Cartagena: Pink Sea of Galerazamba

Today we have booked a private car to take us the see the famous Pink Sea of Galerazamba and Totumo mud volcano.

The pink sea is an hour northeast of Cartagena on the coast.

This man-made salt lake is a mine that is run by the small town of Galerazamba. The bright pink color is caused by microbes which create pigmented protein to absorb the sun’s energy.

The Pink Sea is not always bright pink but we get extremely lucky since it is as pink as it can be. The best time to visit is December to April and we are visiting in February.

There is no swimming at the pink sea but we were allowed to walk out into the water and have some photos taken.

The whole thing felt essentially like a nice salt scrub.

We head next to the Totumo Mud Volcano.

Both the sea/salt mine and mud volcano are run by the nearby communities who are employed by and profit off the locations.

We choose not to “participate” in the mud volcano during our visit. Reviews said that you have to pay someone inside the mud mound who will then massage mud all over you. Once you exit the mud pit you walk down to a lake where ladies clean the mud off your body parts. We are not interested in having someone randomly put their hands all over us. Usually I am a “When in Rome” type of person but both M and I are both on the same page – maybe we’ll skip this one.

Instead we checked out the mud pit from below.

village surrounding mud volcano

We walked down to the lake to witness the “washing”. Nope, not for us.

Once we arrive back to the tourist areas of Cartagena we decide it is a great time to check out the popular La Cevichería.

It is a long wait for a table but once inside it is worth it.

While everything we ordered is delicious it was this shrimp in curry that we craved after. It is an amazing dish.

M is fan of Liverpool and noticed a local bar was playing a game while we were town so we went down to The Clock Pub for a little while to watch. After the game the bar played 80’s pop videos.

Keeping up with the theme of fun we head down to a another lively pub. It is daytime so not rowdy but we did enjoy the décor of clothes hanging from the ceiling (including underwear). I do not recall the name of this pub but it was nice for a quick stop.

It’s been a long day but it isn’t over yet. We have dinner reservations to we head over to the area of the restaurant.

Earlier we had made reservations for dinner at Juan del Mar upon recommendation of our driver. While it was good, it wasn’t as good as La Cevichería.

Juan del Mar

After dinner we call it a night since we have our cruise rescheduled for tomorrow. Hopefully it goes as planned.

Arrived in Bogota

Market in Bogota

I just spent a couple days in Santiago Chile getting over jetlag from the time zone change. I wasted all those days in Chile but fortunately I am rested up for the beginning of my travels to Colombia. As it turns out Colombia will be the last country on my world tour. I will be returning home at the end of the month at the same time as my friend who is coming to travel with me the last part of the trip. I want to keep traveling but I really need to get back to the USA to take care of business. The world ends up shutting down two weeks after I return home (due to COVID) so my timing couldn’t have been better….more on that later.

Now I am in Bogota, my first stop in Colombia. I can’t visit everywhere I want while here but I hope to experience a large part of the country during my travels.

Growing up I learned to fear Colombia, with good reason: Colombia was a very dangerous country until recently. I longed to visit as a child after the 1980’s movie Romancing the Stone that is based partially in the country (which wasn’t actually filmed in Colombia I later learned). Doing research for my sabbatical I wanted to visit a couple different South American countries I had not yet visited (I’ve already been to Brazil, Peru and briefly to Venezuela for business). In my research I settled on Ecuador/Galapagos and Colombia. Unfortunately I cut Ecuador because I didn’t want to rush my travels. Plus I have a friend who is willing to meet me for part of my trip in Colombia – decision made!

After researching the different parts of town of Bogota I end up staying in the upscale Chapinero. I book an apartment hotel room for my time in the city. My booking gets switched on me last minute which seems suspect but the room check into is pretty nice. I am in an apartment/condo building where many of the apartments are actually vacation rentals. There is a restaurant downstairs that I could visit but I decide to eat out elsewhere or in my apartment instead.

I later learn about the neighborhood from a tour guide and how some higher priced zones have a higher tax structure to subsidize living in poorer neighborhoods or favelas.

I am in Colombia so naturally hesitant to just start wandering around; however I am more intimidated about public transport at this point so I head out to walk down the street to find a place to eat dinner. I settle on something that looks friendly to tourists Andrés D.C.- Bogotá. The walk seems safe enough. I take precautions like not being flashy but I feel like crime really isn’t a big issue in this part of town. The restaurant is fun and flashy. As expected my server does not speak English. My Spanish is really rusty but this is the perfect time to practice. I seem to be much better with remembering nouns over verbs (especially food) – grammar is hard but I get by.

My first dish in Colombia

The food is just ok at the restaurant. It is what to expect at a chain. Hopefully soon I’ll get to try some local stuff.

Did I mention that I love the temperatures so far in this city? I am hitting my sweet spot weather-wise: sunny and cooler.

I head back early to my room to rest. I end up booking a pretty expensive day tour through the lobby. The tour is with a private driver so I would have control over my day. I don’t feel like researching and organizing other plans so I book the tour for tomorrow.

In the morning my driver picks me up and our first stop is a local market.

First I get introduced to Colombia coffee and get to try some.

Next I am taken to a fruit stand where I am introduced to many new fruits. I should be more hesitant to eat them (the whole thing about eating raw produce in other countries can cause stomach issues) but I try them anyway. Luckily they have no affect. I later find that water in Bogota is quite good due to its elevation. I don’t risk drinking tap water but I also don’t have to be as cautious.

After the visit to the market we head back on the road. On the highway there are many pedestrians walking along with luggage. My driver tells me about the Venezuelan refugees and how they walk along the highways from Venezuela to find a better life since the country of Venezuela is in pretty bad shape right now. Colombia is very accepting of the refugees, mostly because Venezuela was very accepting of refugees from Colombia when their own country was dangerous and war torn. Many of the poor you see on the sidewalk trying to sell handmade goods or even Venezuelan bolívar (not really worth much) are actual refugees just trying to get by.

My driver also points out Butterfly favelas I see off to the distance. It is a project to beautify the poor area of Usaquén. It is quite visibly appealing. I didn’t snap any photos but here is a good representation.

My driver heads to the Guatavita region. Guatavita is a town where I learn about the history of Muisca (the indigenous people of the area) and their plight before and after the Spanish invasion. The Muisca were quite crafty at hiding their gold from the Spanish. I learn a story how they hid their gold in the nearby lake.

My driver takes me on a long dirt road and stops to talk about some of the plants along the way such as this Frailejón plant which adapted to the high humidity by absorbing moisture in its furry leaves. It is also said to live up to a hundred years.

Frailejón. Things seem pretty dry today.

We get a view of the town of Guatavita.

I then head over to the Laguna De Guatavita where I await for my one way tour through the nature preserve. Unfortunately for me the tour is in complete Spanish. I can understand some Spanish but not enough to pick up information about plant descriptions and history lessons. I understand some of the tour and my driver helps fill in the gaps as much as possible afterwards. It is a beautiful nature hike anyway.

Brugmansia versicolor or “angel’s trumpets”. Plant can be used for drugging individuals.
Ceremonial House for Muisca people

The guide speaks for a long period of time in the ceremonial house. Unfortunately I only pick up a little bit of what is said. I really need to brush up on my Spanish.

I reach the end of the tour and my driver is waiting for me. He takes me to a restaurant where I get some BBQ samples and order some delicious trout.

After lunch I am heading to the Salt Cathedral. More on the Salt Cathedral later….

Heading to Lake Matheson

My time in Queenstown New Zealand is over. I am heading towards Fox Glacier for the night.

Of course I wake up super early. I prepare my coffee and yogurt but today I am watching a very noisy helicopter off in the distance drop wood or pick up wood along the hillside; the task isn’t clear, the only thing that is clear is that it is waking other campers. I get my groceries from the camp fridge, straighten and clean my van and get on the road by 9 am.

Leaving Queenstown

It is a very scenic drive out of town so I have to stop. I read about how invasive pines have taken over the area so they are in the process of killing them off. The pines are beautiful but suck the life out of the native vegetation.

Wanaka Tree

My next stop is at the famous Wanaka tree. This lone willow tree is a very popular photography stop for travelers in the area. I am shocked to have learned just two months after my visit someone cut off the bottom limbs.

Wanaka Tree

I continue on my drive and keep finding spots to stop for scenic views. I see beautiful lakes along the way.

My next scheduled stop is at the Blue Pools to see the beautiful cold pools of water filled from clear melted glacier water.

Blue pools

A visit to the blue pools can be as short or long as you like. It is a about a 30 minute roundtrip hike from the car park down a nice trail.

I reach a suspension bridge that starts to give views of the river or stream below.

I notice people swimming in the water. It looks refreshing. This is one of the times I hate being a solo traveler. I have no one to trust to leave my belongings with to explore the water.

I walk down to a beach area and take my boots off and soak my feet in the cold water for a bit. It is very cold but I love it. I sit and listen to the water flow as I soak. It is so peaceful and relaxing. I eat a snack but I could stay here all day or even just long enough for a picnic lunch.

I walk back to my car and head toward my final destination for the day.

Everything on my drive is beautiful: Water, rocks and mountain views. Water is blue and clear from melting glacial snow.

Will I ever find a gas station?

I start to discover that my USA credit cards are not compatible with all gas stations in New Zealand. For 75% of the time I am unable to pay at the pump while in this country; only a time or two is there an actual attendant to process a credit card manually inside. I start to find myself with worry that I won’t be able to find an accessible gas station when I really need too. The towns get smaller and smaller along my route. I start to stop at gas stations even when I am not in need of gas to fill up just in case the next one cannot take my purchase.

Will I ever arrive at my destination?

I am so tired of driving. This drive is supposed to be a 4 hour drive but it is now 6 hours. My anxiousness in getting to my next location doesn’t stop me from checking out this salmon farm I see on the way. They are getting ready to close but I pick up some smoked salmon to snack on.

I finally make it to my lodging. I am actually staying in a motel for the night. Living in luxury with my own little kitchen at the Rainforest Motel.

View from my room.

I have cable tv and working wifi. This is great. But I don’t stay in my room too long because I want to go checkout the sunset views of Lake Matheson and Mount Cook.

Lake Matheson / Te Ara Kairaumati Walk

car park view

Once arriving at the car park there is a nice trail that takes you 2.6 km in a loop around Lake Matheson.

Crossing a little bridge to get to the trail.

The trail is nice and peaceful. Still looking for kiwis but having no luck again.

Look at this beautiful green pathway! (Sorry about vertical mode).

After doing a bit of walking around I find the spots where the sun hits the mountain tops just right to reflect in the lake below.

I sit around a bit and watch the sky change then I walk back to the car park. Still great views on the way out. But no kiwis!

Watching the sun set on the walk back
Nice view but this is the closest I will get to the mountain tops this trip.

Not doing an all out glacier walk this trip even though I am really close. It seemed very complicated for a short stop. For now I am just viewing the glaciers from a distance. Another one added to my list for when I return someday.

Te Anau to Milford Sound

This morning I am heading to Te Anau. Te Anau is just an overnight stop on my way to Milford Sound. I could drive straight to Milford Sound in a day but it is a long drive so I choose to break it up with an overnight in Te Anau instead.

From Moeraki the drive takes about 4 hours or so. I don’t stop too much on the way except a time or two for health breaks and great views.

Love these flowers!

I am running low on gas so I am happy when I find a rest stop Alpine Centre Cafe & Bar – almost at Te Anau – where I see a newly sheared alpaca who wants some snacks.

I am pleased that my holiday park for the night is right around the corner from the rest stop.

Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park

I have an ok view of the lake below lake of Te Anau.

I also have a great view of my neighbors laying out their sock collection on the picnic table.

I haven’t scheduled much time in Te Anau but what I do schedule is a glow worm tour. This is my chance to better see glow worms since I was a wimp staying out after dark by myself in Australia.

The glow worm tour is a cruise across a lake to a cave where they can be observed. I drive down to the port to catch my boat after I settle in at the campsite (settle in = put my perishables in the refrigerator).

Te Anau Glow Worm Caves Tour

We start off with a breezy boat ride ride on the lake. I take in the breathtaking views as we cross the lake.

Once on shore they split us to two groups. My group tours the area around the cave while the tour guide talks about wildlife and the vegetation.

Then we enter into the cavern house where we learn about the glow worms and are given special safety instructions for the viewing. Glow worms are actually fungus gnats in their larvae stage. They glow to attract prey that they feed on and appear in the darkness. Tour guides do not let us take pictures or video inside so I’ll try to best describe the experience: First we walk into a cave along a series of platforms. It gets progressively darker inside. I can start to see little bits of the worms in the moist parts of the cave above and beside us. We eventually get to a set of stairs that lead to a platform where there is a little boat. There are two long benches where our group splits along facing outwards the boat to the sides. There is a boat guide who has a light as we board but after we are safely boarded turns off this light and guides the boat only by grabbing a chain above and pulling us down a water tunnel. At first it isn’t very impressive. Just faint glows but eventually we float to areas with more densely populated worms. Our guide tells us to look up and he glides us by and turns the boat around so all have a great view of the glowing above. We go through a couple sections of these before we return to the start to walk back out the tunnel.

Cavern house where we are educated on the worms

There are multiple scheduled times of the viewings so we wait for our boat to return with another group by the shore.

Soon we take the boat ride back to our starting location. The temperature has dropped and the wind is strong. Only a few of us brave the ride on the top. I spent so much of my travels hot so I take advantage of this moment of coldness; although I regret it later in the evening when I cannot get warm in my van.

Boat ride back

Once back to the campsite I prepare my dinner and head to bed. It is late but still light out. It is January but I have to remember this is their summer and the sun sets later.

That evening the campervan is so cold so it makes me want buy another blanket. I have a hard time getting comfortable to get a restorative sleep. I don’t see any stores on my way to my next location so I hope I’ll be ok for the next few days.

Next morning drive to Milford Sound

In the morning I am driving to my next campsite in Milford Sound. I’ve been warned about the narrow, curvy roads and tunnels of this part of the drive. I am nervous but I’ll take it slow and drive during the day.

It is on this drive that my GPS starts to crap out on me. Luckily I have backup systems like google and maps.me and the drive route seems pretty straight forward.

This isn’t very helpful

There are a couple stops along the way as well as some walking tracks. I unfortunately do not schedule time for any walking tracks, New Zealand is too big of a country! I do make a couple photo stops though.

Cascade Creek Road

Cascade Creek Road
Cascade Creek Road
Gertrude Valley Lookout

The drive takes somewhere between 3 to 4 hours. I stop along way many times and drive slower than the speed limit just to be safe. Most of the ride is pretty easy but the last probably 45 minutes is the most challenging part: narrow and curvy roads, inclines and declines, and the famous tunnel everyone talks about. The tunnel goes through a mountain and only allows for traffic in one direction but a light outside each side lets the traffic flow in.

It is really interesting driving through the tunnel but don’t get me wrong I’d probably feel different if I was driving through at night or in inclement weather. I am lucky because the weather is spectacular.

So I have arrived at my campsite which happens to be the smallest I’ve had so far but the facilities are nice. The real annoying part of the stay is the sandflies. They are eating me alive here. It is my first real run-in with them in New Zealand. I’ve been keeping score with all my run-ins with wildlife and I’ll add this to the list of my enemies: geckos, monkeys, fur seals and now sandflies.

Itty bitty camp site

I check into the campsite and look at the list of all the great walking tracks I probably won’t get to do while I am here.

I empty out the icebox of my van and take the goods to the refrigerator of the campsite in order to keep things cold since the chill box only works when the van is on. I am tempted to eat dinner at the fancy restaurant at Milford Lodge tonight but I must finish my perishables since they probably won’t keep for my upcoming daytime activities. I contemplate leaving my groceries in the lodge fridge while I am out on my cruise tomorrow; you are supposed to date your goods with your checkout date but how will they know if I fudge the date a bit?

View of the campsite office from my spot

The sandflies are ruthlessly attacking me. I hide out in the van with the windows shut and nap. The nap is well needed. I didn’t quite sleep well last night because it was much cooler than I expected; I was kept awake because I could not get warm enough. I wake up from my nap but still too tired to do any walking around or exploring right now so I purchase a gigabyte of data to surf the web (15 NZD in these parts!). Best to save my energy for the Milford Sound cruise tomorrow and the drive to Queenstown afterwards.

Trapped in my van looking at the great view.

I head to the kitchen and lounge and prepare my dinner.

penne with pesto, green peppers and tomatoes.

I am actually lucky to get into this campsite, Rainforest Campervan Park, since it is the only one near Milford Sound and limited in space. It isn’t cheap though. There are posh cabins that can be reserved as well. They have a spectacular view.

I’m jealous of the great views of the cabins. At least I don’t have a long drive in the morning to make my Milford Sound cruise.

Dead Sea

A visit to Jordan wouldn’t be complete without a chance to float in the dead sea.

During one of our long tour days we arrive at a beach club with pools, a concession, and access to the sea. We are given time to go down to mud up, float, and then to spend some relaxing time at the pools afterwards.

The Dead Sea is 400 meters below sea level and the UV rays don’t affect you as much. Which means no sunburning? The ozone layer is supposedly thicker here and so high that it actually filters out many of the sun’s harmful UV rays. It is not 100% safe but safer for exposure than most locations. Use your best judgement with sunscreen and don’t necessarily rely on your tour guide for advice.

To get the whole experience you pay to have access to the “healing” mud. You can cover your entire body with mud, let it dry, and then go out to the sea to wash it off.

Pro tip: No shaving before you visit. I rarely shave while I am traveling but for some reason I shaved right before my visit to the Dead Sea. Bad idea. Once in the sea I start stinging a little. I am also really freaked out about getting the water in my eyes because that is supposed to be painful as well.

Lathering up in our mud.
Photo credit unknown.

We put our group stuff in a pile and go lather up and stand around to let our mud dry.

Waiting to dry. I blur the faces to protect the innocent.
Photo credit Travel Companion

This isn’t actually a sea but a super-salty lake which cannot sustain life. The salt density of the water means you’ll go for a float; swimming is almost impossible.

We float around in fun shapes.
Photo credit unknown

I didn’t float long since my face did burn a little bit, can’t tell if it is the salt or the sunscreen I had applied to my face. I exited the lake went up to rinse off and take a dip in the pools at the resort. At some point I realize I don’t have my sunglasses. I gave them to someone to hold for me while we applied mud and I could not find them in the pile of bags we had. Because it is the only pair I had for my travels (prescription) and because I am weary from all my travels, I have a mini-meltdown. I run up and down looking for them, accusing others of losing them. Eventually I found them underneath some of my travel companions things, right where they were supposed to be. This mini freak-out is a reminder to take it easy and not to sweat the small stuff – a skill that would be useful for the next few months of travel I have left.

I finally swim a bit in the pools but then it is time to get ready to leave. I enter into the ladies showers and changing room and the women working in the shower are very bossy and tell me where to walk and how to shower. The whole process is a little annoying especially because the shower was terrible. Oh well, it is all part of the experience.

Despite my little setbacks it was a great experience to do a float in the Dead Sea. If I had to do it over again I probably would have scheduled an overnight at the sea so it wouldn’t have been a rushed experience (In a group tour your time is limited). I’ve heard the Israel side is more lively; Israel is on my travel bucket list so maybe one day I will go back….