Medellín: Botanical Garden and the Metrocable

For my second day of sightseeing in Medellín I decide I head down to the Jardín Botánico (Botanical Garden). I like Medellín but it is busy and there is pollution; I am craving some nature today.

I walk from my hotel Diez Hotel Categoría Colombia down to the metro station of El Poblado. It is a 20 minute walk but it is all downhill. Even with the downhill walk it gets hot walking to the station since it is pretty warm outside.

Along my walk to the metro
Active streets today

Once inside the station it takes me a little while to get the confidence to purchase a ticket and determine which direction I should go on the metro. I finally figure things out (note: There is no electronic ticket booth to purchases passes. You must visit the attendant at the ticket booth who speaks no English.). I purchase a pass with a balance on it. It is hard to determine how much I should initially put on the pass and they attendant isn’t much help (the line is long so I don’t want to hold up everyone else asking many questions). The balance enough for the current ride so everything is fine for now.

The metro system so far seems to be efficient and clean. I later learn that the metro is a huge thing of pride for the city. Other parts of the city may occasionally get destroyed but NO ONE messes with the metro. Building this train was a public works project when things were still so grim for the city. One can say it represents a beacon of hope.

It is pretty easy to reach the botanical garden once I exit the metro. I am happy to discover the garden is free to the public.

First thing I notice some of the same plants that grow pretty well where I live. It makes sense because we have a similar climate back home.

One thing we don’t see in central Florida is iguanas randomly walking around.

We do see many of lizards of the smaller size back home, like this one.

The butterfly garden is closed for some reason.

I basically wander through the park and admire all the plants.

Gardens

I finish out my visit with the succlents.

It isn’t the best botanical garden I’ve visited but it is good that it is free. It appears like some of the bigger exhibits are closed during my visit.

When I leave the botanical garden it is still early so I try to visit a sculpture park – Parque de Las Esculturas Cerro de Nutibara. The sculpture park is supposed to contain interesting sculptures and a charming replica town among other things (according to descriptions). I map out a route for a metro/bus to what I thought was one of the main entrances. I get dropped off in a quiet industrial area on one side of the hill. This area does not seem like the correct place. I wander around trying to find a park entrance and I come up with nothing. I search on my phone and it appears that where the entrance should be is blocked off due to construction. If I want to visit the park I am going to have to try to get to the other side. The problem is at this point that I am tired, not familiar with the safety of the area, and not even sure it is feasible to get there by foot. I give up and take the metro back to my hotel area.

Once I get to my metro stop it is a long, hot walk uphill. I make lots of stops to catch my breath.

More street art
Street performers

Instead of going back to my hotel I hang out in a park for a little bit. This area is quiet now but I know it gets busy in the evening. I end up calling early night once again.

The following day I decide to try at nature once more. Today I want to visit Arvi park. According to my research all I have to do is take the metro to the Acevedo station (on line A) and take the metrocable (K-Line Metrocable).

The metrocable gives me an arial view of town.

I arrive to the top of the line where I am supposed to switch to the L that will take me to Arvi Park. The only problem is the L line is closed. There is no reason posted. My only choice now is to wander out into an unknown neighborhood to find a taxi or take the cable line back down the way I came. I end up taking the line back down. I wish I would have known the line was closed so I could have arranged another form of transport. At this point a good amount of the day has passed so I decide to just go back the neighborhood I am staying in. Hopefully I have time to visit the park on my next visit to town.

View from metro

Once back at the hotel I do research on how I am getting to my next town tomorrow. I have been using the app Rome2rio the past couple months for travel research and up until now it has been pretty reliable with routes and time frames. The app is not accurate in Colombia. I tried using it to plan my travel to Jardin tomorrow. It is completely wrong. First it has me leaving from the wrong bus station; there are two bus stations in Medellin (north and south) and it is very important to be clear on what station you need to leave from. Secondly the app routes me through the wrong town. Luckily I discuss my travel plans with the concierge at my hotel prior to leaving. I would have had a very unhappy travel day tomorrow.

Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand

Yesterday we took the train from Kaikoura back to Christchurch. According to the maps it seems like our bed and breakfast is in walking distance to the train station. We set off with our luggage but unfortunately it seems in the wrong direction. We hike over an overpass and seemingly going out of our way. We walk past some office buildings and then finally we see our lodging, Addington Bed and Breakfast.

We booked the cheapest room, the twin room. It is tight for the two of us with all our luggage but the home is nice. The breakfast is quite good and the house is clean. I am happy there is a washer and dryer available so I can do some laundry while I am here. Space is tight but we don’t plan on spending too much time in the room; besides I’ll have the whole room to myself for the third night anyway.

Today we visit Arthurs Pass National Park and seemingly the best way to visit is by train, a couple hours from Christchurch. Accommodation and amenities are limited at the national park so we visit as most do as a day trip by train. There is also an option to rent a car and drive to the pass; in the interest of time we didn’t take this option.

The weather is quite uncertain as it often is. We hope to get some time to look around before the rain sets in.

We start off with a walking tour provided by a park ranger. We meet at the temporary visitor center.

Learn about animals introduced that became pests. New Zealand is very strict about people bringing in foreign plants and animals, even checking our hiking boots on the way into the country. Unfortunately they weren’t always as strict and now they are paying the price with foreign introduced animals wreaking havoc on their ecosystem.

Our guide takes us past a waterfall, a church with a great view and some other notable landmarks.

Only about 30 people actually live at Arthur’s Pass. As far as visitors go I think many who stay the night do tramping (similar to backpacking, the recreational activity of going for long-distance walks in rough country).

After our tour ends we take the hike up to view some waterfalls.

Devil’s Punchbowl Falls (Māori name is Hinekakai) is up and down a good amount of stairs (2.2 mile hike). I may have cursed and whined a little on the stairs but it is worth it.

After the water fall hike I’m hungry so we head to lunch at one the two restaurants at Arthur’s Pass.

Even with no competition, The Wobbly Kea isn’t bad.

I love my halloumi and pear salad.

After lunch we go for a short nature hike. At this point I am focused on seeing a live kiwi but from what we’ve been told it is more likely to see them at dusk. My ears are actively listening but we are unsuccessful in the quest. However we do happen upon some beautiful lichen lined paths that are other worldly.

Wide open spaces

After our hike we head over to the general store and watch a very naughty Kea bird try to steal everything.

We walk back to the station to await the train. It starts raining but fortunately the rain was not able to ruin our day.

While we wait for the train we start chatting with the guys next to us. We find out they are in Christchurch for a quick stop back home (California I believe). They are scientists that work in Antarctica. They are responsible for fixing and setting up important scientific equipment. They are fascinating to speak with.

Our ride back to Christchurch begins and the rain stops to open up some beautiful views.

Once we are back in Christchurch we head to dinner before walking back to our bed and breakfast. My aunt leaves me tomorrow and I am once again alone for at least another month. It is nice to have a companion while it lasts.

Kaikoura, there she (doesn’t) blow

Train to Kaikoura

We take the train to Kaikoura today. We arrive at the station in Kaikoura and there is no uber and no regular taxis. There is only one guy with a passenger van who will give rides from the train station. He has a business card but doesn’t seem to be always available for rides. I arrange a ride in the morning to the dock for my whale watching boat (at the time I didn’t realize it is in walking distance from my hotel). Anyway, it is hard to get around here without a car unless you don’t mind walking a while.

The ride to Kaikoura is beautiful with an open air observation car at the back of the train (think cattle car).

Train station and whale watch office

Hotel in Kaikoura – Lobster Inn Motor Lodge

My aunt has a sunset kayak tour scheduled for the evening. We originally thought I would be joining her but I have done some damage to my shoulders while traveling. I am pretty sure ocean kayaking is not in the cards for me at this time. Unfortunately due to rough seas her tour gets cancelled for the evening. She hopes to do a paddle tomorrow sometime during the day instead.

We arrive early enough for lunch. We visit the cafe across the street where I get to try green-lipped mussels. They are large and quite tasty.

I go to bed early because I have an early morning boat ticket for whale watching tomorrow. Kaikoura is supposed to be a magnificent place to see whales and other sea animals.

There is a 6:45 arrival time for my tour, the first tour of the day. My driver drops me off on time at the office. Once I arrive I come to find out that both my cruise and the cruise scheduled immediately after is cancelled due to rough seas. There are people in line already to reschedule for a later time but most of the other times this morning are already booked. The only time I can reschedule is for the afternoon but doing so would make me miss our train ride that we have booked back to Christchurch. I am disappointed. I usually schedul multiple days in a location in case something like this happens but in this case I did not.

My aunt goes on her kayaking tour this morning as scheduled. I plan to meet up with her later in town. I decide to walk back to the motel from the whale office instead of trying to find the one taxi guy in town. It is a nice walk along the beach.

I spend a couple hours making some phone calls that are much needed to the USA. I have a short window to take care of business by phone since our days are their nights and vice-versa.

After I take care of things I walk down to town. It is a cute little town. I see signs for crayfish everywhere but I am too cheap to order it so instead I end up getting a huge fried flounder and chips at Strawberry Tree Kaikoura. While the fish below is quite tasty, I regret passing up the crayfish because later when I get serious about trying it before I leave New Zealand I end up paying even more for it and end up disappointed. It is probably much fresher in Kaikoura.

My aunt finally meets up with me and helps me finish the fish. She has a photo of the bones and asked if I wanted to post it but it isn’t pretty so I’ll forgo the photo.

We have a little more time to kill before we pick up our luggage so we visit the local museum Kaikōura Museum. It gives a little taste of the history of the area. There is a good exhibit that talks about the major earthquake that occurred in 2016. A great deal of damage had been done to the coast, roads and tunnels. It is said to have pushed the south island 5km closer to the north island.

We head back to get our luggage and then to the train. We are heading back to Christchurch to overnight before our day trip to Arthur’s Pass tomorrow.

Kaikoura is beautiful and I am very sad I didn’t get to see whales during my visit. If I ever make it back to New Zealand it is definitely on my list again – next time for more days.

Video of train ride to Kaikoura

Kuranda and Rainforests

Skyrail

Today I am going to see a little bit of rainforest in Australia. I am visiting the hill town of Kuranda via a historic trail ride and returning to Cairns via a skyrail over the rainforest.

Kuranda Scenic Railway

I start by taking a two hour old-timey train ride to the rainforest town of Kuranda (Freshwater station to Kuranda station).

My first seat assigned has me awkwardly seated with a large family. Luckily the ride is not full and I can switch to empty seats in another car.

With the train windows open I get the crisp smell of nature and a cool breeze from water before we start ascending into the mountain range.

The train narrator tells us the story of how the tracks and tunnels were built. There are settlement towns that existed around the tunnels to support them being built, even a brewery/distillery at one time.

There are two bends and one stop (Barron Falls).

We make our stop at Barron Falls where we view the falls off into the distance and stretch our legs. It starts raining during this stop so we run back in to our seats after some quick photos.

Barron Falls from the train.

When the train history commentary is complete they play fun train songs such as “Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum.

We finally arrive at the station in Kuranda but it is pouring. I hang back to see if the rain lightens and order myself a ham toastie (grilled cheese toasted sandwich).

The town of Kuranda isn’t really a exciting destination for a couple hour trip. Kuranda has a hotel or two and mostly shopping and some kitschy sightseeing. I am able to purchase some souvenirs and clothing items that are much needed. Prices are not cheap by any means but hopefully they are good quality additions to my travel wardrobe.

There is a colorful area with cafes where people can purchase lunch. Unfortunately I had that very filling toastie so am not hungry.

There is a little nature path through a mini-rainforest. I spend a few minutes walking through there.

I’ve seen just about everything I want to see in Kuranda but I am early for my skyrail trip. The lines are short so they let me start my skyrail return trip early.

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

View down below of the colorful train

Since the Kuranda village at the top was kind of boring and uneventful I had little hope for the skyrail. The skyrail is basically a gondola that takes you over a rainforest. I am pleasantly surprised when I get a private car and start moving. I immediately start hearing the sounds of birds in nature and have the most magnificent views of the rainforest. It’s been raining on and off all day but the cable way goes so long that I am able to escape the rain. The route is 7.5km long.

There are stops on the way down and one gives a vantage point of a beautiful waterfall. The waterfall Barron Falls is the same one I saw during my trail stop, this time I get a better view.

I am back in my cablecar to finish my return journey. As I get closer to the station I am rewarded of great views of the coast.

Since I am back early I have a little while before my van arrives. I find a place to charge my phone inside the giftshop. With all the beautiful scenery I give my phone battery a large workout today.

After the van takes me back to my hostel I walk back toward town to get something to eat. I settle on this pizza from The Lush Pizza Co.

CHICK’N’PERI (chicken, onion, peppers with peri peri sauce)

I get a chance to wander around town after dark. Cairns is not a large and lively town but the peace and quiet suits me fine at this point in my travels.

Tomorrow I am off to my Great Barrier Reef cruise. Hopefully the weather is good.

Arrived in Hanoi

Train street in Hanoi

I am in Hanoi Vietnam and things are going great. To be honest I am tired but I am still trekking along in my travels.

My original plans had me going to Sapa for a hike and a homestay but instead I break up my Hanoi visit with a Halong Bay crise (actually Bai Tu Long Bay )

My Hanoi visit begins at a Hilton hotel that I booked with some leftover points. It is nice to splurge and stay in a western style comfort hotel every once in a while .

I have only been in Hanoi for a short while and I am already a fan. I mean it is busy and the roads are super crowded with cars and motorbikes but something about it is magical. I am anxious to get to know the city better.

But first I need to take care of the sensor on my “fancy” camera. It has many spots on it. I watch sensor cleaning videos and it seems like there is no way I can safely clean it with what I have with me. I google camera repair shops in the area and find one a couple blocks from my hotel. I arrive at the small shop and there are two men working. They don’t speak much English but I get them to understand that my sensor has spots. One of the men cleans the spots for me. When I ask how much to pay for he says no charge for the service. I never get anything free anymore! This must be a good sign.

I spend the next day or so wandering aimlessly around town. I visit the Ngoc Son temple at Hoàn Kiem Lake. By the lake they have the walking streets (Pedestrian-only hours start from Friday 6 p.m until Sunday 12 p.m.). It is here I first experience school kids wanting to interview me to practice english. It is a common theme as I noticeably stand out in southeast asia with my light colored hair and bigger build. I guess look like a good person to practice with. I oblige as much as possible to be helpful but at one point in my travels it becomes quite frustrating (I’ll talk about that another time).

Ngoc Son temple

The turtle is significant. There is a story about a sword carrying turtle at the lake.

During the walking streets kids get to “drive” these amazing vehicles all over the streets. It is fun to watch the excitement.

Upcoming boxing match near the lake

More shots from around Hanoi

And as part of my series “Instagram ruins everything” I arrive to the famous Hanoi train street to find it blocked off for traffic. It has been closed just weeks prior to my arrival for safety reasons. Apparently people couldn’t stop doing dangerous poses and the government had enough. It would have been cool to see when it was full of life. A guard yells at me while I am trying to to take the photos below, although security is not consistent, a guard on one side of the street is strict and guard on other side doesn’t care how long you stand there to take pictures.

After wandering by train street I go back to my hotel to rest up a bit before my night food tour.