Monday, 7 April 2008

Last stop. Colombia.

I started to write this post last week.

In the past two weeks, it feels as though we have done so much, felt so much, that in a weird way it now feels like it was a really long time ago. Sitting here now, in Lima, having parted with Mandi yesterday as she flew to Costa Rica, all I can feel now are those feelings and contemplations that you inevitably feel at the end of any big trip.

But I will try to ignore that headspace and focus myself back to Colombia, Cartagena, Santa Marta and Tayrona. So get your bearings with the map below, and I shall paint you a picture.

Right then. Colombia, well known for its coffee, the white stuff and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Till we agreed to meet Phil there, it hadnt been part of our original travel plan. We had heard too many scare stories about how unsafe it was there (mostly from people who hadnt been before), so, being sensible female travellers, we ignored the place.
However, as we travelled, we met so many people who had just come from Colombia, and every single person raved about it. It is one of the countries in South America which hasnt been totally run over by tourism, so has a more raw feel to the place. When we knew Phil and Annabelle would be able to meet us in Cartagena, we decided to change our plans. Mandi hadnt seen Phil in 5 years, and quite frankly, I felt alot safer travelling with a guy in Colombia. (As a female traveller, you become acutely aware of your vulnerability. This would be a nice change.)
So in our time in that intruiging country, we passed through the historical town of Cartagena, the slightly odd Santa Marta and the stunningly breathtaking Tayrona National Park.
For me, Cartagena was just gorgeous. I had already filled my head with all sorts of visuals of it, from reading too much G.G.Marquez and Isabelle Allende, and for me the place didnt disspoint. The old colonial town is surrounded by fortress walls, and is now the well preserved posh part of town, filled with beautiful little plazas, colonial houses with huge balconies overflowing with flowers and plants. It is postcard perfect. The heat of the sun brings out the best in everyone, the women are dressed up all sexy and the men dont bother with shirts, we were in the Carribbean now! And we felt good!
We didnt stay in the posh part, but we got a great hotel in Getsemani, a bit of a rougher Barrio, but still beautiful in its decayed sort of way. It was how I imagined Cuba to be. Stuck in time gone by. It was here, In Cafe Havana, that we absorbed the energy of the place, it was in this very cool bar that we got a taste of how the Colombians party. Let me tell you , EVERY Colombian in that place could dance and was dancing, to the brilliant live band that was playing. We were on the dancefloor till the place closed, we Salsa-d our asses off. Beautiful locals, young and old, a handful of travellers and everyone in between packed that dancefloor out. SO much fun.
Aside from the partying, Cartagena felt like a place which had alot to discover, alot to uncover. If it wasnt for the fact that the Spanish here sounded so different, and was so much harder to understand, I would have considered taking classes here.
We then moved onto Santa Marta, the 4 of us, and from here I decided to head into Tayrona National Park and spend some quality time on the Carribean beaches there, while the others headed into the Jungle, to trek for 5 days up to Ciudad Perdida, the ancient settlement.
With only 2 weeks left of my trip till the chill of London hit me again, I didnt revel in the thought of dealing with Jungle humidity, giant mosquitos, snakes, spiders and leeches, or not being able to wash for 5 days. Just didnt quite appeal...
It worked out perfectly, I rested, they trekked, and had a brilliant time all round. I posted some pics up in an earlier post of us all together...I think they speak for themselves!
Once Phil, Mandi and Annabelle returned from the trek, we had a quality day together in Tyrona, before Phil headed back to Mexico, Annabelle to Bogota to fly home and the two of us back to Cartagena. There, we decided to just stay put, allow the heat of the place to relax us, and start to prepare for the end of the trip.
Together in the last days, we talked over everywhere we had been. The people we had met. The laughs and tears we had shared, the jokes and arguments that taught us so much more about each other. All the things that reaffirmed our friendship. We were amazed at the things we had seen together. Colombia, such a different vibe from the other countries, was a brilliant place to end our trip together on. In a way, its hard to do it justice in a post like this. In fact, its hard to do justice to any of this trip in this blog, despite my efforts. Trying to capture the essence of a place in words, with words that do it justice, is better left to great novelists. I hope I have managed to give you a vague idea! Maybe I be able to think about the experiences more clearly, and with more accuracy, when I recall them, back in London.
For now, its the end. No more South America. (Till I return, which I will!)
Today I drink my last Pisco Sour, eat my last Ceviche, feel the last few rays of the Peruvian sunshine on my back and speak my last few lines of Spanish. For now.
It been an amazing journey, but tomorrow, I go home.
Back to where the heart is.

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