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The Happy Couple


242 Blog Entries
3 Trips
3968 Photos

Trips:

Michael's Round-the-World honeymoon
Michael's Lonely post-Honeymoon
Joanne's Round the World Honeymoon

Shorthand link:

http://blogabond.com/shedden




Back home

Glasgow, United Kingdom


The rest of the trip to Belfast went without incident, though I felt very relieved when the plane took off from Newark. Landing in Belfast, though, I discovered that there were hardly any facilities at the airport, most importantly no shower. I spent a while asking staff members about facilities, then one suggested I try the hotel across the road.

It was freezing outside, having come from the Caribbean the day before, so I dug my big fleece out of my bag and ventured across the road. I was hoping they might just let me use a shower as a favour, but the best deal they could do me was something like £60 for the day, not including overnight. Oh well, I'll just have to smell, I thought.

Back in the airport, I noticed that the flight to Glasgow we had assumed I would definitely miss had just reached the Gate Closed stage. If I had thought about that first instead of worrying about a shower, I probably could have changed my ticket for that flight! Oh well. I spent the next hours and hours exhausted, drinking a couple of beers in the airport before moving back to the hotel, where I was at least entertained by the TV where Tony Blair was giving evidence live to the Chilcott Enquiry.

Finally it was my flight and then I was back in Glasgow Airport, where Joanne and her brother picked me up and took me home. Happy to be home? Not really. Happy to see Joanne, of course, but back in this boring, freezing country, with nothing ahead of me but work? Until the next trip.




permalink written by  The Happy Couple on January 29, 2010 from Glasgow, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: Michael's Lonely post-Honeymoon
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Never Again!

Orlando, United States


I woke up hung-over again, and with no time to repack my bag. All I was able to do was grab the first set of clothes from the top of my rucksack and head out the door to get my taxi.

When I'd changed hostels I thought I had it all worked out so perfectly: I had just three sets of clean clothes left, which was exactly correct, so I didn't need to do any laundry before the journey home and I had all the clean ones sitting at the top of my bag for easy access.

I had even gone as far as thinking that the Cuba t-shirt might not go down too well with the US authorities, and nor might the Che Guevara one; so I'd put the Cuba one to the bottom for changing into after my overnight flight and the Che one on top, for wearing the day before I left. That's how organised I was when I moved hostels. Unfortunately I'd been a bit too hung-over and lazy to change the morning before and it was only on the way out the door I realised that I hadn't wanted to wear the Che t-shirt that day. I thought about going back in and rummaging through my bag to change, but then I thought ''This is ridiculous, surely nobody could really care about a t-shirt?" and decided it was more important to get to the airport on time.

At Panama airport I was subjected to the most unpleasant and high security experience since Heathrow Terminal 5 at the start of the trip over a year previously. It was all long queues and aggressive-looking security staff. After the X-ray machine and metal detector, I was just about to pick up my cabin bag and walk away, when a large aggressive security woman shouted at me in an American accent. Sir! There is a knife in your bag. You will have to hand it over. I knew I didn't have a knife in my bag, so I said that I didn't think there was one. She didn't like that one bit: Sir, there is a knife in your bag and you will hand it over. I tried saying that I really didn't think there was, but she walked towards me and, after looking at the X-ray screen, pointed at the side pocket. In here. I opened it up and saw my corkscrew, which I suppose does have a jaggy bit on the end, but it would never have occurred to me to move it from my hand luggage. I took it out to show her and started to say It's not a knife, it's just a corkscrew but she interrupted and said Sir you cannot take that on board. Hand it over. No please. No thank you. And no sign we were in a nice third world country or Latin America.

I said goodbye to my beloved corkscrew and carried on, depressed, for the next stage of this nightmare journey Joanne had booked for me. The original plan had been to fly from South America, but it would have cost something ridiculous like two or three hundred pounds more, one way. Then we thought I could fly from Central America, which was much cheaper, but it looked like all of the flights transit through the US, which I wouldn't have worried about too much, but with all these fascist policies that were brought in on the back of 9-11, it meant that, strictly speaking, you can no longer transit through the States: everyone has to go through immigration, presumably so everyone is thoroughly checked out. In fact, recently they had introduced another hurdle, to wit, everyone has to have a visa – or a visa waiver – even including US citizens coming home, I'm told.

Still, it was the cheapest way of getting home, so I thought I would put up with the extra inconvenience, and had applied for and printed off the pre-filled visa waiver form. As a last twist in my journey, Joanne had discovered it would be considerably cheaper to land in Belfast, and take a budget carrier from there to Glasgow, and there was one flight a bit too soon after I landed, or else I'd have to wait at the airport for most of the day. It was going to be a horrible journey: Panama to Orlando, a couple of hours wait before flying to Newark, more waiting before the overnight flight to Belfast, then the whole day in the airport before a 50 minute flight to Glasgow. But we had no money left, so it had to be the cheapest option.

When we landed in Orlando, the entire atmosphere was tense and aggressive. Even the people cleaning the toilets before you go through security were scowling and staring at everyone; I'm tempted to say that they were all agents, paid to glean what information they could while terrorists still have their guard – and their pants – down. Maybe they were, or maybe they just hated their minimum wage jobs and all the people that dirtied their toilets.

If I thought the toilet cleaners were scary, they had nothing on all the staff in the immigration hall. Everyone looked very serious. And the queue was long. This was going to be a very long wait. Having travelled through several Communist dictatorships and a few highly militarised countries, this was the most blatant display of control and power I had witnessed on the trip; and certainly the most intimidating, which I suppose it the largest part of the intention. Standing in the queue I felt like I was in some dystopic science fiction story. A video screen at the front of every queue on a loop repeated the message that America is a fantastic country, full of lovely happy genuine, generous people, and above all it is a friendly and welcoming place; meanwhile - I can't remember if it was another screen, PA, or just a notice - informed us of all sorts of rules and regulations. Actually I think it must have been an announcement as I remember that being on a loop as well. It told me things like if I did not obey every command given to me by the immigration officer I was in breach of US law; if I did not answer every question he asked me completely honestly (whether relevant or not) I was in breach of US law; if I did not fill in my form correctly I was in breach of US law. And every time, I couldn't help myself from mentally adding to the end, and likely to be whisked off to Guantanamo or disappeared to Diego Garcia; it might have been the frequent references to sinister-sounding organisations like Homeland Security that completed the job, but I was beginning to feel quite scared. Friendly and welcoming, my arse! All this intimidation and I wanted to shout out I don't even want to come into your horrible country anyway!! Just let me though! I'd have stayed on the plane if you'd let me! but of course that would have been in breach of US law and probably entitled me to immediate summary sentencing by the Department of Homeland Security.

Jason Kester, who runs this website, wrote in his blog last year that he didn't like Bolivia much and it made him nervous because of his experiences at the border, but the Bolivian border has absolutely nothing on what the US does. It is truly awful.

So it was in this state of heightened anxiety that I found myself at the front of the queue, able finally to watch what the procedure was at the desk. I wanted to make sure I got it right. It seemed to involve all sort of invasive procedures like having your retinas and finger prints scanned, but for all I knew it also involved having your blood taken or getting branded by the immigration officer, so I wanted to watch closely. As I was looking on, the immigration officer looked up and I gave him a friendly half-smile automatically, as if to say hi, I'm next. In return I was greeted with a hard scowl, a very slow and pointed look down at my t-shirt, and a slow and pointed return to scowl at my face again. I thought Oh shit! I should have taken the time to change my t-shirt after all, but surely these highly trained people with such an important job to do are not so infantile and narrow-minded that something like a t-shirt would actually arouse suspicion. Then it was my turn to step forward.

The officer looked like he was about 19 years old and he had his head shaved, though not bald, just like a neo-Nazi – or someone in the army, I suppose. But he was podgy and when he spoke he sounded like a hick to me, though I'm not good with American accents, so maybe that's just what an Orlando accent sounds like. I handed over my documents and he asked me where I was going (Glasgow, Scotland) and where I was travelling from (Panama City). He asked what my flight number to Glasgow was and was not impressed when I said I didn't know because it wasn't with the same airline, but I had my schedule all the way to Belfast. He took my schedule and wrote all the flight numbers on my visa waiver form. Then he asked how long I've been out of the country. I told him about fourteen months and straight-away, he shot back at me And where did you get the money for a trip like that? Were you working? – No courtesy, no manners, just barked questions like a sergeant-major. I told him; no I had been moving too much to have time to work, but that I was obviously working before I started travelling. How much money did you have "saved up" for a trip like that? he asked, which I thought was none of his business, but remembering the sign and where I was I decided I'd rather answer him than have a bullet put in the back of my head, or spend the next four years in an orange jump suit, having daily near-drowning experiences and no contact with the outside world. After every answer I gave he responded with a cheeky little uh-huh? as if to say well that's what you say now, but I'm sure we'll get the truth out of you one way or another. Next question was And did you declare all that money when you first entered the US?

By this time my initial desire to shout out that I didn't even want to get into the country had turned into a constant internal dialogue. I think it was the only way I could cope with the situation. Internal dialogue said [Just how stupid are these people, haven't they heard of cash machines? And why has he assumed that I've already been through the US. I didn't even want to come near your horrible country], but I just told him that I had it in a bank account and drew it as I needed it, then had to point out that this was the first time I'd come to the US on this trip when he started pursuing the did you declare last time line. At about this time he indicated that I should now submit to having my biometric data stolen from me against my will and I gave up my fingers and eyes to the fascists. Meanwhile, The Thing started leafing through my passport and turning it to read the visas and stamps. At one point he seemed to jump a little, with shock I think, and asked What did you think of China?; he could not have crammed more suspicion into his voice [Oh my god these people really are stupid], so I just told him that I liked it and I thought that Beijing was an amazing city, cue uh-huh?. In retrospect, I realise I should have said at that point Man what a horrible place, I couldn't stand those Commies. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, but I hadn't quite grasped how stupid they are yet.

So Hulk continued with the leafing, then another little shocked jump, somehow he did cram more suspicion into his voice as he lowered his lumbering brows and asked And what did you think of Vietnam, as if he was catching me by surprise and I wouldn't have expected him to think of that one. In truth I was dumbfounded that their front line against terrorism could be so stupid and pick such predictable targets. I just said Yeah I really liked Vietnam. Next, and this time I couldn't believe it, he asked the same question again, but this time the country was Cambodia. I didn't have the heart to tell him that, despite the name of the ruling party, the country is anything but Communist. I felt like helping him out: [Oh look – there's a Lao stamp, shouldn't you be asking me about Laos next? But you probably don't even believe that the US were in there. OK – look Bolivia! – now they're real Commies, ask me about that!]. I told him I didn't like Cambodia so much, then panicked as I realised that the next thing I was going to say when he asked why was that the wealth divide in that country was a disgrace and a huge shock after the absence of inequality in Vietnam; quickly I back-peddled in my mind and managed to salvage It was the poverty, there was a lot of poverty there. [Whew! I'd have been in trouble if, in America, I'd said anything against the wealth divide, the very cornerstone of Capitalism].

Anyway, this went on for some time, asking me more questions about money and what I did for a living, a lot of things that were nothing to do with him, all asked in the rudest, most aggressive manner; and then he changed tack and said suddenly Have you ever been arrested? now sounding triumphant and of course when I responded No!, getting into the psych-war by ladling as much incredulity and scorn into my voice as I thought I could get away with, he came back with a more satisfied than ever UH-HUH? and turned away from me to his computer, where he went tackity-tack for a few minutes, before turning back, not to me but to my visa waiver form where he took a red pen and wrote a big S and circled it. Then he theatrically picked up my passport, just to remind me he had it I think, and ordered Follow me!

So walking away from the immigration desks (I'd not seen anyone else leaving their post) we went through a back room, the doors of which he opened and closed at both ends with special security keys, and ended up at the luggage carousel. Identify your bag and collect it, he demanded. Now this was a shock; I hadn't expected to see my bag again until Belfast, but there it was going round on the carousel. Wait over here he indicated some plastic seats outside a room with blacked-out windows. I sat down and he disappeared with my passport. I couldn't believe this, after all the supposedly dodgy places we had been, it's the US where they hold my passport to ransom, just like I'd heard tales of from people travelling through corrupt former Soviet republics, and it's the US where it looked like I was about to be strip-searched, judging by the room I was sitting outside.

They left me sitting there for about twenty minutes, which was more than enough time for me to start worrying about the contents of my bag: [Oh shit! The medicine bag!] I'd forgotten (and not had time) to go through it that morning, containing the various drugs you probably need a prescription for in the States, but surely they wouldn't be too bothered by that, surely the worst that could happen is they'd take them off me when I said I didn't realise? Then there was the lovely decorative carved pipe, covered in traditional weaving, I'd bought in Bolivia; could they arrest me on the grounds that it was drugs paraphernalia? I didn't know, but considering how I'd been treated so far, I didn't feel particularly happy about it. Even if it ended with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, I wasn't at all looking forward to the strip-search that seemed inevitable now. That was when I realised: the red S on my form, that must be what it stands for; Search, or Strip perhaps.

Finally the orc came back with another officer of the regime, handed him my passport, and he left. The new one asked me if I could please put my bags up on a table a few yards from where I was sitting; it was one if those long desks they always have at customs, which they use for searching bags. At least this guy's manner was nicer; I assume the customs guys aren't trained to be as nasty as immigration for some reason. By the time I got to the desk he was paging through my passport. Quite the world traveller he said, as I lifted my bags up. Yes, I was on a round the world trip I explained. Uh-huh? And what did you think of China?, he said, stopping at that page. [Oh god, here we go again! Can't they think in any way that deviates from their indoctrination?]. Yeah I really liked it, Beijing was an amazing city, I trotted out. Uh-huh? And what did you think of Vietnam?. Yeah I liked it a lot too.

This one was obviously not fully trained in US foreign adventures because he neglected to ask me about Cambodia; or maybe he just had other things on his mind: So, I hope you don't mind, but I have to ask: how can you afford to take a trip like that and not work for a year?. I told him I was a computer programmer, I'd saved up for ten years, and yes it was quite a well-paid job. I see, so it's a sort of once in a lifetime trip? he said. [Wow, this guy is much nicer]. I told him, yeah, or maybe I'll save up for another ten years. The bit about the money went on for a while again.

Then it was next up: So do you mind telling me what's in these bags? he asked. Ok, I told him, mostly electronics and books in the small one, and mostly laundry in the big one. You wouldn't happen to have any narcotics in them? he asked. No, I responded, I'm not that stupid. Then he told me It's just that we've got sniffer dogs back there, behind the carousel, and they seemed very interested in your bag. Can you think of any reason that might be? I wondered if they might be trained to sniff out prescription drugs as well, but I just told him I had no idea why the dogs would be interested in my bag. Did you smoke anything while you were travelling. Or were you around people who were? he asked, then added I don't care if you did, I just really need to know. So I told him I'd been at a party where people were smoking, and he said Well that's probably what it was: the dogs were probably just smelling it off your clothes. OK, you can go, and thank you for your honesty. [Well thank you for not strip-searching me or taking me off to Guantanamo]. Then, just as I was picking my bags up, in a piece of pure Columbo, he asked me Can you tell me: what was the thing you liked most about Vietnam? He obviously thought he might catch me out, but all he did was to make my internal dialogue go into over-drive: [Vietnam? Let me tell you about Vietnam. Let me see; is it the fact that they're Commies? Is it the fact they kicked your American butts? Is it the fact that they don't allow your nasty American companies to do business, like Coca Cola and Starbucks? No, wait, I've got it –] It was the food. I really like the food.

And that was it. Over an hour, I think, of intimidation and now I was free. I am never ever coming back to this country again I swore to myself, even if it does mean spending £300 more on the flight to avoid the place. Only an hour! What it's like when you really get in trouble is beyond me; I would not cope at all. The first thing I did when I got back to the civilian area of the airport was to find a bar and order a beer. The guy behind the bar asked me for ID! What a country! Do they really still think they are free? It certainly seems to be the most restrictive country of all those I visited. OK, it was only airports, but it left me with absolutely no desire to venture further into the country.

It was only as I was sitting drinking my beer that I realised that the whole story about the dogs must have been made up nonsense, intended to scare me and break me down, because there is no way that they would have let a bag go without searching it, when sniffer dogs had been all over it. Then I started wondering, could the big red S stand for Scare? What a bunch of bastards!



permalink written by  The Happy Couple on January 28, 2010 from Orlando, United States
from the travel blog: Michael's Lonely post-Honeymoon
tagged CertainDeath

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Panamá Viejo

Panama, Panama


I had planned to take a couple of trips out of the city, at the very least to see the Canal, but it looked like all I was going to see was the financial district. On the third or fourth day, I can't remember, I was starting to get over my Hooters food-poisoning and was sitting blogging in the common area of the hostel when in walked Lucy and Zdenek. Wow! Another amazing surprise / coincidence. I had known they were coming to Panama, but I wasn't sure when and I certainly didn't know they were coming to this hostel.

They told me about their trip from Colombia, which they had done partly because I had told them about all the fantastic reports I'd heard. I was ready to apologise for my bad advice if their cruise had only been up to the same standard as mine, but they had got lucky apparently and been on a huge luxurious catamaran, eating lavishly the whole way, and then got to stay at the captain's house in the City for a night after the trip; they also got a free lift from the port in his four-wheel-drive. It was a while ago, so maybe I'm not remembering all the details correctly, but I'm fairly sure that was what they got. It seemed I was the only one who didn't get the full luxury treatment on my trip, yet it cost the same as everyone else's! Well, everyone apart from those poor people who took the Metacomet and ended up with delays and staff strikes.

Anyway, the two of them were moving to a hostel in a different part of town and suggested I join them. It was a cheaper place in the supposedly dodgy Panamá Viejo, but I hated the district I was in anyway and decided I would move too, but since I'd already paid for that night I said I'd see them there the next day. Anyway, I didn't want to leave the area without trying the nearby Lebanese restaurant, which I'd been planning to go to once I recovered my health. So I went that evening and it was fantastic. The service was a bit slow and they had that same strange situation of English menus, but waitresses who can't speak any English. Considering I'd hardly eaten for the last few days I decided I could go all-out.

That night I went through all of my stuff and threw out the very worn out items, which it made no sense to take home. There was actually quite a lot of stuff that was far past usefulness that I had just been putting up with because I was travelling, but to take it home would have been ridiculous.

I started going through the medicine bag that we had built up during the trip, intending to throw most of it out as well, from the mystery pills the pharmacist in Yangshuo had given Joanne, which might have been for period pain or any other abdominal complaint, I was never confident that we had communicated successfully; to the sleeping pills we had bought in India to help us sleep through the heat and noise after hellish bus journeys; all of this had accumulated and I wasn't very happy with the idea of taking much of it through US customs, since we hadn't required a prescription to buy any of it and I assumed one would be needed for some of it in the US. However, there was just too much of it, and I wanted to make sure I didn't throw out useful things like painkillers or antihistamines, so I put it off until the next hostel.

The following day, I moved to Panamá Viejo and what a difference! Lovely old buildings in various stages of disrepair and repair, no horrible modern glass tower blocks, and far fewer big cars refusing to let pedestrians cross the street. The hostel was basic, but a room cost only slightly more than the dorm I'd been in before, and I needed the space to repack before my flight. I went out for dinner with Lucy and Zdenek, though I forgot to take any photos of them or any photos of the area it seems. It was lovely to see them again to cheer me up when I was getting all miserable about my trip coming to an end.

My last day there and we went for a walk around the area. It was really quite pleasant and I have no idea why the guide was advising against staying there; there were loads of lovely cafes and restaurant, which were cheaper than the financial district. It did look like a lot of renovation was very recent, so maybe the book was a bit out of date and we were pioneers in a newly gentrified district. As a bonus, the start of the Canal is just next to Panamá Viejo, so we stood and watched some vessels going through the first lock, with all the American tourists buying, or already wearing, Panama hats.

For my last night we went out to a cocktail bar and I got drunk again; never a sensible idea the night before you are travelling, especially if you haven't packed!


permalink written by  The Happy Couple on January 27, 2010 from Panama, Panama
from the travel blog: Michael's Lonely post-Honeymoon
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Hooters Hell

Panama, Panama


After we said goodbye to Captain Fabian, we went through the rudimentary security control, our passports already having been stamped at one of the islands a few days previously, and piled into our waiting four-wheel-drive.

I wasn't really sure what to expect from Panama, but it was never a country on my agenda for more than transit and viewing the Canal. I had originally planned to zip through it on the way to, I imagined, much more interesting countries like Guatemala and Mexico; Panama, I had thought, would just be like a US colony, so not very interesting. So I was pleasantly surprised that the first half of our drive was through incredibly lush and thick jungle: more impressive-looking that the part of the Amazon Basin I had been in, though much smaller in extent. Very pretty, but the Panamanian jungle was not something I'd have time for.

Joining us in the vehicle was an ex-pat of the US and his Panamanian wife. He expressed maybe the most anti-American views I have ever heard from someone born there, insisting that he only ever went back there when he had to go there for administrative reasons. He loved Panama and had made it his home.

When we arrived in the City, Alex and Toby got out at a hospital, they were that worried about Toby's fever, and I carried on to the hostel that Joanne had booked me into. It was one of the cheapest, but the guide says it was in a good part of town; apparently most of the other cheap hostels were in rather unsavoury parts of town.

I didn't think much of Panama City, and I didn't think much of the area I was in: it looked like the financial district of a US city. Not very interesting. The hostel seemed OK, though, and I spent the first night there getting drunk at a barbecue some of the hostel's other guests were having downstairs: a Polish girl, whose name I can't remember, a young guy from the US, named Skye after the Scottish Island, and I can't even remember which country the other guy was from, never mind his name; I think he might have been French. Anyway, we stayed up late and drank a lot. That Clos wine in a carton is no good.

The next day, I thought I'd cure my hangover by going to the Hooters, which I noticed on the hostel map was nearby. I'd never been to a Hooters before and, since I seemed to be in a US colony, I thought I might as well embrace the culture. Well, it turns out that Hooters is overpriced, rubbish, and the food is terrible. Curiously, though, despite the menus being in English, none of the waitresses (or Hoots or whatever nonsense name they've given them) seemed to speak even as much English as those working in the tourist industries of South American countries where the menus are only in Spanish. Weird, I thought, but from what I've heard that's probably the same as the US as well, isn't it?

Later that day my stomach started to gurgle and I started to feel quite unwell. I managed a few drinks outside again with Skye and the Polish girl, to try and kill whatever microbes were multiplying in my guts. This time, they were joined by an older guy from the US. He and Skye started talking about how they hated the country and they would both stay in Panama or wherever else they could just so they wouldn't have to go home. I was starting to get the impression that, despite appearing very much like the US, Panama is very attractive to US citizens who don't get on well in their own country. I explained that I had to excuse myself early because I thought I'd eaten something bad at Hooters, and the older American guy just said Yup, those buffalo wings'll do it to you every time. And that was exactly what I'd eaten.

I spent the next few days in Panama City too ill to do much apart from catching up on some blogging, and going to a doctor who gave me antibiotics. I don't think I'll be ever going to Hooters again! I suppose it's what I get for supporting such a misogynistic restaurant concept.


permalink written by  The Happy Couple on January 25, 2010 from Panama, Panama
from the travel blog: Michael's Lonely post-Honeymoon
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Paradise Regained

San Blas Islands, Panama


The next day we were sailing again for an hour or so to reach our next island paradise. This one, called Chichime, was primarily used as a coconut plantation, but a small section at one end of the island had been cleared to be used for tourism. There were a couple of cabins for accommodation and a couple of kiosks selling coldish beer, all run by one Kuna family. Fabian told us he'd try to organise lobster for dinner and we relaxed for a bit.

Plenty of other boats were moored here, but most people spent most of their time on the boats. There were also some people staying in the cabins long term. We soon discovered that the largest boat at the island was Metacomet, one of the boats I had originally considered taking. It was a much larger boat than ours. The passengers on the boat told us that it was really overcrowded, they were days behind schedule, and the captain wasn't paying the staff what he had promised so they had gone on strike; now the passengers had been told that they had to take turns cooking and doing other chores. Hearing about this, I was pleased to be on Fabian's boat rather than theirs.

Fabian was unable to source any lobster; apparently they were having difficulty catching any, but Fabian blamed it on the recent coke find he assumed had been made, believing that they were too busy drinking to go fishing. In the end we settled for some nice big fish, and we were cooked a lovely meal with beans on the island. The fish was a bit ruined: fried to rubber and incredibly salty; I think they should have left some of the salt in the sea said Alex, but I still really enjoyed it.

We were there for two nights drinking beer and, on the second night, I decided it was vital that we drink the rum. Although it was beautiful there wasn't much to do, and I didn't much feel like relaxing, but that's exactly what I should have been doing in my last little bit of time away. Now my flights were booked, though, I just wanted to go home.

Apart from a short trip over to explore the tiny neighbouring island, all we did was sit around listening to captains talking about their boats, which very quickly became extremely dull; just like any niche interest, the enthusiasts are very geeky and talk of nothing else. I did gather that the San Blas Islands are unanimously considered the favourite place in the whole world by captains; at least among the small sample who were actually in the San Blas Islands at that time, but most of them had been living on their boats for over five years. There was some real one-upmanship about who had been on their boat the longest. They all stated that they could never live on land again; they've tried it and it doesn't work for them. Yawn.

After briefly recovering from his sea-sickness, Toby had become ill again, but this time with a fever. By the last day, we were all quite worried about him; after all they had been travelling mostly in tropical places for about two years and Alex was very worried that it might be dengue or malaria. This messed up their plans a bit as they had been planning to remain on the island in a rented tent for a week after the rest of us left; they waited until the last minute then Alex insisted to Toby that they were going to a hospital for tests on the mainland, not staying on the island and hoping.

Fabian sailed us to Carti, an island near the border post, from where he had arranged a little dugout ferry to take us to the mainland. We had some food and beer from a bar on the island then stayed the last night moored nearby. In the morning the ferry took us to the mainland where a four wheel drive was waiting to drive us to Panama City. The cruise was over. Fabian was a good guy and a great captain, but the boat was just too small, and I was a bit disappointed with the lack of luxury after all the people who had raised my expectations. The islands were gorgeous though.




permalink written by  The Happy Couple on January 20, 2010 from San Blas Islands, Panama
from the travel blog: Michael's Lonely post-Honeymoon
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Paradise Found. Paradishe Losht.

San Blas Islands, Panama


As we approached the first island it was clear that we were approaching the tropical paradise that I expected from what I had briefly read in the guide book: crystal clear, turquoise water, peppered with islands of white coral sand, covered in coconut palms; the very archetype of island paradise. It really was very beautiful.

When we got slightly closer to the San Blas archipelago I noticed Fabian had his mobile out, sending text messages, so I tried mine: yes, full reception. I wondered why they would have bothered with mobile cells when the nearby islands all appeared to be uninhabited. Then I saw: harboured in the larger coves were several large yachts; this was a rich person's playground – of course they couldn't do without reception! Then I read my messages. My friend, John, had replied to the text I sent boasting of the gorgeous islands I would be visiting on my posh cruise and he had responded with something like: ''Island ghettos for the poor indigenous people forced from their mainland ancestral homes. Sounds lovely." I hadn't read much about the islands but this unsettled me, although the island we were heading to was clearly not a ghetto, in fact it was tiny and uninhabited.

Fabian told us that this was Koala Island, a joke in reference to the fact his company is called Sailing Koala, which he apparently thought it would be easy for English speakers to remember. We stopped off at the island for a few hours to swim and relax on the beach. The snorkel gear Fabian had promised us never appeared, but Toby and Alex had their own, as well as a fantastic design of hammock, which ties at the sides and faces forwards, ideal for your typical desert island palm tree setup. Toby and Alex seemed to be having a great time, which just made me think how lovely it would be to have Joanne there. Maudlin, I walked around the island picking up a pretty shell on the way, which I decided I would take home for Joanne; if she can't be in the Caribbean, I would take the Caribbean to her.

Next up was a populated island where some local Kuna people were going to cook our dinner. It took several hours to get there so on the way I read a bit more in the guide book, hoping to assuage the fears John's text message had planted. The book confirmed that these people were inhabitants of the mainland, Colombia, until they were displaced by the Conquistadores, which wasn't quite what I thought John had meant, but sad nonetheless; though I had thought that they had been displaced recently from John's text.

Arriving at the next island, there were loads more large yachts moored around the island which, even from the shore, did not look like a pleasant place to live. We went ashore on Fabian's dinghy, were introduced to the family who would be cooking for us, and Fabian invited us to walk around the island. It was pretty depressing. Here, among all these island paradises, people were living in grim poverty. Almost the entire island had been covered in concrete, so the beautiful white sands were only visible in a few places next to the water. It was also clear that the only economy they had was what money they could extract from the wealthy yachting tourists: everywhere local crafts were being sold at far higher prices than I could afford, especially having blown so much money on the cruise, and we were told that if we took photos of anyone we would have to give US$1 to everyone in each photo. We saw plenty of what we would consider poverty on this trip, but there is something particularly upsetting about poverty when it exists right next to conspicuous wealth, like these yachts. It seems to make the difference between happy poor people and desperate poor people.

The one upside was that Fabian knew a lot of the locals and I believed him when he told us that he believed in spreading the money around. I think he probably paid them reasonably well for our dinner, and he told us that he changes which people he goes to so they all get their turn. Fabian had explained to us that each of the islands is legally a state in its own right with its own laws. In particular this meant that we had to buy and drink any beer we wanted immediately, before the alcohol curfew. Bizarrely the next island along had no closing time and alcohol could be bought, never mind consumed, 24 hours a day.

Towards the end of our meal we saw a side-effect of the different state's proximity. To much excitement on the beach next to our table, a large dugout boat with an outboard motor set off from the beach opposite. It was very overloaded and judging by the whooping on board, the occupants were also loaded. It started out at full speed and started taking water immediately. It sunk lower and lower during the 30 seconds or so after it set out until it had sunk too low to keep going and everyone had to splash out into the shallow water, laughing and falling about. They crowded around and started bailing the boat out, eventually managing to drag it ashore; however one of the people who had been on the boat was face-down in the water. Just when we were about to run over, the locals seemed to notice him and dragged him out. After a bit of squeezing his chest, him coughing up water, and lots of laughing all round they indicated he was alright. He was carried away and the rest of the people from the boat staggered off, most of them so drunk they could barely stand.

Back on Fabian's boat, where we were to sleep again, he told us that every so often a batch of cocaine, ditched in the sea when smugglers are evading the coast guard, washes up on the beaches of the islands and the islanders sell it on, meaning that they get a huge windfall so that they don't have to do any work for a while; instead they just get drunk constantly until the money runs out. It almost seemed Fabian didn't have a very high opinion of the islanders, but he did seem to care about them; I think he put it down to their lack of choices and saw it as sad rather than bad. I certainly found their situation sad.


permalink written by  The Happy Couple on January 17, 2010 from San Blas Islands, Panama
from the travel blog: Michael's Lonely post-Honeymoon
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Dolphins and Phosphorescence

San Blas Islands, Panama


Like a lot of Colombians, Captain Fabian was a really warm and friendly, genuine guy, and his excellent English ensured that very little Spanish would be spoken on the cruise. He seemed very confident of his abilities as a skipper and this confidence was very reassuring to his passengers, but he had warned us that the first couple of days were in open seas and likely to be very rough, so we would get sick. He provided us all with sea-sickness pills, although I didn't think I would need it, since I have a very strong stomach. Likewise, Toby and Alex boasted of their ability to withstand any motion without becoming ill, but we all took a pill anyway when Fabian insisted.

It was on this trip that I realised my glib assumption that groups of people when thrown together on a tour are likely just to get on does not always hold true. On the Ciudad Perdida tour everyone had remarked what a great group it was and only now did I realise how true that had been. The two Swiss guys seemed perfectly nice but, apart from not being very confident in their English, which they were now being forced to speak, I think they were both quite quiet guys. I didn't mind that since I was quite happy to sunbathe, or read when I was sheltering from the sun indoors since I hadn't brought any sun cream; the boat was too small for everyone to fit comfortably on deck anyway! The English couple, on the other hand, I didn't get on with at all. They apparently took exception to the reticence of the Swiss guys and seemed to be trying to bring me into a conspiracy of hatred against them every time they spoke to me. They just didn't seem to like foreigners very much, although they had been travelling for about two years already and Alex claimed this had turned her into a bit of a tree-hugger. It turned out that she had been brought up in some weird religious cult I can't remember the name of, and she and Toby had been travelling on her huge earnings from working as a Bentley saleswoman: she seemed about as right wing as all that would suggest, which was confirmed when she told me she was planning for vote for UKIP, who aren't actually at all racist apparently.

So the atmosphere on the boat was never particularly good, since nobody really seemed to get on, the exception being the captain who was a great host and very laid back. Unfortunately he wasn't anything like as good a chef. The stories I had heard of other people's trips from Panama to Colombia were tales of incredible luxury, including lobster every day or fantastic fish if you didn't want to pay the US$1 supplement. Fabian, however, had calculated that we would be too sea-sick to eat much so all we had to eat on the open sea was jam on toast from a packet. In fact I wasn't sea-sick at all, didn't take any more pills, and would quite happily have eaten some lobster thank you very much. To be fair, because the boat was so small it was affected a huge amount by the waves and the movement in the cabin would have made it impossible to cook. I should have held out for a catamaran! Toby and Alex, however, were both very ill with sea-sickness and hardly came out of their cabin for the first two days; they had been given the double bed in a cabin, since they were the only couple of the trip.

I was really enjoying myself and realised that it was the first time I had been out in open seas in such a small boat, in fact probably the first time I had been on a yacht. Within a few hours of leaving Cartagena, we were followed by a large pod of dolphins for about an hour. Amazing: they just seemed to love playing around the boat a little bit like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoyTY8XPr4w (not this trip). After ages of thinking I must have missed my chance to get any photos, I finally thought it was worth a try and went down into the cabin to get my camera. They had started to drop away by the time I came back up on deck, but I managed to get a couple of photos.

At night we had to take turns as lookout. Fabian had a couple of auto-pilot contraptions for his boat, but the more accurate one had broken down early in the trip, so someone needed to check the bearing occasionally to make sure we were still on course, but the main reason for the lookout, he told us, was in case of any other vessels coming into sight. The first night passed uneventfully, but what I thought was going to be an unwelcome duty I reckoned the amount of money I had contributed should excuse me from, turned out to be an amazing, relaxing chill-out. Of course I couldn't sleep since I was on duty but, apart from standing up every ten minutes to look all round, I was able to lie back and relax with my MP3 player on, hypnotised by the cool air and rocking motion from the waves, which became quite exciting at points: a couple of times a large wave washed over the side of the deck, prompting Fabian to jump out of bed and make some adjustment to the setup of his auto-pilot. Most hypnotic of all, though, was the phosphorescence in the breaking waves, caused by plankton I believe. This caught me completely by surprise when I first noticed it, then I remembered having read about this effect in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, which is set in the Caribbean; the very same sea we were on now. It's incredibly beautiful and I sat transfixed, listening to the most ambient music in my library. When my shift was up I was sad to leave it, but I was exhausted; not as exhausted as poor Fabian, who covered half of the time Toby and Alex were too ill to do their share of, the rest divvied among the two Swiss and me.

In the morning we found a dead fish on board, which Fabian identified as a flying fish, then later in the day we saw hundreds of them skimming over the surface of the sea - fantastic! - and another icon from The Old Man and the Sea: first dolphins, then phosphorescence, and now flying fish.

Fabian slept a lot during the day and the rest of us sunbathed and read. On the second night it seemed the Swiss boys had allowed the boat to drift off-course when I started my shift, so I had to call Fabian to check it. His GPS revealed we had drifted worryingly close to the shore, well south of where we were supposed to reach Panama, so he changed the course and left me to it. Later I was disturbed a few times from my phosphorescent reverie by the appearance of lights on the horizon, which was the cue to waken the captain. The first couple of times they disappeared again over a different part of the horizon with no consequence but the third time the other boat got closer and closer, eventually overtaking us, without ever responding to Fabian's radio requests that they identify themselves. It's probably just the coast guard trying to freak us out he said. He had explained that Colombians, in particular Colombian captains, endure quite a lot of harassment from the authorities of other countries because of the drug reputation the country has, but he seemed sanguine about this, saying it had long ceased to bother him. The chances are any shipment of coke they find in or around Panama has originated in Colombia, so what are they supposed to do? he explained. He told me the Panama coast is patrolled by the US coast guard.

The next day we started getting into calmer waters so Toby and Alex re-emerged from their cabin. Alex noticed I was sheltering indoors a lot and worked out that I hadn't brought any sun cream, so very kindly offered me some of hers and I was able to alleviate the growing boredom by spending more time on my tiny little patch on the deck. I was glad when some land came into view because I'd had enough of this tiny little boat.




permalink written by  The Happy Couple on January 16, 2010 from San Blas Islands, Panama
from the travel blog: Michael's Lonely post-Honeymoon
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Leaving South America

Cartagena, Colombia


Ok so it’s been a long time since the last entry and a long time since the trip finished, but I just want to complete the blog. Of course I can’t remember as much now, so I think the rest will be more photos than words.

Despite the late partying in Santa Marta, I didn’t miss my bus back to Cartagena where I checked into Casa Viena, one of the hostels that sets backpackers up with passage to Panama by boat. Joanne had now organised my flight home, so I needed to sail as soon as possible.

A discussion with the people running the hostel revealed that they didn’t think it was possible to get a cruise that included a trip up the Panama Canal to Panama City as I had planned, even though everyone I had spoken to coming the other direction said this is what they did, but it was what Joanne had reported when she tried to organise the trip for me. The best they could offer me at the hostel was a cruise to the east coast of Panama, leaving in six days, because I missed the 48 hour deadline required to register my passport for an earlier sailing. The only chance was to go up to the Club Nautico and ask about the Panama Canal trip there.

At the Club Nautico nobody there thought it would be possible to get a trip up the canal either, but there was a Captain Fabian who was planning to leave the next morning, needed one more passenger, and said he didn't understand why some other captains insist in 48 hours' notice of registration, because he was quite happy to do it that evening as long as I got my passport to him before 6pm. Since the canal trip seemed impossible, I decided just to do it; I already felt like my trip was over and I was going home, so I just wanted to get it over with. I had to get a move on, though, because Fabian insisted that we should sleep on the boat that night, to avoid the potential problems of late-comers in the morning and make sure everything was OK with us and the boat.

Back at the hostel, they were very nice and did not charge me anything for that night even though I had used their shower and my gear had been sitting in a dorm. The hostel was in the old part of town and this day was really the only time I had a decent look at the area: it was really lovely and the accommodation was really quite reasonable as well. I felt another jolt of regret that we had spent all that time staying in the characterless Boca Grande instead of here. Anyway, that was all behind me now: I was leaving Colombia.

Back at the boat, Fabian took my passport and introduced me to two Italian Swiss guys, Sandro and Romano, who were also passengers. They spoke to me in Spanish and said that they didn't speak much English. My Spanish has seemed like it was getting quite good at one point, but it had definitely become pretty useless again, especially for conversation rather than just tourist-level. This trip was going to be tough, but at least my Spanish would go through rapid improvement again. Then the remaining two passengers turned up and I was let off the hook because they were English. They were a couple and although the girl, Alex, seemed to speak good Spanish, Toby spoke almost none, so the centre of gravity was back in English, and the poor Swiss guys ended up speaking English too, despite the fact we were sailing from one Spanish speaking country to another. Shocking really. We all paid Fabian the large amount of money that was the fare, my last extravagance of the trip, and with the rest of my Colombian money I asked him to get me a bottle of rum, either a big one or a good one, I said, while he went shopping for provisions.

Once we were all settled into our respective parts of the yacht (it's not a boat it's a yacht, Fabian insisted) el Capitan arrived back with my large and good bottle of rum, as well as a few beers. We should drink the beers now, since we wouldn't feel like alcohol once we were out in the open sea, he told us. I didn't really believe him but I did as I was told.

The boat was very nice but smaller than I had been hoping to get on; the way other people had described their trips I had expected a bit more space and a bit more luxury: this was really quite cramped and there wasn't even a shower, just a pump-and-nozzle up on deck. The main thing was getting to Panama, I supposed, but for the money I had hoped for a bit more.

Despite the cramped bed, I slept well and the next morning we were off much earlier than would have been possible if we all turned up first thing, so Fabian seemed to know his stuff anyway.

Leaving Cartagena we were treated to some fantastic views of the Boca Grande, which actually looks very nice from a distance, and an enormous liner pulling into the harbour: a cruise ship with a huge swimming pool and a climbing wall on the upper decks. Another country behind me, and another continent. Like everywhere else I had been, I wished I had been able to spend more time there; I think Colombia may have been my favourite South American country if I had got to know it better instead of wasting so much time in Boca Grande. Certainly the people were very friendly and genuine, without the cynicism towards tourists that seemed common in other South American countries.




permalink written by  The Happy Couple on January 15, 2010 from Cartagena, Colombia
from the travel blog: Michael's Lonely post-Honeymoon
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Bad Party Good Party

Santa Marta, Colombia


Back in Santa Marta, everyone from our tour group and the other one we joined decided that we should go out and have a piss-up to celebrate our trekking achievement – and the fact that alcohol was again easily accessible and reasonably priced. Someone in the other group had a friend who lived locally and therefore "knew a place".

First we had to eat, so we had some cheap-but-dodgy street food, which seems to be the standard sea-front fare in Santa Marta: greasy pizzas and salchipapas. But the two Aussie girls were pleased to be able to pay more for "vegetarian" pizzas, which just looked like normal ones with the meat left off. While we were getting our food Fraggle let slip that the Aussies had not actually contributed towards our guide Castro's tip. It seemed a bit stingy, especially when you consider what a great guide he was, moreover considering how disappointing everyone else's guide sounded, but tips are voluntary and it's easy to get into a habit of being stingy when you are travelling. However I had tipped because Castro's performance was so good it overcame my stinginess. Well everyone has their own threshold, I supposed. Then I remembered Castro carrying Ali on his back for significant parts of the trek, and the fact that he organised a birthday party for her, up in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere, after carrying a cake all the way there as well as booze and wine. Now that is really tight. Nevertheless, Fraggle hadn't wanted to make a big thing out of it, so he told Castro that the tip was from all of us.

After "food" we carried on to the place the local had chosen for our big night out. I should have realised that most people's idea of a night out is not the same as mine: I had pictured all of us sitting round a large wooden table at a simple drinking den, slowly getting drunk as we relived the last five days, after all these were nice new friends all of whom, I thought, had become quite close in a short period of time, but many of whom would never see each other again after that night. But no. Our big night out was to be in loud a dancing place, doing its best (not very well) to imitate any number of bland nightclubs in the UK. We couldn't speak and the drinks were expensive, and it had almost everything going for it that I hated about Boca Grande in Cartagena. Of course we had to go somewhere like that because girls like dancing, and most people seem to think you have to go for the most expensive place for a good night out. Well what a load crap! I just sat down and started working my way through a bottle of rum with Jamie and Fraggle.

It was only after we left the nightclub that the evening started to get interesting, although it was also rather hazy, after two bottles of rum among the three of us. We found ourselves roaming along the front looking for somewhere to buy beer, but everything was shut and there were very few people around. As we walked along the front I noticed that there was a scattering of people who all seemed to be following and converging on us, slowly and without openly acknowledging us. Actually it was a bit like a zombie film. So far every local I had encountered in Colombia had been really nice and friendly, but here we were easily outnumbered, and I wondered what sort of Colombian hangs around on or near the beach this late at night. It suddenly felt like the dodgiest situation I had been in for the whole trip, and I remembered that Joanne had asked me not to be more reckless after she left. But after a brief period where they seemed to be hanging menacingly around us, we were sitting down with them, being offered beer, and chatting away. They were all very friendly after all, though they did seem to be a mix of students, buskers, beach bums, tramps, and other miscellaneous dodgy people. They were able to tell us which other dodgy person would be able to get us beer so late, correctly assuming, I suppose, that we would share it when it arrived.

At one point Gemma had to leave, I think just to use the toilet somewhere – I can't remember, but she was too scared to go alone, instead opting to take one of the dodgy characters with her. Fraggle and I just assumed that she fancied him, and Fraggle assured me that Gemma could look after herself. Quite a lot of time passed, most of which I spent speaking to a Rastafarian artist about dreadlocks, who eventually sold me a woven bracelet thing, and I occasionally asked Fraggle if we should worry about Gemma not being back, but he just said she'd be fine. Just as we were getting up to leave and call it a night, Gemma arrived back, rushing to keep ahead of the guy she had disappeared with and told us that he was a "total pervert" who had tried to make a move on her.

For hazily unremembered reasons, we went to someone else's hostel instead of going to sleep; I think it may have been because there was a rooftop terrace and they had a bottle of rum. We managed to get rid of most of the dodgy crew, who had started following us, by enlisting the local girl to explain that only people who are staying there will be allowed in so late. Unfortunately Gemma's creepy guy was a tourist and, though she did say it was OK for him to come, asked Fraggle and me to keep him away from her. So the task fell to me to speak to him. Gemma was not wrong when she said he was creepy, and it wasn't long before I was pretty sure he had switched his affections from Gemma to me, though he was never explicit, thank goodness, instead telling me about being a hairdresser on a Ritalin prescription.

Nevertheless, it was a lovely roof terrace, with a nice view and a great sunrise. I shouldn't have been up that late! I was supposed to be going back to Cartagena the next day to organise passage to Panama, since Joanne had not been able to find me the trip I wanted. So Gemma and I left to back to the dorm, managing not to wake the others when we got back, leaving Fraggle with the French girl he had pulled. Gemma told me he would be very pleased, because he's never had a French bird before, and he had made it his mission to collect one woman from every country.




permalink written by  The Happy Couple on January 13, 2010 from Santa Marta, Colombia
from the travel blog: Michael's Lonely post-Honeymoon
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Return from Lost City

Ciudad Perdida, Colombia


We woke up in the Ciudad Perdida, one of the last groups to do that because they have apparently closed the accommodation in the city for environmental reasons. After breakfast, Castro took us on a tour around some of the site. It's too big to cover all of it in a day, he told us, and since we only had a morning we had to begin quite early. First he took us to a reconstruction of the houses that they built on the platforms, but it wasn't in very good condition. Castro said that when they were in use, the people would be burning fires inside all the time, and the smoke that permeated through the palm frond roofs kept the plant material dry and protected it and the walls from rotting, but because the reconstruction was not being used it would only last about two years rather than the 30 years they would have lasted back in the day.

He showed us various small stone hand mills, each size and shape of stone used to grind a different substance, including sea shells, the trade in which was the only reason they needed to keep contact with civilisations at sea level. The powdered shell was kept in a gourd and used to mix with the coca leaves they chewed, acting as a catalyst and releasing the alkaloids faster, very much like the stuff the driver in Bolivia gave me on the Salt Flats tour. Even to this day – and we saw this, despite not be descendents according to Castro, all of the men carry a gourd full of some alkaline substance, into which they dip a stick to get a small amount to put in their mouth, then scrape off the saliva in the gourd neck, so the powder doesn't get wet. This constant addition of saliva to the gourd causes the neck to get fatter over time, so you can tell how long someone has been using a gourd by how fat the neck is. From when the boys are very young, they carry a little bag (you will see them in previous photos), whereas girls all have a necklace. The bag is for carrying coca leaves and their custom when they meet, is not to shake hands, but for both men to take leaves from their bag and put them into the other man's bag. The gourd is something that you only receive from the father of the girl you are going to marry, when that time comes. I'm sure Castro told us all this about the Tayrona culture, then later referred to it among the Kogui who he says are not their descendents. So why do they continue the same millennium-old cultural traditions, exactly?

As of to prove what he said about how they felled trees, he showed us a piece of rock, which has a brick-shaped scar on it. This, he claimed, is an acid mark, which is also how they made all of the bricks the platforms were built from: bit by bit burned grooves with acid form plants, then when deep enough, they simply prised the brick off the rock. Seems like it would take a mind-boggling amount of time to build something tiny that way, but who knows? If you have loads of them going at once, all at different places, maybe it could work. There are plenty of fruit trees round the city, which Castro says have been there since the Tayrona people planted them, but one of the other crops they domesticated early was tobacco. And, of course, coca.

For a while he sat in the Mama's chair, where he used to overlook the ceremonies when people from all over the area came to what at the time was called the Gold City. There was a tool booth, where outsiders were required to pay in gold in order to attend the ceremony. This gold, in turn, was used to plate yet more of the city, or make the pure gold face masks worn by the Mamas. We were re-joined by a dog that had followed us most of the way up, disappearing occasionally, that the information at the entrance had explained about. This dog apparently chooses groups and spends all of its time just going up and down the trail, but nobody owns it or knows where it came from.

Castro showed us a couple of rocks with lines carved into them. One was supposedly a map of the Ciudad Perdida and another one a map of the entire Tayrona kingdom. I wasn't convinced. He showed us a hole in the ground which he said was a jail, with scrapes on the floor marking the passing of years, which was more believable. And then it was the descent.

We passed more Koguis on the way down, so I took more photos. We had all been scorning the tourist who bring sweeties up and give them to the kids, since they don't have toothpaste, but the father of one group came around asking if anyone had a cigarette for him and something sweet for his kids. So what can you do if the parents are asking for it? The father, though, looked like he was about fourteen despite having children who must have been about two and four. They age well those Koguis!

It was really all the same in reverse: beautiful jungle, lovely swimming, lots of nice stodgy food, and Ali getting carried. I think she got a mule in the end.

We had discovered that the Americans were all planning to take six days, more out of thrift than anything else: they could get an extra night's accommodation and an extra day's food if they took six days. Everyone else, though, had had enough or had somewhere they needed to be. I needed to get back to Cartgena to organise my passage to Panama, if Joanne hadn't already done it. I didn't know because I'd had no mobile reception. Last I knew, the flight home from Panama was going to cost more than we expected and she had made enquiries about possible boats. After a bit of pleading for the rest of us to stay the extra day, Castro had to make arrangements to split his group in two. This meant us joining another group, while the Americans would be getting up later on our last day, to hang around for a bit, presumably also with another group, because Castro was having to get up earlier than everyone to run ahead and tell the next night's place that it would be only the four Americans, then continue on to the bottom to tell them that the rest of us would be wanting lunch soon.

We started off quite a bit later than we were meant to, but I ran most of the way, passing everyone else, including Jamie who'd had a head start and was also going pretty fast. Finally I remembered to stop and take some photos of the leaf cutter ants which had been all over the path on the way up, but seemed a bit sparser on the way down. Amazing creatures! They still didn't catch me.

When I finally got to the last swimming spot, I dived in and was overtaken by Jamie and the fastest girl from the group we had joined. Even ten minutes in the ice-cold river didn't cool me down enough from the run, so I was still a bit sweaty by the time I arrived at the entrance restaurant; definitely not as fresh as the people who had been there when we started. I'm still convinced there must be a shower for customers in the back or something. Anyway, the beer tasted good, the food was great, and Jamie said that he thought the three young Americans had been really funny with all their chat, and made the trip for him, but he wasn't going to take it if he heard Jungle Boogie one more time.

Castro had been such a great guide that we all chipped in a tip for him, then I think he had to run back up to pick the Americans up again! And for us it was another bumpy jeep ride back to Santa Marta.


permalink written by  The Happy Couple on January 12, 2010 from Ciudad Perdida, Colombia
from the travel blog: Michael's Lonely post-Honeymoon
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