Thursday, March 31, 2011

Horseshoes and Asses and Classic Colombia

Dense tropical jungle, 5000 meter snow capped peaks, white sandy beaches, jaw dropping scenery, endless hills of coffee and banana plantations,  miles and miles of winding mountain roads,constant landslides and road maintenance, incredibly happy and helpful people, extreme wealth, extreme poverty. These are just a few of the ideas that come to mind when I now think about Colombia and we are only just south of Bogota. We were delighted to find such a hidden gem in a country that is wrought with terrible stereotypes and bad publicity. In Colombia we have discovered so many of the reasons why we wanted to do this trip, and it is quickly becoming one of our favorite countries on our journey. We have been very busy over the past week and it is hard to narrow down our experiences into a few photos and words.

For years now, Andrew's friends believed he has lucky horse shoes tucked up his behind. This week was a fair indication of that as every time something didn't quite go our way, there was an even better outcome than could ever be planned by a simple guidebook.

Horse shoe #1: Driving through the large mountain city of Manizales it was incredible to see the houses precariously perched on hill side ledges. A day after passing through we learned that heavy rains had created a huge landslide that took out a fair number of houses as well as sections of the highway! We were lucky to make it through when we did.

Horse shoe #2: He gets to travel with me... how much luckier can one man be?

Horse shoe # 3: Our first main plan in Colombia was to bag the 5325 meter volcanic peak of Nevado del Ruiz. Unfortunately for us, after driving Kumu to her limits at 4200 meters, the entrance to the national park, we were informed the entrance fee was 30USD per person and we were not even allowed to climb the mountain as the volcano had been much too active in the last six months. The guides hadn't even seen the peak for quite a while as the weather had been close to white out. Traveling down from the park the clouds parted and we caught an amazing glimpse of the snow capped peak in all its glory! Pretty incredible to see snow after nearly 5 months of sweating it out in the sun!

Not really a horse shoe story but amazing none the less

Again not a horse shoe story, but really cool to see the old school way of living. These guys just had one hour left through the mountains to get to their home.

Horse shoe # 4: although we were all disappointed in the closure of the national park, we talked to some locals who told us of a relatively unknown natural hotspring located at about 4000 meters! The spring came to the surface in the middle of this river providing perfectly hot water to our travel weary bodies.

Daniel, Ramona, Andrew and I living the dream.... Could be worse, eh?

Horse shoe # 5: Like I said, there were some unfortunate circumstances leading to amazing memories. Driving with 4 adults and all their gear was apparently a little too much for Kumu to handle and climbing up one incredibly steep pass she let us know that she had had enough and set off her Engine Light. We quickly pulled over and realized there was a problem with the cooling system; a blown coolant hose. Long story short, while bleeding the coolant system after replacing the hose, Jaime and Luzmaria came across us (we were in the middle of their access road) and offered us their home for the night as it was getting too late to fix the van completely and we couldn't drive too far!
They provided us with incredible Colombian hospitality and regaled us with stories of the last couple decades of Colombian history. Jaime was happy to inform us that last year, for the first time in nearly 50 years, Colombia was actually NOT the leading supplier of cocaine to the world!
We couldn't have found a nicer couple and they even helped find us a place to work on the van after feeding us various tropical fruits they had grown on their 'finca'. A big thank you to the both of them.

Andrew and I trying out the retired Colombian lifestyle... could get used to this

Horse shoe #6. After overtaking a really really slow truck on a double yellow, Andrew was stopped by the police who had clearly seen the infraction. Now normally, in the other countries we have been to so far, you fully expect the police to find every excuse to take some of your money, especially when you do something wrong. Not the case in Colombia. The nice officers simply pointed out the mistake to him, and after checking our paperwork, sent us on our way with only a warning.

There you go. Just a few of the lucky things that happen on a journey like this....
Oh yeah, we even found a horse shoe to prove it.

After leaving Jaime and Luz Maria in Guaduas, we headed to the small pueblo of Suesca, 40km outside of Bogota, renowned for its rock climbing. As Daniel is an avid rock climber there was no way we could miss it. We spent an awesome day of climbing the perfect limestone rocks, pushing our bodies in ways they have almost forgotten

The crew looking as though we were made for it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hasta Luego beaches and sun

So we finally got our van back and quickly left Cartagena to head south. The roads are very slow going here, it has taken us a full 3 days to go just over 600kms! Regardless it has been worth it, the views in the mountains are spectacular!  

Coffee especially for "OMA"

Shona's amazing smoothies

Colombian "secondary highway"

Colombian hillsides

A favourite pass time of the gentleman here is to sit and watch the world go by in the city square.

If everything works out, the next entry is going to be amazing......... gotta run.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Patience is a virtue

If you ever felt the need to test your patience, you should try shipping your car from a foreign country, to a foreign country, where you have only learned a little of the language a few months earlier.
Although everything went as smooth as could be on the departure side of things, picking up Kumu in Cartagena, Colombia has been an interesting experience!
As monday was a holiday we spent the weekend strolling around the beautiful streets of Cartagena, sampling delicious Colombian coffee and searching for the perfect photograph.
Tuesday morning started bright and early as we headed to the shipping office at 8am. From there we paited patiently while the woman in the office made some photocopies and handed us our first piece of paper work for the day, to add to the numerous ones printed up in Panama City. She sent us off a few minutes down the street to the Aduana building which covers all importation information.
We walked into the huge building with hundreds of people in hundreds of desks. When we asked a security guard if he knew where to go he pointed vaguely to the endless rows of desks and said "That way". We chose a desk at random which seemed to work and the woman took off with our paper work returning a while later with more copies and more papers. At this time we had realized we had forgotten Andrew's shoes in the Hostel (to get into the port you MUST have shoes and long pants) so I jumped in a taxi to retrieve them and Andrew continued on to the next office at the main port to organize an appointment to have an inspection of the car.
I returned and waited at least an hour for Andrew to complete this step. Our appointment was for 2 oclock as everything here shuts down for siesta between 1230 and 2. During this time we figured we would deal with getting insurance, but that also was only open at 1:30 so again we waited.
Once the insurance place was finally open they informed us that we, in fact, still didnt have enough paperwork to get insurance...
On to the port for our inspection. The port is a good 15 minute/10 dollar cab ride away, not the MAIN port that Andrew went to for the appointment.
At the port we first waited for accreditation for Andrew to be able to enter. When that was finally dealt with he headed in and caught his first glimpse of Kumu in over 10 days! She seemed to be not too much worse for the wear with only a little covering of dust.
The inspector came, slowly but surely, double checked the VIN number with that on the paper work, left to look at a few other cars then finally came back, glanced inside and gave Andrew one more piece of paper.
All the while I spent sitting on a curb outside the port doodling on my hands as dirty old port workers filed back and forth feeling no shame about staring me down the whole walk by.
From the port we grabbed two motorbike taxis as they turned out to be quite a bit cheaper than a taxi. As I got on I realized with surprise that I have never actually been on a motor bike. With this realization I stiffened up, but quickly relaxed with the wind in my face and embraced the excitement of zooming in and out of traffic.
Back to the Aduana where we eventually realized that the inspector who just looked at our car had to ALSO come to the aduana to sign paper work. I guess the port is not a place for paper work. We waited with two other guys who were waiting to get their cars out of port as well. One from France and one from Guatemala who was almost completely bald on top but had dreadlocks down past his shoulders. Needless to say, with Andrew looking pretty scruff from living on a boat for 10 days, the french guy who looked similar to Andrew and Bald dreadlock guy, I am surprised they didnt do everything in their power to get us out of their immaculate office as soon as possible.
By this time it was nearing 6pm and things were not looking so good to get Kumu out in one day as we watched our paper work sitting on a desk, needing only ONE more signature and the man with the pen casually checking his email and doing everything BUT signing the papers.
Finally at five minutes to 6 we got the signature and ran back to the main port where Andrew had gone so many hours before. Here we needed to get our last paper work that allows the release of Kumu from the port. Just after 7 he returned with the paper work, but with the sad news that he had called the port and said we had to wait till the next day....
We took the walk of shame back to the hostel, but consoled ourselves with the fact that Kumu seemed alive and well, we had all the paperwork to get on the go the next day and above all, Andrews spanish greatly improves every time we have a day like that!
It was a true test of patience, but we worked through it well together, and acknowledge that it is all part of the greatness of traveling, and will be worth every minute once we are reunited with our little house on wheels.
Today we head to the port to officially bring Kumu into South America and we are hitting the road. Our next stop... the mountains! Straight from sea level to 5000 meters. Apparently there is even snow there... what a concept.

Here is the video from the sailing trip again. I think this time it should have sound. Let me know if it doesn'!

Untitled from Shona Rubens on Vimeo.

One of the many beautiful squares in Cartagena

Monday, March 21, 2011

Welcome to Paradise... Almost

On March 11th, we left Kumu in Colon to be put in a container shipped
to Colombia and took a bus back down to Panama City. We got on board
the sailboat Flamboyant and left early the next morning to cross the
Panama Canal. The following is a brief look at the amazing trip that
we embarked on. The good parts anyway, read below to find out a little
of the nitty gritty.

So I just realized that Youtube has blocked the sound of my video... If anyone has a solution for this it would be good to know because it seems a little strange without the music! 

All beautiful things come with a price. Not an hour after leaving the
San Blas Archipelago, our good moods and sunny complexions were
punched in the face by massive 15 meter waves. Now to imagine this,
think of the high platform of an Olympic dive pool, times it by 1.5
and turn it into a wall of millions of gallons of water staring you in
the face as if you were nothing but a tiny annoying piece of lint in
its belly button. Not the most pleasant thing to experience. Even the
magnificent blue shade of the water did nothing to dispel my
nervousness... oh did I mention at times we were in only 20 feet of
water with the 15 meter waves as we headed out to open ocean?
We were assured that the waves would die down once in deeper water.
Lucky for us they went down to a whopping 5-10 meter swell with winds
of up to 38 knots. For you non-sailors out there thats about 75 km/h.
Needless to say it was a LONG two and a half days. Andrew manned up
and was up and about most of the time, while Daniel, Ramona and I laid
uselessly in our beds not wanting to move for fear of throwing up...
again. All shame was thrown out the window the first night when,
refusing to go into the tiny little bathroom, I dropped my drawers and
hung my self over the side of the boat while harnessed onto the
railing and grasping Andrews hand for extra support. Not my shiniest
Never-the-less, on the 19th at 11:30 at night ten nights after
boarding the ship, traveling through the canal and the San Blas
Islands and across the Caribbean sea, we finally arrived at our South
American destination, Cartagena, Colombia!! We attempted to disembark
quickly and went out onto solid land to celebrate our arrival in
style... pizza and beer, the best style we know!
We are now waiting earnestly for the public holiday to end so we can
head to the port and be reunited with Kumu. In the meantime we are
exploring the amazing colonial city of Cartagena. A big thank you to
Eric and Isabelle, our hosts aboard the Flamboyant, for providing an
amazing adventure, great food and fun times!

Here are a couple pictures from our first day in Cartagena!

I think I just just embrace my extra few pounds as they seem to do here!

Andrew and I on The Wall. A huge 10-15 ft wide wall that encompasses all of the old city of Cartagena

Traditional dancing in the streets.

Your guess is as good as mine?

Clock tower marking the entrance to the old city

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fwd: Central America... In a nutshell

Well, this is it. The end of central America.
 We are somewhat amazed and impressed that we have made it this far,
but realize it is just a stepping stone in our Mega-Adventure.
Tomorrow we drive north to the city of Colon to load Kumu into a
shipping container that sails for Colombia on Friday. Once she is
packed up securely we will catch a bus ride back to Panama city,
meet up with our German friends Ramona and Daniel, and all hop on
the 43 ft sail boat "Flambooyant" with its crew Eric and Isabel. We will spend the night in port before getting up early morning to prepare to transit through the great Panama Canal! Friday really
cannot come soon enough as we are itching to get out of Panama city!
We have been here now almost 2 weeks with a short 2 day trip to the
mountain town of El Valle. I use the term 'mountain' very loosely in
this situation.
Before we head to South America we wanted to have a quick little
recap of our favorite spots in Central America!

Hanging out with friends after Spanish school in Montericco, Guatemala

Keepin it real with Dante and teaching him the motor boat, pretty much expert.

Spending quality time with Kahung, Mel and Dante in Antigua! It was so great to spend even a short amount of time with them! One of the raddest families we have ever met. Thanks for the great times guys, see you in Canada!! We had some really fun dinners with the Antigua Parking Lot Party Crew!

Sunset walks on Playa Mizata in El Salvador with Sarah and Marco. A week of paradise we wont soon forget!

Extreme tubing at Mizata with Giovanni and the local kids. Doesnt get much more fun than this.

Meeting and playing with the local kiddies in Mizata. This guy, Miel, was a real cutie!

Chasing chickens out of Bella (Sarah an Marco's '78 westy!)

Sipping on cold beers for Andrews 34th birthday with Daniel, Ramona and Hanzfranz (JF) at Lago Coatepeque in El Salvador

Munching on fresh tamales in the colonial city of Granada, Nicaragua

Pool parties and good eating at Playa Grande, Costa Rica

Whipping up incredible home-made pizzas with the swiss guys Peter and Fabian on the coast of Panama in Santa Catalina

We made it!!! An epic sight to see driving into Panama City... The biggest construction mankind has achieved!

Beautiful animals abound throughout Central America. So cool to see toucans and Scarlett Macaws soaring through the sky!

Loving the new panoramic setting on my camera. This has been our home for the last two weeks. Chilling out in the Balboa park parking lot. It is actually quite luxurious with bathrooms AND showers! 

Possibly Andrew's happiest moment of the whole trip. Running into the contestants for Miss Panama, and possibly the future Miss Universe in the Hard Rock Cafe! I cant remember the last time I saw him smile this big! Haha

(no pictures from meeting up with Allison and David in Costa Rica, but that was a definite highlight!!!!)

All in all Central America has been good to us. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. Thank you to everyone we have met along the way that has made our trip an amazing success. Also thank you to everyone that has been following along our journey. I hope the rest of the trip will be just as incredible.
See you in South America!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Panama and Panoramics

Panama. Who would have ever thought we would get this far? Driving over the bridge of Americas that crosses the Pacific end of the Panama Canal was surprisingly emotional. Such a spectacular reward for reaching the half way point of our journey. Both of us were googly eyed as we drove across the bridge at twilight trying to take as much in as possible. Huge freight liners and tiny 20 foot yachts shared the bay as they waited in line to pass through one of mankinds biggest achievements. Any troubles or frustrations washed away as we relished in the place we had finally arrived. 20000 people lost their lives in the building of the canal in the early 1900's. It costs anywhere from 600$ to 200000$ to pass through the canal with a boat depending on the size! And this is still cheaper than the alternative of sailing around the southern tip of Argentina.

There is a small spit of land jutting a few kilometers into the pacific at the beginning of the canal where we celebrated with a nice dinner at the point courtesy of Okotoks Mike. Thank you! On one side we looked up the canal and the other we had a mesmerizing view of the Panama City skyline.
The first day in town we obviously had to go and check out the Canal locks, where the ships are lifted up 20 meters to sail through, then lowered 20 meters on the other side. What an amazing effort for every ship!

The last few days have been spent running all over the crazyness that is Panama City organizing shipping Kumu to Colombia. Luckily we are shipping our car with another couple, Wendy and Steve, so we aren't entirely on our own! From talking to the shippers, the brokers, and the police officers it has been quite the run around, but we are patient and things are starting to come together.

The original plan was to ship this friday, the 4th. However, when we arrived at the broker, we were informed that for some reason the ship has not arrived in port, therefore cannot leave on friday. This means that we are set back another week... but hey, Carnival starts on Saturday... maybe it was just meant to be?
We are also working on sailing from Panama City to Cartagena. Yes that would mean sailing through the canal! There are hundreds of boats going through the canal every day... it can't be that hard right?

Anyway, things are moving along rapidly and we will be in Colombia before we know it!

Our drink of choice in Panama, Balboa Beer. Named after Balboa who was
the first European to set eyes on the Pacific ocean!

My new camera does panoramic shots and I am addicted... Beach in Santa Catalina, Panama

Andrew was reading... I had to get documentation of this moment

Panoramas are cool

We stayed a couple nights at this cute little hostel on the beach in Santa Catalina

Flowers for my mom

This was a sad day for us. We sold our board to Fabian and Peter from Switzerland. I hope they enjoy it as much as we did! PS, yes their van IS as amazing as it looks

We made it!!!!

The Midnight Sun going through the Miraflores Locks. Cant wait till that is us in there!

What an achievement!

Some sailors on the Midnight Sun taking pictures of us taking pictures of them.

Just follow your nose!

The Panama City skyline... quite a change after the endless untouched beaches we have been living on the last three months!