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Blog Archives: Entries for 2012

Colombia and Ecuador

My last few days in Colombia were spent travelling on buses from one large city to another, stopping a night in a hostel and continuing the journey. After leaving my wonderful American friends Katie and Nathan in Manizales, I headed first to Cali and then on to Popayan. I met a German guy and a girl from Switzerland. We went out for dinner and worked our way through the dense crowds and heavy traffic in Popayan’s small, busy centre. We crossed the main square and eventually found a local small restaurant where we had a meal which included soup, chicken, rice, black beans, fried banana and a local juice named Lulo, for the amazing price of 3,000 pesos, approximately EURO 1!

Early the next morning, after listening to more rain storms, I took the bus further south to the city of Pasto. I stayed one night in a nice inexpensive guesthouse where I was attended to by a lovely guy in his early 50s. It was here that I discovered my final problem of the trip – no entry stamp into Colombia! I was now heading to Ecuador, my final destination before returning to Europe for Xmas. I visited an immigration office in Pasto the following morning, but they told me to go to the border and see what might happen. I explained that things were complicated on the border in Cucuta, on the border with Venezuela, and I must have been driven passed the Colombian immigration by the taxi driver. Nevertheless, nothing could be done in Pasto, so I headed to Colombia’s most southern town and from there, jumped in a shared taxi to the border. Again, there were further complications. The taxi driver once again drove me passed Colombian immigration and I found myself on the Ecuadorian border. A lady in the immigration office told me I required an exit stamp out of Colombia and told me to re-cross a small bridge, get my exit stamp and return to obtain my entry stamp into Ecuador. At this point, I was technically in no country! I was in no man’s land between Colombia and Ecuador, having no entry stamp for either country. I walked over the bridge and eventually found someone to show me to the Colombian immigration. Luckily, I met an American guy who was entering Colombia. He spoke good Spanish and helped me explain the situation. After some negotiation, which included me explaining I had an exit stamp out of Venezuela, thus showing the date I must have entered Colombia and in addition my flight info from Ecuador to Europe. This helped solve the problem. I guess they just wanted to be rid of me so gave me an entry stamp into Colombia, told me to wait 20 minutes and then return to get my exit stamp out of Colombia. The entry stamp could have cost me $300 but I was lucky and wasn’t charged. Thus about one hour after arriving at the Colombian border, I was permitted to leave Colombia and get my entry stamp into Ecuador – my 81st country, and the last country to visit in all of South America.

Once across the border, I took a taxi to the main bus terminal of the town of Tulcan and a five hour bus to Quito, Ecuador’s capital – high in the Andes mountains.

I spent two days in Quito and stayed with a charming American couple, Julia and Josh from the US. They were teaching English to pre-college students. They’d been in Ecuador nearly a year and were just finishing up before hopefully heading to a new country. They were friends of friends and were great fun and gave me good directions for places to visit in Quito.

I spent a day wondering the main squares, such as Plaza Grande and Plaza de San Francisco, and also ventured into a few churches; most notably the church of Companions with its gold columns and décor and the church of San Francisco – Quito’s oldest and largest. I wandered up and down the hills along the old narrow streets absorbing the heavy traffic and busy pedestrians as they went about their daily activities.

On my second and final day, I visited the main market before taking the Teleferico (cable car) up one of Quito’s mountains for some fresh air and an impression of the vistas surrounding Quito. The ride up to the mountain was blissful and once up there, I breathed in deeply lungs full of thin clean air. It was delightful. I walked around a small platform that gave views of the surrounding mountain peaks before discovering a small trail and followed it. I met a lady from Venezuela and she helped me ascend some natural rock steps to another view point. I took some more photos, retraced my steps to the only café, had a couple of empanadas, a kind of pastry snack containing anything from chicken, beef or cheese, before taking the cable car back to downtown Quito. I later took a taxi back to where I was staying, collected my only backpack and took another taxi to the nearby international airport where I awaited my long haul flight to Amsterdam. Some 20 hours later, I arrived back in London, where I spent a night with a friend before returning to Devon.

So another journey has ended and five new and vastly different countries have been explored.

What a trip; from the rainforest of Surinam and French Guiana with its spider’s webs, wild trees and sloths to Venezuela with its hike to amazing Angel Falls, the World’s highest waterfall, Coro with its colonial Spanish history to Merida high in the Andes with a cooler climate and a more lively atmosphere. Then there was Colombia with its live music and friendly smiling people and variety of cities and towns. San Gil, with its tight narrow and steep streets where I did my 14th bungee jump to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast with its humidity and soft sand and collection of various beaches to charm one and all. Cartagena was the highlight in Colombia, despite its high prices and to many tourists. The history, the food, the kindness of many of its locals and, of course, the music of Café Havana and Colombia Caribbean are what made this magnificent old city worth three days. The mud volcano is a must if you like adventure and new and different experiences and Cartagena’s walls, squares and huge harbour create an atmosphere all of their own.

Guatpe is another unique location in Colombia’s complement of places to visit. Houses with various colours throughout its stonework and carved flowers, animals and people are a blind person’s paradise. The rock of Guatape is a must for any adventurer.

Also the city of Manizales with its students, steep streets and distant mountains, coffee farms and hot springs.

Ecuador was visited only briefly, but the people make me want to return and explore more.

So, I’ve now visited every country on the continent of South America – what an achievement – what a continent!!!

Tonythetraveller

Poem

Y travelling is great.

Travelling is great because it changes people’s minds and perceptions. Many people think negatively about sharing a room with one or more strangers. They worry about how many of their items may get stolen, instead of thinking positively and wondering how many friends they might make or what new cultures they might discover.

Meeting new people and learning about different cultures and languages is exciting, not frightening. This is why travelling is great. Through meeting new and different people and learning about alternative cultures, it allows us as individuals to also learn and become hopefully better people. Travelling can be positive not negative. Bad things can happen on the road, so also can good experiences be had. The aim of the game is to have a positive outlook, thus increasing the chance of more positive experiences. This is what makes travelling so fantastic.

14th bungee jump!

Today I have just done my 14th bungee jump! and before that I did a paraglide. The travels of Tony are certainly becoming exciting!!

I am now in San Gil, central north Colombia, after taking three taxis and three buses on a 22 hour long journey from Merida, Venezuela in the Andes to Colombia. I arrived around 5.30 this morning and have since bungee jumped off a small bridge over the Fonce River. A forty metre (120 foot) jump after taking a zip wire to the bungee platform. Hopefully photos will come soon.

Before my crazy journey to Colombia, my 80th country, I went paragliding in the Andes near Merida. It was fantastic. Swooping like a bird over a valley canyon with the mountains of Bolivar, Lion and the other huge peaks around me. Half an hour of peaceful gliding with an instructor and just a parachute between us. Then it was back down to earth with a bump and back to the city of chaotic traffic and honking horns for more empanadas. I am off to Santa Marta, north Colombia next.

Travels

I’m now in Mérida, in the Andes, still in Venezuela. I arrived this morning, 28th November.

Now, where did I leave my last travel story… I was in Guyana, I think. Georgetown, British Guyana’s capital is a nice enough city, very hot and dry in the day. It is on the coast and it’s possible to walk through the city passing all the historical and government building as you lazily stroll down to the sea wall. Many locals will stop you along the way and ask how you are, your name and where you are going. I made it to the sea wall as dusk was settling. A lovely breeze emanates and it almost feels cold as darkness falls. I ate two hot dogs from a nearby stand and chatted with locals. A taxi dropped me at the place I was staying sometime later.

The next morning, a Brazilian couple who were also spending the night with my couch surfing friend, took me to the botanic gardens at the lovely time of 6 am! It was cool and the birds began their usual early morning calls. We later had breakfast, fish and banana chips! Before going our separate ways.

I hired a taxi to take me to the most interesting places in the city, as it was easier than trying to find them by minibus, especially as it was hot and I had little time. Georgetown has the National Commission of the Disabled, a place where disabled people can go to socialise, use a computer with speech software, and get general help and support. I headed there, checked my emails and organised a night bus to Annai and the lodge in the middle of Guyana.

Annai is an Amerindian village in the middle of Guyana. It’s possible to fly there from Georgetown or Lethem, a town on the border with Brazil. Or there’s the night minibus which takes a bumpy 13 or so hours with a river crossing on a ferry included!

I stayed at Rock View Lodge as the guest of Colin Edwards and his wonderful family.  Rock View is an eco-lodge in the interior of Guyana. They promote eco-tourism, mainly bird watching, nature walks and cultural activities. It’s all run and organised by Amerindians, and maintains a fine balance between local culture and nature, combined with individual and small group nature tourism.  It is about maintaining and improving the natural environment for everyone to enjoy. 

I spent three lovely days there. I walked a nature trail with the help of Gabriel, a lovely Amerindian guide and knowledgeable local bird expert, and Stuart, Colin´s youngest of seven children. The trail is comprised of rough rocks and stones cut into a hill. There are wooden hand rails in places. It’s a steep climb and best done before sunrise because of the heat! Once at the top, a large plateau gives views of the spiralling savannah and Annai Village below. I heard a couple of turkey vultures. After a brief rest we headed down: I later relaxed in a hammock.

My second day was spent swimming in the outdoor pool, shaped in a figure of eight, hearing cashew nuts roast local style: a large fire is created for the roasting of many nuts. Colin later took me up on the hill for a peaceful walk and climb. He took photos of me overlooking the lodge.  I even got a group photo of me with all the local ladies who work at Rock View. I was looked after by the family and staff magnificently and cannot thank them enough. Waking at 6 am each morning and listening to the many different bird sounds while drinking cashew, mango or Jamun juice is a treat to behold.  The peace and quiet and gentleness of the place is a kind of paradise, if only for a while. A traveller like me needs to be moving, talking with people, seeking new challenges. But I must say visiting Rock View as Colin´s guest was a privilege and pleasure that will live long in the memory.

After Annai it was a quick stop in Lethem to say hello to the Catholic priest and a guy from the Philippines I´d met on the night bus to Annai. The priest arrived later, but my friend was there and showed me around. I got to touch some interesting trees and fruit. They later took me to the Brazilian border and I headed to Boa Vista on an afternoon bus. Two hours later, Kyuruy, the guy I was to couch surf with collected me from the bus station. He spoke little English and I almost no Portuguese, but with use of a language translator on a computer in an internet café, we managed to communicate. Kyuruy is a lovely, kind and interesting Brazilian, a wonderful host. He showed me some of his city and introduced me to one of his sisters and his brother.  Two days later with assistance from Kyuruy, I headed to Venezuela and Ciudad Bolivar to embark on my adventure to Angel Falls.

I left Boa Vista, Brazil at around 10 am in a shared taxi and arrived in Ciudad Bolivar via Santa Elena around 2.00 am the next morning, let’s just say it was a long bus journey! Once at the guesthouse, Posada Don Carlos, I headed straight to bed only to re-awake around 7 am the same morning to fly to Canaima National Park. The flight took around 90 minutes in a tiny plane. Once at Canaima, I was greeted by my private guide George. He looked after me for the two night and three day tour and was fantastic. He made sure I got food, information and was safe at all times.

On the first afternoon we went to a lagoon where I heard several waterfalls. We later took a motorised canoe to an island and walked to one of the falls named Hacha Falls or Chapple Falls. Here I changed from boots to flip flops and climbed up many rock steps and went behind the curtain of water into the fall itself, naturally, I had help from George. It was amazing, the sound of water hitting rocks was like thunder! I got a shower of water, which sent a cool icy shiver down my back, after the heat of the savannah. The rocks were slippery and some were sharp. We walked all the way across the waterfall and back again, it was a real thrill.

The next day we began the long motorised canoe trip to Angel Falls. The 40-strong group were divided into two canoes and later into four smaller ones. It is the dry season and the rivers are very low. The boat continuously became stuck on the river bottom and the passengers had to push the boat through. I sat in the middle and tried not to get too sun burnt or wet and held on. It took six hours, but we finally made it, and as we approached our landing spot, Angel Falls appeared in front of us, towering above like a silent image.

We landed, had the perpetual lunch, and then the fun began! I had to cross a rocky beach, wade through a knee deep river onto another bank of stones and rocks, and then we started the rocky ascent through thick forest. George guided me as I tripped and stumbled over rocks, stones, tree roots and branches. I slipped and slid my way slowly, sweating, up 750 metres painstakingly to the viewpoint of Angel Falls. The group made it there and back within 3 hours! It took me three hours just to reach the view point. Once there, I rested and listened to Angel Falls as it simmered and rumbled 50 metres beyond my reach. The rise and fall of the wind shifted the sound of the falls, and to me it resembled the sound of the sea on rocks, but distant. It was a privilege to be there and without any other tourists: I was extremely lucky. The descent was even harder going, and by the end, my toes were very battered and bruised. I was knackered. It was dark by the time George and I were half way down. When we re-crossed the river some five hours after beginning, it was more than half deep.  As I entered camp, I was greeted by a round of applause! It was like we had returned from the moon or something!!

Soon I head to Colombia and the last three weeks of my trip in South America, what a continent. The people are so kind and helpful.

Thrills and spills!

I’ve just done my 13th bungee Jump! Sunday 7th October, off the Transporter bridge, Middlesbrough, northeast England. I jumpt with UK Bungee Club and it was great fun! 160 feet, 50 metres! I stood on the edge and the energy flowed through me then I jumpt – electric! My first bungee in 4 years and I can’t wait to do something else similar. The more adrenalyn the better! See photos on my facebook Next off to Berlin. Happy travels to all. Tonythetraveller