Living Arrangements

View from Avarro’s Apartment After Cartagena I returned directly back to Cali to make sure I was there for Feria de Cali, a salsa festival. My friend Arvarro who lives in Cali happened to be going home during Christmas and offered to let me use his apartment during the week of Feria. His apartment was located in San Fernando area, which I was familiar with. Like my previous trip into Cali, I did end up hanging a lot with the people at the Sunflower Hostel. And like Ben, we hung out at the hostel but never actually stayed there.


Christmas in Cali This wasn’t my first time away from my family during Christmas, but my second. The first time was actually during the year I took my last long trip, which caused me to run out of vacation days that year. But that time I spent Christmas in Portland with friends. However, this time I spent Christmas in a foreign place with friends that I did not really know. This year I spent it with the folks at the Sunflower Hostel. I really thought that I would be spending part of it with Libertad since we were close before I left but I guess the relationship didn’t really last. I did however bring some of the toothpaste she wanted when I had gone home for my friends wedding. My friends hosted a Secret Santa gift exchange. I ended up getting the current roommate of Alejandro, Ignacio. I tried to get something that represented the United States, so I found a wine from California and some Ghirardelli Chocolates. My friend Sasha ended up getting me and got me a cool bag from Ecuador. However, later in my travels I ended up sending it back with Teri back to the States, so I wouldn’t have to carry it.

Feria de Cali

Official Poster Feria wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I thought the carnival would have been just a really crazy dance party, but it was more of a crazy concert. I guess to put it into perspective; it was like going to a music festival back home. People are generally there to see and listen to the bands, have a few bears, and some people danced. I had expected to see 70-80% people dancing, but it was more like 30-40% and of those dancing not many were dancing with a lot of turns, just the typical basic moves. I should have known better since during my initial six weeks in Cali, that’s what some of the dance clubs were like. People are just moving to the music as opposed to dancing with the music.

Music Lineups Official Poster The first day opened with a parade called Superdromo. We show up later than we should as usually and it was tough finding a spot to view some of the parade festivities. We did manage to find a spot where it was somewhat elevated but pretty much on the back side of the parade. So most of the parade was facing the opposite ways. But the parade included music, and dance troops. Later during a break in the parade (we thought it might have been over), we decided to venture further down into the parade line, and that’s when stuff started getting CRAZY. People had these really long cans (2-3') which were used to spray foam at unsuspecting victims. Even the cars in the streets were not immune to the onslaught of the foam spray cans. Additionally, there were loads of people dancing in the middle of the streets and just having a merry good time.

Group photo with Sun Flower friends The following day, my Friend Bruna had her birthday and we celebrated in the Sun Flower Hostel where she was living for the time being. Unfortunately, many of my friends had decided to go to Mancora for New Years and they left a couple of days early. So I ended up hanging with the other people that were staying at the Sun Flower, along with the new volunteers there.

Topa Tolondra I also went to a concert at one of the clubs in town with my Japanese friend. He wanted to go see Van Van, and I decided to go along with him. He had invited a girl to go with him, which turned out to be a huge fiasco. The concert was suppose to start early at 9, so we figured showing up around 10 would be ideal. So I always felt we were always under a time crunch. However, he had offered to give the girls a ride via taxi and we showed up to pick her up, but she was still working and wasn’t ready to go out yet. We were in the North of Cali, in a sketchier area, but we waited in the Salon to wait for her to finish. It was probably over an hour that we waited before we left to the concert with her and her aunt, who happened to be about the same age.

The fourth day of Feria had what they called the Superconcerto. This had the big names like Enrique Iglesias, Oscar de Leon, Ismael Miranda, Gilberto Santorosa and Daddy Yankee. While there, I met a few Colombians that were living in Hong Kong for the past year. It was a good time

New Years

After the weeklong Feria celebration, I stayed in Cali for New Years. Sasha, a local Colombian whom i met during my first six weeks in Colombia, invited me to join her family for New Years and experience it the real way. Of course I agreed to it. The Colombian custom for New Years is an interesting one. They have a meal at the turn of the New Year, which started with the consumption of 12 grapes. Each grape representing a month in the New Year and you are supposed to make a wish for each grape. Though Sasha’s family didn’t do it, I read that you’re supposed to finish all twelve in the minute before 12:01. Additionally, it’s customary to run around with suitcases to signify that you will be prosperous enough to travel around. Furthermore, there is a burning of a mannequin, sometimes with fireworks to rid themselves of past troubles, sins, mistakes, as well as bad luck.

After the dinner with her family, we left to go to a house party, which was just starting to get going as we showed up. I was glad I went with Sasha, because she’s a great dancer and we had a blast on the dance floor. While attending the party, I met Caroline, whom I had met a couple of days prior. She told me about the Carnival Negro y Blanco, which was happening in Pasto, a city a couple of hours away. I heard some others talking about going there as well, so when she mentioned it, it peaked my interest. So I decided I would go down with her and check it out. After the house party we walked to the main street to catch a taxi back to her place. However, on the way over, we stopped at the street party, which was still going on at 5am in the morning. I was completely amazed that there was people still milling about but they had the music blaring and everyone was having a merry good time. It was times like these that I wished I were able to drink and really get into the festivities.

Cartagena Skyline Old Town Cartagena

Living Arrangements

Old Town Cartagena I arrived into Cartagena without too much difficulty. The shuttle didn’t drop me off at the door of my hostel per say but close enough for a short walk. I landed at the Mamallena Hostel for the night. This was the first hostel that offered air-conditioned rooms. And it was a welcomed luxury given how hot Cartagena was. It was only a couple of degrees hotter than Cali, but it had much more humidity, so i felt way more uncomfortable. The hostel was very deep but not very wide. Luckily I was staying in the back of the hostel, which was far from the street noise. Unfortunately, the kitchen was fairly small and cramped, so it wasn’t a pleasant experience to cook there. I also stayed in Media Luna, which is across the street from mamallena. However, the hostel had a completely different vibe. There was a very small pool, where people more or less just wade in. And the rooms were a bit bigger.
However, the room I stayed in did not have air conditioning, and what was worse, was the doors to the rooms would not stay closed. So light and noise would not be blocked. What I really liked about the rooms was the beds were made from concrete; so having people move about was not an issue while sleeping. Additionally, The kitchen was enormous, however the equipment such as the pot and pans and knifes were a bit lacking. The people in the hostel seemed to be friendlier in Media Luna but it could be just because there was more people in the hostel. Media Luna does host a party on Wednesdays, which about half the people that go are travelers and locals. If you are trying to find good sleep though, Media Luna is not the place to look for it. In particular on the weekends the club upstairs plays really loud music, which is audible in the rooms and makes it difficult to sleep.


Cafe Del Mar While in Cartagena, one of the best things to do is to explore the old town of Cartagena. The walls of the city enclose the old colonial buildings. It was nice to walk along the wall observing the architectures and colors of some of the buildings. There is a restaurant/bar called Cafe Del Mar which is situated on the wall, and is suppose to have a great view of the sunset. However, every time I’ve been there it was a cloudy sunset, so it Castillo Felipe was never as spectacular as it could have been. Cafe Del Mar also isn’t the cheapest place to drink either, a Mojito cost more than it would in the U.S. But it’s a local favorite of anyone visiting. While exploring the old town, I also got to visit the modern art museum and the palace of Spanish Inquisition. Outside of the old town, I also visited the Castillo San Felipe. While exploring the catacombs, I got lost and probably went somewhere I should not have been. There were a few areas I needed to use my phone light to find the path, but I ended up in some knee high water and I had to turn around.

Mud Volcano Outside of the city, I went to the Mud Volcano. It was definitely a very tourist experience. It felt as though you’re on a tourist conveyor built. But the feeling of being suspended in the mud was definitely worthwhile. You could easily float on your back and even stand up vertical in the mud. It helped to keep the balance when you spread out your arms and feet to create more area to float.

Playa Blanca Additionally, I went to Playa Blanca. Instead of taking the normal boat ride. I road the bus and took a moto-taxi the rest of the way. The cost was roughly 2Mil for the bus and 10 Mil for the moto-taxi. On the return trip, I did take the boat back for 15Mil. This is in contrast for about 50Mil to take the boat both ways. I stayed overnight on the beach in a hammock for 10Mil per night. Though traveling alone, a single night out on the beach was enough for me. I did wish I had someone along with me to enjoy the awesome beach I stayed at though.

Playa Blanca Sun Set

After leaving San Gil, I made my way towards the Caribbean coast and landed in the city of Santa Marta. I wish I kept a better log of the costs from city to city as I’m sure that would be of an interest for some readers.

Living Arrangements

I stayed at the Drop Bear Hostel based on the recommendation of some of the travelers I had met. Apparently, a drop bear is a fictional animal in Australia that is a species of koala that will attack tourists from above. The hostel is an ex-Cartel house owned by an Aussie. The hostel is humongous, with a large pool, large TV room / Drop Bear hangout area. The kitchen is also large enough to have two stoves. One stove is for the backpackers making their own food while the other stove is for the restaurant, which is run for the residents. The market is about a 5-10 minute walk away from the hostel, but the city center/coast is quite far. You have to either ride the bus or walk a good 30-45 minutes.


There are a lot of things you can do in Santa Marta and the surrounding areas. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to explore everything it had to offer and hope to return there someday. While in the area, I went on the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) hike, went scuba diving in Taganga for the first time, and hung out at the beaches of Tayrona Park. What I wish I had time to do was explore more of the area such as Minca, Crystal Beach and Palomino. All of the destinations have heard other travelers raving about.

Overlook The lost city trek is definitely a very touristy thing to do, like Machu Picchu. You have to do it with a guide and it’s legal to do it on your own. The Trek through Tayrona Park is 4-5 days depending which option you choose. The only difference is the section being done in one or two days and a visit with some local indigenous people. Fording the River The Trek is not for the lighthearted and should only be done if you’re in some shape. It was quite tough going through the jungle, forging knee high rivers and being constantly wet. My packing list included a pair of socks and shirt for each day, an extra pair of jeans and swim trunks. Looking back, I would have Fork in path packed differently. Just one set of cloths for the day that i know will always be constantly wet, and one set of cloths for the night which I know will always be dry. Also ideally, you would bring a pair of river shoes, so you can easily forge the rivers. Initially, our group was diligently taking off shoes/socks, but as the rain Hiking poured, the ability to keep feet dry was near impossible. At some point you just deal with wet shoes/socks and just forge the rivers with them on. Bug repellent is also necessary throughout the day and at the base camp. Don’t forget to constantly reapply, I forgot and the end result was being eaten alive by the Cows mosquitos. I personally thought the hike was harder than Machu Picchu due to the rawness of the path. Possibly due to the fact I went during the transition from wet to dry season, it was raining a majority of time while we were on the trek. The rain lead to very muddy paths and higher water in the rivers. There were actually times where Mud Path it was easier to follow in the river than to deal with the very muddy path. The journey is also more enjoyable than the end destination and the comradery of those that completed the journey. In my tour group, there was one member who bailed after the second day due to leg cramps. He ended up having to go back on a donkey and joining Last set of stairs a different group back out. Unfortunately for him, he became the outcast of the group and therefore became the butt of a lot of jokes. Especially since he was not able to defend himself. Even the driver who took us back and forth joined in on the fun. So lesson learned, don’t become Lost City the outcast or your not going to have a good time. Luckily by the time we reached the end destination, it was a nice sunny day. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a perfect shot due to the number of visitors and there was not a time where it was completely empty enough to take an empty lost city.

Fording the River2 Indigenous Child Indigenous Children

Taganga is a small beach port town 10 min bus ride away from Santa Marta. Taganga is where most of the dive schools are located in the area. It cost 150K pesos to do a discovery dive, which can be counted towards the PADI certification process. This was my first dive and it was definitely an interesting experience. Being able to tell your brain that you can breath normally while underwater took a bit of getting used to. Initially, my heart pounded fairly quickly and I was very hesitant. But as I got comfortable in the water, it became more natural. While you breath underwater your body depth will fluctuate with the amount of oxygen that you have in your lungs. I never got full control of my breathing where I can easily maintain my depth without much effort. I also had difficulty finding the right amount of oxygen to put into the vest to maintain constant buoyancy. During the discovery dive, you run through a few exercises like how to clear your mask, what to do when you lose your regulator, barrel rolls and somersault rolls. However, I was more interested in just observing what was going on around me more than the activities. On my drive group, there was three other student/instructor pairs with various student levels. There was one student/instructor pair, who was on their last day of PADI certification, got caught into an underwater current and was transported quite far from the boat. We lost them for a good 2 hours before we were able to retrieve them. The instructors went through the rescue process and were trying to replicate the steps they went on. However, the lost divers ended up going into a shipping lane and got pulled out by another dive boat and returned safely. They described the experience like a fan had turned on and you could feel the water rushing by. Additionally, the instructor and student held onto each other to guarantee they would not get separated. I would have been definitely shitting my pants had that happened to me, and luckily it did not.

Beach Parque Tayrona is the national park in the area, and within the boundaries of the park contains many nice beaches that you can hike into. There are three main ways to get there. 1. Book the tour through a hostel, which is the most convenient and the most expensive. 2. Take a collective Taxi, the choice I made because it was convenient (10 Mil) and 3. Taking the Bus (6 mil). After arriving at the park, you can take a collectivo to the start of the trails, or walk there. At the trailhead, you have multiple destinations to get to. We went to the most famous Cabo San Juan. Unfortunately, the trails were not easily navigated, there were several points where it was severely waterlogged and care was needed to be safe. At one point we had to cross a stream via a fallen tree, which required some amount of balance to get across without falling. Tree Crossing We arrived at San Juan too late in the afternoon to reserve any hammock, let alone the hammocks that are located under the gazebo. Supposedly you are able to reserve the hammocks under the gazebo ahead of time, but we were unsuccessful as the phones were always busy or not in service. The receptionist told us if you wanted a hammock, you would need to arrive before noon, which means you need to leave Santa Marta around 8/9am. So we settled on getting a tent for the night, which did include a bed inside. The light was quickly disappearing, but we managed to sit and enjoy the view for a while. However, towards the end of the night ~10, it started down pouring. Not really thinking about the rain until we were ready for bed, it became apparent the tent was not completely waterproof. But we settled in for the night anyway since the rain was starting to subside. However, through the night, the rain started up again and our tent was completely waterlogged by the morning. I woke up with a nasty headache and absolutely freezing. Luckily the sun came out for the afternoon and warmed us back up. It was a rather lazy day, just a day out on the beach and doing Cabo San Juan some reading and writing. On the way out, the path was even more waterlogged than when we had arrived. This time some of the trails were submerged completely in the water and we had to go through them to get back to the start point. There we waited for a bus to arrive and caught it back into town.

Once I got back into town though, disaster seemed to find me. At the supermarket, I felt incredibly sore, and just attributed it to the rough night of sleep and the hike out of the park. However, as the night wore on, it became quickly apparent I had a fever as well. The next morning, I couldn’t move and when I spoke to the owner of the hostel about going to see a doctor, he knew I had Chikungunya. It is a Dengue like virus that is transmitted by mosquitos. The symptoms included a fever, sore muscles and joints, and a rash. I was basically bed ridden for 5 days with the fever and another week of sore muscles and joints. By the time I was ready to travel again, I wanted to get out of Santa Marta and continue my journey, so I didn’t continue my PADI certifications.

Getting Out

According to the Hostel owner, the bus terminal in Cartagena is very far from the city, so it was more cost effective to book a shuttle, which will drop you off close to the hostel instead of having to pay 2 taxis, and the bus.