Getting our rocks on…

From the Sahara we made our way to Todra Gorge – the narrowest in Morocco. We got to enjoy the amazing rock formations but declined the option of rock climbing and a motorbike ride from some local guys hanging around the area. 

I managed to make my first touristic purchase – a stone bowl with fossils visible in the stone. I couldn’t resist making the purchase once I realised my salesperson was completely blind. He was so trusting – asking me what I had paid him and offering the money for me to take the right change. 

It was also along this stretch that we got a true appreciation of Leigh’s accent comprehension skills. Intrigued by why the traffic police continually pulled drivers over Leigh asked Abdul what they were checking. We all cracked up when he said “they are security”, to which Leigh then replied “ohh, cigarettes”. The comprehension of ‘Tracey?’ from ‘Taxi’ as we we were waiting for our driver had been gold but we all agreed that ‘cigarettes’  was our favourite to date. 

It was a real day for feasting the eyes on our surroundings. After we left the Todra Gorge we headed toward the Dades Valley, which was also spectacular not only for its amazing rock formations but for the wonderful meal we had at our lovely accommodation Chez Pierre. This was a real treat with our accommodation  perched on the side of a mountain overlooking the Valley. We couldn’t believe our ears when they indicated beetroot and feta salad and a duck l’orange was on offer….we were over the tagines already! 

We were sharing the hotel with a group of about 30 American motorcycle riders.  They obviously appreciated the noise of their presence as they generously offered us complimentary drinks wit our meals.  It certainly was a country perfect for long bike rides – must admit it whet my appetite a little.

The next day we made our way to Ouarzazate to check out the studios that had been used for Games of Thrones, Ben Hurr, Gladiator and a well known French comedy film scenes, among others. They were certainly impressive given they were in the middle of nowhere. It can’t have been easy for the actors in these conditions – it was very hot and dusty.

Once we realised there was no hope we’d  been spotted by a talent scout we moved on to Ait Ben Haddou. This was another amazing spot. The site is Unesco World Heritage listed. The walls of the Ksar (fortified village) were an amazing earthenware clay material – with extremely thick walls for thermal management. The Ksar had been used by the traders on the caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. 

After our visit we settled into our lovely Riad in the next town where we were served yet another tagine for dinner (although we actually rated this one) – his semolina cake with creamer brûlée topping was divine!

We were moving on with full bellies once again. 

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Todra Gorge

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Heading into the Dades Valey

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Our lovely surroundings in Chez Pierre

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Showcasing our acting skills at the Ourzazate film studios

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Ait Ben Haddou Ksar – on the caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech 

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Another great spot for happy hours 

 

 

 

 

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From the souqs to the Sahara…

It became apparent very quickly that we were about to eat our way to the desert. 

We had hired a 4WD and driver for the next six days to take us through the Middle Atlas, Sahara desert and High Atlas to finish on the Atlantic coast.  We were rather pleased to find our driver Abdul spoke reasonable English. He’d been a bus driver in the past so could pretty much guess the itinerary we had planned.  We were also hoping that his earnings from our trip my help to pay for the dental work he was clearly in need of. 

Our first stop was Ifrane, a rather surreal little place. It’s a lovely little ski village with swiss style chalets – obvious why it’s earned the reputation as ‘little Switzerland’. A brief walk around and coffee and we were happy to be back in the warm car. 

On our way out of Ifrane we spotted a couple of the Babarian apes that inhabit the surrounding forest. Abdul gave us an opportunity to walk along the road in the hope of spotting more but alas we were unsuccessful. 

We were now starting to spot the nomadic berbers. You’d generally see a shepherd with a flock of goats or sheep and not too far away a tent (generally covered in plastic sheets in a bid to keep out the rain). Abdul encourages us to stop at one to meet the family. Only the women and children were home in the extremely sparse accomodation. It was rather concerning to see one of the little girl’s hands and feet wrapped in fabric. It looked like they might have been to assist recovery from burns or infection but Abdul informed us that it was because she’d had them tattooed with henna. 

This driving business was making us hungry so we stopped in Zaida, a smoky town serving tagines from charcoal fires at the front of the cafes. You had the option of taking a tagine already cooking or having a chunk of meat rom the carcasses hanging behind the bbqs sliced off and bbqed. We went with the former. Our curiosity got the better off us so we felt compelled to ask about the piece hanging low from the carcass. The mention of viagra told us our intuition had been right. 

Back in the car and on through Midelt, the apple growing town, before arriving on the Ziz Valley. The scenery was amazing. Running through the valley between the gorges was a wonderful channel of date palms.  The prospect of staying amongst that was quite exciting. 

We were greeted at the Gite by the lovely host, Mohammed, who couldn’t do enough to please us. We were invited into the garden for tea and the most divine dates we had eaten on the trip – we found out the next day they’d been picked straight from the palms!  We retired to a salon with cushions that were draped with berber blankets. We’d had a few wines with our dinner so our giggles lured Abdul into the salon to join in the frivolity. 

Mohammed offered to take us on a tour of the mountain opposite the accommodation. It was a bit of a climb but we made it up with great views of the valley and the little fortresses that had been established by the various governing parties of the region to guard their ownership of the valley. Morocco exports its best dates but the local demand is so high they have to import them for local consumption. We tried a couple of ways down the mountain before we found one that wasn’t too hair raising and then had a brief walk through the Palmaraie for Mohammed to show us his palm climbing skills. Then we were back in the car ready for some traditional berber stuffed bread (like a calzone) in Rissani before finding our desert camp. 

Unfortunately a bit of a sand storm had whipped up by the time we arrived at the camp meeting spot so the host of the camp warned us we may not be able to get a camel trek in that afternoon but should be fine for the next morning. She also let us know that the best time for admiring the stars was 3am…ugghh!

After getting the rundown on how the camp worked we ventured off getting a few thrills as the driver launched the 4WD over the dunes – it was here we started to get an appreciation of Tania’s lung capacity. 

The camp was amazing. We each had our own bedroom with sitting area and allocated bathroom. There were seating areas dotted throughout the camp and an enclosed dining room for our meals. ..and there was weefi!

Not long after settling in we were told the camel ride was on!  We each chose our camels while we waited for the driver to arrive, Mussafer was my pick as he’d been eyeing me off since we arrived to them. Took Tan a moment to realise that wasn’t a guy arriving in an Uber but the guy who would lead our trek. Next step …riding the camel. There were plenty of squeals from all of us but there’s no points for guessing who’s was the loudest!

The trek was amazing, following the ridges of the dunes until we stopped to watch the sun setting. We didn’t last the whole sunset as the whipping sand was really challenging even with our desert scarfs. We were happy and contemplating another ride for sunrise. 

After dinner we were treated to some gnawa North African tribal music. We danced, we drank, we laughed, we drank until it was just Leigh, Tan and I left with the 10 musicians (who were also the cleaners, drivers, waiters, cook hands). I couldn’t resist and eventually nabbed the recorder to give a rendition of Wee Bonnie Boat. I thought it was pretty good but the staff all just stared at me no doubt wondering how I could create such an aweful noise from their precious instrument. 

We caught Leigh napping while surrounded by three of the musicians beating out their racket but she slipped back into consciousness just as we were lining up the camera for the shot of the trip!

And then there were two…  You know you’ve hit the jackpot with your travel buddies when the person who had set the ‘toilet door must be shut when in use’ rule finds it quite acceptable to clear her teeth in your private bathroom as you’re relieving yourself on the toilet. Just saying….

Karen woke us at 4am for a bit of star gazing. The stars really were amazing – you felt like you could reach out and touch them. But that lasted about 5 minutes before we all retreated back to our big beds doona laden beds. We all declined the sunrise camel ride in lieu of our comfortable beds. 

It had been a wonderful couple of days. It was now time to move away from the Algerian border and back in the direction of the coast. 

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Ifrane – little Switzerland

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Berber nomadic shepherd

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Berber camp

 

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Zaida – choose your cut…

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Ziz Valley

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Our gite in the Ziz Valley

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The fort overlooking the Valley

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Mohammed “Breathe and again…”

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Lovely fresh dates

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Rissani – gateway to the Moroccan stuffed pizza

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The Rissani pizza bread bakery

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Ali and Sara’s Desert Palace

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Look at brave Tania!

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Fatima joins the group…

Today we ventured across to Fes with plans to stop in Volubilis, Moulay Idriss and Meknes along the way. The walk around the 168 AD ruins of Volubulis was really interesting. The 42 hectare site included some wonderful mosaic tile flooring. The trip to Moulay Idriss (town named after the Arabic founder of Morocco) was somewhat brief before we ventured onto Meknes.  

Meknes is known for its wonderful Kasbah gate – Bab Mansour. It is said to marvel any in Morocco and it certainly was impressive. We’d arranged to be back to meet our driver in 45 minutes so when the circuit walk that the tourist centre had said would take 20 minutes was venturing onto 45 it was no surprise that when we got back to our driver it was clear he’d been making a few calls to find out what to do about lost passengers!  He looked very relieved when we made it back. 

Fes is renowned for getting lost and it seemed it was even going to be a challenge to get into the walls of the Medina to our accommodation but with umpteen calls between the driver and our accommodation host we finally got there. Our accommodation was quite a jewel (aptly named Petit du Bijou) with it’s traditional layout compete with 1000 stairs, mosaic tiles and fountain. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great so we didn’t get to take advantage of the rooftop terrace. 

The caretaker, Khalid, was a rather animated little man with a very loud and fast manner of speaking. He would not be convinced otherwise that Karen was not Arabic and so named her Fatima and so that’s who she became. 

What a day…we finished with dinner in a very ornate Medina restaurant – Dar Hatim. 

The next day was spent mainly with a guide touring the Medina, which included a short taxi trip to a bottle shop in the commercial centre (pretty seedy experience I must say).  The quoranic school (medrasa) and tanneries were a real highlight to see. 

Unfortunately there were some rather shady characters hanging around the streets near our accommodation so there was some reluctance to venture out too late into the night so we had a lovely afternoon stroll down one of the main streets of the Medina and an early dinner and felt content we’d had our fill of Fes – which could have been helped by the last minute purchase of nougat!

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The Roman ruins at Volubilis

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The flour mill

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The Baptistry

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Little tortoise wandering in the grounds…

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View of the village of Moulay Idriss – Arabic founder of Fes

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Arriving in Meknes

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Bab Mansour Kasbah gate – the oldest in Morocco

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Unfortunately we could only take the side gate!

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Making our way towards the Royal Palace

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Yep…it’s what you think it is!

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The Idriss Mausoleum

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Our Petit du Bijou

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A caravanserai

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One of the many beautiful miniarets of Fes

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Medrasa (quoranic school) in Fes

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One of the many beautiful mosques

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Not likely to be my next career change!

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Tan getting ready for the desert…but will this keep her quiet?!?!?

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The leather tannery …the handed out mint just didn’t make a dent on the smell!

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The oldest fountain in Fes

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The mellah (Jewish quarter) characterised by its balconies.

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Our back up plan if the morning exercises start to dwindle!

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Eating in Dar Hatim

 

 

 

 

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The souqs get saucier…

Akhmed’s joviality soon disappeared once he realised that our arrival in Chefchaouen was going to be the end of the line for our trips with him. The upside of this for us was the elimination of his desire to continue showing us photos in his phone while driving at the same time. 

Our arrival into Chefchaouen was very smooth with the instructions from the accomodation being very clear to what we all thought was a gingerbread house… a gorgeous restored house. 

Our room wasn’t ready straight away so we ventured off to explore. The town is a photographer’s paradise with its lovely hues of blue and colourful pots of plants. One of our first stops was lunch in a beautiful old house. Leigh was the adventurous of us, giving the goat tagine a go. 

We then went back onto the narrow streets to navigate between the small trucks and motorbikes with trailers trying to make their way up and down the Medina. 

Before hitting the sack we climbed our way up to mosque on the other side of the town to see the sun set over Chefchaouen. It was rather spectacular to see all of the city’s lights start to come on. 

We woke as usual for our morning boot camp but this time we got some insight into the challenges being faced by Leigh – seemed her idea of clockwise was a little different to ours. 

It was a little drizzly so we thought perfect weather for a Hammam experience. We got the low down from the accomodation hosts on where to go and what would be needed for an authentic (non-touristic) experience. We ventured off to check it out collecting some dried figs and nuts from the street carts along the way. 

We were approached by a rather insistent toothless man who thought we’d be even happier if we joined him for a hashish party that night. Tan was starting to get a little jaded that she hadn’t yet been approached directly with such attractive offers…obviously suffering from the time away from Andrew!

Unfortunately the host’s suggested Hammam was just a little too authentic for everyone so we settled for a more western version. It was pretty hilarious when our Hammam scrubber came into our Hammam wearing just her nickers and a big smile. She then proceeded to scrub off Tan’s fake tan leaving a lovely coating of skin on the floor for the rest of us who followed to lie in …and we too then added to the layers. 

An hour of scrubbing and rubbing and we emerged a little lighter …Hammam one done!

After having a young woman in a shop try and charge us 7 times the going price of some yoghurt and a pastry we thought we were safer within the Chefchaouen walls so finished the afternoon with some more  shopping. I’d only managed to buy pj bottoms to replace mine which had split during our morning workout – Karen and Tan on the other hand were well and truly into the shopping spirit.  

 

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The saucy souks – hugging the coast…

 

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Hassan Tower

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The Promenade

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Kasbah Las Oudaias

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The Medina

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Assilah

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Sweet Tanger

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Gate to the Kasbah

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Morning circuits – a necessary evil to combat the sweets!

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Some Tanger workshops

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A backdrop of Spain

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Cap Spartel

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Hercules Cave – said that it’s shape represents Africa looking out to sea

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Dusk falls over the marina

We were all very excited (you might even read as relieved) to land in Casablanca. Despite my former protestations I am seriously thinking it might be time I moved to business class for these long haul flights!

We managed to negotiate our grand taxi, an 8 seat taxi that will only move once it has a full taxi or someone who’s prepared to pay for the whole taxi – we fell into the latter category!  We were heading for a night in Rabat, Morocco’s administrative capital. We paid a smidge more than we were expecting but the express Arabic lessons well and truly made up for the difference. 

Although we soon discovered we were slow learners. The driver was excitedly muttering about the king so we were dutifully looking at the passing buildings thinking one was his residence but all of a sudden he was pointing ahead to a flash black Mercedes with motorcycle security. Oops, missed him!

Rabat turned out to be a lovely stop. We headed out for an afternoon stroll to visit Hassan Tower and the remains of the unfinished grand mosque. There were few international tourists but plenty of Moroccans strolling around the area. We quickly gained a sense of the friendliness of the locals. 

We then ventured down along the promenade with its multitude of street cart vendors selling delicacies like snail soup – the French connection was really coming through. 

We arrived at Kasbah Las Oudaias, a lovely walled kasbah hugging the cliffs of Rabat. The Kasbah was built in the 12th century and contains a palace from the constructing dynasty, a mosque and is homes to locals. 

A stroll through the Médina and our first Moroccan dinner and then we were back in our hotel very excited by what we’d seen on our short time in Morocco. 

Eating in a foreign country is always fun if you don’t know the lingo. Leigh and Tan ventured off for their morning coffees only to be served hot milk…latte without the cafe is rather bland! With the heads up Karen and I managed to get cups of hot milk with coffee on the side so very passable (although we had attempted to order the opposite). 

We then farewelled Rabat to move onto Tangier (Tanger to the Morrocans). It was an interesting drive with our driver Akhmed attempting to give us Arabic lessons and point out the ‘bumba’ cars, our only thought was that this must mean fast given the speed of the Range Rovers and Maseratis flying past. 

The longish trip was broken with a lunch stop in the lovely seaside town of Assilah. 

Before we knew it our bags were in our accommodation, which overlooked the Mediterranean with glimpses of the coast of Spain, and we were in the Kasbah ogling all the wonderful things we could buy. Karen led the way with some savvy bargaining for a handbag and nearly left with a rug too!  Four women in markets…dangerous!

The sweets shops proved too tempting with us getting a box of delicious looking middle eastern sweets. They went down perfectly after happy hour. 

We woke with agreement that it would be good to take a breather from the city and so hired Akhmed to take us to a few sites – Cap Spartel (where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean) and Hercules Cave before dropping us at a flash beachside restaurant for lunch. This is the life!

We wound our way back to our accommodation with Akhmed continuing to show us his multiskilling as he simultaneously drove and pointed out the photos on his phone. 

We finished off the night with another extended happy hour and a bit of reflection on our Moroccan experience to date knowing the upcoming destinations were going to be very different to this port city. 

 

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La Aussie Gringa en Colombia – Hasta la vista … it’s been a hoot!

Back to Cali to pick up Lilia with just enough time to explore some more in Cali. Omaira shouted me lunch so I didn’t leave without having some typical Cali fare. It was lovely. Valentina was kind enough to take me up to the Christo Rey statue (second in size to the statue in Rio), a popular park that contained cat statues by a local artist and a rooftop bar. Valentina was studying to be a pilot and now flying solo but was still getting familiar with driving a car so it was a fun drive up to the Christo Rey lookout!

Lilia and I left Cali in the morning and arrived back in Palermo that night – quite a journey. I’d just finished reading the fabulous book ‘All the night we cannot see’ – a book about a blind French girl set in world war 2 and then found myself watching two consecutive movies on the bus that were based on blind women. I was hoping there wasn’t some hidden message in this but I was certainly feeling grateful for my sight and all the other senses I was blessed to have.

I ran into Tato (the artist) the next day and the first thing he said was “Hola Lettie. Gorda”. I knew when I was being called a fat woman! The theme continued with the other Tato’s mum (Luz Elena) turning up at Lilia’s later in the afternoon and using the phrase ‘bueno, ahora ella no delgada’ – ‘good, now she’s not skinny’! Ok, I was getting the message!

On my last day Lilia and I visited some of the local poorer families to drop off the clothes and cosmetic products I no longer needed. They were such generous people, sending us away with fruit from their gardens. One family was good enough to kill a chicken while I was there. Now there’s an experience I could have lived without!

Alejandra later independently shared her thoughts on the subject of my weight. No doubt about these Latin Americans, they don’t hold back on their thoughts! Paula subsequently phoned while we were having a farewell lunch at Las Palmas and when I laughed about what had been said she kindly assured me it was intended as a compliment – it meant I was healthy and had enough money to eat! So funny but I resolved that October and November would be exercise filled months …. and no more cervecas!

Despite my extra weight it seemed I was still attractive to the odd local. One of Nelson’s friends was lunching at Las Palmas and became besotted with my eyes. They change between green and blue and they happened to be particularly blue that day (a rare sight for Latin American colombianos). After communicating he was an escort and on further questioning elaborating an escort of goods I decided to not take that line of conversation any further!

After extracting myself from the over the top adoration of el hombre we headed back into town. My plan was to communicate a few farewells but alas it was Wednesday, which meant most of the shops/cafes were closed and everyone was indoors so instead I waited for the kids to finish school and come past the house to hand out the Thousand Island Dressing bracelets Leanne had generously giving to me to give away. The girls loved them and the boys were happy to have something to give their mums. The kids were still asking when I’d be back for the English lessons so I was leaving with the hope that they may pursue English lesson opportunities when they arise in the future.

I spent the last evening in Palermo finishing the rest of my macrame projects for Paula with the help of Alejandra and her daughter Valaria. It was really nice that they were hanging around as I sensed Lilia was getting anxious about my impending departure.

It was a sad farewell to my second home but Lilia had been responding “a year more or less” to anyone who asked when I’d be back so when she wouldn’t let me go and the bus was waiting for me I reminded her I’d be back soon enough. Big hugs from a gorgeous little woman who’d been so caring and a great Spanish teacher to boot!

The bus journey back to Medellin was quite lovely as I headed out between the misty mountains. It had its usual laughs, this time provided by the mobile buskers who shared a couple of songs en route to Medellin.

The final days in Medellin had been spent shopping and self indulging with a hair appointment (always a nerve racking experience when you can’t communicate in a common language and this one was no exception) and spa treatments. I’d been very restrained while I was here so it was nice to have a bit of a splurge.

So here I am sitting having dinner in a casual Fonda. I’ve just had a little girl sit with me asking about the horses in my country! Apparently she loves horses!?!? Sweet.

What an amazing six months! I’d lived and breathed a culture so different from ours. I’d learned to be a little more tolerant (only saying a little!) and I’d had the chance to evaluate the strength of a few relationships and their value in my life….and of course I’d learned the basics of building an earth bag structure! I’d also visited some other amazing parts of the world and honed my sketching skills. Feeling lucky to be alive, healthy and to have these opportunities!

I will be forever grateful to Paula for leading me down this path. I have no doubt the experience has changed (in a positive way) what my future now looks like. Thank you my dear friend!

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Enjoying the view of Cali with Valentina

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Cali Christo Rey – a popular spot on Sundays!

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The Cali Gato!

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Feeling the lurv at a rooftop bar in Cali

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Guys are now putting the next level on. 

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Wouldn’t quite getaway with that power point position in Australia!

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Caught a glimpse of him getting his neck broken and now he was on full display!

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Lilia sporting her new opal earrings

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The kids enjoying receiving the Thousand Island Dressing bracelets 

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Farewell from Nelson and Alejandra at Las Palmas

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Picked the room, in the Las Palmas MOtel under construction, for my next visit. 

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Getting a hand from Alejandra to finish one of my macrame projects 

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The wonderfully scenic Palermo to Medellin bus route

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Gotta love mobile buskers!

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Soaking up the last of the views in my accommodation in Medellin

 

 

 

 

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La Aussie Gringa en Colombia – road trippin’ with Lilia

We were on our way to Cali. Lilia was great in pointing out all the major points of interest along the way – names of the rivers, the departments we were passing through and the types of crops growing along the route. The bus to Cali was very comfortable and took an hour less than the expected eight hours so that was a bonus.

As we neared Cali the outside temperatures were increasing at a rapid rate, which had me a little scared as everyone had told me how hot Cali was but I wasn’t expecting 37 degrees! It wasn’t then so surprising when the heavens opened and expelled a big storm, hail and all. It was rather amusing (to Lilia and me at least) to watch all the motorbike riders seeking shelter under bridges or any other solid structure they could find. It was also a great opportunity to learn that hail is ‘graniso’ in Spanish!

We were greeted at the transport terminal by Lilia’s other daughters, Omaira and Liliana. Thankfully the temperature had gone down to a reasonable level by Cali. Omaira had offered to put us up for the nights before our departure to Popayan and San Agustin. Omaira’s apartment was lovely and I once again met up with her lovely daughter Valentina and met Vally’s sister, Camilla and father Luis, who now had another family of three girls – strong female genes in these parts!

I decided to take up Vally’s suggestion and so took a visit to San Antonio the next afternoon. I wondered the boho area and stumbled upon an interesting artisanals market and then headed to a big shopping centre for some Panama supplies.

Unfortunately when I had said to Lilia I’d see her later her idea of ‘later’ was very different to mine. I arrived home four hours later to a very concerned Lilia. Seems she had been very worried about me being out by myself so late (?) in Cali. I guess visiting a salsa club solo is out of the question!

Lilia had lived a long time in Cali but doesn’t like the city having indicated to me on numerous occasions that there’s a lot of crime (bag snatching and assaults) but it felt safe in the areas I had been visiting (and Vally had recommended!). It’s definitely got its hotspots as you would expect in a city housing two and a half million people (with another three and half in metro Cali).

The next day we ventured off to Popayan for the night. It was a pretty town but not by a long stretch the best example of a Colombian ‘white colonial city’ as touted in the guidebook but a nice spot to stretch out legs before the next leg of our trip. Our lunch was served by a guy whose mum is Colombian and whose dad is Italian. His mum loves to travel so he’s spent time living all around the world and so was keen to chat in English. He and Lilia shared some background on their lives in Medellin – I got the impression they had some distant joint relative, which seems to always happen with this family!

I wasn’t quite prepared for the bus to San Agustin. Over two hours of the journey was on a dirt road with so many potholes we travelled at a crawl. Needless to say our bags were covered in dust when we finally reached San Agustin. Lilia must have been wondering why, at almost 80, she had signed up for this trip!

Our accommodation was lovely with its little cabin for our bedroom, fireplace in the lounge area and lovely gardens with chill- out areas throughout the property.

We did our food shop at the towns supermarket and booked our activities. I was hoping they wouldn’t be too strenuous for Lilia.

The next day we headed out on our ‘jeep’ tour. We were in an old two-door long-wheeled base land cruiser, which made it quite a challenge for the six passengers to disembark at each stop but we managed.  I had been given the privilege of the front seat to stretch my legs and get gassed by the car’s fumes!

The first stop was the Rio Magdalena. This river runs from the north to the south of Colombia and reportedly reaches up to 3km at its widest point. We were at El Estrecho (the narrows), which was only about two metres wide. I heard different reports on its depth at the narrows but I was inclined to believe the version indicating it was thought to be about 11m. Many a people have lost their lives (about 15 according to the latest sign) trying to jump over the narrows, losing their footing on the slippery rocks and subsequently drowning in the fast flowing river.  It always astounds me that people will take such risks when a sign has already given you an indication of your odds on success.

We then visited a museum with some underground caves/tombs that had been found in an area a good distance from the main parks along with some accompanying pottery and gold (although most gold had been looted from the San Agustin sites back in the 30s).

It was then onto Alto de Los Idolos. This park had many graves, with the largest stone statue of San Agustin (7m tall but only 4m visible) …. dwarfed Lilia! The statues had all been moved since they were originally found. Some having been found adorning people’s homes or used in house foundations without the people realising their archaeological importance.

San Agustin was the most important archaeological site in Colombia and one of the most important sites on the continent. The visit was reminding me a lot of Easter Island and the moais bringing nice memories of grandad. These statues and tombs were from tribes of people who’d lived between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago (well before the Incas or people of Easter Is – think of the times of the Egyptian pyramids). Unfortunately they don’t seem to have had a written language and had disappeared before the arrival of the Spanish so little is known about them outside of their age based on carbon dating – supported by lots of speculation about their way of life and the role of these statues.

We enjoyed a nice lunch, although I wasn’t able to duck and weave out of Lilia’s lecture about my occasional holiday smoking habits! My excuse of “tres mas semanas” was being met with “no, nada!” Funny.

We visited another burial site, Alto de las Piedras, before finishing with a visit to two lovely waterfalls – Salto de Bordones and Salto de Mortiño.

It had been a big day with a few uphill walks so we were both pretty tired. The next day I used the morning to explore the areas of El Tablón, La Chiquira, El Pelota and El Purutal on horseback with a guide. Thankfully there was a Spanish speaking German woman, who’d been doing a teaching internship in Bogotá, doing the ride with me so I got the necessary info from the guide. Although the conflicting info I was hearing among the guides made me wary of relying on anything said.

I made my way back to our accommodation to enjoy the delicious frijoles Lilia had made for our lunch and then we headed to the main archeological park where we wandered through the museum and three of the burial sites and the Fuente de Lavapatas, an area of rocks in a stream that had been carved out to form statues, ducts and terraced pools. It was decaying rapidly so it is getting difficult to make out some of the statues. It’s believed this area was used for spiritual purposes with the people having some aquatic deities.

Understandably, Lilia was a little tired by the time we’d finished this area so I ordered her a cup of tea in the cafe and promised I’d be back after a 15 minute visit to the adjoining forest. It was here that more statues were spread throughout San Agustin.

More than five hundred statues have been uncovered in San Agustin but it is believed there are many layers more below the earth with roads and other structures used for housing and rituals. I was really glad I’d made the effort to get here and it seemed Lilia had enjoyed it too.

That evening we shared our wonder at what we’d seen and laughed about the mosquitos that had managed to make their way into our respective drinks … “calcium” we both laughed.

We packed up the next morning for our trip home. I had to laugh when I saw that Lilia had grabbed a bunch of the marijuana that had been growing outside our cabin. I knew enough Spanish now to know she was offering up the old ‘for medicinal purposes’ excuse! Lilia was very into healthy eating and natural remedies so I was intrigued how this one would be used. Maybe it would help with the two wasp stings I’d acquired in San Agustin!

Camilla kindly picked us up at some random stop Lilia had chosen and we headed back to Omaira’s. The next day Lilia and I were treated to a lovely lunch at Liliana and Engenio’s place. Liliana had gone to a great deal of trouble to serve a vego meal (a big deal for this devoted carnivorous couple). We enjoyed a few beers and some great salsa music.

We headed home while a huge storm rolled into Cali stopping by a lookout in El Penon just in time! I was then treated to a huge feed of waffles at Crepesywaffles with Vally, her stepsister Adriana and her dad Luis. Another lovely day before my adventure to Panama!

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Road trippin’ con mi Amiga!

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No surprise that it stormed soon after.

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The changing landscape of Colombia- Cauca department.

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Kids flying their home-made kites high above Cali.

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Popayan

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The grande Popayan theatre

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Our lovely cabin at Casa Nelly

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Rio Magdelena

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Rio Magdalena El Strecho

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Burial sites in Bando museum

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Beeped our way through a funeral … awkward!

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Lilia and her amigos at Alto de Los Idolos

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The carving of a crocodile was a real mystery as there aren’t any within any a reasonable distance – suggesting communication between multiple tribes

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Alto de Las Piedras

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Salto de Bordones

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No easy feat turning in these towns … impressed!

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Salto de Mortiño

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El Tablón 

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La Chaquira – possibly a former church of the tribe?

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La Pelota

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El Purutal – had still retained some colour (obtained from the sap of trees)

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Heading home with a sore bum after four hours in the saddle 

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San Agustin Parque Archueologico

 

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Rana – frog

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Fuente de Lavapatas 

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More statues scattered in the forest

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Lilia drying out her medicinal herbs!!!

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A fun lunch with Liliana, Engenio and Lilia

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Catching a glimpse of the impending storm with Omaira, Lilia and Camilla

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Makes perfect sense – the beer next to the beer sticks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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La Aussie Gringa en Colombia – party time!

I arrived home to give my last English classes. The kids were very cute giving me hugs with sad faces. Their numbers had dwindled over the months with the girls staying the keenest, which I was really pleased about. My adult class had progressed really well and they were insistent on knowing when I would be back!  It had been a real pleasure to give these classes.

The next day was Paula’s birthday. She didn’t want to make it a big deal in town, preferring to host a site party for the final day of work instead so we trundled off to Las Palmas, cake and French champagne in hand for a dinner with Nelson and Alejandra who had also had recent birthdays. They’d decorated the table and opened a bottle of rosé for the occasion, which was really cute.

Site party day – it was a really fun day. Paula had hired Piñeco to make sancocho, the typical Colombian soup loaded with chicken, berg, potatoes, plantain and yuca (basically meat, water and carbs!), and Paula had put on a heap of drinks. People from town wandered in throughout the day and the grande pot slowly emptied.

I headed home as the sun went down having forgotten to wear repellent and needing to pack for my next journey – road tripping with Lilia and a trip to Panama. I ma aged to catch up with Paula and a few of the crew later at Cafe Tertulia (having thankfully walked past on my way back out of town to the block) they’d ended up there after the rain had come early in the evening.

Mario, who I’d only met that day and who was rather drunk, had decided throughout the day that he was in love with me …. his maddening persistence eventually drove Paula and I home.

The next morning it was time for Lilia and I to farewell Paula as we jumped on the bus to get to Cali. Paula was leaving later on the Wednesday with a few loose ends to sort out before her departure. Safe travels my good friend, it’s been amazing – see you back in Australia!

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The barn doors ready to go onto the track

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Sliding timber windows are in!

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Final touches to have a functioning bathroom 

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The back wall sealed for protection from water

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The birthday girl’s party table at Las Palmas

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Team Paula y Lilia collecting guavas

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Un poco torta con su crema?

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Finishing the night at Cafe Tertulia

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Will miss the Tamesis fruit stalls with their giant aguacate!

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Piñeco gets the fire ready for the sancocho 

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Waiting for the veggies 

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Jaime and his novia!

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Mario and his grande yuca!

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Christening the bar!

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Jaime (now Jimmy) takes over after Mario cuts his finger. More hygienic?!?!

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Ready!

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A happy Tato

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Enjoying an ale with Humberto’s (now Albert) partner

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Georgeous Sarita (Jimmy’s sister)

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Jimmy and Israel

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Shown up by Jimmy’s mum in her party dress!

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Just about done and dusted

 

 

 

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La Aussie Gringa en Colombia – getting to the point of it!

Off I went on my trip to La Guajira Peninsula. I thought I’d opt for the AUD$8 option of the bus to the airport rather than the $40 option. A bit of a mistake as I cut it a bit fine because the bus took an hour and a half as opposed to the 45 minute option in a taxi but thankfully I got there on time!

I was quickly reminded of the nature of the sultry Caribbean coast when I arrived into Santa Marta. Hot, hot, hot!

I found my way to the collectivo stop for Minca after many stops for directions to confirm I was understanding their directions correctly. I was lucky enough to sit next to Josh, from the west coast of USA, who shared his stories of the sharman rituals he’d undertaken. They had obviously also told him it was a sin to wash his body or clothes … very smelly; but a great story teller for such a young age!

I found my way up to Casa Loma and discovered on arrival that a ‘loma’ is a hill, which explained the challenging walk to it!

I bumped into Josh again in the Minca mercado and he gave me some tips on what to see and do.

I opted to visit Pozo Azul. It was quite serene with very few tourists and cool water to overcome the last hour of uphill walking! I stopped at a little shop en-route back to the hostel to enjoy a smoothie and some tea cake…I declined the hash cookie that had been left for me!!!

That night was spent chatting with a range of tourists. A few from France, Germany, England, Uruguay, The Netherlands and an assortment of other countries. Great that so many had or were planning a trip to Australia; one couple had already hitchhiked a couple of years ago between Brisbane and Port Douglas woofing along the way. Was nice to chat with a young German woman who’d had an internship with the CSIRO while she lived in West End! Small world!

Next day it was off to Riohacha via Santa Marta for the bus. I didn’t have a clue where to get out of the collectivo to get the public bus to the terminal but as luck would have it one of the young women in my collectivo piped up and said (at least that’s how it sounded to me) that she was going there also so would help me get there. Thank goodness she did as the public bus stop to it was not marked at all and the terminal was hidden behind an unmarked fence! She then found the bus I needed and ensured I had my ticket before she found her bus. A constant story of the helpfulness of Colombians.

I arrived at Riohacha passing towns with plenty of the Sierra Nevada natives with their white garb – I remember trying to catch photos of them in 2013. Still as difficult!

After an afternoon chilling by the water with a few beers and a shoulder and foot massage I hit the sack for the early morning departure to La Guajira Peninsular – this was what I had made the journey for.

I’d heard the peninsula was quite dry but that hadn’t prepare me for what I saw over the following three days. Our first stop was the salt production area along the coast before heading into Uribia to fill the 4WD and pick up some bags of water for the people living on the peninsula (a tip I’d received from the hostel owner). We had a lovely group (Maryline from France, Francois from Belgium, Sandra from Poland/Scotland and Juliette and Laurent from Switzerland).

We then went on into Wayuu territory, which reminded me a lot of Tanzania and Kenya with the contrast that this place was surrounded by water. It was quite a surprise to encounter the Wayuu people holding ropes along the road to ask for something … enter the purpose of the water bags! Although our guide discouraged us passing them over yet as he said the more northern area was in more desperate need being so far from a city.

A stop in Cabo de la Vela showed us the salt production area and the spot where all the keen kitesurfers head for the winds off the coast.

It was then on further up the peninsula for a couple of beach spots and a lovely sunset. Not many visitors to this part of the world – about 10 4WD tours enter the peninsula a day. Needless to say it was a quiet night. So after a bucket shower it was off to bed in a hammock with the sound of the waves lapping the beach.

I awoke having been attacked by sandflies ….. of course! No repellant was going to keep these babies at bay!

Today we were heading to the upper La Guajira. We drove for hours across sandy desert. I must admit I wasn’t feeling great about being out there without a convoy of cars given how few take the paths. We went through a couple of sand storms whereby our driver Rubén couldn’t see in front of him ….but he just kept going rather than stop in the soft sand. We finally reached Taracoa Dunas where some of our crew took a dip. It was super windy on the high dunes so wasn’t really enticing me to take the walk up from the water getting crumbed in sand along the way!

Our final stop before lunch was Punta Gallinas. This was the northern most tip of South America. A very different look to the frosty town of Ushaia!

After lunch we caught a boat to a flock of flamingos before settling on a beach to watch another beautiful sunset.

I decided to take advantage of the lobster on offer for dinner. It was such a contrast, poverty all around us and then here I was with the luxury of lobster! We also tried the cactus fruit that we’d bought off one of the women along our route.

The night’s shower was not quite as refreshing as the night before – nothing pleasant about showering in salty water!  I couldn’t face a hammock and sandflies again so took the option of paying for a bed in a ‘room’ … but alas that didn’t stop the insects finding me!

Our last day back entailed taking a boat to meet our driver who’d driven the car a couple of hours to the beach spot to reduce the travel time back to Riohacha.

I had really enjoyed the experience of visiting La Guajira but I was feeling really relieved they’d only had the three day tour available for my dates rather than the four that I’d wanted. The conditions had been tough for this insect sensitive traveller!

I spent my last night in Riohacha chatting with 23 year old brainiac Ferry, a physicist from Germany, who’s currently working on research associated with neurologic responses through artificial intelligence. I was shocked by some of the things he told me had been discovered in recent years!  Look out world – things are about to get heavy!

My last night of the little trip was spent in Rodadero, a pueblito of Santa Marta. I shouted myself to a massage before taking in the sunset.

On arrival into Medellin I asked a couple of girls at the airport if they were interested in sharing a taxi into the city. Funnily enough they turned out to be teachers from Melbourne.  They were heading to Costa Rica and Cuba do I offered to send them on my travel tips.

The windy trip back to Palermo was quite funny. One of the guys from Palermo had jumped on part way along and we’d said the usual greetings. We stopped in La Pintada for a toilet and food break. We were about to take off when I asked the driver to stop because my mate from Palermo wasn’t on and his bags were still on the seat. Once he was back on board we started to take off and then an old guy who was sitting on the opposite side to me piped up and asked the driver to stop pointing at the spot I’d been sitting in earlier but had to move from when new passengers took my spot. I quickly realised he was expressing concern about my absence and let him and the driver know I was still on board … gorgeous Colombians!

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Enjoying Riohacha!

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Cooling down in the chilly but very refreshing Pozo Azul in Minca

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Minca from the ‘loma’

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Heading into the lower La Guajira

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Salt production in La Guajira

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Hitting middle La Guajira

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The kitesurfers taking advantage of the windy conditions 

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A tad windy!

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Home for the night in Cabo de la Vela

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Only goat hearder seen in three days

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Kids letting us pass after we’d handed over the water and bread rolls 

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Sand storm moving in

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Dunas Taracoa

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Punta Gallinas

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Flamingos in the upper La Guajira

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Feeling a little self-indulgent given the poverty around me!

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Rubén awaiting our arrival for the trip back to Riohacha

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The butcher shop in Uribia – Rubén picked some up some goat for one of his Wayuu wives and their kids.  Dropped it off on our way back to Riohacha!

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Bussing it back down to Santa Marta

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Playa at Rodadero

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Come 6pm and the police 4WD moves along the beach instructing everyone to leave the beach!

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Just in case anyone is thinking of taging the card for his/her coffee table!

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The trip back to Palermo always gives me a laugh – push bike riders hitching a pull from this truck!

 

 

 

 

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La Aussie gringa en Colombia – flower power!

Off to Medellin for the Feria de Flores. For those old enough, think a combination of Warana and the Ekka! Yep, even timed with the Ekka! I had a chuckle as my cab passed a guy on a bicycle with a washing machine on the front. Where there’s a will …..
I had a few items on my wishlist for this very popular city festival so first stop was the parade of the autos Antigua. Wouldn’t quite meet the technical definition of antique in car restoration language but it was certainly a great spectacle. Would have been just a usual club run for you dad! The truck display was well supported by the locals … .Kenworths only I’m afraid Pete!

I’ve said before that there aren’t many English speakers in Colombia (other than tourists). I was slowly encroaching on my neighbour’s umbrella – hot day – when he happened to ask in perfect English “where are you from, I can’t pick your accent”. He was an English teacher in Medellin! I took full advantage of the situation drilling him for info on the festival.

After the parade I headed to the Carnival Rio Ciudad. I got my fill on festival food and then wandered home to my BnB accom in Medellin centro; this was a great experience as I was staying away from the very touristy area of El Poblado.

The next morning I ventured off to the orchard exhibition in the botanical gardens. The displays were nothing short of spectacular. I had never seen so many varieties of orchards. I happened to start chatting with a couple from Panama, Mireja and Dennis, who I kept bumping into for the rest of the day, even at events in other locations. I’d agreed to go and visit them in Panama since I was visiting their town – they operated an accommodation lodge in El Valle. I was invited to stay but declined as I had already booked my accommodation there.

From the gardens I moved onto the main parade of the festival – the Desfiles de Silleteros. These proud paisas from Santa Elena decorate big stands and then display them through a parade.

All of the tickets for the VIP area had been sold out weeks before and I was told viewing the parade was near impossible unless you got there six hours before it starts. I thought I’d wing it anyway. I was arriving at the time the parade was scheduled to start (I figured this is Colombia so a start time has limited meaning) and managed to nab a fence position near the start. It was fabulous watching the spectacle but I looked on in horror as the scouts, who were there to help lift the arrangements, managed to tip a poor guy’s flowers out of his arrangement. Thankfully he got them all back in but not quite to the original beauty of his original work. I was so glad to see him hold his head up high and walk on – by this stage I was crying in empathy and so were others around me!

Paula had come to Medellin for the day to buy some stuff for the project so we caught up for a few rons in a lovely park bar in Medellin that night. The heavens opening up was our sign it was time to head to our respective accomodation. I’d opted for a taxi given it was close to midnight. The driver was so sweet, refusing to drop me off nearby when we missed my street. He then sat in his taxi until I was safely inside the house.

With the festival now at a close I took a bus to Canon del Rio Claro. This was a beautiful nature reserve along a marble bedded river. The birds were prolific and the water was gorgeous, although you had to hold onto the ropes across the river lest you’d get washed down over the rapids.

I loved the accom type I had selected – a room in a lodge perched high above the river that was open on two sides so you could enjoy the views of the trees, river and listen to the birdlife. Although I must admit I wasn’t so keen on the praying mantis that decided to hang out on my mosquito net!

Despite having visited many caves in my time, I decided to take their 3 hour tour that involved a hike through the mountain jungle, river crossings and the cave hike. I had no idea what I was in for – in the cave we had to wade through water waist deep, slide down natural rock formations to land in out of sight pools, jump into pools that couldn’t be slid into and swim across areas too deep to reach while the colony of bat like birds screeched overhead … needless to say it was a hoot!

With the caving adventure out of the way I spent the next two days just chilling on the river’s edge, dipping in to freshen up and reading my book. A beautiful place that was hard to leave!

I arrived back to Palermo with Lilia telling me how much she’d missed me (lucky I knew what ‘falta’ meant or could have been quite embarrassing) … so, so sweet!

I visited the project to do the update and then the rest of the week was cruisy just drawing locals, reading, giving my English classes and chatting with Johanna (Paula’s niece who paid an unexpected visit from Cali)..and planning an adventure to the indigenous occupied northern most point of South America – La Guajira!

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Chilling on the window sill of Club Lilia!

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In the barrios – near Parque del Boston

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Parada de auto Antigua

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Who you gonna’ call?

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I doubt he had any idea what his hat says!

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Check out the wild instruments of these musicians at the Carnival del Rio Ciudad

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En-route to line up for the Desfiles de Silleteros

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Mariposa going incognito

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Orchard pavilion at the botanical gardens

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Some real pulled pork!

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Scouts trying to make amends for their ‘help’ in emptying his basket of flowers!

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Getting our ‘cool’ on in El Poblado!

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How quickly the experience of last week’s ron session is forgotten!

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En route to Rio Claro

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The lovely rooms at Rio Claro Reserva  Natural

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Ah, ah-ah-ah!  Ok, not quite Jane!

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The march of the ants – can be up to a km long!

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…and that’s the cave that will lead us back to the river!

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Thought it looked like a character out of Alice in Wonderland!

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A bit of monkeying around on my way to dinner!

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