these two gypsy hands

Dec 2

ruined feet and ruins

We’ve covered a lot of ground since I last posted. We finished our time in Colombia in the capital, Bogota, and unfortunately I don’t have much to report other than eating at Crepes & Waffles three times in one day, and drinking a fair amount of rum.

We decided to blow our budget and fly to Peru, rather than take the disgusting 90 hour bus ride, and we arrived in Cusco on a very chilly morning at 3,310m above sea level. I’d been told that a lot of people get altitude sickness in Cusco, which can include extreme headaches, nausea, blood noses and the like. Jaime was certain I would suffer from all of the above given my ¨weak constitution.¨ Instead I just felt like someone was sitting on my chest most of the time, and usually slightly tipsy.

Cusco is a strange city. It’s the jumping off point for the Inca Trail and visits to Macchu Picchu, and therefore the place is absolutely swarming with tourists. Everywhere you look there are Westerners fully decked out in zip-off hiking pants, fishing vests, camel-back water holders and walking sticks…and this is only down at the coffee strip. It was difficult to digest the sheer magnitude of the tourist industry in Cusco; every shop was either a pìzzeria, tour operator, or ‘authentic’ North Face trekking gear vendor - or all three at once a lot of the time. We eventually booked a four day trek to Macchu Picchu through a toad-like little man named Cesar, who assured us that our plimsoles and leggings would suffice and there was no need to buy zip-off pants.

The trek turned out to be a really good time, mostly due to the fact that we struck it lucky with our group. There was a lovely kiwi couple, a guy from Perth and his Canadian girlfriend, another guy from Perth who I amazingly went to uni with, and two frumpy American guys from Utah. Our guide, Marco, was an absolute lad, and had heaps of amazing stories about working on cocaine farms when he was 9 years old for $3 a week. The actual tour involved a day of cycling down a mountain while it was pissing down with rain (not very enjoyable), and then three days of hiking to get to the coveted MP. The walking wasn’t all that difficult, but my sneakers really didn’t hold up too well, and my little toes still look like half-chewed redskins. The hardest part was dealing with the weather - sunny one minute then raining the next - the mosquitos, and the slow pace of the Utah boys. On the final day they ended up catching a bus up the mountain to MP, whilst the rest of us slogged it out at 4 in the morning to try and catch the sunrise (we missed it).

The mosquitos really deserve a paragraph of their own. Little bastards. Everyone got absolutely ravaged, no matter what percentage of DEET you slathered on, but I apparently got bitten by some other kind of creature that created huge golden blisters on my legs. These blisters were something else; they were yellow in colour and had a kind of glow to them…a little bit like a butter menthol stuck to your ankle. The group took an interest in my growths and decided it would be best if I popped them, in case something had laid eggs in me. So with a lot of peer pressure I eventually slapped one, and this disgusting viscous yellow liquid oozed out (but fortunately no baby spiders). This was a highlight of the morning’s walk for many.

The scenery along the way was beautiful. We walked along the Inca Trail for part of it, right on the edge of a mountain, and it really was amazing to think that the trail runs for 40,000km from Ecuador to Chile. Actually arriving at Macchu Picchu was breath-taking, possibly because we were so stuffed from the last few days, and just because of the grand scale of the thing. It was a blessing arriving so early in the morning, because soon the busses started rolling in and all of the fresh, clean tourists who opted not to walk fill up the site (some women were even wearing heels).

Although I turned my nose up at the plethora of Western style cafes and restaurants lining the streets of Cusco, I have to admit I very much enjoyed my eggs, bacon and mushrooms on returning. Jaime had cinnamon toast with fruit if you were wondering.


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Nov 22

it’s been a good time, colombia


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Nov 19

Fernando Botero, Medellin


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Nov 18

Tayrona National Park, Colombia


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Nov 17

muchos trout

More food. In Salento we found this amazing cafe called Lucy’s that served one set menu every day. We ate there every day. For only 3 dolla you get - vegetable soup with a fresh banana, a huge plate of rice and red beans, grilled trout or chicken, fried platano, platano dumpling and platano some other way AND fresh juice of the day. Massive value. I have eaten so many beans in the past week I’ve developed perpetual gas. Poor Jaime; I am a wind machine.

Other than eat trout, we did some fun things in beautiful Salento. We went to the Corcora Valley to see the famous wax palms that are found nowhere else in the world. This is what they look like:

I was really excited about seeing these palm trees. But we accidentally missed the HUGE SIGN SAYING ‘ENTRADA’ i.e. ENTRANCE and walked straight past the valley and down some godforsaken path to nowhere. We were with a funny German lady whose sole aim was to see the ‘lazy animals,’ or as we deciphered - the sloth. So we ended up doing a gruelling four hour trek up a hideously steep mountain in the opposite direction to the valley, with not a palm in sight. Around the time we reached 3000 metres, we started to realise that perhaps this was not the intended route. Four hours later, we reached the bottom and the real entrance, the weather had turned to shit and I could hardly walk my legs were that sore. Devastated.

Luckily, there are many fat Americans and Europeans who also like to see wax palms, and so the Colombians provide sad little horses for them to sit on instead of walk. So we paid for 3 tired looking horsies to take us through the valley for an hour. I expected this to be a relaxing experience; however, I quickly learnt that I am not much of an equine enthusiast. I spent the majority of the ride in absolute terror of the cajoling beast (although I don’t think we ever broke into a trot - it felt very fast), gripping the reins and screaming at Jaime to tell the thing to slow down. Every now and then I calmed down enough to look up at the palm trees, and yes, they were beautiful.

After Salento we stayed a night in another coffee town called Santa Rosa de Cabal. Our accommodation was arranged by Cristina in Salento, and unfortunately did not live up to her amazing hostpitality. We stayed with a funny little man named Rueben - literally in his back room. Rueben was a bit odd, good-hearted, but seriously annoying. He wanted to show us ‘the real Colombia’ and was full of pearls of wisdom such as, don’t accept any wrapped candy from strangers on the bus. I wanted to gouge his eyeballs out, but thankfully Jaime was very patient and managed to diffuse the situation with soccer conversation.

People go to Santa Rosa solely for the natural hot springs that have been constructed into public baths in the mountains. We went on a national holiday, so the place was absolutely packed and felt just like the local pool down at the Reccy. There were kids and drunk Colombians everywhere, and by the afternoon it all got a bit much and someone laid a turd in the main bath. Everyone had to get out and the pool attendant made a scene of scooping up the log in his catcher, wretching as he walked. Felt just like home.

The other highlight of Santa Rosa was sitting behind twin Colombian albinos on the bus. They had red eyes and were really sunburnt and were wearing sunglasses at 6pm.


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Nov 12

mostly food

After the gastronomical disaster that was Tayrona, the past week has thankfully revealed some of the gourmet delights to be found in Colombia. Some of the highlights have included the discovery of a chain called Crepes y Waffles, which, as the name suggests, serves crepes and waffles. My personal favourite was the warm waffle covered in condensed milk and cognac ice cream…delicious. We have also been smashing the humble Empanada vendor; which is kind of like a samosa but with multiple tasty salsas and guacamoles to choose from. Empanadas go down well accompanied by a fresh sugar cane and lime juice.

We have spent the last five days in a city called Medellin, which is sixteen hours inland from the Caribbean coast. We stayed in an area called Poblado, which can be likened to Perth’s own Dalkieth - gorgeous leafy green streets lined with cafes and patisseries, complete with overly-made up women in velour tracksuits walking their ridiculous tiny dogs. Needless to say, we totally fell in love with the place. Unlike Cartagena, Medellin felt like a city that was really lived in - rather than constructed primarily for tourists. The city has mountains either side, and thousands of houses jutting out of the slopes. As the population grows, the houses creep higher and higher up, while the economic status of its residents decreases. The city centre is diverse and alive; the main plaza is filled with the fat, naked bronze sculptures of Colombian artist Fernando Botero and there is a free cable car line that runs up the mountain slope giving an amazing view of the city. Our days were filled with a lot of wandering and eating and our nights with rum drinking at the hostel.

After five nights in Medellin we definitely felt the need to move on, and so yesterday we traveled to a small town called Salento in the coffee growing region of central Colombia. We decided to take a risk and stay at a hostel not in the guide book (yes we are thrill seekers) - and we struck gold. Our hostel, known simply as Lili’s House, is an absolutely beautiful old colonial house transformed into a guest house. Our room has a balcony that looks out over the street and the owner (who is named Cristina, not Lili - awkward) is the sweetest little lady who is very patient with my dithering Spanish and makes the meanest hot chocolate I’ve tasted. This morning she cooked us an amazing breakfast of eggs, home-made pesto, sliced tomato and melted cheese on the Colombian form of tortilla called ‘arepa.’

We are thinking of staying here a while.


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Nov 5

solo no more

It already seems like such a long time ago that I was waiting at the airport in Cartagena with sweaty palms and heart beating out of control. I couldn’t understand why I was so nervous. I’d picked my least run-down dress and saved my last drop of perfume for the occasion… but by the time I arrived I was a sweating, crumpled mess. To skip all the mushy stuff; as soon as Jaime stepped out of the gates it felt like everything was as it should be. It’s amazing to finally have him here and share all of this with someone (special). Plus it was like Christmas when he arrived, with new glasses, a camera, my old ipod and four packets of tampons from the mothership (thanks mum). I feel complete again.

We splurged on a $40 room in Cartagena with aircon and, to Jaime’s delight, 24 hour soccer channels. I don’t think Jae realised at the time that it would be one of the only times we will be sleeping in a place where the sheets actually get changed and the bathroom cleaned. Cartagena is a beautiful city, but as with so many of these colonial towns, they shove all of the hostels and budget hotels to the back streets where after dark the shadows are teeming with hookers and drug dealers. But none of this really bothered me so much now that I had my personal bodyguard.

Jaime slept a lot in those first few days, but we did venture out to a volcano that doubles as a mud bath. It was quite a strange experience, climbing down into a 1500m-deep pit of grey mud, where agile Colombian men await you for a $2 rub down. After being submerged in mud for 45 minutes we were led to a green lake, where Colombian women wash you down, and quite literally rip your bathing suits off until you are naked, cowering in the water as they try and remove the mud from those hard to reach places. This was all quite a surprise as my Spanish isn’t quite up to “why are you taking my clothes off,” and poor Jaime, in all of the confusion, ripped his shorts from cheek to leg. It was a good first day in Colombia.

After the luxuries of Cartagena, we traveled to the other end of the spectrum and spent two nights in Tayrona National Park. The Park stretches along the Caribbean coast and holds some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen so far. It’s a two hour hike into the park through amazing rainforest and across white sand beaches. We didn’t see as much wildlife as I was hoping, except some kind of rat without a tail eating a crab.

On the first night we slept in a tent in the camping area, but on the second we upgraded to hammocks that literally hang over the sea in a bungalow. The setting was picturesque, but the whole thing became very inconvenient when we both got food poisoning that night and the closest bathroom was a good 10 minute dash away. Jaime fared much worse than I; lets just say 10 minutes was a little too long. So we hastily made our way back to the city, where my sickness really kicked in, and I spent my birthday night boffing in the toilet.

We’re both much better today and have decided to reschedule my birthday until tomorrow when we can keep down a good meal and perhaps even some cake.


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Oct 27

bursting!

Jaime left Perth on a big plane half an hour ago. I woke up at his exact departure time in my sweaty bunk bed in Panama City, shaking with excitement. I was so excited I made banana pancakes for a load of people in the hostel, even the Israeli’s who don’t usually talk to me because I’m not Jewish.

I actually can’t believe we physically get to see each other in two days, especially in somewhere as surreal as Colombia. I’m nervous and anxious and ecstatic and disappointed at the sight of my legs that have been absolutely ravaged by sandflies and now look like pepperoni pizza.

It’s also strange to think that I won’t be traveling alone anymore. I’ve gotten used to the independence; the freedom to do exactly what I want, when I want; the need for openness to new experiences and people; the crazy turns every day takes, and the rewarding feeling of accomplishing stuff on my own. At the same time, I’m looking forward to sharing this with someone, planning things together, not eating alone, sleeping in a private room rather than a dorm, not getting harassed by dirty Latino men and being able to, finally, let my guard down and relax a little more.

Since being robbed I’ve been on edge when traveling alone. Yesterday I paid a taxi driver double to ensure no one else would get in the taxi and kidnap me (which has been happening frequently in Panama City). I have even acquired a small pointy knife that serves more as security for my mind rather than for shanking people. I am most probably overreacting, but it’s amazing what tricks the mind can play when alone on a dark street.

Today I am going to a real shopping centre with real shops in a real city. Panama City is the biggest metropolitan in Central America and is hugely Americanised. As soon as I left Nicaragua and hit Costa Rica and Panama I noticed the shift in the number of yanks. They own all of the hostels and restaurants, and probably most of the land we walk on here. I spent a week in the Caribbean islands of Panama and soon learnt that most people who receive a disability pension/war veteran pension or some other kind of payout move to Panama for the ‘good life.’ As a result, the place is overrun with flabby old Americans speaking their twangy Espanol and eating hotdogs.

The main island of Bocas del Toro is just a massive backpacker party town, and after 3 nights there I was ready to leave and rehabilitate. I managed to find a beautiful island called Bastimentos, where the population are true Caribbean and originally from Jamaica and Trinidad. I couldn’t get over the fact that they were speaking English (which is their native language), but it was totally incomprehensible. The town was pretty dirty (when I arrived in a boat there was an entire cow’s head floating in the water); so you needed to hike a grueling 30 minutes over the mountain to hit the pristine beaches. It was a pretty relaxing time; I splurged and got a private room for a night and relished in lying in bed naked eating peanut m&m’s and reading my book. After almost three months of shared dorm rooms, the luxury of being naked in privacy (rather than hastily dressing in a toilet) is one you really start to appreciate.


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Oct 18

the simple things

Finally I got out of Granada. Finally I’m starting to appreciate the wonders of Nicaragua and forget about the disasters.

Right now I’m on the largest fresh water island in Central America, Ometepe. The island has two giant volcanoes with pretty cloud haloes and dirt roads with pigs running about. I’m staying on a coffee farm with a group of people I met in Granada, two of which I met way back in Mexico. Life is pretty basic on the island; we sleep in hammock style beds for $2.50 a night, eat rice and beans and eggs for $2 and drink Tona beer for 50 cents. Today five of us climbed one of the volcanoes to see the lake that has formed in the crater at the top. It was definitely the most difficult activity I’ve done so far; for most of the 4 hour walk up you are facing the mountain, scaling the muddy rocks with both hands. When we finally reached the top we were completely surrounded by clouds. Then we climbed into the crater to find the lake, like a glass sheet with mist hanging just above the surface.

The way down proved even more difficult. It started hammering down with rain and the path turned into a river that we slid along trying not to break our necks. I had chosen to wear a white t-shirt for some ridiculous reason. The rain forest was amazing. Howler monkeys called down to us from the trees and gigantic crystal blue butterflies led the way. At some points the sky was completely obscured by trees and vines - it was the kind of place Fern Gully was based on.

After about an hour battling the rain we realised we had taken the wrong path, and when we finally reached the bottom of the volcano we exited into a banana plantation and I almost stepped on a bright red snake with black stripes! It took an extra 2 hours on top of the 4 hour descent to reach the coffee farm; all up an absolutely massive day. Now, with a tummy full of beans and beer, I can say that it was the best thing I could have done to forget about the past few days. Getting back to nature, connecting with the earth, re-aligning my shakras etc. At this rate I’ll be coming home with a tattoo of some Mayan ruins and an arm full of friendship bracelets…

Tomorrow I begin the epic journey to Panama through Costa Rica. Possibly won’t be feeling as liberated as I do now when I’m sitting on a 20 hour bus ride with no ipod…


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Oct 14

robbed twice in 24 hours.

This time, it was an assessed risk robbery. Walking through the streets of Granada today looking for a bookstore, I met a local who started chatting to me. The conversation went along until I told him I was robbed yesterday. He said, ¨oh you’re the girl who got robbed in Kalala Hostel.¨I said yes, and he started describing my glasses, my cameras and other things in my bag that was taken. My heart started beating really fast, but I tried not to show it in my face. This guy was obviously not a nice person; he was small and skinny and had a dazed look in his eyes. He said, if I wanted, I could go with him to a house around the corner where I might be able to pay to get some of my things back. In assessing the situation, the frustration and helplessness of the past day took hold of me and I thought - fuck it, I’ve got nothing to lose. So I went with him to the house. I had to wait outside while he talked to someone inside. The palms of my hands were sweating ridiculously and I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. I had no idea what was going to happen next, and I literally had to talk myself through breathing in and out and keeping still. Soon the guy came back and he said they wanted 400 cordobas ($20) for my glasses. We had a long conversation about me seeing the stuff before I paid over the money, but he wouldn’t budge and I didn’t want to go into the house. In the end, I thought - either I get back my glasses, or I lose $20, so I handed over the money. Sure enough, as he got closer to the house, he suddenly swerved around a corner and was gone. It was a risk, and I lost. I was left on the street wondering what to do next, when an American man asked me if I was ok. I told him what happened and he took me to his house where he lived with his wife. They sat me down with a glass of water and told me they would call their Nicaraguan driver to go back to the house with me and ask about my things. At this point I was drained and dazed, but I said ok. I felt like I was riding this wave of strangeness, and I needed to see it through until the end. It was the first time I’d really thrown caution (somewhat) to the wind. At 3pm a blue car pulled up outside my hostel, and two massive Nicaraguans identified themselves as Rene and Victor. Hell gangsters. I told them my story, and their first question (I shit you not) was, ¨would you prefer if we broke his arms or his legs?¨It took a while to explain that I didn’t want anyone hurt, I just wanted my things back, if they could be found. We headed to the police station, where I was to identify the crack head from a pile of mugshots. We found him, and the police gave us his address so that we could locate said limbs to break. Obviously, Nicaraguan police operate a little differently in Australia. We drove through the outskirts of Granada, where the pretty colonial houses end and the mud huts and shadowy figures begin. We found the guy’s house, but according to his brother he was out scoring crack with my cash. Our search went on for two hours before I decided to call it to an end. I paid Rene and Victor $5 for their efforts and returned to my hostel, and ate a burger. They offered to try again tomorrow, but my adrenaline rush has ended and I think it’s time to say goodbye to these ¨things,¨ which is all they are, in the end. It’s definitely time to leave Granada and try and start enjoying myself again, with or without the luxuries of cameras and ipods. I’ve met two more people tonight who were robbed today, so I’m starting to feel a little less retarded, and maybe even a little stronger. The emails from home have been a massive boost, love to you all x


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