freedomtravelers

The travels of Lucky & Tegan

10 reasons why we love Guatape

We just spent ten days in Guatape, a tiny lakeside pueblo two hours east of Medellin. We arrived in town expecting to stay for two nights but fell in love with the place could not leave. Here are ten reasons why we love Guatape.

 

1. The people

The people of Guatape and warm, hospitable and very friendly. Although only a few foreign tourists visit the tiny pueblo the locals are extremely open to outsiders. Like anywhere in Colombia people like to take their time and rarely express any desire to hurry or stress in anyway. Men wearing cowboys hats, boots and saddle bags can usually be seen filling up the small pool hall during mid afternoon while women selling empanadas gather on street corners together to talk.

2. The lake

Gutape sits on a beautiful lake surrounded by lush green mountains. The lake runs parallel to the town's main road and is lined with many boats, kids rides and even a zip line. Street vendors converge on the rivers edge especially on weekends, when the town is usually a hive of energy. We had some very relaxing afternoons kayaking and fishing on the tranquil lake.

3. Zocalos

Zocalos, or panel art has been painted on the facade of every house and business in Guatape. The colourful artwork characterises the rural lifestyles, unique cultue and some personal stories about Guatape and its people. We questioned a local about the house with giraffes painted on it. She told us that the tallest family in Guatape lives in this house.

4. El Penol

Most tourists come to town to climb El Penon, a huge rock which looms over the little town. The 220m high stone which was once worshiped by native Tahamies Indians is the second biggest rock in the world behind Ayes Rock. We rode bikes down the country road to the base of the rock and then climbed the 649-step staircase to the top. The view from the top of El Penon was amazing, we could see not only Guatape but a series of lakes and islands rolling hills surrounding the Pueblo.

5. Bike ride to San Rafael

After a couple of lazy days we decided to ride from Guatape to the neighbouring town of San Rafael. The 26km ride to San Rafael was beautiful, at first the landscape was quite flat as we past lakes and green fields. After a little while the road became extremely steep as we flew down the windy mountain road. A decade ago this area was not accessible due to FARC presence and road blocks. These days the beautiful area is peaceful and people can once again focus on enjoying their lives.

6. Tuk tuks

A ride in a tuk tuk is always a fun experience, especially when there is salsa music.

7. Bridge Jumping

Lucky celebrated his 24th birthday in Guatape. At the stroke of midnight Lucky and our friend Alex jumped from the Guatape Bridge into the lake. We were really lucky to be able to celebrate his birthday with some great new friends.

8. Lake View Hostel

Lake View is an amazing little hostel which sits right on the lake facing town. The hostel is one big happy family and we made some great friends there. While we were there we celebrated a couple of occasions including Luckys birthday, Thanksgiving, and had a delicious Arabic feast. We also learnt the art of bracelet making from fellow travellers.

9. Horse riding

Being a country town there is a strong love for horses in Gutape. We hired horses and rode up to a silent monastery in the mountains.

10. Army men let you hold their guns

 

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Colourful Cartagena Celebrates


Vibrant Cartagena is the colonial jewel of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. The cities magnificent architecture, coloured facades and vibrant people seemed so accustomed to fiestas, that after spending nearly a week in the city we decided to return for the annual Independence Day celebrations.

The 11th November marks the cities Independence Day and is celebrated exuberantly over a couple of weeks in a purely Colombian style. The celebrations include widespread dancing, drinking, and foam spraying. All this excitement eventually leads up to the crowning of the Miss Colombia competition.

The elaborate beauty contest began for us with a parade which we unexpectedly stumbled upon in the city’s main square one afternoon. We watched as one by one the beautiful pageant contestants made their way past us on their decorated floats. Each contestant was dressed in brightly coloured dresses covered in feathers, flowers and sequins. Locals followed on foot, dancing around them, dressed in traditional costumes, reminiscent of 1811 Cartagena.

Every year the Getsemani district of Cartagena throws its own Independence Day party.  Getsemani, is one of Cartagena’s oldest barrios and is now made up of backpacker hostels, bars and one very delicious fried chicken restaurant. The barrio may be a little rough around the edges but it is where the cities heart and soul truly lies. Getsemani’s history is deeply intertwined with Cartagena’s independence from the Spanish and every year the residents celebrate jubilantly. The barrio is made up of descendants of African slaves brought to Cartagena during the Spanish rule. It is told that the people of Getsemani fought the fiercely to help Cartagena overcome Spanish rule, during the War of Independence

The locals are very proud of their barrio and its heritage and this is especially apparent on Independence Day. We watched the frenzy of Getsemani locals’ parade their way down the main streets of Getsemani before stopping the main plaza for a salsa concert. Afterwards there was a huge street party and almost all the neighborhood took part, running around spraying each other with foam. A human dressed as a horse directed traffic while taxis blasted music out into the street and everyone danced until the wee hours.

The following day we heard that the winner of the contest was to be announced and we made our way to the docks of the Cartagena Harbour for a parade of a different kind. This time the pageant contestants had switched their floats for boats and could just be made out waving from their specially decorated yachts. The harbour was full of other boats carrying a very unsafe number of revelling locals. We watched from the safety of the dock as the Miss Colombia Pageant winner was announced and the party boats erupted.

There were beauty queens, drag queens, dance routines, parades and thousands of amazingly colourful costumes. The whole celebration showcased the vibrant, colourful lifestyle of the Colombian people as well as the beautiful Caribbean Coastline the city sits on. We will cherish these memories for a lifetime and recommend anyone thinking of visiting Colombia to make sure they do not miss Colombia’s most celebrated cultural festival. Cartagena’s Independence Day Celebrations take place every year during the first two weeks of November.

An Amazon adventure to remember

It may have been an exhausting trip from Cuzco, but after two buses and a flight taking us from the andes to the rainforest, we finally boarded a motorised canoe and began a two and a half hour journey up the Tambopata River.

As the canoe took us up river we enjoyed our first taste of the Amazon. We watched a group of brightly coloured Macaws frolic on the banks of the river. Then our guide spotted the worlds largest rodent, a rare amazonian species closer in size to a shetlan pony then to your average rat.

That evening on an after dark hike we discovered that night time is when the rainforest is at its most interesting. We could hear but not see what sounded like hundreds of birds, frogs, insects, bats and monkeys surrounding us, scavenging for food. Our group was over the moon when we spotted a sloth. When we came back the next day to check on our friend Rupert he had sadly disappeared.

We did not know what to expect on our first full day in the Amazon but after completing the Inca Trail just two days earlier a six hour hike through the rainforest was definitely not what we had in mind. Little did we know Patchamama (mother earth) had a few tricks up her sleave for us.

After a five hour trek through mud, a canoe ride, a spot of piranha fishing and some monkey watching the weather began to take a turn. The winds picked up and huge trees began to sway. One by one large trees surrounding us began to tumble, then rain began bucketing down. The weather was intense and we all ran back to the lodge absolutely drenched. That night mosquitoes were out in full force and absolutely gorged on our blood.

 

Our new family in Lake Titicaca

We just returned to city life, following our stay with our host family sisters in their village farmhouse on the banks of Lake Titicaca.

Lake Titicaca which sits 3,811 m above sea level is the highest navigable lake in the world. For over 2000 years many cultures flourished living in and around the lake. The lake was was considered to be a sacred place for the Incan civilisation, as they believed it to be the origin of the world.

Lakeside dwellers today consider themselves to be some of the oldest civilisations in the world, continuing customs and traditions which originated from their ancient descendants. Most still lead basic lives relying on fishing and farming. The village we stayed in farm mostly root vegetables and the community all work together sharing any prosperity amongst the group.

The people all work incredibly hard and we got a sense for just how hard life can be witnessing the daily life of Maritza the eldest of the family's 8 siblings. Maritza's mother passed away two years ago when she was only 17. Since then she has taken on the mother role for her six sisters and one brother. Maritza does an amazing job filling the gap in her family especially for the little girls Kati and Ruot who are only 3 and 8. She was also a wonderful host, preparing delicious meals from the simple ingredients and making us feel very much at home.

Martiza and her aunt say goodbye

 

 

The floating islands of Lake Titicaca

Ballestas Islands: the poor man’s Galapagos

The Ballestas Islands are often called the 'poor man's Galapagos' because of the cheap price and easy access from mainland Peru. The Ballestas Islands are home to a wide variety of wildlife such as sea lions, fur seals and the endangered Humbolt Penguins. There are also colonies of up to 600,000 birds which nest on the islands nearly all year round.

Due to the large numbers of birds in the area there is literally tons of bird poo covering the whole island. Unfortunately our boat was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a flock of birds flew over and dumped poo on the whole group.

Visiting the Ballestas Islands was an eye opener into the impact excessive tourism can have on fragile marine environments. We visited the Island on a busy Peruvian national holiday and it was a little shocking to see so many speed boats driving close to animals which are considered endangered. Although this form of tourism brings revenue for the local community, the limited tourism regulations may cause long term problems for the vulnerable animals.

 

Swimming with the sharks

The Belize Barrier Reef is a 260km stretch of reef which is second in size to only the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. The reef has one of the most diverse reef ecosystems in the world and is one of the last reefs to remain in an almost pristine condition.

We went snorkelling on the reef and had one of the best days of our trip so far. We got to swim amongst fish, turtles, stingrays, dugongs and even a group of sharks!

 

Happy Birthday Belize

After celebrating Mexican Independance in Bacalar five days earlier we couldn't believe our luck when we stumbled into town just in time for Belize Independence Day.

Caye Caulker celebrated the day with a colourful parade through the town and then some crazy festivities later that night.

Bacalar, the lagoon of seven colours


After leaving the more widely visited parts of the Yucatun we felt very lucky to come across some unexpected surpises in the small town of Bacalar.

The Bacalar lagoon which has been long described as the lagoon of seven colors has been inhabited since Mayan times when the local population believed it held special powers. Then in the 17th century, pirates sailed the lagoon using it pillage the usually isolated towns. These days Bacalar is a humble town sitting on the most breathtaking lagoon of vivid clear blue water.

Casita Carolina Jetty

We arrived in Bacalar on 15 September, which is one of the most celebrated days on the Mexican calendar, Mexican Independence Day! During the day we walked around town listening to 'viva Mexico' being screaming from passing cars. In the evening the fiestas began.There was dancing, singing, and drinking. We had a great night watching the Mexican girls dancing in their colorful traditional dresses while drinking sol beers for 15 peso and eating delicious freshly made tacos and tostadas.

With the fiesta starting at 7pm and not finishing untill the early hours of the morning some took things too far and we witnessed a couple of local drunkards being carried away by the police after a few too many cervezas. VIVA MEHICO!!

We had noticed a few strange blonde haired people lurking about town, occasionally passing us on a horse drawn buggy. Who are these people wearing old fashioned straw hats and overalls? They did not seen to respond to 'hola' and certainly didn't resemble the average mexican we had come to know. After some investigations we realized that the people belonged to a Mennonite or Amish community which was located close to town.

After speaking to our new friend Fernando, from Mexico City he told us that the group's original decendants originated in Germany and have been living seperated from mainstream society since the 1920's. He mentioned that the community have only been in this part of Southern Yucatun for 10 year after leaving Northern Belize in search of more land. Fernando kindly offered to drive us to the ranch where the community lives to buy some of their homemade cheese.

Upon entering the community it felt like we had time warped going back a few hundred years. It was a hot, humid day of 35 degrees and the men wore long sleeved thick shirts and long pants while working the land and the women long thick dresses revealing no skin. What a bizarre sight, Amish people living in the ancient Mayan heartland.

After a surreal 15 minute drive down a dirt road, we decided to take our chances and pull in to one of the ranches. When we reached the front door about 8 children with very curious faces and one very weary mother came towards us we then attempted to communicate our desire to purchase their homegrown cheese. After the first phrase of English was spoken we realized there was a strong communication barrier. Luckily Fernando was educated at a German school and could understand their German dialect!

After Fernando's conversation with the mother he explained that the cheese could be bought from a ranch 10km's north of the pine trees. We set off on our search for this glorious cheese once more. After trespassing on three more ranches, one communal food stop and recieving a dozen confused looks by the stern blue eyed men we realized we may have overstayed our welcome. Empty handed but enlightened by the experience we realized we had now gained so much more then the cheese we had come to find.

 

Tulum, Mexico