“Having made it across the border from Venezuela to Colombia, we were all super excited at the chance to have a little more freedom as the security in Colombia is considerably better than in Venezuela. Well talk out getting off to a bad start! We boarded a bus in Cucuta with the aim of reaching Santa Marta, a popular seaside town in the north of Colombia. The bus journey, which was meant to be a 16 hour trip, turned into a 35 hour fiasco. It began with our driver rallying the bus around the Colombian mountains which are the equivalent of the Cliffs of Moher at about 100km an hour until we ground to a halt in a country road for a total of 15 hours without movement. Turns out the ESB in Colombia had cut off the electricity to some small town and had not fixed it in a week so the town’s people created a blockade, thus thinking it would be a good idea to have 3 Irish lads sweating their arses off on a bus rationing one bottle of water between them! Seeing a gap in the market, some local lad thought he’d set up a business by riding to the local town on his bike, buying food and then selling it at extortionate prices to people stranded on buses…Our bellies beat our head. Eventually we made it to Santa Marta and headed straight to the leaba!
We decided to use our time in Santa Marta a little more productively and began a self-inflicted period of rehab and dedicated some serious time to improving our Casper the Ghost bodies. Deciding to get away from it all for a day or two we went to stay in Tayrona National Park, which is a large jungle which backs onto a number of beautiful beaches. We had to trek about 2 hours, but sure were sweating buckets after 10 minutes. Arriving severely dehydrated, we set up camp by the beach and rented hammocks for the night. We then partook in our customary Irish dancing on the beach. As the sun sets around 6pm, there was not a whole lot to do on the back so it turned into a school night. We were in bed by 8pm and all! Early the next morning we trekked back and hoped on the bus to Cartagena, where we were once again ripped off and another fiasco ensued, with our bus stopping every 10 minutes and eventually breaking down half way on our trip. After another taxi back to the terminal and a loud complaint ensuring we got a refund, we finally got a new bus and made it. Bus Eireann is streets ahead of these lads. We would have been quicker on the back of the Irish retriever in their ads!
We arrived in the lovely colonial town of Cartagena broken men at around midnight and hit the hay straight away. The following day we did a bit of exploration and explained on numerous occasions how we are not gringos but in fact from “Irlanda”. In Cartagena we got our first sample of the Colombian rumba which is generally all salsa. Well bloody hell, it’s not easy. And there is only so much somebody wants to teach you in a bar until they realise you have not got a move in your body! We collectively agreed that classes were on the cards. On our final day in Cartagena we hit the beach where we spent the day saying “No gracias” for everything from massages to pop-socks. Wild! Another major breakthrough in Cartagena was the introduction of Colombian coffee. As someone who has only ever had 2 cups before, I didn’t know what had hit me. After 2 cups I was talking to the wall, doing 40 press-ups and thought I could hear a faint buzzing sound! By then we knew it was time to hit Medellin, the home of the most beautiful girls in the world.
Not surprisingly the bus to Medellin was delayed by 5 hours or so. As we arrived in the morning we decided to do something touristy as we had been neglecting some sights in other towns. We headed up to the cable car of Medellin which has spectacular views of the city and in the evening went out to test our salsa skills once again. Needless to say we hadn’t improved much. The following day it was the final of the Colombian football league and we jumped on the bandwagon as Nacional from Medellin were playing. By god the standard was woeful and ended 0-0. There is better quality in the FAI Cup 3rd round! Over 3 days in Medellin we had a number of failed attempts to improve our salsa, however we did greatly improve our empanada eating skills and discovered the beauty of free samples in supermarkets. We would wake up at 10am and head straight down to the local Exito and stroll down the aisles. My personal favourite meal was the chocolate milkshake, 4 chicken noodles, a nugget, a corner of a hamburger and topped off with a spoon of ice-cream. Travelling on the budget! As the weekend was over we decided to hit the capital of Colombia, Bogota.
We made for Bogota and incredibly arrived on time the following day. I think that a lot to do with the fact that the bus was driven by Eddie Irvine himself. Every time I was on the verge of dozing off he would take a hair pin or chicane at such pace and accuracy that I thought I was suffering side effects from the G-forces. As our time was running a bit short in Colombia we decided to only spend 2 nights in Bogota. This was not influenced by the fact the place was freezing and was draining our tan by the hour. One of the main attractions in Bogota is the cable car ride up Montserrat Mountain. It rises to above 2800m above sea level. By the time we got to the top we could barely breathe. Inhaler at the ready! Afterwards we visited the famous Gold museum of the city, which essentially consists of millions of pieces of gold made into the shape of a jaguar. The regular question of the tour guide was, “Any idea what this represents?” …and was swiftly followed by, “Eh, is it a Jaguar?”….”Excellent, How did you know?” Afterwards the lads who were in desperate need of haircuts visited a dodgey barber where a cut cost 2 euro. Well what a deal! The best tidy neck I have ever seen!
We arrived in Cali, the salsa capital of Colombia on the eve of Kevin’s birthday and decided to do a few touristy things and visited the Henry Street of Cali…”Get yisser batteries….dos por mil pesos”. That evening we kicked off the celebrations in true Irish fashion by watching some D’unbelieveables and Father Ted, whch went over the heads of many, apart from a 70 year old German traveller who proclaimed her love for Father Ted.