Just in case there is any doubt, my last blog post about Voyage Privé was an April fool’s joke. Apart from being a general wind up, the point was that sponsored content isn’t real content, just advertising in disguise (Who said I didn’t learn anything working with Joe Littenberg all those years). Having said that it was fun to write an over the top piece so maybe I’ll be inspired to write another one in the future.
Anyway, back to the point. We’re in Colombia right now. Our first couple of weeks in Colombia have been a bit like yo-yo, started high, dropped a bit but came bouncing back up. Here are some of our thoughts.
We arrived in Bogotá wearing shorts expecting similar weather to Guatemala. We quickly understood that 2,600m above sea level and the rainy season meant that it wasn’t going to be shorts weather. We spent the weekend crashing with Laura, a friend of Ari and Ibti in Paris (We’re really taking the piss at this stage, I think we’ll write a book about sleeping on people’s couches when we get back). Despite the constant rain we managed to do a few fun things.
Saturday morning saw us brave the elements and join Laurent (A Franco-Colombian, and another friend of Ari and Ibti) for an unusual bike tour. The tour included stops at a local market to try fruits we had never heard of before, a cold beer & a game of Teja (imagine throwing heavy metal weights at a box filled with thick soft clay with a circle in the centre made out of exploding gun powder envelopes!) and a trip through the grim red light district to a tasty café where they roast their own beans. Throw in some street art and architecture for good measure and you have a great morning despite the pissing rain. We felt like we’d seen a big part of the city but the fact that we only passed through two to three neighbourhoods, showing us how massive the city is.
Barcelona Ultimate Connection
Barcelona has another ultimate club called Peixets. Despite being “Rivals” on the field in Barcelona, we’ve always had a lot of laughs with them in particular two Colombian players; Jairo and Milton. Saturday night saw us drinking a few crafties in Bogotá Brewing Company and catching up with both. They went way out of their way to make us feel welcome and looked after us in a city where we didn’t know the ropes. Neither of them are Bogotá natives but enjoy life in the city, showing us it is possible to leave Barcelona after all. Hopefully we’ll be back in Bogotá soon for another beer or two with them.
Museums were free! We went to the Botero museum (he’s the guy that paints fat people) and the Museum of Gold (only free on Sundays). Both were busy with mostly Colombian visitors and both were impressive. We quickly got the feeling of being in a modern city that values its culture and doesn’t just pander to or cash in on tourists. (I guess the rain probably helps with visitor numbers too).
In general we found the people of Bogotá to be really friendly and welcoming. Taxi drivers, waiters, people on the street were all eager to chat and give recommendations to two newbies. While the city itself is not pretty; its big, grey, lots of concrete and the brooding rain clouds of doom don’t add much to the atmosphere in our short time there we were left with a very positive first impression.
Riohacha is a dump. It’s a small city on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. I wouldn’t recommend you go there. We spent 12 days there volunteering in a hostel. How did we end up there? Well, we wanted to slow things down a bit and spend a week or two in one spot, and by volunteering we keep our costs low by not paying accommodation and cooking our own meals. More importantly, this hostel was the only one to accept us as volunteers. Beggars can’t be choosers.
Our new home and place of work was the first hostel in Riohacha. The owners Karime and Jhon work there with a team of 3 full time staff and up to 3 volunteers helping out. The hostel sleeps 35 people, is well equipped and spotless. Their clients are a mix of international backpackers and Colombian tourist. Sounds pretty good right?
They owners are genuinely lovely people and they are fair with the volunteers they work with. The hostel has everything you need, good beds, air conditioning / fans, full kitchen, bar and fast wifi. The clients are also generally lovely people.
So what’s the big problem?
There is nothing to do in Riohacha. It’s full of cars, 30+ degrees every day, hot wind. There’s a beach, but it’s not nice, the water is hot and murky and the people are not friendly at all. Like I said, the place is a dump. Most people only stay in Riohacha before travelling to or coming back from Alta Guajira (more on that later). Therefore you usually only get to know the guests for 24hrs before they ship out so it’s hard to build a rapport with anyone. Even worse the hostel was quite empty while we were there (We had a night with 0 guests!)
To make things worse, you can’t bring your own alcohol into the hostel, so if you want to drink to entertain yourself you have to pay full price for beers at the bar. Appalling.
The work itself was fine, and for the most part satisfying. Early morning breakfast buffet duty and barwork the nights it was open, with odd jobs and reception cover in between.
It was an almost perfect set up, just happened to be in the worst possible place. The first week was a bit rough but we quickly adapted.
Making the most of it.
Our second week was much better. We helped the owners find new volunteers who suspiciously were able to start before we were scheduled to leave, thus getting us off the hook sooner. When we had time off we took the fastest car possible and saw neighbouring towns both by ourselves and with our new volunteers friends to take a break from the city.
Camarones is a tiny fishing village on a lagoon where American Flamingos come visit once a year. We ate fresh fish and Julie started a gang with all the kids on the beach. Unfortunately the gang’s first crime was to lose my frisbee somewhere in the Caribbean. Hopefully it’ll wash up somewhere and be put to good use.
Palomino – this is exactly the type of town we were hoping Riohacha would be. Its small, there’s a beautiful beach walking distance from the hostels. There are locals, tourists and and nightlife and veggie burgers. Similar hippy chic vibes to Mazunte in Oaxaca. We threw our disc on the palm tree beach and wished that we were in an alternate reality where we were accepted as volunteers there.
Mayapo – a tiny fishing village where we hung out with the new volunteers and tried our best to not get ripped off.
So we ended our time in Riohacha on a high. We had a barbecue with the owners and the new volunteers to say goodbye and we were happy that we moved our asses to see a bit more of the area. That last night of sharing and meal and having the craic with the staff and guests was what we were expecting from the beginning. Pity it came so late. Our next stop is Alta Guajira, a desert region at the most northerly point. We’ll let you know where the yo-yo goes next.
- Riohacha has its own public transport system which is a mix of uber and BlaBlaCar. Practically every car and motorbike on the road is an unofficial taxi. Any journey in the city will cost you 1,500 Pesos per person (50 cent) and they search for clients by beeping their horns at people on the street. For longer journeys they part from specific locations and wait until the have a minimum of 3 passengers before hitting the road. The pros are you can get anywhere cheaply and easily. The cons are you have cars constantly beeping at you and you never really know who’s car your getting in.
- Don’t take anything of value with you on the street. Two volunteers (One before us, one after us) were robbed at gun point on the street. Welcome to Riohacha.
- The whole region of Guajira is a hot-spot for Venezuelan immigrants escaping the current situation in Venezuela and of course contraband smuggled across the border. There’s cheap petrol every 100m on the main roads.
- For some reason lots of liquids come in plastic bags here. Water in 1L, up to 6 liters, milk, juice everything. Not a tetrapak in site and not very practical.
- Being female and walking by yourself in Riohacha is not recommended. There’s a big creep factor here.
- Riohacha is covered in mango trees. They would fall regularly in the patio of the hostel to the point where we got so used to it we stopped collecting them.
- The pop music here is played everywhere and makes me want to shoot myself.