We left Ecuador feeling slightly nervous but confident about our expired visa. 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 sought of looked at us with an expression of "computer says no". All was good, 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 was called in to sign us out. All in all a fairly smooth transition if anyone is wondering about overstaying their visa in Ecuador.
Soon after entering Colombia, we found ourselves our first overnight bus to enjoy. We arrived in our first port of call Popayan. Here we stayed in the clean and well run Hostel Trail, explored the white buildings of the colonial city and ventured to the hot springs that were nearby. We failed to swim in the hot springs at Aguas Hirviendos as they represented over crowded cess pits to us though not as bad as the ones in Baños, Ecuador. The hot springs of Agua Tibia weren't a lot better but were bigger and set in a beautiful location. There were quite a few people walking around covered from head to toe in in mud because apparently the mud and water at the hot springs has great healing powers. 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 friendliness of the Colombian people, so friendly that they reminded us of how friendly the people of Brasil are. They have been very helpful, courteous and warming to each other and us.
We enjoyed our time in Popayan but had to move on as we have a time schedule for meeting Jo and Bruce in three weeks time in Bogota. Next stop "salsa capital of South America" Cali! Cali is another wonderful city to enjoy with plenty of nightlife and things to do during the day. A bit of a nerve wracking city to explore the nightlife in, only as we both can't salsa and the danger of a stranger pulling you onto the dance floor is high.
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 fairly small cage. There were plenty of different birds and animals from South America that were on display for us.
Soon after we had enjoyed a massive almuerzo in the old town of Cali, we came to the conclusion that in Colombia we are going to eat well very and struggle to keep the tire around our waistline from growing. 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 though 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, which is a city in the abundant coffee region of Colombia.
We were purely in Manizales for coffee! Just like Cali had its salsa, this place had its coffee and the close 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 wonderful (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. So much for guidebooks as we found some hostels had either moved, shutdown or were double the price stated. 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 big 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, from here 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 be reminded of the poverty and the contrast of rich and poor by seeing where the city has pushed the poorer people to live.
For us Medellin was an ugly and boring city with the only really exciting thing we really enjoyed there was the Parque Explora Science Museum.
Yearning for the coast we jumped aboard.. Wait for it.. Maybe our last overnight bus (well in South America)! We have both come to the conclusion that we hate buses over four to five hours long, wait, we hate buses altogether now! 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 our hostel we had chosen called Hostal Real, which is near some bars, restaurants and the historical colonial part of Cartagena. This hostal 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 feel. I am writing this sitting on another four to 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.