Manizales, Thursday 18/06/15

In Bogota I stayed in an area known as Candelaria, which is where the university is situated and is the “historic” part of the city. There are some colorful colonial buildings, the cathedral and several museums, one of which is the museum of Pre-Columbian gold artifacts, many of which have a significance in Shamanic rituals.  

 The secretions from frogs, for instance, may be used to induce hallucinations and certain animals are regarded as mediators between the three worlds, of the gods and spirits, our world and the underworld. 

Their are plenty of little restaurants in this part of the city, including a vegetarian place conveniently next door to my hostel. However, Candelaria has fallen on hard times. There are large ruts in the roads, while others are being repaired and are impassable.  I passed buildings suffering from neglect. 

One of the things I am quietly proud of, is how I have managed to cope with public transport of all types  in so many different countries and with different languages. Most places have a single price system, which is much easier and efficient than the London zones/distance approach, but you do need to keep your wits about you. Bogota, however, got me confused. I wanted to buy a ticket from the main bus terminal. I had already noticed that there were platforms in the middle of the road for boarding and alighting from buses, as there were in Jakarta. The guy in Reception at my hostel explained that I had to walk to the nearest small station and then take the “tunnel” to the one further along.  It wasn’t until I’d wandered around a bit and eventually found the relevant platform that I realised that this “tunnel” was glass-enclosed and above the street, not, as I had supposed, underground. Thanks to his directions, I managed to get off at the right stop and after a bit of a walk arrived at the terminal. I had to locate the right area for buying my ticket, as they were arranged according to which direction you were travelling. After almost completing my purchase, I was informed they did not accept card payment and had to go to the ATM and start the process again. I then returned to the stop where I had got off the bus, inserted my remaining ticket and got on to the platform, only to find that none of the buses going in the opposite direction was the one I needed. Back outside, I asked a policeman standing nearby, who indicated that I had to cross the street and go elsewhere. I never found the right stop and ended up having to take a taxi in rush hour to get back to the hostel. 

The other problem I had was trying to send presents to my grandson, Drake, in the U.K., for his birthday. At the hostel they told me there was no post office nearby and suggested I use an international carrier service. First I had to find a carton to put the gifts in. I found a large stationery store, and they had everything you need to make a parcel, except large padded envelopes or boxes. After several aborted attempts, someone in a small store took pity on me and gave me a smallish empty cardboard box for free. Presents duly packaged, taped up and addressed, I  found the place indicated by the hostel but they refused the parcel because they only deal with “commercial ” transportation.  I tried a couple of private parcel services. They were helpful, but because of the dimensions of the box one wanted to charge me about £80 and the other about £104. However, they both told me there was a post office near. Unfortunately, my lack of Spanish meant that I could not understand their directions and google maps showed me to a large building that was locked. I asked a couple of total strangers, entered a “centre of communications” whose staff had no idea and was finally shown a place across the road by their doorman, who spoke good English! This glass-fronted shop had absolutely no indication on the outside that it was a post office, but so it turned out to be. They weighed the box, asked for my ID, followed some process on the computer that took about fifteen minutes and asked me for £10. I have a large yellow receipt, but did not have to fill out any forms or declare the contents. Who knows if/when it will arrive? 

The ticket I had struggled to get at the bus terminal was to take me to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast. Santa Marta is a bit of a mess, but a loveable mess.  

 The old town has narrow streets where modern edifices crowd in on aged architecture. Here you can buy almost anything you want, ATMs abound, there were plenty of vegetarian friendly cafes and restaurants and places offering yoga classes. The second night I was there, there was a thunderstorm and the place flooded. An old man made a walkway across one of the streets using upturned crates and wooden planks and made a bit of money out of the people using it.  There was also a small concert in one of the squares while I was there and I’m almost sure that one of the acts was a police band – they were wearing uniforms and everything. 

One of the things to do in this area is to visit Tayrona National Park,  known for its wildlife and beautiful beaches. I wasn’t keen on camping, so I decided to go for the day. It was not far to the street corner to catch the local bus, but I found myself walking through the market streets. Not a charming touristy spot and quite possibly the smelliest place I have experienced on my travels. This is the bus I took.  

It doesn’t look too bad from the outside, but inside you could see the road through the dashboard, the exhaust pipe came up behind the passenger seat next to the driver and the top speed was around 30-40 mph. It was cheap.  

The park itself is highly organized. You watch a video and get a ticket to confirm this and to take to the actual ticket office, as without this you cannot get entrance.  People were having their bags searched, though they let me through without a fuss. You then take a short bus ride to the entrance. The walkways and camp sites are clearly marked. I didn’t feel completely at ease, however. There were lots of people making lots of noise. In fact I passed one couple who were playing their music on speakers as they walked along. Nevertheless, a movement in the trees turned out to be a large group of Howler monkeys and I also saw a striking black and yellow frog. 

When I reached the first beach, though there was a camp site alongside, it was completely deserted.  

 There were probably several reasons for this. One, it was extremely hot and you would burn on the beach very quickly. Two, there were signs telling you not to enter the water, as 100 people had been killed there. Three, it was that gritty type of sand that hurts your feet to walk on. The most likely reason, though, is that the beautiful beaches are further along the coast and would require an earlier start, more walking and/ or camping. 

So after some fresh fruit juice and a lunch of vegetables and rice, I set off back. I was planning to take a couple of photos to show how dry the forest is, after months without rain, when there was another thunderstorm!

Dodging the drops and making a final dash for it, I reached the entrance of the park and by the time the bus arrived the rain had stopped. This bus was in a better state of repair and it was an entertaining ride, with people laughing and joking. As I now regard as typical, the bus was used as a means of delivery for parcels and shopping, which is often collected by someone further along the route or left by the side of the road for a later pick-up. I was surprised, however, when a man got on with a large stone, which was placed beside the driver. A smaller stone was soon set beside it. I don’t know the importance of these stones. They might be used for grinding, but the large one wasn’t especially flat and the small one not very smooth. Several people were there to welcome the man when he got off the bus. One man carried the heavy stone on his shoulder and the little one was passed around the women, until the little group walked away. Unusual. 

The door to door shuttle service the next day to Cartagena was not very long, travelling along the coast and past lakes and little rivers. It was an easy enough option to taking a bus from the terminal and not expensive. 

The old walled town of Cartagena is delightful.  

     I was quite happy for a couple of days just wandering around, walking the walls, sitting in the squares and relaxing, particularly as it was very hot and thunderstorms rolled around in the early evenings. 

In my next post I will talk about Medellin, which is the next city I stayed in, and a little of the history of the place. 

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