Sunday, March 30, 2008

Scuba Diving AGAIN!

Well, we went again, but I`ll blog about it in detail in my next entry...I just wanted to add a note about the so called "spiderfish". The reason I couldn`t find a photo of it is that it`s actually called an arrow crab, and I`ve found a picture below!

We also took a camera with us this time, so I have uploaded all our photos onto my bebo, and we have a few videos - which are also on bebo too! I`ve stuck the video of the spiderfish (as I will forever call him!!) up here too, to show how brilliant it was!!!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Scuba Sarah!

Just a quick blog to say that today I scuba dived for the first time! And it was WOW amazing! Myself and Alan signed up with Tayrona Diving here in Taganga yesterday, and this morning we presented ourselves nervously at 8.00am for the course! When we arrived we were sized for wet suits, flippers, goggles and other sundries, then we - along with the other divers, two Americans and a Dane - went into a wee room and watched the PADI video...which was extremely cheezy, but very informative. There is so much to know about the scuba equipment!! It`s all so technical, and you really have to pay strict attention to the breathing techniques and the equalisation stuff (basically holding your nose and blowing out your ears to equalise pressure, but you have to do it every meter of descent, so it`s important stuff!). Also, clearing your mask by holding it tight above your eyes and blowing through your nose may seem like an obvious one, but when you`re 18 meters down, it`s a different story! The light seems very far away above you, and a mouth full of sea water is always freaky....

Anyway, after all of this instruction, we set off on the boat for Park Tayrona`s calm it is a National Park, the coral and fish life is pretty well preserved and untouched by fishermen and tourists. We thought perhaps we`d be in our depth for the first dive of the day but no, we had to jump fully kitted out from the boat into deep-ish water! Eeeek! So, we had our weights put on over our wetsuit, and the backpack attached with our buoyancy device, as well as the tank of air on our backs. The breathing piece was already in our mouths, and you had to just hold your mask with one hand, and the weights with the other, and take a big leap of faith into the water! Very strange feeling, for the first time, when you`re breathing through the mask underwater! Myself and Alan were taken out by Chopper, one of the instructers, and the others went ahead with another guy - the two Americans were qualified diver, and the Danish girl, unfortunately for her, had trouble with her ears, and couldn`t actually dive at all today. Anyway, Chopper let out enough air to bring us just underwater, and then we practised techniques like what happens if your airpiece falls out, and how to clear the water from your goggles. We also went through all the hand signals that we needed to know for safe diving. Then we were off!

On the first dive, we went to a depth of 10 meters, and Chopper held on to both our hands, and guided us through the rocks and coral below. We saw amazing things, the best of which was when he guided us down to the bottom, and we knelt on the sand as he showed us a spider fish below the rock, then took it out and held it on his hand, then passed it onto my hand, then on to Alan`s.....bright yellow, with long spindly legs and a triangular face. Singularily the weirdest thing I`ve ever seen! It looked like it was from a different planet! I couldn`t find a picture of it, because I don`t think I have the right name! We also saw a huge yellow eel - called a Moray eel, which was pretty freaky looking! I wish I had a photo of the spider fish thing though, because it was definitely the weirdest thing I`ve ever seen!

We came up after a while, and got back on the boat, and had lunch in a lovely secluded cove in Tayrona, then back out for dive two! This time, Chopper was much more adventurous with us, and he only held my hand for the first ten minutes! Ha ha.... But he let us just follow him as we swam to depths of 18 meters - a lot of pressure is felt at this depth, believe me, so I have no idea how anyone goes deeper! It was freaky looking upwards and not really seeing the surface clearly, because it was so far above you! This time we got to see amazingly coloured fish, and they weren`t afraid of you, and almost brushed up against you sometimes. Really strange! We saw some amazing coral, too - and little plants that snapped shut when you came near, but if you were a bit away, you could see their little wavey tentacle-like leaves swaying in the current as though by a breeze. It really is a garden down there! We saw huge seaweed structures and coral that looked like trees! Chopper spotted some yellow tentacle things sticking out from under rocks - the looked like octopus legs - and got me to grab one, and it immediately started pulling away from felt like a furry water balloon filled with guts!! Alan touched it, and thought it was pretty disgusting too! Yeuch!! Ha ha....

Then we went across some rocks, and Chopper pointed below us, and we saw huge tentacles/pincers/antannae sticking out from under the rock! Kinda freaked me a little! But as we got closer we saw the big and curious face of a lobster! And as we went over the rock, we discovered at least six more, and some of them were in extremely clear view, so we could see their full bodies. Absolutely amazing!! I know I keep saying that, but there`s no other way to describe it, there really isn`t..... I also saw a guy with a weird split in his tail, a photo of which is below - Alan didn`t get to see him, as I spotted him before he went behind a rock, but he was bloody brilliant!

So, I`ve attached a few photos to show SOME of the fish we saw today - because believe me, if you can dream a colour, we saw it swimming in the Caribbean today! It`s a pity we couldn`t take underwater shots, because it would be great to have visual aids when explaining it, but the memories I will take from today are vivid and colourful, and won`t fade in a hurry!!! That will have to be some consolation.......

Definitely one of the most amazing things I`ve ever done, and we`re thinking of doing another dive here, and definitely of doing another dive in Cuba!! How lucky am I? Believe me, I know it.
This trip just gets better and better!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Music and Cartagena

God, I am so thankfull for my music!! And my audio books on the MP3 player - without them I`d never get to sleep! So, in honour of my Sony MP3 player, I have created a new playlist - it`s quite long, to cover the overnight bus journeys and whatnot. I have christened it `Sing-Along-Aling`, and I can`t wait to get into my car with it and belt out the songs out loud! So, here it order.

Just dropped in (to see what condition my condition was in) - Kenny Rogers
Here Comes Your Man - Pixies
Common People - Pulp
Take on Me - a-Ha
SOS - Abba
Jackson - Johnny Cash
Starman - David Bowie
Red Right Hand - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Goin` Out West - Tom Waits
Your Touch - The Black Keys
Love Burns - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Joga - Bjork
Southern Man - Neil Young
Where Did You Sleep Last Night - Nirvana
Gallows Pole - Led Zeppelin
Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd
Let Down - Radiohead
(Song for my) Sugerspun Sister - The Stone Roses
NYC - Interpol
Space Oddity - David Bowie
Paranoid Android - Radiohead
We are Nowhere, and it`s now - Bright Eyes feat. Emmelou Harris
Lola - The Kinks
The Battle of Evermore - Led Zeppelin
Out of Time - Blur
The Weight - The Band
The Times They are a Changin`- Bob Dylan
Something - The Beatles
Sloop John B - The Beach Boys
Get Back - The Beatles
Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
Dreaming of You - The Coral
Hotel Yorba - The White Stripes
Touch Me - The Doors
Black Betty - Ram Jam
Standing in the way of control - The Gossip
Someday - The Strokes
Trampled Under Foot - Led Zeppelin
Tightrope - The Stone Roses
Karma Police - Radiohead
I am the Resurrection - The Stone Roses
Offend in Every Way - The White Stripes
Fake Tales of San Fransisco - The Artic Monkeys
The Bucket - Kings of Leon
Whiskey in the Jar - Thin Lizzy
Take Me Out - Franz Ferdinand
Clint Eastwood - Gorillaz
On the Other Side - The Strokes
Love will tear us apart - Joy Division
Don`t Let Me Be Misunderstood - Nina Simone
Where the Wild Roses Grow - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds feat. Kylie
Get Myself Arrested - Gomez
Psycho Killer - Talking Heads
Ain`t Got No/I Got Life - Nina Simone
Goddess on the Highway - Mercury Rev
Both Sides, Now - Joni Mitchell
Me and Bobby McGee - Janis Joplin
The Sound of Silence - Simon & Garfunkle
So Long, Marianne - Leanard Cohen
Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley

So, that`s my favourite songs to sing along to, all in the one playlist - 60 songs in all!! I`m very proud of it, and love listening to it, and wreck Alan`s head all the time by lying in bed singing along (badly!!). My guitar playing is coming along - Alan says I`m getting really good, but my chord changes are still really slow, a là Father Ted....i.e. "hang on I can get this one....FIELD!". But I love playing it, and love learning new songs, so hopefully that stands to me. Also, I have huge newfound respect for people who play guitar and sing along - it`s like rubbing your stomach and patting your head! Very tough!! So I`m sure I`m not quite a `pleasure` to listen to just yet...

We`re just back from Cartagena, where we spent three nights. Myself and Alan didn`t go on the Lost City trek with the other lads, and decided instead to head off to the most romantic city on the Caribbean, or so it`s called - `The Paris of the North`, I think is the phrase most often used. And it was GORGEOUS!! Imagine a smaller version of Barcelona - the old city - with a Caribbean backdrop! It was beautiful! And we ate in gorgeous restaurants, and strolled through the cobbled streets gazing at wonderful flowers draping from wooden balconies overhead, or strolled through ancient churches and old city wall ruins. We even visited a dungeon in the outer city walls, at the water - brilliant! All the buildings were painted wonderfully bright colours - reds, blues and yellows - so every photo looks fantastic! We didn`t do much there but wander about, but we had a lovely time, and it was very nice to be away with just Alan, so I`m really looking forward to Cuba now, when we`ll have more time to ourselves. Not that I don`t love and adore the other guys, you understand, but sometimes a couple DOES need time to themselves!! Ha ha....

So, we`re back in Taganga now, in the Hotel Delphin, and we`ve just booked ourselves into a day`s scuba diving tomorrow, where we`ll head out to Park Tayrona, and hopefully get to see some coral reefs! Very nervous about it - but also extremely excited! The lads come back tomorrow evening, so we`ll see them then, after our days adventure.....fingers crossed it all goes well, now!!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ah, the Caribbean...

Well, we`re finally here....the Caribbean! We couldn`t make it to Cartagena, as it is the beginning of Semana Santa (Holy Week) over here, so everyone´s on holiers. So, instead, we headed to Santa Marta, across the bay. We took a 10.00pm bus from Medallin, which was comfortable enough - mainly due to my finally having learned the lesson to take my sleeping bag onboard! At about 10.00am we changed buses to a very much more bedraggled version of our bus, stuffy and hot and very very dirty! My seat was broken, so I spent the entire journey on the knees of the woman behind me.......

Anyway, as the bus wound away from Baranquilla - where we had swapped vehicles - the Caribbean came into sight for the first time in the sunlight! Impossibly blue, and very inviting looking, it was everything I hoped for! We arrived in blistering sunshine to Santa Marta - so far so good! - and found a hostel quickly enough...Hotel Mirimar, near the shore. A converted old building, it was pretty horrible and dirty, but clean enough and cheap enough to tempt us! At 10000 pesos (about 3.50 euro), it fit the bill, despite a cockroach running straight over my foot as I used the loo.....

Rather than stay in the sweltering heat in a town, we took a taxi out to the nearby Taganga village, where the beaches were supposed to be better, and took a long swim in the cool blue/green waters. How good it felt after such a long journey! The bay around Taganga was gorgeous, and keeps a nice breeze flowing through the area. We ate in the hostel that night, as the trip the night before had tired us out. Next day we upped sticks to Tagana, the lads to Casa Blanca at one end of the bay, and myself and Alan to the cheaper Hotel Delphin at the other end....cheaper because if we want to have a shower, brush our teet, or even flush a toilet, we have to go downstairs and ask at the desk for the water to be turned on in our room........

As soon as we were settled in our respective residences, we went to a scuba school and rented snorkelling gear for the rest of the day - 15000 for flippers, mask and snorkle (about 5.25 euro - the same price as our room per night). We then walked down to the shore, where any of the fishermen will take you around the headland to the Playa Grande over the other side, which is supposed to be better for snorkelling. We nabbed a boat for 5000 pesos return (about 1.90 euro), and headed off to our destination. Around the headland it`s slightly wider, and the bay stretches along fishing areas as well as swimming beaches. We snorkelled for a few hours, but boats passed very close and scared of a few of the bigger fish - in fact, I surfaced at one stage to see Alan ahead of me snorkelling away in the water, as a boat drew nearer his head. I started shouting at him but, of course, he couldn`t hear me. The boat-driver did, however, and spotted Alan, and cut his engines. The boat drifted towards him, though, and Alan surfaced just in time to push himself away from the prow of the boat and avoid getting clunked!! After all that watching fish, we decided to chow down on a beautiful fish dinner in a beach-side restaurant - which was absolutely delicious! The nicest fish - and so fresh - that I have tasted in a long time. The fishermen all traipse along the shores carrying fish and selling them to restaurants, so the meals are extremely cheap, and extremely fresh! Lovely! As it was Paddy`s Day, we took a couple of drinks down to the beach to watch the waves and listen to the sounds of relaxation - though I wasn`t drinking. First Paddy`s Day for a long time that I didn`t drink, but believe me when I say that snorkelling in the Caribbean all day more than makes up for it......

Today we got up early and had breakfast in the sunshine, then hired the snorkles again and headed off around the headland to the left of Taganga, and it was immensely better! We were far from boats and people, and the waters were filled with canyons of rock and gardens of sea urchins and seaweeds....colours I had never seen before in plants, and urchins the size of footballs calmly waving in the current! And the fish were unbelievable - from yellow and black striped ones, to pink with black eyes, to bright blue, to green with silver heads, to neon yellow, to pure black.....every colour you could think of swam by us as we gazed enraptured at the underwater world we are so often exempt from. Wow! We spent literally hours in the water, and are only taking a break now in the hottest part of the day before heading back in later. It is seriously addictive stuff!

The rest of the lads are doing the Lost City trek tomorrow, but myself and Alan are going to head to Cartagena instead, and up to Playa Blanca on the islands. We have booked our tickets to Cuba - flying from Caracas to Havana, 20 April to 9 May - so we`re both very excited, and a little strapped for cash!! We`ve decided that we might do the PADI course in scuba diving, as there is an island off Cuba with some of the best drop-offs in the Caribbean, beauitful coral reefs, and about 60 shipwrecks off the coast, so we`d love to scuba dive through all of that! Taganga is one of the cheapest places in the world to do the PADI course, and Ed has been talking of doing it the entire time we`ve been travelling - myself and Alan are going to do a `fun dive` before committing to the course, to make sure we like it, but judging by how much fun we have had with the snorkles, it`s definitely on the cards!

After that, the plan is to hit Parque Tayrona, which has beautiful white-sand beaches, and we can rent hammocks in little beach-side huts along the coast. After that, the west coast of Venezuela before flying over to gorgeous Cuba! Money bedamned.......I`ll be coming home up to my neck in debt, but every second of work back home will be worth it, because this is the trip of a lifetime!!

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Ah, travel update. Well, I left you last in Lima, where we were passing the hot, lazy days in the cinema in Miraflores, or whiling away our time eating cheap delicious food (though, also eating a lot of fast food, as our hostel was barricaded on all sides by McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Burger King and KFC). We finished our cinema madness with the incredibly moronic, yet strangely entertaining, Rambo 4...if only the real Burmese junta were as easy to oust, eh? Myself, Alan and Welly also took a stroll to the beach, and spent a frustrating hour climbing down a shingle slope to pounding Pacific waves, which threw me on my ass more times than I care to mention and, on one memorable washing-machine experience, almost tore my bikini off....exposing some unwilling surfers to probable blindness!! But, it was refreshing to swim again, and as it was only my second dip in the Pacific, I savoured the swim/battle with the waves. The situation in Ecuador was fast deteriorating, so bus travel was definitely out. We searched and searched for cheap flights to Bogota, but all the airlines were coming in at about the same (high) price, so we settled on all-inclusive flights with LAN for 300 dollars...pricey, but our only option at that stage. I had some fond memories (mainly of Dunkin Dohnuts) of the airport in Lima, and spent the check-in stages wandering around the Duty Free shop, finally finding a solitary bar of Cadbury`s, and thinking myself blessed! We also found a multi-country adaptor, which is something we`ve been searching for all trip, but as we went to pay for it, with the dollars Alan had just purchased from the bank downstairs in the airport, we discovered that one of our $20 bills was a fake!! Damn it! It was too late to go back from airside, and then come through security again, so we had to pass the situation off to experience, and I whipped out old flexible friend to salvage things. The flight was very comfortable, and we were given free drinks and a little snack on the way. Myself and Alan made a deal that I would be at the window for this flight over the Andes, and then he could have the window for flying to Cuba. Unfortunately, I came off rather rawly on that plan, as the weather was low and cloudy for the entire flight, so I saw narry a mountain!!

Bogota airport, when we landed, was TINY! Mostly prefabricated, and fairly lacking in anything in the way of facilities, it was a bit of a shock after the modern hub of Lima. Immigration was fine - despite my worry! I swear, I cannot step near one of those immigration men without somehow feeling criminal, and I begin to sweat and turn red at the thoughts that I must look suspicious to them, and the more I try to look LESS suspicious, the more I feel like I look suspicious. Vicious circle! I also always worry that somehow, between my getting on the plane and walking through, someone has managed to stow four kilos of coke in my bag. It`s a constant worry! Anyway, in the event, the guys were quite friendly. They spoke only Spanish, which didn`t really settle my nerves, because I worried that any hesitation in answering their questions would lead to my being brought into the eponomous "back" for questioning! One question he asked me, "De dondè pais?", was said so softly that I was forced to say "Què?"....he leaned forward and repeated his question.....I said "Irlanda", and his head shot up quickly..."Norte o Sud?", he snapped...."Sud!", I replied. He smiled, relaxed, and said "Bienvinidos a Colombia".....phew!! Damn those `Colombian Three`....they`ve shot my nerves to shit!

Outside we procured a van very similar to the A-Team, to my travelling companions delight, and proceeded into the city to find our hostel, Chopi-Norte, and settle into the city. The omens were not good - low cloud hung across the grey skyline, and a decided chill hit us as we exited the airport. The taxi driver could not find the exact address of the hostel, so we hopped out of our taxi on the street where it was supposed to be situated, confident that it must be close by. As an intersection was listed, we took off in four seperate directions on the streets attempting to find the elusive place, but to no avail. To top it all off, it began to rain, so we took shelter beneath a building. A student passed by, and I showed him the address. He couldn`t help, but a nearby lollipop lady heard our query, and came over to try give aide. And the funny thing is, they both looked so startled to find tourists in their city that they couldn`t stop staring at us! She asked me where we were from, and when I said Ireland, there was such a look of wonder in her face, you´d swear she`d never met an Irish person before. Come to think of it, she probably hadn`t! For those of you who are unaware, due to the activies of the Colombian Three, Irish people were banned from entering Colombia until January of last year, and since then we haven`t exactly been flooding in droves to the country ever since, perhaps the lollipop lady´s shock was not so shocking. Anyway, she had never heard of our hostel either, but ran off into the rain - which was now falling in earnest! A few minutes later, she came running back and beckoned me to follow her, so we all picked up our bags and jogged after her to a little restaurant close-by. The men in the restaurant were apparently expecting us, because they took the address from my hands as soon as I got through the door. They bade us sit down, and put our bags in the corner, as they discussed the address amongst themselves for a while, before dashing out again into the heavy rain. We sat open-mouthed as the man from the restaurant next door came in to add his sixpence to the proceedings, and they all ran about in the rain trying to find our hostel for us. Eventually, the owner let me use his internet, and we found a better address. He looked thrilled on seeing it, and asking me to go with him, we ran out into the rain and across the road, where we found a pathetic A-4 sheet of paper hidden in a dark corner proclaiming the Chopi-Norte hostel - and he looked as thrilled as I was to find it! We arrived back in the restaurant like conquering heroes, his waiters and the man from next door shaking our hands and laughing delightedly at our success. We felt it was only fair to have a drink in their restuarant, as they had been so helpful, and as we sat sipping, the waiter dropped over two big complimentary bowls of a local piping-hot dish - baby potatoes smothered in butter and salt, and fried pig intestine. Hmmm....we ate quite a few (Alan mainly - after watching him eat raw reindeer in Barcelona, I knew that pig intestine would be no bother to him), but only out of courtesy - I can`t say that I´ll be chasing down that particular culinary experience with too much urgency!! So, leaving our new friends we headed across the street to our hostel, full of the joys of Colombia, and happy with our welcome to this most dangerous of cities! And then the bubble deflated slightly....

Our ´hostel´, which had looked so clean and modern on, was - to use a lovely term from back home - a kip! The three bed dorm advertised for the lads was a double bed with a single bed above it in a bunkbed. The double bed was tiny, and the top bunk was dangerously close to the exposed lightbulb hanging low overhead. The double room that myself and Alan were to sleep in was bare and cold, with a low dirty bed close to the floor - within nibbling distance of rats, as I liked to look at it! Not what we were expecting! There was no facilities, bars on all the doors, and the toilet was horrible, so we went straight to the internet cafe downstairs and booked something else in Bogota for the next night, and left that hole the very next day! Our next hostel was down in the Candeleria section of Bogota - the south of the city, and supposedly the more dangerous part. However, The Bogota B&B was absolutely gorgeous - perhaps even more so due to the horror we just left! - with hammocks hanging indoors, a lovely kitchen, clean spacious rooms, sparkling bathroom and friendly and fun staff. Perfect! We settled in completely, and I had a novel experience! As the hostel was full, I spent my first time of the trip on the top bunk.....usually Alan takes the top, as I am not the most graceful of people, and it has also been pointed out that I am quite clumsy, so rather than suffer my grunts and squeaks as I attempt to haul myself upwards at night, he has taken every top bunk so far. However, due to an Iron Maiden gig in the city, the place was full of people, and I was in one section of the 10-bed dorm, sleeping over a porty Venezuelan man, and Alan on the opposite wall. The portly gentlemen had two friends also sleeping in the dorm, one of whom was on a top bunk end-to-end with mine. That first night was somewhat hellish for me! I have been used to the lads snoring on the trip - I have beaten Bones with an empty water bottle in Buenos Aires, thrown packets of Oreos at Ed in La Paz, and now chucked towels at Welly`s head in Bogota - but I had never had to sleep simultaneously above a strange snorer, and feet-to-feet with another. So, I employed my time-honoured technique of sneak attacks.....first, I held either side of my bunk, and shook myself violently from side to side in quick succession. This woke up the guy below, stopping his snoring momentarily. I knew I had a small window in which to work - snorers return to sleep very quickly! The guy at my feet on the other upper-tier was also nasally challenged, so I leaned forward and grabbed the end of his bed, then gave it two quick, but strong, jerks. He snorted awake, but not before I had returned my head innocently to the pillow, giving a very convincing impression of sleep....I could hear him muttering and looking about him for the disturbance for a while. And in this small break of confusion and startled snorers...and blessed silence...I went to sleep. This was quite a regular occurance, and I`m sure by the third night they knew it was me, but what could they say about it?

Anyway, we stayed in Bogota for a few days, as we were waiting for Mac to arrive up from Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, as he had changed flights recently, and then had to change them back again, he had to stick with a very awkward plan of Buenos Aires to New York, and New York to Bogota....God bless the intellect of airline companies! Anyway, he arrived with us on his birthday, and while Bones and Ed went to the airport to meet him, myself, Alan and Welly cooked up a birthday barbeque and popped some nice wine - and when Ed came back, he broke into a bottle he`d been carrying since Mendoza. Special occassion, and all that! It`s lovely to have Mac back with us - he`s a great travelling companion, interested in everything about him, and always able to meet new people with a smile. So, once we were all sufficiently lazed up in this hostel, we moved on to Medallin. It is called `The City of Eternal Spring`, and we were very much hoping that this would be the case, as Bogota was one long dreary rainy visit. Coupled with the fact that you can`t really go out after dark in Bogota, and the fact that you have to carry a photocopy of your passport and a leaflet with your residence listed for police checkpoints, we were looking forward to a city with less restrictions on our travel. The other strange thing about Bogota was the lack of other tourists! We were in the main sections of the town, strolling about, and could see neither hide nor hair of anyone remotely foreign looking. If there were any other gringos in town, then they were winning a monster game of hide-and-seek!!

We took an overnight bus from Bogota, and it was bloody freezing, and the driver drove like a frickin lunatic, so every corner he hit I was practically thrown off the seat. Needless to say, I didn`t sleep much! We met a student on board who invited us to a college party in Medallin, where there would be many international students - but no Irish. Anyway, we arrived in Medallin and headed out to Casa del Sol, a hostel recommended to us by our previous hosts, which turned out to be fabulous. Samuel, his pregnant girlfriend Paula, and their friend Diana welcomed us like friends, and we relaxed into their lovely clean hostel at once. Medellin has equally turned out to be a beautiful and open-armed town. Obviously the wealth has all come from non-savoury means - this is, after all, Pablo Escobar`s town - but you cannot help but be impressed by the winding streets, teracotta tiling, and surrounding hills. It really is a beautiful town! The metro is, as usual in every city we`ve come across with a metro, indispensible! For about 45 cents you can go anywhere in the city! And the ticket even includes a long cable car ride up into the hills, which we took last Sunday in the blistering sunshine. The suburban area it lets down in - after all, it is not a tourist attraction, but merely a convenient means by which to traverse a very steep incline to a section of the city - was teeming with people, kids playing in the parks, music coming from every home, families strolling in the streets...a real party atmosphere. It was lovely! And, yet again, we seem to be the only tourists in the place! Strange feeling....

We have ended up spending a week here, despite our intentions to only stay a few days. This happens a lot when you are travelling - you find a homely hostel, and get used to the area, and you settle in. It`s no bad thing, but we need to head for the coast soon, as everyone is on something of a time limit. Myself and Alan are trying to buy tickets for Cuba at the minute, but the Cubana website isn`t working. We`re gonna fly from Caracas, so that means we head to the coast and then overland into Venezuela by mid-April. Alan`s cousin, Stephen, who plays for Cardiff City is in the semi-final of the FA Cup in April, and we`re raging we`re not gonna be there for it! We think, if they get into the final, we might fly home early to try see the game, as it is only a week and a half before we are due home anyway. After all, it`s not every day something like this happens!!

While we have been in Colombia, the government stormed into Ecuador and bombed a FARC training camp, killing a leading official. The Ecuadorians were obviously not impressed, and sent troops to the border and ambassadors were pulled home. In the raid, Colombia discovered evidence that Chavez had funded the FARC`s, and threw the gauntlet down at Venezuela, who responded similarily to Ecuador. So, both borders were lined with troops, and some action seemed iminent. However, it was all resolved in a handshake, so we should be safe to continue with our travels!! Fingers crossed, eh??

So, that`s things pretty much up to date. Cartagena is our next port of call, by overnight bus tonight, so here`s hoping for sunshine, sand, and blue, blue ocean.......

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Thoughts from the dark country...

I´ll update things soon enough on the travel end of things - I´m writing this from Medallin in central Colombia - but for the moment, I´m gonna have a little brainstorm.

I´ve been feeling sorry for myself these past couple of days - feeling very homesick, missing the kids, wanting time to myself (very hard being in a dorm so constantly), worrying about people - but it has all been thrown into perspective by recent events. A friend´s sister´s boyfriend just died while on holidays in Buenos Aires - in fact, we met both of them merely two months ago in La Paz - and he was just so young, and it´s made me think about things a little harder. Since we left Ireland in October my cousin has died from lung cancer, my Mam has gone through more chemotherapy for her own cancer, an old school friend died from kidney failure, a seemingly solid relationship has collapsed around us all, a friend has had a baby, another friend has also had a baby, yet another friend is fulfilling his dream of returning to Africa, and so many other things of varying degrees of importance. It feels like life has not only carried on without us, but has accelerated to an alarming rate. To have a son, boyfriend, friend not return from a holiday you blithly waved them off on? To have a baby appear in your life with little notice? To see someone your own age waste away from illness? To know your cousin is dying in hospital, but be 3000 miles away? To worry constantly about your family? To have someone you trust break your heart? All these things are playing on my mind today, and all these things are forcing me to accept that changes need to be made in my life.

So, here`s the first thing. I am going to try to be a better person. And I don`t mean in the miniscule sense of the world - I give to charity, I fundraise, I am nice to kids, etc. etc. - but in the broader sense. As Alan always tells me, sometimes I´m nicer to people I don´t know - I care more about children in Africa or Thailand than I do about my friends or the people I know. So, for once, I´ll admit that Alan is right - but don`t tell him that. I´m gonna try to accentuate the positive in my personality, and subdue the negative. To this end, I´m making a bit of a list of things that I know I do wrong, and I´m sure I´ll get agreement on each and every one.... For example: I judge people too quickly, and build dislike for someone quicker than I build like; I am very unforgiving of weaknesses and faults - I will decide somebody is not a good person based on single actions; I over-analyze everything about a situation; I have a very quick temper.

There are certain things that I won`t be able to change so drastically, so I won`t pretend that I can. I have a low opinion of liars, and I always will - somebody who is two-faced and hypocritical has never been worthy of my respect, and never will be. But I´m definitly gonna work on the rest of it!

These past few months have galvanized in me a sense that I should be back in college, should be studying, should be a teacher, and should help change the world, if I can at all. But they´ve also taught me that I had tolerance even more than I had expected, and it´s time to put that tolerance to good use. So, in light of the terrible tragedies that have effected so many people close to me these past few months, I hereby make a vow to change for the better, and try lead a better life.