We left Ecuador feeling slightly nervous but confident that our expired visa wouldn't be much of an issue. Upon arrival at immigration, we waited in line as usual and then approached the desk. When the immigration officer found that the exit dates on our visa were three weeks old, he questioned us and then gave us the universal expression of "computer says no". All was good, and they joked with us that we were in big trouble and then that we would be there waiting for another 8hrs. Instead, after waiting for one and a half hours, we were cleared by "the big boss" who called in to sign us out. All in all, a reasonably smooth transition if anyone is wondering about overstaying their visa in Ecuador. This advice is not recommended, of course, and approach at your own risk!
Soon after entering Colombia, we found ourselves our first overnight bus to enjoy. We arrived at our first port of call in Popayan. Here we stayed in the clean and well-run Hostel Trail, explored the white buildings of the colonial city, and ventured to the nearby hot springs. We failed to swim in the hot springs at Aguas Hirviendos as they represented overcrowded cesspits to us, though not as bad as the ones in Baños, Ecuador. The hot springs of Agua Tibia weren't a lot better, as they were bigger and set in a beautiful location. A few people walked around covered from head to toe in the mud because the hot springs' earth and water have great healing powers (apparently). We opted to stay clean and walk around the lush green farmland taking in the first taste of real dairy cream that we had had for months.
It was already proving hard not to fall in love with the Colombian people's friendliness, so friendly that they reminded us of how close the people of Brasil are. They have been accommodating, courteous and warm to each other and us. Nothing makes travel more enjoyable than a comforting feeling of friendliness from an entire nation.
We enjoyed our time in Popayan but had to move on as we have a schedule for meeting Jo and Bruce in three weeks in Bogota. Next stop "salsa capital of South America" Cali! Cali is another beautiful city to enjoy with plenty of nightlife and things to do during the day. A bit of a nerve-wracking town to explore the nightlife in, only as we both can not dance the salsa, and the danger of a stranger pulling you onto the dance floor is severe - for some, this I can imagine would be the best experience ever. For us who need to learn how to move, this is where to do it.
We spent a few hours tackling the Zoologico de Cali, one of the better zoos we have visited where the animals have a bit more room to move. Sadly the two condors were in a reasonably small cage. There were plenty of different birds and animals from South America that were on display for us. And most looked well cared for with fair living conditions.
Soon after we had enjoyed a massive almuerzo in Cali's old town, we concluded that we would eat well very and struggle to keep the tire around our waistline from growing in Colombia. It was a well-deserved almuerzo as we had spent many hours that morning walking up to the three crosses for a better vantage point of the city and walking around, taking in the sites of San Antonio Cali's old town.
Feeling eager to move on even, and don't get me wrong, we could have stayed longer, enjoying our time in Cali and staying in the Iguana Rosa Hostel where we met friendly travellers from all parts of the world. We were soon on a bus to Manizales, a city in the scenic coffee region of Colombia.
We were purely in Manizales for coffee! Just like Cali had its salsa, this place had its coffee and the proximity to where the coffee is grown. We were soon on a public bus to the nearby area of Chinchina, from where we would catch another bus to the coffee farm of Hacienda Guayabal. Bronnie and I were lucky it was just the two of us there when we hired a guide to show us around the farm. Even though he only spoke Español, we were able to converse with him and learn a lot. We purchased some coffee beans, which at this moment are making everything in my backpack smell fantastic (a change from what it usually smells like).
Aboard another bus, feeling very jittery from the recent drug abuse of caffeine, we landed in Medellin and jumped in a taxi for our next hostel. Here we found some hostels had either moved/shut down, or double the price stated, so much for guidebooks. Not to worry, we soon racked up a decent taxi bill and found one that would do for the night.
We spent the following day visiting some parks in the city and the vast science complex of Parque Explora. We spent six hours wandering, viewing and enjoying the activities that Parque Explora had to offer. On display were dinosaurs, a multi-story aquarium, 3D cinema and plenty of fun science activities. We felt like kids in a candy store or me in a chocolate factory.
The following day we ventured through the city to the long cable cars. You can view the city from above and enjoy the escape from the city in the natural reserve. On the shorter cable car, you can see the poverty and the contrast of rich and poor by seeing where the city has pushed the more impoverished people to live.
Medellin was an ugly and boring city, with the only fascinating thing we enjoyed being the Parque Explora Science Museum.
Yearning for the coast, we jumped aboard... Please wait for it... Maybe our last overnight bus (well, in South America)! We have both concluded that we hate buses over four to five hours long, wait, we now hate buses altogether! After spending over a month straight on buses for the last nine to ten months, we have had enough and have decided to fly from the coast to Bogota when the time comes. Anyway, we found some delicious drugs from the local pharmacy to help us on our way. When we woke, we found ourselves in the familiar climate of the coast in Cartagena.
We soon found the hostel we had chosen called Hostal Real, near some bars, restaurants and the historical colonial part of Cartagena. This hotel came with two pet turtles that would freely waddle around. Once, we left our door open into our room and found one of the turtles had waddled under our bed. Feeling tired from the bus, we briefly strolled through the colonial area and had some beers that night to celebrate being back on the coast after three weeks away from it.
We celebrated Bronnie's birthday on the beach with a massage and other treats. We met three lovely people in the tent next to ours, one from Mexico called Ivan, and two Colombian ladies called Sandra and Jenny. We spent the best part of the day drinking with them on the beach before Bron, and I ventured out and ate some yummy Indian. After filling ourselves with Indian, we met back up with our newly made friends for some more drinks to keep celebrating Bronnie's birthday.
We enjoyed the relaxed feel that Cartagena seems to produce with its old buildings, buzzing nightlife, tasty foods and coastal life. I am writing this sitting on another four-five-hour bus ride to Santa Marta, where the rest of our travels will continue before we fly to Bogota to meet up with Jo and Bruce (my parents).