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Quito y Mitad del Mundo

Quito and the Middle of the World


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My post about Ecuador will not be long as I only had enough time to visit Quito and its surroundings.

There are quite a few things to do in Ecuador, for the adventurous trekkers who wish to climb the Cotopaxi volcano (5,897 m), or the wildlife lovers who want to explore the Galapagos islands for example. The Amazonian basin is also quite popular with boats going to Iquitos in Peru, and other towns and places which are popular among the Ecuadorian and foreigner tourists.

A trip to the Galapagos is indeed very expensive (at least 1500 US$) for a one week trip on a boat (+ the flights) so I will probably come back during another journey, when my budget will be more consequent, as all the people I met and who went there definitely had a great experience.

So my primarily aim this time was to reach Peru (Huaraz) as quickly as I could, and therefore I only took the time to take a few shots in the capital and also took the opportunity to visit the city called Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) where the Equator line is passing through. Nothing amazing nor extraordinary but something to cross off my checklist! ;)

Woman of the Apocalypse, by night

Woman of the Apocalypse, by night


The Cathedral of Quito, by night

The Cathedral of Quito, by night


The Cathedral of Quito

The Cathedral of Quito


Couple praying inside the cathedral

Couple praying inside the cathedral


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Mitad del Mundo

Mitad del Mundo


500m further, the real GPS-calculated line of the equator. One foot in each hemisphere then! <img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

500m further, the real GPS-calculated line of the equator. One foot in each hemisphere then! :)


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Posted by manolo84 16:53 Archived in Ecuador Tagged cities english Comments (0)

Short stop in Colombia


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Colombia is definitely a nice country, one where you could get stuck in a few months or even years. There is just too much to see, from the burning Caribbean coast, to the cold mountainous Andes where Bogota is, via the Coffee region or again the huge Amazonian basin. And that is just a quick overview really. So you can understand my frustration when I realised how big South America was and that I wouldn't be able to see everything in Colombia given the amount of time I had, roughly 3 weeks....

  • Cartagena

From the moment we set foot on land, after having sailed from several days from Panama, we got welcomed by the buzzing life and burning sun of Cartagena. Trying to walk around the old city in the afternoon was virtually impossible, you would end up sweating buckets just after a few minutes... So I didn't do a lot of things there, but mainly exploring the city sights which included the old spanish forts, a covent overlooking the whole city, a bath in the mud-volcano nearby (more a tourist trap really), enjoying the night life with my sailing companions and a few days recovering from a bad cold I had caught from the air-conditioning of the hostel I was staying at.

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  • Santa Marta

Same coast, and same story concerning the weather: suffocating... Santa Marta has not much to offer itself but its location makes it a really good starting point for the nice beaches around, for the Lost City trek (which I didn't do) or for the Tayrona national park nearby.

Aidan impassive when a thunderstorm suddenly appeared

Aidan impassive when a thunderstorm suddenly appeared

  • Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park is located on the east side of Santa Marta, and is a wonderland to watch wildlife (mainly birds), enjoy some of the best beaches of the country, even though swimming in some of them is not allowed, due to the very rough seas and under currents. There is no road access there, at least not direct so the way to access these beaches and the few managed camps is to trek for a few hours and rent a hammock or tent (or bring your own) and then relax for a few days with the sound of the waves in the background... When we were there, beginning of the low-season, it was not too much packed. However I can imagine the same camp with hundreds of tents around and I think the place will lose a bit of its charm. Anyway, this was the perfect place to relax after our boat journey, but 2 or 3 days were sufficient as it is easy to get bored after a while...

Just before leaving though, we decided to go for a little "walk" inside the park to an old Indian village. A path made of loose rocks takes you to their ancient ruins. It was designed thus by the Tayrona Indians of old, as a warning sign of outsiders approaching their habitat. The trek to the ruins takes a couple of hours and is pretty arduous as you have to crawl your way through hand-carved tunnels and negotiate huge boulders, the whole thing whilst the sun burns every inch of your skin...

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Monkeys into the wild...

Monkeys into the wild...


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  • Bogotá

I could not have ended this Colombian tour without paying a visit to the capital and therefore after 2 weeks spent along the Caribbean coast, I decided to reach the high and cold Bogotá and take the opportunity to meet again with my friend Lars with whom I had done the El Mirador trek, back in Guatemala a few months ago. As every capital city, Bogotá is big, noisy, some areas are a bit dangerous but it doesn't stop this lively city to offer to the tourists many things, whether you want to visit the museums, the different parks, do some sightseeing, enjoy the night life or explore the neighbouring villages like Zipaquira and its salt cathedral, Guatavita and its quiet atmosphere near the lake...

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The Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira

The Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira


Find the mistake... <img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Find the mistake... :)


Lars and Johanna in Guatavita

Lars and Johanna in Guatavita


The Lourdes church in Bogotá

The Lourdes church in Bogotá

Posted by manolo84 16:03 Archived in Colombia Tagged beaches cathedrals cities nature forts english treks Comments (0)

Sailing to Colombia

via the San Blas islands....


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As I mentioned previously in my last post, I did not want to fly over to Colombia so the only other option (other than taking a machete, making my way through the Darién Gap and taking the risk of being kidnapped by the FARCs) was to take a boat and sail to Cartagena. The prices are quite steep (between 500 and 550 US$) but so are the flights between Panama and Colombia and besides you get to visit some of the most gorgeous islands in the world, the San Blas islands.

[It is possible to find a similar journey for a cheaper price (350 US$) but this is by speedboat where you go through the islands and by doing this way, you are being dropped straight at the Colombian's border and not in Cartagena.]

So in Portobelo (Panama), we got introduced to Ariel and her crew Hannah and Max who were going to be responsible for us for the whole trip (6 days). Ariel owns the boat but for this trip she had also hired a captain who has sailed on all the seas of the globe, Chris, a South African national.

So in the morning of the 5th of September, the 4 crew members and us the 8 passengers raised the anchor and started to sail aboard a nice sailing boat called One World. More information about the boat and crew can be found here.

During the first day we were supposed to refill in gas in one bay nearby but unfortunately due to technical issues of the gas station, we had to stop for the night there instead of sailing overnight to the islands. Anyway not a problem as the next morning we were leaving the bay at 6am and a few hours later, we would reach the first islands and had a first gasp on this piece of heaven.

The first days were therefore dedicated to do some snorkelling in the reef around the islands,fishing, making a campfires, sailing to different places and swimming around the boat when we could. In the last two days, we started our journey from the islands to Cartagena and arrived in the morning of the 10th September, in the Cartagena canal, with a view on all the skyscrapers of the new part of Cartagena.

The whole journey was just fantastic, the crew was very friendly and professional, and our whole group was a good mix of European culture with the British, Irish, Italian, Swiss and French countries being represented, all getting well along with each other! :)

And if I had to choose a highlight of this journey, this would probably be when we stopped in the middle of nowhere to swim around the boat. At that time we were right in the middle between Panama and Cartagena with no coast in sight. We were swimming in the most blue water I have ever seen, with 2000 meters under our feet.... A truly amazing experience.

And here are a few pictures taken from this trip:

Our sailing boat by night

Our sailing boat by night


First catch (and last) the first day!

First catch (and last) the first day!


Jumping off the boat

Jumping off the boat


Sunset

Sunset


Our campfire

Our campfire


One of the San Blas islands

One of the San Blas islands


More islands

More islands


Captain Chris

Captain Chris


A compass, apparently I have been told it can be useful on a boat...

A compass, apparently I have been told it can be useful on a boat...


Our companion for a part of the crossing, quite tired

Our companion for a part of the crossing, quite tired


People chilling out

People chilling out


Another sunset...

Another sunset...


The first fort of Cartagena, when entering the bay

The first fort of Cartagena, when entering the bay


The skyscrapers of Cartagena

The skyscrapers of Cartagena


A cargo ship exiting the bay

A cargo ship exiting the bay


A statue in the middle of the bay, not sure what is represents...

A statue in the middle of the bay, not sure what is represents...


Our fantastic group (From left to right, top to bottom: Max, Rory, Aidan, Archie, Pablo, Fabian, second row: Chris, Ben, Hannah, Ariel, Stephanie and myself)

Our fantastic group (From left to right, top to bottom: Max, Rory, Aidan, Archie, Pablo, Fabian, second row: Chris, Ben, Hannah, Ariel, Stephanie and myself)

Posted by manolo84 21:47 Archived in Panama Tagged boats snorkelling english Comments (4)

Panama City and Portobelo


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Not a long post there, as Panama city was for me more a springboard to reach Colombia. Indeed even though you cannot cross the border between Colombia and Panama by land (because of the Darien Gap), there are other options available. One is to fly over to Bogotá or Cartagena but this is a bit expensive, or the other option is to take a boat from the Caribbean coast of Panama and sail directly to Cartagena (or just to the Colombian border).

So while waiting to find a boat which would take me to Colombia (I have decided to avoid flying when I can), I took the opportunity to visit a bit Panama City and its famous canal:

The finance area of Panama City

The finance area of Panama City


Little streets in the old Panama

Little streets in the old Panama


Ships waiting to cross the canal

Ships waiting to cross the canal


The new Panama City by night

The new Panama City by night


The old Panama City by night

The old Panama City by night


A huge cruise ship crossing the canal

A huge cruise ship crossing the canal


Miraflores lock

Miraflores lock


The gates in action

The gates in action


A Chinese cargo ship entering the canal

A Chinese cargo ship entering the canal

I would spend 3 days in total in this city, which was plenty enough for me as I quickly got fed up with the taxis trying to rip you off of every dollars they could. I mean it's a common scenario in all countries, especially in Latin America, but the way it is done in Panama is more irritating, especially when you know how much you should be paying and they still insist that you need to pay twice more, just because you are a tourist. Besides that, the town itself (food and accommodation) is not cheap so I didn't have any regrets in leaving early.

After Panama City then, me and my Irish buddy Aidan who I met on the way to Panama decided to head off to Portobelo, a little village on the Caribbean coast, where we had found a boat which was leaving for Colombia a few days later (see next post). Not much to do there except exploring the bay in kayak and taking pictures of the different forts which were protecting the town from the pirates, hundred years ago, with or without success.

As a bit of history, the privateer William Parker attacked and captured the city in 1601 and Captain Henry Morgan repeated the feat in 1668. He led a fleet of privateers and 450 men against Portobelo, which, in spite of its good fortifications, he captured. His forces plundered it for 14 days, stripping nearly all its wealth while raping, torturing and killing the inhabitants.

Besides this, it is even said that since 1956, the coffin of Francis Drake, a pirate famous for raiding all the towns in that area of the Caribbean sea, lies down somewhere in the sea, not far from the coast, but so far hasn't been discovered.

The cannons protecting Portobelo

The cannons protecting Portobelo


The first fort overlooking the bay

The first fort overlooking the bay


Somehow we really wanted to fire that cannon! <img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Somehow we really wanted to fire that cannon! :)


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Kayak session in the bay

Kayak session in the bay


Sailing ships anchored in the bay

Sailing ships anchored in the bay


Portobelo

Portobelo

Posted by manolo84 11:00 Archived in Panama Tagged boats canals cities kayaking english Comments (0)

Sur la route de Panama


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Après avoir donc fait mumuse avec les petits poissons, fin août approchant, je décidais de me diriger vers Panama le plus rapidement possible afin de pouvoir passer assez de temps plus tard en Amérique du Sud. Malheureusement cela me contraignait à ne pas visiter des pays comme le Nicaragua ou le Costa Rica, mais bon même un an est vraiment trop court pour parcourir le monde et il y a de durs choix à faire de temps en temps. Ce sera pour un prochain voyage....

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Repartant d'Utila, il me fallut donc 4 jours complets de bus pour rejoindre Panama City pour la modique somme de 100$ US. Enfin quand je dis "complets", cela n'inclut pas les nuits et je passais donc une nuit à San Pedro Sula (Honduras) avant de prendre le bus, plus une nuit dans la capitale du Nicaragua (Managua) et enfin une autre à San José (Costa Rica) avant d'atteindre le jour d’après Panama City.

Donc vous l'aurez compris, 4 jours bien fatiguants car il est quasi-impossible de dormir correctement, assis dans des bus plus ou moins confortables, avec la climatisation réglée au maximum, et chaque journée comprenant le passage d'une frontière pour passer d'un pays à un autre. D'ailleurs c'est vraiment les moments les plus ch**** du voyage, quand il te faut faire la queue pour faire tamponner ton passeport pour sortir du pays où tu te trouves, puis faire de même 50 mètres plus loin de l'autre coté pour entrer dans l'autre pays, et enfin se faire fouiller son sac pour que les douanes soient sûres que tu ne transportes pas d'armes, de drogues ou autre chose d’illégal.
De plus à chaque frontière vous vous trouvez toujours confrontés dès la descente du bus à une horde de locaux voulant vous vendre tout et n'importe quoi et voulant essayer de vous échanger la monnaie du pays d’où vous venez pour celui où vous allez pour un taux de change assez bas... Bref, c'est loin d’être un moment agréable...

Carte de l'itinéraire suivi, à partir du Honduras

Carte de l'itinéraire suivi, à partir du Honduras

Enfin le passage Honduras-Nicaragua et Nicaragua-Costa Rica se passèrent plutôt bien mais comme disent les anglais, il y a toujours un moment où "the shit hits the fan" (comprenez: "où il y a une merde qui se produit"). Et pour moi cela se passa à la frontière entre le Costa Rica et Panama...

Pour sortir du Costa Rica, pas de problème, un petit coup de tampon, aucune question posée, et hop roulez jeunesse... Par contre du coté Panaméen, ce ne fut pas du tout la même histoire....

Moi: (avec mon espagnol hésitant)
" Bonjour monsieur
[pas de réponse...]
(il feuillette mon passeport pour voir si tout est en règle et me regarde)
- Où est votre billet de retour?"
- Heu... Je n'ai pas de billet de retour, je fais un tour du monde et je compte aller en Colombie dans moins d'une semaine en bateau.
- Pas possible, vous devez avoir un billet d'avion pour retourner dans votre pays.
- Mais je n'ai pas envie de retourner en France tout de suite moi, je n'ai pas de billet d'avion!
- Donc vous ne pouvez pas passer
- Mais de toute façon, j'ai pas envie d'y rester moi dans votre pays à la c**!"
(Ok bon ça c'est ce que j'aurais aimé lui dire mais je n'ai pas osé...)

Et après 5 minutes de la même discussion où il était clair qu'il n'avait rien à faire de ce que je lui disais, il me fit signe de me mettre sur le coté pour pouvoir laisser passer les autres personnes derrière moi.
A ce moment là, je dois avouer que je commençais à stresser, il nous avait fallu 8 heures pour arriver à la frontière depuis le Costa Rica et je ne me voyais pas du tout, mais alors pas du tout, repayer la compagnie de bus et me refaire tout le trajet en sens inverse.

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Regardant autour de moi et demandant aux autres touristes -qui je l’espérais, étaient dans le même cas que moi- j'appris qu'en effet, depuis quelques semaines, pour entrer au Panama, il vous faut montrer un billet de sortie du pays (bus ou avion) ainsi que prouver que vous avez au moins 500$ US sur vous... Et apparemment tout le monde était plus ou moins au courant, excepté pour l'histoire de l'argent...

"Ok bon ça ne sent pas bon tout ça..."

De plus, essayer de parler à l'agent de contrôle était comme essayer de parler à un mur, il n'avait visiblement rien à faire d'un touriste français qui ne s’était pas trop renseigné sur le passage au Panama. Le stress continuait de monter... Et pour ne rien arranger, le bus avait maintenant déchargé tous nos bagages pour que l'on puisse les faire fouiller par la douane avant de les remettre dans le bus. Et bien entendu le bus n'allait pas attendre éternellement que mes problèmes s'arrangent par miracle... Il était 8h du soir, il faisait complètement noir et l'endroit n’était clairement pas le plus sûr au monde...

Et c'est là que parlant avec un autre touriste, il me donna l’idée de trouver un cyber-café et d'essayer d'acheter un billet en ligne.

"Vous avez 15 minutes, me dit le chauffeur du bus. Après je m'en vais...
- Ok, sympa...."

Là un peu en panique je dois l'avouer, je fonçais vers l'endroit où je croyais avoir vu un cyber-café plus tôt, entrais en trombe, me connectais sur un site de voyage et décidais d'imprimer un faux itinéraire Panama-Paris (je n'allais pas acheter un vrai billet d'avion pour ne pas pouvoir me faire rembourser après...) et comme je n'avais pas 500$ sur moi bien sûr, je décidais d'imprimer la première page de mon compte bancaire en ligne, espérant que cela ferait l'affaire. Dix minutes plus tard donc, je ressortais en courant et fonçais vers le guichet où le même agent attendait...

"Hum re-bonjour, alors je sais que je viens de vous dire que je comptais faire le tour du monde, mais en fait je viens juste de changer d'avis et je rentre en France dans dix jours, voici mon billet d'avion (qui ne portait absolument pas mon nom ou de preuve que j'avais effectivement payé) et voici un relevé de banque qui prouve que j'ai assez d'argent."

Le gars me regarda bizarrement, regarda les papiers que j'avais juste imprimé (je suis sûr qu'il ne parlait ou ne lisait même pas l'anglais) et décida sans doute que j’étais un touriste qui maintenant l'ennuyait trop et me tamponna mon passeport... Yes!! Panama me voilà!

Et après avoir fait fouiller mon sac, je remontais dans le bus qui démarra 15 minutes plus tard... Bon, tout est bien qui finit bien mais quand même, il me fallu un peu de temps pour me calmer et arrêter d'insulter mentalement l'administration Panaméenne et ses agents pour mettre en place des règles à la con qui en fait ne servent strictement à rien!

Quelques 6 heures de route après, nous arrivions a Panama City...

Et l'aventure continue!

Posted by manolo84 14:08 Archived in Panama Tagged buses french immigration Comments (0)

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