Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Another one bites the dust...

Yet another camera has died on me! Luckily the photos are all still there, will post them soon.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Back in Cusco

Made it all the way back to Cusco in record time. Talking to the taxi driver on the way to the hostel it sounds like they felt the earthquake quite strongly here - lots of buildings swaying, but no damage.

Sadly from the sounds of things Huachachina, the oasis just outside of Ica - place of sandboarding and dune buggying, has suffered some quite heavy damage and quite a bit of Ica has been flattened.

Anyway, back to Cusco - I'd forgotten what the altitude was like. I feel terrible, hopefully it will only take a couple of days to get acclimatised.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Back to Peru

It's been a mad dash back down from French Guiana into Brazil and back into Peru - including one slightly unscheduled stop where I accidentally got off the plane at the wrong airport....

Back in Peru tonight and then in Cusco again to get ready for trekking Macu Pichu.

Hopefully there is not too much earthquake damage. Though sadly it sounds like a few places like Pisco and Ica have been hit quite badly.

Brazil has been a very nice place, the people have been fantastically friendly and I'm looking forward to coming back and spending a bit of time here. May have to learn some Portuguese though.

Will post photos of the past few days and blog entries another time.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Stuck in French Guiana

It's a public holiday. Everything is shut. I'm trapped and I can't get out!

Monday, August 13, 2007

French Guiana

What can I say? It's just like being in France.

Picked up my invite to see the rocket being launched and aparrently missed the oportunity to have lunch. Now everything is closed until 4pm. Oh, and it's a Monday, apparently everything is shut on a monday. What a crazy place.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

On my wayto French Guiana

Currently in Miami airport. Waiting to get my Air France plane that will eventually (after a day landing at various airports in very strange places) take me to Cayenne, French Guiana. It's not all bad though, the kind French people have upgraded me. My schoolboy French must have been pretty good!

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Arrived in Cartagena yesterday. The hostel that I wanted to stay in was fully booked so I´m staying in a place just down the road. Explored the old city a bit last night in search of food, it does seem to be very nice if a little bit dodgy.

Will be here for a couple of days. On the 11th I fly to Miami and then on to French Guiana.

Tyrona National Park

Decided after the stresses and strains of the jungle trek to spend a couple of days relaxing on the beach in Tyrona national park which is just down the road from Taganga.

We set off at around 11ish and got the collectivo back into Santa Marta to pick up the bus into the park. Didn´t realise quite how far the bus stop was from where the collectivo drops you off so we ended up walking half way across town...

Once we reached the park we payed our entrance fee and got picked up by a landrover and taken into the park proper. It was then a 45 minute walk to the first place where you can stay. At this point we foolishly decided to walk another hour or so to a place called Cabal which is the popular place to stay - only to find that it was fully booked so we had to come all the way back!

By this point the sky was starting to turn a slightly ominous colour and the thunder and lightning was definitely getting a bit too close for comfort.

So it was into the hammocks nice and early to avoid the rain and bugs.

The next we walked to Cabal again in the hope that there would be room at the inn, but were once again denied. We had already planned to walk to a place called Pueblocito (which is a smaller cousin of Ciudad Perdida) so we set off along the trail - this trail turned out to be a solid hour of walking uphill, but we eventually reached the ruins which were quite impressive.

Thankfully it was downhill all the way back to the beach for a nice swim and then a quick walk back to the original campsite for some sleep! Lots of bugs in the night. Feels like I have been eaten alive.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ciudad Perdida

Quite a leisurely start to the first day of the jungle trip. We were picked up from the hostel at around 10ish and driven back into Santa Marta to meet the rest of the intrepid adventurers. After a bit of packing and messing around we drove for about an hour over some fairly rough roads and finally reached the jumping off point for the trek.

We met the people who were on their way back and were greeted by a variety of cries along the lines of "turn back", "you´re doomed", "run away!"... All good cheerful encouragement.

We then set off down a dirt track and came to the first river crossing, only a shallow river so no one got wet. We then got our first taste of real walking as we climbed a small hill.

This is us after only 20 minutes. We are half dead.

However, as always the views make it worthwhile:

We finally reached the first camp and got to go for a nice swim and have a rest.

Our guide set up the hammocks and we got a nice meal inside us courtesy of the camp cook. Everyone was in bed by about 9pm - an early night theme that would continue for the rest of the trip.

The following day we were offered a chance to visit a cocaine "factory". Obviously, a chance like this doesn´t come up very often so we all readily handed over our cash and wondered off into the bush.

It was slightly disappointing to find that we weren´t being taken to some underground factory in the jungle but to a trestle table set up with a bunch of buckets in quite a nice location

Our guess is that there probably is a factory somewhere, but a bunch of gringos aren´t going to get an invite. There followed a demonstration of the process of extracting the cocaine paste from coca leaves.

The process as demonstrated goes as follows:

Over a period of three months collect leaves from the trees (so you can get 4 crops a year).

When you have a sufficient quantity chop them up in a big chopping machine to produce a leaf pulp.

This pulp is then mixed with a combination of salt and quicklime and the resulting mixture is kneaded using people wearing wellington boots for about 30 minutes.

You now need a big bucket and lots of gasoline, sulphuric acid and water. Put all this together with the leaf pulp and leave it to stew for a while.

Once you´re happy with the brew filter out the leaves and syphon off from the bottom of the bucket the mixture of sulphuric acid (which should now have the alkaloids dissolved in it), the water and about a quarter of the gasoline.

You now add potassium permanganate which we think is to remove the gasoline, but we´re not entirely sure.

This is then passed through a fairly crude filter.

The final step is to neutralise the acid using bicarbonate of soda. As well all know from our GCSE chemistry, the stuff that is dissolved in the acid will now precipitate out.

Now it´s just a case of filtering out the cocaine base and drying it in the sun.

You can smoke this cocaine base in cigarettes (apparently this is called a bazooka on the street).

The paste is sold onto to more important mafia types who refine is further and then cut it to increase the quantity.

Having seen the amount of horrible stuff that goes into the process it´s hard to understand why anyone would want to stick the result up their nose...

Around 11ish we set off for the second day of walking. Already peoples feet had started to suffer, so it was a bizarre looking troupe of people that left camp.

On the way we passed through a local village, didn´t really feel that I could take their photographs, but I took some of their huts.

After several hours of hard walking we reached the next camp and met some more weary people returning from the lost city.

The third day of the hike involved crossing a fairly deep river 9 times. The first crossing was only 20 minutes into the walk and everyone was well prepared wearing trunks and sandals.

There then followed about 2 hours of walking up and down hills (why not go around?) and lots more getting wet before we finally came to the steps leading up to the city.

At this point the regular rain storm that normally started at about 2 or 3 decided to come early and the heavens opened. I guess it´s lucky that we were already soaked from the river crossings...

There´s only 1200 steps to climb to get up into the city! But eventually we were all settled and our chef got to work

Nice views of the cloud forest from here:

The evenings entertainment consisted of our guide singing using a bucket as accompaniment. After 3 days in the jungle, anything is fun...

The following morning we were up bright and early to see the city.

Definitely worth the walk. Not sure about the insects though...

Pretty soon it was time to start walking back. Crossing the river all those times again. Half way back it started to rain again turning the paths into mud slides so by the time we reached the camp we were all pretty disgustingly dirty. Once again though our chef came through and cooked us up a nice meal and it was early into bed again (after more singing and bucket playing from the guide...). The next two days are just blurs of walking up and down hills before finally making it back to the road and jeep home.

Photos here.

More info here.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Back from the Jungle

Just spent the past six days trekking through the jungle in the north of Colombia to Ciudad Perdida (the lost city).

Absolutely knackered and very dirty. Will post photos when I get to a decent internet connection.