Colombia 🇨🇴: Dessert & kites in Cabo de la Vela (La Guajira)

La Guajira is a department of Colombia of which i have only seen a tiny bit when visiting the beaches of Palomino with its crazy waves. This time round we found the time to see the real La Guajira – a peninsula made up of mostly wastelands and desserts not far from the border to Venezuela and (by air) not far from Aruba (Aruba 🇦🇼: Happy Island Life).

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Northernmost tip of Colombia & South America

Long journey: If you ask me, the best way to travel the 300km to Cabo de la Vela is by motorbike (ideally an Enduro, but roadbike works fine too as long as its dry) and probably with a stop. We opted for public transport instead though it is cumbersome and takes 10 hours (!) spread over 4 vehicles (Santa Marta, Riohacha, Quattrovillas, Uribia, Cabo de la Vela). The most interesting part of the journey is the 4×4 from / to Uribia where you share precious little space with lots of people and tons of boxes with ice cubes!

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Hot & dry!

Tough life: Life in this part of Colombia is far from easy. Basic things like water, electricity and road infrastructure are missing or in poor condition. The proximity to Venezuela doesn’t help either other than with cheap petrol contraband that crosses the border in Coca Cola bottles (EUR0,35 / liter vs. EUR0,70 officially).

The people: In Guajira you will find the tribe of the Wayuu with markedly different looks – darker hair, dark skin. They also have their own language and not all speak Spanish including many young people.

Kite tourism: While the village of Cabo de la Vela was pretty empty when we visited (season is June & Nov-Jan when you will struggle to find accomodation), there were quite a few kite surfers around. And quite skillful ones at that. Impressive to say the least.

Overall a great time especially with our two travel companions (Xiomara & Astrid) from Bogota. Generally I am not a huge fan of very hot and dry places, but La Guajira is a place worth seeing. Next time we come for a little longer and get kitesurfing ourselves!

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Colombia 🇨🇴: Making coffee from A to Z in Filandia

No, we haven´t suddenly hopped from Colombia to Scandinavia! Rather we took two busses from Salento to get us to another colonial beauty in the coffee zone that is maybe a little less well known to foreigners – the town of Filandia.

Some footage of our day out in Filandia

After a night out in town with some really good Colombian cuisine, we visited a local hostel that rents out bikes and also does tours. For the tour we were late (start like 7.30am to avoid the heat), but for COP40.000 per bike we were soon in the saddle to explore Filandia´s surroundings. First up was Filandia´s mirador – a roman times looking watchtower that offers splendid views of the surrounding hills. Must see!

From there we cycled about 15km to a coffee plantation called Finca El Carriel. We took the off-road path, which is fine given it is all downhill (quite literally). Admittedly, we stopped frequently to marvel at the stunning scenery. Just perfect!

Once at the plantation, two German travellers joined us and we all enjoyed a fantastic tour (COP35.000 each) that explained (and let us do ourselves) the process of coffee making from the seed all the way to freshly grounded coffee from the french press. Impressive (and tasty). Ahh … the fresh oranges were also super juicy.

Probably a little to too self confident we continued to the town of Quimbaya (more downhill) for some food and refreshments. On the way back we paid the price and now the way was ALWAYS uphill for 16km. The sun burning relentlessly. Quite gruesome 2.5h to get back to FIlandia and catch a bus to Perreira … but scenic nonetheless. I guess we both can do with a little more exercise on the legs ;o)

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Colombia 🇨🇴: Exploring Salento & Valle de Cocora

Its already been a few weeks over here in Colombia after I finished my paddle trip early to spend time with Laura instead. I do miss the outdoors at times (and the not so humid weather) and am happy when I receive the occasional update or photo from Harry who continues his tour in Canada. Harry is now is his last month before duty calls back home in Cologne. My rocket-canoe is still being shipped to London and now probably somewhere on the atlantic – maybe it crosses path with Greta Thunberg on her way to the climate conference in New York? Safe journey both!

 

However, its not that adventure has come to a complete standstill over here – quite to the contrary. And while i am hopelessly behind to write up all the things that have been happening in Santa Marta and around, at least I found time now to report on a fabulous trip to the region of coffee and the worlds´ tallest palm trees – first up was Salento.

Salento: Colonial beauty, my type of climate & amazing Valle de Cocora

We didn´t opt for the easy way to reach Salento, a flight to Pereira followed by a short bus ride, but took the first flight into Medellin and a 7h bus from there (not helped by roadworks). However, with comfi seats, good views throughout, on-board toilet and a 30min lunch stop (beans & chicharron for me, chicken soup for Laura) it was not unpleasant at all (and I had plenty of time to improve my quiz talent on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”). Not a cent richer we made it to Salento late afternoon and checked in to Vila Isabel – a great guesthouse with amazing views & lovely staff. Here some drone footage.

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The Salento viewpoint is nearby the hotel and, nestled into the hills close to Los Nevados National Park, it offers spectacular views which we enjoyed alongside an aguapanela (sugar cane drink). The atmosphere in town is a bit touristy, but it is organised, clean and there is a good vibe amidst amazing colonial and well preserved architecture. If you are into shopping, there are lots of shops with handmade stuff (as well as the usual rubbish). Just bring a jacket … temperatures drop below 20 degrees at night (which my little samaria struggled with). I, for my part, loved the moderate temperature and lack of humidity. What a good night sleep I had (well, both of us actually).

Valle de Cocora: Meet the tallest palm tree in the world

The trip already starts well when you book your “Willy” – a jeep that was formerly used to transport coffee around here (now you can take pictures with a few Willy´s dressed up … for a fee of course). They run from 6.30am and an early departure is advisable to avoid hiking in the heat. If you don´t get a seat inside, you stand outside for the 20mins journey to the valley. Hold on tight!

Once arrived you have several options. The most common route is a 4-6 hour round trip including a visit to a hut with mockingbirds. The routes cost COP3&4,000, seeing the mockingbirds another COP5,000. All worthwhile doing. Altitudes reach up to 3,000m – so take your time and drink plenty of water.

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The path is typically pretty and easy to walk. Animals like horses and cattle are commonplace and in the valle de cocora itself you can admire Colombia´s national tree – the wax palm. The trees grow 45m to sometimes 60m tall and were close to extinction (due to the overuse of the palm leaves for palm Sunday proceedings would you believe it) before this sanctuary was created. The scenery is outstanding.

Next stop … Filandia. Vamos!

Colombia 🇨🇴: Two weeks in Santa Marta

After Dec2017 and Oct/Nov, it was my third time back in Santa Marta. This time with less of a travel angle, but to spend time with Laura, her family and help out in certain areas. I also brought lots of German food along to impress with a bit of German cooking (and it went well, generally speaking). Santa Marta continues to fascinate me with its Caribbean feel and bustling nightlife yet also its easy access to the surrounding nature in national parks and the ocean. See you soon!

Hanging out in Santa Marta

Our apartment was pretty central and we used it as a base to explore the restaurants and bars of Santa Marta when we had time. Loved the breakfasts and dinners alike!

Work placement in boiling heat

There were a few items on the list to keep Laura and myself busy. Be it painting walls and doors, repairing chairs (that I broke … need to slim down) or building a terrace foundation. Laura’s skills and knowledge were admittedly quite impressive – respect! More to come in the future …

Drowning in Minca

Minca is a fisher village an hour from Santa Marta nestled into the Sierra Nevada. We visited the Pozo Azul for a rather cold swim in the river and wanted to also visit Casa Elemento, but a flood of rain left us stranded in a cafe – well, could have been worse.

Cheering for Union Magdalena

Unión Magdalena has only been promoted to Colombia’s top division recently and ever since I looked it up on google, the search engine has been feeding me their results on my mobile. This time it worked out to watch a game against America Cali although not of relevance anymore.

The stadium requires a taxi to reach (unless you want to jump a lorry like the local kids) was pretty empty. Ticket prices didn’t help I guess (30k COP or c9USD). The atmosphere right next to the fans in the south end of the stadium was still great (not to be mixed up with those in the north end who are considered enemies). The kept on singing despite Union losing 3:0 and being dominated by America.

Ahh, and we managed to meet Mallory, a school-time friend of Laura, for a nice evening together.

BBQ on fire

BBQ’s were high in demand – one which I prepared (German style) and a Colombian one prepared by Lorena, Laura’s sister. Delicious! We topped it up with a good night out in Santa Marta and a few dance lessons with Lorena though I fear my hips are not made for this. Better leave this to the professionals.

A day out in Taganga

Laura’s dad had already popped by her mums house on a few occasions, but still we owed him a visit in Taganga – the former fishermen village 15mins drive from Santa Marta now turned Israeli party hotspot. From the main village you can hike over to Playa Grande and take in the nice views of the bay.

Playa Cristal 🏖 (well, almost)

Playa Cristal is about an hours ride from Santa Marta (if you don’t miss the left turn…) if you drive yourself. There are also plenty of tours and a boat service from Taganga.

Overall, a bit disappointing given high entrance fees (USD15 for a foreigner being part of Tayrona national park) not including vehicle, parking or the boat transfer you still require for the last bit to reach Playa Cristal. We skipped the boat ride and enjoyed the quiet beach can reach by moto. On the way we stopped to see ‘7 olas’ – the bay of 7 waves.

New tattoos 🐢 🌊

We finally made it to the tattoo studio to get our sea turtles inked on our bodies. We had picked the design already in Sri Lanka, but for reasons of time and drama didn’t manage to get them done. The design was very inspired by our sea turtle experience in Hikkaduwa – what a great day it was!

Our tattoo artist was Denis Bondarenko (here his insta) who has his studio in Rodadero (15min ride from Santa Marta). All super clean, relaxed and very professional. We spent the whole day there amidst lots of chatting about life, travels ans other things with Denis and his wife Estefania.

India 🇮🇳: Holi Festival in Mathura 🌈 🙏 👳🏽‍♂️

Trains from Agra to Mathura were late and super busy. We had only general class tickets though managed to get an upgrade (for cash) on the ride. It was less than an hour and we had arrived – as usual some people demonstrating a complete lack of manners e.g. Let me on the train first before you can get off 🤬🤬🤬

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We stayed in Mathura the day prior to holi as there is afternoon procession here after the morning festivities in Vrindavan (see blog in blue box below for details).

Holi festival

Is the most an ancient hindi festival also referred to a festival of colours, spring festival or festival of love. It is celebrated in march though on varying dates depending on when full moon occurs. It is mostly celebrated in North India and Nepal with key locations being Mathura & Vrindavan (birth place & place of youth for Krishna) in Uttar Pradesh and Pushkar in Rajasthan. This blog provides excellent detail for Mathura.

This years holi was on the 21st March (2020: 9th March) with celebrations in the morning (start as early as 7am) where everyone gets smeared with colours though much of the party already happens the night before culminating in bon fires (holika bonfires). The latter signifies the burning of the devil.

 

We kicked off by a form of staged holi and we were invited to join a group of people filming for holi – colours galore, dance, laughter… All fun. Just we regretted not to have a good dust cover for the camera and ourselves 😉🤣🙏🌈 It was also the only place with a somewhat normal male / female mix. The holi in the streets seems to be an exclusive event for Indian men – probably due to the high level of harassment (see below). 🤔🤷‍♂️

We continued towards a holi place by the river – the Vishram Ghat – and from there. To holi gate. We were joined by a group of Swiss, Dutch and US fellow holi-goers. By holi gate we had finally caught up with the festivities (having wondered earlier where the heck it was).

 

Equipped with colours we headed back towards the river to see the main procession. Trucks and tractors came along with bumping beats and loads of people. Selfies with half india followed 🤳 🇮🇳 🙏.

 

Harassment pure

Amidst a lot of happiness, indian men showed their nasty side again. All girls got groped all over their body. No respect. Poor manners yet again. It is obvious that many use holi to explore some of their sexual fantasies and some even hatred towards the white race. They see it as a ‘legal’ way to vent emotions along the lines of “buran a maano, holi hai” (“its Holi, take no offense“). It doesn’t concerns westerners and locals alike.

I felt helpless

Holi dangerous for women

 

We skipped the bonfires (around 11pm) and headed home (after dinner embarrassingly dirty) completely drenched in colours. On top, we found our room flooded. Ultimately we got camera & rucksack clean. Laura’s former white t-shirt has been promoted to an official holi souvenir and my blue cloth might recover in a washing machine.

 

As we slept in next morning and our room was flooded again, i got going late. Laura had enough anyway and stayed in. So no Vrindavan today either, but a stroll through the streets.

 

The colours of Holi – toxic stuff?

The dry colours are also called Gulal. They used to be made from completely natural ingredients. Since the Holi has been commercialised, they now include loads of toxic elements. So thankfully this event is only annual.

Meaning of the colours 

  • Blue – water element & colour of Lord Krishna, signifies affection, faith, and spiritual growth
  • Red – energy, excitement, ambition and auspiciousness
  • Green – pride, positiveness, freshness, and coolness
  • Orange – new beginnings, spiritual path, and knowledge
  • Yellow – prosperity, health, and peace

 

There were still parties here or there, but the city was generally in cleanup mode. The ashes of the burnt bonfires and colourful streets a reminder of parties in the previous night. Some guys still sleeping off their night.

 

Time to go. Nothing holds us here anymore other than a very late departure of the overnight train 🚂 to Varanasi – another holi place. Thank god we have 2AC tickets confirmed – the station was absolutely packed.

A few snaps of Mathura

Mathura has some decent spots (by the river, especially on the other side it seemed), but is generally very dirty.

 

At the train station we met a few nice people – many of which apologised on behalf of their rogue fellow countrymen. Good vibes to say goodbye to Holi.