Pretty Pueblos Part II: Jardin (of Eden)

Central plaza (Jardin, Colombia)

Colourful chairs and tables fill the central plaza

From Jeric贸 to Jardin, we embarked on a 3-hour adventure via the traditional ‘chiva’ bus to the nearby village Andes (COP 11,000/pp), and then took a 30-min taxi (COP 4,000/pp) from Andes to Jardin.

Cathedral in central plaza (Jardin, Colombia)

The central plaza

After we got off the crazy bus (and just so we’re clear, I’m referring to the crazy-colourful bus and its crazy driver..not the passengers), we arrived at the closest thing to paradise on Earth.

Colour buildings (Jardin, Colombia)

Colourful building of Jardin

We had arrived at our next pueblo: Jardin. It was rumoured that the earliest discoverers of this village stumbled across it and, amazed by its natural beautfy, called it a garden. And I can see why – its literally a modern-day Garden of Eden. Mountain vistas, lush green valleys, and crystal clear mountain rivers from all angles.

Mountain vistas (Jardin, Colombia)

Beautiful mountain vistas

As was with Jeric贸, neither Lonely Planet or Rough Guides makes any mention of the pueblo, so foreign tourists rarely visit.

Curious locals (Jardin, Colombia)

Jason and I were mild celebrities in Jardin. These kids came up to us and asked if they can take pictures with us. We happily obliged. They didn’t ask for our signatures though.

This perfect combination of breathtaking natural beauty, mild climate, and ‘not-a-single-souvenir-shop-in-sight’ makes this village an ideal place to stay for a couple of nights.

Cathedral in central plaza (Jardin, Colombia)

Sunset over the central plaza

Jason and I took a quick ride out of the village centre on one of the (what locals affectionally call) “motoratones” or motor-rats, because they resemble little rats on wheels.

Motoratones (Jardin, Colombia)

One of several motoratones聽in the village

We arrived at ‘La Trucheria’ or the trout farm which I thought was going to be kinda cheesy. I was totally proven wrong when we discovered we got to fish for our own trout!

La Trucheria (Jardin, Colombia)

La Trucheria (or trout farm)

Jason finally caught the ever-elusive fish that’s haunted him since last summer!

Fishing for trout (Jardin, Colombia)

That is one proud man!

I technically caught a trout first but I screamed so loudly in excitement that I think I scared the fish off the hook and onto the ground, where he flopped around for a few frantic seconds before gratefully escaping back into the pond.

Fishing for trout (Jardin, Colombia)

I caught one too (before Jason did!)

Cleaning the trout (Jardin, Colombia)

Cleaning station

We got the fish cleaned right there, and afterwards, brought the fish to the restaurant on site for them to prepare the freshest, tastiest trout I’ve ever had!

Trout bounty (Jardin, Colombia)

Me holding up our bounty!

Our just-caught trout meal (Jardin, Colombia)

The mouthwatering trout we had for lunch. This was only half of it, since we caught 4 trout.

One of the top hiking destinations nearby was to ‘La Cueva del Esplendor’ (Cave of Splendour). There are number of ways to get to the destination: hike, horseback ride, rappel down the waterfalls. We booked our horseback ride to the cave through a local guide, Jaime (pronounced HY-mee). (Ask around town for him – there appeared to be only 2 main guides who offer this tour.) I was excited to try my hand at horseback riding again…my last experience was pretty scary and I got eaten alive by mosquitoes so I didn’t really enjoy it that much.

Jaime's finca (Jardin, Colombia)

At our guide’s finca

We arrived at Jaime’s finca (or coffee farm) and he paired us up with our horses. I got paired up with a handsome white horse named Leonardo. He turned out to be the sweetest horse – responsive and wouldn’t go faster than a trot unless I directed him to.

Jenn on horseback (Jardin, Colombia)

Me looking like I’ve been riding all my life (not!)

The trail we took was a different story…it was slippery, muddy, steep, and at times incredibly narrow. I have a new-found respect for horses. I thought the slippery trail was going to do my horse (and as a result, me) in, but Leonardo was so sure-footed. He never let me down (well, not until we reached end of the ride).

Jason's steed (Jardin, Colombia)

Jason on his steed

The actual views we took in during the horseback ride was breathtaking (or perhaps it was the altitude?). The views of the endless Andean mountain range were spectacular. Pictures do not do them any justice whatsoever.

Andean scenery (Jardin, Colombia)

Andean scenery

Horseback trails through Andean mountains (Jardin, Colombia)

Horseback trails through Andean mountains

When we reached the end of the trail at another finca, we tied up our horses and took a pretty difficult trail through the dense foliage to get to the waterfall. The trail by foot was equally slippery and muddy, and we found ourselves having to hang onto nearby vines and branches for dear life. An older American lady that was with us had to be lead down personally by our guide. Jaime was great – really patient and wanted to make sure the entire group was always safe.

Jaime the guide (Jardin, Colombia)

Our guide, Jaime.

But all the work was worth it. The sight that greeted us was breathtaking – seriously our group took in a collective gasp. Like a ray of light, the waterfall rushed down through a hole in the roof of the cave, sending up misty droplets into the air.

The cave of splendour (Jardin, Colombia)

The cave of splendour

Jason was the only one brave enough to face the icy cold water and he took a quick dip under the falls. Crazy, this guy! 馃檪

Waterfall swimming (Jardin, Colombia)

Jason shivering swimming in the waterfall

The cave of splendour (Jardin, Colombia)

Jason and I in front of La Cueva del Esplendor

Instead of taking the same muddy trail back up to the second finca, a small group of us (the two of us and a young American couple who were spending a few months in Central America and Colombia) were allowed to walk up a section of waterfall. Pretty cool and, at times, a little scary as we jumped from rock to rock in our borrowed galoshes.

Climbing up the waterfall (Jardin, Colombia)

Climbing up the waterfall

We met up with the guide and the older American couple at the second finca and remounted our horses for another beautiful ride back through the mountains. This time, Leonardo decided to be a bit more daring and would often walk right on the edge of the trail, so there was nothing but a steep drop on one side of us. He lost his footing briefly at one point, and I nearly peed my pants! After that, I led him away from the ledge.

Riding through the Andean mountains (Jardin, Colombia)

Riding through the Andean mountains

We had a wonderful lunch of chicken, yuca, potato, rice, cornbread – all wrapped up within banana leaves when we returned to Jaime’s finca. Sooo good!

Our delicious homemade lunch (Jardin, Colombia)

Our delicious homemade lunch

Sunset over the central plaza (Jardin, Colombia)

Farewell Jardin, Colombia

Jardin has definitely been one of the highlights of our trip so far. Make sure to stop in for a few days if you’re ever in Colombia.

Psst: Missed Part I of Pretty Pueblos? Click here.

Pretty Pueblos Part I: Jeric贸

Jerico, Colombia

Overlooking the village of Jerico

From the advice of other travel bloggers, we decided to spend some time off the beaten path in the Antioquia region. This region contains an endless number of pueblos (or villages) that will allow the weary traveller to kick back and enjoy a slower pace.

Jeric贸 is one of the many pueblos in the coffee zone, just 3.5 hours south of Medellin. We spent a day in the little village (approx population 13,000) enjoying the sunshine, the mild climate, and the company of incredibly friendly people.

Parque Reyes (Jerico, Colombia)

Most cities or villages have a central plaza where all the locals congregate to catch up on gossip or just to people-watch. Jeric贸 had a very pretty central plaza, named Parque Reyes.

People-watching at a cafe (Jerico, Colombia)

We drank a lot of coffees at this cafe. It had the perfect vantage point for people-watching people in the central plaza.

This charming little village also had a meticulously-maintained botanical garden, ‘Los Bolsos’.聽 It was pretty impressive.

Bridge to botanical garden (Jerico, Colombia)

The bridge that led from the village to the botanical garden.

Botanical garden (Jerico, Colombia)

Flowers in the botanical garden

The botanical garden, ‘Los Bolsos’, is located at the base of El Salvador.聽 The pathways will eventually lead up top the top of El Salvador, where stands Jeric贸’s own statue of Christ.聽 From here, you can take in breathtaking, panoramic views of the village and surrounding mountain vistas.

Panorama from the top of El Salvador (Jerico, Colombia)

Panorama from the top of El Salvador

We met a friendly local up at the top who tried to teach us about the village’s history. Too bad his lecture was entirely in Spanish 馃槢聽 He offered to take some pictures of us though.

Christ statue at the top of El Salvador (Jerico, Colombia)

Christ statue at the top of El Salvador

We stayed up at the top enjoying the breeze and the views for awhile.

Christ statue at the top of El Salvador (Jerico, Colombia)

Jerico’s own statue of Christ, at the top of “El Salvador”

Top  of El Salvador (Jerico, Colombia)

This is me imitating the statue. No, just joking..I’m not sure why I’m posing like that.

Asian tourist (Jerico, Colombia)

This little girl cozied up to Jason and wanted her picture taken with the rarely-seen Asian tourist.

Top  of El Salvador (Jerico, Colombia)

Jason pondering life’s mysteries….or what to have for lunch.

On our way down we saw this beautiful wild horse just horsing around (haha). He was a little scary since he was humongous! He almost charged me at one point and I freaked out!聽 It took a lot of coaxing from Jason to get me into the same photo frame with him after that incident.

Scared of the wild horse (Jerico, Colombia)

Scared of the wild horse

We were wandering the small streets, when we were stopped by an older gentleman. He guessed we were from Canada (We must’ve been in the middle of asking a question, eh?) and told us that he lived in Toronto for years! Say wha?!? What are the chances of bumping into a local who used to live in Toronto but now lives in this tiny little village??

Decio the Canadian/Jerico local (Jerico, Colombia)

Jason, Decio and Decio’s friend Jaime.

Jenn & Decio (Jerico, Colombia)

Jenn & Decio

His name is Decio and he was born in Italy, lived in Toronto for years, but has now located to Jeric贸 where his wife was born. It was great to be able to converse with a local in English so we spent the afternoon with him, enjoying coffee in the central plaza and walking around the beautiful streets.

Weekend market (Jerico, Colombia)

Vendors set up on the weekend in the central plaza, Parque Reyes

Typical Antioquian architecture (Jerico, Colombia)

Typical Antioquian architecture: colourfully-painted doors, window frames and balconies.

Cobblestone staircases (Jerico, Colombia)

Flower-lined streets, cobble-stone staircases, more colourful houses

Decio invited us into his home to show us the view of the mountains and his cattle farm from his rooftop terrace.

Panorama from Decio's balcony (Jerico, Colombia)

Panorama from Decio’s balcony

Pretty cool to see what a local’s home looks like. All in all, Jeric贸 is a must see. Go before its overrun by tourists 馃檪

Misconceptions of Medellin

Two posts in two days! I’m on a roll! Medellin, Colombia

Medellin is a city of misconceptions.聽 A lot of Colombia’s bad rap comes from Medellin.聽 In the 80s and 90s, drug gang turf wars were rampant and that bloody era earned Medellin the world’s highest murder rate.聽 Pablo Escobar, Colombia’s cocaine druglord, ran the show back then, but when he was killed in 1993, Medellin began to turn itself around.

Modern art sculptures (Medellin, Colombia)

Modern public art sculptures

When people travel to Colombia, they might expect to see a still-developing country.聽 However, Medellin is a modern city that rivals big cities in North America.聽 Modern freeways, a fast and efficient public transportation system, and bustling commercial centres have allowed this city to grow and prosper.

Medellin metro system

The metro was a great way for us to get around the city. It also connects to the cable cars – so once you pay for the metro, you can take a free ride up to the top of Santo Domingo for spectacular views of the city

It’s still important to note that there are neighbourhoods (i.e. some areas in the downtown core) that should be avoided.聽 Jason (of course) was curious so we wandered into one of the sketchier areas (during the day..don’t worry, dad!) but hightailed it out of there after we got some weird stares from the locals huddled around a crack pipe.

Cablecar to top of Santo Domingo (Medellin, Colombia)

On our way up to the top of Santo Domingo

Travellers who come here today will find a (relatively) safe and modern city.聽 No wonder so many travellers decide to stay put and actually live here.聽 It has a pleasant climate (year-round temperatures of mid-20s掳C), inviting green spaces, excellent restaurants, and an interesting arts and culture scene.

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We spent the day wandering around the Museo de Antioquia, walking down the lively, pedestrian-only Avenida Carabobo (Carrera 52), and then took the cable car up for views of the city from Santo Domingo.

Plaza Botero (Medellin, Colombia)

Medellin is the birthplace of the artist, Fernando Botero. Plaza Botero has about 20 of his sculptures on display (free of charge), right next to the Museo di Antioquia

Street musicians (Medellin, Colombia)

Musicians on Avenida Carabobo (Carrera 52)

Cablecar to top of Santo Domingo (Medellin, Colombia)

View of the city from the cable car

Cablecar to top of Santo Domingo (Medellin, Colombia)

On the cable car up to the top of Santo Domingo

If we were to move to Colombia, we would likely choose Medellin as well.聽 It’s a definitely a city to live in, as opposed to a city to just visit.

El Corral (Worm)Burgers

El Corral (Bogota, Colombia)

Mission accepted!

We were instructed to check out El Corral and to report back findings while in Colombia.聽 El Corral is a restaurant chain in Colombia that’s known for its burgers…..more specifically, its worm burgers!

Rumour has it that its burger patties contain ground up worms. Apparently worms are high in protein and are cheap and effective substitutes for meat.

100% beef (Bogota, Colombia)

They DO claim that it’s 100% beef. But then again, so does McDonalds.

Jason and I decided to accept our mission and check out whether the rumour is true.

El Corral (Bogota, Colombia)

About to embark on our El Corral mission

Jason ordered the classic and I ordered the Criolla – which is the classic with saut茅ed onions, bacon, cheese and a fried egg.

Criolla burger at El Corral

Beef (& worm?) patty, sauteed onions, tomato, bacon, fried egg = perfect burger!

Yummers!!

After Lick’s burgers, this was the most delicious, messiest, artery-hardening burger I’ve ever had!

Criolla burger at El Corral

The view of the Criolla burger from another angle

I scrutinized the patty after I’ve taken a few bites. Little globules of fat?…worms?…I wasn’t sure. So the verdict is…….inconclusive.

I cannot confirm or deny the use of ground up worms in their burgers. I can, however, confirm that they are delicious.

El Corral (Bogota, Colombia)

Stuffing my face Testing for scientific purposes at El Corral

Sardines in a Can Van

Interior of the Chiva bus

The more eclectic the decor on the bus, the faster and crazier the driving.

Whenever possible, Jason and I try to avoid intercity or inter-country bus travel.聽 But in South America, there isn’t really any sort of useful passenger rail system – leaving us with either expensive flights or the dreaded ‘superlong, head-tossing, stomach-churning, hairpin-turning, traffic-weaving, over-air conditioned’ bus rides.聽 So we have accepted the fact that ‘superlong, head-tossing, stomach-churning, hairpin-turning, traffic-weaving, over-air conditioned’ bus rides will be part of our South American adventure – or the actual adventure itself.聽 Let me tell you about our epic bus adventure from Cartagena to Medellin- a whopping 16-hour, multi-part saga.

Exterior of the Chiva bus

The bus ride from Jerico to Andes was one of the most interesting bus rides we’ve taken so far. Unfortunately, the one from Cartagena to Medellin was the exact opposite

Part 1: The Negotiation

Getting to the main bus terminal in Cartagena took a 40 min cab ride (which surprisingly only cost CDN $11). Once we arrived, we found out the next available bus would require us to wait another 3 hours in the sweltering bus terminal. We couldn’t afford to leave Cartagena that late since the estimated 13 hour bus ride would mean we would arrive in Medellin somewhere around 3am. We had read warnings to only arrive in Medellin during the day.聽 Note: Although this warning was directed specifically to people flying into Medellin (i.e. to avoid the stretch of highway between the airport and the city at night), we decided that it might be wise to apply this to our bus travels as well.

After a game of Colombian Charades (i.e. Charades with Colombian locals) with a few random men hanging around a couple of passenger vans, we were able to negotiate a ride to Medellin that would leave immediately.

Part II: Sardines in a can van

12 people crammed into a van that is supposed to seat 8. This part lasted 6 hours.

sardines in a van

Squished into the 2 front seats were 3 people. Squished behind me in the 3 back seats were 5 people.

sardines in a van

Jason and I were lucky enough to get our own seats!

Part III: Language barrier

Our bus driver stopped at a bus station in some unknown town. Everyone got off the van and got into another van.聽 A Colombian fellow took our bags and loaded them into the van too. Just before we took off, Jason asked “谩 Medellin?” The driver looked at us as if we had both grown an extra head.聽 Then a stream of Spanish words came out of his mouth, of which none were ‘Medellin‘.聽 He waved us off the van, while a Colombian boy unloaded our backpacks.聽 He then put them both on (one on his back, the other on his front) and walked off around a corner.聽 We scurried after him and when we caught up to him, he was loading our backpacks onto an entirely different bus.聽 “Medellin?“, we asked one of the random men standing around the bus. “Si.”, one them replied.聽 So we hopped onto the slightly bigger, more run-down, dark and dank bus and hoped the guy outside knew what he was talking about.

Part IV: Musical Chairs Buses

Another 5 hours later, we arrived at a bus station in another unknown town.聽 We got off the dark, dank bus because everyone else did.聽 This time, our bags got moved into one of those fancy coach buses.聽 The conductor started drawing up new tickets for us, and I thought we’d have to pay again for the next leg of the epic saga titled “The never-ending bus ride”.聽 Luckily, there was an English-speaking Colombian man in the mix.聽 We’ve discovered on this trip that finding someone who speaks English in Colombia is like receiving good customer service from Rogers Cable…a rare and pleasant surprise!聽 He told us that this was the last bus transfer and that we should be arriving in Medellin around midnight.

Dirt road from Cartagena to Medellin

On this bus ride, we spent 3 hours travelling on a dirt road. We probably could’ve walked it faster 馃檪

The Epilogue:聽

I can’t really title this part, “Part V”, since we were still on the same bus.聽 But around 11pm, we came to a sudden stop on a winding mountain road.聽 At first I thought we were having engine trouble or maybe a flat tire.聽 The bus driver adjusted the bus a bit and then turned the engine off.聽 We were plunged into darkness and silence.聽 No one was panicking so I didn’t think we were in trouble.聽 Everyone else on the bus just sat back and went back to sleep.

After sitting in the dark for 15 minutes, I asked Jason to find out what was going on.聽 The English-speaking Colombian was not with us, so we tried to patch together whatever Spanish we understood and figured out that we were going to sit here until the road construction up ahead was finished(?!!)聽 We were flabbergasted!聽 We had to wait here for at least another hour until the construction crew finished building, apparently, the only road between here and Medellin.

So we sat.

And sat.

And sat some more.

When we finally got started again, and drove over the newly-formed “road”, we gaped at the line-up of cars, trucks, and buses on the oncoming side of traffic.聽 Colombian efficiency at its best, I tell ya.聽聽 Who schedules construction on the only road in the area when there’s obviously still plenty of traffic?聽 We finally rolled into Medellin at 2 in the morning.

Ten minutes later, the bus that left Cartagena 3 hours after we left also rolled in.

Hot & Steamy Cartagena

Have you ever seen the movie “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”? The scene, where the characters portrayed by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt first meet, is supposed to be set in the capital city of Colombia: Bogota.

They’d portrayed Bogota as this hot, steamy city. Let me tell you: Hollywood got it all wrong. Bogota is cold! (i.e. an average temperature of about 19掳C year-round) They must’ve mixed up their Colombian cities. Perhaps they meant to use Cartagena instead? Because this place is definitely hot and steamy! This is us simmering in the Caribbean heat.

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Jason and I are on the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia, in the city of Cartagena. I’ve read mixed reviews about this place, but I personally loved it (once I was able to stop scratching long enough to enjoy the Caribbean heat). The palm trees were beautiful, the beaches were plenty, and we had a front row view of the ocean.

View from our apartment (Cartagena, Colombia)

Beautiful ocean view from our Bocagrande apartment

Before we moved closer to the ocean, we stayed for a few days in the old walled city.

Casa Villa Colonial (Cartagena, Colombia)

Our hostel in Getsemani: Casa Villa Colonial. Beautiful, airy, and bright. I would definitely recommend this place to any traveller staying in Cartagena

There are three areas within the walled cIty: the beautiful original part of the walled city called Old City, the newer part called San Diego, and the grittier, sketchier area of Getsmani, where the majority of the hostels were.

Old City (Cartagena, Colombia)

The ramparts that surround the Old City in Cartagena.

We stayed in Getsemani and fell in love with how it best represented local life in Cartagena. The food was authentic and cheap, music was always blaring at night, and old men sat around watching the pedestrian traffic pass by.

Getsemani (Cartagena, Colombia)

Grittier (but no less beautiful) Getsemani.

When we decided to stay in Cartagena for a little longer, we rented an apartment nearby in Bocagrande, a modern area dotted with high-rise hotels and accommodations for Colombian vacationers.

Bocagrande (Cartagena, Colombia)

The pool terrace at the apartment we stayed at in Bocagrande

I loved the attractiveness of Cartagena: the colourful Spanish-colonial architecture; the narrow winding stone-paved streets, and the surprise of turning a corner and happening upon yet another one of the city’s many plazas.

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Speaking of surprises and plazas, check out this strange spectacle in Plaza Fernandez de Madrid:

Street performers (Cartagena, Colombia)

Eye-popping tricks by street performers

We were pretty captivated with him until we figured out how was he doing it. Can you figure it out?

And then after dark, the Old City got even more enchanting. Seriously, this city is like the girls you see roaming the club district in Toronto – gets more beautiful after dark.

Old City (Cartagena, Colombia)

Jason watching people-watching people in the open air cafe

Old City (Cartagena, Colombia)

Old City Cartagena all lit up at night

See? I wasn’t kidding you. She’s pretty gorgeous. Feel free to ask her for her phone number.

The Good, the Bad, and the Itchy

I had debated whether to blog about this, but in the end, decided to do so for two reasons:

  1. Travelling is not just about the great stories and amazing experiences. It’s also about the rough patches and not-so-great times.
  2. Perhaps other travellers will read this and find comfort in reading about someone else having gone through the same thing.

Bed bugs.

Those two little words immediately conjure up feelings of dread and paranoia. Just reading those two words makes me feel like I need to scratch imaginary bites. Except this time, they were not imaginary.

Just a few days into our travel, I woke up with angry little red welts all over my arms and legs. We had just spent the night in a place that charges only $20/night. I remember asking Jason before we decided to take the place: “I wonder why it’s so cheap? it seems almost too good to be true”. Famous last words, right? (By the way, stay away from Hotel Aragon in the La Candelaria area in Bogota)

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Room with a view. Little did we know what horrors hid under the bedsheets.

Don’t get me wrong, not all cheap places have bed bugs. Even luxury hotel chains can have a bed bug problem. However, the risk of bed bugs are perhaps a little greater with cheap places since they attract a certain type of traveller. The type of traveller that covers a lot of ground over a short period of time, which increases the chance of picking up unwelcome hitchhikers along the way.

Getting bitten by bed bugs while travelling is different from dealing with a bed bug infestation at home. The former is a little easier to deal with, although the symptoms are pretty much the same. It’s not the first time this has happened to me, so I knew how to deal with them.

Nine years ago, my girlfriend and I were backpacking through western Europe and got attacked by bed bugs in Venice. We found that all the hostel options in Venice were too expensive for us and opted for a 鈧12/night stay in a campground just away from the centre. We luckily had sleep sacs. The sleep sacs gave us a thin layer of protection between the old, scratchy blankets and our skin. We ended up with only a few bites on our arms and faces. We initially didn’t know what they were. They were a series of several tiny red spots, all clustered in a small area. We later found out they were bed bites when they turned into angry little red welts that took days to heal. This time around, I wasn’t as lucky. I didn’t have a sleep sac so the whole of my arms and some of my legs got covered in bites. They itch like crazy . It’s taking all my willpower to not scratch like a madwoman.

When a person’s home is infested with bed bugs, it’s a nightmare to get rid of. You need to call in expensive, professional exterminators to get rid of them. And even then, there’s a chance that not all bed bugs are caught. To get rid of bed bugs when travelling, you just have to leave the place that has bed bugs. However, to make sure you don’t carry them on with you, you have to isolate all the clothes that you wore by placing them in a plastic bag and sealing it shut. When you get a chance to, wash all those clothes in hot soapy water and then run them through a hot dryer cycle. Basically, keep the clothes at above 45掳 C for a minimum of 15 minutes. Unfortunately for us, a lot of the laundry services offered in Cartagena don’t use hot water to wash their clothes. So we boiled water and washed them in the sink. One cycle of boiling water to wash it, another cycle of boiling water to rinse it, and then we hang-dryed the clothing. For extra measure, we then sent all our clothes to a laundry service for another round of wash and then the hot dryer.

The humidity and heat of Cartagena (which is right on the Caribbean coast of Colombia) actually irritates the bites even more and makes it pretty unbearable. I was pretty miserable and itchy for the first few days after I got bit. Seriously, I was on the verge of crying. So we’ve rented an air-conditioned apartment for the week so that I can recover in comfort. It’s actually a little bit of paradise after the hot hostel we had to stay in. So we’re laying low for a the next few days so that my skin can heal.

cartagena apartment (1024x765)

Our little slice of air-conditioned paradise.

Interestingly enough, Jason didn’t show any signs of a bite until almost a week later. Different people react differently to bites. Some don’t react at all, some show signs within minutes; while for others, it can take as long as weeks for bites to appear.

Side note: here’s a good resource on how to check your hotel room for bed bugs before deciding whether to stay there (from the New York State Integrated Pest Management鈥檚 bed bug FAQs)

So how about you, any travel horror stories to share?

BO-gaw-taw

Colourful (Bogota, Colombia)

Colour & graffiti

I didn’t know that Bogota was pronounced BO-gaw-taw until only 3 months ago.聽 I pronounced it ba-GO-tah (similar to Pagoda).聽 Good thing the travel agent corrected us, otherwise we would have travelled through the whole of Colombia mispronouncing their capital city.

We spent a total of 6 days in Bogota, but I have to admit: our first impression was a little mixed.聽 The beautiful historic area we stayed in, called La Candelaria, was pretty charming.聽 Beautiful, colourful Colonial-style buildings covered every block and the streets were teeming with people.聽 Bogota has managed to pull off this cosmopolitan-big-city-meets-old-world-charm kinda vibe.

Plaza de Bolivar (Bogota, Colombia)

Llama rides in the pigeon-filled Plaza de Bolivar

Graffiti in La Cadelaria (Bogota, Colombia)

The pretty kind of graffiti in La Candelaria

On the flipside, Bogota is covered in graffiti and garbage.聽 Next to many beautiful colonial structures are decrepit, run-down buildings.聽 Our guidebook also warned us about very dodgy (and even dangerous) areas that we should avoid, which has made us a little nervous of just wandering and discovering the city.聽 Our hostel had signs posted all over, warning us to keep all credit/debit cards in the hostel and to only bring with us enough money for the time we were out.聽 But honestly, how much is “enough money”?聽 What if I’m in a dire emergency and need to purchase a new hat?聽 OK,all joking aside, we were always a little skittish when walking around at night.

Almost everyone we’ve encountered didn’t speak English, so we’ve resorted to impromptu games of Charades and a lot of hand gestures (aided by a few broken Spanish phrases) with the locals.聽 So for the majority of the first few days here in Colombia, we had no idea what we were ordering to eat (Good thing we’re both adventurous eaters!)

Authentic chicken stew (Medellin, Colombia)

Fish stew in Medellin

One of our first authentic meals here (in a restaurant that was hidden in an alleyway off the main Avenue Jiminez) had us ordering a platter full of meat, rice and avocado & onion salad.聽 It was delicious!聽 We started with a thick stew or soup that had plantains, potatoes, and fish in it.聽 You add in a splash of lime and enjoyed the hearty soup like a meal.

A little while later, we stumbled across a stall that had a whole suckling pig in the window.聽 They serve it in a mixture of yellow pea puree and corn, with a side of rice聽arepa (which is a type of bread).聽 It’s a traditional dish called聽Lechona and it was delicious!

Lechona (Bogota, Colombia)

Lechona – traditional pork dish in Colombia

Freshly stuffed with pork, corn, and soup, we wandered outside of the historic area of La Candelaria and saw a crowd of people on one of the main pedestrian streets.聽 We poked our heads in and saw this highly entertaining sight of a guy racing guinea pigs. Yes, guinea pigs!

Street guinea pig race (Bogota, Colombia)

All the guinea pigs revving their engines at the starting line

They were so well-trained! That’s coming from someone who used to own a guinea pig – so I know how “untrainable” they are.聽 They lined up side-by-side, completely still, by the start line. At the finish line were about 20 colourful bowls placed upside down, with little openings cut into each one.聽 All the bowls are numbered and people place bets by setting down a couple of coins on top of the bowl they think the guinea pig will run into.聽 Once all bets are taken, the announcer gave one guinea pig a little pat to get him running down the track!聽 It was really quite amazing…we watched them for a good half hour. We even came close to winning one race, but the little bugger scooted into the next bowl at the last second!

Street guinea pig race (Bogota, Colombia)

Photo finish!

After the exhilarating races, we decided to call it a night.聽 Our new hostel had a giant medieval kitchen that Jason wanted to use, so we picked up some groceries on the way back for some delicious tomato & sardines pasta. Yum!聽 Jason can whip up a good meal anywhere!

Homemade dinner (Bogota, Colombia)

Homemade paste for dinner by chef Jason

We’re here!

I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to our trip. Oh no, I’m not talking about the 6-month adventure we were about to embark on. I’m talking about the 20-hour trip to Bogota. The one where we had to :

  • catch a bus from Toronto to Buffalo at midnight (after cleaning, packing, moving for 16 hours)
  • sleep over at the Buffalo airport (which Jason and I have now pretty much perfected to a T, especially after we slept outside the airport in Saigon, Vietnam on the first night of our honeymoon…but that’s another story..or blog post)
  • catch a flight from Buffalo to Orlando
  • catch a flight from Orlando to Bogota

So you can imagine my relief when I saw this on my airplane seat monitor: We’re finally here!

Bogota, Colombia

We’ve arrived!

We arrived at our hostel to find a charming little courtyard, replete with colourful hammocks, palm trees, and a fridge stocked full of cold beer.

Our colourful hostel (Bogota, Colombia)

Our colourful hostel in Bogota

Unfortunately, our actual room was rather bleak and depressing-looking, so I tried my hand at making myself comfortable in the hammock. Hammocks – I have never been able to figure them out. People always look so comfortable lounging in hammocks. So anytime there’s a hammock, I climb in and try to find a comfortable spot. I’ve never been successful in my attempts to comfortably lounge in a hammock…this time was no different (as you can tell from my awkward pose..and awkward smile).

Jenn vs Hammock

Jenn vs. hammock

After our brief, little struggle, the hammock and I called a truce and I trudged back up to our bleak little room. Oh hammock, we will meet again another day.

T minus 5

Packing up our lives and moving out for the next 6 months

What our condo looked like 5 days before we left the country.

Five more days to go until we take our one-way flight out of Canada. This will prove to be one of the most grueling “pre-vacation” times of our lives. You know what I mean by “pre-vacation”. The two most stressful periods of time when it comes to taking time off work is right before the vacation and right when you return.

Pre-vacation stress: Packing for your trip, making sure your “Out of Office” is turned on for your work email, closing or transitioning all your work projects, finding someone to water your plants…

Post-vacation stress: Realizing you forgot to take out the garbage before you left and trying to air the rotten garbage smell out of your house, catching up on the 12,634,752 emails that were sent to you in the one week you were off work, getting up to speed on all the gossip work that happened while you were gone….

Travel clothes

What I’ll be wearing for the next 6 months

NOW, multiply that by a million and that’s how stressful the 5 days were leading up to our travel start date. We had to-do lists by day (practically by the hour when it came closer to T-2 days)

To-do lists before we leave

Our colour-coded To-Do list (by day)

“Pre-6 months travel stress”:

  • finalizing the rental agreement with our subletter that we found just 1 week before we left
  • packing up our condo
  • finding long-term storage
  • booking movers
  • finding someone to rent our parking spot 12 hours before we left
  • Dropping off our 7-month puppy at our buddy’s place (who graciously agreed to care for him for 6 months)
  • packing clothes for our 6 months of travel that will cover everything from Mt. Everest climbing to Amazonian rainforest trekking
  • Unpacking and repacking for our 6 months of travel after I realize I can’t fit 1/3 of what I had planned to bring
  • cleaning the condo and getting it tenant-ready
  • making a last minute (i.e. 5 hours before we leave) trip to SAIL to pick up hiking shoes after Jason accidentally packed it into long-term storage. AND the long-term storage facility is now closed for the evening.

By the time we were done and ready to begin our 20-hour journey to Bogota, Colombia we looked like we had already been traveling for 12 hours. I was too tired to even pretend to be happy for the camera.

Don't know when we'll be back again

Finally ready to go!

Although, I have to admit – all this “pre-vacation” stress is going to make the time off from work feel all the more satisfying.