Category Archives: South America

The Hokey Pokey

The Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu were the last two big hurrahs of my whole trip. Talk about finishing on a high.

The day after we got back from the hike, we caught up with Gabby, Christina, Karen & Tonya (two sassy chicks from the States) for a breakfast so big it could have fed an African village. We walked it off at the Inka Museum, which is definitely worth seeing if you’re ever over this way.

I wasn’t feeling so flash (plumbing problems) so I went back to the hostel while Shell carried on sight-seeing and squeezing some last minute beanie-buying in.

That night we met up with Karen & Tonya, and a wicked English couple who’d also been on the hike –  Jon & Megan for ‘last drinks’ inside an opium den of a bar. We sat on the floor & talked shit for a few hours while working our way through the entire cocktail list. Good times.

Shell & I said our goodbyes very early the next morning. It had been a once-in-a-lifetime experience to share the last 2 weeks with one of my besties. She had done it. She had managed to get me up those big ass hills with her big ass smile. It was nice to know it would be only a matter of days – not months – before I saw her again.

I spent the rest of the day making plans, doing some last minute gift shopping and visited the Art Gallery. Which I wouldn’t bother seeing if you’re ever over this way.

I then got on what must surely be the poshest bus in the world. For 150 sols ($50) you get a seat that reclines to a bed. There is so much room in between the seats it is impossible to kick the seat in front of you. I tried. They give you a blankie and a pillow and a headset. There was a meal & a movie and get this: freaking wi-fi!!! I was a bit hungover from the night before, so I crashed early and got one of the best nights sleep ever. On a bus! In South America!

I woke up in a shithole called Ica. And then got onto a local bus to a place called Huacachina where I’d heard you could go sandboarding down desert dunes. Sanded like a cool lil diversion on the way back up to Lima.

There wasn’t much to do in Haucachina, so I just caught up on some emails, writing and what have you. And then at 4, we met by our dune buggy driver.

He took us up & over the dunes as if he was driving in a demolition derby. On crack. Taking the hills completely airborne. Then crashing down with an almighty thud. And a skidding sideways finish.

It sounds like fun, doesn’t it.

It was

TERRIFYING.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all down with taking risks. I have jumped out of planes. I have dived with sharks. I’m all over that shit.

What I am not down with, is being in sketchy-assed steel death trap with zero safety options that is being driven by a short, fat man with something to prove. We of course, had no helmets. It seemed highly probable I could be tossed out, crack my skull and die. I was so scared, I actually started praying. For the record, I am not religious. By the time we got out, I was shaking like a wil wabbit. I wanted to vomit.

I decided to have a quiet – but firm – word with the short fat man. He looked me up & down, fancied he might have been in with a chance, and reassured me he’d slow it down.

We then spent the next couple of hours sand-boarding down silky smooth slopes just as the subdued sun started setting. I kinda forgot about the crazy dune buggy ride for a while. It was just so surreal & sublime. The colours. The curves. Just stunning.

Now when I say I went sand-boarding, I feel like I should clarify what I mean. Anyone who knows me will testify that I sometimes find walking a challenge. I am notoriously clumsy. But! I did manage to board (on my feet) down the first little baby slope. I also ate an awful lot of sand.

Sand doesn’t taste anywhere as good as snow. Just so you know.

So I took the remainder of the slopes which got increasingly steeper, longer & harder on my belly. Easier. Safer. Much better for everyone. No less sand in your face. Maybe more. I had a wicked afternoon and came home with enough sand in my bits to complete for a world record. And trust me – I’ve had some previous attempts at it J

***

The next day, I headed straight up to Lima for what would be my last 2 nights in Latin America. Wow. My year of warm summer nights, dancing in the streets & drinks featuring lots of limes was now coming to an end.

My time in Lima ended up being decidedly uneventful.

I got my haircut & my nails done. I did a bit of last minute earring-buying. And I ‘celebrated’ with a few vodka cocktails with a few randoms at the hostel. If you can call it that. To be perfectly honest, my company was a little uninspiring. And I was in a very reflective mood.

I started thinking about all my loved ones who I was able to connect with along the way, mates who lived abroad who I was able to visit in their home towns, new friends I’d made along the way, all who had proffered good times, and folks who I hoped to see again one day.* People are what make places great. I had been very very lucky to have met some absolutely remarkable ones along the way.

I also got to thinking about what I had learnt. Big stuff, small stuff. This isn’t all of it. But it’s a fair whack.

  • Clean drinking water should be a right for all. It is, in all reality, a privilege for a few.
  • We are very lucky in Australia to have access to such a diverse range of fresh produce.
  • “Higiénico sanitarios” doesn’t necessarily translate to reality. Oh, and paper goes in the bin not down the dunny.
  • When they’re shouting at you in Rivas, remember that you can always get the next bus.
  • Stay if you like. And go if you don’t. You are always free to choose a different road.
  • Don’t believe everything you read in the LP or on TripAdvisor. One man’s awesome can be a meat market. While one woman’s 1-star can be simply simple. And authentic. And amazing. Some people have absolutely no idea.
  • On that note, ‘real Peruvians’ are everywhere.
  • I think country folk tend to be nicer everywhere in the world.
  • A little bit of the language & a big smile goes a long way.
  • Yo hablo Español! (yo soy retardo, pero peudo hablar un pocito Español)
  • You can be true friends with a stranger in an instant.
  • And it doesn’t mean you ever have to see each other again.
  • Karma is fo’real.
  • People are essentially good.
  • But ignorant fucks are still everywhere. Some of them are well educated and incredibly well-travelled.
  • and to that point – America is not a country, it’s a whole continent. Containing no less than 35 countries. The US of A is just one of them.
  • Colombia is not dangerous. No more than Blacktown.
  • Men over there can dance!
  • And they love my ass. (What’s not to love.)
  • I LOVE diving. But in my old age, I am becoming a fair-weather diver.
  • What’s the difference between God & a Dive Master? God doesn’t think he’s a Dive Master.
  • I’m funny.
  • And I make a pretty mean Mojito.
  • Apparently I have exceptional taste in music.
  • 5 hours sleep is plenty when I’m not stressed.
  • I like to write. In fact, this is my 70th post. Which would bring the word count to approximately 100,000 words. Or 2 novels. In just over a year.
  • We in the first world waste so much & complain about so much.
  • We buy a lot of shit we don’t need with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.
  • And we think being busy is a good thing.
  • Whilst I have learnt that being still is an even better thing.
  • Some of the poorest people I met were the happiest.
  • I can highly recommend a daily dose of gratitude.
  • I have a lot to be grateful for.
  • Time is a luxury but I need to take responsibility for how I manage it.
  • I want to spend more time being creative.
  • And more time with less people (who matter more).
  • I also want to spend more time with my folks. I want them to know me a bit better. And I want to learn what I can from them. While I still have the opportunity.
  • Evidently I cannot live without Vegemite.
  • And I don’t want to live without laksa. Or blue cheese. (Not together. That would be wrong.)
  • It is more difficult to get a good coffee over there, than you would imagine.
  • Kindles will never replace the magic of a real book with real pages but they Are. Remarkable. Inventions.
  • I need less now than ever before.
  • But my list of countries I want to visit keeps getting bigger as opposed to smaller.
  • The world is an amazing place.
  • The more I learn, the more I realise how little I know.
  • The Hokey Pokey could just well be what it’s all about.

*Shout out to Leanne, Naomi , Angie & Charlotte (New York).  Martin, Faith, Matt, Melissa & Maya (San Fran). Dave & Rita & their crazy crew (Houston). Claire & Christian (Mexico City). Dahlia, Coleena, Jill, Pamela, Rowdy & Chris (Isla Mujeres). Nathan & Sparkles (Belize). Jenn, Shelby, Phil & all the Maximo Nivel crew (Antigua). Skye (Honduras / Nicaragua). Shannon & Queso, Morgan, Kate & their Mammy (Ometepe). My neighbours Flaco & Luis and their families, Steph & Cimba. Pinky, Topless & Curly, Nathan & Josie, and Essex (Little Corn Island). The Bowen brothers (Panama – Colombia). Scott (Colombia). Sammy, Frida, Fernando, Niamh, Marcia, Marc, Big Mike & Nasir (Salento). Michelle (Peru). And all the other incredible human beans I met along the way, who I shared a beer / meal / dance / spliff / bed / conversation / laugh with. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

But final credits must go to the COO  (Chief of Opportunities). And the little angel who made sure I didn’t kill myself despite best efforts. Muchisimo gracias!

***

This is the final post for indygogal.wordpress.com – at least for this trip.

I’m back home in Sydney now, and will be indulging my desire to keep on trucking at my new blog: indygowords

You can expect erratic entries, mad ramblings, marrow & flesh, bad typing, dirty fantasies, made-up answers, music, film & book reviews, personal confessions, and some rollicking good times along the way.

So strap in, sign up & get involved!

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Climb ev’ry mountain

We were up at “sparrow’s” the next day. After a lot of dicking around – we got to have a catch-up kip on the soft seats of a plush bus which took us up to the lil village of Mollepata. We had a light brekky & got some last minute supplies (cocoa leaves, flower water and the like). We were then thrown into the back of a bone-rattling truck which took us up a wild rocky road to the start of our trek.

It was all very relaxed for the first few hours: a chilled out, mostly flat walk with stunning vistas of the Vilcabamba mountain range.

So far, so good – I thought.

Leading up the walk, I had some little doubts that had tried to creep into my consciousness. Yes, it had been a while since I’d taken on a big physical challenge. No, I hadn’t been doing enough exercise recently. Yes, I had been drinking a bit too much red wine. No, I hadn’t ever done a multi-day hike before. Yes, I had a couple of issues with my poor old feet (tendonitis).

I reassured myself by thinking of all the Things I Never Thought I Would Do – And Did. (Giving up smoking. Doing a triathlon. Completing a 5km swim.) I just needed to have faith in myself. And just get on with it.

And then it started raining.

It would help if it didn’t rain all day every day for the next 5 days.

We stopped at a refuge & had the first of many ah-Mazing meals (no Beans Means Heinz here) prepared by our exceptionally resourceful cooks.

After lunch we were treated to a gorgeous grey sky showcasing a crisply coloured rainbow. The sun came out shortly after that and didn’t go away for the rest of the trip. Except at night. But that’s allowed.

With happy bellies, we continued on through the crisp, clean Andean valley. Admiring the views. Finding our pace. Getting to know each other. There were about 23 of us all up separated into 2 groups with 3 guides.

Some people struggled with the altitude. Shell & I were doing fine, benefiting from our time at Lake Titicaca.

It was all rather pleasant until we came to a big fuck-off mountain which presented us with a good couple of hours of hard work. Never ending switchbacks. It was slow & steady for ‘lmost everyone with the air thinning right out and making it hard to breathe.  I’d count to 50 steps and take a breather, but I soldiered on.

Shell was a little ways ahead of me and was sweet enough to come back to get me after she got to the Salkantaypampa camp (3,950m). We had walked some 12km, ascended some 1,100m over a period of maybe 6 hours. I was starting to get tired. Shell coming back was just the encouragement I needed to get that last lil bit done.

The sun had dropped behind Mount Salkantay (which translates to ‘savage’) – and the temperature dropped dramatically.

Within a matter of moments we were all uncomfortably, ridiculously & unnecessarily cold.

Sorry, did I sign up for this?

We got sorted in the tents our horsemen had set up for us, before having a quick dinner and some hot tea. We all went to bed early that night. Too cold basically, to do anything else.

I was inside my sleeping bag (designed for zero degrees at best),wearing pretty much everything I owned, and all curled up around a makeshift hot water bottle.

And I was:

Fucking.

Fah-Reezing.

I was an inconsolable shivering little ball. Every muscle in my body was tensed up in self-defence. I had to clamp down on my teeth to stop them from chattering. I wanted to cry.

It got down to minus five degrees that night.

And we were in a goddamn tent. By choice.

I have never ever been so cold or so miserable in my entire life.

The only cool (pardon the pun) part about the night was listening to avalanches.  I’ve never heard such a thing before. You know that scene from Jumanji when the rhinos start stampeding through the house. Well it kind of sounds like that. Simply astonishing.

We all got up with the sun the next day. You could hear the communal relief as we all scrambled out of our tents. And it wasn’t just the first pee of the morning kind of relief. More the glad I don’t have to do that ever again in my life kind of relief.

When we got up, we realised what an absolutely cracking view of Cusco’s 2nd highest peak we had. Salkantay rises to an impressive 6,264m.

A muy rapido pack-up & brekky and we were off! Despite 2 coffees and a very strong cup of cocoa tea, I was nowhere near properly awake when we started walking.

It was shaping up to be a glorious day and I was in good spirits but my body wasn’t cooperating … I was a bit of a slow poke all day that day.

When the others split off to go see a glacial lake mid morning – I kept on track with Cristina & Gabby (a bubbly Brazilian mother & daughter duo).

At one point, I walked on ahead on my own. Not another person within cooee. So lucky to get those breath-takingly beautiful mountains & valleys all to myself. Every now & then, I’d stop and just take it all in… majestically jagged snow-capped peaks of the Humantay range in their varying shades of brown & grey… the surprisingly lush mountainside vegetation satisfying the hunger of some very happy cows. Pretty white rivers busily babbling away. And lots of brilliant blue sky setting the whole scene off.

I’ve never seen anything like it before. And I’ve never breathed in air that clean before. It put me on such a natural high. This is what all my mad mountaineering mates were always banging on about!

Although Day 2 had been the longest day (I think we walked some 16kms), it was mostly downhill and easy, and (at the risk of sounding like a pompus git) just glorious.

We got to camp well before nightfall and were able to sit around in the sun & have a couple of long-necks before dinner, which was most civilised. Being at 3000m also meant it was a heck of lot of more pleasant in terms of temperature, too.

Day 3 was another easy & beautiful walk through a mountainous jungly landscape called Ceja de Selva. It was so vastly different in terms of terrain, and flora & fauna compared to the previous days. Lots of greenery and pretty little waterfalls.

Victor our lovely guide took the time to stop and show us some truly special flowers along the way, including a really rare orchid. I really liked him. He was young & fit, but by no means one of those ‘I’m a Legend – Watch Me Hike’ type of blokes. I liked that he was always keeping company with whoever was bringing up the rear. He took every opportunity to stop, sit and just enjoy the environment. He took the time to tell us the stories of the original custodians of the land, and some of his own story as well.

Although I really enjoyed the day, I had a terribly large blister (a good square inch or more in size) on the back of my left heel that was starting to become unbearable.  So when the track dried up a bit – I took off my boots & walked in my thongs for the last couple of hours of the day. The last part of the track traversed a lot major landslides. I likened the seeing the sides of the mountains all sliced up like that, like the seeing the insides of the earth’s body.

Just before reaching our campsite, we stopped at a little village and bought avocadoes to make a guacamole. We reached La Playa (2,350m) early in the afternoon.

We had time to make a little excursion to Aguas Thermales de Cocalmayo – some hot springs, maybe an hour or so away. The 3 natural pools with their crystal clear waters were a welcome relief for our tired old aching bods. Tucked away inside a deep cut-away on the side of a rocky mountain – the baths offered 180degree views of more mountains across a great divide. Their silhouettes provided a dramatic skyline.

Later that night we enjoyed a few drinks around a campfire and celebrated a couple of birthdays. I went to bed completely content & utterly knackered that night. I later got up for a midnight piddle and took a moment to enjoy the stars. So many stars. The kind of stars that make you feel such a small part of the universe. But also make you feel big enough to make a wish that might come true.

I know this is gunna sound lame but the next day, I seriously struggled to get my hiking boot over my heel with the ever bulging beast of a blister.

I didn’t want to compromise the next day, the last day – the grand finale of walking around Machu Picchu and hiking up Huayna Picchu. So I talked to Victor. He told me my choice was 8 hours of walking or nothing. He also told me the day would be a bit tough-going and walking in my thongs was not really an option. He encouraged me to take it easy so I could enjoy the next day. I didn’t take much convincing. Having said that I had a little, ‘I’m such a sooky-la-la’ cry.

The bus took me & Cristina (who also didn’t go for her own reasons) directly up to the Hydroelectric Plant at 1,870m where we had the last lunch with our awesome staff & the rest of our group. The arrieros, horses and donkey herders all made their way back to Soraypampa, where we started. And then we caught the super luxe train to Aguas Calientes at 2,000m.

We checked into our hostel, had a much needed warm shower and ‘glammed up’ for dinner. We had some free time to have a poke around, and we all met up later for a few pre-dinner Pisco Sours.

Dinner tipped me over the edge and I wasn’t alone in opting for another early night (and that’s coming from someone who didn’t even walk that day).

Next morning we were up for the first bus at 4am. We were all used to the silly early morning starts now, so it wasn’t that big a deal. Besides we were all super excited. After all, this was what we had come so far to see.

Walking in through the gates of this 15th century Incan site and seeing Machu Picchu open up in front of us was a moment I will never forget. Sitting in between mountains of extraordinary beauty, smack bang in the middle of a tropical mountain forest is this remarkable city.

The place is bloody huge – it spans some 5km2. And is arguably the most un-touched Incan site in the world. There is no sign of the Conquistadors ever having visited the remote city.

The place is thought to have been a sanctuary inhabited by high priests and the ‘Virgins of the Sun’ (chosen women). Excavations revealed that of the 135 skeletons found, 109 were women.

There are some places that when you finally clasp eyes on them, literally make you want to weep. You just can’t believe you’re there, you know…

Victor took us on a really passionate interesting tour. I like that he focused on the Incan significance of various parts of the site.

My ears perked up when he started talking about one of the more important structures – the Room with Three Windows.

I have a little bit of a crush on the number 3. I regularly look at the time when it happens to be 3.33. I like to exaggerate in lots of 3s. (There were 3 million people at the festival!) My birthdate is divisible by 3. I Googled it once. And it has a lot of significance in a lot of different cultures. Generally speaking though, it’s seen to represent balance. Think of your average bar stool, for instance.

So I was interested (but not all that surprised) to learn the number 3 was also significant to the Incans. The ‘chakana’ was a 3-stepped symmetrical cross. They strived to live their lives according to three principals (love, knowledge and work); three commandments (don’t steal, don’t lie, and don’t be lazy); and three types of work (for others, for the State, and for the Gods).

The three worlds that the Incans believed in were the Uqhu Pacha – which represented the underworld and death, the Kay Pacha – which represented the world of humans, and the Hanan Pacha – which represented the stars, celestial beings and gods

There were three revered animals: The snake, living underground, representing the lower world; the puma, a powerful land animal represented the middle world; and the condor which represented the upper world in the skies.

After the tour, Shell and I went up with Cristina and Gabby for the optional climb of Huayna Picchu.

Huayna Picchu is actually the mountain that you see in all those ‘hero shots’, the one you see in postcards, accompany travel articles etc. The mountain Machu Picchu is actually what you see when you’re standing on Huayna Picchu.

Everyone I had met on my travels, who had been, had told me climbing Huayna Picchu was a ‘must-do’. And they were right. It was just a very steep climb with a lot of unsure stairs, and it took me a good while.

We were exceptionally fortunate to have a really clear day. The views from there were nothing short of spectacular. And it was there you really got the best sense of the sheer scale of the site.

I could describe the site in painstaking detail, I could regurgitate lots of interesting facts & figures, I could re-tell some of the stories I’ve heard until the llamas come home. But for me –it comes down to this:

This is a place you’ve been seeing images of all your life and it somehow strangely feels familiar. This is a place that has seen countless sunrises & sunsets. And will continue to do so long after you’re on the bus back home. This is a place which has held so much meaning for so many generations of people – from the original landowners who conducted spiritual rituals here, to global visitors who come to meditate during the Solstices. This is a place which was built by an incredibly intelligent race of people who we have a lot to learn from. This is a place which you can’t really know, until you go. So if it’s not on your Bucket List, I’d suggest your list needs revising.

To write this post, I referred to the SAS Travel website (we trekked with these guys & they were great). The section about the significance of 3s to the Incans was lifted (and re-worked) from a 3rd party website.

River deep, mountain high

Shell & I moved across town to a hostel in Miraflores & went out for a walk in the afternoon, essentially to book a flight for the next day & get all important supplies: wine & cheese. We had a lovely afternoon catching up on the events of the past year.

Isn’t it funny how with some friends, it always feels like it was only yesterday since you saw them last. I love Shell to pieces. We became friends in our last year of uni, so we’ve been friends for more than 20 years now. She’s smart & sassy and super interesting. And she makes me giggle my arse off like a little school kid.

I couldn’t think of anyone I would rather be doing my first multi-day hike with. She’s a total outdoorsy type and has done lots of this sort of thing before. She’s the sort of person who has technical socks in her wardrobe.

And (for the most part) she knows exactly how to manage me with the right balance of genuine encouragement (for those moments when I’m unsure of myself) & gentle mocking (for those moments when I just need a good kick up the arse). I was confident she’d be able to help drag my sorry butt up & down all those big ass hills.

After we knocked off all the wine & cheese – we went out to a hipster Japanese brasserie & celebrated our friendship, our trip, our everything with some very tasty morsels of ceviche, sashimi and the first of many Pisco Sours.

On Thursday, we caught a plane to Cuzco and went to find the Walkon Inn. The LP described it as ‘a short puff up the hill’. At an altitude of 3,400m, it was much more of a big puff up the hill, I’ll tell you that for nothing.

Cuzco was Just. Gorgeous.

It reminded me a lot of Antigua, Guatemala. The big open plaza (which incidentally was the scene of the death of the original Tupac) with its pretty little trees and old wooden benches made way for amorous kissing couples, eager ‘art students’ selling Cuzco School imitations, or people like me having broken conversations with wrinkly old men in faded 3-piece suits.

The grand old cathedral and the beautiful Church of La Compañía corner the square. Touristy tiendas, outdoors equipment stores, and balconied bars take care of the rest.  Big old wonky cobblestone streets spider off in all directions, making Cuzco an absolute delight to just get lost in.

We spent a bit of time sorting out our Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. Neither of us knew we needed to make reservations to be one of the 400 they let up daily to Huayna Picchu, which threw a little spanner in the planning. But by the end of the next day, we had booked in a tour for the following week.

We spent a bit of time getting to know Cuzco a bit better. Shell  went & saw some of the churches. I just kinda wandered about, spent some time in a cafe, and practiced Spanish on any locals who would afford me the time of day.

Shell took us on a self-guided walking tour of the city & we had a great morning of haggling in the markets for all sorts of mismatching colourful things. (“It goes with your outfit!”) She entertained gorgeous Peruvian kids (who are right up there with Guatemalan kids in terms of Steal Factor) with a wind-up backflipping kangaroo. And we had a cheapo market lunch washed down with our first Inca Kola (tastes just like creaming soda). Soooo good.

We had a few days to kill before our trek so we decided to make our way down to Lake Titicaca – the biggest in all of South America.

On Saturday – we took a very fancy tourist bus down to Puno. It stopped along the way at some historically significant sites: Andahuaylilllas, Raqchi and the Pukara Museum. I’m not sure if I’ve just been travelling too long now but truth be told, I was a little bored.

I think I’m just less into seeing sites and more into having human exchanges. My all-time favourite moments over the last year have been having laughs with locals. Learning a bit about their lives first-hand. Buying something directly off an artisan I’ve shared a box of goon with. Being part of family celebrations. Seeing how someone cooks. Having kids correct my Spanish. Impromptu salsa lessons with Latino men.

Having said that – the tour wasn’t entirely awful. I think I was still a bit tired – one of my personal manifestations of attitude sickness.

That and a loss of appetite. Much to both mine & Michelle’s dismay. It was such a disappointment as we had some truly beautiful meals. We also met some truly lovely people.  People who would quite literally cross the road to ask if they could help you.

I had met a few travellers in the past year who had told me that Peru wasn’t all that terrific for food and Peruvians weren’t all that friendly. I really don’t know what Peru they visited because I had a completely different experience.

We got to Puno and I made a phone call to the boss-lady of a family who ran an unusual home-stay, that Shell had read about.

Uros is a group of 50 or so man-made islands constructed of Totora reeds – each one populated with 3 to 5 families. The original inhabitants of the area (who speak Aymara, Quechua and Spanish) built the islands as an escape mechanism from the Conquistadors.

Cristina told me she’d send her son to come collect us from the bus terminal. Shell & I had picked up a lovely young lad from NYC by the name of Jeff & he decided to come along for the ride. We didn’t really know what we getting ourselves into, so it was a bit of blind faith on his part. Turns out, he made the right decision.

Khantati island was one of the highlights of my whole year. It was a bit pricey for a night’s accomm & 3 meals for 165 sols (USD$60). When you can get a room for $7 and a meal for $3 soles. But it was one of those experiences you end up calling ‘priceless’.

The sun had set by the time we got to the water’s edge for our slow motor boat ride to the family’s home. Landing on the island, my feet sank squishily into the reed ground. It was like walking on a foam mattress.

We were greeted by Cristina, who was all decked out in traditional clothing – she was wearing a brown bowler hat which covered her waist-length braids which had pom-poms tied to the bottom of them. She was also wearing a brightly coloured bolero style jacket and a big big skirt with lots of pleats around her generous waistline which made it look, well, even more generous. She was also wearing a massively cheeky grin.

She introduced us to some of her other family members & then showed us our rooms. They were so coooote! Two beds sighing under the weight of masses of brightly coloured blankets.

Not long after, we were sitting on the dining room floor wrapped up in those same brightly coloured blankets, warming ourselves with cocoa leaf tea, waiting for our dinner. The whole meal was divine but the soup was amazing. Soups are a bit of a specialty of Peruvians. Note to self: Must procure a Peruvian cookbook when I get home.

It was freezing cold & there wasn’t much (in fact absolutely nothing) to do on the island, so after a sweet lil exchange of songs with some of Cristina’s family members (get this: they knew Waltzing Matilda!) – we got an early night.

The next morning, the son took us out on a ‘fishing’ trip of sorts. More of a lazy boat ride in a reed canoe in the morning sun with a bit of net chucking. Total catch equated to two tiny fish that were going to be cooked up for the cat. It was a nice way to pass the time.

When we got back he gave us a history lesson on the area & the people. I was surprised to learn that the Uros pre-date the Incans. They had once been on the verge of disappearance but are now thriving on tourism and the sales of their textiles.

I was also interested to learn how they more or less knit these islands together by hand. The islands decompose from the bottom up and so the Uros keep adding layer upon layer. Family disputes are apparently resolved by chopping the island in half and the two parties going their separate ways! That’s one way to do it, I suppose.

After lunch, Shell & i said goodbye to Jeff and made our way to the peninsula of Llachon. It wasn’t far but on the way, I was really struck by how geographically diverse Peru was. It really is a very striking country.

After a knees-up-around-your-ears kind of bus ride, we ambled around the lil village knocking on doors to see if anyone knew of anywhere we could stay the night.

Word must have gotten around – as before you knew it we were being led by a little girl and her younger sister down a dirt road to their father’s house.

The views of the Lake from Magno’s home were in a word – spectacular. We were shown to a tiny little guesthouse with a cold shower (brrr!) bathroom, where we dumped our bags and did a little ‘We’re in Peruuuuuu!’ dance.

Within moments we were surrounded by the Quechua couple’s tribe of gorgeous lil kids & their cousins – with their tassle-eared beanies, rosy cheeks and snotty noses. They wanted to play volleyball with Shell (apparently the national women’s team is a force to be reckoned with) and play horseys on me. I get all the good jobs.

We had a couple of long necks and watched the sun go down. Later we were treated to yet another beautiful meal (again with the amazing soups!) and had yet another early night.

Next morning we went for a walk up to the mirador – the highest point on the peninsula to get a better idea of the sheer scale of the lake. It’s so big, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re looking out at the ocean.

The next day we sadly farewelled the lovely family & caught the long bus back to Cuzco which took forever. We got in late that night.

The day after, we got organised for our trip and in the afternoon we visited Sacsayhuamán (pronounced more or less, Sexy Woman) – which is the former capital of the Incan empire.

“The stones used in the construction of these terraces are among the largest used in any building in pre-hispanic America and display a precision of fitting that is unmatched in the Americas. The stones are so closely spaced that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones.”

The largest limestone block is estimated to be anywhere from 128 tonnes – 200 tonnes in weight. Freaking heavy in other words.  It’s quite mind boggling when you start thinking about how these people built such a place without the technologies of today.

It certainly got Shell & I a tad excited about what was to come at Machu Picchu. At 7pm, we had our briefing for the trek which was *interesting* to say the least.

And afterwards we met up with another Michel (you can never have too many) for drinks & dinner.  We had met the charming silver-haired surfer at breakfast and bumped into him again up at the ruins. We invited him to join us for dinner.

We were all keen to try Cuy – a Peruvian specialty. Cuy is actually guinea pig & they serve those little buggers whole. It’s most disconcerting to see their little faces and feet.  When you can get past that – they’re actually very tasty. Just don’t tell the kids.

We had another drink after dinner before heading back to the hostel to finish packing for our trek. It was a stupid early start the next day, so we were keen to get at least a few hours of shut-eye beforehand.

___

PS: Am home now but have a few more posts to publish before I wrap this baby up.

Mixed tape

TIME KEEPS ON SLIPPING, SLIPPING (INTO THE FUTURE)

Time has a strange way of warping when you’re wandering. I ended up staying in the sleepy lil town of Salento for just over 6 weeks. Most folk come to see the wax palms, do a coffee tour, and stay for maybe 3 nights. 4 nights, tops.

When Sammy – the self-appointed ‘Director of Happiness’ (the perfect role for the happy-go-lucky lad) – left, I started working at La Serrana. I did that for just a fortnight. The rest of the time, I was just a paying guest. Far preferable in many ways. It meant I was free to come & go as I pleased.

The work wasn’t hard. It was just a matter of being around every night. All we had to do was take care of after hours’ check-ins / outs and ensure guests were taken care of. In exchange we got free nights & some meals. I also did a marketing strat for Jon in exchange for some additional nights.

I’ll be straight up with you: there’s not a whole lot to do in Salento. But that is kind of the whole point. Having said that – sometimes I would get to the end of the day and would be at a complete loss as to where it had gone. And it wasn’t because I was busy.

In fact – quite the opposite: it was all I could do to maybe have a bit of a morning stretch, take my time over a big breakfast and then struggle through a Spanish lesson. Afterwards I’d stroll into town, buy a Salpicón de frutas & have a bit of a jibber with the locals. Sometimes I’d meet a friend for lunch or a coffee. Then I’d pop in the supermercado, buy some groceries, amble on home, and cook up a tasty feed for new friends. All of a sudden it would be time for bed.

How did I fit everything else in before I started travelling? My sabbatical looks to be coming to an end pretty soon and I’m getting a wee bit anxious about returning to my old life: Getting so busy that my friends have to schedule a date with me 6 weeks in advance. Getting so frantic that I need to diarise a few hours to be on my own. Getting so hectic that I don’t have time to notice flowers opening, new graffiti, or lilting butterflies – you know, the important stuff.

Apart from 6 months in Europe in ’98, I’ve never had the luxury of this much time. And maybe I won’t again for quite some time. At first I felt guilty. Thinking in particular of my new-mummy friends, who also have to work full-time and just never seem to have time to scratch themselves. But now after one year – finally, I am truly able to live in the moment and just enjoy. It’s a nice lesson to have learnt – and it’s one I hope I can hang onto when I go back to my ‘real life’.

BREATHE

Having said that, in amongst all this beautiful non-busyness – this simple slow life to which I’ve become accustomed… there’s still a part of me that needs to be productive: to learn or to create.

In the last year, I’ve spent two months taking Spanish classes (on Isla Mujeres in Mexico and also in Salento in Colombia). In Antigua, Guatemala, I took a month-long class learning how to teach English. And on Little Corn Island in Nicaragua, I worked in a bar for just over a month & can now pour a bloody good Cuba Libré. I figure if you’re going to stop & be productive – you may as well do it somewhere gorgeous, Right?

In terms of creating – I’ve discovered I actually do have creative instincts (been in denial for 30-something years) and I’d like to spend more honing this when I go home. But one of the best things to come out of this trip for me is I’ve finally discovered my passion! Writing. How good is that?

So it was a little strange how in Salento – where I had all the time in the world – somehow I struggled to find the time to write. In part, I think this was because I was spending a bit of time doing some soul searching. But I also think I just need to face up to the fact that even when it comes to your passion – you need to practice discipline. Make it a part of your daily practice.

I think this doesn’t relate just to writing. But other stuff as well.

A few weeks ago, a truly gentle man by the name of Nas came to stay with us. Originally from India, he’s been travelling the world for the last 29 years! You don’t travel the world for that long without accumulating a bag load of stories, a good sense of humour & quite a bit of wisdom. Nas informed me I needed to learn how to breathe properly. He talked of noticing the differences in how we breathe in different situations. He said the air we breathe connects us to the outside world. And he suggested that everyone needs to have a practice, such as yoga, where we observe how we breathe. He told me that when you are able to breathe normally in uncomfortable positions, this helps you replicate this type of breathing in difficult situations in life. And that helps you manage the situation. It’s not something I’ve ever given much thought to before. But it really made sense.

I learnt a lot from Nas. I also laughed a lot with him. And I ended up buying two of his paintings (he’s a very talented artist). One was of all the butterflies in the fairytale landscape that was Ometepe (in Nicaragua). The other a light-infused jungle landscape inspired by the northern parts of Panama. I love love love them and can’t wait to get them framed & hanging on my walls someday soon.

THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

Nas was just one of the many amazing people who came to stay at La Serrana. It’s the type of place that just draws beautiful people to it.

The ‘front yard’ is an unfettered lush green valley with all these gorgeous feminine curves… and just like a woman: it is forever changing moods – the shapes shift, the clouds drift… sunshine peaks out and rainbows form before a headstrong storm… Not once did I tire of looking out at that valley on my way up to breakfast.

Breakfast is held in an ambient dining room. Lots of solid timber & glass. Apparently, the entire property was once owned by a massive, wealthy Cali / Medellin family. And the gorgeous vivacious Olga who cooks us brekky every day used to be their family cook. She told us she once did a dinner for 150 of them. I love eating here: the sun spills into the glassed walls… and from the exposed beams hang hundreds and hundreds of empty wine bottles.

I spent my weekday mornings taking Spanish lessons at one of the alfresco tables. 180 degree views. Marcia, my gregarious teacher, is qualified to teach at university level. She’s one of 6 kids (all of whom are professionals) and she’s also a single mum. Her son is at uni in Bogota studying law. She’s rightfully very proud of him. She’s really helped improve my Spanish and I just loved spending time with her. I‘ve learnt a lot about Colombian culture through her.

Marcia was sweet enough to invite me and Marc – an Aussie larrikin who arrived here on crutches – to dinner at her house for Santa Semana (Holy Week). She cooked up a most delicious traditional dish called Ajiaco Bogotano for her son, friends & us. Marc had 3 helpings it was that good!

He was a good boy that one. Bit out there, but a heart of fucking gold. He reminded me a bit of wild brumby. We had a great night literally (okay, maybe not literally) laughing our arses off on golden tops we’d found in the fields under cow patties. That was definitely one of my all-time favourite ‘big nights out’ in Salento. Mind you – they were very far & few between!

Most of my evenings were spent cooking up a storm in the communal kitchen… generally huge vegetarian feasts for the long-termers – teaming up with the softly-spoken Fernando from Argentina (who was one of the other volunteers there) and drinking cheap Chilean reds.

Either that or revelling in Olga’s culinary skills. Mexican nights were my favourite, followed very closely by her mushroom & nut burgers. Which Olga gave me the recipe for, as part of my farewell present from all the staff – I was stoked! I ended up getting quite close to the staff there. Particularly Olga and the one of the hardest working Latin Americans I have ever met, Luz. They all only spoke Spanish which provided a great opportunity for me to practice. But moreover, I just really enjoyed getting to know them. We shared lots of girly goss & giggles. Tears were shed when I left. I’m gunna miss them all terribly.

TATTOO

In fact, I’m going to miss the whole country terribly. I ended up being there close to my 90 days. It’s a stunning country. And the people are so warm & welcoming. It’s funny: you hear all these things about how dangerous Colombia is & blah blah blah.

One night I found myself stumbling home down the 1.2km dirt track from town, in the middle of the night – quite drunk & completely alone. I don’t know that I would even do that in Australia. And here I was in goddamn Colombia! I know for a fact that I had absolutely nothing to worry about. I was safe as houses.

Colombia was full of surprises for me: It’s no secret that a lot of tourists  go there for a *good, cheap* time. And as someone who’s always been up for a *good cheap* time –it is a little ironic then that Colombia for me was the beginning of something a lot deeper.

This vacation has never been about eating, loving and praying (just quietly – I hated that book). I originally just wanted to take some time out, see a bit of Latin America, do a bit of diving & possibly drink a *few* mojitos.

I’m not even certain if Colombia was originally on my hit list. I was only supposed to be away for 4 months. Nearly one year later & here I am – still going. And I’m delving more into the spiritual and less into the spirits.

I ended up participating in the Ayahuasca ceremony three more times. And every time was wildly different for me. And extraordinarily enlightening. Sometimes scary. My past came back to haunt me. My future made itself known to me. I took a walk with my demons. And I saw my guiding lights. On my last night, I thought I was going to die. In all seriousness. I saw a white light. I heard a voice calling me. My body temperature dropped dramatically. I was unbearably cold. And then I started thinking about everyone I loved. It was terrifying. But also very revealing. I learned what I need to focus on from here on in.

I feel very fortunate. It might be overstating it a bit, but I felt like meeting the Shaman – Señor Carlos (or Tita) was akin to meeting the Dalai Lama. He is very clearly an extraordinarily spiritual, wise man. He sees stuff. He knows stuff. He can fix stuff. He and his people are very experienced and are all amazing caring individuals.

The morning after my penultimate ceremony, I spent some time with another Shaman, ‘Jairo’, who amongst other things told me I needed to meditate on these four words: Humildad, Respeto, Amor & Gratitud (Humility, Respect, Love & Gratitude). These words – while simple & essentially non-revolutionary really resonated with me. I knew immediately that I wanted to tattoo these words on my wrist as a reminder of my time with these people, as a reminder of the things I need to be mindful of on a daily basis and as a reminder of my time in Colombia. Beautiful, surprising Colombia.

The way it is

Cartagena is surrounded by 11kms of stone wall which took the Spaniards more than 200 years to build in response to repeated attacks by pirates. According to LP, Cartagena was one of the most “important bastions of the Spanish overseas empire and influenced much of Colombia’s history.” Inside these walls there is a charming ‘old town’ whose cobblestone streets I had already roamed (and tripped up on) many times over the past two weeks. Despite feeling like I’d been there a bit too long, I was going to be more than happy to wander those streets again with my old friend, Scott.

I surprised him by meeting him at the airport. Lots of squealing and jumping up & down and hugs all round. Okay, I squealed and jumped up & down. We then checked into a pretty hotel with a rooftop pool & a cracking view of the entire city (his treat). And then it was Christmas! Well kinda.

I had asked Scott to bring me a bunch of things from back home. Vegemite (how could i have neglected to leave home without it?); Bonds knickers (because apparently I have the biggest ass in all of Latin America. Where the fuck do all the black ladies shop?); mini tampons (impossible to find over here); and Bushman’s bug repellent (so many jungles and only 7.5% DEET!?) Aaaand not to forget my brand spanking new Kindle! Books books and more books. I can download up to 1,000 I’m told. And it weighs just 290g! Did you know the LP South America on a Shoestring book weighs 830g? Every Gram Counts when you’re carrying 22kg on your back. Trust me.

We caught up over dinner in an alfresco Italian restaurant in the beautiful (albeit very touristy) Plaza Santo Domingo, where Botero’s Gordita (aka, the fat lady) lounges seductively right in front of the church. Nude! The saucy minx.

Next day, we visited the macabre Palacio de Inquisicion which houses a depraved collection of instruments of torture – including an Addams Family style stretching rack and an iron skullcap with a drill piece. My favourite article though, was the list of questions they used to ask women to determine if they were witches, such as: “What worms and caterpillars/slugs have you created?”

That afternoon, we had wine & cheese and watched the sunset from the rooftop. Much later (no one even thinks about going out until 1030pm over here) – we went to Club Havana. Flocked walls are adorned with antique lights and fading framed photos of legendary Cuban singers. An old timber U-shaped bar is surrounded by high stools. Waiters in white vests serve up the meanest mojitos I’ve ever imbibed. And later: another massive band on another teeny stage playing sassy salsa you just gotta shake yer stuff to.

Needless to say, nothing much got accomplished the next morning. We did manage to visit the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas high up on a hill later in the afternoon. It’s an interesting triangular shaped design with multiple layers, and is said to be impenetrable. Underneath there is a complex maze of tunnels which have incredible acoustics. At sunset, we had a couple of beers at Cafe del Mar before heading to a Japanese restaurant for sushi & sashimi and a lychee martini!

Next day we set off for a side trip along the Caribbean coast towards Venezuela.

I had heard Santa Marta wasn’t particularly special, so we just stopped for just one night. That eve, we had some excellent Spanish tapas & a local brew in a bar by the plaza. The next day we got some beach time in (confirming: nothing special) and went for a walk to a swish-looking restaurant at the top of a steep hill overlooking Rodadero.

I don’t think Scott was terribly impressed when we later boarded a non air-conditioned bus which wouldn’t have provided a midget with any legroom. Luckily the trip to Taganga was only an hour.

The place Scott had booked for us at Taganga was just gorgeous. We were very enthusiastically greeted by a very young, very pretty Colombian girl. She turned out to be the wife of the French owner, who was old enough to be her grandfather (standard.) He had extended his lovely family home with two casitas off to the side. A bougainvillea-lined pool provided sweeping views of the village & the bay.

Later that afternoon, I went for a walk downtown to organise a dive. Taganga is a tiny fishing village rampant with wannabe hippies, high on ganja selling, lots of very average looking jewellery. The township is a bit hot & dusty by day but quite pretty at dusk. It’s renowned for cheap-as-chips diving courses.

I went for a couple of dives the next morning. Windy as all get out on the way to the site, so we got absolutely drenched before even getting into the water. First dive in more than a year that I had to wear a wettie for (Have to say: not too keen on the sub 20 degrees water anymore). The vis wasn’t all that great, but the reef was in great condition. Loads of big ass fish (and a notable absence of lionfish). Plus I got to see a couple of slugs & other stuff I hadn’t seen before. So all good.

Next day we made our way to Tayrona National Park, where Scott continued to up the ante. We stayed here.

At the top of a winding old stone stairway, you are welcomed by not one, but two infinity pools – which guide your wide open eyes to the most spectacular vista of a deserted wild seascape. Our own private beach stretching on for ever. This folks, is what is known as “flashpacking”.

Considering there were only four suites, the place was massive. And there were soooo many things to lounge around on. Banana lounges. Day bed lounges. Living room lounges. There was even a suspended dugout canoe which had been converted to a lounge. It was filled to the brim with big soft poofy pillows of various shapes, sizes & colours. Clearly, I had died & gone to lounge heaven.

So, we lounged around. And ate beautiful gourmet meals. We also got to know the only other guests there: Dot & Wayne – an interesting Canadian couple who captained & care-took a luxury yacht for a wealthy Colombian entrepreneur.

The next day, Scott & I went for a walk into the Park which started with an unplanned ‘shortcut’ shown to us by our uncertain but well-intentioned hotel manager. We had to wade knee deep through a river and do a bit of bush-bashing through some light jungle. Fortunately our intrepid ‘guide’ escorted us all the way to the road otherwise we would have got lost for sure. He flagged down a local on a motorbike & arranged for him to take us to the road’s end. I told Scott it was an adventure. But I don’t think he believed me.

The walk through the park was just beautiful and at the end of the trail – the greenery gave way to these untamed beaches with craggy rock formations peppering the skyline. We had a quick dip in one of the bays but it was a bit seaweedy unfortunately. We turned around & walked back the way we came. Without the stupid shortcut bit.

The next day Scott booked himself on a flight back to Bogota with a view to returning to the States (and home) a lot earlier than planned. He had decided Colombia wasn’t for him.

In retrospect, I guess I could have prepped him a bit more as to the differences between the First World and Colombia. Stuff like: Toilet paper doesn’t go in the toilet. Electricity can be unreliable. WiFi even more so. The shower pressure isn’t always best. You won’t always get hot water. Sometimes you won’t even get water. I could have asked more questions as to what kind of holiday he wanted to have and planned a better itinerary. I always knew we would be different types of travellers. But I just figured it would be stuff we could easily work around.

So that was that. A week of fancy hotels, fancy cocktails, and fancy pools with views. I am grateful to Scott for his generosity (dormitory rooms and shared showers do lose their charm after 10 months on the road). But to be perfectly honest, I would have traded all the fancy for just more time & more laughs with one of my oldest friends. I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed.

We shared a taxi back to Santa Marta. On the edge of town, our cabbie organised for another driver to take me into Centro Historico, while he took Scott straight to the airport. And so I bid my best mate a teary farewell on the side of the road.

We’ll be all right at the end of the day. We love each other immeasureably. And have done for 25 years.  Scott & i will be friends until we’re old & wrinkly.

But it’s true what they say – that it’s not always easy to travel with friends. I think we can only happily travel with people who are very similar to us. Insofar as the places we want to see, how we get there, where we stay, how long for, how we spend our money, and probably most importantly – our overall outlook. Especially when things don’t pan out as we had anticipated. Because one thing’s for sure: they won’t.

And that’s when you just gotta say to y’self, “It’s an adventure!”

The times they are a changing

Tuesday 7 February: It was a grey kind of morning, and a dense Darien jungle inundated the teeny fishing village of Sapzurro (pop. 1000) where we dropped anchor in South American waters for the first time. I was absolutely hankering to get on land.

Deb arranged a ‘launch’ (panga / speedboat) with one of the locals to transport us from Ilean to Capurgana (pop. 2000). Both of these villages, because of their proximity to the border – are rich with sailing legends: stories of pirates from Panama, criminals from Colombia, and the wine & wenches who drained them all of their wealth.

Passports stamped, we checked in as a group into the Hotel Los Delphines – rather fitting, given our welcome to country by the beautiful critters. We were all desperate for showers, cold beers & food in varying orders and so went our separate ways for a bit. For the rest of the day we ambled about, bumping into each other by street food vendors, in the pool hall, and down by the sea.

Capurgana is a sweet lil place that reminded me a bit of Little Corn: no cars, no ATM, and town power for only ½ the day – if that. And subsequently, very unreliable WiFi connection.

It’s incredible how reliant we’ve become on the internet. I remember travelling through Europe in ‘98 and carrying traveller’s cheques – now I do my banking electronically. I made arrangements to meet new friends by the Trevi Fountain at a specific time – now I Facebook them. I wrote old-fashioned letters (and faxes!) to communicate with loved ones – now I email them (although I still send postcards!) I collected mail at the next town’s ‘poste restante’ – now I have no idea where I’m going to be from one day to the next. And I made reverse charge calls to my folks from public phone booths (using coins!) – whereas now I Skype them. Oh, the times they are a changing.

I would have stayed longer in Capurgena, along with Pinky & Shannon, except I really needed cash. I needed to touch base with Scott – who was on his way! And I had promised to let my poor old Pa know I had made the crossing safely. I needed to get back to civilisation.

So at 7 the next morning, I was standing on one very disorganised dock, an unwilling participant in yet another brilliant Latin American System. This is how best practice for a Latin American System goes: The more useless paperwork – the better. The more power the bossman thinks they wield – the better. The more other ‘officials’ standing around watching the bossman – the better. And last but not least the more waiting you (as the paying customer) have to do – the better.

It was another back-breaking, tongue-biting, teeth-smashing ride of about 2.5 hrs to Turbo. I didn’t think too much of it when the engine kept cutting out. Men over here can fix anything. But when we ran out of gas in the middle of fucking nowhere, I started to feel a little uneasy. But Whaddya Know! – out of nowhere, a boat with extra fuel appears and topped us up. Like John, the owner of the bar on Little Corn said to me, once – they know how to make you feel grateful for small things.

Turbo was just as the LP described it: a place to get the hell out of, as quickly as possible. It’s a hectic, noisy, filthy place that smelt absolutely putrid and was teeming with touts, sleazes, conmen and beggars. The people from our sailing trip (sans Pinky & Shannon) split into two parties at this point. The lads & Constance were headed for Medellin. While I was headed for Cartagena – along with the delightfully kooky German, Nils and the sour Swiss fellow, who was getting on my nerves.

We got herded to an expensive collectivo where we joined some travellers we had met on the San Blas islands. I chatted with a young Californian girl who looked just like Buffy. The bus took us to a place called Monterria where we ate shit food & got herded into another expensive collectivo, destined for Cartagena.

After midnight, we arrived into Getsemani – the red light district in the old part of town – where a fuck-off street party was in full flight. I checked into the nearest available hostel with Buffy & her crew, right outside where all the action was. An hour later, I literally fell into my bed – which was smack bang in the middle of an awful crowded dorm room on the street-side of the hostel. I dreamt I was trapped inside a sound system that night.

The next day, I moved to the much more resort-y style Media Luna right next door. Into a lovely uncrowded back room. I had a personal admin day by the pool and got an early night.

Shannon came found me the following morning. She & Pinky had arrived late the night before. He had bailed to hook up with a girl he’d arranged to meet here. Shannon was leaving on the 13th, so she & I spent the next 3 days hanging out, having heart-to-hearts, eating lots of g-o-o-d food, chatting with locals, and having lots of great big belly laughs.

Shannon’s a bit of a rarity. She’s only just 25 but such an old soul in many ways. She’s a bit of a dag, which I think makes her incredibly cool. She’s well-travelled and well-read and as such, has lots of interesting things to say. But she’s also a very good listener. Those who she chooses to shine her light on, light right back up at her. It’s a lovely thing to behold.

She reminds me a bit of an amazing woman I used to know called Annie. An angel sent to save my stupid teenage ass, and who ended up having a massive influence on the person I became.

That night we partied with Buffy & her crew. We sampled some of the *local fare* and did a bit of bar hopping, winding up at a cool lil dig with live music & lots of dancing. Next day, we ate a delicious 3-course meal in a beautiful European bistro. I flirted with the cute waiter with gorgeous skin, and a big shiny smile.

We also took a tour to the volcanic mud baths … the whole experience was a bit “different” to what we had both been anticipating (ie, how many tourists can you fit into 5 square metres & sketchy masseurs trying to cop a feel). I got mud in my punani. As my mate Dave would declare, “Now, you don’t get to say that everyday.”

We topped it all off with a wonderful last night of wine & cheese (blue & swiss!) night in the Plaza de los Coches (Square of the Carriages) and a chat with a talented Brazilian artisan whose work we had both fallen in love with. I just kinda moped about the day she left, and then cheered myself up by researching a plan of sorts for when Scott comes. Not long now!

I met a sweet man from San Diego and made plans to go to Playa Blanca with him. It’s supposed to be the best beach near Cartagena and is the weekend playground of many Colombians. And it was just lovely (not quite San Blas, but lovely all the same) … more pristine white sands, more turquoise waters.

We met up with a couple of other solo travellers, and scored ourselves hammocks for $3 / nite. The only downsides to Playa Blanca were getting harassed by hawkers, and the exorbitant prices of meals. But there is nothing like the sound of waves to put you to sleep, and waking up right on the beach will never lose its charm for me.

I ran into Guy and Marcus (the sound English brothers who were on our yacht) and we hung out on the beach for the day, which was a bit of a bonus!

I had started coming down with an intense sore throat thing and was feeling a bit achy in my glands, and didn’t really fancy sleeping out in the open for another night. So I cut my trip short to come back to Cartagena.

I’ve been back two days now and have just been chilling out, drinking lots of water and getting some rest. Re-charging for the Carnival in Barranquilla. Apparently it’s the second biggest in the world, after Rio de Janiero in Brasil.

I’ve decided to go for just one night. I don’t have accommodation sorted (standard). So I’m going to pull an all-nighter. The first in a long time. I’m a bit scared. But also super excited. Plus I have sparkly blue nails! All I need now is some feathers, and I’m good to go.