Friday, November 29, 2013

The middle of the world (Mitad del mundo)

Indigenous sun dial that is two sided
 On Wednesday I went to Mitad del Mundo. This is where the ecuator is located.
$4 entrance fee to the museum intinan and took about 75 cents and one hour to get there by bus.  The picture above is a sundial. It has two sides because the shadow is on one the south side of the rock half the year and north side the other 6 months.

Me at the ecuator
 The tour was good.  He mentioned how the indigenous knew this was the ecuator and placed markings along it.  But that the French came in the 20th century and built a monument a few hundred meters from to the south that they had incorrectly declared as the exact ecuator.  The demonstration everyone liked most putting a sink of water on the ecuator and seeing it run directly down the hole without turning and then the guide bringing it a few feet south and watching it go run down clockwise as well as then bringing it a few feet to the north where it then went down the drain counter clockwise. I recommend the museum even though its kinda cheesy and touristy I am glad I went cause its fun. 
This is the monument built that was slightly off the center of the ecuator
We skipped going into this areas on the recommendations from others that it wasnt worth it.

Monday, November 25, 2013

San Agustin, Colombia farm stay, Ipiales las Lajas

 I arrived in a town called San Augustin to be a volunteer on a coffee farm outside of San Agustin. When I arrived it was a weekend long harvest festival where they had music and dancing and a dance competition for a Harvest Queen.  The first picture I took.. was from one of the floats.. I somehow ended up in the parade in one of the floats.
San Augustin Parade

Gallo fruit.. there were so many fruits I got try on the farm that I had never tried before

This is where the coffee beans get processed
 It comes from the top and goes through a grinder that takes off the flesh or skin of the bean then gets washed where all the stuff that floats to the top is discarded. Which is the flesh and some of the beans not considered good.  They use these to seed new plants or to make their own coffee.
These are the washed beans drying

Freshly picked coffee beans

 I always have a hard time picking gifts for people.  It seems like al the children like coins from other countries so I started making origami boxes and putting small coins from other countries in them to give away to the children.  This also helps to lighted my backpack since I have quite a collection of coins now.
This is the dryer.. its like a greenhouse but to dry the coffee beans.

Coffee plant.. with ripe and unripe beans.. the red are ripe.

Arracacha is  a root vegetable that is quite good and is related to a carrot and is a bit dark yellowish. We dug this up and then gave the stem and leaves to the rabbits and guinea pigs. 

 Yuca root is delicious just boiled and they eat is with almost every meal.  It quite a large bush almost a tree that they uproot for the roots and then stick some of the branches in the ground to grow new ones.
An entire cow
 There was a community event where the government gives a free cow to each community.  The cow comes and they needed volunteer to butcher it.  I got to be part of the process.  While we were butchering it people were eating and drinking.. yes that is a beer in the middle of the meat that we just cut. They found it quite strange that I wouldnt eat (using their hands no utensils) and drink with them while my hands are all bloody.
Some of the insides of the cow that they made into a soup
 After butchering the cow we shared in a soup consisting of the insides of the cow. I found the textures a bit strange and had trouble eating it so I had to give mine back mostly uneaten.
Everywhere has woodfire stoves. 

Making of blood sausage
 They told me I could help make the blood sausage but I politely declined.  I did try it though. The next day at the event where they gave away the grilled meat of the cow and had soccer games and music and speeches I did try it.  I didnt realize it was basically blood rices and spices before since I have never actually eaten blood sausage.  It was actually pretty good but I couldnt eat the intesting because it was too plastic like, but I dont think I need to eat it again.  We took home with us some of the meat they would not use for the event, I think like the fatty or skin parts and the hoof of the cow.  Some lucky person took home the head.

Fresh caught fish
 They caught fish from their pond that they had recently stocked.  They said the fish were small but would grow bigger.  I got to learn how to gut the fish.. they were joking how the day before I butchered a cow and now I was learning how to gut a fish. We gutted something like 130 small fish, it took quite a while.

Ruins at San Agustin

ruins at San Agustin
 San Agustin is famous for its ruins.  They are funeral ruins from the indiginous people.  My guide books lists this as one of the 4 places in Colombia you have to visit.  Since I was in San Agustin I decided to go to the park where they had the ruins.  It took me three hours to walk around the park.

I had a great time on the farm.  I stayed over 2 weeks.  The people were very nice.  I was surprised how interested they were in learning to bake cakes and things from the US.  I made a bananbread which came out normal, and I made a brownie which wasnt great cause when I went to the store I asked for butter but they gave me margarine and I didnt notice right away. I think thats why it didnt come out great.  They also baked alot. But after over 2 weeks its was time to move on.  My stomach also tends to get a bit sick of eating potatoes rice and plantanos almost every meal even though the food was really quite tasty its almost the same thing every meal.

IPIALES, Las Lajas Church
After leaving San Agustin I headed to the border of Ecuador.  Where I made a stop at the border town to the see the famous church Las Lajas in Ipiales which is located above a river.

Ipiales river

Church at Ipiales
Ecuador, Quito
Quito, view from my hostel
Well I finally made it to Quito and my hostel has a beautiful view.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Cano Cristales

I went to Cano Cristales after leaving Medellin.
Photos first.  Summary after.
Here is the green algae

Cano Cristales is famous for its colored algae that is in the river.  They say it has 5 different colors.  Yes it was pretty.  I love water and the water was nice, they have nice pools to swim in.  The tour was a bit disappointing for the money cause you spend a couple hours at one pool and then another couple hours swiming at another pool.  The pools are nice but nothing spectacular.  I have seen better for free.  I also maybe was a bit disappointed cause before I left I contacted the tourism information center at Cano Cristales to ask about the conditions since its October and every year is different as well as because I am travelling alone I often have trouble getting on a tour because there are no other tourists, as well as I asked about English speaking guides.  They said there are countless numbers of English speaking guides, tours leaving everyday so I would have no problem joining a tour and the conditions are absolutely amazing right now.   I really wanted to like this because I love going off the beaten path and exploring less touristy areas and especially natural settings.   Well I arrive and they tell me I have to wait around for one specific person to find out if there is a tour the next day.  I wait for an hour then they tell me to come back in an hour. I come back in an hour and wait 2 hours.  Finally someone comes to talk to me saying there are not tours to Cano Cristales there are other tours.  So I ask what tours. She says she doesnt know.  I ask her to find out cause I would be interested even though some other travellers had recommended I just do the Cano Cristales tour cause if you do the two day the second days is not worth it, its boring you just spend the day at a pool that isnt as nice as the first day and thats about it.  So she comes back after 20 minutes and tells me there are two tours one to a pool and the other is a bird watching tour.  I get very excited because I love nature and would be very interested in a birdwatching tour and ask about the details, when it leaves how much it costs as well as the other tour.  She answers she has no idea about the details of either tour and tells me to wait again.  After another 20 minutes she tells me the tours are private and I cant join and there are no tours till the weekend so I will have to pay for a private tour.  So I took the private tour and found it disappointing cause the conditions they said were not great. She said the water level has been decreasing every year so its better when there is more water but the locals are very worried cause the water levels keep going down.  So overall it was very disappointing.  Especially after the tourism office told me the conditions were so great, and there were nice.. there were different colors.. they were not spectacular.  I had to pay twice as much for a private tour, and the guides did not speak English which is not a problem for me but I wish they had just told me the truth from the beginning. 

How to get to Cano Cristales as of November 2013
From the main bus terminal in Bogata (teminal de transporte)
Take a bus to Villavicencio.  (3-4 hours, cost 20,000COP) La Macarena or Boliviano
Taxi to airport in Villavicencio is 14,000COP.  (The taxis have a list of fixed prices and its 11,200 for the fare and 2,800 for the toll for a total of 14,000COP, my taxi driver tried to charge me 15,000 COP initially then admited when we arrived that its only 14,000)
Flight - I took TIA air... I had heard its the cheapest.  It cost just under 400,000COP.
The 1 hour journey in a 5 seater plane is loud.  I recommend earplugs ; )
I stayed at the hotel across from the airport for 30,000 COP in an unfinished hotel cause I heard all the hotels were booked, but if you walk the 10minute walk into town there is a place called Hospedaje los Cristales that was charging I think 15,000.  The rooms were a bit dingy but if you are on a budget maybe a good alternative.
I was told group tours would cost about 130,000 COP a day but they didnt have any tours in the coming days so I paid 170,000 COP for a private tour.  I met some other people who said I should just do one day because the second day is really disappointing.  You go down the same path then end up at a different pool.. Its a nice pool but you pretty much spend the whole day there and its not as nice as the pool on the first day.  You are not allowed to enter the park without a guide.
In Villavicencio I heard mochileros hostel cost COP 24,000 but I arrived in the afternoon and was able to get on a flight immediately as well as leave in the morning so I didnt have to stay in Villavicencio.
Overall it isnt that hard to get there but I did not find it worth the money.  I went in October and they said in September its better but I still think even with more water and more color it wouldnt be worth it for the average traveller. I think the time and money it takes to get there you can see so many other amazing things.  Yes it was pretty.. at least when I was there it was not anything amazing. As a nature lover I was a bit disappointed, but maybe I am comparing it to the amazing colors you can see in the ocean. Overall I would recommend skipping Cano Cristales which I hate to say cause every area wants more tourists. There are so many great things to do in Colombia that dont have to be this expensive or out of the way such as just enjoying the wonderful people in Colombia.  The people really make Colombia special.