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Mud bath

Cartagena, El Totumo Mud Volcano

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View Destination - south on ew5827's travel map.

South America here we are! I slept for most of the flight from Panama. I sat down in my seat and was out within minutes. I woke up some time later with a searing pain in my ear and looked out the window to see we were descending to Cartagena.

From the airport to the hostel the first thing I noticed was the policemen stood along the coastal road. Every 50m there was a man stationed, most with rifles. We've seen a significant police and army presence in the last few months but this was on another level. The bus had to keep swerving as the road was partially covered in sand; the tiny wall between the road and the beach wasn't really doing much against the wind. As we turned inland we passed a large fort with old cannons sticking out of the battlements, remnants of the defences from the days when pirates tried to raid the town.

Looking out from the city wall battlements to the sky rise peninsula

Looking out from the city wall battlements to the sky rise peninsula

A fossil within the fort battlement's floor

A fossil within the fort battlement's floor

I liked Cartagena; its narrow little streets, pretty architecture (mostly) and bustling people but it was spoiled a bit by the extent of the tourism scene. It was nice to experience for a day or two but I was glad to step down a tourist notch when we left for Santa Marta...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Balconies of Cartagena

Balconies of Cartagena

Cartagena horses with city gates behind

Cartagena horses with city gates behind

Dancing in Plaza de Bolivar

Dancing in Plaza de Bolivar

A danced with more African influences

A danced with more African influences

Metal art chess players

Metal art chess players

Metal art juicer man

Metal art juicer man

I think only a few posts ago I said I wasn't going to be climbing any more volcanoes on this trip. Well, I might have already blown that, sort of. Our second day in Colombia we went to a mud volcano and I suppose I technically had to climb the whopping 20m or so up to the top to wallow in a mud bath with twenty-odd other gringos. A bit of a surreal experience. The way it's organised you feel a little bit like your on a conveyor belt - thrown in by one man, covered in mud by another giving you a rough massage you're not sure you really want (you pay for the pleasure), shoved into the middle of everyone else to slip and slide, bump and bash your way about, laughing and joking with a load of strangers along the way. You're not sure if you're enjoying yourself or not, you think you are but it's all a bit weird! The mud feels very odd, a feeling of weightlessness is the best way I can describe it. You're suspended in the mud rather than swimming or floating in it. Trying to move anywhere without the aid of something to push off is impossible.

El Totumo, the mud volcano in all its glory

El Totumo, the mud volcano in all its glory

Shiny white teeth, everything else is mud (we’re smiling at the camera – middle, back)

Shiny white teeth, everything else is mud (we’re smiling at the camera – middle, back)

Climbing/dragging yourself out of the mud, another guy helps get the excess mud off you before you careful climb down the steps (as every thing's now very slippery) to the nearby lake, where a woman leads you into the water to wash the mud off. I'm sure some men would love the idea of this but as any man who's been to the mud volcano near Cartagena will tell you it's anything but that kind of experience - scrubbing your head, shoving her fingers in your ears, rubbing your skin to death (again you pay for the pleasure) - and when she's finished with your body she demands your clothes off you (she literally took my bikini top off before I knew what was happening!) to wash them before flinging them back at you and wading out of the water to go find some other poor muddy soul to assault/help leaving you to put your dignity back together.

If that wasn't traumatising enough, something in the lake gave me an allergic reaction! My legs were on fire for the next 15-20 minutes until I got dry and it eventually wore off.

I'm not sure if you'll believe me but after all this I still thought it was great fun though and I'd recommend it to anyone as a must do in northern Colombia; you've got to give it a go!

Posted by ew5827 09:06 Archived in Colombia Tagged buildings volcano town plane Comments (0)

Old and New

David and Panamá City

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View Destination - south on ew5827's travel map.

David was more of a necessary stop-over than a destination in our route. The town wasn't that nice and there wasn't much to do but we needed somewhere to stop-over near the border, run a few errands etc. Our hostel was probably the most interesting thing about our stay there - run by a frenchman it had a predominantly french and canadian cliental, a group of people we hadn't met too many of up until this point. There was a very welcome swimming pool out the back and two lively Labradors who loved all the attention they were getting.

Whilst staying there we tried to do a trek from a town called Cerro Punta, a couple of hours north of David, to another town called Boquete. It's said to be one of the most beautiful treks in Panamá but when we reached the trailhead we found out it was closed for maintenance due to landslides. A bit gutting after 3 hours travel to get there! The walk up to the trailhead was pretty in itself if not quite what we were expecting for the day. On the bus ride back we met a friendly local pastor and his son and had an interesting conversation with them so the trip wasn't all in vain.

On the way up to the trailhead

On the way up to the trailhead

Farmland on the lower hills

Farmland on the lower hills

The trail was meant to have been gorgeous

The trail was meant to have been gorgeous

Panama City was much more our kind of place. In fact it's worthy of the number one spot in our list of towns and cities in Central America. We loved the mix of the modern and colonial buildings, the food was great, the sites were interesting and we struck lucky with a great hotel and beautiful weather.

The views...

The views...

...from our hotel room

...from our hotel room

From the skyscrapers of the banking district to the colonial buildings of Casco Viejo

From the skyscrapers of the banking district to the colonial buildings of Casco Viejo

The skyline

The skyline

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo

We started our visit with a walk along the promenade to Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo, the "old compound", is where Panama City was moved to and walled in the 17th century after many sieges on Panamá Viejo, the old city, 8km up the coast. The city then spilled out into the surrounding area and the wealthy moved out leaving it to slowly crumble over the years. Now much of it has been renovated, though some shells of old grand buildings are still waiting for some much needed tlc. The president lives on one side of the peninsula (the city was repositioned here due to the tides making it harder to attack) and on the other is a monument to the many French who lost their lives building the Panama Canal.

After wandering around Casco, sampling the delicious gourmet ice cream from a superb French gelataria and visiting a couple of local churches we wanted to visit the canal museum but we'd left it a bit late in the day so we had to come back another day...and sample some ice cream at the same time :)

On another day we went to see the Canal in action at the Miraflores Locks. We timed it just right; if we'd been half an hour later we'd have missed out as the last boat of the day was about to go through as we arrived. Here's my attempt at explaining how the locks work. I hope I was listening correctly!...

Boats come in

Boats come in

The gates close behind them

The gates close behind them

The boat rises from here...

The boat rises from here...

...to here, taking water from the chamber to the right

...to here, taking water from the chamber to the right

When level, second middle gates open (there's another gate behind the building)

When level, second middle gates open (there's another gate behind the building)

The ship goes through, guided in a straight line by the two cars on train tracks on either side

The ship goes through, guided in a straight line by the two cars on train tracks on either side

The gates close behind them

The gates close behind them

The water rises

The water rises

The ship is released on it's way up river

The ship is released on it's way up river

As impressive as the canal is, it wasn’t the best of Panama City for me. One afternoon we went to the Causeway, a long strip that joins the mainland to several little islands out to sea west of the city. Lots of people cycle, run, skate etc up and down it and at the far end on the islands are lots of restaurants and bars as well as a marine museum/reserve, which Chris and I visited. The main reason I wanted to visit was for the aquariums it was said to have - one with fish from the pacific and the other from the Atlantic/Caribbean, the contrast was meant to be interesting. In truth, the aquariums and pools were a bit of a let down - a few fish tanks and pools, some not perhaps big enough for some of their inhabitants. However, the other aspects of the park were really well done with interactive learning boards (very Chris and Emma friendly :)) and a little woodland area in which we saw the most exciting wildlife encounter of our trip so far.

These little guys kept popping up everywhere in the reserve

These little guys kept popping up everywhere in the reserve

Red spotty starfish and fish

Red spotty starfish and fish

Walking around the woodland we saw coatis, iguanas (an enormous one! below), lots of birds and best of all several sloths. They're the first ones we've seen in daylight and to make things even better, we witnessed a mother and her baby climbing from one tree to another. The baby then got off its mum and held onto the branch by itself. I have a very (dodgy) video of it all but for now a photo will have to do I'm afraid. It was fascinating to watch; made my day.

Woodpecker

Woodpecker

Upside down iguana

Upside down iguana

Giant iguana

Giant iguana

Mummy and baby sloth!

Mummy and baby sloth!



We ate dinner on the Causeway with a view back to the city then walked down the Causeway in the last of the light. There was a beautiful sunset with this ray of blue in the centre after the sun had set, gorgeous.

Sunset phenomenon with blue band in the centre

Sunset phenomenon with blue band in the centre

Oh and did I mention Panamanian driving? Crazy, if in doubt, BEEEEEPPPPPP!!! Our hotel window had a great view of the traffic jams below:

Who cares about traffic lights? BEEP BEEEEEP

Who cares about traffic lights? BEEP BEEEEEP

Lanes? What are lanes? BEEEEEEEEEP

Lanes? What are lanes? BEEEEEEEEEP

Posted by ew5827 17:39 Archived in Panama Comments (0)

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