Things to do in Cádiz, my favorite city in Spain

Just when I sat down at one of the tables in a tiny roadside restaurant, I smelled it. Fresh washed laundry, hanging to dry in a very humid climate. The scent of moist mixing with fabric softener rose from the red-checked tablecloths in front of me, catapulting me back in time. Back to an image of drying laundry in front of the ochre-yellowish walls of an apartment building, its walls crumbling of age. I was sitting on the terrace of my hostel in the Casco Antiguo, Panamá.

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of flashbacks. The smallest hint of a scent smelled a long time ago, can bring me back to this specific time and place. Not only smells, songs as well: ‘Cheerleader’ by Omi shows me images of palm trees against a deep blue sky, flashing by while driving from Trinidad to Varadero in a blue Viazul bus. Location: Cuba. I noticed colours transport me into the past too. A specific kind of ochre reminds me of the Cathedral in Cádiz.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Cádiz lately. Being in Thailand, mainly on my own – that’s another story, not for now – I’ve had a lot of time to think. I’m temporarily living in a tropical paradise, but I’m missing my beloved Latin America. – always, but I know I’m going to go back – I’m missing living in Spain too. During the eight months I was working in Spain last year, I had the chance to visit tons of places in Andalucía, the city of Cádiz being my absolute favorite. About time I started to write about it.

At the Paseo Maritimo, watching over the ochre dome of the Santa Cruz Cathedral

Why, you would ask. Why Cádiz? Honestly, I don’t know. There are places that have a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, a feeling or a vibe that make you feel like you belong there. There are magnificent cities with a ton of things to do, a vibrant nightlife, a mass of people raving about it and yet, they leave me completely indifferent. Others, however, catch me from the first moment I set foot in their streets, leaving me with a warm buzzing feeling inside and the dreams of buying an apartment and moving in for the rest of my life. Doesn’t matter if they’re big or small. I absolutely adored Mexico City, a huge mastodont smacked in the middle of Mexico with terrific traffic problems, while Cartagena, a beautiful colonial city In Colombia – and I do love myself a colonial city – left me irritated and eager to leave. Cádiz, however, enchanted me from the very beginning and even though it’s not one of the biggest cities in Spain – number 17 the be exact -, it still has enough sights to see and keep you busy for a couple of days. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss when visiting Cádiz!

Moorish heritage in Cadiz
The New Cathedral, right in the centre of Old Town Cadiz
Little narrow streets lead you to small Plazas, perfect to take a break from strolling around Cadiz
Watchtowers everywhere
Pink and other pastel colors for the houses in Cadiz

WALK THROUGH THE OLD TOWN

Cádiz is ancient. It’s founded around 1000 BC by the Phoenicians and considered one of the oldest still standing cities in Western Europe. You’ll breathe history when walking through the small cobblestone streets, referring to the times the Spanish Empire plundered the Americas. You’ll spot a Roman theater, right in the middle of the El Pópulo district. Memories of the Phoenicians, Greeks & Romans, Visigoths and Moors still linger in the streets. The area is so rich in stories, it’s hard to soak it all in. The best way – according to me – to discover the narrow streets of Old Town Cádiz is with a Free Walking Tour. I’ve spent quite some time researching which tour to take and opted for the Spanish speaking – a girl gotta practice her Spanish – tour with Lalunares, which was easily one of the best tours I’ve taken. Ever. The guide’s storytelling was so vivid, you could literally see the Romans march through the streets in front of your eyes. In case you’re not so fond of mingling with strangers and you’d prefer to discover Cádiz by yourself, you just have to walk around. Narrow streets with buildings in pastel colours, leading from Plaza to Plaza, opening up only to reveal some hidden wonders or lead you back to the seaside. It is the perfect city to get lost in and you’ll get to know its secrets while doing so.

View from Torre Tavira, the highest watchtower in Cadiz
View over the city of Cadiz from Torre Tavira

TORRE TAVIRA

Cádiz is a city of watchtowers, 126 to be exact. The city was blooming in the 18th century thanks to its trade – or robberies, depending how you see it – with the Americas, being the first port the ships arrived to after their trips to the Colonies. Merchants didn’t want to miss the arrival of their precious goods and build plenty of watchtowers hovering over the city, each with its own flag, in order to be spotted from far away at sea. Torre Tavira is the highest watchtower of Cádiz, serving as a museum, a camera obscura and the best viewpoint of the city, all at the same time.

Sunset at the Paseo Maritimo
Roman theatre in the El Populo area of Cadiz

PASEO MARITIMO DE CADIZ

The ocean is only a small walk away from the centre. Actually, almost the whole Old Town of Cádiz is surrounded by the sea. History and old buildings mingling with the seaside are my favorite. Once the narrow streets start to get claustrophobic, you just have to follow your nose and walk a couple of minutes before breathing the fresh sea breeze. The Paseo Maritimo leads you along the coastline to the Cathedral, while serving as a meeting point for young and old or the setting of buskers playing South American tunes in the evening light.

Sunset over Cadiz
Beautiful flowers of the Botanical Garden in Cadiz
The Castillo de San Sebastian, close to Playa de La Caleta
The crumbling road to Castillo de San Sebastian

PLAYA DE LA CALETA

The city ends at La Caleta, nestled between the castles of San Sebastián and Santa Catalina. A beach. And castles. Do I really have to say more? The perfect place to take a dip in the sea, after strolling through ancient streets on a hot summer day. The adventurous of heart could always head towards the entrance of the Castillo de San Sebastián, connected to the mainland through a crumbling road that clearly has seen better times. An ideal place to watch the sunset, with a cold drink, seeing the sky turn all colours of pink you can possibly imagine.

Selling fresh fish at Mercado de Abastos
Fresh shrimps ready to be eaten
The prettiest catch of the day at the Mercado de Abastos

MERCADO CENTRAL DE ABASTOS

The place to be in Cádiz to sample some of the best foods Spain has to offer. The market is the best in the mornings, when fresh fish and seafood is ready to be sold, cooked and land in empty stomachs. The smells of fresh produce and salty ham linger in the air while you walk around, deciding on what to cook that evening. Maybe you’ll be just buying some ingredients for a pick-nick at the beach. Or you’re in it for a quick lunch, browsing through the food stalls at the outer square of the market, ready for a true food fest.

Once you’ve visited all these highlights of Cádiz, you just scratched the surface. But I hope you’ll fall in love with the city just like me, not only impressed by the history, but also the simple things in life: enjoying pink sunsets on a rooftop terrace while freshly washed shirts are swaying in the hot summer breeze. Walking along the Paseo Marítimo while deciding which of the side streets you’ll discover next. Tasting some mouthwatering tapas while sitting on a terrace in one of the Plazas dotting the city, or licking the melting ice cream of your fingers while walking over ancient cobblestones.

Things to do in the city of Cadiz, Spain.

Visiting Oruro outside Carnaval – YES OR NO?

Oruro. A name not as well known as La Paz, a city high up in the mountains and Governmental Capital of Bolivia, only to be followed closely by Sucre, the actual Capital of the country. Besides that, places like the Salar de Uyuni, Copacabana and Lago Titicaca score high on the ‘which-places-do-I-actually-know-in-Bolivia’ list. Only when it comes to celebrating carnaval in Bolivia, it appears that people start to recognize the sounds of its name. Oruro. Capital of Carnaval and Folklore in Bolivia.

I have to admit that I didn’t know why I went to Oruro. At that moment, I was still preparing to go to Sajama – Mountain in the East of Bolivia, close to Chile, seems to be extraordinarily beautiful, but hard to get to and I sadly didn’t make it there. It’s settled on number 1 to do when and if I get back to Bolivia. -, wether it would be alone or with a travel partner I’d found along the way, I wasn’t sure yet. I had no clue as to what to do once there, the only thing I knew about Oruro was its association with Carnaval. With 3 months to go until february, Carnaval would be a no-no. Having looked online and found none of the ‘usual’ hostels – Even when I don’t like staying in party hostels for example, having them in a city means you have a backpacker crowd + things to do and people to meet – it meant the city obviously wasn’t on the usual backpacker’s route, making it all the more interesting to visit for me.

After a long busride from Potosi to Oruro, arriving in the dark at Hostal Graciela was a blessing. Mainly because of the small Mexican restaurant right next to it, serving the best Mexican food – besides the flautas Ale made for me in Quito, a story I haven’t told you yet – I had since leaving Mexico. – Okay, I admit, a Mexican restaurant in a Bolivian city is not a reason to visit said city, but it definitely helps knowing you can find some decent foreign food. – I was hungry and it made me all the happier to know that Alejandro, the manager of both restaurant and hostel, offered a ‘Free Walking Tour’ of the city the next day.

Jezus and his Monsters…Painting inside the Church of the Virgin del Socavón

GIANT ANTS, DANCING DEVILS AND THE VIRGIN

Most of the history and legends of Oruro I’ve got to know is thanks to Alejandro and his tour that day. I loved it, I loved the city for it and in hindsight I wish I spent a bit more time there before rushing over to La Paz. Oruro is a city filled to the brim with local legends and folklore, situated on the Altiplano, about 3700m above sea level. The Uru Uru tribe lived in there long before the Incas ruled the area. After the Spanish colonialists arrived, they took the land and founded a city that got quite wealthy through tin mining – Until the biggest tin mine ran out of tin, that is. -. Up until now the local economy is still based upon the different mining activities in the mountains surrounding the city, which is named Oruro after the Spanish mispronounced the old Uru Uru’s name. – So far the history lesson, I’m not an historian, so hopefully I could somehow summarize centuries of history in a couple of sentences. – Just to give you a quick idea what to expect when visiting: a ton of indigenous influences, a city filled with hills, which can leave you out of breath if you’re not yet accustomed to the high altitude and Oruro is very proud of it’s cultural heritage, a mixture of old legends and Christian religion.

Traditional costumes for upcoming Carnaval
Masks and costumes for Carnaval

One of the first things I saw and visited with Alejandro, was a mural about the 4 plagues that threatened the city after the Urus stopped to pray and obey their gods: giant Hormigas (ants), a giant Sapo (toad), a giant Vibra (viper) and a giant Lagarto (lizard). Luckily, the city was saved by the Virgin del Socavón, Mary of the Mineshaft, who was warned by Chiru Chiru – a Bolivian Robin Hood who stole from the rich and gave it to the poor, with his hiding place in the mineshafts around the city -, she turned the huge beasts into creatures of sand and stone. Even now you can visit their corpses, the Ants being Los Arenales, a type of Sand dunes at the northeast, the Serranía de Asiruni being the body of the Viper in the south, you’ll be able to find the Toad in the north and the Lizard is the rock formation at Cala Cala to the east. The mixture of legends becomes even more interesting when you know that Chiru Chiru has been guarded by the Virgin del Socavón until he died. Being stabbed in the heart while robbing one of his victims, he escaped and dragged himself to safety into one of the mineshafts. The Virgin came to his side and stayed with him on his deathbed. Later, when miners discovered his corpse, they saw the image of the Virgin above him, becoming the Virgin del Socavón – Socavón literally means mineshaft – which you can still visit in Oruro. To honor him, the miners dressed like Devils and went around the shafts – the Devil is the watchman of the inner earth according to Aymara beliefs -, giving birth to a tradition that is repeated in the Diablada, the traditional devil dance during Oruro Carnaval. With giant Ants and Vipers, the Virgin of the Mineshaft and Devils, you know now what to expect: Oruro is filled to the brim with street art, depicting their local legends. – The worst thing is that I enjoyed my walk around the city so much I forgot to take pictures… – Around every corner you’ll find murals and paintings of monsters and devils. The city has built a new cable car up the mountain where one of the biggest Virgins of Latin America stands – of course, what did you expect? –, with the interiors of both stations decorated completely with dancing devils when you start your ride at the bottom, to arrive and see angels at the top. I absolutely loved it.

Traditional masks for the Diablada dances
The Virgin looking down upon us…from the highest viewpoint in Oruro
Tons of viewpoints throughout the city

Besides street art depicting monstruous beasts, Oruro has a ton of squares dedicated to Bolivian history. Sitting on a bench, you can watch and read about several historical battles, the loss of their coastline being the most important one. The Bolivians still didn’t get over the fact they’ve lost their coastline to Chile, nota bene on the day they celebrated Carnaval and nobody had a clue what was going on – read: too drunk celebrating – until it was too late. One of the squares is known for different street food stalls selling delicious llama chorizo – only llama chorizo, no options for vegetarians/vegans I’m afraid – which is worth the stop. Bolivia being quite cheap for somebody that had the luck beeing born in Europe, it’s a pleasure eating and drinking in a city like Oruro, where tourism is non-existent and you’re able taste local delicacies for very little money.

Oruro surrounded by the altiplano
More Oruro
The brand new Teleferico leading up to the Virgin viewpoint
Devils dotting the walls of the Teleferico Station

Surrounded by Devils in this city
Be carefull with long dresses and cats on the escalator

Another highlight is the local market next to the church of the Virgin del Socavón. It is huge, stretching over several hills and a place where you can literally buy everything, from televisions to fruits to toys to llama fetuses. Yep, also here you’ll have the local witch market and on the contrary to the one I’ve visited in La Paz – not even sure if I visited the right one – there were no other foreigners in sight. Alejandro asked to stay respectful and keep facial expressions under control, as this is the genuine belief of people, how strange and revolting it can be to others. Also here I didn’t take any pictures, out of respect for the local believes and because I tend to forget thinking about my camera when I’m fascinated – or having fun or making memories – by the things I see. Living in the moment, I guess.

Instead of guiding us around the city in a normal hour-and-a-half tour as most free walking tours do, Alejandro guided us around the city for FIVE hours. I learned a shitload of facts and figures about Bolivia, got fascinated by local beliefs and the mixture of ancient and new religions mingled together, ate delicious food, saw all the main sights and had. so. much. fun. If you want to get a feeling of the real Bolivia and stay for away of tourist crowds, this is it. Oruro is waiting for you.

Altiplano around Cala Cala
Little walk over the altiplano
Rock paintings on the altiplano

ANCIENT PAINTINGS ON THE ALTIPLANO

I’m one of those travelers that doesn’t leave the home without a travel guide. I know, internet is there to guide us all, travel bloggers have been roaming around the globe providing us with free information just one click away. Still, I can’t withstand the urge to leaf through a guide and start dreaming about all the possible adventures I could have in my destination. But mostly, the guides cover places you haven’t read about before. So, the first thing I checked in Oruro was my Lonely Planet: what have we got here? Apparently, there isn’t written much about this city outside of Carnaval, but the name Cala-Cala came up and got me triggered. Visiting the altiplano, seeing some ancient Llama murals…yep, that sounded like I had plan.

The only problem was getting there. Again, a destination not covered by hordes of travel influencers means there’s very little information available about how to visit these murals. Apparently, you had to take a taxi to the village of Cala Cala, ask around at the village for the lady with the keys of the fence – to get to the murals, duh -, pay the entrance fee and you’d be ready to enjoy some ancient paintings. Which leaves you with a bit of a problem if you can’t find the lady with the keys, because who’s going to let you in? We – Magali and me, an Argentinian girl I’ve shared the room and the walking tour with – were doubting what to do, when our hostal offered a solution: Louis, born and bred in Oruro, wanted to show us around for a bit extra, providing us with a small guided tour and a back up plan in case we couldn’t locate the lady-with-the-keys. Well, better than not to go, I suppose?

Pretty high altitude
Walkway surrounding the painted walls, with magnificent views
llama’s!!!
The Lady-with-the-keys wanted a picture with us
Teaching us about the altiplano
The entrance of the Cala Cala cave paintings. We kind of skipped that part…

Instead of Luis, Alejandro’s dad – you know, Alejandro who guided us through Oruro – accompanied us over the altiplano, to the village, asking around for the lady, not finding her. We left anyway, driving up to the fence and entering through a hole cut in the side, close to the wooden walkway leading up to the walls and rock where we’d be able to see the paintings. – Remembering the free hot-springs in Costa Rica I once visited…free because there was a hole cut into the fence protecting it. The ideal way for locals to enjoy those springs without paying exorbitant fees. – Once on the wooden walkway, we could enjoy the wall and cave paintings up close: mainly llamas and stick figures, probably made during rituals preformed during the Inca reign. Or maybe older, nobody knows for sure who painted them… Anyway, ten minutes after we climbed through the fence, a dusty cloud indicated a visitor coming to the entrance. A quite agitated Doña Marta, we learned later on. First she was upset when she saw us there, but after she realized we did went around the village asking for her first – how could she otherwise know we were there? – she softened up and started explaining more about the paintings and surrounding nature. She seemed quite happy to have some foreign visitors and posed for a picture with us, which I needed to send her later on through Whatsapp. End good, all good. We had a small walk on the altiplano afterwards, before driving to the remnants of the Giant Lagarto. – It is a rock. Not even a pretty one…but hey, it’s a nice story – Hungry, we went for lunch in a local village on the way back, where I’ve felt like the only white-non-latina person who set foot in the village ever before. Tasting a local BBQ under suspicious stares of the locals before heading back to the city after our little adventure outside.

ORURO: YAY OR NAY?

Oruro surprised me in so many positive ways, even though I didn’t spend that much time inside the city. I was seriously doubting to spend some time there at all, mainly because the lack of information of what to do and see outside the Carnaval period. As you’ve already read, I’ve been pleasantly surprised and hope that, after reading this, you might consider giving Oruro a chance. And maybe taste some delicious llama chorizos while doing that. – Or one of Alejandro’s tasty quesadillas… I still feel ashamed promoting a Mexican place in Bolivia, but can I help it that nothing beats Mexican food? –

3 months in Bolivia – what to expect

Hello there! Yes, it’s me, still alive after a couple of months of silence on this blog. Not that I was sitting still or got caught up in this thing called ‘life’. Well, maybe a little bit. The life thing at least. Since this blog mainly talks about my travels, I guess it’s more than fair if I take some time off once in a while. Just to have some adventures to write about. What happened during my months in Bolivia for example. How about a tiny little stop in Paraguay? Maybe also a couple of weeks in Argentina. – Okayyyy…I know I’m months behind on the next posts of my time in Colombia and Ecuador. I will write them. Eventually. I promise.

Whenever I decide to plan a trip, I start reading. Blogs, guides, (old) travel magazines, you name it and I will have read it. Most of the information you find is up to date, relevant, useful. Well-known places and things you just can. not. miss., like the Salar de Uyuni, definitely the most visited ‘tourist’ attraction in Bolivia but living up to it every second. Sometimes I stumble upon some rather questionable advice and some people just plainly warn you not to go: you’ll be robbed, local people ignore you and you’ll probably end up dead in a ditch somewhere. – maybe a bit exaggerated, but still – A lot of the things I’ve read didn’t make sense at all. So, writing as a solo female budget traveler who’s just spent almost the full 3 months in Bolivia, here’s what to expect when you visit Bolivia for the first time.

BOLIVIA LEAVES YOU BREATHLESS

Literally. Especially during a climb of some steep hills in La Paz or when admiring the mirrored surface of the Salar de Uyuni during rain season. A lot of what’s hot in this landlocked South American country will take place at high altitude, wether it is walking towards the Maragua crater on a two-day hike, taking pictures of some ancient murals on the altiplano or just having a fresh orange juice at the market in El Alto. The Andes hits ‘Bolivia’s top 10’ at least a couple of times.

On the other hand, while flying to the town of Rurrenabaque, the mountains quickly make place for a green jungle, a big brown river coiling through the trees like a giant snake. Humidity, mosquitos and heat are just an annoyance when standing face to face with a wild capucin monkey / capybara / jaguar – only if you’re lucky -. Watching the stars when fishing on a river at night, only surrounded by tchirping birds and jungle sounds. The thrill of seeing a tapir, closeby, wild and free. The humiditiy, the feeling of drowning inside a sea of green, green and green. Breathless. The magic of the jungle.

What else? Some big cities, like La Paz and Oruro, a tablecloth of brick buildings that doesn’t seem to stop. Buzzing, thrilling, always something to do. Markets in different parts of the city and on different days, aimed at tourists or just to sell the produce of the day. Superstition has a place on the witches’ market and old customs got a new dress on the Alasitas festival. Traditional clothing is still worn by the locals, representing the area and community they come from. Color is a key word.

A combination of the majestic Andes, the high plains where wild vicunas roam free, the magic of the Amazon with its lush forests and wildlife, together with the chaotic cities and small indigenous comunities living their traditional way of life is why Bolivia deserves your attention. It’ll leave you breathless, maybe even more than you’ll have imagined before.

LONG BUSRIDES. YES, MOSTLY ON UNPAVED ROADS. BUT THEY’RE COMFY.

Now, if you want to take a bus in Bolivia, my best advice is: go to a bus station and ask them when / what / how much on the spot. No need to book tickets in advance – they will be more expensive anyway – or check the timetables, it’s highly likely that the info you’ll find online isn’t accurate or that there are a lot more options than you’ve expected. The rest depends upon you: the comfort you want, how much time you have and, of course, how much bolivianos you can spend on your transport. For the budget travelers among us: yes, Bolivian buses can be very cheap.

Talking about comfort, I’m a person who can sleep everywhere as long as I have a space to rest my head on. Needless to say I’ve never picked a cama-bus or a – definitely more expensive – ‘Bolivia Hop’ option. Semi-cama is good enough for me, declining chairs, a foot rest and a shaking bus made me sleep like a rose most of the time. But, be aware, semi-cama being the cheapest option means there’s no toilet. If you desperately need to pee, just sign the driver and he’ll stop at the side of the road. Yep, you’ve read that well, those Cholita skirts are a practical thing on a long busride. – Fun fact: my first nightbus in Bolivia I didn’t know that ‘you need to ask the busdriver for a toilet break’, I was hoping for a quick stop in a restaurant in order to go to the toilet. Five hours later, I knew I couldn’t hold it any longer and started to talk to the gentleman beside me, in the hope he knew what to do. Friendly as the Bolivians are – they are, ignore what you’ve read on other blogs – he shouted to the busdriver to stop the bus, accompanied by a choir of fellow travelers desperate in need for a wee. I sprinted out of the bus, squatted behind some bushes and…relief. Only for a couple of seconds, until I realized that I was peeing right next to a free running pig. Luckily for me, it didn’t chase me, I could finish and continue my trip with dry panties. – For the more frugal travelers amongst us: if the bus didn’t fill up before leaving, it will stop one block from the bus station, trying to get more passengers at cheaper prices. The driver will wait about half an hour before he’ll start to drive or until the moment too many people start screaming ‘Vamos! Vamos!’ at him.

When you’re not such an easy sleeper like me, you can still go for a full cama trip on a local bus. ‘Cama’ means ‘bed’ in Spanish, so highly likely those seats will recline until you’re lying as flat as in a normal bed. – I never took them, but it seems logic though – Plenty of options, some come with food and at the bus station they can tell you what’s included in your bus ticket. I know I’ve mentioned something about ‘Bolivia Hop’, which is a bus service specifically catering to foreigners, which I also never took because 1. It’s more expensive 2. I can always meet fellow travelers in hostels if I want to 3. the local bus system is pretty good and you’ll find buses to nearly everywhere in the country, so no need for a shuttle service. I just prefer taking local buses at any time, that way you’ll get to know the people better – hurray for conversations with your neighbour, if you speak a bit of Spanish – and you’ll be better off when traveling on the cheap. Also, I love people coming on the bus to sell their food. Empanadas for the win.

But how about the safety on local buses then? – I can hear you think it. – Personally, I never had any issues on any local buses, but I’ve traveled often in South America and I’m quite careful with my belongings. Your big backpack will go in the storage space beneath the bus, always with a tag on it and you’ll have the other half. My small daypack / handluggage will be or at my feet or on my lap. Never. Ever. Ever. store anything in the compartment above you, you’ll be losing your stuff faster than you can blink. – In some scams a person that seems to belong to the bus company will forbid you to put your bag at your feet, telling you to store it above you. They’ll distract you and you’ll notice your bag missing. Just stand your ground and keep your bag with you. – Most of the time I’ll have a small bag on me with my passport, money and phone; this bag doesn’t leave my body for a second. Be careful with your stuff and you’ll be fine.

Last but not the least thing to say about bus-hopping in Bolivia: the roads. A lot of them have are paved and you barely notice driving from A to B. A lot more of those roads are a bit less paved…or they’re just a big mud pool the bus has to plough through. Hmpf. Keep in mind that traveling in Bolivia will take a lot of time, mostly because the roads are in such a bad shape. The route between La Paz and Rurrenabaque particularly can give you small heart attacks if you pay too much attention to what’s going on outside. ‘Keep calm, close your eyes and try to sleep’ is my advice. Just in case you really really don’t feel comfortable – as I can imagine on the La Paz – Rurre road – consider other options: boat / train / flight, just don’t expect them to be more affordable.

FRESH, LOCAL FOOD. BECAUSE A GIRL GOTTA EAT – AND THE BOYS TOO, YES –

I try to travel low budget. Try to, because on the way you’ll always meet somebody traveling with almost no money – something I highly admire but I haven’t been able to pull off myself -. Low budget in my eyes means: cooking a lot and eating mainly locally, thus getting to know the people and save money. Win-win. When I say locally, I mean: plastic tables at the roadside, street food and market food. The best food, actually.

If you want to cook, there’s no need to worry about a place to cook your own food. A lot of hostels provide equipped kitchens, so the only thing you’ll need is, of course, the food, some cooking oil – you’ll be standing there with all your stuff, ready to prepare a five-course meal and notice there’s no cooking oil – and the spices you’ll need. Many times there’s a free food section too, it’s handy to have a quick look there before you buy another kilo of rice while you only needed to grab it from the shelve. Then it’s up to you to prepare a delicious meal!

When cooking, what’s a better way than to buy your fresh herbs and veggies at the market? No plastic packaging, you only buy as much as you need and the lovely ladies at the market will gift you some extra’s. Just to see your pretty face again next time you’ll do your grocery shopping. In Bolivia, you can find basically everything you need at your local market: fruits and veggies, herbs, eggs, rice, homemade cheese, bread,… Besides buying your food, most markets have a food court where they serve a cheap lunch, called ‘the menu del dia’. – I already wrote about it in my Colombia-posts – For about 8 to 15 bolivianos you’ll indulge in a soup, main course and a drink of the day. Most of them have different options to the menu, giving you the choice between different meats or, if you’re very very lucky, they’ll have a vegetarian option.

Western food and other options are also widely available – especially pizza you’ll find everywhere – but expect also to pay the price – still not comparable to eating out in Belgium, but already four or five times more expensive –. Depending on your budget, you’ll notice if it’s better to stick to the lunch menus or if you can indulge every once in a while.

KEEP YOUR FRIENDS UP TO DATE

Opposite to what I’ve read on a lot of blogs about Bolivia: internet is everywhere. It might not be the fastest netwerk you’ve encountered, but most hostels, restaurants and bars have their wifi ready to be overused by broken backpackers and other travelers. Most travel blogs on the subject have been written a year or two/three ago, so a lot has changed in the meantime. Almost all hostels have free wifi, even the cheaper ones and not too bad either. Seriously, I paid 30 bolivianos a night in Sucre and could still download my favorite series without issues. Or videocall one of my friends abroad when I felt lonely. Campings on the other hand are less likely to have free internet, but then there are bars and restaurants galore to still your need for an online presence. Only when deep into the forest or high in the mountains you’ll have to refrain your urge to post your pictures. No need for it anyway, when enjoying the outdoors.

All in all, what you need to know: Yes, also in Bolivia you can watch your netflix and spend hours on instagram without any issue. You’re welcome.

EXPECT A LOT.

I guess that’s what you can expect from Bolivia: a shitload of activities ranging from museum hopping in La Paz to catching your breath during a hike in the Andes, long hours on not so good roads, eating fresh and locally while you can still videochat your mom if necessary. Honestly, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Bolivia. It is an amazing country and the reason I’m writing this ‘what can you expect?’ blogpost is to encourage you to look past the warnings of people who probably haven’t entered a foot in this beautiful country. Set aside your fears and be ready to read a bit more about Bolivia in my next post: ‘Tupiza to Uyuni – more than the world’s biggest Salt flats‘.

Chasing waterfalls in Mocoa, all the way to ‘El fin del mundo’

My solo trip to Tierradentro ended a bit on a bad note: limping and exhausted from a painfull night, I started my journey towards Mocoa. The Mexican already had let me know he would arrive early, already being on the outskirts of the city. – For once he calculated his cycling time correctly! – Quite early in the morning – at 6.30 exactly – I started my long trip towards this tiny city I hadn’t even heared of before I started this trip to Colombia, the only thing I knew was that 1. It was on Ale’s route to the south and 2. It’s close to the Amazon and there were supposed to be a lot of waterfalls. But first, I hopped on a ‘bus’ – minivan – to Pitalito, once there I caught a bus straight – another minivan – to Mocoa. Seeing that the driver had a roll with plastic bags laying on the dashboard, I knew it didn’t promise any good. I was sitting in the back, together with one woman and her two little boys, who were covered up with blankets and ready to sleep a bit during the ride. The road itself was beautiful. As I said, Mocoa lays very close to the Amazon, so not long after we took off, the landscape started to change. The houses along the side of the road started to make place for a long and winding route through the mountains. Lush vegetation everywhere, a river at the bottom of the valley, the sun slowly coming up. I was really enjoying myself watching the landscape pass by, until… one of the little boys’ stomachs started to protest and yes, he started throwing up. In his mums’ hands. Ieuw. Anyway, after that the plastic bags came in handy, because his brother joined in on the fun. The ride could’ve been slightly better, without two puking boys next to me – and without their mother throwing the full plastic bags out of the car right into the bushes. Horrible. – but I really, really enjoyed the landscapes.

View from the hostel. Quite amazing.

About 6 hours after I left, I arrived in the tiny city of Mocoa. Leaving the bus – already being the only foreigner on it -, I already had the impression there wouldn’t be many foreign visitors in this city. Seeing that I got many onlookers, being this small, white girl with a huge backpack, I decided I would just take a taxi to my hostel instead of figuring out if there was a bus going that direction. The fact that my foot was still badly hurt and that I couldn’t walk anywhere without limping severely – imagine a limping girl with a big backpack on her back and a small one in the front, you’ll imagine me in Mocoa – made it all the easier to just jump into a taxi. Our hostel wasn’t in the city centre, rather closer to the area where all the waterfalls were, not in the middle of nature, but a lot more peaceful than the grimy busy city I’d just seen. My driver didn’t really know where to go when I told him the address, but maps.me came in handy again and showed him at least the right street. Stopping in front of a colourful gate, I was wondering if this was the right place. When I slowely peeked behind the gate, I asked a guy in the front yard if this was the right place and if, by coincidence, a Mexican guy on a bike already made the check in. Apparently, I was talking to Juan, who was keeping the hostel and he could confirm me that, yes, the hostel was correct and yes, the Mexican cyclist arrived an hour before. I hopped and limped back to my taxi to retrieve my big backpack – no way I was carrying that weight with me in case I wasn’t in the correct place – and while I was paying, a happy Ale was waiting for me, ready to swing my big backpack on his back and show me our room. Especially when he saw what my ‘little problem’ was. Obviously, somebody was very curious to know what happened…but first I needed food.

Where we spent most of our time in Mocoa: inside a hammock.

I think this was the longest time we’d been separated since the moment we’d met, so we both were very excited to share our stories and walked – limped in my case – accross the street to one of the restaurants selling home-made chorizo – Casa del chorizo is quite the obvious name – and later on past some food stalls to buy more meat and pineapple. – I had no clue Ale was actually buying stuff for me too…I just thought he was really hungry. I’d had enough with my chorizo, until I saw the pineapple, so I wanted pineapple for desert – With more than enough food and juicy fruit, we crossed the street again – honestly, we were outside the city, everything just happened in the same big street. Anywhere else was rainforest anyway – and sat on the benches, not realizing we were about to witness the local football – and yes, I mean soccer, the real foot-ball – team playing. Well…they were training and getting ready, but the other team didn’t show up. On top, it started to rain. Bummer. I was really excited to see the local team play…even more because I wanted to know how they would avoid the chickens running around on the field. Anyhow, Ale and me continued to update each other on what happened the past three days and couldn’t stop talking, happy to be together again. The Mexican always seemed excited to see me, everytime he arrived and he saw me. Needless to say, catching up on each other – three days seemed very long, time is always different on the road – was the only thing we did that day. Besides making another slow trip to one of the small shops along the side of the road – the other direction this time – to buy some groceries. On our way we passed a young woman on a bike who asked us if we needed a restaurant. Just after our lunch we didn’t really need any more food, but she offered to make us dinner instead, in her little restaurant across the street, in front of the hostel. After an obligatory rest for me – foot hurt A LOT – and a little tour of the hostel, our stomachs started growling again and we hurried to the restaurant across the street. Which wasn’t really a restaurant, more the house of this woman who had a patio. When we arrived, she put up a table and that was that. A menu was nonexistent, we had to eat what she had in the fridge. The food, however, was de-li-cious. A simple soup, with as a main dish rice and chicken with platanos and some fresh juice. Nothing more than that, just a very good home-cooked meal. And we both loved it, the small little place, the woman – who was actually 5 years younger than me and had two kids running around, yikes! – was very friendly and interested in where we came from and why we were visiting Mocoa. She thought we were married – I think it’s quite clear that we aren’t, but we didn’t deny it. Sometimes it’s better to leave people be in order to avoid misunderstandings, and because she was living in a small village in the middle of nowhere, her customs and culture might be different than our own – and asked about my foot, what happened and that I had to take care of myself. The nicest people are found in unexpected places.

Same hostel, different hammock.

Especially when you know that, about an hour later, Ale and me were watching a Mexican comedy show on Netflix. I wasn’t wearing any clothes anymore – only underwear – because of the heat and well, we weren’t planning to get out of our room anymore. Suddenly there’s a small knock on the door and – after hastingly putting on a dress – Juan from the hostel came inside to inform us that there’s a lady at the hostel to see me. It had something to do with my foot and he wanted to know if she could come inside. We both were stunned, but let the lady in, and, apparently, she was the mother of the woman cooking for us. They both came to help me with my foot. This lady asked me if she could give me a massage and explained that my muscles were probably too contracted after my fall and needed to relax, so I could use my full foot again and would stop limping. I was a bit hesitant at first, but after considering that the medical help in Mocoa itself would be minimal anyway, – and I wanted to go to this El Fin del Mundo waterfall – I decided I would give it a try. I knew it was going to hurt. My foot already hurt by looking at it, touching was barely manageable. It was EXTREMELY painful. She definitely didn’t spare my poor foot and I really needed to clench my teeth together in order not to scream out loud. Ale couldn’t even look at me, fidgeting with his phone while avoiding my stares. The bastard. – Afterwards he told me he couldn’t bare watching me in pain – After a gazillion years of torturing my foot, I was able to place my heel on the ground again. I could walk and even though I was still in pain, my knees didn’t threaten to fall on the floor when I pushed my heel onto the ground. This lady explained that I now would still feel pain, but that I had to start walking normally and everything would be fine within a couple of days. I thanked her and we promised to see each other the next day, for lunch.

Walking to the pool.
Swimming pool in the jungle. Not that bad, I would say.

The next day. Without my painful foot, we would’ve visited the ‘El fin del Mundo’ waterfall, but since it was still sore, we decided to do nothing instead and let my foot rest. Starting with staying in bed together for a long, long time. Around midday we finally made it to the house/restaurant and discovered it had a name: El Puente. The only indication that it was indeed a restaurant. I proudly showed off how I was walking with both heels touching the ground again and even though my foot still hurt, I already felt the difference with the day before. Both women, mother and daughter, were as friendly as ever and we enjoyed another delicious meal. In for a desert, we bought some ice cream and other groceries to survive the rest of the day and stayed the rest of the afternoon in the hostel, relaxing in the hammocks or playing with Linda, the little dog. A bit later that day we also decided to check out the hostel’s swimming pool, which needed a small walk in the jungle – not even full jungle – to the pool. According to Juan, you could even see monkeys from time to time. Ale was smart enough to lend me his baton – the stick he uses to support his bicycle and keep it standing up – which I used as a crutch to lean on going down to the pool. If you’re ever in Samay Hostel, don’t forget to use the swimming pool. It’s this peaceful oasis in the middle of nowhere, a very refreshing one in the almost-Amazonian-heat. The Mexican and me definitely enjoyed to explore the pool, the area around it and to check out the giant ants walking on the same paths as our feet.

One of my favorites.

The evening meal was eaten in El Puente again – I owed them one for my foot. And the food was simple, but delicious. As I already said a couple of times – But the rest of the night was spent socializing around the kitchen table with the rest of the hostel: Juan, Elias and his mom – a German 30-something mother travelling with her 5 year old son – and the Spanish-Argentinian couple living there already for a good two months. Over the rest of the days, I like to remember how this hostel made me feel a part of a big travelling family, gathering together in the evenings over some home made food with conversations ranging from travels to music to traveling with a 5-year old. Two days of being there and just being in the moment made me feel very very comfortable in Mocoa.

Even though I had to do something for work the next day. Remember that I had to take a German test in La Plata, but I didn’t seem to find a spot with international phone calls? Well, I’d told them I would try again that specific day, so Ale and me were up early – which the Mexican didn’t like that much, as usual – and we took the collectivo-truck to Mocoa in order to find some shop selling international phone calls. Which we found within the same street where the collectivo dropped us off, quite handy. The shop was tiny, completely open to the sounds of passing traffic and the lady selling empanadas in front, yelling loudly to make her presence known. Inside were shelves full with jeans and childrens books, plus a tiny desk with a computer and some phones. I thought it was hilarious, to make a call from this place and when I finally could do my German test, I didn’t hesitate to mention where I was at that exact moment. After about 10 minutes calling, I finished the call and when Ale asked me if I passed the test, I had to tell him I didn’t know. Because of all the noise, I barely understood what they were asking me, but I did answer all the questions in German. Wether or not it was the right answer, I didn’t know, only that he wished me a nice holiday, so I assumed I passed. Honestly, I couldn’t care less, I was very happy that all the obligations towards work were finished and I could enjoy the rest of my trip without thinking about work. We went for breakfast and bought food for our meal, but still managed to squeeze a quick trip to El Puente for lunch inbetween our busy schedule of doing nothing and relaxing in the hammock. We talked, made some plans for the next day – Yes, we were going to visit something! -, played with Linda, the cat and Elias. Ale – of course – cooked diner and we enjoyed chatting a bit with the others before going to bed.

Caterpillar. Felt a bit strange, but at least it doesn’t like human flesh.
I found a leaf almost as big as me. Also realized this is the only picture of me in Mocoa. I need to stop saying no when people want to take pictures of me.

A VISIT TO THE MARIPOSARIO

My foot felt better, I wasn’t limping so badly anymore and we decided that this day was a good day to visit the end of the world, the ‘El fin del mundo’ waterfall. The entrance was right in front of the little shop were we’d been buying some food, about 5 minutes walking from the hostel, in the exact same street. We woke up early, were excited and ready to see some waterfalls after a couple of days relaxing in a hammock or by the pool. Once we arrived, we already grabbed our money to throw it at the ticket desk and run all the way up to El Fin del Mundo…except for the fact it was Tuesday. The waterfalls were closed on Tuesday. I mean, the water is still running and all that, they just take one day in the week as a precaution and let the environment rest a little bit. Exactly on the day we decided to finally do something. Hmpf.

Well…I had wanted to visit the Mariposario – ‘mariposa’ is butterfly in english, so yes, it’s a butterfly garden -, about 15 minutes further down the street when you pass the shop. While Ale wasn’t jumping to visit it when we were making our plans for Mocoa, it was a good alternative that day. At least we didn’t leave our beloved hammocks for nothing. Once at the entrance before the river, you can walk up through a small path in the jungle, not more than half an hour, before arriving to the entrance. You ring a bell – not an electric one, the old fashioned metal bells with a cord, which is pretty fun – and somebody comes to let you in. Only…nobody came. Hmpf. Luckily, on our way up we met a man carrying some heavy bags on his back on the way up and he went for the lady owning the place, telling her she had some visitors. We paid a small fee and in return, this friendly lady guided us around the mariposario, starting with a walk to the Treehouse, which was magnificent. You could rent it and sleep there a couple of nights, if you had the equivalent of about a 100 euros a night. Which is not so much in the end, but on a backpacker’s budget you can spend at least 10 nights for the same price. – I already started calculating if I had any posibility to rent it for one night for Ale’s birthday, until the lady told me she had visitors coming the next day who would stay the rest of the week…not really a bummer, I probably wouldn’t have had the money to splurge anyway – She spoke more about the trees, the significance of those trees for the indigenous in the area and leaded us to the mariposario part of her domain. She explained everything about the circle from larvae to butterfly and we even got to hold one huge caterpillar, before we went to check out the turtles and aras. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any monkeys, but if you expected to see only butterflies and you get to know a whole zoo in the end, then the visit was worth it. After drinking some water and relaxing a bit, we made our way down through the jungle again. This time over a different path, one covered with ferns, leaves and doubling as a highway for giant ants crossing down, carrying double their weight in leaves when passing us. It was a tricky path, slippery from the rain of the night before and I was very carefull not to fall down in the middle of the troop of giant ants. – Secretely hoping they don’t like human flesh – The Mexican and I descended very carefully, but I saw the river again, I got a bit too excited reaching the end and forgot I’m prone to slipping and falling down on wet surfaces. Especially if those wet surfaces are also muddy, uneven and mainly rocks. Yep, suddenly my ass touched the floor in a huge swing backwards. Which was quite hilarious, according to Ale’s laughter when he was trying to help me up. – At least I know now those giant ants don’t eat human flesh…

First waterfall on our way to El Fin del Mundo
Second waterfall on our way to El Fin del Mundo.

We still had a big chunk of the day ahead of us and Ale had the genious idea to visit another waterfall, Salto de Indio, close by the village next to Mocoa. It would’ve been a bit too far to walk, so we decided to hitch a ride on one of the jeep-collectivo’s passing the main street. Jeep-collectivo’s who had no intention to take us with them to Villagarzon. After walking a while with growling stomachs, we knew we were headed to Mocoa, buy some food and would relax another afternoon in the hammocks. Ale surprised me with another delicious diner and we chatted the evening away with our Mocoa-family, before finishing the day.

Start of the Fin del Mundo walk.

EL FIN DEL MUNDO

Wednesday. The El Fin del Mundo ticket office would be opened. Finally we would visit the reason we were in Mocoa in the first place. My idea would be waking up early in the morning, very excited, ready to seize the day and go see that damn waterfall. Ale’s idea was grabbing me firmly in the bed, making sure he could sleep the maximum out of the day until I could wriggle loose and bully him awake in the meantime. We compromised and left around 11 in the morning, still before noon, but late enough for Ale not to become a grumpy monster.

The sun was there, we were ready and on our way to the waterfall. To reach it, you had to climb a little bit. I have no clue how many stairs I did that day, but definitely a lot. The first part in the sun and along some grasslands, later on you’ll head into the jungle and follow the wooden stairs up. And up. And up. They seemed endless. Until you hear the laughter of people and the rushing sound of water that tells you that you’re very close. Right before reaching the famous ‘El fin del Mundo’ waterfall, you’ll pass another three waterfalls which are perfect spots to take a little break and refresh yourself by diving into the ice cold water. The first one is a bit more difficult to reach, but the second one is perfect: the water is undeep, though deep enough where the water falls into the lake, ideal to do some cliff diving. – Which I’m too scared to do…but hey, I had a Mexican who’s crazy enough to cycle from Colombia to Argentina, so I guessed he would like to jump into the water. Turned out I was right – Before diving in, we headed further, first passing through the water onto the other side of the lake and over a very very slippery stone table, serving as a bridge next to waterfall number 3. Yes, Ale had to help me multiple times, as I have a great talent for slipping over wet, rocky surfaces and falling on my ass. – Does it sound familiar? – We took some pictures and finally reached the end of our journey in the jungle, with El Fin del Mundo in front of us. It hadn’t been raining that much the last couple of days and the stream was still small, but you could see the potential of a huge river falling 69 meters down into the jungle. Sadly, you could only admire the waterfall from the bottom when you’d rappeled down with a guide, which we didn’t do – And nobody was rappeling at that moment, you have to arrange it in advance -, but we had some great views from the top of the waterfall, lying on our stomachs looking down in the depths below. Pretty great.

Again the second waterfall. Guess who jumped off? Yep, the Mexican.
Warerfall number 3.
Almost at number 4!

Taking our time to make some little videos and pictures, we admired the waterfall and headed back to waterfall number 2 to swim and relax a bit. It started raining a bit, but well, we were about to get wet anyway. I watched Ale performing his big jump in the water and suprised him by taking a swim myself in the ice cold water, which he couldn’t wait to leave afterwards. We got ourselves dressed and started descending the stairs. At that point, the rain started to get heavier and heavier and we praised ourselves with the decision to walk down the stairs already, because the path was about to become a mud stream. Needless to say, we were soaking wet. I remember the moment the water broke through my eyebrows and my eyes barely saw anything anymore while trying not to slide down the moment. Luckily, we reached the end in one piece and right about that time, the sun surprised us with its presence. Hmpf.

We definitely needed a shower and were quite hungry, it being past 4 o’clock and we didn’t even had lunch yet. Peeling of our wet clothes and shoes we headed in the shower, refreshed ourselves and feasted further on pasta of the day before. We were proud, happy and ready to stay a bit longer. Normally, if I hadn’t had the little accident with my foot, we would’ve already been on our way to Pasto. The relaxing, the hostel, the people and being close to the jungle made us want to stay a tiny bit longer. Plus, celebrating your birthday alone on a bicycle isn’t fun, so we were ready for two more days in Mocoa. And one Mexican birthday boy turning 29 the very next day. – Yes, I kind of stayed awake until 12 o’clock to say happy birthday

View from the top of El Fin del Mundo
Daredevils.

ALE’S BIRTHDAY

Our time in Mocoa was mainly spent relaxing, talking, enjoying each other’s company and a tiny bit of action when visiting the Mariposario and El Fin del Mundo. I asked Ale what he wanted to do for his birthday and he replied: nothing. Relaxing. Eating. Enjoying the time being. So that’s exactly what we did. I tried to let him sleep in a bit – even though this time he was wide awake – and treated him on breakfast in the Chorizo restaurant. We weren’t drinking much during our trip – Especially me, I don’t like beer and wine is really expensive – but Ale wanted to start his day with a beer, so we did. I kind of documented his beers during the day, until we switched to rum and I forgot about it because I joined in on the birthday-drinking. We actually had a lovely day, besides the fact we wanted to eat pizza and couldn’t find a pizza place open in Mocoa around 2 in the afternoon. We ended up eating hamburgers instead, not too bad either. We did a bit more grocery shopping, hung around in the hostel a bit until we were surprised by our Mocoa hostel family: Juan had bought Ale a birthday cake. Jup, that evening we all feasted on the cake and rum. When traveling, I live for these moments, they’re just the best: everybody happy, aroun the kitchen table, talking, drinking and enjoying being in the moment. I already felt it would be difficult to leave.

Birthday boy after breakfast.
In his favorite spot.
Very happy with his Club Colombia.
Cutting the birthday cake. Juan made sure he cut even pieces…

HOW NOT TO FIND EL SALTO DE INDIO

Apparently I wasn’t the only one that didn’t want to leave just yet. On his birthday Ale told me he didn’t want cycle the whole day after his birthday, we could stay one more day before heading to Pasto. The whole area around Mocoa is basically a playground for everyone who loves hiking, nature and waterfalls. Time to get out of our hammocks again to explore at least one more waterfall before leaving for the city again. Ale’s mind was set on visiting Salto de Indio and while having breakfast, Stephen – backpacker from the US keen on speaking Spanish the whole time, which was highly appreciated in the hostel – asked us for our plans and was wondering if he could join us. Ale had been talking to him the night before as well and since we’ve always been traveling and visiting with just the two of us, why not having company this time?

Off we went, catching a collectivo – they did stop for us this time – to Villagarzon. In the city centre, we asked around a bit to were the starting point of the walk should be and a mom send her two little girls out with us to help us find the start of the trail. We got some mixed explanations, but thought we would manage to find it. We walked out of the village, passed the public swimming pool and crossed the bridge to some grasslands in front of the mountain. In the distance, we could see some waterfalls, high up and surrounded by lush vegetation. We were definitely not there yet and needed to find the path. That’s were we started our search, on a grassland with the faintest trail of a path running through to another one, bordered by the river and fenced by barbed wire. Unsure what to do, we started walking around, going up and down, not finding any path until a farmer leading his horses away waved us in the right direction. I was getting a bit frustrated – I’m not good in not finding my way…normally I always know which direction to head, but being clueless brought me into a bad mood – and what didn’t help, were Ale and Stephen looking for mushrooms to eat. I had been walking ahead, trying to look for the right way, while the two of them were talking and trying wild mushrooms. Now, I haven’t got any experience with foraging and have no clue about which ones are edible and which ones end yourself being ill, or worse, poisoned. Stephen told Ale he recognized which ones were good to eat and some of them even had hallucinogetic side effects, which made both of them eager to try. I didn’t say a word, since I was pissed off. I know, I should’ve just trusted Stephen, since he was eating them himself anyway, but I got so scared they would pick the wrong ones and I would end up with two badly poisoned or even dead men in the middle of nowhere, without being able to call for help. – I know, I’m an overthinker – Anyway, I was pissed on Ale for not taking that into consideration, how well did we know Stephen anyway? So I started ignoring Ale, didn’t contributed anything to the conversation anymore and furiously continued to look for the right path. It seemed to me we needed to cross the barbed wire, as the farmer indicated, and follow the trail further on. I guess the Mexican figured out something was wrong with me, because he caught up with me and asked if everything was alright – normally I’m smiling and very talkative, laughing with all his jokes when I’m with him – and I told him exactly what I was thinking about, clearly pointing out the image of me being alone in the middle of nowhere with two dead bodies. – Okay, maybe a bit dramatic, but I really didn’t trust eating unknown, wild mushrooms in a random field in Colombia – He had no clue and clearly hadn’t thought about it, started to comfort me and told me I shouldn’t worry, he would get me back safely to the hostel. I was relieved he understood my point of view and even though he can do whatever he wants, he politely refused other mushrooms after that.

Without Stephen and Ale stopping all the time to stuff themselves, we could continue our search for the right path and ended up at the river, where we could find a small trail following a part of a smaller river going up towards the mountains. According to the directions we got in Villagarzon, we were going the right way. A bit further, we encountered a pool with two concrete beams running over it as a bridge and the river rushing down from bigger rocks dotted around it. We had to cross the river over those big boulders, which had me a bit scared – remember, the talent to fall down and slide away very easily – while both guys were just jumping over like they were invincible. – I think to much about everything that could happen, I know – We heared the rushing of water falling down, we knew we couldn’t be there just yet but the path seemed to have disappeared. Stephen tried to get ahead a bit to see if we could find the path further up, which made me warm up a bit to him. It seems silly, but having Ale’s infinite attention all the time, it did feel strange having a third person with us. Especially when that person clearly is impressed by Ale’s trip – the cycling thing, remember? – and manages to ignore me the rest of the time. At least, that’s how I felt it. The Mexican gave me as much attention as ever, because well, we were travelling as a couple after all and enjoyed spending time together, but I had the impression Stephen didn’t really like me. Ale probably didn’t realize it – never told him -, but I was glad none of us could find the path, which gave us the time to relax a bit. We found a nice part in the river where we could swim and feed the fish with some leftover Doritos from my backpack. Even though we were a little bit disappointed not finding Salto del Indio, none of us regretted trying. Until the sun disappeared, wind started blowing and some very dark clouds – obviously filled with rain – headed towards our pool. Not hesitating, we dressed ourselves and made our way back to the village. Somewhere past the river – yep, on the mushroom infested meadow – we crossed a group of young Colombians, clearly headed to the Salto del Indio. We told them the path just disappeared and asked if any of them knew the way, because it would be difficult to find. – We realized a local guide would’ve been a good idea, only to be confirmed by Juan from the hostel – One of the girls kind of had been there before, but we didn’t trust it enough to follow them. Besides, those rain clouds didn’t promise any good. About 15 minutes later, just after crossing the bridge, the locks burst open and water started pouring upon us. Luckily, we were a sprint away of the local pool, which had a covered terrace were we could shelter until the downpour stopped. The three of us huddled together on some plastic chairs, we waited about an hour for the rain to stop, whilst making plans. Since we were all starving and I told them I saw a pizza place right were the collectivo dropped us off, maybe Ale could have his birthday pizza one day later?

Once the sun started shining again, we rushed to the pizza place. One word: delicious. After a range of emotions, looking for a waterfall and not finding it and a sudden downpour, we deserved a pizza. And we toroughly enjoyed it. Our stomachs were filled again, but Ale and me were already thinking our next meal and did some shopping before heading to the first collectivo. At the last moment, Stephen realized he needed some bread and while we were waiting inside the collectivo, the driver decided it was time to leave. We yelled at him, but he couldn’t make it in time before our jeep took off, direction Mocoa. At the hostel, the Mexican and me showered, prepared our backpacks / bike and enjoyed some time for ourselves. That evening the whole hostel came together in the kitchen – also Stephen, who hitchhiked and was back way earlier than we even expected –, drinking rum and listening to both Juan and Ale playing their guitars. I already dreaded leaving Mocoa.

Read more on what happened next during my trip with the Mexican in my next blogpost: Pasto and Ipiales: what to visit before crossing the border?

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much money you would need for a couple of days in Mocoa, I wrote down how much things cost while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Bus Tierradentro – Mocoa: one way – 50.000 COP / 15,00€

Collectivo Hostel Samaya – Mocoa: one way – 2.500 COP / 0,75€

Collectivo Hostel Samaya – Villagarzon: return – 6.000 COP / 1,80€

Accommodation

7 nights in Hostel Samaya, Mocoa: private room with bathroom – +/- 46.800 COP per night / 14,00€

Activities

Entrance Mariposario: 8.000 COP / 2,40€

Entrance El Fin Del Mundo: 15.000 COP / 4,50€

International phone call: 10 minutes calling to Europe – 2000 COP / 0,60€

Food

Lunch in restaurant ‘El Puente’: rice with chicken, platanos, etc. and a drink – 6.000 COP / 1,80€

Breakfast in Mocoa: croque monsieur – 5.000 COP / 1,50€

Breakfast in Casa del Chorizo: 7.000 COP / 2,10€

Hamburger lunch in Mocoa: 17.000 COP / 5,10€

Pizza Villagarzon: 12.000 COP / 3,60€

How to spend two nights in the Desierto de la Tatacoa, Colombia

After a couple of days chasing an invisible waterfall and laughing our asses off with Ale’s funny faces in the National Park, it was time to move on to the next spot. No waiting until a Mexican arrives, exhausted after a couple of days sweating on his bike, but instead taking the bus together to Neiva and further into the Desierto de la Tatacoa.

First views of the desert and its only road.
Goat friends and the showers of a hostel.

First of all, buses depend on a certain timetable, so I had to drag the Mexican out of his bed and into the shower, in order to be on time for the bus direction Pitalito and further to Neiva, Villavieja and Tatacoa. This time, luckily, we’d already packed our bags in advance and left most of our stuff in the hostel, together with Ale’s bike. We would pick it up three days later and enjoy two nights in the Colombian desert. Since I’m quite Belgian and my sense of timing is also quite Belgian, we arrived well on time at the street corner, where the buses direction Neiva departed, at 8 o’clock in the morning. Some 10 minutes too early of course – rather too early than too late – which meant we had extra time to score some breakfast. Hurray for plastic bags of yoghurt and chocolate chip cookies in Christmas packaging! Once in the minivan – taking a ‘bus’ could mean anything in South America, from a normal bus with 56 seats to a minivan or a truck with some extra seats in the back, I’ve seen them all – we took off direction Pitalito, only to have a half hour break and switch to another minivan headed to Neiva. On the way chatting a bit with Ale, when he wasn’t annoyed with being stuck on a bus – or sleeping -, watching other villages pass by. By the time we reached Neiva’s bus terminal, we were lucky enough to have a collectivo to Villavieja waiting for us. Ignoring my growling stomach, we were in for a not-so-comfortable ride to our last stop. Last stop with a normal ‘bus’ at least.

Once in Villavieja, a bunch of moto-taxi’s and other vehicles where eagerly waiting for us to transport us into the jungle. None of it quite ‘cheap’, in comparison with the price we paid for the bus, knowing it would only be 15 – 20 minutes while we were already traveling for 6 hours. Anyhow, we didn’t have any other options, which the drivers knew as well. We jumped onto the last tuk-tuk – by lack of other words, I need to call it a motorized tricycle with space for three in the back and two in the front, each with one butt-cheek on the front seat, but tuk-tuk is easier – and while Ale as the only native Spanish speaker chatted away with the driver in the front, I was chatting in French with the couple in the back of the tuk-tuk. I let Ale do the negotiating in the first place, since he’s the Macho Alfa of the two of us, but this time it really came in handy. While the guy mentioned his price before we stepped inside, Ale managed to get us a discount and to let the driver drop us off at a hostel right in front of the Observatory. Yup, the desert has also something to offer at night… If you’re lucky enough to have a clear sky, of course.

Evening walk between the cacti
The Mexican kept on following me. All the way to Tatacoa. He even left his bike!
Goats everywhere.

1. GO ON AN EVENING WALK

The first thing we did when arriving was, of course, book a room. We didn’t want to sleep outside in the open in the middle of nowhere and we read that accommodation could run out fast…only not when we were there. Almost the only ones in the hostel – called ‘La Tranquilidad‘, only the French couple decided to stay there as well – we had plenty of rooms to choose from. For solo travelers reading this, I would go for the hamaca-option if I were you, plenty of hammocks to sleep in, which we also tested later that evening. But we were hungry, especially since it was past 3 pm. After installing our stuff in the room, we went to the owners who cooked us a meal with the usual ingredients: chicken, rice, platanos. Soup as a starter, juice with the meal. The typically ‘menu del dia’ dishes, but delicious because I was already starving the moment we left Neiva. During the meal we got to know Sr. Sebas the Second – named after his apparent twin Sebas I, Ale’s cat in Mexico – and the Cannibalistic Chicken. The chicken seemed a bit crazy – think about the chicken in Disney’s Moana and you’ll get what I mean – and was quite eager, as in running for it, to eat all the scraps of chicken we threw on the ground for the cat. Maybe even eating her own sisters. Hmpf. Anyway, after our late lunch, it was time to explore a bit. Too early to see the stars but too late to go for a hike, we opted for a little exploring walk in the Desierto.

More cacti..we were in a desert after all.
We stumbled upon some baby goats.
Too cute not to take a picture.
Ahem…I guess I still need to work on my posing skills.

And I call it desert all the time, after the Spanish ‘Desierto’, but technically the Desierto de la Tatacoa is a ‘semi-arid dry tropical forest’, slowly becoming a desert. When the Spanish arrived a couple of centuries before, you could find fields of flowers and a reptilian creature called ‘Tatacoa’, which went extinct already ages ago. Now you can find reddish and greyish canyons – the desert, I’m still calling it that, is divided in two parts with different colours – and plenty of cacti, goats, snakes, scorpions and other animals in the area. Luckily I only got to witness the cacti and the goats. Phew. Anyhow, we decided to have a little walk in the desert. Now, I’m somebody what they call an ‘over-thinker’. I think too much about everything that could happen – when I’m not busy making impulsive decisions and decide to follow a Mexican stranger on a bike, through Colombia – and I was thinking too much when walking in the Tatacoa as well. Okay, it was fine. The landscapes where amazing, the cacti huge and the baby goats we encountered were the cutest ever. But then I’m thinking about not getting out of the desert when the sun goes down and we will lose the path back – sun was still shining high and brightly, Ale taught me then how to roughly calculate with your fingers the time you have until the sun sets -, what about snakes and how about not bringing any drinks? After Ale promised me to take me out of the desert alive, I did take some time to enjoy my surroundings. The beautiful colours reflected on the stone pilars around us. The reddish glow of a sun setting. Baby goats. Following a strange bird, which wasn’t the Cannibalistic Chicken. The overall feeling of happiness of being outside. In nature. Somewhere new. With someone I liked. In the meantime I taught that same person I liked some things in Dutch, which sounds really funny with a Spanish accent. Who then repeatedly said the same words over and over again, screaming as loud as he could. – I’m so glad Dutch is not such a common language – After all that worrying for nothing, during our walk, we had a great time after all. Until we decided to go back and got chased by a dog again – remember our waterfall adventure in San Augustin? – A small one this time. For only the last 20 meters. Which wasn’t scary at all, actually.

Moon. Taken through a telescope.
Beware of the donkeys after dark.

2. STARGAZE AT THE OBSERVATORIO ASTRONOMICO ASTROSUR

After arriving back at the hostel, we relaxed in the hamacas the last half hour before the sun was really gone and we could cross the road to the Observatory. One of the reasons why I really liked this hostel is because it’s so close to both the red desert and the grey desert PLUS the Observatory is only a 2-second walk crossing the road. We saw some tiny lights blinking in the observatory and paid the fee, ready to be amazed by the wondrous mysteries of the sky. Which was without a cloud, lucky us. We had to be quick though, since we had the chance to see Saturn through a telescope, which would be gone within the hour after sunset. Quite amazing actually, how a simple instrument made by man can let you see a planet lightyears away from you. Yes, we could see the ring around Saturn. No, I couldn’t take a picture of it. – sad emoticon – I did take a nice picture of the moon, with its white shiny surface and all its craters so detailed as if it was hanging next to my head. We saw some pulsing stars in different colours – I saw the pulsing, the others saw the colours…I think I’m nightblind – and we spent quite some time at the telescopes, seeing planets and constellations, before the big presentation started. In Spanish. Which is okay for me, since I speak Spanish and have been speaking it all the time when travelling with Ale, but after a while my brain just shut down and I relaxed, laying down on the soft floor – they put some rubbery cover on the floor, so you can lay down comfortably – next to Ale, content with watching the clear skies and tons of stars. Doing my best not to fall asleep – I was pretty comfy after all – while the Mexican was listening attentively to everything said by our guides.

Another great experience to add to the list. Happy, we went back to our hostel and straight to our room, only to discover we had two pets waiting for us, which we named Mike and Eduardo. Mike, named after the lizard Ale once had in his room in Mexico and Eduardo, named after the lizard I once had in my room in Croatia. Basically, Mike II and Eduardo II were waiting for us on the wall and decided to take off once we got too close, ready to let us sleep – well… – in peace, so we would be well rested for the next day in the desert.

Pink cap on a horse. That’s me.
Grey desert.
More grey desert. In the morning light. Sounds more poetic.

3. EXPLORE THE GREY DESERT ON THE BACK OF A HORSE

Our first and only full day in the Tatacoa desert started with breakfast followed by a tour through the grey desert. On a horse. I know, there are plenty of other ways to discover the grey part of the desert, going from renting bicycles or motorcycles to driving around in a hired tuk-tuk. Nevertheless, the only way to really make the most out of your desert trip is on a horse. You simply can get to places where there are no roads and not reachable on foot. – At least when you don’t want to die a painfull death lost in the desert. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. – That said, I’m not very fond of sitting on top of a horse. Ale and me talked about it the day before and decided that discovering the desert by horse would be our best option, but I still think we both had our doubts, even though we never mentioned them to each other. Anyway, Ale arranged a tour with the owner of the hostel and we took off as soon as the Cannibalistic chicken and Sebas the II ate the scraps of our breakfast.

Now. The horse. I was able to get on top of it, sit still and let the horse walk, while grabbing the saddle very firmly with one hand. Great! Luckily the horse knew where to go, we just needed to follow the guide. Off we went with two extra horses to pick up another couple in another hostel before heading into the grey part – the biggest part – of the desert. Ladies. Here it comes. One tip. Wear a good bra when sitting on a horse. I knew we were going to stop at a swimming pool – Los Hoyos – later on, so I prepared by wearing my bikini already, which is in no way as comfortable as a normal bra. Also, NO support. Which is kind of painfull when you have a horse that thinks a normal pace is too slow, no, galloping is the way we go. Having three hours of you boobs wobbling up and down is not something I wish upon my worst enemy. Anyhow, I learned my lesson the hard way.

Besides all my nagging about being scared on a horse and painfull boobs, visiting the desert on top of a horse is amazing and definitely worth it. You have the feeling of being completely alone in the middle of nowhere – besides the guide, Ale, the couple and the horses -, surrounded by grey canyons and cacti, only to be disturbed by a wild goat or two. The views are endless, but in no way boring. As I already mentioned, somebody had the genius idea to build a swimming pool in the middle of the desert, which is very refreshing after a while on a horse. In total our tour took about 3 hours, of which I took very little pictures, because I was too busy making sure my horse didn’t throw me of a cliff. Luckily, Ale filmed a lot with my GoPro – because I needed my two hands on the horse – so at least I have some funny, shaky videos to look back to.

The red part of the desert is the prettiest part. Clearly.
And you can walk all the way to the bottom…
…but we stayed on the top. Just looking over it is already quite amazing!
Poser.
More red desert.

4. DISCOVER THE RED DESERT ON FOOT

After our experience on a horse, our host asked us if we wanted to continue the trip around the red desert as well. Hardly feeling my butt anymore, both Ale and me said ‘no thanks’ and opted to have a little siesta in the hammocks before walking to the red desert and discover it on our own. I remember telling the Mexican I was very glad to have both feet on the ground again, showing him the blister on the palm of my hand where I was holding on to the saddle. Apparently, he was very surprised that I’d been scared at all, he thought I was looking very calm and composed on my horse. – while I was screaming mentally ‘they feel it when you’re scared, keep calm, breathe in, breathe out, just follow the group, don’t run, please, DON’T RUN THAT FAST,…’ – All the time I was thinking he was the calm one, looking like he had been born on a horse, while he wasn’t too comfortable over there either. A big relief for both of us.

Ready for a little siesta in the hamacas – playing with Sebas II – and with a bra on this time, we left for the red desert, only 10 minutes walking from our hostel and much much smaller than the grey desert. More photogenic as well and the best way to explore is just by foot. You have several paths going through it, well indicated and easy to follow. Or, if you’re like us, with a painfull butt and not really into a long walk after spending 3 full hours on a horse, you can look over the canyons while walking along the road, following the path and be surprised by the superb views upon the red desert.

Red desert. I’m getting out of inspiration for these captions…
A Mexican in the desert.
A Mexican and a Belgian in the desert.
More canyon and desert. Sometimes I can hardly believe this is Colombia.
Pretty view. Red desert. Again.
Giant cacti for a change!
Little cacti. With pink flowers, adding a bit more color to the desert.

One full day exploring Tatacoa and we were exhausted. We managed to have just enough energy to walk to the next hostel / restaurant to have diner and play with the cat of the house. And drink batida de Guanabana, my new favorite drink. The next day was going to be a hard one, leaving early in the morning just to go all the way back to San Augustin, where Ale’s bike was waiting for him and my backpack ready to be strapped on, because I would be exploring Tierradentro on my own! – No, I wasn’t yet ready to leave the Mexican behind, he just needed 4 full days to reach our next destination…which gave me the chance to go a bit off the beaten track and head to Tierradentro –

Still want to read more about my – and the Mexican’s – adventures in Colombia? Prepare yourself for the next blogpost: Off the beaten path: what to do in Tierradentro?

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in the Desierto de la Tatacoa, I wrote down how much things cost while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Bus San Augustin – Neiva: one way – 30.000 COP / 9,00€

Collectivo Neiva – Villavieja: one way – 7000 COP / 2,10€

Tuk-tuk Villavieja – Desierto de la Tatacoa: one way – 15.000 COP / 4,5€

Accommodation

2 nights in Hostel Tranquilidad, Desierto de la Tatacoa: private room – 50.000 COP per night / 15,00€ per night for two people

Activities

3 hours horse riding through the Grey Desert: 45.000 COP / 13,5€

Evening in Observatorio Astronomico Astrosur: 10.000 COP / 3€

Food

Diner in hostel: rice with chicken, platanos, etc. and a drink – 14.000 COP / 4,20€

Breakfast in hostel: 6.000 COP / 1,80€

Batido de Guanabana: 4.000 COP / 1,20€

Pereira & Cali – How travel plans change and I ended up dancing Salsa in Cali with a Mexican.

Yup, still in Pereira here. Remember, I met this crazy Mexican cyclist – I say crazy because everybody tells me that he’s crazy for wanting to cross South America on a bike – and we hit it off instantly, spending a day at the Termales de Santa Rosa de Cabal together.

After a day floating around in +20° water, surrounded by waterfalls and being shaken in the back of a pick up truck, we took the bus back to Pereira. Once there, the light started to fade away after the sun set and we left the hostel in search for our new home, the next two nights in the centre of the city. Me on foot with my bag firmly strapped on the back and Ale walking next to his bike with all his belongings on top of it. While our former hostel was quite close to the bus station and in a residential area, the new one was smacked right in the middle of the city centre, buzzing with traffic, lights and people looking for a nice night out. And two backpackers, a bit tired of walking twenty minutes up the hill in a darkish part of the city. – I don’t think I would’ve liked to cross that part alone. A big street filled with graffiti, dark, not many people and even less you’d want to talk to after dark. – Finally reaching our destination and…no hostel in sight. Whut? We were walking to the left and the right, passing where the address should be and still no sign of a hostel. Until the neighbour on the first floor of the opposite building kindly points at the tiny sign dangling above our heads. Fieuw. Apparently, the hostel is on the upper floors. Which means dragging a 60 kilos bike – with bags, of course less heavy without – two stairs up to the reception area, a job I left for the guys.

Nightlife in Cali – one artist working with everything he could find, open garage door and very friendly to answer all our questions

PEREIRA CITY LIFE

Once the bike safely reached the reception area, it was time for us to relax, grab something to eat and enjoy the city life. Haha. I think I had a jetlag during my whole 3 months in Colombia and Ecuador, since I was dead tired every day by 8. Well, I did manage to survive long enough to shower, get to know every corner of our – yeey, private! – room with Ale and go grab a pizza for dinner. Yes, we both like pizza with pineapple on top of it. Yes, every pizza we ate together had pineapple on top of it. You can hate me for it later if you want to. Next day was spent in the city centre, – which I already wrote about, I won’t do it again – avoiding people who wanted to a. Sell us love potions and b. where asking for our blood – to donate, of course – while we we’re sitting and chatting at the Plaza de Bolivar, looking at the same Bolivar naked on a horse. Later on we spent some time getting know each other better while sharing an ice-cream in a cheesy 80’s style heladeria, even though it felt like I’d known him already for years in stead of days. Just enjoying time with each other. So much that we both agreed visiting Cali together would be a good idea. – bye bye plans for Medellin, hello salsa in Cali!

Cali, as seen from San Antonio. Obviously by daylight.

The biggest discovery of the day for me still needed to come at that point. Both backpackers on a budget – even though his was a tiny huge little bit smaller than mine – we decided to cook a pasta in the evening and hopped into the supermarket to buy everything we needed. What I didn’t know then, is that I would start to love these moments a lot: him telling me what we need and me looking for the cheapest – jup, we were on a budget… – and tastiest options in the supermarket. Always buying papitas, since we discovered we both have a small addiction to potato chips. Woops. When I wanted to start cooking later on, Ale managed to wriggle the knife out of my hands before I started killing the onions in a very rough, painfull way. Surprise: apparently, I had managed to find myself a professional cook. One that can make everything he touches taste like it came straight out of heaven. Lucky me. Sadly, from then on, I was degraded to dishwasher and vegetable cleaner. Worse things can happen in life, I guess. After stuffing ourselves with a delicious bolognese pasta, we started making plans for the next day and the next destination: Cali.

Here comes the odd part: travelling together, but with a different type of transport. Mine obviously faster than his, but also more expensive. The plan was me going to Cali by bus and sleep one night in a hostel reserved in advance, while he would arrive a day later, by bike, at the same hostel. Well said, well done and the next morning we took off together from the hostel to the crossroads where our ways would separate: he back on the road on his bike and me the opposite way, ready to walk 40 minutes uphill with my backpack strapped on my back. – Not that I knew about the uphill part at this point – When we kissed goodbye, I surely hoped we would see each other again. Yes, we had this connection and just spend three days of pure bliss together in Pereira, but you never know. Things might happen. I hoped not to be disappointed the next day.

First day in the hostel – unexpected birthday drink and chocolate cake

ARRIVING IN CALI

Since we were heading in the same direction, I thought I would see him pedaling forward along the side of the road once I left Pereira by bus. Not counting on the fact I fall asleep within 3 seconds once I’m on a bus. – They call it driving, but most of the times it’s just being shaken around. I don’t mind, it has something soothing and makes me fall asleep in no time. – Sleeping Anke and no sign of Ale, but when I woke up, I did see a lot of palm trees and plain, straight roads with the odd cyclist or a cow along the side of said road. All the way to Cali. There I took a taxi to the hostel, since it was definitely not located in one of the tourist areas in the city and I had no clue which bus to take, not even how the area was called. Which was why the hostel was so cheap, probably – Remember the being on a budget thing and still wanting some privacy? – After a little chat with the driver and a small search for the right house – no signs, nothing…I seem to choose the very, very hidden gems – I did arrive at the right hostel and I could relax a bit. Apparently, the hostel was brand new, as there were no other guests and Erika, our super friendly host, shoved a plate with chocolate cake in my hand, immediately making me a part of the ongoing birthday party inside. On top, she also invited me for a night out with her friends, ready to show me how they dance salsa in Cali. This visit to Cali promised to be very good…

Streets of San Antonio

But first: the quest for internet! The new hostel didn’t had the internet installed yet, so I visited the old school internet café in order to send Ale a message about the hostel. – And to check him out on facebook, didn’t had the time for that yet before. Hey, don’t tell me you never do that? He might’ve been a serial killer and I wouldn’t even know! Or worse, he could have a girlfriend. – After my internet-session I returned to the hostel, only to discover they’d managed to install the internet. Hmpf. Well, I was ready for some sightseeing anyway, and after Erika’s friend arrived we were good to go. First to San Antonio – jup, this is the area where all the other hostels are, I discovered – where the sun had set, tiny little lights covered the trees of the park and streets buzzing with people, in for a quick snack before a night out or just hanging out and watching some street artists doing their thing. Fruit vendors selling the green mango, which ought to be eaten with salt and lime. People arriving on motorbikes, people laughing and eating, people nosing into the little shops still open late at night. And who did I see right in the middle of all? Brecht and Danna – the Belgian – Colombian couple I met earlier in Salento – walking hand in hand in my direction. Obviously, I went over to say ‘hi’ and obviously, they were very surprised to see me, since I was supposed to be in Medellin and going to Choco afterwards. Woops. Since I had some explaining to do – not really, but I had a story to tell -, we all grabbed some food together in one of the little restaurants, where Erika told us about the local delicacies on the menu and Danna declared her love for champú. – not the one you wash your hair with, but the Colombian drink – After stuffing ourselves, we all left for our first salsa-experience in a bar / club called ‘La Topa Tolondria’. Luckily, La Topa is a mixed experience: a lot of locals loving their daily dance in the evening, but also a lot of tourists and travelers who don’t know how to dance. – like me! – Ideal for a beginner to set its first steps on the dance floor and get the hang of it, before the same floor gets taken over by professionals – just the inhabitants of Cali, they can dance salsa before they even start walking – and you’re just staring in awe at the speedy feet and numerous twirls of the dancers. Erika’s friend Jonathan managed to teach me a couple of steps, before I decided to just sit down, have chat with Brecht – whose feeling of rythm is worse than mine, sorry Brecht! – and watch the other dancers. All in all, a perfect first night out in Cali.

Streets of San Antonio

CALI BY NIGHT

After a first night comes a first day which consisted of eagerly waiting for a message from Ale to know if 1. he would still be coming and 2. he would make it that day. Starting with breakfast made by Erika and a chat about Colombia and Cali in particular, which lasted basically the whole morning. Around noon I finally got a first message of my cicloviajero telling me he would arrive in the afternoon, around 4 pm. Same message had a couple of pictures added, so I wouldn’t forget how he looked like. Which was very cute but completely unnecessary, given the fact I was shitting my pants hoping he wouldn’t forget me in Cali. No need to be worried apparently. It gave me the time to check out a local restaurant and discover its menu del dia, something I would survive on the next couple of weeks. – well, survive on during lunch, at least – A Menu del dia is a set lunch menu you’ll find all over Colombia – I assume all over South America – where you’ll get a bowl of soup, a plate with rice / vegetables / arepas / fish, chicken or meat and a fresh juice for a fixed and very reasonable price. I went back to the hostel afterwards, where I had no specific plans besides filling in my journal, which I hadn’t written in since Salento – we all know why – and ask Erika what Ale and me could do during our time in Cali. We ended up checking out my blog, pictures of places in Colombia and watching a movie instead. Until Ale arrived, right on time, at 5 pm. – yes, my stomach was in a knot the whole time, thinking he’d changed his mind – Sweaty, exhausted and very hungry, happy to be there and – hopefully – to see me is how I remember him arriving. Where I had it easy chillin’ and sleeping in the bus, he had a bit of a struggle the first day, covering only 70 km of the 210 he was supposed to ride. Camping in his tent on the porch of a house. Catching up the next day with 120 km straight to Cali, looking for a hostel without a name outside. But he loves cycling…

After his arrival, we went out to eat something together to fill his empty stomach – mine was still full with the delicious fish I ate before – and took off to shower together and spent the rest of the night in our room, chatting about the past two days and checking out how much energy exactly Ale still had left. Quite a lot, apparently.

Enough energy the next morning to start exploring. – After doing our laundry, yep, has to happen as well, especially when cycling clothes tend to get a bit smelly after two days of sweating in them – While I really enjoyed seeing San Antonio by night, when everybody is outside, chatting and socializing, warm air, lights everywhere and music on the streets, I thought we could also visit San Antonio by day. About one hour walking that passed by as if it where five minutes, admiring the trees loaded with Frangipani flowers, who leave a delicious scent in the air. All the way talking about those flowers, trees, our families, his love for cats, the Belgian government, Mexican food, name a topic and we were talking about it. That’s mainly what we did that day, talking effortlessly, as if we’d known each other for years and not only five days. Climbing the steep streets of San Antonio to the square where my first evening out in Cali started…just to be a bit disappointed. The magic of two nights before had disappeared. Apparently, the atmosphere and the people, the lights and the vendors are a night-thing. In the daytime, there’s not much to do besides taking the odd picture about the view upon the city, before trodding off to Parque del Gato – Just next to the San Antonio area -, a quirky little park with a bunch of cat statues, like a tiny cat-lovers amusement park. Well. Since I also love cats and I was accompanied by a Mexican crazy about cats – Although a bit more about bicycles. Even though I saw enough pictures of Sebas to be thinking I’ve been to his house and got the know his cat myself. – , we spend quite some time strolling around, looking for our favorite statue and of course, forgetting to take a pictures of it.

Still in San Antonio

After lunching in a vegetarian restaurant in San Antonio, we made our way back to the hostel for a little siesta before the evening. We would be so ready to tackle the Cali nightlife and become the best salsa-dancers this city had ever seen. Ha. Until it started raining at about 6 o’clock. Waiting out the rain, was the plan. The plan failed a bit, since the rain didn’t stop and before we knew it, the street resembled the Amazone river and I was affraid we would have to call for a taxi boat instead of a regular car to bring us to the club. And I kind of didn’t want to get that wet. And we kind of wanted to eat first in San Antonio – catch that vibe again – before going dancing. And we kind of cancelled our dancing plans after seeing the little river running through the street. Instead, we put on something that looked like a huge pink garbage bag – me – or a raincoat – Ale – and risked our lives crossing the street to get a pizza. With pineapple, of course. In the meantime getting a reggeaton lesson on the television blasting music inside the tiny pizza place, while we decided to take it away and eat it in front of Erika’s television. The hostel had Netflix and we were the only guests. So pizza + netflix + zombiemovies – Obviously Ale’s choice. He likes cats, bicycles and zombies. – replaced our salsa night out in Cali.

Getting ready for the picture.

Biggest cat-lover.

More cats…

RAINY DAYS

Next day: rain. What else can you do besides staying in bed when each other’s company is more than enough? There you got it. Spending the morning in bed ‘getting to know each other better’ is not something I regret. Neither do I regret traveling together with a Mexican cook making you the very best pasta you’ve ever tasted in your life that same day. – I could die a happy woman after eating that pasta one more time – And I already wrote here how much I loved going to the supermarket with Ale and just discovering the things that would form our lunch / dinner, especially when the result is this finger-licking good. This rainy day in Cali is also known as the day were we started our ‘Shithead’ – a card game – competition. During our quest in the supermarket, scanning the shop for the most delicous food at the cheapest prices, we were also searching after some playing cards. Not finding them in this gigantic warehouse filled with tons of stuff, but luckily seeing them in one of the tiny street stalls along the road on our way to the hostel. Ale thaught me the card game during that rainy day. After a couple of times I got a hang out of it, and started beating him every time we played. – To be continued. –

Frangipani flower.

A day with a lot of doing nothing, ended very energetic: yes, we finally went dancing together! Again in ‘La Topa Tolondra’, were we arrived a bit early, to find the dance floor rather empty. Never too shy for words, we were chatting and waiting until I found the courage to step onto the dance floor. Courage that I needed after Ale told me he got classes when he was 22, being quite good at dancing Salsa. Help. My nerves got the overhand at the first passes I set – Come on, who would like to be seen as clumsy and a bad dancer in front of somebody you really like? -, but later on I started to enjoy myself and relax a little bit more. Until the real pros started dancing and watching them and their fast feet was suddenly more enjoyable than being on the dance floor myself, struggling with twisting around. After the big dance battle, we called it a night and went home – as a traveller, I guess home is where your backpack is -, just to fall asleep together. One of my favorite parts of sleeping with Ale were his hugs, abrazos empanadas I used to call them, completely surrounded by his arms, refusing to let you go. It’s one of the things I miss the most.

Early in the evening, ready to dance.

Somewhere during those rainy Cali days, we must’ve decided that our time travelling together wasn’t over yet. Plans were made, bicycles were being prepared – well, one bicycle – and our next destination was known: we would see each other again in Popayan! Read more about my adventures in Colombia in the NEXT blogpost: Popayan – What to do in the whitest city of Colombia?

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in Pereira and Cali, I wrote down how much things cost while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Bus Pereira – Cali: one way – 27.000 COP / 7,71€

Accommodation

2 nights in Coffee & Travel Hostel, Pereira: private room – 32.500 COP per night / 9,73€ per night for two people (breakfast included + comes with a ping pong table on the terrace. You might even find our names on the wall…)

4 nights in Alma Viajera Hostel, Cali: private room – 25.000 COP per night / 7,48€ per night for two people (breakfast included)

Activities

Entrance fee La Topa Tolondria: 5000 COP / 1,43€

Twenty minutes of internet in an internet café: 800 COP / 0,23€

Food

Menu del Dia in Pacific Coast restaurant: lunch menu at the restaurant across the street of my hostel, with a drink, soup and main dish including fish – 11.000 COP / 3,09€

Pizza + drink on the rainy-night: 10.000 COP / 2,81€

Menu del Dia Lasagna in Vegeterian restaurant San Antonio: lunch menu with soup, fresh juice and vegetable lasagna – 16.000 COP / 4,49€

Ingredients for the most delicious pasta ever made by personal chef Ale: 35.000 / 9,91€ – for two people, two servings – yes, we ate it for dinner and lunch, and we drowned it away with a bottle of wine

Paradise in Panama – Part II

Ah, Panama. Whenever I go to a country, I always love it. I try to explore, try to breathe in all the scents and colors as humanly possible and indulge myself in local delicacies. I promise myself to go back, as fast as I can, but often find myself scrolling through a maze of cheap flight tickets, each and every one of them screaming harder and harder for my attention. Most of the times I listen and give in. Another country, another culture, another adventure. Not with Panama. Somehow, someway, this country found a little spot in the back of my mind, nestled itself warmly in a corner and waited. And waited. – and bombed me from time to time with vivid memories of my adventures in the country –  The moment I saw the chance to go, my ticket was already booked. I was going back to Panama. Continue reading Paradise in Panama – Part II

Snapshots of Montenegro.

After five-and-a-half months in Montenegro, my iPhone told me to stop. taking. pictures. He couldn’t handle it anymore…time for me to look back – whut, it has only been three weeks? – and pick my 5 favorite iPhone-shots to share. Whoever follows me on instagram, maybe you’ve seen some of these before… if not all of them.

snapshot_budva
Sunset over Budva.

This is one of my favorite views of Budva. I was living in Bečići for the time being, which meant I had to walk along this beauty of a coastal promenade every single time I wanted to visit/party in the city. While the view is not less stunning in the daytime, the minutes before dusk sets in are simply beautiful. Normally I’m not a fan of posting pictures of sunsets – they’re way better when you’re present to enjoy them –, but here I couldn’t resist the urge to snap a picture. The lights and the pinkish glow over the water give the city an almost magical atmosphere, while swimmers enjoy the last rays of sunlight before the evening falls.

 

Rafaelovici Beach next to Budva in Montenegro during sunset
Empty beaches.

Rafailovići in spring, before the beaches were packed with colourful umbrellas and barely clad bodies baking in the sun. One of my first strolls in my ‘new’ environment, when the beaches were still deliciously empty. No bright coloured souvenir stands along the promenade or tons of voices in foreign languages, just silence and emptiness. Wonderful.

 

The viewpoint in Lovcen National Park in Montenegro
La la love Lovcen.

One of my all time favorites. – in Montenegro at least – How many times I’ve been hopping into my car, driving all the way up here to admire the view over mountains, lakes and cities? Somehow I always ended up here, the viewing point with the second-to-best panorama in the whole country. – the best is seen from the top of one of those mountains, overlooking the Bay of Kotor and you have to be careful not being hit by cars, sooo… give me Lovcen, please. – How I enjoyed the utter peace and silence on this mountain. When I wasn’t being attacked by flying ants or other bugs, of course.

 

Sunshine after the rain in Durmitor National Park in Montenegro
Black Lake.

Sunshine after rain. And a bunch of people crawling out of their hiding holes, like tiny little ants. I was quick enough to snap this picture, before the sunlight faded away again. Definitely one of my favorite pictures of Montenegro, which was taken at the border of one of my favorite lakes. I was there before on another bright and sunny day, but to me the memory of this specific picture stands, taken after a walk around Black Lake in the pouring rain, when the sun decided to shine after all.

 

Foggy road up to Lovcen National Park viewpoint in Montenegro
Lovcen, again.

Another picture of Lovcen, this time in the fog. First time visiting the National Park, driving on roads winding all the way up the mountain… to see absolutely nothing. Quite the experience and very creepy, because you can’t see how deep you can fall when you take a step in the wrong direction. Luckily, I made it back alive.

End of summer – 2016.

Pebble beaches in front of Rafailovici.

With the seasons come new ends and new beginnings. For me, the end of summer means also the end of my life and work in Montenegro. A country packed with all kinds of natural wonders, from mountaintops shredded in clouds offering stunning views on mediterranean lakes to sun-drenched pebble beaches soaked in Balkan beats. A country being my home-away-from-home for a little while. With one week of work left, time is there to say my goodbyes – always a heartbreaking experience for me – and sadly, I will leave a whole bunch of wonderful people behind. Continue reading End of summer – 2016.