Homeward bound, via Jamaica
Trip Start May 03, 2011
23Trip End Mar 22, 2012
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Tolu is also the gateway to the Islas de San Bernado archipelago, classic small islands with white sand and palm trees. It was my lucky week, another two days on the beach! We joined a day trip around the islands and then jumped ship to stay overnight. Most of the islands have upmarket resorts, one is just a fishing island completely covered in simple houses
Now a change of direction, heading inland, but still with a watery theme. Two large river systems flow down from the mountains to the coast across a vast flat plain. In the gold museum in Cartagena we'd learnt that from about 600 - 1400 AD the local Zenu people had a unique method of controlling the water in these systems with channels and banks and creating fertile farming land with the alluvial deposits (the rivers have a huge flood each year). We were headed for Mumpox, right in the middle of the water systems, reached by a combination of bus, boat and collectivo taxi. Mumpox is a sleepy backwater, but also a very well preserved colonial town, made famous by Simon Bolivar (liberator of six S.American countries from Spanish control) and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (a Colombian Nobel prize winning author).
It was hot and languid but lovely to wander along the lazy river and through the cobbled streets. For Cliff it was rather more exciting than he'd have liked it to be - one of his fillings fell foul of a stone in some fried yam and he had an unscheduled visit to a dentist for a new filling
Our last week in Colombia (and indeed South America) saw us back in the hills in a couple of charming colonial towns...Barichara and Villa de Leyva.
The journey to Barichara was through a beautiful mountain gorge and also the scariest journey of the trip (if not my life). Hairpin bends, steep drops and tiny crash barriers are OK, but add to the mix countless juggernauts to overtake, sometimes 2 at a time, blind bends, an average speed of about 60mph and a crazy driver who must have crosssed his fingers twenty times.... I was very glad to get off that bus!
In Barichara we walked part of the ancient walkway the 'Camino Real' and sat in the quiet squares watching the world go by. Another surprise for us in Barichara; after a torrential downpour we had a room visitor - a 6 inch scorpion. It looked very sinister and we were glad to enlist the help of the hotel receptionist to remove it (exit stage left a rather cross scorpion trying to fire its sting into a broom head!).
In Villa de Leyva we had another long walk through the villages and countryside to see an amazing dinosaur fossil (the head was 2meters and the body 5 meters long, only the tail was missing). The fossil was only found about 30 years ago and was not moved, but had the museum built around it. It was quite something to be in the presence of something that lived millions of years ago. The area was riddled with many (much smaller) fossils and El Infernito an ancient astronomical observatory, complete for some reason with giant phalluses. On our return journey we also chanced upon a house made completely of clay inside and out with weird Gaudi-esque shapes and designs.
It was my birthday while we were in Villa de Leyva and we celebrated by staying a couple of nights in a very nice hotel, making full use of the facilities....pool, jacuzzi, sauna, turkish bath, gym, crazy golf, table tennis and pool table. We also found a bar that played 70's and 80's rock videos.Thoroughly spoilt, it was a fine birthday, if you discount the addition of another year!
Finally to Bogota which is not a pretty city but has a good location and a very impressive new public transport system. We stayed in one of the modern districts and could quite easily have been in Sydney or any modern city
Bogota proved to be both varied and interesting. We had just 3 days, the first was a Sunday and we joined thousands of Colombians on their Sunday morning activity of climbing 1500
steps to the top of the Montserrate hill. Having recently arrived from sea level to a local altitude of 8000ft this was quite workout and both lungs and heart felt in need of a rest at the top (not to mention the legs). It's always interesting to see the local people in weekend relaxation mode, this was no exception.
The following day we went out to a little town, Zipaquira which has a huge salt mine, and in the
mine, a huge underground salt cathedral.The mining method excavates huge tunnels - (100m long by 20m wide by 40m high!). We spent over 3 hours exploring the religious area where the 14 stages of Christ have been carved into the salt shafts and tunnels left after the mining finished
and very interesting.
Our last day in Colombia we hit the museums, the biggie is the gold museum with over 55,000 gold exhibits. I remember going to see the El Dorado exhibition in London when I was at university and being amazed then. I was still amazed by the volume and diversity of the pieces, not to mention the skill of the craftsmen. I do admit to ducking out after 3 hours when I was just golded out. Another very interesting stop was the police museum and the section on the drug barons (especially Pablo Escobar) and their reign of terror.
...318 days, 9 countries, 17 border crossings
...135 different accommodations (including 100+ in hotels/hostels, 15 overnight bus journeys, 12 tents, 1 ferry, 2
sleeper trains, 3 private houses and one salt hotel)
...90 long distance bus journeys, 3 trains, 9 flights, 3 long distance walks, 1 ferry, 1 catamaran, one
4WD, countless local bus and taxi trips
...10,000 plus photos, 23 blog entries
...1000+ rounds of tea made by Cliff (and at least 10 by me...)
...one filling, two colds and a couple of dicky stomachs, but otherwise great health
...a lot of unhealthy eating
...around 20,000 miles travelled
it was time to say goodbye to South America, but we were not quite done yet
My school friend Sue and her family are living in Kingston, Jamaica for a couple of years so it seemed like a fine place to stop on our way home. The great thing about staying with a family, rather than in tourist accommodation, is that you see the "other" side of life the country has to offer.
It was a flying visit, just 6 days but we managed to get a great feel for the island, starting with the capital, Kingston. Kingston has a very bad reputation for violence, but we saw some beautiful colonial architecture including Devon House and some famous landmarks - Bob Marley's house and museum. We heard plenty of great reggae and smoked plenty of ganja (passively that is!).
We all went away to Treasure Beach for the weekend - a quiet beach on the south side of island with barely a tourist in site. It was a lovely local place, staying in a cottage right on the beach. We took a trip with Ted the local boatman (and Flora his dreadlock furred dog) along the coast and into the Black river estuary. A bit of excitement along the way when we encountered a stationary fishing boat with 3 very suspicious looking characters (certainly not fishermen and the type that would have you crossing the street to avoid at home)
Back along the coast we stopped at the Pelican Bar, a precarious looking wooden hut on stilts that served up beers and local food. It was also an excellent place for snorkelling and watching the stingrays in the crystal clear water.
On Monday, the others had work/school so we headed off for the north coast to the tropical village of Port Antonio and some glorious, yet still un-touristy beaches with more perfect blue water.
Fishermans Cove had the obligatory azure waves plus some freshwater pools of cool green... a perfect last day to our adventure.
We really had been fortunate to see the best of Jamaica without the negatives that go with mass tourism (for that we would need to visit the NE coast).
Friendly locals, interesting villages and lush countryside completed the picture.
Finally it is time to go home, so later today we will head for the airport and back to Heathrow via Miami. It has been quite a trip!