Thursday, January 31, 2008

Swimming In A Volcano, Fresh Seafood, And A Walk Along The Wall

On this day we woke up bright and early to catch a van for a tour to a few places north of Cartagena. First on our agenda was an honest to goodness volcano, and then a lunch in a small coastal town.

So, we were off to Volcán del Totumo. This was an odd looking mound of mud a few hundred feet high. There was a stairway leading up to the top of the volcano. Our goal---to climb the "volcano", and jump into it! Yup, we were living a Tom Hanks movie! This volcano was filled with a gooey muddy pool inside of it. Sorry, but since I didn't have any place to stash my camera, I didn't get any pictures, but take my word for it--we jumped into a volcano. :)

It was an odd feeling. the mud was about 4-ft deep, but you probably could go down deeper if you wanted to. Basically you would just float in the mud. There were people inside who offered to give massage (for a fee), if you wanted it. It was interesting. After about 15 min, we climbed out and walked down the volcano, and headed to the nearby lake. Here there were women who offered to bath you (for a fee).

Restaurante Donna

Street of Manzanillo Del Mar

After this, we all boarded our van and headed south a touch down to the small coastal town of Manzanillo Del Mar. This was a tiny town but they had a restaurant there and we stopped here for a meal. Before grubbing, we got to play around in the ocean and walk around a bit. I had a seafood meal (wish I knew what kind of fish I was eating. It was cooked whole and was scrumptious).

After hanging in Manzanillo, we headed back to Cartagena. I took the opportunity of this early evening to walk around Cartagena on my own and walk the length of the wall. Caught a magnificent sunset.

Buildings At Sunset

Canons and Guard Outpost

Me and Sunset

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Bus Tour and More Cartagena Exploring

On our second day in Cartagena, we started out by exploring the Getsemani section of the walled city. The walk along Camellón de los Martires is very nice. This is a large palm tree-lined walkway between neighborhoods. While in Getsemani we walked through various squares and neighborhoods. I liked the way the buildings were painted. Took quite a few pictures here.

Camellón de los Martires

Plaza de la Trinidad in Getsemani

We then did a popular tourist activity and rode one of Cartagena's infamous tour buses. We took a cab to the "city-fied" part of Cartagena known as Bocagrande. Here, amongst the sky scrapers, we found a tourist place, and we signed up to catch a bus.

These tour buses are all over and are very distinctive with very bright paint jobs and neat-looking designs on them. I don't know if it was me, but they also seem to be driven by mad men! They drive like they're sports cars weaving and swerving through traffic. The passenger are is totally open, so those of us on the sides can stick our legs out and touch other car roofs.
Tour Bus

Courtyard of Monasterio de La Candelaria

After being picked up in Bocagrande, we drove around this part of the city. We picked up a few people along the way, and then we headed toward older parts of Cartagena. Our next stop was at the top of Cerro La Popa (Hill of the Stern). The drive up was right through neighborhoods of regular people. They must hate seeing all these tourists bus through their backyard all hours of the day. The drive up was steep with lots of switchback. At the top, we stopped at the Monasterio de La Candelaria. The view from the monastery afforded a great panoramic view of Cartagena. We walked along w/ the tour through the monastery, and then got back on our bus. Our next stop was down the hill Los Zapatos Viejos (a sculpture of Old Shoes).

Los Zapatos Viejos

Our last stop was at Castillo De San Felipe De Barajas. This is a castle which overlooks the old city of Cartagena. Here we walked in and around the castle. It's a big castle, and looks like it was very strong, and it had to be to guard against all the pirates from back in the day. Once again we had a great view of the city from the top of the castle. We were then dropped off inside the Walled City close to the wall and a huge vendor area.

Castillo De San Felipe De Barajas

Later in the day, we took a trip back to Bocagrande, and walked around there. We ended up going to a trendy restaurant that served crepes. We had a full day and saw alot.

Here's a look at Cafe Del Mar

Making Plans At Crepe House

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jetsetting To Cartagena

So, we were now on our way to Cartagena. We boarded our plane and went back to Panama City. Once there, I was all for going to the airport and waiting a few hours for our plane to Cartagena, but we had a few hours. Once again, the well-traveled Ang took charge and we decided to use that time more efficiently. We ended up going to the ruins of the old and original Panama City. It was on the way to the airport, so it wasn't a big divergence.

Two Coconuts

Panama City Line From Old Tower

At the ruins we walked around the very old stone/brick structrues, checked out a little vendor mall, and had some great views of the city. I met a beautiful woman from Argentina here (Luisa--she was vacationing here in Panama also). I also drank out of a coconut! After our stay here, we then went to the airport.

So, on this day we went from Bocas Del Toro --> Panama City --> Cartagena.

I think I'm getting the hang of this! :)

Monday, January 28, 2008

More Bocas And Our Cartagena Plan

The rest of the stay at Bocas was fairly chill. One night I did get out to a couple of the clubs. One was really cool in that the dance floor was on the beach (with sand and all), and some of the dancefloors were out on boat docks. It was packed w/ a few locals and lots of gringos! It was alright. I mainly people watched; danced a little.

Watching Waves

Boat House

Benches at Town Square

I found many of my days just walking around exploring Bocas. There was some neat architecture, and Bocas' Town Square always had lots of action. Spent a few times on a park bench trying to read my Don Quixote (I think this will be a life long endeavor), watching people, and snapping pictures.

Local Meal: Yum!

Loved The Sky Here

Maya ended up leaving back to Panama City and home on 1/28. Ang and I had another day. This is where Ang introduced me to limonade---very yummy summer drink (way better than normal lemonade). During this time Ang and I decided that we'd take a trip to Colombia. I must admit I was apprehensive at first, because in America we had only heard scary stuff about Colombia. I was up for adventure and discovery, so I was game. We were going to go to Cartagena, "I've always wanted to go there since seeing it in "Romancing the Stone"!", Ang would say. It was a spur of the moment decision, but we were set for Colombia.

On our last day at Bocas we decided to head to "another Bocas": Bocas del Drago (Dragon's mouth). This was a beach on the northeastern side of the island (opposite to Bocas Del Toro). We obviously took a cab. The drive was around 10-12 miles but took about 45 minutes to drive with a truck. I hung out in the back of the truck cab while Ang talked w/ our cabbie. He seemed nice (not that I could understand what they were talking about). Once at the beach, we asked the driver to give meet us back here in about 2hrs. So, we hung out at Bocas Del Drago. There wasn't much of a town in the area. There was a resort (didn't catch the name), and a very beautiful beach. We chilled here, swam, snapped pictures, and just soaked it all in. We caught the sunset, our ride arrived, and then we headed back to Bocas. The drive back was fun and we listened to cool music.

Here are some pictures from Bocas Del Drago:

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Onto Bocas Del Toro

Today I was on my way to Bocas Del Toro. So, I'd be taking a short plane ride from the Pacific-side of Panama onto the Caribbean-side at the sleepy surfer town of Bocas Del Toro (Mouth of the Bull). Bocas Del Toro is on the Island of Colon.

I arrived at Boca's small airport and as I grabbed my bags I walked outside of the airport and walked toward a baseball game going on at a nearby field. As I was walking, two women on bikes approached: Ang & her sister Maya!

I was SOOOOO happy to seem them! They looked great and relaxed, beach life I pressumed. We sauntered into town and they gave me a tour of Bocas' Main St. This town was much more touristy than Panama City. Here I could here more languages around me. We checked into our hotel (which was pretty nice), and then Maya and I went to shop Ang's grocery list. We rode bikes around Bocas and I received a pretty nice tour from Maya. Bocas seemed like a very mellow and nice place.
Bocas Main St.

At the Park

For the late afternoon, we decided to head out to a beach. Apparently there was a surf competition going on, so we wanted to go and check it out. It was a bit of a ways though, so we ended up getting a cab. Unfortunately, the cab could only go so far because the road was really rough (muddy, and bog-bound), so the cabbie went as far as we could go and pointed us the direction we needed to walk. So, we were on our way.

House & Laundry

Outside Playa Mango Resort

The road was really bad. You'd need to have a big 4x4 (or a boat) to navigate down the road. We pressed on though. There wasn't much out there. We were definitely away from the city. We saw a buildings, a small resort (Playa Mango), and then started to just see beach. The walk was actually pretty nice. It was warm and humid. We walked right along the beach. The waves were small, so you could pretty much walk in the warm waters. Every once in a while we'd see a vehicle pass by. "What are these gringos doing out here?!" they were thinking I'm sure!

On The Trail

Well, the walk ended up being way longer than we though (order of an hour+). We eventually happened upon an area where there looked like there might have been a surfing gathering. There were people, firstly. There was also a booth or two, but nothing looked like it was happening. We ended up hanging out for a little bit here and then made the trek back. Granted it was now later in the day. We ended up walking at dusk and eventually night. We managed to make it to Play Mango, and we decided we'd stop here and call for a cab or a boat (which could take us across the bay). We walked in all muddy-footed, but we were received well. Playa Mango was pretty dead. There was no one in the pool are at the restaurant. We met the bartender was a European kid here for the summer. He called a boat for us and we ordered a few drinks while we waited. Then, there was darkness.

Maya Watching Surf

The power went out! Yup, we could see along the beach and across the bay that the outskirts of Bocas were all bathed in darkness. Cool! It was neat to be in such a beautiful area and no noise or light. We soaked it in .

The power came back shortly, and the staff were kind enough to let us hose ourselves down. We walked onto their dock/bar and hung out until our boat came. We had a cool time sitting out at the floating bar among the "christmas lights" and the beautiful ocean-view of the town of Bocas.

Waiting For Our Boat Taxi