How does an ant eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Big problems are composed of smaller, albeit interconnected, problems. Solving the smaller problems will have an implication on the larger problems.

26 August 2009

Cartagena and Taganga

We finally got into Cartagena around noon after the 14-hour ride - in an ice box, may I add. Cartagena is an amazing city where the book and movie “Love in the time of Cholera” takes place. We had a crazy taxi driver who talked a million miles an hour and didn’t pronounce all of his consonants - he was very difficult for me to understand, but sure had some hilarious stories! We laughed most of the 20-minute taxi ride with him.
We stayed right in the heart of the colonial district in Cartagena, which was absolutely magnificent. The city has such a romantic atmosphere and contains some buildings that are hundreds of years old. We took a stroll through the old colonial streets where the Scarlett and I took advantage of the shopping vendors and bought some clothes and paintings. Scott took advantage of the Botero paintings being sold by a lady at a little coffee shop and bought the Mona Lisa, which is a depiction of her as if she were about 50 pounds heavier - perfect for Scott's mantle :) We had an amazing dinner that night, which was WAY too cheap for how yummy it was! We ended the night at a nice little cafe for dessert, which was beyond words!

The next morning we went on a tour to a small volcano, Volcano de Lodo el Totumo, which is filled with warm, gray mud and is located about 40 minutes outside of the city. We spent a decent amount of time drifting into a hippo-like state in the mud and got some nice mud massages. Being in the muddy area was the weirdest sensation! It felt like walking in pudding, but we couldn’t feel the bottom or even sink, and if you could get your legs down at all, it was thinner, slimier and a bit rockier - aka kinda gross! I chose to just skim along the top, which is about all we could do anyway. The volcano was so full of people that it was hard to get around, but definitely worth the experience!
After our mud bath, they send you to wash off in the lake next to the volcano. One word - NASTY! I'm sorry but having the three of us all with our master's degree in public health, all any of us could think about were all the water-borne diseases that were making their way into our bodies (which later, I did find a nasty red worm in my bathing suit and about lost it!). I'm sure we were quite comical for any of those around us though. As the old women from the community had us remove our bathing suits and washed us down, all Scarlett and I could do was look at each other and continue to say, "Keep your legs shut, keep your legs shut! All the nasty ones make their way up the urethra!" haha See what I am saying? Entertaining, I'm sure!
We then got back in the bus to leave, but unfortunately we didn't make our way anywhere too quickly. Our bus driver backed into a car. We ended up spending about an hour waiting as they fixed the situation. After which, we went to the beach and swam while they fixed a fish lunch for us.
A little more info about the volcano and why it is the way it is: Rising 15 metres from the ground like an oversized anthill, El Totumo is a classic example of a messy mud volcano that has been created by natural gases emitted by decaying organic matter underground. As the mud is pushed upwards by the gas, it deposits and hardens above ground. As more mud oozes out and spills over the edge, it grows in size and gradually forms what you can see today - a miniature volcano with a rich, creamy mud crater at the top.

After cleaning up, which took quite some time (and I'm pretty sure Scott still had mud coming out of his ears the rest of the trip), we went to a church up on a hill overlooking the city. This church took the place of where the Indians used to worship a goat. It was a beautiful view of Cartagena's new and old city. I also got to hold the CUTEST little sloth ever! Now, I know what you all may be thinking - GROSS!! Had I known what I know now about sloths, I would not have held him. Period. However, he was so cute and cuddly and I do have to say that Scarlett and I, despite the fact that moths lay their eggs in sloths fur and they are one of the dirtiest animals on the planet, we still want a sloth farm! Scarlett has a picture with the same sloth from last time she visited Cartagena a few years ago and I always found him adorable whenever I looked at the picture on her desktop. We will keep our sloths on our farm nice and clean though :) And yes, I'd take one of these suckers ANY day over a dog!!

We didn't get to see much else since it was a Sunday evening and everything was closed. However, after strolling around the city for a bit - watched the sunset at the beach and checked out the old slave-holding area, which have been converted into little shops - we ate at the fanciest Italian restaurant, which had fantastic food and great atmosphere instead. We ate by candlelight...awe how romantic! haha It was excellent and only $10. After dinner, we went for dessert in the town square on cobblestone streets surrounded by lanterns. Two guys played guitars and serenaded a couple by us and then a group of local kids were street performers did some typical Colombian and Afro Colombian dancing. The people who live in the north are descendants of slaves and had some great moves. We had a great time telling embarrassing stories and laughing. What a great day we had!

June 15 - Taganga and Jews: Grabbed a taxi to the bus station tohead out of Cartagena. Our driver's name was Franklin and he was really interested in what Utah was like and asked us to send him pictures. We also discussed the origins of reggaeton. We then grabbed some empanadas and fruit juice and hopped on our bus - Santa Marta found! When we got to Santa Marta, we took a taxi to Taganga to our hostel, Divanga. There was a nice swimming pool, hammocks, and an awesome restaurant there. Scott and I went to the beach while Scarlett hung out in the hostel because she wasn’t feeling well.
This was such an interesting town, where many of the bars have signs in Spanish and Hebrew. Apparently, lots of Israelis come to this town after serving their mandatory military service. So Scott fit right in. It wasn’t the prettiest beach and it was more desert than tropical, but overall had a really cool feel with a laid-back lifestyle. As you walk through the dirt streets, there are houses with elaborate speaker systems set up in front of their small homes, playing salsa and meringue songs at disco-tech volume (of course competing to see who can get it the loudest), while sitting around talking with friends and family. I am surprised that most people aren’t deaf there. I loved the Afro-Colombian culture in Northern Colombia - they are incredibly kind.

June 16th - Snorkeling and Beaching it in Taganga: Poor Scarlett woke up sick with a sore throat, but after some medicine and a nap by the pool in the hammock, she was feeling well enough to be a trooper and we took a boat ride to a beach that you could only get to by boat (even with how much she hates the Ocean and beaches). We had a good time at our private little beach; such a good time that Scott ended up a little red lobster for our flight home (poor guy!) cause he forgot to put on more sunscreen. Scott and I were able to take an under-water adventure for a cheap $10. Snorkeling is always amazing to me to be able to see all the cool things under water (kinda creepy too though).
We then went back to the hostel and swam in the pool to get all of the salt water out of all of our crevices and noses. We got fresh blackberry juice and listened to the Rastafarian skinny black bar tender with dreadlocks (which I had a slight crush on - something about being a foreigner and the dreads I think!) sing to Motown, rap and Alanis Morissette while he made our drinks and while we waited for our food. Definitely the epitome of cool with his dreads and carefree attitude. He may have smoked a little too much pot though (however, this is Colombia we speak of! hehe) because it takes either a real confident person or slightly high person of any gender to sing like that with Alanis. We all laughed pretty hard as he wailed away with her high-pitched tones.

Ahhh...I love Colombia!!

24 August 2009

SaN GiL, CoLoMBia

After our visit to Villa de Leyva, we took off and went to the beautiful colonial city of San Gil, which was a lot warmer than the southern parts of Colombia that we had previously visited. It is a city with extremely steep streets and colonial buildings.
We had quite the adventurous couple of days in San Gil, to say the least! We hiked to a 75 meter (200 feet) high water fall where Scarlett and I went swimming and Scott rappelled down the face of the waterfall. It had rained the night before so there was tons of water! We met a nice couple from New Zealand who were traveling for 9 months. She is an artist and he is a writer and wanted to see South America before they had kids. When Scott got to the bottom of the fall, after rappelling, he found Scarlett and I at photo shoot (put on by our lovely selves...we were a bit bored after we got done swimming).

We hurried back into town so that we could be off on our next adventure of the day...paragliding! We didn’t have any lunch, so we picked up some plantain chips and juice and headed up to the mountains through tobacco farms to a peak overlooking farms and a huge canyon. Scarlett and I went paraglyding first and had a great time (well I did at least)...did some twirls and down spiraling but poor Scarlett got motion sickness. It was really cool being miles up in the air and being able to see the patchwork landscape of the farmlands below and the canyons and mountains. Scott went after Scarlett and I got back and on his way back down, turned gray as a gray ghost! He got a little motion sickness as well.
We then came back to the hostel and ended up talking to an Australian couple who went on the Ciudad Perdida and told stories about how the guides would take you to the cocaine fields to see how it is processed as it is in guerrilla country. Because the guerrilla make money off the tourists they protect them but if the tour guides don’t pay them their cut, they shoot the guides.

We ended up with one more day than we had expected in this sweet town because we decided not to take the long road to Cartagena by boat and decided to take a night bus. We first went to the touristic village of Barichara, which was a 40 minute bus ride. We got out and saw the village for about 10 minutes and realized that it was a waste of time because although it was pretty it looked too polished. Everybody told us it was worth going to, but we thought that Villa de Leyva was much prettier. We went to the main church and decided to get back on the bus and go back to San Gil. We then got some lunch in a run-down restaurant and then took a taxi to reserve our tickets for our night bus ride to Cartagena. After which we miandered over to a free water hole. It was a series of shallow waterfalls. A bunch of local kids were there, which Scott ended up becoming friends with. Comes to find out the three 14-year-old boys had a crush on me and Scarlett, which is why they started talking with Scott in the first place! One of them told us we looked like models...funny.
We ended up walking the mile back to our hostel and passed by some waterfalls and beautiful landscape (as we almost got hit as every car and truck passed us - so what if we were walking on the "freeway"). We showered and then went and got pizza and bought a tres leches dessert. There was a drunk guy at the pizza place that really wanted to talk to us and buy us beer. This was, I think, the only person that we thought was annoying in Colombia.

As we waited for our bus to board, Scarlett bought us a suprise! She bought ANTS! Yes, giant ants that you can eat (gross)! They were mostly for Scott cause he kept telling us how much he wanted to try them. So he and Scarlett indulged in the tasty creatures. I decided I would just watch. I have tried a lot of weird stuff, but opted out on the ants! We then got on the bus, which first stopped in Baranquilla (the birth place of Shakira) before the final destination - Cartagena. During our bus ride, we whipped out the tres leches cake that we had bought before hand. By the time it was gone, we all ended up with stomach aches, but it was SOOO worth it! They also cranked up the AC so everyone was mummified with blankets. Scott was the best...he ended up putting his arms inside his shirt and jacket and wrapping another shirt around his head in order to prevent hypothermia. It seriously was an ice box in there! We watched a sweet movie about a illegal immigrant from LA-turned soccer star in England. And then we watched some sweet Colombian music videos. We then tried to sleep, but seeing how it was SO bloody cold, this was IMPOSSIBLE!

23 August 2009

Welcome to Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Villa de Leyva is considered one of the finest colonial villages of Colombia, and was declared a National Monument December 17, 1954 in order to preserve its architecture. I loved this little place! There were no tourists here at all! And we stayed in the cutest little hacienda that is on a hill overlooking the beautiful military barracks, which made it very safe for us to walk around (despite how I feel about the military - yes, they intimidate me here!). Overall, the village just had such a nice feel. It seemed small and tucked-away, but is apparently a pretty popular vacation spot among Colombians. Oh and the food that we ate DIE for! I had the most INCREDIBLE bean soup! WOW! I seriously could retire to Colombia! It is my type of place for sure (despite sticking out like a sore thumb! yes, this is the place where i was "spotted"...cute, old Colombian lady thought I was a movie star! haha).

Scarlett was hilarious...every little shop we walked by on the way to dinner, we just HAD to stop and get traditional the time we reached dinner, I was already full!

Maracuya en leche....AMAZING! Seriously, the juice down there is incredible (of course cause it's freshly squeezed juice, but then put it in their sweet milk and you have the most amazing dessert!).

The next morning we woke up in our beautiful hacienda. We ate huevos pericos, which are scambled eggs with tomatoes and onions with some tea and hot chocolate, rolls, and freshly squeezed orange juice. We then met up with up with Raul, an older gentleman who retired from his computer technician job to become a tourist/horse guide. We took a horse ride (one that Scott said was "romantic" but i'd beg to differ!) that went first through the cobblestone streets of Villa de Leyva to the Pozos Azules, which are blue pools in the middle of the desert. We went swimming in the cool, bright, blue water. Scott was pretty excited to learn he could still do a back flip into the water. The owner of the pools - who usually charges $2 for the entrance and swimming - after talking to the ladies, decided to let us swim for free. He said that he has never had any problems living there except that he has made enemies of his neighbors because they were jealous of his land and one day fired their guns on his land. He said that he lived alone and was happy to talk to us...I'm not going to lie, I might have had a bit of an old-man crush on him! :)
We then climbed back on our horses to head to the next stop. Let me just give you a little background about our horses and the ride first though. Remember how Scott thought this horse adventure was "romantic"? Well he had a lovely,well-behaved horse! Makes all the difference in the world! Me, on the other hand, did not. When Raul was assigning us horses that morning, he asked who the most experiences rider of all of us was. Scott and Scarlett had never been. I have been riding quite a few times, but that hasn't been since my family had neighbors that had horses (so maybe a good 12+ years ago!). So seeing how I was the most "experienced", I got the black stallion named “God of the Wind.” Oh yes, he was God of the Wind!! A fiesty, jealous thing, that is for sure! Raul told me time and time again that I was very brave and a warrior for daring to jump on that horse (as if I knew any different at the time!). Well, my ride was fun from time to time, but a bit of a challenge with two other horses nearby! The jealousy and feistiness would overcome my dear stallion any time Caramelo, Scarlett’s horse, would try to pass...or even get close! Poor Scarlett got run off the path so many times that afternoon! At one point, as we were riding side-by-side, my horse began to veer into Scarlett's (despite my honest attempt to direct him elsewhere). All the sudden, Scarlett and I were very close to each other and without even thinking, Scarlett pushed me out of frustration! I had to grip hard to stay on my horse and we both busted up laughing! She had realized what she had done as I was yelling back, "Scarlett, pushing me off my horse isn't going to move my horse out of the way!!" It was pretty funny!
Our next stop was El Fossil, a museum built around a huge fossil of a dinosaur. After this, we then hopped back on the horse and went to an ancient indigenous phallic garden and observatory of the stars. The Spanish missionaries called it “Little Hell” because of the enormous sculptures of penises (yes, you heard me correct...large penile structures ALL over the place!). The indigenous thought that when there was no shadow from the sun that the sun had come down to fertilize the ground and it was time to plant.
Our last stop, before heading back was the mud house styled after Gaudi type architecture. The entire house is made from mud and then hardened by liting it on fire...including the beds!
We then went to lunch and had a lovely four-course meal for $3, after which we jumped on our bus and headed to San Gil (saving that for the next post!).

Pozos Azules
I have to say, this photo was one of the most awkward photos ever! I am not sure why, but Raul decided to do a photo shoot before we went swimming, so he told all of us what to do and then would take the picture - this was the outcome. Rather entertaining!

The official name is Parque Arqueológico de Monquirá, but everyone calls it El Infiernito. This Muisca site was an astronomical center—and, according to archaeologists, a bit more. They state the Muisca (1000-1550 A.D.) believed when the sun cast no shadow of observatory’s twin lines of 36 stones each, then it was busy fertilizing the earth. Planting would begin. At this time, too, the women would be fertile, and perform rituals amongst the forest of phallic statues, hugging and caressing them to ensure pregnancy.