Monday, February 4, 2008

Last Day In Panama & The Way Home

Arrived back in Panama for the last day/night. We checked into our hostel, and I must admit this hostel was an oddity. Basically, it was on one floor of a high-rise building. We did get access to the swimming pool on the top floor though 20+ floors up!

Once we were settled, we walked around downtown a bit. It was a bit of a ghost town, and I assume this is because it was a Sunday afternoon (and Carnival was also happening). We took this opportunity to go to Casco Viejo (this is where I went to see a salsa band over a week ago).

Taxi Drive To Casco Viejo

While in this old section of Panama, we did a bit of souvenir shopping. We hung out at one particular shop for a while and picked up all kinds of Panamanian goodies. Also talked with the owner of the shop for a bit. He was very animated and a really good salesman. Here I bought a Panama hat (they're really from Ecuador), and then we bought all kinds of molas (Kula Indian fabric panels).

After stocking up on souvenirs, we then walked around Panama's Old City. Casco Veijo is a neighhorhood of Panama along the water, and it is filled with many very old buildings, and appears to be in a phase of revitalization for tourism, and business. There are many beautiful buildings and spots for beautiful views of Panama, and the boat-filled waters adjacent to the Panama Canal.

La Bovedas Archway

As we walked around we walked through a neat walk way called La Bovedas Archway. This whole area has the potential of being a real tourist treasure. Right now it's more of a hidden treasure, which is probably better, but I'm sure this place will be swarming with tourists in the near future. While walking around this Casco, we overheard a nearby tour, and heard about how Casco Viejo will be up on the silver screen in the near future. Apparently, this area is going to pass for both Bolivia and Haiti in the upcoming Quantum of Solace, the new James Bond movie. Very cool. **it sounds like shooting occurred a week after we were here!**

Cool-looking Gutted Building In Casco Viejo

Panama City Cityscape

After lunch, we headed back to the hostel. I grabbed a quick swim on the top of our sky scraper (pretty odd & cool experience). We then decided to go out on the town and check out Panama City's Carnival. We made it to the closed off street where the Carnival celebration was happening, and waited in line for about an hour, and then made it inside. It was packed. There were tons of booths (mainly food and beer), and also tons of little dance partys with DJs blasting reggaeton, merengue, salsa, hip hop, etc. There were also a couple of stages with live bands as well.

Panama City's Carnival

Carnival made for a long night, but it was fun. After walking up and down about of mile of partying, called it a night and got ready for the early flight home in the morning.

All in all the trip home was fairly uneventful. Had no hitches at customs, and all my flights were on time. The big slap in the face was the weather. After 2 weeks of tropical warmth, walked out of Seatac to some very chilly weather. Almost thought I wouldn't make it home because of a very snowy and scary Snoqualmie Pass---I knew my vacation was officially over. :)

Snoqualmie Pass....brrrr!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Leaving The Walled City

Muelle de los Pegasos & Torre Del Reloj (background)

As with several of the other mornings Ang & I were in Cartagena, I ended up waking up early. This morning I decided to take one last tour around the city and capture a few shots I missed. So I headed out of Hotel Centro into a dark blue pre-sunrise morning. I headed to the nearby Plaza de los Coches and then under the arches of Torre Del Reloj (Clock Tower), and walked down the Camellón de los Mártires. Worked with pre-dawn light and snapped pics of the statues along Camellon.

Moon & Plaza De Los Coches

Dudes Hanging Out

Camellón de los Mártires

After this we were Panama-bound. I have to say that I loved Colombia, and especially the city of Cartagena. I do hope their tourism business gets better, but I like the "hidden gem" quality of the city as well. Now I need to figure out when I'll make it back here!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Adventure By Sea, Motorbike, and Bus!

Sunset At Pasacaballo Ferry

This day found us setting out for a boat ride to Islas del Rosario and Playa Blaca. We were boarding some fairly rickety looking boats. We rode out the bay of Cartagena headed for the open waters of the Carribbean. We headed south of Cartagena to Islas del Rosario (about a 25-30mile boat ride which took 60-90min). Unfortunately, the rocking boat and Ang's preggie state were a bad mix. She had to stay downstairs off the top deck, and close to a bathroom. I felt bad. The waves were really bad, and we were moving all over. One older woman tried to offer help and support, but we just needed to get her off the boat. Luckily, we made it to Rosario fairly soon.
Islas Rosario

On the island there wasn't much there. There was an aquarium, a few stands, and lots of vendors. The aquarium wasn't free and seemed a bit forced. We ended up finding something to eat and just sitting around. There weren't many options for exploring. It was a very constrained area suited for people to buy souvenirs. Next up, Playa Blanca.

This time (with crackers in hand) Ang and I rode in the boat en route to Playa Blanca. I wish I could say the boat ride was nice and calm. there were times when one simply couldn't walk on the boat because the boat was swaying so much. It was pretty fun, but I'm sure it was also very sea-sick-worthy. This trip was only about 10 miles, so it wasn't so bad, until.......

Our Accident At Sea That Made It An Unforgettable Day

The swaying boat eased down as we approached what was obviously Playa Blanca (long white sandy beach, ahead!). So, we were excited to finally get off the boat and play on a real nice beach. Everything was going well, and we were ready to hit the sand. Didn't see a port or dock for our big boat to pull up to. We then saw how we were going to get on shore. Our boat was going to drop anchor off shore and then a small boat was going to pull up, and we were going to take the small boat to shore.

That was the plan.

Unfortunately, our boat had some issues. I think the plan was for the big boat to drop anchor and point straight into the incoming waves. That didn't happen. Our boat ended up pulling up parallel to the beach AND waves. This had the entire boat being slammed toward shore. It seemed like the boat may have lost power for a second or two because we quickly moved toward the shore. Waves were crashing and pushing us closer and closer...and then the entire boat shrugged and jolted. We hit the ground. At some point the boat engines came on, but the main result was the spewing of oil and blackness into the beautiful blue waters.

Abandoning Ship

Through all of this, the small boat made a few attempts at taking passengers. There were a few times when I thought of jumping in the water, we were only 10s of feet from shore, so it wouldn't be a long swim. It woulda been fun and "adventurous". At this point, I was thinking the whole thing was a bit comical...well atleast until the boat started leaking oil and crushing coral underwater. Eventually just waited it out w/ all the other passengers. Came to a point when there was enough calm for the small boat to let all of us evacuate & abandon ship.

Playa Blanca

Once we made it to shore, we tried our best to calm down and enjoy the surroundings. We also kept an ear out for what was going on. The big ship was toast and eventually had to be towed back. All of us refugees eventually approached the tour guide for answers. I didn't know what was being said or what was going on, but there were a lot of mad people.

Tour Guide & Mad Throng Of Tourists!

We had lunch and chilled. I went for a swim (tried to avoid the swarming peddlers who tried selling me trinkets). Ang ended up getting her braids re-done. After a while, the news from the tour guide was we were going to board another boat for a trip home. Honestly, at this point I just wanted to get home. I didn't care if it was on one of the boats. Ang was in the middle of hair-braiding and she wasn't too keen of the boats. She was thinking of other options for getting back to Cartagena.

I didn't have much of an opportunity to think. Every time I sat down a vendor would hound me, and try to sell me something. I was getting pissed off, especially since I didn't know how I was going to get back to Cartagena--we were in the middle of no where.

"Just get on the boat, I'll find a way home," Ang said. There was no way I was going to leave Ang. I stayed. I sulked, and I waited for her braids.

Finally, Ang's braids were done, but at this point Playa Blanca was completely deserted except for us and a group of street vendors who were all picking up and leaving. It looks like we're going to be going with them.

We all walked up to the bluffs above the beach. Sounds like everyone was figuring out how to get home. The person who did Ang's braids was going to arrange for our transportation back to Cartagena, and then she'd be paid. After some nervous and tense moments where I didn't know what the heck was going on, I was eventually motioned to get on the back of a kid's motorcyle. Ang did the same, and her braider also did so. So, we were a convoy of 3 motorcycles Cartagena-bound on a dirt road. My bad mood and grumpiness subsided when I knew we were going somewhere. Now I just focussed on holding on to the bike. I felt like Ewan MacGregor on his TV documentary Long Way Round!

Colombia By Bike

We drove through the Colombian countryside, and through a couple of small towns. We evaded cows, big rocks, potholes, other vehicles, and sand banks. It was hard but I was able to hang on. My driver was a great motor bike driver. I wish I could have talked to him, but "no habla". He must have been just a teenager, but he was nice. We rode for about 30min and then we made it to the end of our ride, the ferry crossing at Pasacaballo--it was sunset.

Looking Back From Ferry

Cute Girl On Ferry & Another Cutie on Motorcycle

We got to Pascaballo first, and I was wondering where Ang was because I lost track of her miles ago, but she eventually showed. Here we boarded a ferry and crossed a river to the main town of Pasacaballo. This town was the biggest little town we'd seen since the beach. The living conditions here were third world. I imagine that many of these people bus into Cartagena for work. It looked like a rough living, but it also looked real. It looked simple. This is something I never would have been able to see if I stuck with the rest of the tourists. These people were so nice to us. We walked into one person's house and Ang was able to use their restroom. Their home was wide open and they greeted us with welcoming looks. We then got back onto the street. I still had no idea what we were doing next. Then I saw a bus appear! Wow, a bus way out here. Turns out this is one of its first stops and it was headed to Cartagena!

Streets of Pascaballo

The braider-woman paid for our fare on the bus and we all boarded. The bus was fairly empty. We were then on our way. We rode from city to city and they became bigger and bigger, and more and more people boarded the boat. At this point it was becoming night. One of the memorable things about this ride was when it was totally packed. All of a sudde a little guy broke into song. I think he had a harmonica, but it was his singing which caught everyone's attention. Actually I wouldn't really call it singing, it as more like shouting. Some of us laughed, it was funny, but it was something I never would have expected. When the singer was done, he walked up and down the bus for money. I gave him some coins.

Colombia By Bus

We made it to Cartagena, and we thanked and paid the braiding-woman. This is when I truly fell in love with Colombia, its people, its culture, and it's country.

Chess at Plaza De Bolivar Later That Night

Friday, February 1, 2008

Relaxing Day In Cartagena

On this day we had no tours planned. So, we played it by ear. Today, as with most of the days during this trip, I woke up early excited for what the day had in store. Today I was up before sunset, and I wanted to get out and use this stellar light to grab some awesome pictures. So, I cleaned up, and headed out. One of the first things I wanted to take a picture of was the Monumento de la India Catalina. Managed to get to the monument just as the sun was peaking out over Cerro La Popa.

After snapping a few pictures here, I walked along the nearby street and checked out the street vendors who were set up. I had no idea what some of them were selling, but some of it looked good. Dang, I wish I knew more Spanish!!!

Made another trip to Bocagrande via taxi. Shopped around a little and then checked out the nearby beach. Cartagena isn't noted as having the best beaches, but these Bocagrande beaches were decent. The only thing I didn't like were all the vendors. I only had my shorts and a t-shirt, but these vendors still hounded me to buy stuff. I mean what was I supposed to buy their stuff with?? My way of evading the vendors was to stay out in the water...well, actually one vendor followed me out into the water to sell me some maracas.

Bocagrande beach

After hanging out at the beach, Ang and I parted ways, and she hung out in Bocagrande and I opted to walk back to teh Walled City along the beach. During the walk home I walked along the shore adjacent to the Walled City. Around here I was lucky to catch a group of guys as they were pulling in a fishing net. A small crowd gathered as they pulled in their haul.

Hauling in Fish

Once again, I took another lap around the Wall and captured many more pictures. This city is so easy to photograph.

This particular evening I decided to check out some of Cartagena's nightlife. Ended up hitting some bars along the water in the Getsemani neighborhood. Hung out at a "German bar". It was a very odd mix, but they had some nice german hefeweisse beer. Later hit a club near our hotel in the Plaza de los Coches. They were touting the club as a Carnival party. It was alright. Man, I wish I knew how to dance cumbia! I love the music, but I didn't have the basic moves yet. Next time I'm in Colombia I'll be more prepared.