San Gil By: Anik
To quote Lonely Planet, San Gil really does “pack a punch.” San Gil’s steep surrounding hills allow for a bird’s eye view that have made for colorful morning runs.
We’ve had a relaxing time and a bit of a regroup from the craziness of the previous days. We were able to find pancakes for the kids, which, to them were as valuable as gold. Simon skyped with his class. They talked to him one by one and sang him songs, the look on his face was priceless.
We read, wrote, and walked around the busy streets indulging in ice cream and cafes con leche. We couldn’t however pass up San Gil’s alluring bait of adventure sports. Darin spent yesterday morning mountain biking the local hills, which as always, resulted in a perma-grin for the rest of the day.
We spent an afternoon about 45 minutes out of town, at Cascada De Juan Cuir.
We hiked up to the 180 meter falls, and with the help of two guides, Simon, Darin and I rappelled down a 70 meter part of it. I marveled at Simon’s courage. He was very nervous, saying to me “well mommy, it was nice knowing you” as he leaned back over the sheer cliff of water.
The rocks were slippery, the water was freezing, and the walls of the falls were nothing but vertical.
We loved it. Marco is too young but he also didn’t want to do it. He was thrilled to be below using our camera for the first time.
On the way back, we stopped in a very small town called Valle De San Jose for lunch. A guy I met at a local hostel told us that this town was made special because of its’ chorizo. Well, it didn’t disappoint. Darin says this was the best thing he’s eaten in Colombia thus far.
This morning, Darin and the boys have gone white river rafting down the Rio De Fonce. I decided to stay back and get us prepared for our week at El Cocuy. We’ll be spending some time on our way, acclimating for the 12,000 foot elevation area that we’ll be hiking and camping through. We’re putting some serious faith in our van.
Internet access now feels like the ultimate treat, just like air conditioning, shade, salads, and places free of mosquitos, gnats, and sand fleas. We reached San Gil last night and we chose a nice hostel to stay in for the next few days. The idea of a real shower and a real bed with access to a full sized refrigerator thrills us.
We left Taganga and headed toward Parque Nacional Tayrona. We stopped by a beautiful river on the way to filter water, it was a refreshing swim and the kids played with a beautiful 5 year old girl who lived nearby. The kids stripped down and with our strainer, caught fish and other critters and carried them around in a coke bottle they found by the river. The filtered water was a great idea, but after sitting in our nalgene bottles for a while, it began smelling a bit un-wordly. If I had to pick one thing I’m definitely OCD about, it’s my water. Let’s just say that I’m learning to adapt.
We drove a few miles past the park entrance and found “Casa Grande”, our oasis and place of respite for the next few days. We got a campsite right on the beach with nothing around, except for the the very friendly local dog who took a liking to us and spend his time in the shade of our awning. We napped, did yoga, and read while the kids spent most of their waking hours climbing and twirling around on this Cirque Du Soleil-like sort of stretchy cloth hanging from a branch. Despite the tranquil setting, sleep was difficult due to the 50-70 sand flea bites we each had on our legs.
We walked the beach and found what seemed like a great surf spot. The locals assured us that unlike the deadly violent currents and rip tides found everywhere else in the area, this was a very safe place to surf. We attempted to surf this spot the following day and we were very much humbled. In fact, I, in particular, walked away from there with my tail between my legs. It felt like a full body beating, while being pressure hosed up the nose.
The following morning, we headed for the Tayrona Park entrance. We parked the van 7 KM in at Canaveral. We stuffed our backpacks and started hiking through the jungle to Cabo de San Juan, where we would spend the night.
A few hours later, drenched in sweat, we reached our spot and marveled at the beauty of the setting before us. We camped a few feet from the water, in the picturesque cove, spending yet another night scratching our legs to no avail.
The next morning, we started off early on a challenging hike up to the ruins of Pueblito. The hike was straight up, bouldering most of the way through Tarzan like vines. Being Indiana Jones fans, the kids felt completely in their element and they climbed like monkeys and descended like cats. Back at the van, our solar shower was an absolute necessity after the 9km, 100 degree hike of the day.
We started our drive to San Gil, which, due to the roads and the large trucks, would take us close to 15 hours. The driving is like a constant game of chicken, there are many white knuckle moments.
A few hours out of Santa Marta, it was getting dark, and we’ve promised ourselves to heed the general rule of not driving at night. We pulled into the town of Fundacion, stopped at a guard station for a recommendation on where to pull off for the night. As we rounded the corner toward the recommended “El Centro”, we hit a curb and our back left tire blew up. It’s up to Darin to share the details of what happened next.
Once at the Centro, I felt a bit defeated, we were in the town’s center, parked at the curb, under the bright lights, with unbearable heat. Simon said “I’m not sleeping here!” I was feeling the same way, but not much could be done. As we reluctantly popped the top of the van, surrounded by dozens of locals with dozens of questions and stares, our savior for the night approached us. A short, sweet man, dressed impeccably, insisted that we couldn’t spend the night there, and that he had a much better space for us. As Darin followed him down an alley to see the spot, I sat in a chair and watched the local teenagers play barefoot soccer in the square.
The man led us to a gated parking spot behind the town’s cultural center. The finagling it took to get the van into this space was hero like on Darin’s part.
The man locked us in and left us for the night. Tierra and I slept in the tent while Darin and the kids slept in the van. The heat was overwhelming. We woke up the following morning seeing that we were pretty much under a bridge with broken glass all around us, safe, but very much feeling like dirt bags. We washed up and happily finessed our way out of Fundacion.
We spent the following night, not itching quite as much, at a campground by a beautifully cold river. We had a nice fire cooked meal, and found a cool breeze.
The drive to San Gil took our breaths away, the elevation gain was enormous and gave us a panoramic view of the Sierra Nevadas that played tricks on our depth perception.
Our dear Tierra left us this morning to finish her last week in Columbia on her own. I can’t think of too many people I could have as a 5th person to travel with in a small van for a week. For now, she definitely wins the prize.
We’ll be spending the next few days in San Gil, taking advantage of it’s adventuresome offerings.
We were hiking somewhere outside of Cartagena. It was challenging with a twenty pound backpack.
We saw leaf cutter ants that formed highways across the path.
But the coolest thing was the battle of one spider and one bee. Guess what? The bee won!
We drove and my dad hit a curb and blew a tire!!
P.S. We saw monkeys!
With all my preparations in the weeks prior to our trip, I tried to imagine all possible scenarios involving van troubles. I made a small tool bag with some of the essentials…Crescent wrenches, box wrenches, a diagnostic computer, volt meter and on and on.
The driving reminds me of driving back in New York, only on steroids. Narrow roads, high speeds and illegal passing.
After a long day of sweat dripping hiking in Tayrona Park, the darkness forced us into the town of Fundacion, hurried to find a place to call home for the night. We crossed a hap hazard 4 lane road into a security guard station to get a recommendation.
As “van” prepared as I was, the exceptionally high curb in Fundacion shredded my rear driver’s side tire. The van shifted one foot to the right immediately after hitting the curb as it wobbled across the opposite shoulder.
Before I was able to get out of the van, many Colombians on motorcycles, rickshaws and on foot were surrounding the van, eager to help. It took 3 minutes to shuffle the gear of 5 people living in the van in order to get to the tools stored in the back. Within 5 minutes, my new comrades and I were installing the spare tire. In all the preparations, I’d never inspected the spare tire to be sure it was inflated. Although low in air pressure, the full size spare tire was good to go. I was particular about installing the lug nuts myself to prevent stripping of the threads. As I was installing the tire, my Colombian friends were stripping the threads holding the spare tire under the van.
The following morning, after spending 50 mil col pesos ($25.00 USD) on a used tire and 14 mil col pesos ($7.00 USD) on installation, we left town with the winds at our backs.
As we approached San Gil, the noise coming from the right rear wheel that started two months ago heading back from a Mt. Baker ski trip, started to intensify. Five kilometers out of San Gil, the noise was now unrelenting after hitting a large speed bump at a high speed. At this point, I had Anik drive and I sat in the back by the wheel to diagnose the noise. My first thought was that it was a rattling gear. As we entered San Gil, we found a great place to park and stay where I could take a better look. What I saw made me cringe. The top bolt that holds the shock in place had worked its’ way out. The noise was that of the bolt shifting up and down with every vibration of the road.
After jacking the back wheel up, I made a friend named Andres, from Bogota. Through limited communication, with the help of Andres’ jack, we were able to align the shock to reinstall the bolt. After numerous failed attempts, I realized the threads were stripped. My amigo drove me all around town to find a replacement bolt, which failed. He took me to a machinist who was able to true the threads on the bolt. One tool I failed to pack was a ratchet and sockets, which sent us to hunt them down. After an hour of traveling around town, the trued bolt was installed in seconds.
I never imagined that Colombians would be so kind and helpful. They seem to feel it’s their duty to help foreigners as they travel through their country. Over the past three weeks, I’ve seen nothing of the current stereotype that North Americans hold of Colombia. VIVA COLOMBIA!
Sometimes I miss people, but other times I enjoy myself. Either way, I always embrace life! These last few days with Tierra here have been funny and relaxing. I’m really looking forward at the rest of our trip. But right now is still really great!
Once we finally got our Van, we parked at the Cartagena Convention center and spread ourselves out quite chaotically and got our situation organized. Well, as organized as can be. We rushed over to the airport to conveniently pick up our dear friend, Tierra, who is vacationing in Columbia for 2 weeks. Upon seeing each other, all we could do was laugh.
On our way out of town toward Santa Marta, we picked up two sweaty french hitch hikers holding a “Santa Marta” sign. With Darin and I in the front seats, the kids in the back seat, and Tierra and the 2 french hitch hikers sitting on their backpacks, we made our way.
For the sake of the boys, we took a left turn prompted by a “Volcan de Lodo de Totumo” sign. We all laughed at the sight of the small volcano, which seemed like a large bump of dirt with a couple of rickety wooden ladders to the top.
Instead of spewing ashes and lava, this volcano gurgles up mud. We immediately decided that that because of the fee, only the kids would swim in the unseen mud pit. Despite the reassurance that it wasn’t dangerous, and that I should just let the kids go to the top and jump in the mud, I insisted on accompanying them. When I got to the top, I was surprised at the display of mud that lay 15 feet below us. The kids climbed down the rickety ladder and began swimming around in the volcan. After watching them for a few minutes, it became obvious that we couldn’t pass this up.
I yelled down to Darin, Tierra and the french guys that we just had to pay the money and do it.
We bobbed around in the mud and couldn’t sink even if we tried, but we also could tell that the mud went on for at least 20 feet.
We eventually got out and made our way down the path to the beautiful lake nearby to wash off. We all felt particularly refreshed.
We spent the night of Darin’s 40th birthday by the beach in Puerto Columbia near the Pier. We celebrated with wine (hard to come by here), a delicious homemade dinner, and we ate an entire cake, which the boys and I had purchased in Cartagena, and smuggled in the van so that Darin wouldn’t see it. We were told that the place we’d sparked at was “peligroso”, we moved to a different spot less than a km down the beach set us camp there. Darin and the kids slept in the van and Tierra and I slept in the tent on the beach. Darin got a visit from the local police, curious about our set up and we lay awake most of the night because of the heat and the few Colombians blaring music out of their car parked in front of us until 4am. Unbeknownst to us, this would mark the first of many nights spent awake, wondering how South Americans can party until 5am every weekend.
We woke up early to some sweet looking waves, ate breakfast and headed a few miles down to Pradomar, where the surfing is said to be on very consistently. We got what we came for.
In the dark of the evening, we arrived in Taganga hot, tired, and very hungry. Taganga is a tourist respite where many are said to never leave. It has the charm of everything Columbia with a few amenities we haven’t encountered in nearly two weeks….like salad!
When we woke up and walked down to the water this morning, it had a South Pacific feel, with calm water and small fishing boats anchored in the cove.
We’re trying to figure out the groove of doing this with our Van. The driving is insane, vehicles of all sizes pass when they shouldn’t on fast roads and if you don’t follow suit, you get honked at indefinitely. The camping has been a bit uncomfortable due to the heat, the nightly police visits, and the fact that we normally don’t camp on the side of the road in cities. We seem to be focused on the basics of clean clothes, food, and places to sleep…with a some serious enjoyment in between.
We’ve taken 2 trips to the SA Naves office, where we should be given our papers and invoices in order to get our beloved van (to be named at the equator) out of the port. Nothing yet. The ship with our van arrived this morning but all offices are closed on Sundays. We’re very much hoping that tomorrow will be our lucky day, the very nice woman we’re working with made some promises that I hope she can keep.
In the meantime, Cartagena is our home and an excellent one at that.
Darin and I surfed the west jetty a few days ago. The water is so very warm here, it makes surfing in Oregon seem like much more work. As Darin surfed and the kids built sand castles, I was repeatedly given sample massages from women walking the beach with buckets of massage oil in small ketchup like bottles. They’d rub it on some body part despite the “no gracias”, convinced that the quality of their oil and skill can’t be refused. It was actually very hard to pass up.
On Friday, we took a local city bus to the town of Pascaballos where a ferry would take us across the canal Del Dique.
Getting onto the ferry was full of chaotic bargaining banter with guys on motorcycles insisting that the only way to get to the beach once across the river was by motorcycle.
Once we got across and spent a good ten minutes negotiating a price, we found a taxi with broken seats to take us to the beach. We enjoyed a day filled with relaxation and swimming in warm, beautifully blue water. Marco allowed himself to bob up and down in the calm waves, the look on his face was priceless and one I won’t forget.
The return trip was on a boat filled with Columbians who were ready to party. The dancing and signing that went on for the entire 2 hour trip would have made my french Canadian family feel right at home.
Marco seems to get a lot of attention here. They all say he looks like Tom Sawyer with his freckles…”Es Tom Sawyer con los pecas!!” Apparently they’ve all seen the same movie because in addition to the comments, Marco gets second glances every time we venture out.
We’ve spent the past 2 days mostly loafing around. We swim, read, and take walks through the city. We’ve met several other people, including “overlanders” who have been traveling through Columbia and South America. Our discussions have made us very eager to pick up our van and start our journey out of Cartagena.
People are much less inhibited than we are here. Jesus, the spanish teacher that we took spanish speaking lessons from, tells us that Columbians have a strong love for their country. He also tells us that the bad reputation Columbia gets comes down to a group of about 1000 bad asses that set the image for the other 48 million inhabitants.
The honesty and love of life that emanates from this place is humbling to say the least.
Instead of writing my part of the blog today, I decided to publish a few of our story cubes stories. We met a nice french lady, who started an overland trip with her husband 6 months ago. They started driving their Fiat from Halifax, Nova Scotia 6 months ago. She let us play with her story cube set. There are 9 cubes with pictures on each side. You roll the cubes and create an on the spot story based on how they land. The story is told right away without time to think it over.
Marco told some great stories but didn’t want to be published. My mom typed them up as we told them. I’ve decided to publish a few of mine and my dad’s stories. I hope you like them.
Story cube By: Simon
Once there was an alien, and he stared up at the moon and then he saw a flower, lifting a question of arrows. He scanned his credit card to a really freaky kid with a flashlight.
story cube by: Darin
Once upon a time I lived in a castle far far away. I was sitting down in a poker room and then I realized I was just in a casino that looked like a castle. I looked up at the clock and it said 4 o clock. I thought I’d only been there for 2 hours but saw a shooting star and realized I’d been there 14 hours. I pulled an apple out of my pocket because I was hungry and I had missed lunch. I looked up at the sky and saw the moon shining down over the silhouette of the castle and I felt like I was in Europe. I went to my car door but I forgot my key and had to go back inside to pay the man in weights and balances. I gave him all of my winnings and he came out not with a jimmy stick but with a magnet and unlocked my car door by breaking the window.
story cube by Simon
Once I was reading a book about a fish in a rainbow. Then I realized it sadly had a cane. The die of the cane was a question to the foot about the happiness of talking.
It started off with my brother being sick. It moved on to my mom and I catching a freaky cab plus the cabs have NO seat belts. We got what we went for but had to walk back. I almost died of heat but luckily there were bunnies and chocolate to sustain my mortal soul. We got back my brother ate mac n cheese instant cure. We went swimming for a bit. And then went to the beach and made the best sand castle EVER!! All in all it has been a great, great day!!
P.S. Im writing in the same hammock as before.
As soon as we got off the plane, a wave of humid, beautiful heat hit us and we felt great. Getting through customs proved that our “columbian” spanish leaves much to be desired. Because of all of our gear, we had to break up into 2 groups. The taxis took off and Simon and I immediately lost sight of Darin and Marco. The driving around here makes New York drivers look like polite snails.
Casa Relax is treating us very well. The kids have spent hours in the pool chasing a bouncy ball being used as a sink toy. We’re very much observing Siesta times by not venturing out too much between 11am and 3pm. A quick lunchtime stroll to spend 10,000 Columbian pesos (about $5.00) gets us some very good Empanadas and amazing chicken lasagna, a couple of cold beers, and some ice cream.
Last night, we walked down to Plaza del Trinidad. Here, small cart vendors sell a mixture of delicious smelling food. For a few dollars, a family of four gets fed, while sitting around the Iglesia de Trinidad. People buy cheap Columbian beer at the corner store, and eat their food on their laps, all while sitting around the steps to the church. Simon and Marco ate some sort of beef on a stick covered in ketchup and mayo. Marco had a very hard time with this, even once we did our best to wipe it all off. Poor kid, he was very upset but he eventually ate the whole thing with a begging dog sitting by his feet. Darin and I had a dish (name unknown) made of a mixture of plantain, sausage, chicken, beef, lettuce, fried onions, mayo, and more mayo, all covered by a sheet of melted cheese. It was very rich and tasty.
I’m noticing that Cartagena doesn’t seem to cater to the meat shy or vegetable lovers unless you’re willing to spend a lot of money in a restaurant made for tourists.
Cartagena gives us what we eagerly expected of Latin America, but with a European flare that makes the city even more stylish and warm. Morning runs give us a feel for the hustle and bustle of people getting ready for the day. Carts carrying deliciously fresh fruit (OMG!! the Mango!) and garlic and onions are pushed with purpose along these small streets that feel like alleys.
Knowing that we have a lot of time ahead of us seems to afford us a “we’ll do it when we do it” attitude that isn’t usually in our nature (most of you know exactly what I’m talking about). The kids spent about an hour this morning debating if BubbaLoo gum is better than M&M’s. The conversation included much discussion on the interesting juice that comes out of the middle of the gum. BubbaLoo is the winner.
Things feel easy here, at least for the moment.
First, we took a 4 and a half hour flight to JFK International Airport in NYC. 3 Hours later, we got on a plane to S.A/South America and waited 3 hours to take off. Guess what! Our flight was cancelled because of a snow storm. The next day, we caught a plane at 7:30am and I watched movies almost the entire time. When we got off, it was humid and about 90 degrees F. We got into two cabs. Our driver was a maniac. There were literally no lanes. I am now writing from inside a hammock by a pool.
PS: I befriended a parrot named Picololo.
I never imaged that less than one week ago I would climb up to 9000’ and ski one of the most memorable runs of my life. The current time is 2:30 am PST and I’m writing the first of what I hope will be one of my many posts on our new blog. It’s been an emotional roller coast for me this past week. From the smile that I couldn’t wipe off my face skiing down the Nisqually chutes and the tears of saying goodbye to the wonderful people in my life, I sit here and it hits me that today, I worked for the last day in what we hope will be four months. There hasn’t been a period of time in my life that I’ve had such a large hiatus from “producing” (school and work). My parents have always taught me that when you work you give it 100%. Anyone who knows me can relate to the fact that I can’t do anything at less than 100% full throttle.
Just over one year ago I lost someone very special to me. This past year, I’ve given the purpose of life a lot of thought . My best friend Mark taught me so many lessons throughout his years of living and since his death in December 2012. The most recent being that life is short and we need to embrace everyday like it could be our last. I miss you my friend.
So after many countless hours of planning and preparation, Anik and I have begun our newest adventure to embrace life. Traveling to South America with our two children. When I mentioned our plans to my parents and family last Thanksgiving, they barely acknowledged it. Less than a month ago, I called my parents from the train heading back home from the Port of Tacoma. I said Mom, I just dropped our van off at the port of Tacoma and its headed to Cartagena Colombia. She was speechless. She stuttered and said “You did what!” I explained that the van was on its way to South America and that we’d be joining it for 4 month starting in the beginning of February. Although “our people” are being supportive, many are apprehensive.
I’m still preparing for the adventure. Gear is scattered throughout the garage. Sleeping bags, tent, tool kit, camp gear, cold weather gear, warm weather gear, gear, gear and more gear. Did I mention that the 4 of us will be living in our Eurovan camper? Where am I going to put all the gear? Packing for 4 months for 4 different climate zones for 4 people traveling through 4 countries has been one of the most difficult packing experiences I’ve had. And anyone that knows me can relate to my weekly packing in preparation for the upcoming weekends. Last night I told Anik that we can only take 1 surfboard. Its as if I’d told her we can’t take her left arm. We are seriously limited on space.
The purpose of our trip is to not have a plan. To break from our norm and experience life. My goal is to bond our family together forever. To create an experience that can’t be taken away. To Live Life.