, Nicaragua.
It was pretty much what I was expecting: free-spirited happy people, artisan booths, jam sessions at night, people walking and biking around with accordions, guitars, colourful homemade clothing, delicious fresh-baked goods and fresh produce for sale. It was awesome!
When we checked into our hostel, which was basically a man named Hernan's house with some extra rooms, we asked for the key and Hernan looked at us in a funny way and told us that they don't lock anything in this town. "No one has even been robbed and it's just not that kind of place. Our town is built on trust." So, hesitantly at first, we accepted this and unpacked our stuff.
We weren't sure how long we would stay at first but it ended up to be about a week in total. We wandered around the town on the first day and checked out one of the many honey farms, "El Arbol", which was really interesting. In their storefront they had something like a dozen different types of honey available, all of different colour, consistency, and flavour. Did you know that the honey produced depends on the type of plant that's currently in bloom? This place times their harvests so that they can isolate the properties of a given set of plants - neat-o! We got to sample each of the flavours and bought a couple tiny jars to enjoy later.