Friday, 30 January 2009

Cartagena and Playa Blanca

We arrived in the mid-morning furnace heat of Cartagena De Indias and unfortunately, due a small bus mishap, had to carry our backpacks for a mile or so to our hostel in the Getsemani district of the old town! Cartagena is a beautiful walled city with lots of Spanish architecture and it sits right on the Caribbean coast. We spent a nice few days strolling around the old town soaking up the atmosphere.One day we took a trip out to visit a mud volcano called Totumo. The volcano is only 20 metres high and the small crater at the top is filled with warm mud heated by gases below! It´s a really strange sensation as you step in and feel really buoyant! Any attempt to try and swim seems futile and you have to rely on some poor chap who works in there to push you in to position! After a brief massage you then step out to let the mud dry on you which doesn´t take long in 40 degree heat before climbing down to the lagoon next door to clean all the mud off.
After a few days of being in the beautiful but hot oven of Cartagena, it was time to head to what is said to be Colombia´s nicest beach Playa Blanca. The journey there is quite interesting as it requires a 45 minute local bus ride, 5 mins over a canal on a canoe then 20 mins on the back of a motorbike which delivers you direct to the beach!As we stepped on to the white sand though we realised it had definitely been worth it - finally we were on a `honeymoon beach´! The beach is of the classic Caribbean style (warm crystal clear water, palm trees etc!) and the accommodation for our two night stay was in hammocks right on the beach! It was an excellent few days and after another night in Cartagena tonight we´re off up the coast to a place called Taganga for more of the same. Really disappointed to be missing all that snow.........

Love to all.

Jo and Al x

Monday, 26 January 2009

Cali, Salento and Medellin

We travelled up to the north of Ecuador and spent a couple of days in Atacames, Ecuador`s very own Blackpool! Then we flew from Esmeraldas into Cali for our first taste of Colombia. Cali is a bustling city and is supposedly the plastic surgery capital of the world, and after strolling round the city for a while we think we can safely say this title is deserved! We visited Cali zoo which was quite good as far as zoos go although after seeing so many different animals in the wild in Galapagos it was a little tame!From Cali we travelled to the coffee region, or the Zona Cafetera, to a beautiful little town called Salento. The countryside is so green and lush, not unlike good old Britain, although the massive wax palm trees are a constant reminder we haven´t accidentally ended up in Wales! We stayed in a lovely hostel called The Plantation House owned by an English guy and his Colombian wife. It used to be a coffee finca and is set on the top of a hill at the side of town with incredible views (especially from the hammocks at the bottom of the garden!). He also recently bought a coffee farm down the lane that we visited which again is stunning. One of the benefits to staying in the hostals here is free great coffee available 24/7, although having consumed about a gallon between us on our first day and not getting a great deal of sleep we learned to moderate our intake! We took one of the local jeeps (that take the place of buses in this rural area!) out to the Valle de Cocora and did a lovely hike (if a little muddy!) up to a place called Acaime.There`s a simple little cafe set in the cloud forest and there are hundreds of different coloured hummingbirds constantly buzzing around.
On our final night the owner asked if we were going to head into town to play `Tejo´. He explained that it was like boule or petanque but things are made more interesting by the addition of little paper triangle targets that are filled with gunpowder! Hearing this we decided we needed to try it out, the added bonus being it´s free to play as long as you buy some beer! We walked down to the Tejo bar with a couple we´d met a few minutes previously (hello Siobhan and Anthony!) who were also filled with intrigue to find the owner only too willing to show us the ropes (and ply us with beer!). The game is great fun (even better when you modify it by adding a few more triangle targets to make bigger explosions!) and makes me think that the French really need to re-write the rules of petanque!
We then bussed it from Salento up to the once infamous city of Medellin where we stayed last night on our way up to the Caribbean coast (and a few weeks of lazing around in the sunshine!). From the little we´ve seen of Medellin it´s no longer the danger zone it once was and everyone we´ve met seems really welcoming and friendly. In fact Colombia as a whole has, so far, been so welcoming and great to travel round!

Keep on keeping in touch!

Lots of love,

Jo and Al x x

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Rafting in Banos

Just a few rafting pics.. can spot us amongst the rapids? Al is at the front with a blue helmet and I´m sensibly it the back in yellow.
It was excellent!!!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

More pics from the Galapagos

We were about the only two people on the trip who hadn´t invested in some kind of underwater camera techonology. However the kind people who had have sent us some of their pics (thanks Ronit and Kelly!).

Monday, 12 January 2009

Quito, Banos and Riobamba

We spent a few days in Quito visiting various places recommended to us (thanks Sal, love the Magic Bean Cafe!). We did plenty of walking around the older and newer parts of the city. However we did go against her advice to visit the Mitad Del Mundo museum that marks the Equator, although it´s about 200 metres off the real line!It was a pretty bad museum but has to be done for the photos! We also visited a better museum next door that is apparently on the actual equator and randomly bumped into some friends from our Galapagos trip (Ed, Lynne and Andrew!). Here we had some demonstrations of water running out of a bowl both clockwise and anti-clockwise depending which side of the equator the bowl was placed.Our friends kindly gave us a lift back into Quito and we stopped on the way back to go up in a cable car that climbs up to the top of a mountain giving amazing views of the city.They also very kindly took pity on us as we were having credit card issues and took us out for a meal in the evening (thank you so so much!).

We then left Quito and travelled down to Banos. The Foreign Office website actually advises against all travel to Banos due to the fact of very active volcano that sits next door to it, however this had the benefit of making accommodation pretty cheap! From here we hired a little buggy and had a hair raising drive down the Ruta de Cascadas (Road of Waterfalls, yes our spanish is coming along nicely....)) to visit the Pailon del Diablo, an impressive, massive waterfall!The journey was made slightly more hair raising when Jo attempted a 3 point turn in the end of a tunnel on a bend, after this she was relegated to passenger/navigator duties, but this didn´t make for any more of a safe journey as she made repeated efforts to grab the steering wheel and plenty of shouting about my flawless driving.....(Jo is daring me to make some comparison with her Mum here, but I´ll refrain...) We could actually climb (following an impromptu bit of caving!) up so we could stand behind the water as it came thundering past which was amazing.

We also decided to do our rafting wedding gift (thanks to Dan and Cecilia!) here on the Rio Pastaza as opposed to Tena as we probably won´t be visiting there. It was the first time that either of us had done it and it was excellent! The rapids were grade III-IV although this doesn´t mean a great deal to us, it was pretty hairy though! We managed to make it to the bottom intact anyway which is the main thing!

We also did a night trip up to try and see the volcano from the other side of the valley, however we didn´t see it for long as some thick clouds rolled in! We visited some thermal springs too where you can alternate between standing underneath a freezing waterfall and lounging in a 45 degree pool!

After a few more days relaxing (well as relaxed as you can be next to a volcano!) in Banos we left to do the Devil´s Nose train ride from Riobamba. Riobamba wasn´t particularly nice and we stayed in what we rated as the worst hostel yet, however there was a dancing parade that passed under our window so it wasn´t all bad.Unfortunately the train that makes the precarious journey clinging to cliff edges was broken so we had to get another bus further down the line to a place called Aloisi. From here we could take a funny little one carriage tourist train down the most scenic part of the route, made more fun by the fact that you can sit on the roof!

Next came decision time, either to continue south to Cuenca or to re-route to the coast. We´d decided that we´d done plenty of altitude city tours and more beach time was in order so the coast won. We´re now back in Montanita and are going to continue heading north up the coast. Then we fly into Colombia which wasn´t part of our original semi-plan but we keep hearing how excellent it is so we thought we better try it out.

Missing you all.

Lots of love,

Jo and Al x x

Friday, 2 January 2009

Christmas and New Year in the Galapagos Islands

We spent what turned out to be a rather disappointing evening in Guayaquil on Christmas Eve. We thought we´d go out to Las Penas (pleasant and colourful part of the city) for a nice meal only to find that all restaurants seemed to be closed for the night. We strolled back into the centre of town to find that the only eating establishment left open was a KFC!

We were up nice and early on Christmas morning to catch our flight to the Galapagos and landed over there in gorgeous sunshine and 25 degree heat, and met up with our guide Sergio and our fellow cruisers. We were staying on a big, spacious motorboat called Darwin which slept 16 passengers (we even had private bathrooms!) and we joined this on the island of Baltra. After boarding we were served a nice big Christmas lunch .However, just as we were finishing the mains there was a loud knock followed by the sound of glass smashing and I turned to see Jo clutching her head in pain. A glass light fitting had fallen from the ceiling of the boat and had caught her right on the head (fortunately it had smashed on hitting the floor rather than her head). She´s a pretty tough girl though so there was no fainting but unfortunately quite a bit of blood appeared and it was apparent that we´d have to go to hospital to get it checked out. By this time we´d set sail so we had to be dropped off at the nearest port right at the northern end of the main island of Santa Cruz where a taxi took us down to the main town at the southern end, Puerto Ayora.

The hospital was a pretty basic but clean and efficient affair (I carefully watched to ensure all products were sterile and that aseptic technique was adhered to!), and the Doctor decided that Jo would need a couple of stitches. So after a bit more discomfort for Jo we left to rejoin the Darwin with Jo a bit light headed but determined to still make the most of the trip. Unfortunately the Doctor had advised us that Jo should not snorkel which was something approaching disastrous when that´s one of the main daytime activities on a cruise. However after being a compliant patient for a whole one day, suffering watching everyone go off snorkeling, we had to try and come up with a way to mean Jo could get in the water but keep her head dry. The best option was a small duty-free carrier bag which just squeezed over Jo´s head, with the added bonus of a borrowed wetsuit hat! The end result had Jo looking like an elite fighter in the SBS but it was remarkably good at keeping her head nice and dry.
So on we went to enjoy what was an absolutely incredible trip, visiting 11 of the islands. We saw blue-footed boobies doing their courting dance, were followed by a troop of prehistoric looking frigate birds wherever we sailed, came face to face with land and marine iguanas, giant tortoises, penguins, snorkeled with loads of sea lions, fur seals, white-tipped sharks, rays (manta, sting and eagle!), angel fish, parrot fish, sea turtles. Not to mention volcanic scenery, lava fields and tunnels! Rather than bang on about that and every detail of our trip, here are a few photo´s that tell the story!

Our final night on board was New Years Eve and we decided to introduce everyone to Sally Macs game (a type of charade´s taught to us by Janine). It went down a treat and didn´t end in a heated argument as has previously been the case! Stupidly Jo and I had mentioned our wedding dance to our fellow passengers during the cruise and this came back to bite us when we were coerced into doing a (really poor!) rendition on the boat just after midnight!

We´re now in Quito and are quite gutted that the trip is over. However still 83 days to go so it´s not all bad (as I write this I realise that most will be suffering from New Year depression heading back to work in a cold, wet England so we don´t have any right to moan! You can always come and join us in Brazil for Carnaval!!).

A very Happy 2009 to you all.

Lots of love from
Jo and Al x x x x x