Wednesday, May 12, 2010

State Side

Howdy from the States! Or New Jersey more specifically. Josh and I went our (gasp) separate ways yesterday after five hours of fun in Orlando and I arrived in NJ around 10 to the open arms of my padres. I leave for Europe today after a quick fun day with Mom while Josh visits people in DC. After I get back on the 25th I will post pictures, feelings, thoughts, and concerns about being back. Also, friends, I have no cell number anymore, so I have none of your numbers, so if you can, email me your numbers so I can call when I get back!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Parque Tyrona - The promised Land

With all the heat and stuffy cheap hostel rooms its hard to sleep past seven, so we´ve been making the most of these past few days. And oh how amazing they´ve been! Our party grew in numbers after we picked up a traveler named Jonathan from our bus to Santa Marta. Since he turned out to be super cool we sorta just adopted him, and our little group began what was to be one of our last great advetures in South America as if we had all been traveling together for years.
We took a 5 k bus ride to Taganga, famed for its ¨gringo explosion¨ but after a 15 minute hike one does arrive at nice beaches.
After some fresh juice we hopped on a bus and drove the pretty, curvalicious 5 k back to Santa Marta, packed up, bought a few last minute provisions and got on the 5,000 pesos a person mini bus to Parque Tayrona.

Whenever I think of this magical place and say its magical name it has been shrouded in mystery and suspense for me. Ever since Colombians have been telling about their country they have insisted that this place is the most beautiful place in Colombia and that I have to go there. For Josh and I it has been a sort of Mecca for our trip. We've kept it as out ending goal. From the bottom of the Andes we will make it all the way to the top of Colombia!!!! was our motto and we did it! This place was just as magical as they all said it would be, and much more of a paradise than I ever imagined.
After a guard searched our stuff and confiscated our bottle of auguardiente (gulp, didn´t know you had to smuggle it it!!) we took a 2,000 pesos a person jeep ride to the head of the trail, put on out backpacks and started sweating. The hike took us about two hours, and with the packs on it was hard, but along the way there were distractions enough. We had paused for a second to breathe when I pointed at a mango tree and slightly above a whisper exclaimed: Monkeys!! There were around ten monkeys just jumping and swinging from tree limb to tree limb, one guy was really into shaking the tree, maybe one was trying to throw stuff at us but he needed to work on his aim. Anyway, we were super close to them and it was pretty awesome.
When we finally made it to the park just before dusk we paid the somewhat high prices to pitch our tents (15,000 a person at the Cabo sight), set em up and then ran the ocean to get a quick rinse off. Even in the dark I could tell it was amazing, but its real beauty was revealed to me the next day.

Yes, as you can see from the photos I borrowed from the internet with no intention of returning them, these beaches are divine. And the camp site was nice too, grassy and covered in palm trees. We saved a lot of money by bringing our own food and for two amazing days our lives consisted of tuna, beans, rice, books, the ocean and soaking in some sun. We are here during the low season so we sometimes had a more out of the way beach all to ourselves, and when we didn´t we laughed at the Israeli's crazy tatoos or the British couple's pda. Nothing could get us down.
For now this place is only reached by foot or by boat. I hear rumors of cable cars, and I can only imagine how some hotel mogels would like to get their hands on some of this virgin jungle. But for now this place remains primitive with public bathrooms, an overpriced restaurant, tents, hamocks, and people who come to enjoy this amazing bit of untouched nature.
I was really sad to leave, but we tried to do it in style by leaving in a boat. Unfortunatly this turned out to be less dignified than imagined. They sold too many seats and I had to sit on the floor of the speed boat fighting sea sickness as I was looking sideways the whole time. We left the boat soaked and glad to be on dry land.
We spent the night in Santa Marta because the beds are so damn cheap there!! and then said our goodbyes to Jonathan as he headed to Venezuela and we back to Cartagena.
Its hard to imagine that there are only about three days left to this trip! This trip, this adventure, this blog, its become my life, and while I am super excited for Philly, for time with family, and living in the peace of my parents nest, and catching up with old friends I can not imagine not being in South America for now. This reality will change whether I can imagine it or not, but three days!! It seems an impossibility that I just can't fathom, or wrap my mind around.
Anyway, for our last night in Cartagena we have a fancy dinner planned with Mike, and then we spend two days in Bogota. Josh flies to DC; I to NJ, and then the next day I fly off to visit Mia in Europe until the 25th of May. After that I will go home and upload lots and lots of photos to the blog!!!
So if you don't hear from us for a little bit don't loose heart, the blog has a few good posts in it yet!!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Santa Marta

Yes Gabi, we have tried fried arepa con huevo, more than once in fact in Josh´s case. Its fried goodness is like a magnet for our little greasy fingers...yummmm.

And on that note, we have made it to Santa Marta, a beautiful beach town north of Cartagena. It was founded by Rodrigo de Batidas in 1525 as a place for him to live while plundering the incalcuable riches of the Tayronas. The Tayronas decided not to fight this fight with one hand behind their back and threw all they had at the Spanish and it proved to be the end of them. By the end of the century they were no more and their gold belonged to Spain. The city was soon overshadowed by Cartagena, but Simon Bolivar died there after bringing independance to six South American countries. Can you name them all? It also houses Latin America´s oldest church which I didn´t find that impressive or old looking.
The city isn´t as old looking as Cartagena, nor as colorful or beautiful, but it does have a kick ass sunset. We spent the afternoon with a new friend from the US of A named Jonathan and ate amazing street food for dinner after we walked the streets with cold beers. The weather here is mercifully less hot than Cartagena and a nice breeze seems to follow us everywhere but out four dollar a night hostel room. Today we are heading to Taganga (dubbed the gringo paradise the blew up to soon) a fishing village 5 k from Santa Marta and then we head to the infamous Parque Tayrona, but only so that Gabi stops bugging us to have fun there!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Exploration and the Arrival of Mike

We have some exciting news to announce over here in Cartagena. As of two days ago, this next week will no longer only be about the adventures of Josh and Julia. This week a new traveler joins us all the way from apparetnly allergy infested Washington DC. GWU alumnus Michael Jacobs arrived two days ago in the afternoon of a hot, sunny, and steamy day here in Catagena and was welcomed with hugs, a little sweat, and smiles. We took a lovely airconditioned taxi back to our Hotel Holiday and the fun began!
We´ve been exploring Cartagena, eating a lot of fish, and hitting the beach. Mike´s already burned.
The city of Cartegena is amazing to just walk around and explore. It was founded in 1533 by yet another greedy Spaniard named Pedro de Heredia. There was lots of gold, and an important port so differnt people were always trying to steal this fine city from the Spanish.(little taste of their own medecine if you ask me). First it was pirates, then the French, then some guy from Basque, amd most famously Sir Francis Drake´s attack in 1586 caused good ol´ Pedro and his archbishop to flee until they paid bunches of money (around 200 million of today´s US dollars). Drake left, but not before destroying half the city. Oh, those Brits...
The attacks continued, resulting in the amazing, and beautiful, city walls that surround the old city. By 1756 the city was impregnable. There is also a giant fort, and beautiful wall tops that now house caf├Ęs and great view points to watch the sun set which is all that really matters in the end.
Actually, this history all really does matter because it's what makes Catagena so different from the rest of Colombia. This now impenetrable port was a slave port, and continued to bring in people from all over the world as time went on. According to our friends, while the rest of South America was receiving a lot of immigrants (places like Buenos Aires) fleeing war and persecution, Colombia was way to wrapped up in its own civil wars to attrack many new citizen seeking refugees. Cartagena was the only place that continued to recieve people from different parts of the world, and it is even rumored to have a few Jews. I think I even saw one the other day!
Today Cartagena is filled with more black people than I´ve seen since I got on the A train heading to Harlem when I visited Patrick last August. But the diversity is outstanding.
At night, young girls put on their finest to strut through the old city in impossibly high heels and incredibly short dresses on the arms of their chicos, while older couples walk towards outdoor bars in old colonial squares in slighly more modest attire. We walk around, like cartoon characters, always in about the same outfit since we have so few, sticking out like sore thumbs but happily people watching from a bench, or perched on an old city wall overlooking the ocean.
So far Cartagena has been good to us, but today we head to Santa Marta to continue our adventures. After that we head to the much talked about Parque Tyrona!!!!!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cartegena - Muy Caliente

You know how when you fly some place that is maybe a little tropical, and not super industrialized? And the airport is small so you climb down some stairs off the back of the plane. You were just in some place cold and familiar, and your foot hits the first step, and then the second, and then you take a deep breath and that smell hits you. Sort of sweet, and warm and humid, and it blows over your body and a little presperation forms on your forehead, and you smile because you know you have arrived at a place that is going to be different, full of color and amazing. I have felt this feeling a few times in my life, once when I arrived in Israel after being in Poland, it happens when you go to Florida, and it for sure happened again when I went to Anguila after graduation with my family.
Well, two days ago, as I took that second step off our plane from Bogota, I breathed the Cartegena air deeply and felt it again.
Our now very strict daily budget led us to a corner where we hopped on a bus and headed for the old city where we hoped a bed awaited up at the cheapest hostel in town: Hotel Holiday. And that´s exactly what I have felt like since I got here: on holiday.
The old city is pretty well preserved and every buiding is pained a different color and has many of those colonial wooden balconies I´ve grown so fond of. Most of these old buildings are also accesorized with climbing plants that display an amazing vartiety of flowers. There are tons of people in the streets, hawking fruits, vegetables, phone calls, you name it, and thier shouts and music coming from windows, doorways, and cell phones spills out into the street and into our hostel window.
We´ve been walking around, chilling on the beach, taking refuge in shopping malls and supermarkets with airconditioning and pausing in front of fans at the Modern Art museum. The guide book was right. You´ve got to wake up early and spend the middle of the day resting away from the sun.
Today, for the first time, we did it right and got up at eight. At that time of the morning the chillfrom the night air is still hanging around, but by nine the sun has banished it and by 12 you´ve got to be out of the sun. We spent the morning at the modern art museum and then walked around. Dripping, we sat on a nice big stoop to catch our breaths and enjoyed a breeze coming down the street from the ocean. A man selling limeade wheeled his way towards us on the wings of an angel, and I motioned for him to pull over near us. Two cups at 500 each seemed like a bargain, and he even gave us some extra after we had taken our first incredible sips. As he rolled away I tried to drink slowly, but it was too cold and delightful.
I listend to Josh loudly munch his ice after he had drained all the liquid from his cup, but I kept mine rolling around my mouth trying to savor every bit of cold as I flicked it around with my tongue.

Yes, We Are Totally Still Into Natural Salty Wonders....

The next day we headed to Zipaquira where lies the famous Salt Cathedral. This was the mother of all Lord Of The Ring sights, so get ready but first a funny Colombian story:
When we got to the mine we headed towards the entrance and a guard asked us if we had our tickets. Oops! We said, we haven´t. He told us to meet him near the stair case...Once there he told us that if we bought tickets at the ticket office they would be seventeen thousand a piece, but he had three in his pocket that he would be willing to sell us for less. Dani agreed to meet him in the bathroom in two minutes, and feeling like he´d just made a drug deal Dani headed to and back from the bathroom after a successful mission. So sketchy...I´m loving this...
So back to my other story..
Back in the day, like, way back in the day, there was a big salty sea over Bogota (sounds like Bolivia and the Salt Flats, right). When temperatures warmed the sea dried up probably leaving something like what we saw in Uyuni. Then..(drum roll)...the forces at be that push up giant slabs of earth did so and formed the mountains that make up the area around Bogota. In the process the salty earth was pushed under the mountains and great pressure was exerted on it. It resulted in a great underground deposit of salt rock.

The Natives figured out that when it rained the water that come from the mountain was salty. They would put this salt water over fire and in their clay pots they would be left with salt that they traded and used to create power and wealth. When the Colonists came they did what they do best and forced the Natives to mine the area. Later, safer more humane methods were used to mine the salt, and today we are left with a three level mine, and this cathedral I mentioned earlier. How did that happen? Well some Colombian miners got creative and while getting rid of the salt they decided to build a great momunent to God and create an amazing underground Cathedral. First you walk along a long salty corridor with a station for each of the passions. In each station is a cross and some places to kneel. There is this amazing circular room where blue lights light the ceiling. Obviously its the heaven room, representing where Jesus went after he arose from the dead and left his coffin while sleeping soldiers snoozed. Then there is this series of balconies where you can look out into the Cathedral below, and then you make it down to the Cathedral itself. There is a small chapel where mass is held every Sunday, a giant room where they have weddings, and then a smaller room that represents death. Some genius carved these immense columns into the walls of the Cathedral, and someone carved out an impressivly massive cross in the main part of the church that is supposedly the largest underground cross in the world. Remeber, this is all happening 800 or so meters below the ground...

the following photos are taken from the internet:

supposedly the biggest underground cross in the world...but really its an absence of cross as Josh pointed out...since its made of air and light...

the cieling of the 'heaven' room lit up all blue

one of the stations for the passion

a (rather tacky if you ask me) reproduction of Adam and God´s hands touching in the main Cathedral

The whole place was dramatically lit up and felt a little cheesy, but none the less I was blown away by the sheer magnitude of it all. The cavernous size of the rooms, the hight of the ceilings, the impossible perfection of the circular rooms and massive circular was impressive and magnificent.
After we were all salty (supposedly the air down there is really good for your lungs) we headed to lunch. We ate in what was basically some woman´s house, and she served us this big platter of meat and half a chicken (female). The meal is a typical Bogota delight that begins with F...Josh isn´t around to remind me of it! and is amazing. It consists of Colombian morcilla which is filled with rice and peas as well as blood stuff, papas criollas, chorizo, beef and fried plantains. Oh, and of course our half a female chicken that came complete with tasty lungs, and the eggs that had yet to leave her body (the yolk - very tasty as well).
We then drove to another town which was literally hidden away in the mountains (no help from the road signs here) where one of the biggest dairy factories in Colombia is located. They have a little supermarket filled with their products near by. This supermarket also has delectable desserts all lined up and ready to give me a lactaid attack like no other. So what did I do (obvioulsy I had forgotten my pills at home)? I forged ahead and tried it all!!! Josh´s passion fruit cheese cake was amazing, my mille ojas was delish, and everything else that had been picked out was amazing. I was especially intrigued and impressed by Adriana´s choice. It was a container with cheese that was kind of like a dry cottage cheese, arequipa (Colombian version of dulce de leche) and jam. Amazing to say the least.
At this point in the day the sun finally came out and of course stayed out, but early the next morning we hopped on a plane (yes!! you read it right!!) for Cartagena!
And hour later we were there and while I´m sure I´ll look back on our bus tour of South America with fond nostalgia, flying really is the way to go.