Thursday, August 27, 2009


If you could called what I had when I arrived in Colombia a "plan," you could now consider it completely thrown to the wind. I've just been going off of sugestions (even more so than ususal) and traveling fairly easily with grat people I've met along the way. Anyway, that's how I ended up in stunning Popayán. The city is know for it's whitewashed facades, but I've found more color here than in a number of other cities combined.
The market was like a dream come true (I've joked with people that I wouldn't mind going back to school to study Anthropology, specifically markets). There were fruits I had never heard of before, guanabanas much larger than the size of my head, over a dozen varieties of potato including knobby finger sized neon-purple ones, the most delicious blackberries, strawberries, and sweetplumbs of my life, bags of layered diced veggies, and pyramid stacks of tomato. The woman with the enormous guanabana was more than happy to tell us the story about when they had brought her a 22-pounder, the lady preparing potato and cabbage salads wanted to know about where we're from, the butchers were posing for photos without us even asking, and my favorite, amazigly sweet blackberry lady got two visits from me.
As if that morning wasn't wonderful enough, we happened to arrive in town just in time for the Feria de Cometas, the kite festival. It was on a hill just ouside of town and every time the wind picked up dozens of kites went up from the tops of the hills. Between gusts, most of the kids entertained themselves by sliding down the hills on sheets of cardboard. We finally walked back to town after most of the rain had passed, and ended up being accompanied most of the way by a group of school-age boys. They were genuinely curious about us, wanted to hear us speak english, take pictures and show them, and whatnot. It suprised me how well-behaved and sweet they were, not to mention the fact that they weren't embarrased to talk with us at all (which has generally happened when I talk to local kids), and approached us in the first place.
Soon you'll all hear about my attempt at climbing a 15er during Colombian winter...

Zona Cafetera, The Horse Story, & Clombian Bowling

The Zona Cafetera is exactly what it sounds like, the coffee-producing area of Colombia. I took a bus out from Medellín to Salento and stayed at a great, British-owned hostel called the Plantation House. Spent the rainy afternoon walking around the sleepy town, climbing the huge staircase to get a view of the central plaza, sampling the local arequipe (delicious dulce de leche, or caramel), and reading in my cozy bed.
In the early morning a few of us from the hostel headed out to the central park to get a jeep ride bound for the Valle de Cocora. It's a beautiful trail that climbs up through cloud forrest, passes a reserve with more humming birds than I've ever seen before, and would have great views except that it's generally so socked-in. The most impressive part of the hike though, are the begining and the end, where you walk throught the famous wax palms. They're up to 70m tall, perfectly straight palms with a small tufts of fronds at the top, and they stick straight up out of very short bright green grass all throughout the valley and along the ridges. When the sun breaks thought the clouds, it casts amazing shadows of the palms down the hills and silhouettes the ones on the ridges.
But, I need to detour and tell the "Horse Story," so here goes:
Okay, at one point we needed to go 1k back down the trail we had come up to meet up to the trail for La Montaña, and ran into a group of ten pack-horses along the way. Most of thr group slid down a very speet, very muddy hill to pass the horses, but three of us were high enough up that it was just easier to wait and let them pass there where there was room. But one of the men with the horses told us just to walk through them, so we did. At least we tried; two of us got totally stuck in the mess of them. The path was about wide enought for two horses (plus all the supplies they were loaded down with) and then there was a 6m drop off the edge. So, I yelled a the guy that we were stuck and he made his little clicky noise to get the horses moving. Unfortunately, they were really moving and smashed me so hard I couldn't breathe. They kept pushing so hard that they knocked one of the horses off the edge, and I was convinced I was going down with the next horse! The few people who could see from the bottom said that it landed on it's head, got back up looking confused, and then the second man came over hitting it with a stick to get it back into line. Wow, after all that, the men tried to arange the horses to pass and it took a good ten more minutes for that to happen. The best part-the man just smiled as he passed. Errrgh!
I had been hanging out with a guy from Ireland, one from Scotland, and another from England, who had taken to calling me "Zibby Fox" on accound of my handwriting, and the nick-name had turned into quite the joke. By the end of the day I was "Zibby Fox-Horse Puncher," and they all claimed that I had pushed the horse off the edge. Haha, it was like ebing with three little brothers. Anyway, after a huge group dinner and some anise flavored aguardiente, we went to play what I like to call olombian Bowling. Also known as Tejo. There was a huge group of us there playing and it turned into a rowdy, good time. It's a large dirt-floored room with a metal roof and some plastic sheets for walls, with three long courts/lanes. The point of the game is to throw a weight underhand from one end to the other, where there is a flat filled with clay propped up at an angle. You get a certain number of points fr just landing in the clay, more for landing in the bull's eye, and even more it you hit one of the packets of explosives on the metal ring that indicated the bull's eye. It really is the COlombian equivalent of bowling.
My last morning in Salento I went for a long, beautiful walk out of town in a direction I hadn´t visited before. The hills are a collage of banana trees, perfectly gridded coffee plants, small gardens, and trails worn into the grass by grazing cattle. The sun was coming up and lighting each hill differently, there was a river on the side of one ridge, and beautiful flowers along the road. A beautiful way to wrap up my tme in Salento!

Solid Land, Big Cities

After getting off the boat, Julia (from Austria) and I spent a few days messing around in Cartagena. We were staying in the beautiful old town and loved walking alond the wall that cuts that part of the city off from the ocean and the rest of the city, browsing around jewelry stores we could never afford, drinnking coconut water, eating baby-doll shaped candies, and going out to the "Dragon de Oro" for dinner with everyone from the boat.
We made a hilarious day trip out to "Volcan de Lodo," a.k.a. The Mud Volcano. It's literally a 10m hill of mud that they've built a wooden frame at the top of to keep the mud in. You slide into the warm, dark grey sludge and immediately realize that it's completely impossible to sink. They say it's good for your skin, but I think it's just best for a good laugh. We were all kind of flailing around like beetles stuck on their backs that couldn't roll over.
After a few hot and stucky, but fun days in Cartagena we braved the 12 hour, ice-box air-conditioned ride to Medellín. Although the city used to be well-know for it's crime, it's seriously been cleaned up and feels very metropolotian. The entire city seems to be constructed of red bricks and shaded with teracotta roof tiles, creating a butiful mosaic over the surface of the hills and valleys the city covers. The metro runs along the main part of the city, in the valley, but is lifted above the road, so you get a great view of the city. One of the most beautiful views we saw was when we took the Metro almost to the end of the track and then went the three flights up the gondola-like Metrocable. From there we could see almost the entire city. And riding up in the cable there is only one window open, which funnels in the sounds like a speaker playing a backround track of barking dogs, children playing, trucks straining on the hills, and all the other life of the city.
Most of the rest of our time in the city was spent walking from park to park and museum to museum. My favorite area was Parque Berrío, which is full of enormous bronze Botero statues. We posed for pictures with them for a while and I went back later to look throught the impressive Museo de Antioquia, which is filled with Botero's work, some of his private collection, and pieces by a printmaker I absolutely fell in love with(Jose Antonio Suarez). That evening we trated ourselves to quite the night out: beer, pizza, and gelatto-that's right, we went to Crepes & Waffles, the big fancy chain.
South American cities took quite the adjustment, after having become so used to Central America. People go on jogs with their iPods, walk their groomed dogs, have for fancy brunches, and attend business meetings at swanky bars. Strange...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


There will never be a blog entry written that can do the 'ole girl justice!
The Stahlratte is a 106 year old, 30m, 2-mast-schooner with a home port of Bremerhaven, Germany;and the 8 (turned 9) day sailing trip I took on her was one of the best and most unexpected journeys of my entire trip! We went from Cartí, Panama through Coco Bandero, San Ignacio Tupile, Isla Grande and other islands of San Blas, the Scottish "New Edinburgh," Supzurro, Playa Blanca, and a few other fabulous locations to Cartagena, Colombia. The sailing trips from Panama to Colmbia normally take only 4 days or so, 2 of which are out on open water, but we went a new route. We stayed along the cost the whole way, which means the water was much calmer and we got to see tons more beaches!
There were 6 crew members and 10 clients on the ship and everyone took turns with kitchen duty, night watch, the sails, and everything else! The bunks downstairs were super comfortable, the kitchen upstairs was pretty well equipt to be out at sea, the toilet was hand-pumped to flush, most showers were taken on to deck, and all meals were eaten upstairs at the huge wooden table. The boat was more comfortable than I could have imagined, and the whole crew felt like family (German and Spanish).
We would have breakfast at 8ish, then usually go snorkeling to see starfish, coral, and swim out to visit the beaches we anchored by. Then a lunch break at noon, and more messing around in the afternoon. The rope swing was a favorite of everyone-you climbed up onto the net at the helm of the boat and were handed the rope that´s connected to the front mast (I still don´t know all the sailing vocabulary, in part beacuse everything was labeled in German), and flung yourself out into the sea. It was an absoltue blast, and there were some seriously entertaining wipe-outs. Two nights we sailed the whole night through, and it felt amazing to wake up and not be able to see any land around us. Other days we would sail for a bit in the morning to hang out by ourselves on s beach somewhere and spend the night anchored there.
A few times dolphins came and played at the front of the ship and we would all run to climb into the net and watch from above. They were beautiful with dust blue backs and white bellies with silver freckles, and would flip over and under eachother. We also saw aligators and amazing plastic-looking fuscia jelly fish. We also managed to catch a few barracuda, and bought shrimp, calamari, langostinos, and lobsters from fishermen who would row up to the ship in their little wood-carved canoes. Speaking of, the food was delicious! Crepes for breakfast one day, Roli´s "ragout kompli" for dinner the next, tons of fresh seafood, el capitan´s delicious tiramisu, and other deliciousness! The best part was that it was always like a huge Italian family dinner with everyone reaching, passing, laughing telling jokes, drinking wine, plus we had the sea breeze and start as the backdrop.
I just have too many great things to say about the ship and hope to travel on it again some day!!!

Panama, Schmanama

I was in Panama for exactly 2 weeks, and while it was not my favorite country by any means, I did have a good time and meet some fun people!
  • David- The first city I stayed in Panama, which provided absolutely nothing to do, which was just fine by me. I stayed at the Purple House Hostel, where literally everything was purple-walls, furniture, dishes, soap, lights, nail polish, everything! One other thing I did learn from David was the joy of Panamanian Fried Food!
  • Boquete- What I like to call the Estes Park of Panama, a pretty expensive touristy highland town, but with some nice walks and hiking around. There were tons of rainbows, and I read Like Water for Chocolate on the big comfy couch while it drizzled outside for on whole day.
  • Lost & Found- A lodge off the carretera between David and Bocas del Torro (which, no I did not go to, and do not regret one bit, I´m more for the mountains than the beach). The bus drops you off in pretty much the middle of nowhere on the side of the highway and it´s a seriously steep 25 minute hike up the hill with all your stuff to the lodge. It´s actually a hostel with a 3-level-bunkbed dorm, kitchen, stunning views, and tons of trails (and your 3rd night in the dorm is free, yay!). I did a 5 hour loop hike my first day with a kid from California, spent the second day trying to survive the rain and cold, and the third day on a wholly entertaining scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt took us to an enormous tree we had to climb around to find the clue, across a beautiful river with a rope to help, into the "hermit woman´s" cave (she did actually live in there until her 90s or something crazy), and all around. Turns out we missed a clue somewhere along the way, but still got a beer for the prize. That evening I headed to David to the cold cold overnight bus ride to Panama City.
  • Panama City- Oh, Panama City, you done me wrong. So, everyone warns that it can be a dangerous city and I believed it but generally felt safe. That is, until the 50 people in my hostel were tied up in two of the dorm rooms with zip-ties and 4 young guys with guns robbed everything they had on their person and then went throught the luggage in every rooms of the hostel, and also stole all the computers and money from the hostel itself. They woke everyone up, took they keys to all the rooms and everything, and I was one of the 3 they didn´t wake up or rob! They looked through my backpack at the head of my bed, but left me there sleeping-Amazing and lucky! But, hey enough about that.
  • Panama Canal & Caso Viejo- The Canal was nice and touristy, but I´m glad I went. The biggest suprise was how small it was. And Casco Viejo is the old part of town we spent a while wandering around, looking at churches, plazas, wooden balconies, and the ships waiting outside of the Canal.

The Best Part of Panama was that it was the begining of my sailing trip to Colombia!

Long time, No blog

So, firts I´ll sum up Nicaragua and the month of July. (and forgive me that fact that I have no spell check, or natural ability to spell...)
For my birthday I took a 3-day trip to climb Cosigüina with a Quetzaltrekkers group. It started on the 13th with a delicious pacake breakfast at the QT house and then a camioneta to the terminal where we took a chicken bus to Chinandega, another camioneta to the other terminal, and another chicken bus to the end of the road... literally. We arrived in the town at the base of Cosigüina after hours and hours on the buses. First thing we did when we got off the bus was walk through town, which consists of one dirt road with 2-room cement homes on either side and more farm animals than people, to take a swim on the beach. It was by far the nicest beach I had seen up to that point on the trip and we were absolutely the only people there! It´s called the Golfo de Fonseca and we could see Honduras and El Salvador from the beach. We had a big meal of sandwitches with everything from beans and cheese to veggies and weird meat from the market. About a dozen local kids had gathered around watching, and we made them all sandwitches, which they had no clue how to eat, which was thuroughly entertaining!
We had a big fire on the beach that night and set up our tents right there (while we were eating, my new little friend Jennifer brought us delicious cuajada cheese and fresh tortillas). Between the bugs and heat there wasn´t a lot of sleeping, but waking up to a sunrise as the backdrop to dolphins flipping by was more than worth it. That morning our "guide" met up with us and we started off towards to the volcano. Although it used to be the highest volcano in the country, it is now hardly anything to see from the base. It´s a pretty easy walk out to the base and then a short way uphill, and the view is amazing! Behind you is the Golfo and in front is the enormous crater. The water is a crystaly blue-green, and suprisingly shallow for how deep that crater is. The beach was totaly chaos that night as every child from town seemed to have come out to play with us, but we had a blast. The game they taught me could be most accurately describes as an innocent version of spin the bottle, with a rhyme and having to give a kiss on the cheek to whoever you land on (they all wanted to kiss me of course, haha) . And their absolute favorite thing is posing for pictures and then looking at them on the screens of the digital cameras. And that night we had paid a local woman in town to fry up some fish for us, which was amazing! It was another hot night, but we had some Flor de Caña by the fire (which we only made for the smoke to keep the bugs away) to celebrate birthdays-mone and Shannon from San Fran... Oh yeah, that evening I had also hitched a ride from a guy in town back out to the beach (I didn´t want to walk to the whole 7 minutes it would have taken, because I didn´t have shoes). The catch is that it was on a horse!
Took all the buses back the next morning and gad lunch at "The BG" in León. It was delicious and I headed back home to Colibrí, my base hostel. 3 friends from the hike ended up staying there and we had a blast, and headed for Granada in the morning.
Granada was almost as wonderful the second time as the first! It was great to be back at Amigo´s B&B, which is actually cheaper than all the other hostels and has the best included breakfast ever! My first full day back I took a bus out to Masay, where you can buy terrible souvenirs and handicrafts. My goal was to buy wooden fruit, but the fact that it was going to be more ecpensive to send it home than buy it in the first place changed my mind. I ended up walking around for a good chunk of time, and finding the taxidermy man in the market. If only I had had an easy wat to ge a $20 stuffed rooster home!
On the 20th I took the 15 hour ferry across lago de Nicaragua to the Río San Juan. It was quite the ride, and didn´t involve a whole lot of sleep, but the sunset was beautiful. When I got off the ferry I took a boat out to Boca de Sábalos where I enjoyed a super nice hotel right on the water. I read, took naps, watched the boats go by, and listened to birds and monkeys for a day. The off on another boat to El Castillo where I saw "El Castillo Inmaculada Concepción," what used to be a fort to protect against pirates. The town is built right at it´s base along the river and is small and comfortable - aside from the twitching pig being slaughtered on someone´s front portch on the main path (there are no roads). One thing i appreciate more than all the others is that it´s just El Castillo and not the "Nicaragua Canal;" they almost put the canal in there instead of Panama.
After that I took a short 23 hours or so to get through Costa Rica (which has changed more than I could have imagined in the 4 years since I was last there-not for the better!), and on to Panama. Now, here´s a little story about Immigration: It probably took about an hour, several trips between window #1 and window #2, getting ripped off by the money changer, and ultimately having my passport cut ahead of everyone in line and being stamped because some guy told me he could help me but his friend in charge may want a "gift" for it (which turned out to be $15). So, there´s the condensed version, and the beginning of Panama...