Day 85, Bogota: A visit to a salt cathedral in Zipaquirá, photo-shooting with cows, and some more food-tasting.
Early yesterday morning T came to pick me up from my hostel in Bogota and we drove an hour or so, to a nearby town called Zipaquirà. A friend of his, J, joined us on the way and we then spent the day exploring what Zipaquirá is famous for, a Salt Cathedral. It is an underground Catholic church, built in the tunnels of an old salt mine. Although the Zipaquirá Salt Mine is one of countless salt mines in the world, the Salt Cathedral is one of only two, the other being in Poland, and thus a must-to-see when traveling to Bogota. It was an interesting visit, here's some pics we took on our way:
My trip to Bogota, the capital of Colombia, on Thursday afternoon did not start as smoothly as I would have wanted. I was boarding the plane at Cartagena airport, we were already walking from the gate to the plane, when suddenly everyone turned around and started walking back to the airport building. Déjà Vu, that was almost like what happened to me and J in New York although back then it was only us two who were kicked out from the plane and also we had already traveled for quite a while so we were tired and angry. This time I was only curious to know what was happening and soon enough I got a new reason to add on my list “Flights are delayed because...”: They had closed one of the runways in Bogota so there was nowhere we could land and thus, we could not take off. Some 5 hours later, when we were finally ready to go I was getting tired and angry and feeling sick after a free hamburger I had eaten. I had finished the book I was reading, discovered every corner of each shop there was (it is a very small airport I can tell you) and spent my money on a perfume. Vive Viva Colombia! Not the best first experience with this airline company.
When I arrived to Bogota airport it was almost midnight and I just wanted to get to my hostel. There were two taxi lines, one with at least 50 people queuing and another one with, well no one. An officer from then non-existing line spotted me immediately and asked if I wanted to take a taxi. I asked what the difference was in letting him take me to a taxi or standing in the line as everyone else. He told me that his taxi was a “special service taxi” and that I would not have to wait, and that the price would of course be the same. I didn’t believe that for a second but I was so eager to get out from there that I decided to pay rather than wait and hopped in the car with him. We arrived to the city and soon after I realized that we were driving in a very scary-looking neighborhood, with narrow streets, run-down houses and no people to be seen. For a moment a panicked a bit, I had heard various persons telling me how dangerous Bogota is and suddenly I was sure that this guy was not taking me to my hostel but somewhere else where he would rob me or rape me or god knows what. Of course this was not the case, a moment later we came to my hostel and he let me go. However, I didn’t feel much better when he asked me why I had chosen that hostel in Chapinero instead of a nicer place in the historical old town, Candelaria. Looking around, I was wondering exactly the same thing...
Day 81, Cartagena: Some things don't change... Like my love for sports, chocolate and afternoon chats with a girlfriend.
I realised some time ago that I was trying too much to live like I lived in Paris: a big circle of friends, going out for dinner or drinks almost every night, running around like crazy in order to do as much as possible. These past years I had gotten used to a busy life: between school, work, sports, friends, dates and so on I rarely had time to just be on my own and relax, and if I wanted to do that I had to book a time for it in my agenda. I love the big city life and I miss it, at least some parts of it. I miss the feeling of never being bored, never being lonely and never having to plan my weekends much in advance because my best friends would always be available and we would do something together. When I decided to leave everything and move to the Caribbean I knew that my life would change, and that was exactly what I wanted. In December when I started this blog I promised that I would take it easy, relax and enjoy simple life. Sometimes I forget about that but luckily there is J, who reminds me when I do. But hey, it's not easy changing your life-style all of a sudden!
Friday has always been my favorite day of the week. I like the fact that it’s between the work week and the weekend, you work hard but it always feels easier because it’s Friday and then you get that fantastic feeling when it's time to relax and the weekend is ahead. In my new life in Cartagena I like Fridays even more because I don’t work. I don’t know if two times in a row can be called a routine but at least I am starting to make routines for my Fridays. In the morning I have a surfing class and after that I stay on the beach for a while. Then I go home, prepare a healthy lunch (a salad and a smoothie) and do some cleaning. In the afternoon I write or alternatively skype with someone back in Europe. And well for the evening I don’t have routines yet. Today is writing day and I’m happy because I have found a Startbucks-like place where to write. This is a café chain called Juan Valdez Café, we came here yesterday with my boss N for a meeting with a partner and I decided to come back today. According to N this café has three good points: air conditioning, internet connection, and delicious coffee and pastries (although I commented that delicious pastries is more of a bad point, at least for me). I’m adding to the list cozy atmosphere, nice background music and Chai Tea Latte (!), very much like at a Starbucks Coffee in Paris.
I started my post-graduation travels on November 23rd. After a week in Dubai and Oman I returned to Paris for one day, only to pack my bags, see some of my best friends one last time, and leave again. Now, via Finland, Sweden, Denmark, US, Jamaica and Cuba, I have finally arrived to my new hometown: Cartagena, in northern Colombia. My plan is to stay here for some four or five months but nothing is fixed, we’ll see.
A couple of months ago I decided two things: 1) that after graduation I would spend some time in a Spanish speaking country (but not Spain) and 2) that instead of looking for a “real” job right away, I would go volunteering. I started planning my trip by Facebook-messaging everyone I know from South/Central America. My goal was to find the ideal destination but obviously they all recommended a different country (I understand, almost any place here must be an ideal destination). Even if I narrowed my options to a city by the sea that would not be too dangerous, there where still quite many places to choose from. And since I had never been to this continent before, I really had no preferences.
However, I got one good tip through my Facebook inquires, that was an organization called Moving Worlds. Instead of ordinary volunteering missions they organize something they call “Experteering”, that comes from the words “expert” and “volunteering”. I will tell you more about it later but basically the idea is to work with a local company or association, volunteering specific, often business-related “skills”. The goal is to contribute to an impactful project in a foreign country, that is at the same time beneficial for one’s future career. At the best, the "Experteering" project is an exchange of cultures and competences, an experience that both sides can learn something from. The website works like Tinder: you create a profile, write about yourself (one picture is enough) and tick the box with your preferences regarding the project and the location. Moving Worlds will then match you with a suitable project and you can get in touch with the representative of the company or association. I found the concept very interesting so I decided to give it a try. I think that in life things often happen quite randomly and by chance. You know someone who knows someone, or you are simply at the right place at the right time. Life is full of options and it is hard to choose. But when you just go with the flow and let things happen, it usually goes well. So that’s what I did and through lucky coincidences and helpful connections I came across a volunteering project with Fundación La Vecina, and ended up here in Cartagena.
On Saturday I had to kiss Chuba goodbye and leave the beautiful Viñales region. In Santiago I told S and H that I would try some other transportation mode than Viazul bus when coming back from Viñales. I kept my promise and shared a taxi colectivo with a French couple, a German man and two local ladies. The car was from 1965 (and looked and felt like that) but the trip went well and I got a ride until my casa, where Señora J was waiting for me. She said that my Spanish has improved a lot! That when I came to Cuba I didn’t speak much but now I’m talking all the time. So it’s not only my imagination. :)
As I told you already, Viñales is small and there is not much to do here except for walking back and forth on the main street. If Trinidad had a certain old town charm, Viñales is just a tiny village in the countryside. That’s a bit too much for me, I would go crazy if I had to live here. But for a few days this is perfect. Even if Viñales is very touristic (every house in the “center” has a casa particular –sign) the ambiance in this town still feels authentic and the locals seem to be very attached to their culture and traditions. And even if Viñales is just a minuscule agricultural village, the region is said to be among the most beautiful in Cuba and there are heaps of places to see and things to do a bit further away: caves, tobacco and coffee plantations, beaches, natural lakes and pools... Everything is around the Viñales valley where the landscapes are simply amazing.
This trip to Cuba is soon coming to an end, in just a few days I will be on plane flying to my new home town, Cartagena. That also means the start of my new job and new everyday routines, and the end of two and a half months of active holidays. My last stop in Cuba before heading back to Havana is in the Pinar del Rio region, far in the west. My base from where I will be exploring the surroundings is in the tiny little town of Viñales. From what I already saw from the bus, this part of Cuba looks very different from the other cities where I have been. If I had to describe the landscapes in one word, I would say green. Everything is green, I have never seen this much green fields and forests anywhere. There are also mountains and valleys, as well as caves and tobacco plantations to visit. No big cities, nothing special to do, just nature. A perfect place to take a rest before starting my new life
Today S and H left early for Baracoa (I hesitated to go as well but finally decided to spend more time in the Pinar del Rio region where I’m heading next) so I woke up as well and had breakfast with them. I then went for a long walk around the city, before the sun was too hot. A saw a residential quartier called Tivoli, famous steps Escalier Padre Pico, and some everyday life of the inhabitants of Santiago. A big town chaos, shops opening, people going to school and work.
Before you start reading, I must tell you that today has been one of my absolute favorite days so far during my travels, and a perfect example of how fascinating traveling alone and randomly meeting new people can be.
I decided to choose one thing to do outside the city and thus took a boat to Cayo Granma, a nearby island. Getting there was not easy but with a lot of patience (that I don’t have) I made it. There are ferries that leave from different places, the challenge is to know when and from where. I first went to the Malécon but I would have had to wait for two hours so I decided to try my luck at a close-by town called Ciudamar. I figured I was in no hurry so I refused to take a taxi (even if I was offered one about thousand times) and instead decided to travel as a local. A bici-taxi wanted to take me to a bus stop for 1CUC so I accepted and started with that. The bus stop was not called a bus stop but a “transportation point” because you can take all kinds of transportation there: bus, truck, taxi, horse carriage... I asked the people who were waiting there, and soon understood how it works. Whenever a transportation, any kind, comes and stops, you ask where it goes and you hop on. After at least 30 minutes of waiting (and asking each time something passed by) a truck finally arrived, with destination Ciudamar.
It looked like this:
I'm Emilia, Finnish-Parisian, a recent Master's graduate. I'm currently traveling around the Caribbean and on a volunteering mission in Colombia. I'm passionate about writing, music and different kinds of sports. I can't wait to discover new places and cultures - and share my adventures with you!