EBC Day 1 – Surviving the World’s Deadliest Flight

Today’s the day! I’m embarking on one of the most popular, yet difficult treks there is. The Everest Base Camp Trek. I checked out my hostel in the morning, hoping to dump my bag and head into the busy, dusty streets again to purchase some last minute trek necessities. Once I found the hotel where I would be meeting my group, oh how my morning changed! 

We were booked into Fuji Hotel, which is on the outskirts of Thamel, in a quite street away from the chaos. As I approached the hotel, with sweat starting to drip down the side of my face I went to open the large wooden doors when they magically opened for me. I was welcomed by the flow of cool air and a doorman smiling at me. “Namaste” he said as he held the door open for me “Welcome to Fuji Hotel”

He took my bag, offered me a seat and asked if I was with G Adventures. Slightly dazed by the lovely welcome and the heat I stuttered a yes and he handed me a cool drink. “Your room is ready, when you ready please follow me” I got up, ready to throw my backpack back on when a porter appeared out of nowhere to take it. I  followed them to the elevator where they took me to the top floor and to my room. I wanted to double check that they had the right person, this treatment was a far cry from hostel life. He opened the door and in there was the backpacker version of nirvana. A comfy double bed with squashy pillows sat before me, a TV in the corner and an ensuite all to myself. Did they have the right Jess?

Thanking the porter profusely I fell onto the bed as soon as the door was shut! Out went all my intentions of achieving anything today. I’d only been back in hostel life for less than a week but this small slice of luxury felt like a huge win! I turned up the air conditioning, did some hand washing and settled back into my bed for a bit of Netflix and nap. After a couple of hours of slothing about in my double bed (it really was a great bed) I found some motivation to face the real world and pick up all the last minute items I’d put off.

It didn’t take long to barter and bargain my way to a new bag, scarf and beanie. The Nepalese are a really lovely breed of humans, I felt bad trying to squindle a massive bargain. A new cashmere scarf for $12AUD wasn’t too bad though! I grabbed a late lunch at a small curry house before heading back to my little oasis at Fuji Hotel.

That night I met up with the rest of the group doing the EBC. There were 15 of us in total. Four Americans, four Germans, two Brits, two Scots and three of us Aussies. We had dinner and a debrief at KTwo Steakhouse (who claimed they were ‘probably the best steakhouse in Kathmandu’) before catching some zzz’s to be ready in the morning.

We had to leave at the delightful hour of 4:45am, it was surprisingly light at this hour and the usually crowded streets were desolate and calm. We were driven to the airport and sent through the hilariously dodgy check-in and security process. We were driven onto the tarmac to the sticky-tape plane that would be flying us up to Lukla. The Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla has been nicknamed ‘the world’s deadliest airport’ in recent years due to the steep incline, shortness of the runway and the amount of deadly plane crashes that have occurred. At 500m long, the runway slopes down the mountain edge which was flattened by locals performing a traditional foot-stomping dance for two days. This was of course encouraged (and commissioned) by Sir Edmund Hillary who supplied them with the local liquor to enhance the festivities. At the end of the runway sits a perilous 3km drop in the crevices of the mountains. So basically if the pilot miscalculates the landing, we were done for. Our whole group knew about the dangers of flying to Lukla, yet we all stood on the Tarmac and waited patiently for the stewards to pack the plane. Adventurous you could call us.. or plan stupid. 



Finally we were ready to board and the lone air hostess welcomed us on to the narrow tin can of a machine. With only 14 people allowed per plane, we were split up into two groups. Thankfully I was in the bigger group so if we went down at least it would be with my new trip friends! We were told that the left hand side was the best for views so I was quick to get in line and scored the second row seat on the left hand side. Our carry on luggage didn’t fit under our seats so we tucked them at our ankles and strapped ourselves in. The air hostess gave us a very brief safety briefing. So brief that she just pointed to our tattered safety card s tucked into the seat in front of us and told us to read. She then shuffled the three steps to the end of the plane and buckled herself in. I guess it’s every man for themself here. The two pilots went through their checking off procedure and I was calmed by the professionalism of the pair. The co-pilot donned Top Gun style aviators and a suave haircut whilst the head pilot expertly adjusted mirrors, knobs and switches. Soon the engine rumbled loudly and the propellors whirred dangerously close to my window and we were off down the runway. 

The plane scuttled down the runway, exerting all the energy it could muster. Like a tired old man trying to get out of his lounge chair, the plane heaved and slowly ascended off the ground. We quickly flew up above Kathmandu and the city turned into Legoland, as the colourful, cube shaped houses became smaller and smaller. 

The flight lasted about 30 minutes, but felt like eternity. Every cloud knocked us sideways and every gush of wind pushed us up and down. Hilariously though, the seatbelt sign was switched off meaning we were free to wander around the cabin. If only we had some space to move! We ducked and dived between humongous mountain ranges, almost skimming the tops of the trees. We flew over tiny villages in the hills, where recieiving mail must be a nightmare. It was a stark contrast to overcrowded Kathmandu. Yet I couldn’t understand why people would want to live such isolated lives in these massive hills. It was a beautiful sight to witness however.

Finally we were getting ready to land. The seatbelt sign was switched back on and we all braced ourselves for the world. The head pilot and Mr. Top Gun directed us towards the runway and as I looked out the front windscreen – yes the plane was that small – I could see the incoming runway that they had to negotiate. It barely looked longer than a cricket pitch and had a worryingly sharp slope to it. We seemed to be getting faster but perhaps it was my racing heart rate that I was feeling. As the bitumen runway came closer and closer, the more I could see my life flash before my eyes. I blinked for a second and the next thing you know we had landed safely and the pilot had slammed on the brakes to avoid running into the rocky mountain face that ended the runway. We taxied to the end and made a sharp right turn in front of the airport entrance. We had survived!

Breathing a sigh of relief we all unbuckled and exited the plane as quickly as possible to kiss the ground below us. The efficiency of the Tenzing-Hillary airport staff was immpeccable. Within five minutes of us leaving our seats, the plane was unpacked, repacked and was jetting off down the runway to take people safely back to Kathmandu. Because of the unpredictable weather, they had to get flights in and out as quickly as possible when there are clear skies.

500m long – lets hope they’re quick off the starting pegs!

We were led to a lodge where we had breakfast and celebratory tea! Our guide Dawa led us through a plan for the next day and soon we were putting on our backpacks and heading out onto the EBC trail. The small village of Lukla was filled with shops selling hiking gear, as well as a ‘Starbucks’ and an Irish Pub. it took all of five minutes to walk through the village and we were on our way to Chomua, where we would stop for the night. 

The hike to Chomua was quite pleasant. We were about 2850m above sea level so it was still relatively easy to hike up and down the ‘Nepali Flat’ – which might i add, is not flat! We passed little villages tucked into the mountains, mainly filled with lodges and guest houses, all quiet because of the off-season. Prayer flags lined the path and huge prayer wheels sat atop of most sets of stairs. A good clock-wise push is supposed to bring good luck to those who do it. Carved into the mountains were Buddhist mantras of compassion. There were several swaying suspension bridges that crossed the gushing glacial river below. It was daunting enough crossing those, yet as we passed herds of donkeys being led across with their backs loaded with goods I felt a little reassured at the sturdiness. 

EBC trail traffic

Chomua Lodge – our home for the night

We reached Chomua in the early afternoon and all headed off for a nap. The early start and excitement of surviving the worlds deadliest flight was a little too much for us all. We met up again for dinner and were introduced to what would become the bane of our existence – the menu. Because of the limited supplies that could be brought up here, every lodge has basically the same menu choices. For Day 1 it was fine, all was exciting and new but please persist with me later on when I go on about the food. I ordered the recommend choice of Dal Bat which was a big plate of rice, lentils, curried veggies, spinach and a pappadum. It was delicious and filling and by the time I’d scooped the last bit of rice into my mouth I was ready to fall into a food coma.

We all headed to bed early, knackered from the day. Tomorrow we hike to Namche Bazar, the biggest village before Base Camp!

J. X

Culture Shocks in Kathmandu

After a bit of a restless night due to Mr Snorelax in the bed above me, I gave up trying to out sleep my alarm and got ready and headed to the airport early. Today I am off to Nepal, which is exciting but slightly terrifying! Before I landed in Nepal I had a six hour layover in Kuala Lumpur to sit through. I had plans to go into Kuala Lumpur and have a look around but my bad sleep last night and sore legs from yesterdays scooter efforts I made the executive decision to sloth about the airport.

Slothing about the airport is all fun and games until its four hours in and you’ve walked through the entire airport, listened to every song on your iPhone and sampled every single perfume in the duty free shops. Thankfully KL International Airport had unlimited wifi so at least I was able to waste time on social media. Finally,  at 5:30pm we started to board and the reality of heading to Nepal was becoming a little daunting. I was flying with the Malaysian airline Malindo Air, which was quite nice but I was deadset the only Caucasian on the plane. I think there is a lot to be said about the Western world and their standards of safety. Whilst I think some of the rules back home are a bit silly, my inner Westerner definitely felt nervous as the other passengers around me completely ignored seatbelt signs through rough turbulence, pushed and shoved to the front of the line and showed little respect for the air hostesses. Thankfully I made it to Kathmandu in one piece but happy to be on solid ground! The arrival into Kathmandu however was quite easy. Despite the constant stares, the Nepalese aren’t sleazy at all like other men from different cultures. They were happy to help me without trying to rip me off or make a pass. My guard was up from past experience but I think it was slightly unnecessary.

The drive to the hostel was a wild one, we had about four near head-ons but my taxi driver Rhajib was lovely to talk to so I let it slide. I got to my hostel, Alobar1000 Hostel and said farewell to Rhajib. It definitely was a change from the hostel in Singapore! Full of colour and graffiti, it was asthetically pleasing but it was a bit dirty and run down. Though for $7 a night I wasn’t expecting the Hilton, all I wanted was somewhere to be horizontal for a very long time.

I woke the next morning feeling better about life and where I was. After a shower and breakfast on the rooftop terrace of the hostel I was ready to take on Kathmandu. I headed out to the street and with the help of another girl staying at the hostel walked straight into the chaos of Thamel. This tourist neighbourhood was exactly what I expected Kathmandu to be like and suddenly I was excited to be here.  

Tiny spots of nature amongst the man-made

There are no other words for Thamel except chaotic. Actually dirty, busy and dusty come to mind but in all the craziness is there something so attractive about Thamel. It lures you in and you can figuratively (and literally) lose yourself there. Nepalese prayer flags hang from the streets, intertwining with the interesting power line situation that resembled a very messy tangle of earphone cords! Market stall owners called ‘Namaste’ as I walked past, trying to dodge the incoming traffic both on wheels and on foot. Nearly every shop sold some form of hiking equipment alongside the usual touristy trinkets and clothes. I eyed off the cashmere scarves and yak wool blankets which would definitely find a place in my backpack somewhere.

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Streets of Thamel
 

I wandered around and around Thamel until all the market stores starting blurring together so I took a break for lunch at Greens Organic Cafe where I feasted on Nepalese vege curry with fresh naan bread. (Honestly I would have been happy with just the naan haha, it was SO good!)
After refuelling myself I was ready for a bit more sightseeing. I took a taxi up to Swayambhunath or better known as the Monkey Temple for a squiz around. Perhaps a little more research wouldn’t have gone astray here as the windy taxi ride up the hill to the temple took me outside the tourist area and its the slums of Kathmandu. It was fascinating to watch the locals go about their everyday life. The run-down, partly built buildings were covered in old signs with a mix of English and Nepalese. Stray dogs slept where they pleased and small children ran around barefoot, with not a care in the world. We crossed bridge and i looked out to the river that flowed below. Debris and rubbish from rundown houses lined the river and the murky brown water definitely didn’t look appealing.


We drove up the hill to the top of the temple and promptly got caught in a traffic jam that didn’t look like it was going to move. Apparently Saturday afternoons were peak time to visit the temple! I got out of the taxi and made my way through the busy crowds. With not a single Caucasian in sight, my blonde hair stuck out like a dogs hind leg but it seemed to work in my favour as the locals made way for me to come through the entrance into the temple.

Swayambhunath is a beautiful Buddhist temple, prayer flags covered the entirety of the temple and swayed in the slight breeze. I walked first to a wishing fountain and watching little kids throw coins into the pile as their parents watched on. As I walked through the busy crowd I got stopped several times for a photo. Once I said yes to one that was the end of it. Out came everyone’s phone wanting a selfie with the strange yellow-haired creature. “One more, one more please!” They asked with a big toothy grin. I could hardly say no to their smiling faces but at this rate I’d be there all night. After what felt like a million selfies, I finally said no more and headed up the stairs to the highest part of the temple. 






Just as I finished walk clockwise around it, spinning as many prayer wheels as I could I felt a few rain drops on my shoulders. Within seconds the skies opened up and dropped a bucket of rain over us. Rushing to shelter, I huddled in someone’s market stall with about ten other people until the rain ceased.

Not wanting to get caught again I quickly walked around the temple a bit longer before making my way down the steps to the other entrance. I was glad the taxi driver hadn’t dropped me here because it was a steep ascent to the top. After a few more selfies with groups of school girls I managed to get in a taxi and head back to the hostel.


Suddenly feeling tired after my day of wandering around, I decided I needed a sweet pick me-up to earn back some of the calories I’d burnt. Cociendentally there happened to be a lovely coffee shop on the corner of my street so I took it as a sign as spent the remainder of the afternoon inside drinking coffee and people watching.

Tomorrow I move to the next hotel and meet my group for my Everest Base camp trek! I’m excited and nervous but have a good feeling about it all. Wish me luck!

J. X

Sweating it out in Singapore..

Here we go again..

After a long (actually I lie, it went bloody fast) 10 months, I am giving the trusty old passport another flogging. Where to this time you might be asking. Well loyal followers (Hi Mum!) I am in the clean, organised island of Singapore… For one whole day and a half. I had intended on giving myself more time in this lovely place, but I made a spontaneous decision to climb to Everest Base Camp hence cutting my stay in Singapore to the bare minimum, but that’s a whole other story to be told. Let’s focus on the present, the right here, right now.. The Singapore!

After a pleasant flight with Scoot where I had the whole row to myself (score) and extra leg room (double score!) and can safely say that this budget airline is not to be overlooked. Clean, new and painted yellow, Scoot Airlines definitely doesn’t put on a bad show. I arrived around 3:30pm and made my way into the city. It was overcast and drizzling with rain so my hopes of a sunny stay in Singapore were slightly deflated but I was also keen to use the bad weather as an excuse to write off the afternoon and settle into the hostel.

I was staying at the Inn Crowd Backpackers Hostel in the heart of Little India. It wasn’t a big hostel but the cosy feel was very welcoming. I was shown around and promptly headed for a shower to wash off the airport smell. The rain eased to a light drizzle so I ventured outside in search of food as I hadn’t eat since this mornings breakfast at Kirra beach with the parents. Now Little India is known for its delicious Indian food and I was determined to find some. After wandering around the tightly constructed streets, past brightly coloured shops full of incense, bindis and selfie sticks where my blonde hair stuck out like a dogs hind leg I finally found solace in a Indian restaurant on the corner of a busy junction. I’d gone past the hungry stage by this point so I just ordered some vegetable samosas and a mixed chaat to fill my stomach. This restaraunt seemed to be a gringo hotspot as the prices were a little more expensive and there were more tourists than locals but at this point in the day I didn’t really care. The samosas were fresh, delicious and hit the spot. I headed back to the hostel after my snack and spent the rest of the evening planning my next movements and catching up on zzz’s.

The following morning up early thanks to the guy in the bunk above me snoring like a boss, so I headed downstairs to beat the brekkie rush. Over brekkie I bonded with an Irish girl tha was in the same room as me who was up early for the exact same reason. We were joined by a German girl and made plans to visit the Botanical Gardens and Chinatown. We had all signed up for the free scooter tour later that afternoon so we decided to check out a different part of the city. Even though it was still early, the humidity was rampant and by the time we reached the Botantical gardens we were dripping with sweat.

Botanical Gardens
Cannonball Trees


We wandered through the lush, tropical gardens enjoying the serenity. The perks of going early was that the only other people in the gardens were fitness fanatics bouncing about and the elderly community doing their tai chi. It was a very pleasant way to start the morning! After a couple of hours the heat was well and truly getting to us so we caught the MRT to Bugis Junction for an icy cold beverage. Stumbling up a food market full of locals, we decided we were hungry and stayed for lunch. This was a stark contrast to the tourist restaraunt I ate in the previous night, today I spent $5 on a massive plate of noodles and iced tea. This felt more like Asia!

After stuffing ourselves we caught the MRT to Chinatown to have a look around. Like all Chinatowns, it was filled with red and gold, stacks of markets and weird food choices. Still full from lunch we had a wander around before heading back to the hostel to cool down before the scooter tour.

The colourful streets of Chinatown

When I signed up for the scooter tour, I envisioned buzzing around the city on a Vespa-type motorbike like a local, however the more people I talked to in the hostel, the more i realised this was a very silly dream. At 6pm one of the guys working at the hostel starting rolling out old-school push scooters, like the type we had in primary school. What had I signed up for?

Looking merry and not realising what we were about to face

There was about 15 of us in the group and after a quick brief by our guide (“You lose the group, too bad!) we were off and I was in shock at how hard scooter-ing is! By the first traffic light stop, my thighs were on fire! I guess you could call this Base Camp prep? We scootered through the city, getting our photos taken by laughing locals and recieving weird looks from other tourists. Our first stop was in Kampong Glam in the funky street known as Haji Lane. This is was a really cool street, full of funky shops and cafes and I was a little bummed that we didn’t get to stay here and have a look around. It’ll definitely be first on the list for next visit!

Funky graffiti in Haji Lane
Looking more pro than I felt

We whizzed on heading to rooftop lookouts, past the Marina Bay and the restaraunt and bars surrounding it, past the Gardens by the Bay to a big outdoor food court called Satay by the Bay. We we refreshed with cold drinks and let the sweat dry a little. I’m pretty sure there was a cloud of awful B.O following us because we were all dripping with sweat!

Marina Bay at sunset

Big city lights

After our food break we rode back to Supertree Grove in the Gardens by the Bay for the light show. This was what I had been wanting to see all day. The Avatar-esque ‘trees’ were absolutely stunning, especially at nighttime, where they glowed different colours. The light show was a Star Wars theme which was as entertaining as it was beautiful. As we lay there on the concrete, looking up at the giant metal trees flash different colours in time to the music, I finally felt that feeling that I’d been waiting to feel – appreciative. Appreciative that I am able to visit new countries, meet new people and see new things. It’s the feeling that makes all the crappy stuff about travelling worthwhile.




After the light show, we got back on the scooters and headed towards another view point to see the Merlion Statue and cool down with an ice-cream. It was about 10pm at this stage and the novelty of the scooter was starting to wear a little thin. Thankfully the ride back didn’t take that long and by 10:30pm we were back in the air-conditioned hostel. We were all knackered after the tour so bed was definitely on the cards straight away.

Tomorrow I fly to Kathmandu! Eek!

J. x

Coffee Plantations & Waterfalls

After our couple of days living in the isolated paradise of Tayrona National Park, we headed back to Santa Marta and got the chance to wash our hair and dry out our clothes and become civilised again. We were only staying for the night before heading to the small village of Minca, which was only half an hour away.

Minca is famous for its coffee plantations and jungle-like surroundings. Hidden away 600 metres above Santa Marta, its the perfect place to escape the heat of the Caribbean coastline. The tiny village is all of one small road long and full of friendly Colombians offering lifts or tours.

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A village local

We arrived in the late afternoon, just as the heat of the day was starting to subside. Our hostel for the night was Casa Loma, which was this groovy treehouse-esque style hostel tucked in high above the village of Minca. We were thankful for only bringing small backpacks as the walk up to Casa Loma was a vertical ascent. Sweaty and out of breath, we reached the open area of the common area and checked in. Already I could tell that i would love this place. Big timber tables sat out on the edge of the mountain, with the spectacular jungle view below us. The hostel was covered in postcards and memorabilia and the staff were super friendly. It was obvious that people stay much longer than they intend here, its just a very homely place.

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Casa Loma

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Our beds for the night

We checked and signed up for the home-cooked dinner that night because a home-cooked meal sounded absolutely amazing (and we didn’t want to have to climb those stairs again!) To tide us over until dinner there was a very welcoming tray of brownies that we tucked into. As we watched the sunset over Santa Marta, with our beer and brownies, it was clear that Casa Loma had definitely won us over.

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Dinner was delicious but slightly on the small side, luckily there were extra brownies for dessert! We headed to bed early that night, eager to make the most of the following day. It was another night in a hammock but these ones were miles better than the hammocks at Cabo San Juan. I managed to get a full night sleep comfortably and woke up feeling fresh and ready to explore the area.

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Sunset at Casa Loma

We walked down the hill to a little cafe and had a filling breakfast of plantain, eggs and chorizo – washed down with local coffee. After breakfast we negotiated a price for some of the locals to drive us around for the day. Our driver from yesterday was there and he happily organised drivers for us and off we went on the back of their little moto-taxis ready for adventure.

Our first stop was the La Victoria coffee farm, about a 15 minute ride from the village. This small coffee farm still uses the original machines and has ingenious systems using water to transfer the coffee to one point from anywhere on the huge farm. We learnt about the coffee making process and the steps that goes into creating the perfect cup of coffee.

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Our drivers and us at the coffee plantation

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Learning about the coffee making process

It was interesting to learn that all the best coffee in Colombia gets shipped overseas and the Colombians only use the second and third rate coffee beans. It seemed peculiar that they would give away all their incredible produce but I guess whatever pays the bills! The farm does keep a small selection of the first grade coffee for their small cafe, which we happily took advantage of! They even had freshly cooked brownies and carrot cake which had our name all over it. This was definitely turning out to be the brownie tour of Colombia!

 

After the coffee farm tour, we jumped on the back of the bikes again and were taken to Pozo Azul to cool off. This little swimming hole was the perfect way to spend the afternoon and we played in the icy water, jumping off the waterfall ledge and taking a few too many GoPro selfies! We reluctantly headed back to the village of Minca, sad that the day had gone too quickly.

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At Pozo Azul

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Defs up for Colombia’s Next Top Model :p

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Unfortunately we were out of time in Minca and had to head back to Santa Marta to catch the bus to Medellin. It was a quick but peaceful stay in the this tiny village and when I return to Colombia one day, I’m definitely going to spend more time there. Its the perfect little oasis to escape the daily grind of travelling.

Now to catch the bus to Medellin! Hello 16 hour bus ride – I’m sure you’ll be a delight! :/

J. x

Tayrona National Park

We were back in Santa Marta and ready to tick off another one of Colombia’s must-do things. The Tayrona National Park was about a two hour bus ride from Santa Marta and super cheap, thanks to the local buses. Tayrona National Park not only has an immense natural importance on the region, but also it is a cultural treasure as it was once inhabited but the famous Tayrona tribe. Their culture is still present today with their direct descendants, the Koguis tribe still living and maintaining many of the original traditions.

We reached the park entrance and paid our entry fee (note – bring a student card if you have one, chops off 45% of the price!) and took a colectivo to the start of the hiking trail. We planned to stay in Arrecifes for the first night, mainly because it was the first stop on the trail! We hiked for about an hour through the Tayrona jungle, dodging long hanging branches and spotting monkeys. After being in busy Santa Marta it was nice to be back to nature, with hardly anyone in sight. Reaching the campsite dripping in sweat, we paid for our hammocks and dropped our bags off before heading to find some water to cool off in.

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However the beach at Arrecifes isn’t suitable for swimming due to its dangerous currents. Judging the currents and our swimming abilities, we decided to ignore the sign and paddle in the huge swell. This didn’t last long though as a security guard swiftly came over to tell us off. At least we got to cool down a little!

Food was next on the agenda so we headed off down the trail in search of comida. There were a couple more campsites and small restaurants as we walked along the trail. The park had a very ‘Lost’ feel about it, I was expecting to see a crashed plane and a tribe of people to come running out at any second! We gushed over the beautiful scenery and the amazing light of the setting sun before stumbling across a life-saver of a lady who sold the most delicious bread in the world! Freshly baked, still warm pan was just what we needed for an entree for dinner. We sampled the ham and cheese, the guava jam and cheese and the chocolate bread before telling the lady we would be back first thing in the morning to have it again for breakfast.

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After views in Tayrona National Park

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Beautiful sunsets

We found some dinner at a small restaurant at the next camp to ours. Full from the bread, we just had a small dinner before attempting to brave the walk home in the jungle alone. We were all set to go until some fellow travellers told us how they had just seen the alligators by the beach. Slightly freaking out, we ruled out walking back by the beach and decided to go via the way we came. However the topic of snakes popped up and suddenly we were too scared and stranded to walk back alone! Luckily a couple of locals were heading the same way we were so they guided us back through the jungle and we made it back to our hammocks snake-free. Sleep came easy that night, which was surprising because it was the first time I’d slept overnight in a hammock. But the clean hammock and solid mosquito net made for the perfect slumber, especially with the sound of the ocean lulling us to sleep.

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Our ‘hostel’ for the first night

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The following day we packed our bags up and hiked towards El Cabo San Juan. Despite it still being early, the sun was beating down on us hard. We dodged some monkeys and made a pit stop at La Piscina (‘the pool’ for those non-Spanish speakers) for a quick dip and to admire the amazing view. Finally the white sand, turquoise blue water dream I had been envisioning was starting to come to life.

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Horses for when you couldn’t hike anymore
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La Piscina – the ‘swimming pool’

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We walked onto El Cabo San Juan, which took about half an hour and jumped straight into the blue water. This place was way busier than where we had been previously, mainly because it was the most advertised area. We spent our day sun baking, swimming and generally enjoying life. L and I braved swimming out to a huge rock with some boys we met and managed to scar ourselves climbing up the rocks to jump into the ocean. Luckily there were no sharks nearby to smell the blood!

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Cabo San Juan

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We dined on garlic prawns and rice for dinner and played cards until it was an acceptable time for bed. This sun-baking business was tiring! Unfortunately I didn’t sleep so well in the hammocks here, they just weren’t as comfy as the night before.

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Fresh garlic prawns! Muy bueno!

After a fitful night of tossing and turning I was happy to get up and start the day. We had freshly cooked ‘caprese pan‘, which was warm bread filled with cheese, tomato and pesto sauce, washed down with a fresh maracuya juice. It wasn’t quite as sunny as yesterday but we still managed to get in some solid sun baking time. We considered staying another night but the thought of sleeping in those hammocks again put us off and we decided to head back to civilisation that day.

In the late afternoon we had a final meal at the only restaurant on Cabo San Juan and caught the boat back to Taganga and returned to our hostel in Santa Marta for a proper shower and a bed! Tomorrow we planned to go to Minca, the tiny village in the mountains about 40 minutes away from Santa Marta. I couldn’t wait!

J. x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diving in Tagana

To be honest, I hadn’t really considered scuba diving in South America. But then again, I hadn’t really planned much past Cusco and here I was in Colombia by the Caribbean coast so I guess anything could happen. Like the majority of the things that I’d done so far, I’d heard from other travellers that scuba diving was cheap and beautiful in Colombia so I dug out my old PADI license from the depths of my bag and signed up for refresher course.

My pal L and I booked our dives with Tayrona Dive Centre in the small town of Taganga. This little town was known for diving and crazy parties but it was so dirty and unfinished I was much happier staying 15 minutes away in Santa Marta. Our dive instructor Juan made us watch a video on the basics of scuba diving and then suited us up and ushered us out to the boat. L hadn’t dived before so I was expecting the first dive to be all about learning techniques and skills but once we were in the water, Juan made sure L was calm and confident and we set off to discover the world below the water. It sure was a big change from when I got my PADI license a few years ago, where it was all about safety techniques and practising skills. It was nice that they were so relaxed about it all because we got to spend more time under the water!

The first dive I was still a bit nervous because it had been four years since my last dive but once I got my ears to equalise I was on fire.We swam amongst schools of fish and past healthy looking coral life. Massive puffer fish floated past us and we found lion fish hidden away in in the hard coral. We took a break on a lone beach, where small geckos flitted around our feet before diving into the clear waters once more. I’d forgotten how amazing diving was and was so glad I decided to do it again.

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Cheese!

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All the gear … No idea

The following day we woke up early again and headed back out to Tanganga for our second day of diving. I was feeling a lot more confident today and loved every single under the water. Completing my Advanced Dive certification was now much higher on my bucket list!

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After our dives we said goodbye to Juan and headed back to Santa Marta. The following day we spent at Playa Bahia Concha, a local beach on the outskirts of Tayrona National Park. It was the perfect way to decompress after our two days diving.

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Hanging out at Playa Bahia Concha

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Tomorrow we head out Tayrona National Park to discover one Colombia’s must-see attractions. And to get in some more tan time!

J. x

 

A Holiday From a Holiday in Palomino

It was time. I’d been gallivanting around South America for about four and a bit months now and was surprised at how worn out I was getting at playing tourist. Whoever said travelling was a walk in the park obviously has only been on all-inclusive holidays. This travelling business is just as hard as a job, the only thing is that its full time. So after reaching Colombia, I was a little tired of always being the tourist, I just wanted to relax and chill out. I guess you could say I wanted a holiday from my travels – ah its a tough life!

Luckily Colombia is full to the brim of places to get stuck in and really just live like the Colombians. After a week and a bit in Cartagena, I was ready for some serious beach time and Palomino Beach seemed like the perfect idea.

I caught the bus to Santa Marta and spent one night in this hot, busy city. Santa Marta didn’t leave much of an impression on me in the short time I was there. It seemed too chaotic, dirty and busy so I caught the bus to Palomino the following morning to meet two of the English girls I had stayed with in Cartagena. The drive to Palomino was long but beautiful. We passed Tayrona National Park, the starting point of the Lost City trek and many different little roadside villages. I arrived at the Tiki Hut Hostel where the girls were staying at instantly felt at ease. This tropical resort looking hostel was exactly what I was chasing. I spent the afternoon lazing around the pool with the girls, catching up on what we’d been doing in the past week.

The following day I did more of the same – devouring the amazing breakfast on offer at the Tiki Hut, sun baking, swimming and sampling one of the best brownies I’ve had ever. Not even kidding, these brownies were LIFE-CHANGING! Life is good! I went tubing down the river with some Danish girls that were also staying at the hostel and a big group of us solo female travellers found a delicious vegetarian restaurant that we may have visited twice in one day!

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The Tiki Hut – amazing!

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For the first time of the trip I was surrounded solely by girls and it was absolutely wonderful. We were all either travelling solo or in pairs and it was great to see how we could all come together from different parts of the world. I felt like girl power was definitely at its finest in Palomino, no boys needed here! I also found it hilarious that despite your address, every group of girls will have the same conversations. We talked about boys, our bodies and futures. As cheesy as it sounds but talking with these girls was empowering and it made me realise that my decision to travel instead of settle down was the right decision.

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Girl Power!

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Falafel and quinoa 
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Raw beetroot salad

We stayed in Palomino for the week, extending our stay every morning much to the hostels staffs humour. Each time we’d go to reception they’d said ‘Another night girls?’. That was another great thing about the Tiki Hut, the staff were so friendly and welcoming. I definitely recommend this hostel to anyone in Palomino – it’s the perfect place to enjoy the Caribbean coast. Plus the pancakes at breakfast are absolutely bomb!

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Palomino Beach

One of the English girls L and I wanted to go diving so we reluctantly left our little oasis in Palomino and headed back to Santa Marta to find a dive school. We booked into Masaya Hostel which was a grand old building, that must of have been a fancy hotel back in it’s day. The best dive shops were 15 minutes away in the small town of Taganga, so we put it on tomorrow’s do-to list and enjoyed dinner at a small little cafe called Carambolo, which had the most delicious wraps and drinks. It was here that I was introduced to coconut lemonade and let me just say that my life has never been the same! Carambolo was situated in a colourful little street that opened up into a big square, which was much nicer than the area of Santa Marta than I had seen briefly. My opinions on this city were starting to change.

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Inside Masaya Hostel

We headed to bed early that night, still running on our Palomino schedule where the bed time was early and the sleep was solid. Tomorrow, lets go diving!

 

J. x