A Travellerspoint blog

Panama City

and the Canal

semi-overcast 30 °C
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We spent the first night on the mainland of Panama in a small village called Puerto Lindo. We celebrated our arrival in Panama with a proper shower, dinner in a restaurant and some beer and wine. (It was Halloween, but of course we did not notice this at all in this place.) The next morning, we had to get a bus to the slightly larger town of Portobelo where our captain was waiting for us with our already stamped passports. After breakfast, we then made our way to Panama City.

I spent 2 days in the city. It was not a very special or exciting city, but the old town 'Casco Viejo' is nice and good to walk around for a bit.
Panama City - Casco Viejo

Panama City - Casco Viejo


Panama City - Casco Viejo

Panama City - Casco Viejo


Panama City - Casco Viejo

Panama City - Casco Viejo


Panama City - Casco Viejo - one of the many houses of which only the house front is left

Panama City - Casco Viejo - one of the many houses of which only the house front is left


Panama City

Panama City

The second day I went to see the Panama Canal. I visited the Miraflores locks, one of the places where they have locks to lift/lower the ships to make up for the differences in altitude in the canal. It was really interesting to see how the ships, especially the big container ships and tankers, were being lifted many meters by the increasing of the level of water between the closed locks.
Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks


Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks

Panama Canal - Miraflores Locks

I also went to Albrook Mall which is huge! I had never been to any shopping centre near the size of this one and it was pretty impressive, a big maze of shops and food outlets.

Posted by sarahm_lux 17:44 Archived in Panama Tagged panama_city panama_canal puerto_lindo portobelo Comments (0)

The boat trip from Cartagena to the San Blas islands

5 beautiful days on the Caribbean sea

semi-overcast 30 °C
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Instead of getting one of the expensive flights from Colombia to Panama, I decided to spend just a little more money on a 5-day boat trip which would bring me to Panama, but also give me a chance to see the beautiful San Blas islands. I took the trip on a catamaran called Santana. The boast was very good since it is bigger and more 'open' than most sailboats. Most of us were sleeping in a big dorm which was also the dining room. The German captain was also really nice and a really good cook. All the food we got was really good and contained a lot of fresh vegetables, which was a nice change after the South American food which generally lacks vegetables.
Our boat

Our boat


Dinner on the boat

Dinner on the boat

The trip started with 1 1/2 days on the open sea, sailing to the islands. Luckily, the sea was not rough, but one person was still seasick unfortunately. During the sail, we spent most time one the deck, sunbathing during the day and looking at the stars at night. It was a nice lazy time.
Last views of Cartagena

Last views of Cartagena


Sunset over the Caribbean

Sunset over the Caribbean


Sunbathing on deck

Sunbathing on deck

After the second night, we all woke up to find that we had arrived at the islands! We straight away got some amazing views of the islands surrounding us and within an hour all of us were in the water, swimming to the nearest islands and snorkeling (there were not many fish, but a lot of pretty starfish). That morning, we got our first visit from the indigenous people living on the islands, the Kuna. Two Kuna women were trying to sell us handicraft, such as the typical 'mola', panels made by sewing different coloured sheets of fabric together and cutting patterns out from the different layers, so that you can see the colour(s) underneath. We also ordered some coconuts from the Kuna, which we took to the island to open. Then we drank the water mixed with rum, a very refreshing and very fitting drink for an island in the Caribbean we thought.
San Blas islands

San Blas islands


San Blas islands

San Blas islands


Kuna woman

Kuna woman

We visited different islands every day of the trip, all of them beautiful! The only thing that spoiled the beauty of the islands a bit was the large amount of rubbish lying on the beaches, some of it brought there by the currents, some left there by tourists or the Kuna themselves.
San Blas islands

San Blas islands


San Blas islands

San Blas islands


San Blas islands

San Blas islands

One of the guys was being very creative and made sailorhats for himself and his friend out of cut off trouser legs and also created a little person out of dried coconut, who we named Wilson (like in the movie Cast Away).
Meet Wilson

Meet Wilson

On the third day, some of us had just reached a big island by swimming there from the boat, when the sky became very grey. We walked along the beach and into the island a bit. There we found a coconut tree growing out of a fallen coconut which we decided to take back to the boat as a decorative plant for the captain. At this moment it suddenly started becoming very windy, so we decided we'd better swim back before a storm would start. The sea was much rougher now and it was hard swimming back with waves constantly swashing over our heads. We made it back fine, but three more people had swum to the island and they were not back yet and were out of sight. It soon started raining and we started to get slightly worried. But they came back soon, telling us the story of how they tried to walk around the island, not noticing how big it was.

Unfortunately, after that first rainy afternoon, we had some rain every afternoon, so that we were stuck inside the boat half of the days. We still had a good time inside though, reading, playing cards, chatting, helping with the food preparations etc.

The same day, we bought some lobsters off the Kuna. They cost only $4.75 per pound and were huge! That night, we had a big lobster dinner. For some of us (including me) it was the first time we ate lobster, so we found this very exciting. For a long time, we were all busy taking apart the animals, trying to get to every piece of meat we could find. We realised quickly that 1 per person was too much with lobsters of this size, so we put the rest in the fridge to eat the next day. It ended up being eating in the middle of the next night, when we wanted a little snack after drinking some rum. Lobster as a midnight snack, who would have imagined that? ;)
Fresh lobster

Fresh lobster


Before

Before


After

After


All stuffed but happy after our big lobster dinner

All stuffed but happy after our big lobster dinner

That night, we all got bitten by sandflies. Some of the others were kept awake by this. I felt nothing during the night, but discovered some bites in the morning. In the afternoon, the sandflies were suddenly back and this time many more of them! We had thousands of them flying all over the boat and biting us all over our bodies. One of the girls knew the trick of putting oil on the skin, so that the flies can't bite you. This worked pretty well, but we still got bitten by some. We then also got covered in dead sandflies which drowned in the layer of oil and got stuck on our skin. We all dressed up in long-sleeved and -legged clothes to protect ourselves. Some people looked more like on a cruise in Antarctica than in the Carribean. The only thing that really helped though was changing positions and sailing somewhere further away from the islands. Unfortunately we took quite a few of the flies with us this way and still got some bites during the rest of the afternoon and night. My legs are still covered in small red spots!
Dressing up to protect against the sandflies

Dressing up to protect against the sandflies

That morning we had been near a shipwreck where we went snorkeling. It was impressive. The wreck itself was really interesting to see, but on top of that there were corrals all around it and we saw many fish, and even squids.

Some of the guys were trying to catch fish during the whole trip, and on the last day, they finally succeeded. But they did not catch any fish, it was a huge barracuda! The captain straight away killed the fish, changed the lunch plans and prepared the barracuda. It was a really tasty last lunch! And the 13 of us could have eaten 2 meals of it...
The boys caught a barracuda <img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

The boys caught a barracuda :)


Look at these teeth!

Look at these teeth!


Barracuda

Barracuda

We were all sad to leave the boat after 5 days. We had such a good time on this trip! But fo course we were also excited to see more of Central America.

As a little extra, I will now tell you a short story, 'the Story of the Hungry Gecko':
A little gecko visited our dinner table one night. He seemed thirsty, so we gave him some of our rum to try...

A little gecko visited our dinner table one night. He seemed thirsty, so we gave him some of our rum to try...


...The gecko did not like the pure rum very much, but nevertheless he gave the cuba libre a try...

...The gecko did not like the pure rum very much, but nevertheless he gave the cuba libre a try...


...Even mixed with coke, the rum was too strong for the little gecko. We thought he might like beer better and poured him a sip. He was not satisfied with this either...

...Even mixed with coke, the rum was too strong for the little gecko. We thought he might like beer better and poured him a sip. He was not satisfied with this either...


...Since the gecko did not like any of our drinks, we thought he might be hungry. The leftover sausage from our dinner seemed to be just the right thing for him. Unfortunately, the gecko has high blood pressure and can't eat such fatty foods...

...Since the gecko did not like any of our drinks, we thought he might be hungry. The leftover sausage from our dinner seemed to be just the right thing for him. Unfortunately, the gecko has high blood pressure and can't eat such fatty foods...


...Finally, our little friend was attracted by the sweet smell of Oreos...

...Finally, our little friend was attracted by the sweet smell of Oreos...


...He loved the biscuits, so he disappeared in the packet and ate till he fell asleep. Or did he have a heart attack?... The (open) end

...He loved the biscuits, so he disappeared in the packet and ate till he fell asleep. Or did he have a heart attack?... The (open) end

Posted by sarahm_lux 19:21 Archived in Panama Tagged san_blas Comments (0)

Cartagena

Colonial buildings, good food and the Caribbean sea

semi-overcast 30 °C
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When I got to Cartagena on Thursday night I immediately loved the city.

The centre is basically the old town and is full with beautiful colonial buildings. That part of town has a really nice atmosphere, everybody's always on the streets, there are fruit and other food vendors everywhere and there are many nice bars and restaurants around. You can go for a walk on the walls of the city and see the Caribbean sea on one side and the city on the other. It's beautiful! Unfortunately, you also can't walk 5 steps without somebody trying to sell you something or, if you're a girl, some Colombian guy trying to chat you up.
Cartagena

Cartagena


Cartagena

Cartagena


Cartagena

Cartagena


Cartagena

Cartagena


Cartagena

Cartagena

In the newer part of Cartagena there are many high rise buildings, and there are also the city's beaches. The beaches are not amazing, but they are nice and pretty quiet. On the beach it is even worse though with the people trying to sell you things. Hats, sarongs, t-shirts, jewellery, fruits, crabs and massages are all on offer.
Cartagena

Cartagena


Cartagena

Cartagena

I was staying in a very nice relaxed hostel with really cool - though a bit crazy ;) - staff. As usual I knew many of the people staying there already from other places. I also randomly met an American girl in a restaurant on Sunday. We got along very well and so we met up every day after that to go eat or to the beach.
Hostel people

Hostel people


Last lunch with my American friend

Last lunch with my American friend

I had some really good food in Cartagena, and unlike in the rest of Colombia, it was possible to get the good food for relatively low prices. I finally went to eat some Indian food again! It was really good, the best I've had in South America. I also found a restaurant owned by a German woman, which had great breakfasts and a really good chicken salad for lunch; these all came with really good sour dough bread! Good bread for the second time within a week, I almost couldn't believe it ;) One day I ate a very tasty fresh fish in a restaurant on a beach and I also went to eat some good cheap pizza. On the beach, I ate some great Colombian ceviche (very different from the Peruvian or Ecuadorian versions, but also good).
This being my last stop in Colombia and South America, I ate all the typical fruits once more and of course a last arepa with cheese. Alright, I'll stop telling you all about what I ate now. You've already realised that it was far too much in any case.
Chicken salad

Chicken salad


Ceviche on the beach

Ceviche on the beach


Pitahaya

Pitahaya

I took a tour from Cartagena, which brought me to the Volcán Totumo, a volcano with a crater filled with mud. You can go into the crater and bathe in the mud. It was very strange at first, but then it was a lot of fun playing around in the mud. When you get out of the volcano you have to go into a lagoon to wash off the mud as good as you can before getting back on the bus. There are women there offering to help you wash for 3000 pesos. They are so aggressive though that it is almost impossible to refuse their help. They actually pushed some people down into the water and just started throwing water at them with their buckets.
The mud volcano

The mud volcano


In the mud volcano

In the mud volcano


After the mud volcano

After the mud volcano

Posted by sarahm_lux 19:23 Archived in Colombia Tagged cartagena mud_volcano volcán_totumo Comments (0)

Back in Taganga

My first diving course

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When I finally had gotten back to Taganga on Saturday night, I couldn't wait to shower, eat something and then go out. I met some guys in the hostel who I had some beers and then went out with. When we walked around town and to the club, I started meeting people I knew everywhere. I met the Australian who I went to the jungle with in Ecuador, the Swiss girl who was on the ferry in Chile with me and who I had travelled with for a bit afterwards, the Colombian guy I had gone out to party with in Medellín and a girl I knew from Latacunga. The crazy world of travelling! Knowing so many people around, I had a great time and a bit of a crazy night which lasted until 6 in the morning.
Taganga by night

Taganga by night

The next day was a day to relax, meet up with some friends, go out for another nice dinner and go to sleep very early to be fit for the start of the diving course in the morning.

I took the course with a Canadian girl from the hostel, it was only the two of us. Before the first dive I was pretty nervous, but the diving turned out ot be really great! Our instructor was really good too! He was very patient and explained things well.

So the next 3 days, we spent diving and studying for the diving. The were quite a few people in the hostel taking an open water course at the same time, so that the rooftop terrace was full with people studying in the afternoons and at night.

On the 3rd day, we finally took the exam, which we passed easily. It was then time to celebrate! We went for a cocktail at a beach bar. Later we had a really nice French dinner at the hostel (filet mignon, ratatouille and croquettes!! so good!) and then went out for some more cocktails and some dancing.
Very very tasty French food

Very very tasty French food


Celebrating our passed diving exams

Celebrating our passed diving exams


Night out with loads of new divers <img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Night out with loads of new divers ;)

After a great breakfast in a pretty little cafe in the morning, I got ready to leave Taganga.
Real bread, a rarity in South America

Real bread, a rarity in South America

Posted by sarahm_lux 18:37 Archived in Colombia Tagged scuba_diving taganga Comments (0)

Tayrona National Park

Finally some nice Caribbean beaches!

semi-overcast 30 °C
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I spent Friday and Saturday in Tayrona National Park which is close to Taganga and Santa Marta. I went there with the Slovenian girl mentioned in the last post. After the bus journey and a long hike to the first beach and the Finca where we were going to stay the night, we were ready to go explore the beaches in the park, hoping very much that they would finally be beautiful and clean.

We had to walk for a while longer to get to the first beach at which you can swim. When we got there, we found that it was very nice, but also very small.
Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park


Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park

That night was my first time sleeping in a hammock. Luckily there weren't as many mosquitoes as I had expected and the night passed pretty well, except that my neck was hurting when I woke up.

Saturday morning, we walked further into the park and reached a beach called Cabo San Juan. Finally, this was a really nice beach! There was enough space, many palmtrees and clean warm water. I really enjoyed the hours we spent there lying in the sun! So relaxing!
Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park


Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park

After we got back to the campsite and had a rest, I started walking back to the exit of the park, where a bus to Taganga was waiting for me, while the other girl decided to stay in the park another night.

The minibus that was bringing me back into town left on time and as opposed to the day before, when we came with a full bus, there were only 5 passengers. 2 of them were Colombians who got dropped off somewhere in Santa Marta. The other 2 were getting on a bus to Bogotá that night, so they got brought to the bus station in Santa Marta. This meant that it was only me and the driver left to go to Taganga. By the time we had dropped all the others off it had started raining very heavily. When we entered the centre of Santa Marta, many streets had been turned into real rivers and the water was more than knee-deep in some places.
Santa Marta under water

Santa Marta under water


Santa Marta under water

Santa Marta under water

This unfortunately lead to water getting into the engine of the minibus, so that the engine died and the bus wouldn't start anymore. The driver managed to get us into a shallower parts where we had to wait about 20 minutes for the engine to dry. We were then able to continue, but the same thing happen all over again just a little bit further along the road. This time some local boys offered to push us out of the deep part and then we waited again... When we finally left Santa Marta, we picked up a group of people waiting for some way to get to Taganga since there were no busses or taxis going anymore. At 7.30 we reached Taganga!

Posted by sarahm_lux 17:48 Archived in Colombia Tagged tayrona Comments (0)

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