Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Day 427 – Homeward Bound

And there we were; done. 14 months. 23 countries. Countless destinations (well, not countless but at this moment in time I can’t be arsed).

We packed up and caught a taxi at 8:15, suffered protracted check-in but generally enjoyed a simple flight through to Bogota first, then to Madrid (I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey amongst other things), then despite a short delay caught our flight to London and sped through the airport to an Underground train over to Kings Cross where we caught our pre-booked Leeds train easily and this is where I type this now.

A short train ride to Horsforth should follow with a quick car ride back to Fi’s folks for Fish & Chips. The weather outside looks like the end of the world (grey as it could be) and it’s the coldest we’ve been for a while but there are Yorkshire folk across from us and we’ve already seen a few home comforts that have brought a small smile to our faces.

Anything you do for a long time becomes the norm and we’ve been doing this for quite a while. It’s time for a break from travelling and a chance to enjoy the benefits of a bit of stability for a while. I hope in the not too distant future I’m hankering for another foreign adventure but for now I’m ready for home.

Colombia – Cartagena – Fi – Photos

Cartagena was not quite what we had expected, very touristy with it being virtually impossible to walk anywhere without being pestered by hawkers. We decided to head up the coast for a while to Santa Marta for a final chance of ‘holidaying’. We found a nice hostel with a pool and a bar and hardly ventured out for days!  A final few days back in the city before our flight and then it would be time to leave.

So…… Germany, Poland, Russia, Mongolia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. We met so many beautiful and inspiring people along the way and simply realised that despite how far we’d travelled there is always so much more to see. While at times its been a bind to pull everything together for the blog I cannot thank Paul enough for pushing me to finish. 4 years on my memories are hazy so its magic to be able to dip back into the adventure so easily.

To end, my final diary entries. Thanks for joining us x

Tuesday 11th December 2012. 9.25am Cartagena – 30degrees

The beginning of the end.

14 months have passed quickly and slowly. Its been exciting, scary, fun, sad, testing, awesome! Almost the best and the worst – just an extremely unusual and amazing experience. To think that we are going home is surreal. We are so used to moving on to the next place but this time, home is at the end of a 24 hour journey. We’ve not stepped foot in the UK for 14 months. Ive never left for so long. Its going to be interesting to see everything with fresh eyes and possibly feel like a foreigner.

I’m sat here in 30 degree heat – vest, flip flops and cropped pants. I am orange from the sun. I’m carrying all sorts of ridiculous and broken ‘stuff’  but this is the last time that I will have to cart 30kg of baggage.

(Continued from the airport)

Everything seems a distant memory already – airports have a strange way of cleansing – like some sort of memory clean. They all look and feel the same, you enter some surreal otherworld. Our Cartagena trip seems weeks ago. Sitting on the terrace of our hotel for breakfast, looking up at the blue sky and lush green trees against white fresh colonial architecture we knew that things were going to be very, very different from that moment. I don’t want to forget anything. The warm breeze rustling through the city as I stood next to the Christmas tree, groups of cyclists passing through, horses and carts for the tourists. Our final meal at Krioyo, Seabass and coconut rice with plantain with some dodgy over-salted margaritas, walking home holding hands. Watching more crime TV – our South American favourite! We were a little underwhelmed by Cartagena. It’s very touristy and that kind of takes away its soul. It’s still a very pretty place but not as endearing as other cities. Bogota on an evening had life and energy (our taxi ride to the airport passed through backstreets of lit up restaurants and bustling bars). Maybe this is what we needed to make going home a little easier. Or, maybe we can just no longer see.

Wednesday 12th December 2012 – 2.20pm London to Leeds train  0degrees

It really is all over now. I can’t believe I wrote the last entry in Cartagena airport 24 hours ago. I took a moment to catch the heat and the sun in my memory as I stood on the top step into the plane but even now that seems days ago. London is freezing and the north is sure to be colder!


Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Day 424-426 – Colombia – Cartagena – Part 2

Duly suffering for my excesses and lack of sleep we said our heartfelt goodbyes to our many amigo’s and hopped on the minibus for our transfer back to Cartagena. This was a tough journey for the shell of a man my recent exploits had left me but I made it and was delighted to check into our very nice final hotel and whack the aircon on full. We whipped up some French bread sandwiches from the supermarket and set about sleeping it off.

After breakfast we set out to circuit the city walls of Cartagena. Touted at 11km I’ll be surprised if it’s anything like that. It didn’t seem to take us too long and we stopped at a gallery and a few other spots along the way. Our first impressions of Cartagena remained true but we enjoyed it nonetheless. That night we found an Italian restaurant and enjoyed a hearty meal.

It was our final day and night in Cartagena so we organised a tour to see the remaining sites for the afternoon and after a few errands returned to enjoy the hotel patio and catch some final rays. The afternoon tour started poorly taking over an hour to get going and then speaking entirely in Spanish despite us buying it on the basis of it being an English speaking guide. Our Spanish has reached a point where it’s adequate to organise and acquire but still relatively child-like for any kind of conversation and completely undone by historical Spanish.

We were a little annoyed but Fi spoke to the fella who was leading the tour who knew nothing of his rogue English guests and to his credit then repeated all the main points to us separately after each stop. We visited the symbol of the city – a brass sculpture of a pair of old boats essentially symbolising that you should love Cartagena like you’d love a pair of old boots (nice touch I suppose).

We were then ragged up a hill to the Convento De La Popa, a monastery overlooking the city. The monk who founded it apparently got the memo from the big G while catching a few Z’s in Bogota to build a monastery on the highest point. He wandered up and found a load of Indian immigrants worshipping a gold goat so demonstrating true religious tolerance he lobbed the gold goat off the side of the hill. It was a good panoramic of the city but photos were pointless due to the typical haze and smog of any city these days.

We then visited the Castillo de San Felipe built as a land fortification to protect Cartagena by the Spaniards. One part was built then taken by a pirate so another architect was brought in who constructed a much larger series of fortifications focused on a series of batteries, each one higher than the last and focused on bombarding the last should it be taken. A few other innovative designs were highlighted and we wandered the odd tunnel here and then until the final sunset of our trip came down over the city in the distance.

We were then driven into the old city to a market we’d already visited where we made the mutual decision with a chap called Nicholas to hop it and leave the tour as we were close to our hotel and it was all but over anyway. We nipped back, got cleaned up and visited a reasonably priced but fairly swanky local cuisine restaurant where we enjoyed a few ropey Margaritas and some fine food.

Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Day 421-423 – Colombia – Santa Marta

Early breakfast and a quick wander to the ticket office scored us the onward travel to the first colonial city in South America – Santa Marta. This weighty title isn’t really backed up by the city itself as very few people have said anything nice about it. We did however find out about a certain hostel renowned as a black hole where travellers get lost for far longer than they intend to, and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta came highly recommended so we figured one last jaunt was worthwhile.

The transfer was painless as transfers go though we did manage to get the only seats missed by the aircon. We were dropped at the door by the driver and checked into our dorm for the first night. The place looked lovely and had everything you need at a hostel – pool, pool table, bar and good sized rooms. As luck would have it the Champions League was on the box so I dropped straight in front of that and met Alex from Sydney and Nicole from Michigan. By the end of the match it felt the four of us had known each other forever and we’d already become well acquainted with the two-for-one Caiparinhas.

That evening we visited a street vendor for a wonderful array of meat sticks which our half cut selves gorged on before picking up a bottle of Ron to share (it lasted two drinks each…) returning to play pool until the early hours and meeting all manner of other guests and staff including Sam, Rhydian, Matt, Matthew, Christina, Maru, Eugenie, Panil, Krish and many more. I rolled into my dorm bed late aware that my head would be sure to remind me of the evening’s excesses.

A lazy day followed – we moved into the Holland suite – the top room at the place and a treat for us for the next two nights. We spent a little time by the pool and dined at the hostel for lunch. We simply took advantage of the weather and the relaxed atmosphere of the place and enjoyed it.

A few people returned from a trip away including Jonathan and Nina from Bristol. That night we planned a more laid back and less drunken evening and more or less succeeded – it was almost beer only and a lot of people went out to Taranga (a nearby spot with a nightclub, after party and a little something for everyone) while we stayed at the hostel playing pool, eating meat sticks and getting to know those that stayed back with us.

Having treated ourselves better and slept well we were poolside early and making the most of it. A lovely relaxing day was had – we did take a break to gather supplies though that didn’t really go well – we set out to make a group salad and ended up with wine for Fi and Nicole and a bottle of Ron…each…for me and Alex. Even after this long I have seriously odd budgeting methods.

By 3pm we were back on it in the pool where we held out until after sunset, meeting Dan from Kilkenny in the process. After a final visit to Meat Stick lady we returned to spend some quality time with Ron before most people went out to Taranga again leaving the few remaining stragglers to enjoy the pool table and each other’s company. In short, I drank far too much rum and stayed up far too late rounding off our relaxing few days in the sun like a hyperactive man-child on a stag do…which is pretty normal for me I suppose.

Colombia – Cartagena – Part 1 – Olds – Photos

Jewel of the Caribbean coast, we visited Cartagena twice – the gallery beyond the image covers our first pass through the city.

Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Day 419-420 – Colombia – Cartagena – Part 1

We arrived and the taxi was simple and cost what we expected to pay. For our first Cartagena stint we were staying in the red light district of Getsemini in a non-air conditioned room. This proved annoying – the only hope of any real sleep was to whack the fan on full which to its credit was powerful but the downside meant it was like sleeping in a jet engine. Still, lots of fast moving hot air was better than lots of still hot air and once you got used to the noise you eventually passed out. We resolved on night one that we would have aircon on our return.

We took breakfast across the road and set out to explore the old walled city. First impressions are that it lacks the level of preservation that a European or indeed many other ‘old’ cities are afforded – there are a few ugly concrete high rises that spoil any hope of an ancient cityscape no matter which angle you take it in from.

We trotted around visiting various landmarks including the Cathedral (nice but mass started and we were asked to stop taking pictures), the museum of the Inquisition (or as I like to refer to it the ‘this was not used in Cartagena’ museum) and a variety of other churches. We sat on a plaza for a beer and amongst other things were serenaded by a pair of budding rappers which was simultaneously annoying and comical. They got their contribution only after posing for their album cover. Another thing that we’d picked up on at this point was that for whatever reason I had a lot less patience with the hustle here. Being constantly asked to buy a painting (mass-manufactured print) or replica carving (mass manufactured) or any other tat for that matter undermined the place. As always I remained polite to everyone who offered me everything from silver to cocaine but any hope of quietly meandering around ancient quirky colonial streets was lost.

We spied Cafe Del Mar – situated on the walls of the old city and famed for its views of the sunset but it wasn’t open until 5pm so we decided to head back to get cleaned up. By the time we’d dragged ourselves back out sunset was already in motion so we decided to skip it and head for a bite to eat, a bar and eventually to find somewhere we could organise a ticket to Santa Marta the next day. We found a place but it wasn’t open until the next morning. We hit the sack.

Colombia – Bogota & Medellin – Fi – Photos

Galapagos to Quito and onwards to Bogota by bus – 400+ miles in an upright seat for over 24hrs, next to a missonary intent on spreading the word!

At 4.30am the bus dropped us off at the border and then dissappeared, leaving us to guess which direction Colombia was in the pitch black of night. Thankfully a lovely couple saved us from wandering towards the riverbed (we seriously had no idea where we were!) and directed us towards the bus whilst repeatedly telling us in Spanish that it was very unsafe for us. Sometimes its better to be oblivious!

After another lengthy adhoc stop to retrieve a small truck load of suspicious looking ‘packages’ from the bus luggage store we were on our way again through lush green stunning deep valleys, the road teetering on the edge of dramatic drops.

Bogota is a hazy memory now, partly due to our meeting a lovely couple Dan and Georgina who shared a mutual appreciation of beer. We did at least manage to fit in a free walking tour which highlighted places for us to drop into later – the Museo de oro (gold museum), San Agustin and the policy history museum which included some interesting pieces about Pablo Escobars capture. We also learned that the Colmbian police uniform design is taken from the West Yorkshire police, it was funny to see such a familar sight so far from home!

Medellin was to be our next calling point. we had pre booked a hostel which kindly upgraded us to the most fantastic suite after a booking error. We were on wind down now so probably didnt see half of what Medellin has to offer. Once one of the most dangerous cities in the world due to drugs and violent crime the government have worked to clean the city up. Much like the pacification projects in Rio you still have to wonder where the problem has been moved to.

Colombia – Medellin – Olds – Photos

Medellin was a beautiful city though we didn’t see a great deal of it as our time there was short and the weather a bit on the ropey side for some of it. What we did see we enjoyed and I would happily pop back one day for more.

Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Day 417-418 – Colombia – Medellin

We reached Medellin and were glad to see the back of an exhausting bus journey. We hopped in a Taxi to the Arcadia hostel where we’d secured dorm beds for the first night and a suite for the second. The place was lovely – perched up a hill on the edge of a nice modern part of town amidst a lot of greenery. After scramming some pancakes and coffee for breakfast we set out for a walk to explore our surroundings.

We’d not known what to expect from Medellin – it had been the centre of operations for the Pablo Escobar drug cartel at its height and that meant a history tarnished by some truly awful events. It turns out that the place is a very modern, wealthy, sophisticated city these days – Madonna was performing at some point around the time we were there and it was a generally lovely place to wander around. After booking our flights up to Cartagena we caught the metro into the centre and took a wander around the Fernando Botero Sculpture park. Like Bogota his work has a major presence here – not least as it’s his birthplace.

The streets were busy and dotted with quaint, if persistent, market stalls selling a myriad of things that no-one needs – these days we’re completely immune to hawkers such is the conditioning of experience.

We came upon an odd red brick cathedral that we stopped to take some photos of before heading in search of the modern art museum. No dice – we couldn’t find it where we thought it was supposed to be. Disappointed we set off wandering again only for the rains to return, forcing us into a café for some liquid refreshment of the beer kind.

Broken but enjoyable conversation with the staff within while torrents of rain came down eventually lead to us being able to happily inform them that we were not in fact in town for the Madonna gig and instead here for the merits of the city itself.

After a couple of beers it was clear that the rain had no intention of letting up so we nabbed a taxi to a supermarket for wine and the ingredients to whip up a Spag Bol back at the hostel. We enjoyed this while talking to some fellow travellers about American Football [of which I have almost zero knowledge despite living stateside for over a year] before retiring for a good night’s sleep in the dorm.

After breakfast the next day we relocated to the Pantheon suite – which was spectacular. Balcony, sunken bath, huge – we took one look at the weather outside and decided to take advantage of our temporary palace. We spent time working on photos and blog stuff and just generally relaxing – and in the afternoon even took a bath in the marble tub. That evening the hostel put on a Greek BBQ which we signed up for and wolfed down while supping some beers in the company of the other residents. We did hear a few horror stories about bent cops and muggings in Cartagena which did wonders for our expectations of Colombia’s jewel of the north coast.

Forgetting that it was Monday we decided to try again to find the Modern Art Museum via a direct Taxi this time only to find out it was closed (as more often than not museums are on Mondays). We took a wander around and had some Mexican food for lunch before deciding to squeeze in the underwhelming but nice enough Botanic Gardens.

We made our way back in ample time and after getting sorted hopped in a transfer for our flight to Cartagena. While check-in was typically protracted, inefficient and annoying once we got through we were happy enough to munch on a ‘Dogger’ each for dinner (it’s amazing what you can pick up in airports these days…though they are just poorly-named hot dogs). The flight was swift and simple and gave us a taste of what to expect from Avianca for our flight home – the planes were pretty swanky.