Colombia

Not just Narcos

It is fair to say that Colombia has had its share of troubles and still has a reputation, but we loved it there! It was definitely one of our favourite South American countries, probably because we weren’t expecting to love it.

We flew from Quito and landed in a very rainy Bogotá and decided to channel our Britishness and take refuge in the BBC – the Bogotá Beer Company, a lovely microbrewery. Whilst in Bogotá we were stopped by a couple of policemen who wanted to tell us about the Police Museum. This was a fascinating find and we were glad we discovered it. If only for the joy of this picture.

Joey at the Police Museum in Bogota

We also spent a few hours doing the Graffiti walking tour. It was nice to do a walking tour with a difference and the guys running it were brilliantly, we were lucky enough to have Crisp as our guide. Graffiti in Bogotá is a grey area, being neither legal nor illegal – basically you should be fine as long as you don’t get caught. The street art is probably on a par with that found in Valparaiso.

Graffiti in Bogota

From Bogotá we headed up to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast and found that we’d accidentally booked ourselves into a guesthouse doubling as a brothel! At this point I was pretty innocent and it didn’t really occur to me why there were lots of women hanging around and taking incredibly frequent showers. I mean it was hot but not that hot…

Cartagena has some amazing city walls where you can view a gorgeous sunset.

Sunset at the Cartagena City Walls

I was still hobbling around with a painful knee following my fall in Banos, but we booked ourselves onto a bus to Tayrona national park, a jungle beach. This involved a 5am start, made even harder thanks to our brothel pumping out dance music until, well they didn’t actually stop. The lovely ladies were still hanging around when we left.

To get to Tayrona you catch a bus which drops you at the entrance. We booked this through a friendly hostel and not our brothel. From there you have several options about where you can stay. We opted to trek all the way through the jungle to the furthest campsite. You can either rent a tent or a hammock. We opted for the tent option. That is all you get so be sure to take a pillow, sleeping bag liner etc. We didn’t take any of that so I had to use my pashmina as a cover and my hoodie as a pillow. There are limited lockers to store your belongings, so don’t take too much, and bring a padlock. We took one rucksack between us and stored our other one at a the helpful hostel in Cartagena. We had originally planned to stay 2 nights and actually ended up staying 4 so do ensure that you bring enough food / cash with you as there are no ATMs there. There is a small restaurant/ shop where we camped which did take a card at a cost so we used the opportunity to stock up on cans of tuna and beers (obviously) and rationed ourselves the rest of the time to ensure that we had enough money to stay as long as we wanted. Once at Tayrona there are various walks you can do, otherwise it’s just a place to chill on the beach. Most of the beaches aren’t advisable to swim in due to strong currents.

Person-like tree trunk in Tayrona
Palm trees and a glorious sunset – all my favourite things

We caught a bus back to Santa Marta and found somewhere to crash for the night (a bed! A shower!) before heading back to Cartagena and onto Medellín.

All of the hobbling around and walking in Tayrona had not done what I wanted and walked off my knee injury so Joey and I decided that perhaps we should use the travel insurance we’d purchased and head to a hospital for further examination.

As mentioned our Spanish is very limited and none of the staff at this hospital spoke any English so explaining and receiving treatment was interesting, thank goodness for sign language and Joey’s acting abilities. After an x-ray and an injection in the bum I was sent on my way with a prescription. We caught the metro back to our hostel where thanks to said injection it was my time to be bent double in pain. A lovely old lady offered me her seat but thanks to the location of the injection there was no way I could sit down. I tried my best, again through the medium of sign language to explain this. And of course I’d never deprive a little old lady of her seat! We stopped in the pharmacy to collect my (incredibly cheap) prescription which turned out to be liquid tramadol! I was in a lot of pain and I wouldn’t actively encourage the use of this drug but it knocked me out for many hours and allowed the injection and anti inflammatories chance to work.

Once I had come round we had chance to explore Medellín, a city rather infamous for Pablo Escobar and was once known as the world’s most murderous city. Thankfully it is a very different story these days and is instead famous for a stunning and expansive Christmas light display each year. The city square is also full of Fernando Botero statues which are incredibly humorous. There is also a rather cool cable car system.

After Medellín we shot back to Bogotá for a night, which coincided with Joey’s birthday, before flying down to Patagonia. Our original plan had been to travel through Venezuela and catch a boat through the Amazon into Brazil, but the political situation in Venezuela at the time meant that this was not advisable. We also had to be in Rio in mid January as one of my friends was flying out to meet us for a holiday so we flexed our plans and spent the night of Christmas Eve flying to Buenos Aires for a connecting flight.

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